Henry Charlton cursed under his breath as he wiped the rain from his eyes. Despite his oiled leather cloak the cold water was still running down his neck and back, and his hands numbed under his gauntlets. He looked up at the shadow of the manor house in front of him. There was no sign of light in the windows, although he knew that there would be guards behind the heavy oak doors, keeping each other awake in the hallway. It would be virtually impossible to hear anything happening between the heavy downpour of the rain and the howling gusts of wind. Only a madman would be abroad in this weather.
‘Fourth window to the left of the door, Harry.’ The Welsh accent came in a whisper, but could still be heard above the weather. Charlton turned to make out the dark figures behind him. At their front was Owain Williams, a man he would trust with his life. They had been together since they were both sixteen year olds in the Netherlands, brought to each other’s side by a justice system that was just as arbitrary in the highlands of Wales as it was in the Northern borders.
The small party of four moved stealthily to the window. Charlton pulled out his dirk and slid it between the shutters, prising them apart. The unlatched window behind was easily opened just as he had been told it would be. As he and his men scrambled through the opening he marvelled again at the way Walsingham’s plans always worked out. He had been the man’s rough and ready agent for several years now, and no assignment had ever been left to chance. It couldn’t be. Elizabeth’s enemies were many and England was in peril – no more so than in this year of the Great Enterprise. Not that he needed any extra motivation to kill Spaniards – their actions during his time in the Netherlands had given him more than enough reason. And now, here, in the heart of England, were traitors ready to throw open the doors to welcome King Philip, Parma and thousands of their brutal veterans.
No-one speaking, all the men moved through the darkness to where they knew the door would be. This part needed to be executed with celerity. Behind the door would be two guards. Owain and young Edmund were the men assigned to silence them while Charlton and Dick moved up the stairs to the entrance of the Priest hole. With a quick look the four men moved into action. The door swung open.
It was immediately obvious that something was wrong. There were no guards. There was no staircase. The hackles raised on Henry Charlton’s back.
‘I don’t have a good feeling about this, Harry.’
‘You and me both, Owain.’
‘Señor Charlton is it?’ The four men spun to where the voice had come from but there was no-one there. Only the wall at the end of the corridor where the stairs were meant to be. In a moment the bricks before them seemed to melt away and collapse and Harry realised that it had been a prop – a painted sheet that had blended into the darkness. Now standing there were half a dozen men armed with pistols and swords.
‘I am Hernando Garcia, special emissary to his most Catholic Majesty King Felipe. It will be very pleasing to my King and cause to inform him of your death.’
In a heartbeat the four men were a blur of motion. Spanish pistols fired in a great burst of smoke and noise, and steel struck steel as the melee commenced. Charlton lined up Garcia, who only barely managed to bring up his guard in time.
‘Your King will have to wait a bit longer, because whenever I die, Spaniard, it won’t be today!’
More info about the project later.