Nigel Tranter: The Wisest Fool

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Nigel Tranter The Wisest Fool
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    The Wisest Fool
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    Исторические приключения / на английском языке
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"Er, yes, Sire." Tobias Mathew was as unused to a monarch as quoted Latin at him, as he was to one who gabbled in almost incomprehensible dialect, dribbled and prayed to his Maker in the public highway. He sought to change the subject "We have letters for Your Majesty. From the Convocation of Canterbury and York, and from the High Court of Parliament And, of course, Your Majesty's Privy Council…"

"Aye. But this brig," the King said. "It'll no' do. You'll just hae to build a new one. D'you hear? My command-aye, our first royal command on this our English ground. A guid new stout brig o' stone, see you. That'll no' wabble. Forthwith. See you to it, my lords. My… my Treasury in London will pay for it." There was a moment of utter silence. Then a peal of silvery, musical laughter rang out, from the Master of Gray, sheer enjoyment, appreciation; and everywhere the Scots broke into grins and chuckles, while their brand-new fellow-subjects of England, until so recently such proud Elizabethans, exchanged ominous glances.

But James Stewart frowned. He was always suspicious of laughter provoked by himself, even though it came from the Master of his royal Wardrobe and the handsomest man in Europe.

"Hud your wheesht, Patrick Gray!" he commanded. "Every dog his day, aye-but your day's done!"

"Oh, I pray not, Sire," the gallant and debonair Master said, easily. "Who knows-it may just be beginning. Like, h'm, some others!"

"Na, na, Patrick man-no' so like some others!" The King whinnied a laugh of his own, and licked those slobbering lips. "I'm thinking this is where we part company, see you."

Suddenly blank-faced, the brilliant ornament of the Scottish Court stood as though stunned. For once the most eloquent man in two kingdoms found no words-and none other thought to raise his voice. "I… I do not understand, Your Grace," he got out, at length.

"No? Do you no', Patrick? And you sharp o' the wits! Yet it's simple, man-fell simple. I go on to this London-town-and you do not You turn back. You understand now, my mannie?"

"Your Grace means that you wish me to return to Edinburgh? Meantime. To complete some business of state there, before coming to London?"

"My Grace doesna mean any such thing, no. We left a' things well arranged in Edinburgh, mind, Ooh, aye-Edinburgh'll manage fine." "Then, Sire, I repeat-I do not understand you."

"It's no' like you, Patrick, to be so dull in the uptak! Most times you're quick enough-aye, ower quick, by far! But since you'll have it so, I needs must discover you the matter. You are a rogue, Master o' Gray-and I've aye kenned you were a rogue! But I needed a rogue, see you. A great rogue, to berogue the lesser rogues around me." James paused, mouthing, his strange glowing glance making a slow half-circuit of all around him, the entire gorgeous throng, English and Scots. "Ooh, aye-it's a great place for rogues, is Scotland But I intend to leave them there, Patrick man-no' to take them with me. Like a dog shakes off its fleas! The English are honester folk, they tell me-eh, my lord Bishop? Save maybe where Berwick and brigs are concerned! And if they have a rogue or two in London-waesucks, I'll find one o' their ain breed to berogue them! I'll no' need the likes o' you in London, Patrick, Master o' Gray. Now, you understand?"

The handsome elegant with the flashing eyes said nothing. For a long moment he stared his monarch in the eye. Then he bowed, stiffly for so agile and courtly a man, and turning, pushed his way quickly through the throng, to his horse.

The King's laughter was not nearly so musical as the Master of the Wardrobe's and one-time acting-Chancellor's had been.

"Change, my God!" the Duke of Lennox gasped. 'This, this is beyond all! The man who put him where he is, no less. Cast aside like a done nag!"

"Quietly, my lord Duke!" George Heriot murmured. "English ears, they say, are long! And they learn quickly."

"But… Patrick Gray jettisoned. A rogue, perhaps-but the cleverest head in Scotland. Or in England either, for a wager! I swear my cousin can ill afford to be so nice! And look whom he does take with him! The Kerrs. John Bothwell. George Home, Erskine. Ramsay. Hay. The scum of Scotland!"

"Our liege lord has been waiting for this for long, I think. For Queen Elizabeth's death, and all it would mean. A new life. He knows what he is doing, I do believe-having had long enough to consider it. I urge you, my lord Duke, to walk varily-like lesser men, who are wise." "Like you, Master Heriot?"

"Like me, sir. A tradesman-but with not a little to lose, nevertheless."

There was a diversion. The King was pushing away the Earl of Northumberland's handsome parchment address from the Council with one hand, and shaking off the Lord Henry Howard, Norfolk's brother, with the other, when the drumming of hooves turned all eyes. Three horsemen came beating down from the higher ground of Spittal and the south road, a young man in fine if travel-stained clothing, and two armed grooms. The newcomers pulled up in a great slithering of hooves and spattering of spume from the horses, to the major alarm of the monarch, who was ready to see dastardly assault and danger in every unannounced development The young man stared around him, at a less. 'The King?" he demanded. "Is the King not here?"

Innumerable hands gestured towards the uninspiring if overdressed person of the shrinking monarch.

Doubtfully the visitor looked, his face grey with dust and lined with fatigue. Then, evidently, deciding that they could not all be wrong or conspiring to hoodwink him, he flung himself down from his mount and sank on one knee before the equally doubtful sovereign.

"Your Majesty-Sire!" he panted, tugging out something metallic from his slashed and padded doublet-and which James Stewart immediately took to be a dagger, and staggered precipitately back into the arms of Northumberland and Howard in consequence, in choking panic.

It proved to be only a great iron key, however, and the young man, licking dusty lips, began again.

"Your most gracious Majesty, serene exemplar of learning, humanity and piety…" His voice trailed away.

"Aye, man-aye?" fames suddenly was interested, at these indications of percipience.

The other clearly made a major effort to rally his tired wits and remember the rest of his prepared speech. "… piety, Sire. The, the hearts' desire of all true Englishmen. Your… your devoted subjects. Majesty-I am John Peyton. Son to the Lieutenant of the Tower of London, and the most humble of all your subjects. He, my father, has sent me here hot-foot Here is the key to the said dread Tower, Majesty-England's citadel. I have ridden without sleep to present it to you. As you set foot on England's devoted soil."

The Scots around the King coughed and looked embarrassed at such unseemly and magniloquent language and behaviour; but James himself appeared to find nothing amiss with it Smirking and nodding, he took the key.

"Heavy," he commented. "Right weighty. But, then-so is yon Tower. Parvis componere magna! Eh, Northumberland, man?" "Er, no doubt, Your Majesty," the Earl said, blankly.

The young man was commencing to rise, stiffly, from his kneeling posture when, abruptly, the King leaned forward and pushed him back, quite roughly indeed so that the other all but fell over.

"Bide you, laddie," he was commanded, thickly. "Bide where you're at, a wee. Son o' the Lieutenant, eh?" James looked around him. "Vicky? Where's Vicky? I want Vicky Stewart and his bit sword." "Here, Sire," the Duke of Lennox called, stepping forward.

"Gie's your whinger, man." The King made it a stem rule that no one carried a sword or dirk in his royal presence-but he made an exception in the case of his cousin Ludovick, a strong, loyal and comparatively simple young man, unambitious to a degree, whom the monarch could hardly distrust and whom he tended to look on as a sort of bodyguard and watchdog. "Out with it."

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