Catalyst [Part 16]

By M. Greene -
published August 31, 2017


Richmond Palace, Kingdom of England: 1576.

It was the Feast of the Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas and their marvellous time at the Queen’s favourite palace was finally coming to an end. Selim and Livia were walking arm in arm through one of the large formal gardens which lay within the palace walls. Although in this season, the garden was a forlorn place compared to what it would become in the summer, they could still admire the neatly clipped yew hedges and the various pieces of interesting statuary with which it was decorated.

“These past two weeks have been the most marvellous of my life,” Livia said as they walked along one of the paved pathways. “It was so generous of Her Majesty to provide us with these beautiful clothes to wear…” She ran her fingers admiringly across the olive green bodice she was wearing. It was decorated with tiny seed pearls and exactly matched her dazzling eyes. By the time the invitation for them to join the court at Richmond had been issued, it was far too close to Christmas to have new garments tailored in time. Realising this, and not wishing her honoured guests to be embarrassed in any way, the Queen had commanded her courtiers and ladies in waiting to provide clothes, if they could, of the correct sizes for all five of them. Each had received three almost new outfits; one of Livia’s gowns was from Elizabeth’s own extensive wardrobe; a beautiful creation of silver brocade.

“Indeed,” Selim agreed, “Her Majesty has been most generous.” Such was the esteem in which the Ottoman Envoy was held that Selim was accorded the huge honour of accompanying the Queen and her close companion Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, when they went deer hunting in Richmond Park, which was almost every morning during their stay. The Queen was an excellent horsewoman herself, and Selim’s own equestrian prowess raised him even higher in her opinion.

Christmas at Richmond Palace was celebrated in magnificent style. There were massive feasts every day with more food served at them than people could possibly eat. Sports, games, masques, plays, musical concerts and dances were also provided for the guests. Fabio and Livia were both superb natural dancers, and as this particular pastime was another of the Queen’s enthusiasms, they both became extremely favoured and admired by the court.

“It is a shame that this all has to end,” Livia said sorrowfully. She looked around the beautiful walled garden through which they were walking. “We shall have to leave all this behind us…”

“The Queen has said that she is making a small manor house available for our use until we return home,” Selim said. “It’s just outside London and comes complete with servants, furnishings, provisions and everything.”

“And in May we will be returning to your home city?”

Selim nodded. “I think you will like Constantinople very much,” he said. “It is often called ‘Nova Roma’ and it is the largest and richest city in the world.” He grinned. “The climate is a lot better than here, too.”

Livia bit her bottom lip. “The only thing which troubles me about returning to your homeland is that, as a woman, I will be sequestered.” She flashed her olive green eyes at him. “For you men it may be a great place to live, but I will be expected to cover myself with veils and stay indoors all day. I will go completely crazy within a month!”

“Crazier than you already are? Impossible!” Selim smiled as Livia playfully punched his arm. “Seriously though, Nazir, Jamal and I have recently been discussing the role you and your brother might have when we return home.”

“You have?”

“Yes…” Selim hesitated for a moment. “Nazir has decided that he wants to work as a physician when we get back and has told me that he admires your own great knowledge of herbs and medicines.”

“He has?” Livia felt flattered; she had never met anyone as learned as Nazir.

“Indeed he has. He plans to take you into partnership with him, if you will allow it. He feels that as a woman, you would be ideally suited to treat his female patients and perhaps the small children who usually live with them in the harem.” He smiled. “As a man, Nazir would find it difficult to gain entry.”

“So I would be able to come and go as I please?”

“Yes,” Selim said. “Of course, you would have to veil yourself in public and would need to be accompanied by a bodyguard, such as your brother, for instance…” He saw a gleam appear in Livia’s eyes and a smile begin to brighten her face. “You like that idea, I take it?”

“Very much,” Livia said enthusiastically. “I did not know that unmarried women were allowed so much freedom in your culture.”

Selim took hold of her hand. “Unfortunately, they are not, which leads me to the second part of my proposal. You would need to be married to be able to move about the city respectably. More to the point, you would need to be married to me…”

Livia’s eyes widened in surprise. “Are you serious about this, Selim?”

“I am totally serious,” Selim replied gravely. “A man in my position in Ottoman society has to be married to avoid unwelcome rumour and gossip. It is also a matter of prestige. Before this journey, I lived the life of a recluse. I had sold my father’s business and bought myself a very pleasant property where I was very content to live with my beloved Jamal.” He sighed. “Now that I have become a diplomat in the Sultan’s eyes, I will need to get married.” He raised Livia’s right hand to his lips and kissed it. “I cannot think of any other woman who I could possibly bear to share my life with.”

“What of Jamal?”

“Jamal would still be my companion and lover,” Selim said. “Is that going to be an issue for you?”

Livia shook her head. “No, of course not. He is one of the sweetest and kindest men I have ever met in my life. How could I possibly be jealous him?”

Selim kissed her cheek. “Thank you. I will not be jealous of Fabio, either. We all share together in the life of the betyl stone. We cannot have secrets from each other.”

“That is the simple truth,” Livia agreed.

“If, perhaps, in the future, you should happen to have children,” Selim said, “I would recognise any babies you gave birth to as my heirs…” He stared meaningfully into Livia’s eyes: “…whether the child was Fabio’s or mine…”

Livia stood on tiptoe and kissed Selim’s forehead. “Then, my noble and generous ‘husband’, this is what shall certainly be…”

Fabio and Jamal were in another part of the palace grounds practising archery together.

“I have definitely warmed to this country over the past ten days,” Fabio said, taking aim and missing the target by a good six inches. “Damn!” He notched another arrow and took aim again. “I have really enjoyed our time here in Richmond; there are so many interesting things to do…” He released the bow string: “There! I did it!”

“Well done,” Jamal said, firing off two arrows in quick succession which both also hit the bull’s eye.

“You are so good at this,” Fabio remarked.

Jamal shrugged. “All English boys are taught archery as soon as they are strong enough to draw a bow. Our longbowmen won us the Battle of Agincourt against the French and are rightly feared throughout Europe…”

Fabio nodded. “Although firearms are now beginning to outshine the bow, I think. I saw many such modern weapons in Rome and Venice.”

“When we return home, we should purchase some muskets and develop our skills in their use,” Jamal said.

“What makes you think that I am returning home with you?” Fabio asked. “If I choose, I may decide to return to Italy.”

Jamal shook his head. “No, you will not. Don’t take offence, Fabio, but that is just immature nonsense. You will never return to Italy because there is a price on your head.” He lifted his bow and took aim again. “The stone within us does not tolerate our separation for very long. If you run away from us we would all soon find the pain almost unbearable and that includes you… There! Three hits in a row!” He turned and looked directly into Fabio’s face, his expression serious. “Understand here and now that you and Livia are going to stay with us for the rest of your lives, which, given the way things are going, may last for a very long time indeed.”

Fabio shrugged. “What would I do in your city? You know I cannot abide being bored for any length of time…”

Jamal grinned. “You will do the two things that we all know you enjoy doing the most; fighting and fucking.”

Even Fabio had the grace to smile and blush slightly at this.

“You will train with Hakim and Yaqub, two very experienced fighters who guard our estate,” Jamal explained. “They are brilliant weapon-masters, but are beginning to age. They will eventually need to retire and we have to have someone to replace them and provide us with protection and security.” He smiled. “Alongside me, of course…”

“And the fucking?”

Jamal laughed out loud at Fabio’s question, which caused him to miss his next shot completely. “You are unique in our group in that respect, my friend; you can fuck all of us…”

Fabio grinned. “Now that sounds like a plan…”

Meanwhile, Nazir was just over a mile away at John Dee’s ramshackle house in the village of Mortlake, which, like Richmond Palace, also overlooked the River Thames. Not being particularly interested in the revels held at the palace, Nazir had spent about half the Christmas period talking about the sciences with the learned alchemist and astrologer. That January afternoon, he had been granted the rare privilege of seeing Doctor Dee’s inner sanctum at his home, where he kept his rarer and most secret items.

Dee handed Nazir a piece of polished obsidian which was the size and shape of a large hand mirror. “This is my angelical mirror,” he said proudly. As usual they were conversing with each other in fluent Latin.

Nazir stared at the thing and saw his own face clearly reflected in its shiny black surface. “What does it do?”

The astrologer smiled, revealing his crooked, yellow teeth. “Once certain rituals have been performed and certain incantations said, it is possible to commune with angels from the higher plane of being!”

Nazir thought that this was nonsense, but nodded politely.

Restoring the mirror to its usual place, Dee then opened a small wooden casket and took out a bundle of letters tied together with ribbon. He handed this packet to Nazir. “These are all the letters I received from my old friend Isaac ben Moses,” he said. “I would like you to have them.”

Nazir stared at them reverently. “Thank you, Master Dee, but I cannot accept these from you; it is too generous a gift.”

Dee shook his head. “Not at all. It is right and proper that you should have them. You were like a son to him; he mentioned you many times…”

“He did?”

“Yes…” Dee held a bony finger up to his lips and winked. “That is why you need to have custody of them, my friend. They contain certain information that, if it were to fall into the hands of an enemy, would prove calamitous for you and your friends.”

Nazir’s blood seemed to freeze in his veins. “Information?”

Dee looked over his shoulder as though someone might be listening, which was impossible as only he and favoured guests were ever allowed inside his locked inner study. Nevertheless, he lowered his voice to an urgent whisper. “Your old Master, perhaps foolishly, wrote down details of the betyl stone and the effect in has had on you and your companions.” He tapped the topmost letter in the packet that Nazir was holding. “This first one was written in 1553 and in it he says that his assistant is a young Nubian aged about twenty…” The Astrologer Royal looked right into Nazir’s frightened, brown eyes. “And here we are, standing in my house over a score of years later and you are still a young man aged about twenty…”

Nazir’s hands began to tremble and he was momentarily lost for words.

“Another thing…” Dee continued, “…is that the other day, Her Majesty confided in me that, four years ago, your companion Jack Watson was captured from on board one of our ships in the Mediterranean. She told me that he said his ship was named ‘The Lion and Unicorn’…”

“Yes, so I believe…” Nazir managed to say. His voice was quavering slightly.

“I checked the navel records and could not find any mention of that ship at first,” Dee went on, “until, that is, I went further back in time and discovered that we did indeed lose a ship of that name, which did indeed carry a young crewman by the name of Jack Watson…” He paused for a moment and again bared his hideously misshapen teeth in a smile. “But the most interesting thing is that the ship was not lost in 1571, as your friend maintains, but during the reign of our late King Edward, in 1551!”

Feeling shaky, Nazir sat down heavily on a nearby chair, still clutching the precious bundle of letters. “What are you going to do?” he managed to ask at last.

“Do? Why nothing!” Dee exclaimed. “If I wanted to cause you harm, I would not have given you the letters, would I?”

“I suppose not…”

“Do not worry, my friend. For my entire adult life I have sought the Elixir of Life and now I have finally found it! Under the circumstances it would be petty and churlish for me to penalise you for having already drunk from its depths…”

Nazir looked up at him. “Nevertheless…”

Dee smiled his ghastly smile. “Nevertheless, my important research projects here at Mortlake are very expensive to maintain. There are chemicals to buy and costly items of equipment that usually have to be hand-made…” He sighed and shook his head. “I am not a rich man, you understand…”

Nazir slipped his hand inside his doublet and took out one of his promissory notes. “This is worth nearly five hundred of your English pounds,” he said, handing it over. “You can exchange it for coins at the branch of the Fugger Bank in the City of London.”

Dee’s eyes lit up; this was a colossal sum of money to him and would finance all his enterprises for at least the next five years. “Thank you, my good, kind sir; I never dreamed that you would be so generous…”

Nazir shrugged. “It is part of my inheritance from Master Isaac,” he explained. “I am sure that he would consider your work a worthy cause to support…”

London, Kingdom of England: 1576.

For the next four months they lived together very contentedly in the house near London that had been granted to them by Queen Elizabeth. Eventually, in late April, Selim chartered a ship to take them all home. As luck would have it, they were able to arrange to set sail from Tilbury and have their vessel call in at Plymouth on the way so that Jamal could visit his home town. They left London in early May after a final audience with the Queen during which Selim was handed more letters as well as gifts to present to the Sultan and his mother.

Plymouth, Kingdom of England: 1576.

To Jamal’s total astonishment and delight, when they reached Plymouth, he found that his old mother was still alive. Although she was now ancient, in her seventies, she was still quite hale and recognised her son immediately.

Emerging from the simple two roomed cottage in which Jamal had been born and raised, she threw her arms around him and buried her white-haired old head against his chest. “Oh my Jack! My darling boy! The good Lord has returned you to me unchanged; it is a miracle, a blessed miracle!”

Even Fabio found his eyes pricking with tears at this emotional reunion.

A week later, having taken on board fresh provisions, their ship sailed away from Plymouth. Standing above deck next to his beloved Selim, Jamal looked back at the distant figure of his mother still waving farewell to them from the quayside and shed a few quiet tears. “It is a sad thing to know that I shall never see her again in this life, Master,” he said, sniffing, “but in truth, I never imagined that she still lived, so this meeting was a bonus.”

Selim put his arms around him. “That is the way to look at it, my love. I feel honoured to have been able to meet your mother. She is a fine old lady.”

Jamal nodded. “I wish I could have told her… You know… About us…” He shook his head sadly. “It is so hard to keep secrets from those we love…”

Selim kissed his cheek. “I am sure that in her heart she knew what we are to each other. She certainly treated me as though I were her son-in-law…”

Jamal smiled at this, although his eyes were still full of tears. Plymouth had disappeared from sight and the ship rolled more heavily as they moved from the coastal waters into the deep ocean. “If she had known, she would not really understand,” he said. “She would probably have asked something really stupid like when were we going to give her a grandchild?”

They both laughed together at the thought.

“And you know what I would have replied?”

“No, what, Master?”

Selim grinned. “I would have said: mother, be patient; to make a baby, Jack and I are just going to have to keep on trying…”


Author’s notes:

The main characters in this are all fictional, of course, but most of the ‘important’ characters are historical and based on the results of my own knowledge and research. All the royal figures mentioned really existed, along with the Doge of Venice [of whom not much is known, except that he childishly played with children a lot of the time], Sir Francis Walsingham and Doctor Dee. Posthumous apologies to Henri III of France, who, while he did hang around with ‘mignons’ and was at least bisexual, was probably not as dark and sinister as I made him out to be in the story. Cardinal Adamoli was fictional as he needed to meet a grisly end.

Likewise, the main places mentioned in the story really existed and some still do today: the Topkapi Palace, the Doge’s Palace, the Tuileries, the Bastille, The George Inn, Westminster Palace and Richmond Palace.

Finally, Dr Dee’s ‘angelical mirror’ really exists - it is housed in the British Museum and is thought to be a rare artefact from an early civilization in the Americas.

Hope you all enjoyed it!

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