Chapter 1: A Call for Aid
"Does anyone know what this is all about?" asks Walt Hasser as the team assemble to meet Lord Burghley. "He was being very secretive about it."
Ray grins as he sharpens his quill. "When is he not ultra-secretive? You know Lord Burghley. Keeps his cards close to his chest until the right time, he does."
Their attention is diverted by the opening of the door which reveals their boss. William Cecil, Lord Burghley.
The team stand up as one. Lord Burghley's a good man. One thing they can say for him, he tries his damnedest to be straight with them and doesn't treat them like fools.
"My Lord Burghley?" Brad is instantly alert at the look on his bosses face. Lord Burghley looks tired, as if he's been burning the midnight oil for some time. Something's up. Perhaps at last we have a case.
"Team, gather round. We need to talk-" he says.
"What's this all about, sir?"
Lord Burghley heaves a sigh. "As you know, we've been getting reports on the worsening situation in Flanders and the Netherlands. The Spanish are intent on squashing any religious dissention, and it seems they aren't too worried about how they gain their subject's obedience."
Ray makes a face. They all heard the rumours and read the woodcuts smuggled by the lucky who were able to escape the wrath of the Spanish commanders.
"This is bad. Torching churches with women and children inside. Putting all men to the sword. Forcing sons and daughters to kill their relatives in cold blood. What kind of monster does that?" says Walt, absolutely appalled by what he reads in the despatch. 'Sisyphus', their foreign agent had spared no words in describing the plight of the Dutch against their overlords.
"I need not say how serious her Majesty takes such a threat to our Reformist way of life. Excusing Lord Colbert, obviously-"
Brad merely shrugs. It's common knowledge about his Jewish faith within the department, but in a time like this where religion and men's souls are dangerous political fodder he chooses not to make it a point of it unless he has to.
"Does Lord Walsingham want a team there?" he asks.
"I imagine so. We're just waiting for Treasury approval from her Majesty."
There's a ill-muffled chorus of groans from the team. Elizabeth's procrastination and over-cautiousness at times is the stuff of legend within the department. She'll change her mind five times or more before a mission and any attempt to hurry her will have her digging in her heels, mule-like.
"I hope she makes up her mind soon. The people of Flanders can't afford to wait while she dithers on whether she's taking the right action."
"I've made my case to her; that's all I can do." Says Lord Burghley. "Pray God she realises the political implications of swift action. Spain is powerful enough without us allowing them to get away with murder."
"The Question is: Will she listen to Dudley or us on this one? You know how he likes to interfere in matters of state."
Brad knows only too well. If he had his way Dudley would be stuck in the country tending his cattle , not at court interfering in matters which are none of his business.
"It seems he never did get over the disappointment of his close brush with the monarchy. " Lord Burghley remarks.
Brad knows the fierce struggle for Elizabeth's soul between the two men. Dudley's ambition knew no bounds, and he would do anything to gain the throne, including embarking on an ill-advised relationship with Elizabeth. It was all in the past, after the suspicious death of his wife Amy he would never fulfill that ambition, but Elizabeth was curiously sentimental about Lord Dudley and still allowed him his seat on the council. But she never under any circumstances allowed herself to be alone with him.
"Should someone have a discreet word with him, just in case?" Brad suggests.
Lord Burghley frowns. "To be honest Brad, I'm not sure how much good that would do. If he gets the idea that he has influence on our doings, it could be a very dangerous slope...leave it for now and I'll keep a monitor on the situation."
Chapter 2: The Mission
Lord Burghley looks far more cheerful when he and Lord Walsingham catches up with the team. In fact compared to their last meeting, he looks positively sprightly.
"My Lord Walsingham, My Lord Burghley-"
"Sit down, Brad." Burghley says expansively. "Will you take a flagon of ale with us?"
There must be only one reason for their good humour: Queen Elizabeth must have agreed to the mission. Thank God. He and the team can get out there at last and start saving lives in Flanders.
"Did her Majesty agree to the mission, sir? Have you got the order?" he asks bluntly.
Sir Francis smiles, which sparks Brad's suspicions even more. "Like a charm. Signed the order straight away, no dithering." He lays it on the table with a flourish.
"We are in business, gentlemen!"
This seems far too good to be true. Brad looks at the scroll and then at his bosses suspiciously. No red marks. No angry scribbles in the margin. Had she even looked at this at all? "She didn't raise a single objection? Dudley didn't make a single negative comment? It doesn't sound like her frankly."
"Dudley doesn't know anything about it." Sir Francis says blithely.
Brad tries not to groan. Even he can see exactly how this is going to go down. Dudley is going to try and assert his authority. Elizabeth won't want to upset him and she'll back down and we'll be back at square one. Why didn't Command think of this? I'm a godamned warrior. I haven't the patience for all this political games. Not when we have a humanitarian disaster on our hands.
"You don't seem very happy, Lord Colbert?"
Brad tries to explain this to them as simply as possible. So that even a child would get it. "The moment Lord Dudley finds out our next mission, he'll find it morally imperative to interfere. She'll change her mind as soon as he tells her to, I guarantee it."
"How can he? Elizabeth knows we are in the right. She told us it's a mission very close to her heart. The defence of the Reformist faith. Needless to say, we have to stop Spain now before before they turn their sights to this country as well. We are this country's line of defence against the Spaniards. That's a direct quote from her Grace."
"Will she stand by it, though?"
"She has to."
When Lord Dudley catches up with Brad and his mentor, it's practically preordained how this political snarl up is going to play out. Brad just keeps quiet. No need to make things worse.
Lord Dudley greets them with a smug smile on his dark handsome face.
"Good day, gentlemen. I wanted to have a discreet word with you, Lord Burghley-" He gives Brad a disapproving glance. Brad merely smiles at him and stays firmly where he is.
"A discreet word, Dudley?" Burghley asks him,
Dudley looks like he's enjoying himself . Far too much for their comfort. "I met with her Grace this morning. She told me a tale of you cajoling her into sending troops into the Netherlands. Naturally, I reassured her I would take care of any misunderstanding."
"Misunderstanding?" Lord Burghley replies testily. "Her Majesty was kind enough to listen to our analysis. She's already signed the documentation. She knows how important it is for us to do our part as a Protestant nation. I fail to see what 'misunderstanding' there could be?"
Dudley gives them a gloating smirk."She told me that she'd reconsidered the entire mission. What point is there in angering the Spanish by interfering in what doen't concern us? We have our own problems here. Why do we have to interfere in the affairs of another state?"
So that's the way that they're going to play it, thinks Brad. A political pissing contest while we're battling against time and the people of Flanders suffer more and more every day.
"Well, Lord Colbert and I will be attending her Majesty in a hour , so we'll see how the land lies then, shall we?"
Dudley gives him a gloating smile. "Don't bother wasting your time, Lord Burghley. Her Majesty has spoken and her mind will not be changed. Good day, gentlemen. I fear it's back to the drawing board."
"She scrubbed the mission Sir? Just like that?"
"We're goin to get to the bottom of this. Damn Dudley and his devilish interference!" mutters Burghley crossly.
As they walk towards the office, Brad tries to reassure his boss. "We don't know the truth of it yet. She might not have rescinded the order yet. Dudley's all mouth, you know this, Sir."
When Walsingham and Burghley meet with Elizabeth to thrash this out , she is being remarkably skittish. This does not bode well for their mission.
"Lord Dudley raises an excellent point about resources. Is it our responsibility to go over to another country and dictate how to live their lives?" she says. "When we have our own problems?"
Brad tries to keep a straight face at her U turn. She's parroting the Dudley line as if she'd been primed to it.
"We cannot ignore the sufferings of the immigrants who reach our shores begging for our aid."
"How do we know that they are not dissidents intent on causing problems?" she suggests.
"Is that what your instincts as monarch and your own common sense tell you?"
She frowns, trying to reconcile the two viewpoints in her head."But Lord Dudley says-"
Brad can see Lord Walsingham's mouth tighten in annoyance. It's not too hard to work exactly what he is thinking at this moment.
"What do you think, your Majesty? We've given you the facts as we can ascertain them without sending a task force over. What do you in your heart think?" Lord Burghley says placidly.
At least Cecil has the knowledge born of several years service to handle her when she's in this mood. He was her friend in tough times, when she was a young princess in danger, through tough times and good. Lord Cecil has always been by Elizabeth's side, guiding her on the right path.
No offence to Sir Francis, but their personalities rubbed together most abrasively, despite the unquestioned loyalty he pays her. Walsingham hasn't got the patience to deal with any backsliding right now, not when the stakes are so high.
She flushes at being put on the spot, however gently. "Spirit,I-"
Burghley takes heart from the fact she uses her affectionate nickname for him. There's still a little hope that they can persuade her to go ahead with the mission.
"My Lady, I know this is a hard decision to make. I understand this."
She looks at him troubled by her conscience. It's strange for Brad to see her so unsure of her own mind. The great untouchable icon become a fallible woman.
"But you must use your judgment and do what you think is right. The people of Flanders and the Netherlands cry out to you to do the right thing here. No one is asking you to commit a great number of troops-"
"What do you want from me, Spirit?"
"Just let Sir Francis's Reconnaissance men take the mission. Send them behind enemy lines to aid the Flemish in their struggle. They're trained to do this. They're the best in their field, your Grace. Let them carry out your will."
Brad takes his prompt from his boss. "Say the word and my team can leave in two days.
"It's not wrong of me? To interfere?" she says, her resolve wavering.
"Is that what Lord Dudley told you?" Lord Burghley asks. "It was wrong of you to want to aid your fellow man?"
"You have a a great brain and have been an apt and gifted pupil. You should not doubt yourself, your Grace. What do you think in your heart?"
"We should help the Flemish. Spain cannot be allowed to get away with such tyrannical and high handed behaviour." She says her voice becoming more firm and sure with every word.
"So can I let the order stand?" Lord Cecil urges. "I can allow Lord Colbert and his team to depart for Flanders and do their job?"
She finally makes a decision. Resigning the order with a regal flourish and handing it back to Brad.
"Yes. Go with my blessing, but be discreet. I trust you will prove yourselves loyal servants."
"Certainly, your Grace. Thank you." Lord Burghley says, grateful she's doing the right thing at last.