C C Humphreys Shakespeare's Rebel

ISBN 13: 9781409120278

Shakespeare's Rebel

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9781409120278: Shakespeare's Rebel
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London 1599, a city on the brink of revolution. He is Queen Elizabeth's last, perhaps her greatest, love - Robert Deveraux, Earl of Essex. Champion jouster, dashing general - and the man that John Lawley, England's finest swordsman, most wishes to avoid. For John knows the other earl - the reckless melancholic - and has had to risk his life for him in battle one time too many. All John wants is to be left alone to win back the heart of the woman he loves, be the kind of father that his son can look up to, and arrange the fight scenes for the magnificent new theatre, the Globe.

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About the Author:

C.C. Humphreys was born in Toronto and grew up in Los Angeles and London. A third generation actor and writer on both sides of his family, he is married and lives on Salt Spring Island, Canada. www.cchumphreys.com

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

I

The Martin Drunkard

February 1599

John Lawley lay in a ha'penny bed in the lowest tavern in Wapping, musing on fleas, on Irishmen, and on drums.

Did the fleas that feasted on him so vigorously die once they had gorged?

Had the Irishmen who had just, for the third time, stolen the whole of their shared and threadbare blanket ever slept between rich linens, as he oft had?

Also-and this was his most pressing concern-did the drum that beat so loudly exist, or did it strike only within his head?

It was important to know. For if it existed, then truly he should answer its summons. Waking, though, meant taking action; the first of which, surely impossible, the lifting of his forearm from his brow. Yet even were he to accomplish such a feat, prove himself that Hercules, what then? To what task would the drum drive him next?

Nothing less than the forcing of his gummed eyelids.

That was too much. Furies hovered beyond them. Some were even real. Rouse and he would be forced to distinguish between them. Rouse and choices would have to be made. Whither? Whom to seek? Whom to avoid?

There were too many candidates for both.

No. Even if every drum stroke, imaginary or not, beat nausea through his body until he was forced to do otherwise, it was better to just lie there and utter prayers for the beat to fade. And while he was about them, pray also that in its fading the sweats would begin to warm, not chill.

He shivered. He'd have liked his paltry share of blanket back. To reclaim it, though? That required the same effort demanded for arm, for eyes...

Impossible, he concluded. Sink back then. Seek warmth in memory. Illusion could sustain him. Indeed, in circumstances far worse even than these, illusion was all he'd had. Among all the things he was, was he not a fashioner of dreams?

Was he not a player?

He was. So make the drum real. Place it beyond, not within, his head. Make the heat real too, not the little transferred from men's rank bodies.

Where had he been hottest? Under a Spanish sun. Yet temper its fierceness with a breeze over waves. Conjure other sounds to drown the rising mutters of his bedfellows.

The plash of oars? The boatswain's call to each beat?

Thump.

"Pull!"

Thump.

"Pull!"

Thump.

"Pull!"

Truly, John Lawley thought, settling back, eyes still sealed and forearm yet lolled, this morning can wait. That other was better.

For a time, at least.

Three years earlier: Bay of Cadiz, June 30, 1596

Thump.

"Pull!"

Thump.

"Pull!"

Thump.

"Pull!"

John lowered his forearm, closing his eyes to the sun's sharp bite. He had seen enough. The beach they were making for, some three miles south of the town, was undefended. He had made landings under fire before, and it was not something he sought to repeat. If his boat was sunk, his three primed pistols would be soaked. Swimming in breastplate and helm while retaining his sword was hard, but it would be made more so by the fact that he could swim. The majority of his companions couldn't, and experience taught that they would try to use him as a raft, with every chance of drowning both themselves and him. He would be forced to kill them. And, truly, he was only there to kill Spaniards...

...on behalf of the man who spoke now. "Do you pray, Master Lawley?"

There was no need to open his eyes again. "Aye."

"You do? Yet I did not see you at the deck service before we embarked," the voice continued. "Soft! Perchance you were with the Catholics in the hold, celebrating a secret Mass? I always suspected you for a Papist."

"I was not."

"Then what were you about, while other men sought forgiveness and heaven's blessing?"

"About?" John smiled. "Good my lord, I was about the sharpening of my sword."

The bark of laughter made him open one eye. His questioner stood at the prow of the flyboat. "A soldier's reply," said the man, smiling wide. "Though I have often wished that you cared as much for your soul as you do for your steel." Separate red eyebrows, like hairy caterpillars upon white oak, joined to form a frown. "You are not devout, Master Lawley. You are not devout."

"Nay, faith, I am so." John assumed his pious expression, one he'd use when playing clerics in the playhouse. "For I most fervently believe that since God already has my soul in trust, he only asks that I do not part it from my body until he is quite ready to receive it. So I sharpen my steel and heed his commandment, both."

General laughter came at that, though several men crossed themselves. "Well, John," cried Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, "if you ward my back in what is to come as well as you have ever done, then I will undertake to pray enough for us both." He squinted up into the burning sky. "He well knows that I have worn out the knees on a dozen stockings on the voyage here, to give us His victory this day."

Not those stockings, though, thought John, eyeing them where they peeked above the boots. These were new and saved for the occasion. Tangerine, the earl's own color, and a match for the sash that girdled the shiniest of breast- and backplate, that burnished shine spread through other items of armor-vambrace upon his arms, greaves upon his shins, gorget at his throat. Beneath these, the rest was swathed in finest black cambric.

Should the Lord choose to ignore his entreaties, thought John, young Robbie will make the comeliest of corpses. Yet not only his apparel would distinguish him. The face brought aboard the ship in Plymouth, bloated with excess and worn by cares, had been transformed by four weeks of sea air and exercise into the handsomeness that so inspired the balladeers. Essex had commanded John to fence him daily, and stripped to the waist the two of them had dueled, gripped and thrown upon the quarterdeck of his vessel, the Due Repulse. If during the first fortnight John had held back, while his pupil shrugged off the life of both indulgence and ceaseless, sleep-sapping intrigue he lived at court, in the last two weeks the earl had regained both strength and many of the skills John had taught him over the years. Another week and perhaps he'd not have bested his protégé. Essex was ten years younger after all, a bare thirty, half a head taller, lithe for his height. It was a good time to be turning their skills upon a common enemy-one who would perceive them as twinned furies, with John dressed near identically to the earl, if less sumptuously, being in his hand-me-downs. It was a noted subterfuge of war to have two leaders to confuse the foe.

Yet they were not the only ones with trimmed beards, styled hair, and lean shanks. Others had joined in the training. One spoke now. "And what steel he raises for your cause and God's, my lord!" the man cried. "A hardy broadsword, note you all. None of your foreign fripperies, your ‘rap-i-ère'"-he exaggerated the French sounds-"for John Lawley. A yard of English steel to carve two yards of soil for any Spanish hidalgo he meets."

Jeers came from more than one man while John smiled. His friend George Silver was a fanatic for all things native-especially the nation's traditional weaponry-and deplored the foreign blades that several of their comrades bore. In the face of their jeering, he grabbed John's arm. "Come, Master Lawley. Help me convince these fools of the virtues of true English weapons."

John reclosed his eyes and turned his face once more to the sun. "George," he drawled, "the only virtue I subscribe to is in an old proverb: ‘It is good sleeping in a whole skin.'"

"Nay, John! Good my lord..." began Silver loudly, as other men entered the quarrel.

"Peace, all." The earl's voice silenced the hubbub. "And know only this: I care little how you kill our foes this day. Spit them with rapiers, hew them with backswords, smash them with staffs...or pluck me their eyes out with a three-tined fork!" He laughed. "'Tis one to me. Only so long as yon citadel of Cadiz is mine by nightfall." All men looked northwest, to the ramparts of the city. "Mine, not my effing Lord of Effingham's or, worse, that popinjay Raleigh's!"

All now looked back to the men-of-war, where the fleet's guns still smoked from the havoc they'd wreaked upon the enemy. "For my part, I know only this," the earl continued, his voice softer as he drew two inches of steel above his scabbard. "This English blade was bequeathed to me by another hero of our land. And for him and that land it shall this day be lodged in some Spanish breasts-or lodged beside me in my tomb." He shoved the weapon back. "And now, master boatman, double time if you please. Some other vessels seem eager to beat us to the beach. Impudent dogs! Do they not remember that I must be first in everything?" He waved the helmet he held above his head. "And I will begin by being first on enemy sand," adding with a roar, "Stop me if you can!"

He was echoed from his own boat and from those nearby. Theirs surged ahead, at the boatswain's speeded cry, the drummer's increased beat. Silver, flopping down again beside John, leaned in. "Ah, Lawley," he said, "you may fool some with your veteran's ennui." He mimed a yawn. "But I know different. Know that you are as ardent for glory as any man here."

"I am ardent for gold." John grunted. "And the pickings of the sack of Cadiz could be rich indeed. Now let me sleep." Closing his eyes again, he wondered if Silver was right. What were these twitchings about his heart? There was only one other place he'd had similar feelings-in a theater with a new play to give and too swiftly conned lines to speak. Yet this, of battle? It had been eight years since he'd last drawn a sword in more than playhouse anger. Different commander, same enemy: the one he'd fought near all his life and across this wide globe.

Spaniards, he thought, taking a breath. There is always something about fighting Spaniards.

A concerned cry opened his eyes. Their vessel, which had drawn initially ahead, was starting to fail. They had fewer men at oar than some of the others, carrying Essex's close companions as they did, and some of those oarsmen were flagging now. John knew that Robert needed to be first ashore, first to the gates, first through them; that he cared little about plunder though he was probably more debt-ridden than any. All he wanted was the glory-and Queen Elizabeth's hand tugging his red curls, calling him once again her "sweet Robin."

He saw the earl's shoulders droop. From their first meeting ten years before, John knew the young man to be prone to a sudden melancholy that could be brought on by just such a reverse. "To oar, lads!" he cried, seizing the one from the puffing sailor beside him. "Let we yeomen of England disdain nothing in giving our lord his first triumph."

The cry was taken up, the challenge. Essex himself dropped down to grasp oak. After an initial slip of momentum as one man replaced another, the oars dipped again, the vessel surged. They may not have been sailors, but the Bay of Cadiz was calm and the trick one they had all learned before.

The boat grounded, the man at the prow launching himself with the sudden stop. Water lapped his boot tops but did not halt him. Five strides and he was on dry sand. And for a moment, Robert Devereux, Earl Marshal of England, had sole possession of that foreign shore.

"Cry God for Her Majesty!" he shouted.

But another name was on the lips of those who spilled over gunnels to follow him.

"My lord of Essex!"

The ha'penny bed, Wapping, 1599

"Will ya stop kickin' me, varlet?" the voice said. "Me shins are already as black as a Negro's bollocks."

"Sure now, give him blow for blow," a second voice suggested before lowering to a whisper. "Or have you sought other recompense in his purse?"

John did not try to open his eyes. They were still stickily shut beneath his forearm. Besides, he wasn't disturbed by the question. He already knew the answer-the one the first man gave now.

"'Tis as barren as my da's fields these last three summers. So if he kicks me one more time, or tries again to steal back his cloak-the least he owes me, mind, for the night he's given me!-I'll pay him with that blow. You'll see."

John ceased writhing. He didn't want rousing just yet from his reverie of warmth. Especially as he had just come to the part where it had all gone so well.

Until it hadn't.

"What's he moaning about now?" the other man asked. "Is that Spanish? He's dark enough for a dago, ain't he? A pox on him if he is. I'll join you in giving the dog a beating, you can be sure."

You'll be one of a crowd, thought John, drifting back...

Cadiz, 1596

It had been too easy. The unopposed landing, the three-mile march on soft sand to the plain before the city gates. Five hundred mounted dons had attacked an advance party sent for the very purpose of luring them on, bait for a trap, duly sprung. At Essex's command, the main body had erupted from their concealment, pincering the Spanish. A volley from musket and pistol and the proudest hidalgo fled, pursued by Englishmen shrieking like fiends. The defenders had shut the gates so fast, half their number were trapped outside. Yet rather than surrender there, or, more likely, be slaughtered by the charging enemy, they had shown that enemy the swiftest way into their city-through walls under repair, scaffolding up against it and holes still full of tools.

"On! On!" screamed Essex, red-stained sword aloft and running at the widest hole, through which a cloak, emblazoned with the Star of Seville, had just disappeared. Yet even as he reached the gap, its edges exploded, mortar blasted out by shot, fragments of stone and metal whining off his breastplate and helm. To the horror of all, the earl fell, but immediately scuttled to the hole's side, joined there in moments by his closest companions.

John was among the first. "How fares my lord?" he said, reaching out to the blood that daubed the tangerine sash.

Essex glanced down. "Not mine, I think," he said, brushing aside the reaching hand. "Or if it is, it's mingled with a few others." He laughed. "God a mercy, John, that was a good first roll of die. But what's within?" He jerked his head at the hole. "Can we storm this, think you?"

John thrust his head into the gap, noted the inner wall that faced this outer one, saw flintlock flashes there, withdrew just before bullets nipped the masonry. "A wall defensible about fifty paces off and a killing ground before it," he said. "Hard to tell the numbers. Not many, I'd hazard, since they chose to relinquish this wall"-he slapped the one they sheltered behind-"to defend that. Still, enough to pin us here, for we can only go through this gap two at a time. If we wait for numbers..."

But Essex had stopped listening. "You'd hazard and so would I, Johnnie. All we need is to buy a moment." More of his advance guard were arriving, weaving to avoid the fire of snipers in the turrets. Some of these newcomers bore muskets, others grapple and rope. "Silver?"

The swordsman slid across. "My lord?"

"Take you these dozen musketeers ...

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9781492609902: Shakespeare's Rebel: A Novel

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