3rd Episode in the Black Chamber: The Dossiers Series
April 6th, 1590
Seething Lane, London
Residence of Sir Francis Walsingham
Sir Francis knew he would soon die. He had been ill for years, but this time was different. The pain in his groin had become nearly unbearable, even to the point of being unable to pass urine, and he had not eaten in days. It was just past 1am when he heard a soft rapping on the door to his chamber. He half expected it to be death himself, but instead it was Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury.
Robert was escorted into the room by a young servant boy, who Francis dismissed with a wave of his hand. Robert watched the servant boy scurry out of the room, and only after the door was closed did he approach the bed where Francis lay dying.
“Why have you summoned me at this hour? Could you not wait till the sun was up?” Robert asked.
Francis struggled to take a deep breath. “I will likely be dead by then. There are things you need to know-work that must continue.”
“I am in no position to continue your work.” He snorted. “The queen has not even suggested your successor.”
“Which is precisely why you are in a perfect position to continue what we have started.”
“What do you mean?”
Francis opened his mouth to speak, but coughed instead, wincing from the pain. He closed his eyes until the pain had subsided enough for him to continue. “I mean, you have served Her Majesty faithfully and she knows you are loyal to her. I have made it a point to speak of you to her at every opportunity. She favors you, and with no other poised to assume the office, the way for you is clear.”
“That still does not mean she will appoint me as your successor.”
Francis nodded. “True, but you do not need an official title in order to proceed. As you have stated, no other has been chosen to take my place.”
Robert turned away from the bed and paced the room. “Let’s say you are right. Even if the queen allows me to carry out the duties of Secretary of State, thereby allowing me to assume control of the network of spies throughout Europe, what makes you think I will viewed in the same light as you?”
“Because I have already sent word throughout the network that I have chosen you as my successor, and that will allow you enough time to solidify your own reputation. Money, power, and the fear of the unknown are still the primary forces that drives most men. That and the fear of death. I have taught you how to wield these forces to achieve whatever end you deem necessary.”
“How much does the queen know?”
Francis smiled. “She knows what I tell her. The work I have done has made her reign possible, and I have saved her life on more than one occasion. She knows this well, though she will never admit it.”
“Yet she pays you a mere pittance.” Robert scoffed. “You deserve much more, and if I am to fill your shoes, then so do I.”
“Yes, you are right about that, but remember in our world things are never quite what they seem to be.”
Robert eyed him suspiciously, but said nothing.
Francis continued. “The network I have created provides much more than information. I have people in high places in nearly every country throughout Europe. Together, we work to manipulate events as we see fit. We own, or control, most every area of commerce and as events change we reap the profits.”
Now it was Robert who smiled. “Yes, I have seen this. After the King of France was murdered, much turmoil followed. I remember that you hinted you were, in fact, assisting both sides of the conflict there. A masterful plan, I must concede.”
“And a highly profitable one. Your task will be to expand the reach of our secret organization, our own Black Chamber if you will, and if you can do this there will be none who can usurp our influence.”
“We will control the destiny of the entire world.”
“Indeed.” Francis nodded. “The world will always be in turmoil, and there will always be war, famine, and conflict of one kind or another. There is no stopping this, so what can one do?”
“Survive.” Robert answered.
“Yes, and even thrive. When I die, you will hear that I was in debt and penniless. On the surface, this is true, but I have hidden money in various places. You will use this money to continue the work."
Francis reached under his blanket and removed a small, wax-sealed envelope. “Here, take this. This will lead you to where I have hidden the money. The sum is considerable.”
Robert took the envelope, and slid it into the wait of his trousers.
Francis continued. “The world is like a small child, unsure and naïve. It needs a hand to guide it, or smite it, and our secret society shall be that guiding hand. You will see this come to pass, but I shall not.”
Robert moved to the side of his mentor. “But you may triumph over this ailment, and if so we shall build together.”
Francis started to speak, but when he opened his mouth the words would not come. The pain was intense, and growing more severe by the minute. He sat up in bed moaning in agony, and then fell back to his pillow. His breath was coming in short gasps.
“I will get help!” Robert turned and bolted for the door, but Francis stopped him.
“No Robert. There is no help to be had. However, there is one thing you can do. One thing you must do.”
“What is it? What can I do?”
Francis motioned for him to come closer. “Soon, the sickness will consume me and I will not be of sound mind. No one can learn of what we have spoken of here. No one. Do you understand?”
Robert nodded slowly. “Yes, I understand. No one will know. You have my word.”
Francis moved his feeble arms behind his head, grabbed his pillow and slid it out from under his head. His every move caused his face to contort with pain. He moved the pillow to his chest, and looked up at Robert and whispered, “Goodbye.”
Robert bent over and took hold of the pillow. He whispered his reply, “Goodbye.”
Robert slid the pillow up and over Francis’ face and shoved it downward with all his might. Francis instinctively fought back, but was much too weak to have any affect. After a few brief moments, Francis stopped fighting, his body falling limp. Robert lifted the pillow and stood for a moment gazing at his dead mentor. He did not feel sadness, but rather a sense of purpose. He would keep his word to Francis and expand their work. He was now the keeper of a secret known to a precious few, and even they did not know everything.
Governments had long operated using secrets, codes, and codebreakers. Often referred to as a black room, or black chamber, these bodies did the bidding of their respective governments. Robert was now leading a secret within a secret. A Black Chamber that would operate in the shadows, connected to all governments, but loyal only to itself.
Robert gently lifted Francis’ head and slid the pillow underneath. He took one last look, turned and walked to the door. He paused there a moment, then lifted the latch and opened the door. He left the room and showed himself out of the house. Outside, darkness was still upon the city and stood on the doorstep allowing his eyes to adjust. Hearing and seeing nothing, he stepped off into the shadows.
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