Doctor John Dee sat in the bar of The Squid and Teapot, happily chatting to his friends, Norbert Gannicox, Seth Washwell and Bartholomew Middlestreet. Occasionally Philomena Bucket would bustle by with a tray loaded with foaming tankards of Old Colonel and platters of Starry-Grabby pie, while Drury, the osseous hound, lay in front of the fireplace, resembling nothing more than a pile of discarded bones. Over the previous few days Dee had enjoyed a stimulating conversation with the shade of Father Ignatius Stamage, the Jesuit priest who quietly haunted a corner of The Squid, and a surreal encounter with Lady Margaret D’Avening, the phantom Headless Lady who occasionally manifested in the inn’s flushing privy. This was, indeed, the strangest of places, but Dee had no great wish to hurry back to Tudor England, where a wrong word or spiteful allegation could bring imprisonment, torture or an agonising death. Good Queen Bess could be as unforgiving and ruthless as her father, the much-wed Henry, when the mood was upon her, and her spymaster, Francis Walsingham, had eyes and ears everywhere. No, this island of Hopeless, for all of its attendant horrors and privations, could teach sixteenth century England a thing or two about the rights of man.
There was one fly the proverbial ointment, however; Durosimi O’Stoat. During his lifetime John Dee had come across a lot of men like Durosimi – in fact one or two of these had also been named O’Stoat – and each, without fail, had self-interest as their single driving force. His position as Court Astrologer and fame in the field of alchemy had drawn these people to him, and now, hundreds of years later, it was his reputation that had attracted Durosimi. Dee smiled to himself. While it was cheering to learn that his legacy would be remembered far into the future, it was baffling, as well. Durosimi, like many others, was under the impression that Dee was some great sorcerer with dark and mysterious magical powers. The truth was that, having tried a few unsuccessful experiments, he knew that he had no magic; undeterred, however, he continued to possess a keen, not to say dangerous, interest in all aspects of the natural, and supernatural, worlds. Other than studying the heavens, taking part in the occasional séance and having an aptitude for scrying, he was very much like any other man of rank of his time, except that he was much, much cleverer than most, and he knew it. That’s how he had stayed alive for over sixty years.
“Another drink, Doctor?” asked Bartholomew, raising a hand to catch Philomena’s attention. Before he could reply, a pitcher was placed on the table and his tankard refilled. This ale was considerably stronger than that which he was used to, and John Dee was beginning to feel somewhat inebriated.
“I do not like Durosimi O’Stoat,” he suddenly declared, his voice slightly slurred. “I believe him to be a rogue and a scoundrel.”
Seth, Norbert and Bartholomew looked uncomfortably at each other. None would have disagreed with this sentiment, but would never have dared put it into words, especially in so public a setting.
“You see,” continued Dee, “he wants me to go back… go back to Elizabeth’s reign and take him with me. Ha! The fool does not know that I cannot do that, even if I wanted to.”
Dee regarded his friends fondly with glazed, moist eyes and patted Norbert reassuringly on the shoulder.
“And believe me, my most faithful of comrades, I have no wish… no wish at all to leave this most magical of islands…”
With that he belched, smiled weakly, then slid gently off his chair and under the table.
“Methinks the doctor has overindulged in Hopeless hospitality,” said Seth with a grin.
“Well… if living in Hopeless is a better deal than being in his own time, it must be pretty awful there,” observed Norbert.
“At least we don’t hang, draw and quarter people,” broke in Philomena, who had come to clear the table, then added, “so much for Merrie England!”
“It couldn’t have been all bad,” said Bartholomew, “but like it or not, at some point he’s going to have to return. I looked him up in one of the encyclopaedias up in the attic. By my reckoning he’s got a lot to do at home and another twenty years to do it in. Let’s give him as good a time as we can while he’s here, because, one way or another, he’ll be whisked back to his own time without so much as a by-your-leave.”
“Then maybe we should start by getting him off the floor and into his bed,” said Philomena.
Doctor Dee woke with a headache. He could only imagine that the fog outside had somehow seeped into his brain. Fortunately, a crate of coffee beans had washed up on the beach just a week previously, enabling Philomena to make the doctor the finest hangover cure that she knew. It was with no little trepidation that Dee sampled the dark brew over breakfast. At first he pulled a disgusted face, but as the invigorating effects of the caffeine coursed through his body, he brightened visibly. Doctor Dee decided, there and then, that he liked coffee and would make a point of obtaining more of it (sadly for him, however, he would be dead for forty years before the exotic brew would eventually be brought to Europe).
Meanwhile, on a part of the island far less welcoming than the well-lit warmth and hospitality of The Squid and Teapot, Durosimi O’Stoat sat in his austere study and contemplated the problem of how to wheedle knowledge from Doctor Dee. The man had obviously been lying when he said that he had no idea how he had arrived on the island, and that he had no magic to help him. It was well known that Dee was a powerful sorcerer. Durosimi was also aware that magicians were renowned for being secretive; in fact, none more so than Durosimi himself. One way or another he would extract Dee’s knowledge from him, even if it meant chaining him up indefinitely.
Durosimi smiled unpleasantly. A sudden thought had occurred to him. Dee had made no secret of the affection that he felt for the Bucket woman, the Irish barmaid who skivvied in The Squid and Teapot. Maybe she could be the tasty morsel of bait which would hook Doctor Dee in once and for all.
To be continued…