Tudor Chronicles, III – Friends In Deed…..
Elizabeth I – eternally the good fairy – the rainbow portrait
The sky is ice blue. The hills are amethyst. Shafts of winter sunlight fleck the moor gilding the scrub and heather before passing on. Their cool light warms nothing.
A man’s eye catches this fleeting instant. Instantly it passes. He looks down as if he reflects upon this vanishing-point.
He looks-up once more at the sky’s faded azure. It’s streaked white and orange by wisps of thin high cloud.
Inwardly, he smiles.
…As he’s not alone he doesn’t allow himself more than this composed restraint. He knows his companions are oblivious to the sky’s momentary magnificence. Their indifference to its trailing glories puzzles him….
And as the pallid sunlight plays on the moorland, finally, he permits himself the worldly indulgence of a wry smile…
He turns and looks at his three companions. Gaunt; grey-white; they’re trembling – perhaps with cold – perhaps – with fear. They pay no heed to the subtle beauties in the changing landscape…
The day is gently drawing on towards its close…
Unselfconsciously the man makes the sign of the cross. His gesture reveals all.
His companions see the sign and copy it.
The priest catches their response from the corner of his eye. Though he’s quietly amused by their copycat faith his composed features betray nothing.
…Despite the cold to him it feels as if time passes more quickly out here on the top of the world…passes on…passes more quickly than life itself passes…passes by…passes away…
The scenery sparks intense memories
The priest blinks a tear. He wipes it with a fine finger. He inhales the brittle air thoughtfully.
…. Memories…mementoes…more like thoughtful tokens…pictures from a past long lost flash by…shimmering briefly in his mind’s eye…images of his spiritual home glance his consciousness. There…there…he’s seen such skies and landscapes.
There, in Rome, the churches burst with frescos blazing this rapture – even the refectory ceiling in the poor English College has such a sky – dotted with cherubs and seraphs….
The priest looks up again…half-expectant…there are no angels….yet…
Yet this sky, in this here and now, outshines anything any artist might hope to capture on canvass. The Divine artist has painted this sky – the Divine brush has stippled this landscape with the sun’s gold. God’s artful strokes of genius have trimmed these hills with Imperial purple. Transforming glimpses of the Divine transfigure the sky – as God’s Son once transfigured himself to live in man’s world. All this is God’s. God’s hand paints man’s horizons…
The priest blinks.
As suddenly the sun is gone.
As suddenly thunder rumbles round…echoing around the hills….
Again inwardly the priest smiles…he knows this sound and fury isn’t thunder…rather it’s the hooves of horses ridden hard…
He sinks to the ground and with a simple movement of his hand waves down his companions. They drop down to the ground. He turns to them – a single finger to his mouth.
This is sign language they can lip-read….
…They may not be moved by the aesthetics that pull at the Jesuit’s emotions but they’ve been with him long enough to know his silent commands are to be complied with instantly.
All life’s suspended by the slender thread of obedience.
The sun clips a hill…everything darkens…
….The priest isn’t caught-out…. acutely observant…he’s sensitive to his surroundings. As the moor’s face darkens in the half-light his mood darkens in the shadow of the dying day….shades of gloom perhaps…though his intense faith bars the gateway to despair….
For now he knows they’re all safe….all safely hidden….hidden behind the great Stone…. although it may not hide them for long.
….Shrewdly he has already strewn signs further afield…to mislead…to distract…to delay…signs to confound the hunters who’ve chased them up here on to this cheerless, windswept spot….
The priest kisses the figure of Christ on a crucifix that hangs around his neck….
….The cross and chain are beautifully wrought. Gifted Spanish craftsmen have enlivened this silver from the New World with this oldest of Christian symbols… they’re a royal gift…from the royal Patron of his mission….
The priest mutters under his breath:
‘“Ego volo celebrare Missam et conficere Corpus et Sanguinem Domini Nostri Jesu Christi.” Let that alone be my beginning and my end. Amen.’
His companions can barely hear his words over the wind. But they see his hands join and his head bow. So, they too pray. They know from their recent travels over the past month that he prays like this only at moments of greatest danger. They’re behind their Jesuit master….as the Holy Apostles were behind Christ the Saviour in Gethsemane…when he was arrested.
They’re still. They’re absolutely still….
The moss mops-up the remains of the day’s dull light. It soaks it up, absorbs it, as if to blot-out the landscape from day’s darker side.
The wind picks-up. Wintry cold, it keenly whips across the bleakness of this bleak reality.
….About the moor the fading light arouses slumbering wolves. The packs have stirred…
They’re awake – somewhere nearby – like the Jesuit and his three followers – they’re hidden from easy sight. They’re restless.
They pace back and forth; they turn; their yellow eyes flash – each pair of eyes uneasily meets another’s – impatient. The females sniff the air…
Restlessness infects the pack…the younger yelp excitedly…their elders snarl back….
A loan howl…then they all howl….
They’re unsettled….their flickering nostrils catch something on the wind…a warning scent…danger….
…The wolves must wait for the cover of darkness.
Only then may they safely hunt their prey. Once night falls and blackness closes-in then their lupine revels may begin….their time’s night-time…
….The priest lies flat on the ground.
Resting on his elbows he looks through the stubby blades of grass from behind the Stone….
He’s completely hidden by the giant granite boulder that’s abandoned here on the moor and is strangely out of place in its place….
….Perhaps aptly the Jesuit considers this as he watches….perhaps…for he’s no longer watching the hills…..or listening to the wind….or bothered by howling wolves….something else has wholly taken his attention…
……Some distance from the priest…..
Maybe half a mile, maybe more….distances are distorted by the flatness of the moorland; by the breadth of the pale sky; by the priest’s position on the ground.
Five figures stand solitary: five men…
They’re darkly silhouetted against the hills’ deep violet….
They stand in an island of long swart grass set in the middle of a mossy sea of stones and heather. Some of this grass is waist high. It blows about in the blistering north-easterly wind….
One waves a sword about like a scythe. He holds up something. The others gesticulate excitedly…
There’s a shot.
The sound ricochets around the blasted moor. It silences the wolves. There’s eerie quiet.
Startled, the men flap about turning one way and then another.
….They’re dressed in dowdy brown leather jerkins. They’ve leather hose and high brown leather boots. All wear fur-trimmed woollen capes. Three wear caps; two of them sport gold badges pinned on one side of their brown serge.
…. These are badges of officers of the household of the Lord President of the Council of the North. Two others hold helmets – gold in the last rays of the sun. These are the Lord President’s men-at-arms. They’re accompanied by a capped forester in a duller, darker drab. His is the livery of a forester or bowbearer to the archbishop of York….
….They’re all far from the security of the city of York and the gilded comforts of its golden Minster. Official business brings them this far afield. The business concerns both the queen and her church. And, conveniently, since Matthew Hutton is both the Archbishop of York and the Lord President of Her Majesty’s Council in the North, the business is entirely his….
….And these men are entirely his servants….
…Archbishop Hutton has received secret intelligence from King James in Scotland in a series of letters, signed and sealed…
Letters patently warn Hutton of three Jesuits who’ve successfully infiltrated into the lakes and dales…
Letters from Scotland….
It is writ…the Jesuits travel under the guise of bringing the sacraments to local Catholics. According to King James’ version they’re recruiting traitors. They’re agents of the Spanish King – Philip III.
…Spain’s new king has wasted no time in resuming covert hostilities with England and sponsors Jesuit missions all over Britain and Ireland….
And these letters state that here in the North of England there are three missions – all led by renegade priests – and all, all they say, all are sons of local English gentry…
……Normally Archbishop Hutton would have been sceptical about such letters. But times are far from normal…the Irish rebels as yet are undefeated…Lord Essex’s great army is as yet not embarked to crush the Rebel Tyrone… and nothing pertaining to the security of the realm and the queen may be left to chance…..
….In England it’s widely believed that the Jesuits are agents of the Roman anti-Christ. The Pope’s creatures pass easily and secretly from place to place: from Rome to Spain; to Portugal; to the New World; to the Holy Roman Empire; to the Netherlands; to Poland; to Russia and even into France. Everywhere they slip and slide they sponsor treachery and treason. Everywhere they bring with them the evils of the Mass. Everywhere they disturb the Christian peace.
And is this any wonder?continued here……
Elizabeth I – eternally the good fairy – the rainbow portrait