Read The Devil and His Boy Online

Authors: Anthony Horowitz

The Devil and His Boy

For Wendy Boase

CONTENTS

The Stone of Vision

The Pig’s Head

Gamaliel Ratsey

The Ambush

At the Red Lion

Paul’s Walk

Moll Cutpurse

Auditions

The Garden Players

Thin Ice

First Night Nerves

The Devil and his Boy

On the Scaffold

Five Heads

Afterword

INTRODUCTION

I hated history when I was at school.

This was largely the fault of my history teacher, Mr Evans, who was so old that we often used to think that he must have been alive when most of it was happening. I still remember his terrible, whining voice … he used to speak as if he had dust at the back of his throat. And he never looked at us. To this day, I’m not sure if his eyes were real or made of glass, but as he sat, hunched up over his desk at the front of the classroom, he used to remind me of an exhibit in a museum. It really was as if someone had taken him to the taxidermist and got him stuffed before he was quite dead.

For Mr Evans, history was just a series of names and dates that we all had to learn by heart. So a lesson might go…

1605………………………..Gunpowder Plot

1618………………………..Thirty Years’ War begins

1620………………………..Pilgrim Fathers

1642………………………..Civil War

1649………………………..Execution of Charles I

And on. And on. And on…

It wasn’t until I had left school that I began to think that history might have been more fun than Mr Evans had ever have imagined. Take another look at the list above. The Gunpowder Plot could be a really exciting story about a bunch of Spanish spies who tunnel underneath the Houses of Parliament in London and try to blow the whole place up. And what about the Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the Atlantic in the Mayflower and landed in America? For them, it must have been an amazing journey across a world that was completely unknown. What was it like? How many of them got seasick? And I’d have loved to have been present at the execution of poor King Charles. The whole of London turned out to watch … but then in those days having your head chopped off was something of an entertainment.

By now you should be getting the general idea.
The Devil and His Boy
is a history story – but it’s very much my sort of history. Basically, it’s an adventure story that just happens to take place five hundred years ago.

I would have loved to have lived during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It was such a rude, noisy, dirty, dangerous, difficult time. London would have stank. There were no toilets and the sewage ran right down the middle of the streets. No wonder there were so many outbreaks of the plague. London was much, much smaller than it is now, surrounded by thick forests that were full of highwaymen – so even getting there safely was an achievement. And once you arrived, you couldn’t expect to be welcomed with open arms. On the contrary, the Londoners were famous for their bad manners. Often they would thrown mud balls (or worse) at visiting tourists just because they felt like it. There were thieves and tricksters everywhere. They’d take your luggage and your life.

If you lived in London in the sixteenth century, you would have shared one room (and possibly one bed) and your mother, your father, your brothers and your sisters, and possibly a couple of pigs and a duck too. You almost certainly wouldn’t go to school. And you might well be married before you were even thirteen. Not that it would be a long marriage. Most people died in their thirties … maybe that was why life was so intense.

There would be no TV, no computer games, and no books like this one – hardly anyone could read so why bother? But you’d be able to kick a pig’s bladder around in the street – the beginning of soccer – or perhaps pop out to a nice public hanging. You would never, ever have a bath. And you would wear the same clothes until they either rotted away or burst. What a laugh!

And at the same time, you would be a citizen of a country that ruled the world. At this time, America was hardly known at all (and there was certainly nothing united about the states). Britain was at war with much of Europe, but, thanks to heroes like Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake, we always seemed to be on the winning side. And then there was Shakespeare! The world’s greatest playwright was alive and working on the south bank of the River Thames. How I wish I could have been at the first night of
Hamlet
or
Macbeth
. If only I could have got his autograph … just think what it would be worth now!

Anyway, it’s time to get on with the book. I loved writing it. And I still think it’s a lot of fun … even if it is history.

Anthony Horowitz

the stone of vision

It
was just before midnight when Queen Elizabeth slipped out of bed and went in search of her magician.

Although she had allowed her Maids of Honour to lead her into the bedroom and help her undress more than an hour before, she hadn’t even tried to sleep. Part of the trouble, of course, was being Queen of England. She could still feel the crown on her head even when she wasn’t wearing it … there was so much to think about, so much to do. But the real problem was her bed. It was a huge, four-postered thing with no fewer than five quilts. The first was silk, the next velvet, then there was a gold one and a silver one and finally, on top, a quilt embroidered with a rather gloomy picture of the Sermon on the Mount. The quilts had been given to her by the Spanish ambassador, the French ambassador, the Dutch ambassador, the German ambassador and the Archbishop of Canterbury and she had to use them all in case she gave offence to any one of them. The result was that even on the coldest winter nights she was always much too hot.

For a moment she stood in the middle of the room and glanced out of the window. There was a full moon that night which pleased the Queen. She knew that the magician would like it. Somehow his spells always worked better when there was a moon and this one seemed huge, a perfect white circle hanging in the darkness. Her eyes travelled down and she saw the Thames, ash white as it twisted through the city of London. Everything was silent. The Queen nodded. This was the right time.

She crossed the room to a tapestry which covered an entire wall. The tapestry showed a lion being hunted and, when she was young, the snarling face with its awful eyes had given her nightmares. But she was an elderly woman now. Sixty years old. And being Queen was often nightmare enough.

The tapestry was suspended from a rail and she pulled it aside to reveal a bare brick wall with no visible door or window. At the far end, over a bookshelf, there was a metal hook and without hesitating the Queen went over to it and turned it. There was a click and a whole section of the wall swung inwards on a hidden hinge to reveal a jagged opening and a spiral staircase leading down. Grey cobwebs hung in the air. A fat black spider, frightened by the light from the bedroom, tumbled down the brickwork and then scuttled along the floor, disappearing into the shadows.

The Queen lifted a candle from her room and started forward. After the warmth of the bedroom the stairs were very cold. A draft twisted round her ankles and slithered up her legs. The candle in her hand flickered and her shadow seemed to jump away, tugging at her as if it could pull her back upstairs. For a moment she wondered if this was a good idea. She could still turn back, go to bed and forget all about it. The Queen was afraid. But a single question had tormented her for more than forty years. She had to know the answer. She had to know it now.

She continued down. A moth, attracted by the light, flew into her face. Its feathery wings brushed against her lips and she gasped out loud. Her hand banged against the wall and she almost dropped the candle. She stopped for a minute, catching her breath, then, gripping the candle more tightly, she followed the stairs to their end, passing through an archway and along a corridor where the ceiling curved low over her head as if groaning under the weight of the great palace a hundred metres above.

She had reached a door made of thick planks of wood bound together with iron and so low that she had to bend to open it. It reminded her of the door of one of her own dungeons. Her hand found a silver ring and she turned it, the metal cold against her skin. On the other side, a warm yellow glow and the faint smell of rosemary welcomed her into a small, circular chamber. The door swung shut behind her as she went in.

“Good evening, Queen.”

“You were expecting me, Wizard?”

“Oh yes. I knew you were going to come and visit me before you had decided it yourself. Sit down…”

Nobody else would have dared to talk to Queen Elizabeth in this way. For a start she should have been called “Your Royal Highness” or “Your Majesty”. And nobody ever told her what to do – not even so much as to sit down. But the person seated in the high wooden-backed chair was no ordinary man.

Dr John Dee was sixty-six years old but looked much older, having a white moustache and a white beard that came to a point about halfway down his chest. He wore a long black robe and a black cap that could have been painted on to his head. His eyes were brown – a strange, watery brown, the colour of melted chocolate. There was a grey cat, half asleep, on his lap and he occasionally stroked it with a long, elegant finger. Dr Dee spoke with a Welsh accent. So, rather more remarkably, did the cat.

“So you know why I am here,” the Queen said.

“Of course I do.”

“Do you know everything, Wizard?”

Dr Dee shook his head. “I know many things, Queen. And my stone of vision tells me more. But only God knows everything and I am just a man.”

“Can you tell me when I am going to die?” the Queen asked.

The magician hesitated. His eyes narrowed and he seemed unsure what to say. Then the cat arched its back, stretched its legs and suddenly opened its quite brilliant emerald eyes. “You’ll die,” the cat said, “when you stop breathing.”

There was a silence in the room. For a long minute the Queen gazed at the cat. Then she smiled. “It’s a good answer,” she said.

“But that isn’t the question you came to ask,” Dee muttered.

“No.” Suddenly the Queen was nervous. Her fingers closed on a gold locket she was wearing round her neck. She had taken all her other jewellery off for bed. But this locket never left her. It was part of her. “I have to know about him,” she said.

“Why now?”

“Because I can’t wait any longer. I think of him all the time, Wizard. I know I can never see him but I still wonder about him – whether he is dead or alive.”

Dr Dee stroked the cat. “I can tell you what you want to know,” he said. “But I have to warn you now, Queen. It might be better not to ask. Magic has a nasty way of changing things. You cast a spell, you ask for secret knowledge and before you know what you’ve done you’ve opened a barrel of worms … or something worse than worms if you’re unlucky.”

“I still have to know,” the Queen insisted. “Enough of this, Wizard. You’ve known me long enough to know when my mind is made up. Do your magic. Tell me what you see.”

“She’s making a mistake!” the cat murmured.

“Hush!” Dr Dee stroked the cat, then lifted it up and set it to one side.

There was a low table between Dr Dee and the Queen, a number of objects scattered across the top. These were the tools of the magician’s trade. There were three or four old books, so old that the words seemed to be sinking into the thick, yellowy pages. There were two candles and a tapering wand. Between them lay what looked like an ordinary piece of silvery-grey stone, about the size of a dinner plate. Dr Dee picked it up and cradled it in his hands.

“I will need something of his,” Dee said in a low voice.

Once again the Queen’s fingers reached for the locket round her neck but this time she took it and drew it over her head. Nestling it in the palm of one hand, she opened it with the other. Inside the locket was the miniature portrait of a man and opposite it, a lock of light brown hair. The Queen gazed at the hair for what seemed like an eternity, then she let it fall on to the table. “It’s all I have,” she said.

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