When Andrew Bond and Monique Delacroix Bond die in 1572, they leave behind a small freehold, a large house, and a very small, very angry boy.
James Bond is a half-French Scotsman, living on the probably-Scottish edge of the Border. Even at age seven (especially at age seven), these are not particularly fortunate things to be.
When Tiago Rodriguez's father dies in 1575, Tiago finds himself stranded in the foreign land of England. Tiago is eleven years old, he speaks very little English, and he is now utterly alone.
He also killed his father with a letter opener, so Tiago is prepared to admit that some of this situation is his own responsibility. But he had not realized how desperate it would leave him, out on the streets of London, fighting for scraps.
He is fighting now with a boy three times his size, squabbling for a piece of molding cheese, and Tiago is winning. When a carriage stops near them the other boy runs in fright, abandoning the cheese. Tiago holds his prize tight in his fist so that no one else can take it from him.
"Tiago Rodriguez?" says a voice from the carriage.
Tiago looks up and into the kind smile of a middle-aged lady. She is wearing a fine black dress, and she looks a little like Tiago's mother did when she was alive, if Tiago's mother had such cold, calculating eyes. Tiago decides he likes this woman. When the door of the carriage swings open, he climbs inside without asking a single question.
The woman's name is Lady Maeve Cecil, and she speaks perfect Spanish. She explains that England has a use for desperate people, especially when the particular desperate person in question happens to be a Spanish national who is surprisingly creative with a letter opener. Lady Maeve will feed Tiago, and clothe him, and teach him, and all he will have to do is perform little services for her.
"Anything for you, my Lady," says Tiago, in his awkward English. He takes her hand and kisses the large golden ring that she wears, his lips brushing against the stylized 'M' set in the center of the otherwise plain ring. Lady Maeve looks down on him and smiles. Tiago thinks this will be the beginning of something beautiful.
He's not wrong, but it depends on your perspective.
When Eve Moneypenny's parents die in 1580, she doesn't even know. She's thought of herself as an orphan ever since she ran away at the age of nine, and now, thirteen years old and investigating the Spanish countryside, she is a real orphan at last. But no one is there to tell her the news, and her family's meager inheritance is given to a cousin.
It doesn't affect Eve's life in the least.
Spain is dull, and the harvest season is coming to an end, so Eve expects she'll run out of hired work soon. Perhaps she'll catch a boat to England. There's bound to be something interesting happening there.
When Sir Francis Walsingham dies in 1590, Lady Maeve Cecil wears black to Court, one of many who flock like dusty ravens to give the Queen their condolences. Each of the other courtiers bend and whisper their grief to Her Majesty, but when Lady Maeve reaches the edge of the Queen's long skirts, she remains ramrod straight. Short as she is, she need not bend to reach the Queen's ear.
"We will all miss Sir Francis," she says, eyes cast down. The Queen nods, mouth warped into a pout.
"But we must carry on," says Lady Maeve, and her own mouth flashes into a smirk. "With his most important work."
The Queen puts a hand out and tips Lady Maeve's chin up. "We had thought," she says, "to give the post of Spymaster to your cousin."
"Robert is not yet thirty," says Lady Maeve. "You will want an experienced hand on the reins."
"The reins are mine," says the Queen, sharply. Lady Maeve casts her eyes down again, waits. "But," says the Queen, finally, "you may tend the horses."
No one dies in 1591, or, at least, no one dies that we care about very much.
But it's touch and go there, for a while.
Tiago Rodriguez is grown and working for his Lady, and it's just as entertaining as he expected it to be. In his free time he is experimenting with coining. It's easy to make an approximation of a Flemish pound with some pot-metal and a stamp, and he could use the money. Tiago is absolutely not of Her Majesty's service, if you're asking and you're not drawing up his paycheck. The problem is, Her Majesty's service has been stingy with paychecks as of late, even as they demand results. Thus, the coining. Fake coin spends better than nonexistent promissory notes.
The Dutch soldiers who bash down his door and drag him to the magistrate don't think very much of this reasoning.
Quentin Bacon's life is very difficult.
Firstly, there is the problem of his name. It sounds ridiculous. He likes the initial 'Q' much better, which is how he signs his correspondence and how he refers to himself in the third person, when that is occasioned (which is infrequently). But his colleagues don't seem to take his preferences into account when addressing him. Extremely aggravating.
Secondly, he can't at all work out the new Italian communiqué code. Q suspects that the code is based on Bible verses, but the Bible is a very large book and cracking a code takes a while, and Lady Maeve wants results yesterday, Quentin. And she doesn't listen when Q tells her that would be quite impossible, given that yesterday is in the past.
Third, Q thinks his leg is going to fall off. It really hurts, he has to use his cane to walk today. Also, he thinks his lungs might be trying to strangle him. And he might have a fever. Does his forehead feel warm? Yes. He's dying.
Fourth, there's this business with Rodriguez.
"He's got himself caught?" asks Lady Maeve.
"Charge of coining," says Q. "He was tried by the Dutch authorities, convicted, and I believe agents of the Dutch Republic have him in their charge. Rodriguez managed to send word out with another of our men." Q squints at the badly-written letter, decoding it as he reads. "He seems to think that a word from you might help his cause. The Dutch are eager to remain on good terms with our Queen."
Lady Maeve taps her fingers on her desk. Q wonders if he should sit down. On the one hand, his legs feel very tired. On the other hand, with the way his hip keeps crackling, he might not get up again.
"No." Lady Maeve folds her hands together, decision made. "Can't risk it. England's reputation shan't be wasted on a counterfeiter and a thief, even if he is my," she hesitates, then says "one of my best agents. Anyway, what's the worst that the Dutch can do to him? They're a bunch of merchants, Quentin."
"Q," mutters Q, under his breath.
"What was that?" asks Lady Maeve.
"Nothing, my Lady," says Q.
"Good." Lady Maeve stands. "I've a meeting with the Queen. I want the Italian messages on my desk when I'm back, you understand?"
The Dutch are, in fact, a bunch of merchants. And merchants take the provenance of their money very seriously indeed. And they don't much like Spaniards, not with the whole war of independence that they're currently waging against their Spanish overlords. And, more to the point, the Dutch authorities have some nice pliers that they've been looking for a chance to try out on someone.
It's very painful. Tiago doesn't like it at all.
"Going to tell us something?" asks his torturer, cheerfully.
"I've told you everything," says Tiago, which is believable even if it isn't true. He's told them a lot, anyway.
"All right," says the torturer. "I'm going to take this big tooth on the left, sound good?"
Tiago closes his eyes and thinks of a small woman, white hair, fashionable black gown with a delicate ruff, kind face and calculating eyes. He hates her; she has doomed him. He loves her; she will be his salvation. He wants to push his hands through her chest and tear out her heart until she's screaming in agony.
Just like he is now, actually.
In 1593, Eve Moneypenny takes the wrong woman's purse.
The market is crowded, the woman's clothing much too fine for this area of London. Her purse is heavy with coin as Eve walks past her and snags it from her basket. Eve tucks it into the folds of her skirt as she looks at some bundles of dyed wool. She stretches a hand out to feel the softness of the wool.
A white, wrinkled hand closes around Eve's brown wrist.
"I'd like my purse, please," says the woman.
Eve smiles uncomprehendingly and says "I don't speak English" in Portuguese.
"I don't care," says the woman, who apparently speaks perfect Portuguese. "You'll go to prison for this in any case."
Eve thinks about screaming, but the people in the market will side with a rich old lady over a poor foreigner. She sighs, shrugs, and holds out the purse.
"Sorry about that." Eve grins, just in case that will keep her out of trouble.
"Thank you." The woman lets go of Eve's wrist as she takes the purse.
Eve turns to escape, and runs straight into a strong man wearing a ridiculous hat.
"Ah, Tanner," says the woman. "One for the Tower, I think."
The Tower's for political prisoners and disgraced lords, not petty thieves. Only the Queen's Council can send people to the Tower.
"I think you've made a mistake," says Eve.
"No," says the woman. "I think you made the mistake."
A few weeks later, James Bond moves to London.
There's nothing for him in the old Skyfall freehold, where he was raised; nothing for him in Dumfries, where he's worked for a decade now. And London promises opportunities. Also a shortage of men who are angry at him for having sex with their daughters (or wives), which is honestly the main reason why James left Dumfries in a hurry.
But London's not especially hospitable to a newcomer, not when the newcomer has a Scotsman's accent and a Frenchman's disdain. James goes to the White Hart and has a drink, and then gets in a fight over dirty Scotsmen drinking good English ale. "This is shit ale," argues James, which is how the barman gets involved. Once a barman is fighting in his own bar, the situation becomes more of a riot than a fight.
A man is stabbed - that is James' fault, but he doesn't feel sorry for it. He is arrested. He headbutts the constable and breaks the constable's nose, but eventually James ends up with his hands chained and his feet chained and three men dragging him to the cells, and there's only so much a man can fight in that kind of situation.
James fully expects to be hanged immediately.
He's sent to the Tower instead.
"Why do we keep sending criminals to the Tower?" asks Q.
"What an odd question." Lady Maeve dips her pen in ink and continues writing. "Who else would we send to the Tower?"
Q pinches the bridge of his nose. He's had a headache for the last three days. "I just mean," he says, slowly, "usually we hang thieves and murderers. We don't send them up with the political prisoners."
Lady Maeve hums and folds her letter, placing it in an envelope. She casts around for the sealing wax, and Q pushes the little red wax candle across the desk to her.
"Do you want something from them?" asks Q. "I could send some of my men-"
"Do you know where most of the Queen's enemies are?" Lady Maeve lights the sealing wax.
"The Tower." Wax dribbles onto the parchment. "Traitors and liars, talking to their guards, to their visitors, to each other. Don't you want to know what they're saying?"
"I suppose," says Q.
"Eve Moneypenny and James Bond are desperate people." Lady Maeve removes her signet ring and presses it into the hot wax. "And desperate people will do a lot of things if they think it helps their chances."
Q shrugs. "Incidentally," he says, "we owe intelligencers in the North their pay for rooting out those Catholic plots."
"See to it, Quentin," says Lady Maeve. She's looking down at her papers, dismissing him from her mind.
"Of course, my Lady." Q hesitates. "I might mention that it has been some time since I was paid-"
"Don't bother me with trivialities." Lady Maeve makes a shooing motion. "Go on, to your work. How is the French code coming along?"
"Badly," says Q, because apparently he's not being paid to be a success - he's not being paid at all. He uses his cane to lever himself to his feet, grimacing. "The codes are getting better. Someone very intelligent working over there."
"More so than you?"
"Don't make me laugh," says Q, glumly, and leaves.
Imprisonment is never much fun. But the Tower is quite interesting. Eve almost finds it romantic - the highest of men are kept in the lowest of conditions, all because they have lost the sweet favor of their Queen.
"Because they tried to rebel, you mean," says Bond. "With swords and axes and religion."
"Yes," says Eve. "But I think they just do it so she'll pay them some attention."
Bond grunts and keeps trying to pick his ankle chain with a pin. Eve likes Bond, as he's a realist. Practical. They make a good team.
"You know Peter Wentworth?"
"Politician," says Bond. "Keeps whining after paper."
"He's writing a book," says Eve. "And he told me that Walter Raleigh told him that Lord Strange is conspiring with the Catholics to overthrow the Queen."
"Again?" asks Bond, and the ankle lock pops open. Bond rubs his ankle, looking unhappy - the big oak door is still locked, so he's not any closer to escape than he was with his ankle chained.
"Yes, again." Eve holds out her ankle, and Bond starts working on her lock. "There are people who would trade a lot for information like that. I've even got the names of coconspirators. We could get money, some better food, a release date-"
Bond grunts again, and Eve's lock snaps open as well. She thinks he has the hang of it now.
"I heard something about a man called Yorke working with Spanish," volunteers Bond.
"There we are," says Eve, and smiles. A couple of clever people like them, they'll be out of here in no time.
Someone starts unlocking the door, and Bond shoves the open chains under the hay that serves as a bed.
The guard kicks the door open and tosses some moldy, rock hard biscuits at them. He turns to go, then turns back, eyes narrowing.
"Here," he says. "Didn't I lock you two up?"
"Don't think so," says Eve.
"Not that I recall," says Bond.
The guar grunts uncertainly, and his key clacks in the lock as he shuts the door behind him. Eve smiles. Chains chafe, and she would always rather be free to move, even in the small shared room in the big stone Tower that is becoming her world.
Raoul Silva, née Tiago Rodriguez, is being fitted for his first pair of dentures. It entails some minor discomfort, and Silva fiddles with his new gold rings as the craftsman works. The gold rings were paid for with stolen money, and each has a different design. One has a death's head, one has the Spanish coat of arms, and the third is a simple letter M. Silva's fingernails scratch at the M ring, but he cannot mark it.
They're well-crafted, these dentures, fine wire stringing everything together and molding the dentures to Raoul's gums. The craftsman runs his fingers along Raoul's upper jaw, then his lower, shaping the wire.
"How's that feel?" he asks. "I can still make some adjustments."
Raoul opens and closes his mouth, gingerly. The wire pinches a little, but that can't be helped - any looser and the dentures would fall out. "Perfect," he says. "Admirable work."
"I had good materials." The craftsman cleans his hands on a rag, beaming. "A full set of human teeth is a rarity, Master Silva. Where did you come by them?"
"Oh," says Raoul, and grins with the yellowed teeth of dead Dutchmen. "I took up a collection."
In 1594, on a sunny spring day, Eve Moneypenny and James Bond are released from the Tower.
"What do we do now?" asks James.
They've no money. They've been passing information to the Crown for six months, but all it got them was a release. Which is very nice, but you can't eat it.
"Do you have any friends in London?" asks Eve.
James shakes his head. "I've plenty of enemies," he offers.
"Me as well," says Eve. The sun is disappearing behind a cloud.
"I think," says James, slowly, "that we should see what that man wants."
"What, the one waving at us?"
The man is skinny, dressed in silver and black with a posh poofy collar. He's leaning heavily on a cane. James thinks he could have him down on the ground with his brains bashed out in less than a minute. But the man has a carriage with a horse and a driver, so he must be good at something.
"Can we help you?" asks Eve, as they near the carriage. The driver is a man wearing a ridiculous hat, and Eve glares at him.
"Eve Moneypenny? James Bond?" asks the man with the cane. "Get in the carriage, please. My Lady wants you."
Eve reaches up for the carriage's door, but James grabs her arm and pulls her back.
"I want to know your name," says James. "Fair's fair."
"You may call me Q," says Q, and gestures to the carriage. "And I don't believe you want to keep my Lady waiting."
The Crown always has a use for clever men and women, desperate men and women, men and women who have few qualms about bludgeoning someone or stealing their purse. And desperate men and women always have a use for the Crown.
"Let me be clear," says Bond. "You want us to act as-" He hesitates, having lost the term.
"Intelligencers," supplies Lady Maeve.
"Intelligencers. Report in on Catholic conspiracies, help them along until they're about to do something dangerous, and then turn the lot in?"
"Exactly," says Lady Maeve.
"And you're going to pay us," says Eve, just to make sure.
"Of course," says Lady Maeve. Q, standing beside her and a few steps back, rolls his eyes.
"You realize I'm a Catholic," says Bond. Q shakes his head, makes a throat-cutting motion with the hand not occupied by his cane, but Bond ignores him, continues, "And Eve's - whatever Eve is."
"A heathen," Eve grins. Q covers his face with his hand.
"I don't see the relevance," says Lady Maeve. "I suppose it will help you fit in with the Queen's enemies a little better."
Bond smiles, and Eve can tell that he likes Lady Maeve, likes her very much. There is a- a quality about Lady Maeve, which draws the attention of a certain kind of person. The kind of person who hasn't had a mother for most of their life, who has learned to make do with the brutality of the world from a young age. Lady Maeve has a mother's kind smile and the glint of abandonment in her eyes.
If Eve is honest with herself, she is a certain kind of person and she likes Lady Maeve as well.
"We'll do it," says Eve.
Q keeps his house in admirable repair, despite his steadily draining finances. His servants are spotless, except for Geoff, and you can't do much about acne. You could eat your dinner off the tables. The wallpaper is fashionable and his flooring is beautifully done.
Q's workroom, on the other hand, is a bit of a mess.
"Firearms," he mutters to himself, digging through stacks of codebooks and reams of parchment. "Firearms."
Eve and Bond look around with blank, bored faces, but Q suspects that this is Intelligencer for awe.
"What do you do?" asks Eve. "Are you Lady Maeve's servant?"
"Nice place for a servant," says Bond.
"We are all servants of Lady Maeve now," says Q, and produces a tiny wheellock pistol, which he tosses at Bond before turning to dig through a few more piles. "Now, where's the shot?"
Eve kicks over a stack of books, delicately, and unearths a heavy wood box.
"Thank you, Mistress Moneypenny." Q unlocks the box, revealing a larger pistol and bags of shot and charges. "Lady Maeve is the Queen's spymaster, as I trust you've gathered. I am Lady Maeve's spymaster. You will give me your loyalty and any information you may gather, and in return I will arm you and pay you."
"We're working for you?" Bond snorts, and Q narrows his eyes.
"You look like a breeze could blow you over," says Bond. Eve frowns, because it's true.
"I'm not a well man," says Q, frankly. He takes a step forward, cane thumping on the floor, then another. "I spend a lot of time in bed, Master Bond, but fortunately I am well able to work in my bedclothes. I've invented thirty codes, and broken over four hundred. I built that pistol you're holding, Master Bond, from spare parts and half-written blueprints stolen from Italy. It ignites powder without using matches, it can fire two rounds without reloading, and it looks gorgeous, doesn't it?" Q moves forward again, and his cane would have landed on Bond's toes if Bond hadn't taken a step back.
"I," says Q, puffed up with affronted dignity, "could do more damage from my bed than you could do in a year on the streets."
"Fine, fine," says Bond. "But I could break your nose right now."
The two of them glare at each other.
Eve starts laughing. She can't help it, they're ridiculous.
Bond rubs the back of his head. Q seems to shrink.
"Do you want the small pistol or the large one, Master Bond?" he asks.
"I'll keep the small one." Bond smiles, serenely. "I hear it's very good."
"Show us how to work them," says Eve. "They look fascinating."
Q preens and shows off the larger pistol, awkwardly winding the heavy priming mechanism.
"Good thing they're not matchlocks," mutters Bond. "All the paper in here, the whole house would go up if you dropped a match."
"No threats now," says Eve, out of the corner of her mouth. "The nice man's paying us."
Lady Maeve has a seat on the Queen's Council and Her Majesty's ear. She is one of the most powerful women in England, in a time which is not easy for powerful women.
She's very pleased with herself.
The messages that have arrived since last night are piled on her desk when she arrives at her office in the morning. Communiqués from Quentin, from agents, from fellow courtiers. Nothing particularly interesting, except for an envelope with a death's head stamped into the seal.
Lady Maeve picks it up, considering, and then slices off the seal with one smooth motion of her letter-opener.
The parchment inside has only one sentence on it, written in a shaky hand with blood-red ink.
"Think on your sins," reads Lady Maeve.
What absolute rot.
In 1595, James Bond dies for the first time.
Eve has been working on the Yorke-Williams plot with Bond for the better part of a year. The plot has everything: Catholics, threats of rebellion, and even a Spanish connection. There's some Spaniard involved who hates England, actually used that very phrase in a letter, a letter sealed with the Spanish coat of arms. The Spaniard is supplying arms and information. It will be a triumph of propaganda when the conspirators are hanged and their planned crimes are set at Spain's doorstep.
Which is why it's so important that Eve keep her cover when Bond is caught.
"We found him writing down coded messages," says Williams. He waves a paper and spits on the ground. "A spy! An intelligencer for the Queen!"
"May the devil eat your eyeballs," says Eve to Bond, solemnly. "I trusted you."
Bond smiles, teetering on the edge of the dock, his back to the water. Williams has threatened to push him in - Eve hopes that he does. Bond's hands are tied and he's been blindfolded, but even in that state he could swim his way to freedom without too much trouble. With the current disgusting composition of the Thames, in fact, Bond could probably run away on the turgid surface of the river.
"So," says Williams, pacing up and down the dock, "so, traitors are executed, aren't they? We'd swing if the Crown heard what we were up to, so I think it's fair to offer James the same treatment."
"Then let's shove him off and have done with it," says Eve.
Williams eyes her, and Eve tries not to flinch. She has to keep her cover.
"Shoot him," says Williams. "Shoot the villain."
Eve puts her hand on the wheellock pistol she's stuck in her belt. "It'd be a waste of shot," she says.
The men around her shift, and Eve hears daggers being drawn. Williams leans into her space.
"I will root out every spy that has found their way into my company," he says. "But I trust you, Eve. I know you're loyal." Prove it, he doesn't say. Eve takes her pistol from her belt, a paper sleeve of gunpowder from her pouch. Williams' eyes are on her as she tears the sleeve with her teeth, pouring some powder into the pan and then the rest down the barrel. There. Primed and ready.
It's black out, on the banks of the Thames - it's the dead of night, and the new moon casts no light. The scant lantern-light shines on Bond's cheekbones and his faint smile. Eve aims. The shoulder, right? Hit the shoulder, James will fall into the water and swim for it, they can both live and Eve can turn in the conspirators. If she can just clip Bond's shoulder.
Eve breathes out. She can almost hear Lady Maeve's voice in her ear, shouting at her. "Keep the cover, protect the Crown, take the shot," and her fingers tighten on the trigger and Bond jerks and spins as he falls into the Thames.
"Good shot!" calls Williams. "Now, let's away before anyone comes running!"
Eve thinks she hit Bond in the shoulder. She's sure she did. But the pistol pulls to the left, sometimes, and the current carries Bond away before she can get a good look, and Williams is pulling at her arm.
She turns the conspirators in the next morning. Their Spanish ally is still at large, but Yorke and Williams will hang along with their friends.
"Exemplary work," says Lady Maeve. "Quentin will have a bonus for you."
"Thank you, my Lady." Eve smiles at Q's grimace. "Has James reported in?"
"Master Bond?" Lady Maeve turns to look at Q, but Q shakes his head. "No, it appears not. Didn't you say you shot him?"
Eve's smile slowly drains away.
James is expecting the shot, when it comes, and he lets the force of it push him off the dock and into the welcoming, smothering arms of the Thames.
His arm feels like it's burning, like it's going to fall off, but he ignores it and kicks his way through the water until he hits the riverbank on the other side. His blindfold has come off in the Thames, and it's silt and black muck here, growing red with James' blood. He gasps for air and looks up.
Well. The White Hart. He's returned to that pub with Eve, once or twice. The ale is still shit, but the company is marginally more friendly than his first visit.
James cuts his bonds with a bit of shattered glass from the bank, pushes himself to his feet. He'll need a barber-surgeon for his arm soon enough, but he could do with a drink first.
"Quentin." Lady Maeve waves him inside her office. "I've been receiving a number of threatening letters, recently."
"Hm." Q sits down. "Are they in code?"
"No, they're quite plain," says Lady Maeve.
"Then I don't see what you want me to do about it," says Q. "Have the sender arrested."
"I don't know who's sending them," says Lady Maeve, calmly enough, though her eyes narrow at him. "All they say is 'think on your sins.' No name."
"That's less of a threat and more of a reminder, my Lady." Q shrugs. "I imagine nothing will come of it."
Lady Maeve shuffles the letters on her desk. "I'm sure you're right, Quentin, but-" she hesitates, cocking her head. "Can you hear screaming?"
Q can hear screaming, from the window in Lady Maeve's office, and then a distant explosion makes the building shake. Q and Lady Maeve leap stiffly to their respective feet.
"That's coming from Fenchurch," says Q.
"Isn't that where you live?" asks Lady Maeve.
Q doesn't answer, just runs out the door. Lady Maeve hurries after him. Q has made it to the bottom of the stairs and is now leaning on the banister, panting a little.
"Can I borrow your carriage?" he gasps. "I don't think I can run to Fenchurch after all."
Lady Maeve shoves past him, heading for the stables.
Fenchurch is only a few streets away, and Tanner steers the carriage toward the towering column of smoke. When they stop in front of the burning ruins of a building, the carriage glides to a halt and Q stumbles out, sinking gingerly to his knees.
"My house!" he wails. "My codebooks! My diaries!"
Lady Maeve steps out of the coach just as something bursts in the burning house, caving the second floor in on itself.
"My explosives!" wails Q.
"Sir," says a woman in a cap and a green apron - Q's cook, probably, "Sir, we all made it out, even Geoff. I think Thom has your purse and your essentials. It's not all bad."
"Not all bad?" Q looks at her with reddened eyes. "Molly, I'm already paupering myself to the Crown, and now I've got to buy a new house!"
Lady Maeve just watches the flames. "This is a message," she says, quietly. "Think on your sins. But why attack your house, Quentin? My office is near enough."
Q gets to his feet, using his stick and Molly's helping hand. "With all due respect, Lady Maeve, your office is hardly the center of operations. Nine-tenths of our cryptological resources and our armory were in my keeping, in that house."
"Where is the other tenth?" asks Lady Maeve.
"Safe," says Q. "I think. Perhaps I'd better check."
Most people think twice before disturbing a man covered in mud and blood, especially when he's trying to have a nice, quiet drink. James has been having a nice, quiet drink for five days, now. A surgeon must have come and stitched up his arm at some point, because his arm is carefully bandaged under his shirt. James doesn't remember, and he thinks he was probably drunk at the time. Other things lost in a drunken stupor: a bath, a change of clothes, and probably seducing the innkeep's wife. She keeps smiling at him, anyway, and James feels very clean for having just been in the Thames.
He should probably go tell Eve that he's alive, but the White Hart is turning out to be a very inviting place, where no one seems inclined to shoot at him. James feels due some recuperation.
He's sitting in an armchair before the roaring fire, enjoying his third, possibly fourth ale of the morning. A man drops down into the chair beside him.
"Are you James Bond?"
James looks up at his new companion. He's a solid-looking blond man, with a considering look in his half-lidded eyes. He's wearing three gold rings on his left hand. Bond sets his ale down on the small table between them.
"Who wants to know?"
"Raoul Silva." The man holds out an hand, and Bond pointedly doesn't grasp it. The man shrugs and picks up Bond's ale instead, taking a sip. "I heard you were dead, Master Bond."
Bond stands, steadying himself against the back of his chair. "I think we should talk outside." No telling who will be listening here.
The morning outside is gray and misty, chill shuddering its way into cold. Silva has a brocade cape that he drapes over his own shoulders, while Bond shivers in his jerkin, leaning against the stone wall of a nearby alley.
"Lady Maeve has a type," says Silva. "Blonde hair, square jaw, killer's hands. I like the blue eyes, that's novel."
"You're one of Lady Maeve's agents," says Bond.
"I used to be." Silva leans in. "Before she left me to die, just as she's left you. There is no loyalty in the Crown's service, James."
Silva mouth stretches into a mockery of a grin, and James' eye is drawn to the glint of light on each one of Silva's perfectly-aligned teeth.
"I see myself in you, James," says Silva. "Just clever enough to know who to shoot, aren't you? And when you fall, there will be fifty men more to step up and take your place, ready to die for Lady Maeve."
"I'm not dead yet," says James. He can feel Silva's breath ghosting on his cheek.
Silva hums and runs a hand along the folds of James' shirt, smoothing it across James' chest. "Yes, I've noticed. I'm here to deliver a warning, James, a warning to your Lady and your Queen and your country. But you tempt me to... delay."
James looks down at Silva's hand, the left hand with the three gold rings. A death's head, and the Spanish coat of arms, and- a light dawns. "You're the Spanish bastard that was funding Yorke and Williams," says James.
"Well done." Silva's fingers press on the bandage that covers James' shoulder wound, the shock of pain threatening to weaken his knees. "That makes me the enemy, doesn't it? Good agents don't consort with the enemy, do they?"
"I'm not a very good agent," says James, and grabs Silva's hand, twisting it away from him. Silva turns with the motion, ending up a few steps back with his hand free again.
"Oh, Master Bond!" Silva laughs. "I do like you." He steps forward, trapping James' wrists with his hands. James doesn't move, watching Silva draw closer.
"Give my love to the Lady," whispers Silva into James' ear, and he kisses James' cheek. James momentarily closes his eyes at the touch of stubble, then kicks out, trying to catch Silva's shin. But Silva is already jumping back, his cape whirling away into the morning mist as he retreats and disappears.
James rubs his wrists and tries to scowl instead of smiling.
When Lady Maeve returns to her office, James Bond is sitting on her desk.
"I thought you were dead," she says.
"I've already been through that," says Bond. "I've a message for you."
Lady Maeve takes her cloak off, leaving it on a chair. "Get down," she tells Bond. "I have to work there. What's the message?"
"I'm not clear on that," admits Bond, pushing away from the desk. "I think it was a general threat."
"I'd think the letters and Quentin's poor house were already message enough." Lady Maeve sits down behind her desk. Bond looks awful - his arm is hanging limply at his side, and his breath reeks of alcohol. "Who gave you this message?"
"Raoul Silva." Lady Maeve shakes her head, and Bond continues. "Sturdy-looking man, Spanish, blond hair, very good teeth, said he used to work for you, said you left him to die-"
"Tiago?" Lady Maeve taps her fingers on her desk. "I haven't heard of him in years."
Bond shrugs. He's actually swaying on his feet, now that he's standing. Lady Maeve supposes she should send him home, if he's got one.
"Run along to Quentin," she says instead. "We'll have to deal with this."
Bond turns and leaves, without a word.
"He's relocated!" shouts Lady Maeve, after him. "He's in- oh, just let me draw you a map!"
Bond comes back in, trying to act casual, and waits as Lady Maeve scrounges for a spare bit of parchment.
Q's new workshop is in the bowels of London. Eve follows Q down from a trapdoor in the basement of a servant's building in Whitehall Palace, through winding corridors and up and down sloping, slimy stairs. Finally they are in front of a small wooden door, with a heavy iron lock. Q unscrews the top of his cane - there is a key concealed there.
"Stand back," says Q, and uses the cane to unlock the door at arms-length. As the door swings open, a crossbow bolt hits the floor where someone might be standing if they were using a normal key instead of a key attached to a stick.
"Nice." Eve nods at the bolt. "Why didn't your house have traps like these?"
"It did," says Q. "But there's only so much you can do about a firebomb."
The workshop is a mess, just like Q's lost workroom at home. But the books here are thicker and older, and the weapons are heavier and less subtle.
"I used to keep all of this updated," says Q, "but it was so much trouble to come down here every month. Now it's just the reference books I've memorized and the weapons that have fallen out of fashion."
There's a noise in the hall outside. The door's still open, and Eve can see a bobbing light coming nearer. She sets her own lantern down and draws her pistol as Q takes a sword from the wall.
"Who's there?" demands Eve. "Answer, or I'll fire!"
James Bond comes into view, lantern-light shining on his cheekbones. "Haven't you done that enough for one week?" he asks.
"Where the hell have you been?" Eve puts her pistol away so she won't do him damage.
"In the pub. Here, Q, I'm supposed to help you find the man who burned your house down. Calls himself Raoul Silva, but Lady Maeve says his name is Tiago Rodriguez."
"Excellent." Q smiles. "Track him down, torture him for the loss of my books, maybe send him to the Tower for a few dozen years-"
"And I lost that pistol you gave me," says Bond.
"You won't get another like that," says Q, smile dying. "Those wheellock firearms are worth a fortune. Here." He hands Bond the sword, then a clunky matchlock pistol from a rack. "Shot in the cupboard, third shelf. I think I have some matches somewhere." Q looks at the other firearms on the rack, considering, then picks up a slender wheellock arquebus that's about half as long as Q is tall. "Eve, this should give you a larger range."
"Why does Eve get a nice weapon like that while I'm stuck with this?" Bond holds the old matchlock with distaste.
"I didn't lose my pistol." Eve pets the long barrel of the arquebus and smirks.
"You didn't fall into the Thames."
"I'm a better shot," says Eve. "Can you even aim with your left hand?"
"And whose fault is it that I can't use my right?" says Bond.
"Don't let's argue," says Q, and then they hear the sound of running feet.
When the man wearing a ridiculous hat comes to the door, there are two pistols pointed at him and Q has retrieved another sword from the wall. To his credit, the man hardly blinks. Eve recognizes him as Tanner, Lady Maeve's man, and she nods at him as she lowers her pistol. Tanner nods back, distractedly.
"Someone's tried to murder Lady Maeve," says Tanner, and is nearly knocked off his feet as Eve and Bond rush past him.
Q pauses to lock the door and reload the crossbow trap, as Tanner steadies himself against the wall.
Lady Maeve's hands are shaking. Shards cut her hands and face after the first crossbow bolt shattered the glass window. The second and third shots hit her desk as Lady Maeve crouched underneath it, and the fourth shot tore open the upholstery of her favorite chair. And then the shots stopped.
Lady Maeve breathes in, and out, and her hands stop shaking.
"Are you all right, my Lady?" asks Eve.
"I will be when we've caught the bastard," says Lady Maeve.
"The bolts have messages tied to them," says Q, inspecting one. "Just one word. 'Your.'"
"This one says 'think.'" Bond waves a second bolt.
"Yes, yes, think on your sins, I know it's Tiago. Silva. We have to find him."
"With all respect," begins Q, "we have to get you to safety. Silva has a vendetta."
"I know a safe place," says Bond. "I have a freehold on the border, Skyfall-"
"I'm not riding to bloody Scotland," snaps Lady Maeve. "I'll face Silva here, in my city, on my ground. He will not drive me out."
Q and Bond fall silent, looking at the bolts that still stick in Lady Maeve's desk.
"What shall we do?" asks Eve.
"Is that your sword?" Lady Maeve points at the side-sword hanging from Bond's belt. Bond nods at the same time as Q says, "It's mine."
"Give it to me." Lady Maeve holds out a hand, and Bond only hesitates a moment before drawing the sword and offering it to her. She takes it, testing its weight against her strength. It's light enough.
"Silva came to you once, Bond," she says. "I wonder if he'll come to you again."
This neighborhood is deserted. The residents departed the area during the last great plague scare, and no one has come yet to fill it back up. There's nowhere for anyone to hide - the buildings are empty and rotting, and Silva makes a circuit of every single one, upstairs and downstairs, before he comes out into the open square. He spins around, slowly, checking the roofs.
Bond is sitting on a stone wall that overlooks the Thames, just as he has been for at least three hours, when one of Silva's contacts noticed his strange behavior. Bond is very still, waiting like a hawk that only moves to breathe. Silva swings his legs over the wall and sits down next to him.
"Looking for someone, James?"
"I heard someone was taking potshots at Lady Maeve." Bond flicks his eyes over to Silva, then back at the water. "I thought it might have something to do with you."
"Perhaps," says Silva. He puts his arm around Bond's shoulders, half because he likes having a strong man under his arm, and half because there's only a slight movement separating this familiarity and a stranglehold. "What else do you think, James?"
Bond leans back into his arm, smiling slightly. "I think I'd like to know why you hate Lady Maeve."
Silva smiles back as his jaw tightens, grinding his teeth together. "Do you know," he says, when he can trust himself to speak, "do you know how many teeth there are in the human head?"
Bond frowns, and his lower jaw moves like he's trying to subtly check.
"Thirty-two," says Silva. He wants to shout, but he keeps his voice calm. "I counted as they were pulled from my head. Because dear Lady Maeve wouldn't ask the Dutch to free me, because Lady Maeve values her influence, her reputation, her position higher than she values human lives. My life."
"I only have twenty-nine teeth," says Bond. He hasn't moved away from Silva's arm.
"Do you?" Silva lets his hand drift up to stroke Bond's jaw. "You must have lost some. I counted them again when I ripped the teeth from the corpses of my torturers, of my jailers."
Bond turns to look at Silva. His hand touches Silva's own jaw, then pushes his lips apart to look at Silva's dentures. There's no pity in Bond's eyes, just wary admiration.
"Quality workmanship," says Bond. "They look in better shape than my own."
"Thank you." Silva pushes Bond's hand away, wipes his mouth. "But they need replacing, in the next few months. I'm taking another collection."
Bond nods. "I have a message for you. A warning."
Silva raises his eyebrows, takes his arm away from Bond's shoulder. He can hear something scratching, quietly, like a rat in a trap.
Bond leans in and kisses him. Silva wasn't expecting that, but he's not one to waste an opportunity - he bites Bond's lip, then tries to swallow Bond's tongue. The scratching is getting louder. Silva pushes Bond away, gently, gently.
"That's not a warning, Master Bond."
"No." Bond smiles a predator's smile, and leans in until Silva can feel Bond's breath on his ear and Bond's heartbeat under his hands. The scratching stops. Silva can hear paper tearing.
"Run," whispers Bond, and Silva turns his head. A flagstone has been pushed up from the center of the square, and a young woman with a firearm is aiming at him.
Several things happen, not all at once, but in a very rapid sequence.
Silva pushes Bond off the wall and into the Thames, while Silva lets the shove send him in the other direction, rolling away from the wall. The young woman fires, and her shot knocks fragments from the wall where Silva was sitting. There is a splash and some confusing Scotch-French swearing. There are huge clouds of smoke rising from the center of the square. There is the sound of paper tearing.
The woman fires again as Silva takes another roll across the square and the shot cracks a flagstone next to his shoulder. Silva tries to remember whether the arquebus had two barrels or three, if the woman is preparing another shot or trying to reload.
Silva pulls a pistol from his boot and stands. The woman's next shot knocks the pistol from his hand.
"Good shot," he says, running forward.
"I was aiming for your head," snarls the woman, and swings the arquebus like a club at his midriff. Silva catches it and hauls the woman out of the hole, tossing her at the wall. She hits it, hard, and whimpers as she curls up around herself.
Silva stalks forward, hands clenching and unclenching. "You have very good teeth, you know." His voice starts out high and angry, but he forces it down to a conversational level. "I only take trophies from my enemies, but you did shoot at me. I think you're well qualified."
The woman puts a hand on the ground and tries to push herself up. There's a scratching noise from the center of the square, and Silva turns.
Lady Maeve rises from the tunnel, sword in hand and eyes blazing. She looks like an avenging angel - Silva wants to drop to one knee and give worship. He draws his own sword instead.
"So good to see you again, my Lady. I've waited years for this moment. It felt like decades, decades of agony and pain-"
"Shut up," says Lady Maeve, and lunges for him.
Eve finally manages to get her hands under her and lever herself to her feet. Lady Maeve has distracted Silva for now, their duel flashing between parry and riposte as they circle each other. Even if Eve reloaded her arquebus, she doesn't think she could get a clear shot.
"Eve! Here, Eve!"
Eve leans over the wall. Bond is splashing around in the Thames, looking unhappy at his lot in life.
"Get me out of this muck!" he shouts.
"Pull yourself out!" Eve turns and watches Lady Maeve parry a cut to her head and return with a cut meant to split Silva from collar to groin. Silva sidesteps and extends his sword level with Lady Maeve's eyes, forcing her to take a step back.
"I tried!" shouts Bond. "The blasted wall is too slick!"
Eve tears her eyes away from the duel and looks back down at the river. Up here the wall is easy to climb, but down at the water's edge it's encrusted in moss and slime.
"I'll get you a rope," says Eve.
There are no convenient ropes lying coiled up next to the wall. But there is an old tobacco cart on the other side of the square, its wheels tied immobile with a heavy rope.
Eve draws her knife. Silva takes Lady Maeve's blade with a circular sweep of his own sword, but Lady Maeve steps forward, point jabbing at Silva's arm. Eve begins to saw through the knot of the rope. Silva disengages, then swipes at Lady Maeve's feet. Lady Maeve jumps over the blade, and then tries to skewer Silva's privates.
"This is ridiculous," says Eve, and unwinds the rope from the cart. Silva lunges and Lady Maeve performs a perfect passata-sotto, ducking under Silva's blade.
Bond is still treading water when Eve makes it back to the wall. "What's going on?" he shouts.
"These two are bloody fencing masters, that's what's going on." Eve ties the rope to one of the stone outcroppings decorating the wall, then tosses the trailing end down to Bond. "Hurry up and get out of there!"
Lady Maeve presents her blade, and Silva knocks it away, advancing on her. But Lady Maeve's point swings around and cuts across Silva's guard, spreading sparks. Silva lunges, then lunges again, closing the distance, and Lady Maeve parries, turning her body in toward Silva and then swinging her sword arm backwards at him.
Silva brings his arm up to parry, too high. Lady Maeve's blade bites into his side, cutting through layers of clothing and spilling blood across the flagstones.
Bond drags himself up to the top of the wall and dribbles water over everything. "Bloody fencing masters," he repeats.
Silva knocks Lady Maeve's blade away again, smiles at her, and runs. Lady Maeve clutches her skirts with one hand and gives chase, back into the streets of London.
Eve hauls at Bond's arm. "Come on, we have to get after them!"
"Other arm!" howls Bond. "That's the one you shot! Stop pulling at it!"
Eve hauls on Bond's other arm instead, then pauses to snatch up her arquebus as Bond gets himself the rest of the way over the wall. They take off at a sprint, Eve struggling to reload the arquebus as she goes.
A few minutes later, in the renewed silence of the deserted square, someone is gasping for breath. A man with a cane slowly climbs out of the tunnel in the center of the square. Once on the surface again, he stops to rest and look about as a man in a ridiculous hat follows him out of the tunnel.
"Oh, where've they gone now?" asks Q, of the world at large.
"That way," says Tanner, and points.
When Lady Maeve was a young woman, the fashion was for long, fitted dresses, which hugged the hips and trailed on the ground. Fortunately, some Spaniard thought up the farthingale, the padding and structure which makes Lady Maeve look twice as wide at the hips as she truly is, but which also keeps her skirts clear of the ground as she runs after Silva. Bless fashion.
Lady Maeve has never known Tiago to run away from a fight. If he's fleeing now, he's got a good reason. And he's running at a certain speed, not fast enough to lose her, not so slow that she could catch up. Lady Maeve pushes to go faster, and Silva speeds up - she slows, and Silva slows to match her, looking over his shoulder to judge their distance. He's leading her somewhere.
Nothing to do but follow, or lose him.
Silva turns a corner, and then through a pair of archways. Lady Maeve goes after him, bursting out into the busy Royal Exchange.
The Exchange is the largest market in London, and today it is packed with normal, probably-innocent Londoners who are trying to do their shopping. Merchants are hawking their wares, and a tall fountain in the center of the square fills the air with the cheerful sound of running water.
Lady Maeve stops dead, and Silva spins to grin at her. The market-goers glance over, see Silva's naked blade and Lady Maeve's bloody one. They begin to scream.
"Witnesses," says Silva. Somehow Lady Maeve can still hear his quiet voice, even through the roar of noise. "Every great deed should have witnesses." He takes a step forward, then two, and then he begins a fleche.
When a swordsman runs at you, you should try to parry or let him skewer himself on your blade. But when he's a large man with a long reach and you're a small woman with a short reach, the instinct is to get away, as quickly as possible.
People scatter around them as Lady Maeve runs backwards and Silva chases her. Lady Maeve's dress snags on a cart, and she tears at it, the fabric coming free with a rending noise. Silva is slowing as the people continue to swarm around them, and Lady Maeve pulls away the torn panel of her overdress, wrapping the fabric around her fist. Silva kicks over a basket of apples, and advances among the rolling fruit, one step, two steps, three- His blade darts toward Lady Maeve's breast, and she catches the thrust in the cloth and then tosses the whole mess at Silva's face. He pushes the cloth away from his sword just in time to parry her attack and riposte. Lady Maeve turns his attack away and counter-ripostes, and then they both disengage to circle each other.
The people of London form a ring around them, not wanting to get close enough to be hurt, but not wanting to miss a good bit of street theatre. Someone is shouting for the constables, but Lady Maeve expects that the constables will wait until the fight is over, then arrest whomever survives. It's a less risky strategy, and dueling this close to the palace is generally punishable by death anyway.
Parry, riposte, attack, defend. Sweat runs into Lady Maeve's eyes, but she doesn't blink. If this duel must end with one of them dead, Lady Maeve plans to be the one left alive at the end of it.
No one notices James and Eve running into the exchange, not when there's a duel happening. They shove through the pulsing mass of people, trying to make their way toward the clashing noise of metal on metal.
"I can't see them," says Eve. Her hands clutch and unclutch around the arquebus, fully loaded and primed and useless in this crowd.
James casts his gaze across the square. Everything around him is people and carts, except for the towering statues of the fountain. He turns back to Eve, but her eyes have already caught on the fountain as well.
James isn't pleased when they splash their way into the fountain, but at least the water is cleaner than the water of the Thames.
Lady Maeve is breathing hard and trying not to show it. This has gone on far too long. All of this running and jumping would have been tiring twenty years ago, and now it's exhausting. "You're very good, Silva," says Lady Maeve, half to buy time and half because it's true.
"I learned from the best," says Silva. "A vicious little woman, who was kind enough to tutor a poor orphan boy. But she's not so kind, not any more."
Lady Maeve laughs, a wry, dry chuckle. "Want to give yourself up, poor little orphan boy?"
The circle of people tightens as the Londoners lose their fear and gain curiosity. All of them want to hear what Silva will say.
Apples roll across the ground, and Silva looks down at them with a smile.
"I think not," he says, at last, and his sword lashes out like a snake.
Lady Maeve parries, but their guards tangle and suddenly Silva is bearing her down to the ground, his breath hot on her cheek. His free hand goes down to his boot and comes back with a knife.
"I think I'll take your teeth while you're still alive." Silva's half-lidded eyes are fixed on Lady Maeve's mouth. "It hurts, it hurts so much, my Lady."
"Get off of me," snarls Lady Maeve. "Go to hell."
"I'm taking you with me," hums Silva. His blade draws a stinging line across Lady Maeve's cheekbone. The hand that holds the knife wears three rings, and the one closest to Lady Maeve's eye bears a simple letter M. "We'll be so happy together. The devil, the whore of London, and baby Tiago makes three. We'll-"
"Do it, if you're going to," says Lady Maeve. "I don't want to listen to you any longer."
"So eager," says Silva, and then there's a bang. He jerks, and then falls. His mouth moves, trying to gasp something. Lady Maeve shoves him off of her.
There's smoke rising from the top of the fountain. Someone's moving in it, but Lady Maeve can't quite see who. The people of London close in, chattering. She feels as if she can't breathe.
She stands. "Listen here," she says, quite calmly, "I am Lady Maeve Cecil, and anyone who is still here in five minutes is going to be under arrest."
It's astonishing how fast the Exchange clears. Londoners turn over carts and trample goods in their haste to be gone.
Eve Moneypenny walks through the fleeing crowd, followed by James Bond. Both of them are soaking wet.
"Have you been swimming?" asks Lady Maeve.
Bond turns Silva over with his foot, then crouches down. "He's dead," he announces.
"I was aiming for his shoulder." Eve is unsuccessfully trying to dry her arquebus with her dripping skirt. "All of Q's firearms pull to the right."
"Well, I can't say I'm sorry," begins Lady Maeve, and then, "Bond, what on earth are you doing?"
Bond closes the corpse's jaw, and clacks a pair of dentures at Lady Maeve. "They're important," he says. "Silva went through a lot to get these."
There's saliva dripping from his fingers. Or possibly that's still fountain-water. "You're disgusting," says Lady Maeve. Bond shrugs and stands up.
"What are we supposed to do about all of this?" asks Eve.
Lady Maeve opens her mouth, then shuts it again. She really has no idea.
Someone is walking into the square - she can hear footsteps, and an irregular clacking noise. Eve raises her arquebus, and Bond shifts in front of Lady Maeve.
Q comes into view, his footsteps accompanied by the clack of his stick hitting pavement, followed by William Tanner. Q looks over the Exchange, and Lady Maeve can see him taking in the overturned carts, the trampled goods, the apples still rolling across the square. The drenched state of Eve and Bond. Lady Maeve holding a bloody sword, with her gown skirt half torn away and her petticoat showing. The dead body on the ground.
Lady Maeve pushes Bond aside. "Ah, Quentin," she says. "Take care of this, would you? I'm going to change into some proper clothing."
Q stares at her. Lady Maeve hands him the sword.
"That belongs to you, doesn't it?" She waves at Tanner. "Give me your arm, Tanner, we're going back to my offices."
Q says something incomprehensibly angry. Lady Maeve is already gone.
"Are you going to be all right?" asks Bond. He clacks the teeth again, and Q shakes his head.
"You're not really going to keep those, are you?" asks Eve.
"Why not?" Bond slips the teeth into his belt-pouch. "A souvenir."
"A token of your lost love, more like," says Eve.
Bond glares at her. "You didn't see anything."
"I saw a lot of things, Master Bond." Eve wags a finger at him. "Consorting with the enemy!"
"You," says Bond, enunciating each word very clearly, "did not see anything."
"Repeating yourself isn't going to wipe my memory-"
"I can't pay for all this damage!" shouts Q. "This is ridiculous! I'm going bankrupt! I'm homeless! And now I'm supposed to 'take care of this'?"
The sword in Q's hand is shaking. Eve and Bond look at each other, then start to slowly approach Q, making no sudden movements.
"I can see why Silva tried to murder Lady Maeve," mumbles Q. "I would quite like to murder her. Perhaps I can play at being the enemy next-"
"Calm down." Eve pats Q's shoulder. "Bond and I will dump the body in the Thames, and then we can just leave. Let the merchants deal with their broken carts."
"They'll sue for recompensation," says Q. His grip on the sword tightens until his knuckles turn white.
"Who are they going to sue?" Bond pats Q's other shoulder. "The dead man who's disappeared? Lady Maeve, an elderly woman who couldn't possibly have been dueling in the streets? They can sue Thomas Gresham, if they like - it's his bloody exchange."
"Gresham died a decade ago," says Q, but he's beginning to relax.
"Then there's no one left to sue," says Eve. "Throw the body in the river and be done with it. People will complain, but complaints don't cost anything."
Q's hand loosens on the sword, and Bond carefully slides it from between his fingers. "But we should probably hurry," says Bond. "Before anyone comes back."
In the year of our Lord 1595, on a historically unremarkable day in March, three figures are trying to shove a cloth-covered bundle off Queenhythe's dock.
"He's gotten heavier," complains Eve.
"That's what corpses do," says Bond, with the voice of experience. "Come on, push."
"Are you sure no one's seen us?" asks Q.
"Everything's fine," says Bond. "Look, we'll finish here, then go to a pub I know-"
"Not the White Hart," says Eve.
They shove again, and the bundle splashes into the river. Bond dusts his hands. "What's wrong with the White Hart?"
"You always seduce the innkeeper's wife when you're drunk," says Eve. "And then you forget when you're sober again. It's becoming dull."
"We could go to the Eagle and Child, then," says Bond.
"That's all the way on the other side of the city." Eve shakes her head. "I think we should go to the Boar's Head."
"It's so loud in there," says Bond. "And there are never any good tables."
"I don't like pubs," volunteers Q. "Anything stronger than small beer makes me feel ill." Bond and Eve ignore him.
"We'll have a drink," says Eve, "and then we can discuss how to refill Master Q's coffers."
"Forgery would be easiest," says Bond. "I'm sure you could devise a machine for coining, Q."
"Coining's what started this whole mess," says Q. But his eyes are looking brighter, his head already filling with ideas for an automated devices for shaving and sweating genuine coins and devices for creating counterfeit ones. His money problems could very well be at an end.
"I think Silva's stuck on the dock," says Eve, peering into the water. The bundle is caught on a couple of the supports, and the fabric has unraveled enough to show a patch of skin and some blond hair.
Bond swears and gestures at Q. "Give us your cane, we'll soon have him floating."
The bundle is pushed away from the dock, and it begins to float down the Thames.
"Goodbye, darling," says Eve, pitching her voice deep in a very bad imitation of Bond.
"I will hit you with this stick," says Bond.
Q looks between them and decides he doesn't want to know.
The three figures walk away from the dock, up into the busy streets of Eastcheap. At the Boar's Head, Bond gets roaring drunk and seduces both the innkeeper's wife and the innkeeper, mostly in an attempt to ruin the pub for Eve so that they won't go there again. Eve ignores this as childish behavior. Q drinks some of Eve's rhenish wine by mistake and becomes very drunk for about five minutes before the wine wears off and he becomes hungover instead.
In the morning, the bundle fetches up on the south bank of the Thames, where it startles the life out of a group of actors on their way to the newly-constructed Swan theatre.
"Should we do something about this?" squeaks William Kempe.
Will Shakespeare prods the cloth-wrapped corpse with his foot. It makes a distressing squelching noise.
"Like what?" asks George Bryan.
"Inform the constables?" suggests Kempe.
"I don't like talking to constables," says Bryan. "They think I'm a suspicious person without any decent means of employment. I tell them I'm an actor, and they say it amounts to the same thing."
Shakespeare bends and brushes a few clinging strands of hair away from the corpse's ghastly face.
"We don't have time to waste with the authorities," says Richard Burbage, in his deep, commanding, and very impatient voice. "We've got a rehearsal and two showings today. We're going to be late as it is."
Shakespeare holds up a finger, still bending over the corpse. The others stop talking, waiting to see what he will say.
"Woe, destruction, ruin, and decay," pronounces Shakespeare. "The worst is death, and death will have his day."
The others consider this.
"That's very good," says Burbage. "I like that. You should put it in a play."
Shakespeare sighs. "It is in a play, Dick. It's in Richard II."
"Am I in that?"
"Yes." Shakespeare straightens and begins to walk away from the corpse. "You play Richard II."
Burbage shrugs and follows, trailed by Kempe. Bryan pauses next to the corpse before running to catch up with the others.
"Sorry, Will," says Burbage. "I never pay attention to the lines unless they're mine."
"It happens to be one of your lines, Dick."
The strolling actors stroll away, trying very hard not to look guilty or suspicious. This is difficult for Bryan, as he's stolen the corpse's three gold rings.
The Queen is in Whitehall, making ready for the day. Q and Bond are waking up on the tables of the Boar's Head, nursing their hangovers, and Eve is eating an extremely large and delicious breakfast of eel pie, the smell of which is making her companions feel ill. Lady Maeve is in her office, talking to her seamstress, while Tanner supervises the repair of the damage done to her desk by those crossbow bolts.
"I think that went rather well," says Lady Maeve, when the workmen and the seamstress have gone.
"My Lady?" Tanner runs his fingers over the desk, checking its renewed smoothness.
"The Silva affair." Lady Maeve waves a hand. "I think there's a lesson to be learned from this."
Tanner considers this statement. Though he has been little involved in these events, he can think of several lessons. Do not encourage unhealthy attachments from murderous young orphans, that's a good one. Don't keep valuable documents at home where they can catch on fire, that's another. Procure bolt-proof glass, that's a lesson that Tanner is already planning to implement. He's not sure what lesson Lady Maeve has gleaned from this. She's looking at him now, waiting impatiently to be prompted.
"Lesson, my Lady?"
"It's obvious." Lady Maeve smirks. "Never underestimate an old woman with a sword."
Tanner keeps his face carefully blank.
"It's a lesson for everyone else," explains Lady Maeve. "From me."
"I see, my Lady," says Tanner. "I shall endeavor to remember it."
"See that you do," says Lady Maeve, and sits down at her desk. "Find Bond and Eve, will you? It's high time they started another mission."
Tanner sets out into the streets of London, settling his (very elegant) hat on his head and his cloak across his shoulders. Because he has indeed learned something from the events of the last several days, he begins by searching the pubs.