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The truth about Guy Fawkes by Michael Fitzalan

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Guido woke to the sound of marching feet. Slowly he looked around him, he had fallen asleep on the firkin on which he sat; his cloak was draped around him and covered the barrel, his head poked out from a black cone of material. He looked like the end of a candle snuffer. His hat was over his eyes, and he could not imagine how that had occurred.

Through his sleepiness, panic gripped him and suddenly he was wide-awake.

If it were the soldiers of the guard, he could not be found sleeping; he should not have taken that last mug of sack after they had left. Drinking and talking often led to that ‘one too many’ he had found. Fawkes

It would not do for a night-watch-man to be caught sleeping on the job. Otherwise, it might be his employer, in which case he must look lively despite the cloudiness of his head.

Admonishing himself for being lazy, he willed himself awake.

In one fluid movement, he launched himself from his squatting position and up off the barrel.

Quickly, he turned the barrel onto its side and rolled it towards the others.  They must have an inordinate amount of lanterns, he thought to himself.

He guessed it was a final search before dawn; he had no idea of the time or how long he had slept.

Turning slowly, he was just about to say he was rolling the barrels, as good an excuse as any, when ahead of Falsdart he spied a tall stranger in a heavy cloak that he had drawn back to reveal fine clothes and an ornate sword hilt.

The stranger stopped and stood in front of him; barely a yard separated them. Guido took in the new scene.

His candle, sitting on a pricket saucer, was spluttering on the floor in the corner; the third or fourth that he had brought with him that night, he was not quite sure. He had not realised that the cheap candles, that he had bought, burnt so rapidly; beeswax candles would have kept alight longer; he would make sure he did not visit the same tallow merchants in the market at Borough again.

Still, with four lanterns in his vicinity, he had no need of its light.

To the stranger’s left stood a pageboy who raised his lantern high as he fiddled with the buttons of his doublet. Perhaps, this was Sandeman checking on his shipment, he idly thought.

Certainly, the man looked important.

Maybe it was his relief, the sombre, distinguished gentleman could be the King’s steward of wine; perhaps the others were there to shift the barrels upstairs to tap and spile them so the sediment would be settled by evening.

With that in mind, he moved to collect the bag for them.

“Halt!” cried the stranger, “I am Sir Thomas Knyvett, member of the Privy Council.

You are Thomas Percy’s man?”

“Yes, John Johnson commanded to guard these barrels by the same person, Sir Thomas Percy. He engaged me to move these barrels from the dock to here and preserve them,” replied Guido, sweeping off his hat and bowing gracefully as he doffed it.

“Without a weapon?” challenged Knyvett. He stood with his hands on his hips, his sword hand behind the hilt and his legs spread apart, there was no doubt that he was in command of the situation.

Guido gathered his thoughts.

“Being within the vicinity of the palace and knowing the guards patrol around here, there was thought to be no need, it was to protect the prize from a sneak thief who might be daring enough to roll away a barrel once the guard was gone.”

“Why was this not left for a soldier?”

Guido remained silent for a moment, all ears awaited his answer, he had not challenged his role, and he had accepted it readily as any itinerant gentleman would.

He had not questioned its sagacity.

“I suppose a soldier could have been on guard, but the King, Sir Thomas told me, was not in favour of armed men in his precincts, save for those who form his guard. I am merely a night-watch-man whose challenge would see off a magpie.”

“Sir Thomas Percy is more of a fool than I think he is, we have no need for a bellman here!” spat Knyvett venomously.

“What do you mean?” asked Guido nervously.

“Guards put down your lanterns; I will need to question him further.”

This command was designed to intimidate Guido, leaving him in the dark and allowing the guards the freedom to use their weapons. It worked. All he could see was strange figures bathed in lantern light while he was left in the shadows, a silhouette that made an unnervingly large target.

A sudden fear gripped him. The cellar became shrouded in darkness, making Guido feel more vulnerable. In the shadows, unfriendly faces surrounded him. The situation was desperate; he could see that.

He had no way of escape or denying the accusations.

The Captain of the Guard, Falsdart, rested his hands on his hips mimicking Knyvett’s stance, the boys of the guard held their pikes stiffly at their sides as they did at inspection before starting any duty; they dared not fold their arms in Knyvett’s presence. The guards, who had been his friends earlier in the evening, were now his enemies.

They seemed twice as wide and much more threatening, all of them suddenly older and more dangerous friends turned enemies, the worst of foes.

Where there had been warm, conversation and merriment, there was coldness, silence and seriousness.

This stranger meant danger and Guido would have to treat him with kid gloves.

“Your grace let me see you better; l shall light the lantern to see your face and be able to read your meaning more fully,”

Guido suggested amicably.

He had no idea why the man before him was being so aggressive.

“Observe he has matches, he is clothed in boots and cape at this late hour, the dead of night. Corporal Falsdart, you will ensure that is noted in the report you dictate to the scribe, is that clear?”

“Of course, your grace,” Falsdart agreed meekly. His family had served the crown for almost five-hundred-and-thirty-nine-years, he was not going to let Crown down, now.

He had every intention of carrying out each and every order. It would not be a good political move to upset such an important person and he was unclear why the kindly John was being interrogated in this way. However, he needed to obey every command that he received as soldiers always should, he knew the Privy Councillors well;

John Johnson was a relative stranger.

“Indeed, you are right your grace,” Guido acquiesced, “I am dressed for my duties and the matches are to light my lantern. I am to guard the barrels of sack there, all thirty-six of them, kilderkin, barrel and firkin for the Members of Parliament on the express orders of Sir Thomas Percy.”

“Do you know who Percy is?” asked Knyvett testily. His had wrapped tighter around the hilt of his sword.

“The kind gentleman who gave me employ, only that,” replied Guido simply, he really did not want to rouse the overexcited stranger any further.

“He is only, the most notorious ringleader of a Catholic plot to overthrow the king!”

Knyvett screeched.

“That cannot be true, I saw him talk to the King!” objected Guido, for indeed he had seen Cecil talk to the King and Cecil had told him that he was Sir Thomas Percy, why would anyone doubt a servant of the King? Why would he lie about his name?

“Search the cellar!” cried Knyvett impatiently, pacing up and down in an agitated fashion. It was what he assumed he should do to show his concern at the situation. He knew what would be discovered, he wanted to ensure that it was not missed by these fools.

Whyneard had failed to spot the evidence, they might.

“There is nothing here but the sack and a pile of winter fuel,” countered the captain of the guard, Corporal Falsdart. “We have searched once already on the command of Mr. Whyneard, you have dined with him tonight have you not?”

“Yes,” replied the knight unsure why the guards were siding with Guido.

He had not expected to be challenged; normally his commands were followed forthwith and if not then, immediately, or soon after. It irked him that he should be defied in this way.

“My men let you in and I reported that a thorough search of the cellar had been undertaken to both you and Mr. Whyneard, the Keeper of the King’s Wardrobe. No one has left or entered the precincts since your arrival.

Otherwise, I would have been notified by the other guards.
“I am aware of that, but we need to find some items and without delay.”

“Of course, we will search but it would help to know what we need to look for,” objected Falsdart, he was a soldier, but he saw no reason to have his men needlessly diverted.

“Indeed, it is his Lordship that bade me commit another search for he has found some wall hangings, belonging to the King, and other items, missing, all of which are needed for tomorrow.

It is time for a more thorough search with a narrower purpose.”

“Your Lordship, I had no idea, accept my apology and I beg your pardon for challenging your command, I had no idea such items were missing,” replied Falsdart humbly.

He realised that there were mysterious circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the King’s items. Despite his scepticism, he replied respectively, trying not to bristle, confidently asserting, “This intelligence was not shared with us.”

“Typical,” Knyvett replied, spitting the words dismissively through his teeth.
Whyneard would not and could not admit the loss. He had searched for them himself without the assistance of the guards.

“Sincere apologies.”

“They have only recently gone missing; in fact, their absence was only revealed tonight, I know you would rather be by the warmth of the guard house fire, and I would, willingly, be a-bed and asleep myself.”

“Indeed, Your Lordship is correct. We must find the missing items.”

“I am at your command, Your Lordship!” Falsdart replied bowing low as he spoke.

Knyvett’s reputation was well known in the Palace of Westminster, deference was all that was needed.

“Good!” snapped Knyvett. “Watch the prisoner, John Johnson, make sure he only speaks when spoken, too, better still keep him quiet until we councillors can speak freely to him.”

Jerome drew the stiletto from his unbuttoned doublet, the blade caught the light from the lanterns, and it flashed in the dark like a
Match struck.

Unfortunately, all eyes were on Guido it went unnoticed. Despite wondering why anyone would hide any items in such a filthy place.

Falsdart decided he had to acquiesce.

He did not particularly like Knyvett and his ways, but he did not want a fuss to be made so he decided to do precisely as he was told. “What is it that you require?” he asked, sounding like a good soldier awaiting a command.

“Search those logs, the coal, upturn even the faggots, clear that brushwood,” growled Knyvett.

Falsdart motioned his men to action, Petigrew and Ben to clear the coals, Hal and John to clear away the faggots and brushwood. While Jerome threatened Guido with his stiletto, the guards rested their pikestaffs on the floor against the wall behind him, oblivious to the mortal danger Guido was in at that time.

Guido looked on mystified, Knyvett seemed satisfied, looking on indignant, almost incandescent with rage, or so it seemed.

In fact, like any liar trying to pull off a subterfuge, his embarrassment showed on his flushed face. All of the guards suspected that Knyvett saw Guido as the thief of the properties for the ceremony and nothing would convince him otherwise, whereas they, to a man, felt Guido was innocent, even though they were so young. They could see truth; they could sense Guido’s integrity.

Reluctantly, they picked up their lanterns; the job would be dirty work. Once at the pile, they took it in turns to move the coal and logs.

Falsdart joined them, standing between the pile of coal and the pile of wood.

They worked for a few moments before they were able to discover something. Cecil had laid his trap and ensured that the concealment would seem plausible; he did not want things to look too contrived.
“What have we here?” Hal asked askance, stepping back from the cleared faggots.

“Captain, what have your men found?” asked Knyvett seemingly mystified, as if he did not know.

“Why three small barrels,” Falsdart responded with admiration.

It was not clear as to whom he admired more.

“I never would have looked amongst the winter fuel, your Lordship!”

“I have never seen those,” protested Guido vehemently. He knew well enough the sentence for theft, and he had no wish to be in the Clink.

“Really,” Knyvett sounded surprised. “Open them!”

Guido stood his ground; he knew nothing about Knyvett.

“I have not stolen anything; the thirty-six are on this bill,” Guido argued.

“Give me that bill!” ordered Knyvett, steel in his voice.

“It is written there,” complained Guido triumphantly, “thirty-six barrels of Spanish sack from Senor Sandeman.”

“We will use it as evidence. Watch out men; we have intelligence of a misdemeanour here tonight.”
In fact, he intended to take it home and burn it. A waybill for sack would not sit well on a charge of blowing up the houses of parliament with gunpowder.

He knew the gunpowder in the cellar was corrupt.

It was so old and spent that it would only splutter like a candle. That was not the point though; those three barrels were evidence of a plot to blow up parliament.

“This barrel seems lighter than the rest,” noted Petigrew. He shook the barrel violently, which made Knyvett start.

It was difficult to know if he was acting or whether being an old soldier he was wary of gunpowder even if it was corrupt. His reflexes overruled his logic, perhaps.

“Be careful, keep your lanterns covered, put out all the naked flames anywhere around. Watch this man and his matches.

The King himself has been told there is a plot to blow these great houses to kingdom come.”

“Have no fear,” said Falsdart reassuringly, “we have only these covered lanterns; we extinguished the torches at ten, as part of our husbandry here.” Fawkes

He contemplated drawing his sword but felt it might seem to be slightly overdramatic.

Jerome’s stiletto was sufficient.

“What with, we have no tools?” replied Petigrew who, on hearing he might be carrying a bomb, had placed the barrel gently on the floor in front of his feet, taking a few steps towards the others. Fawkes

Secretly, he wanted to put himself at the back of the group so that the others would protect him from any blast. The two other barrels remained untouched.

“You, John Johnson, you have nothing?” asked Falsdart kindly, he was still not clear about what was going on.

Dozen men

He was shocked, there was no doubt in his mind that the rest of the building would have caved in once the walls were breached, he had seen mines under siege towns work spectacularly well and gunpowder could do the work of a dozen men digging at the foundations of a fortification. Fawkes

He could not believe that his newfound friend intended to blow his guard and him to kingdom come.

“Only taps and spiles,” replied Guido, equally mystified at the appearance of the barrels of gunpowder.

“There is mallet in the bottom of the bag, for tapping the barrels.”

“Use the end of your pike, but do it gently,” commanded Knyvett. There was trepidation in his voice; it was the fear that they might try to open the other thirty-six barrels and discover sack not gunpowder.  Fawkes

“A better idea would be to use the tap to knock the bung out of the keystone, but do it very gently,” suggested Guido.

He was feeling nervous, now. Gunpowder was dangerous, he knew from his time in the Low Countries. There had been many accidents and incidents with the dangerous compounds that blew bridges and dykes, fired weapons of all kinds and exploded in transit. Gunpowder was a wickedly unpredictable substance. Fawkes

Many sappers had lost their lives.

“Very well,” Knyvett agreed after a short pause, it was difficult to argue with the logic, the tap was wieldier than a pikestaff.

Knyvett signalled to Petigrew to collect a wooden tap and the mallet from the bag next to Guido. He had seen innkeepers tap and spile barrels of beer and copied their action, up-ending the barrel and placing the wooden tap above the keystone.

One tap of the mallet and the bung was pushed through; the tap rammed home; Petigrew teased and wiggled the tap from the keystone, before tipping the barrel over and spilling out what looked like coal dust onto the floor.

“Why there is black powder here,” cried Falsdart, in surprise.Fawkes

“Gunpowder, I will wager. I am sure of it; search him!” cried Knyvett excitedly, drawing his sword.
The others dared not doubt him. He nodded at his pageboy, Jerome, who pulled out his stiletto from the fold of his clothes, its clean Toledo steel shard glistened in the lantern light.

There was no possible way for the unfortunate watchman to escape Cecil’s trap.

Ben strode over, his hands blackened with coal dust, which he inadvertently smeared on Guido’s clothes as he searched the folds, adding further to the appearance that Guido had been handling gunpowder. Fawkes

He produced only three matches, there were no weapons on Guido, he possessed nothing else not even a purse.

“I have but three matches on my person to keep my candles alive, nothing more,” protested Guido.

“To take the life of King James you mean and the lives of the parliamentarians! Fawkes

Three matches to light your fuses! A trinity of terror!”

Knyvett had accused him loudly; there was anger in his voice. His acting was appalling but in the heightened atmosphere of the cellar that did not matter. He stepped back and put his hand on his sword hilt, Guido’s eyes followed him and that was when he noticed the glinting blade of the stiletto and saw Jerome step forward a pace.

“Why would I want to harm the King?” asked Guido nervously eyeing both armed men. His words came out as an incredulous mumble, heard only by those close by. Fawkes

“Hear that men, he said that he wanted to harm the King!” cried Knyvett.

Guido had only his cloak, his doublet, hose and shoes to keep out the cold;.
Guido posed no threat to the guard or to the nobles who were due in parliament that very day. Fawkes

Guido was in no position to protest, he could not fight his way out; he would have to wait until Catesby explained everything.

“What else has he on him?”

“Some rope is coiled by the barrels,” Ben said.

“For the fuse, no doubt!” cried Knyvett. “We have discovered a dastardly plot, gunpowder fuses, what do you say about the rope? Were you about to set the match?” Fawkes

“No,” argued Guido, “the rope is for lowering the barrels onto the boat and hauling them up on the other side.

“Balderdash and poppycock,” Knyvett countered.

“Ha, that is the alias that the Secretary of State uses all the time, he is also the leader of our espion network. How very witty and clever; was that one of Percy’s jokes?

He has run into our friend, Lord Cecil, many times, with his Papist plots.” Fawkes

“I am not part of any plot, I swear.”
“Silence, clearly, this is one more plot, only more audacious and most dastardly. So, you planned to blow up this house and the King, his kinsmen and his children with it. How do you plead?” spat Knyvett venomously. It was truly incredible. That way he could interpret them, as he felt best. Fawkes

He could select details to omit and those to shout over his shoulder as words that actually came from the mouth of the man who planned to explode the cellars.

It was an excellent piece of deception; manipulating words expertly.

“To guarding the sack, I plead guilty. I would never blow up the houses with that,” mumbled Guido perplexed, pointing to the small, breached barrel that had spewed out the incriminating powder. He could not believe that anyone would think he a capable of blowing up himself and others. Fawkes

“Hear that men, he pleads guilty.”

“To guarding the barrels, how could I cause an explosion with ‘sack’?”

“But with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder you could, these would be the catalyst! You could blow this place apart,” cried Knyvett.

“No doubt myself too, but I like life too much,” argued Guido forcibly, he had no desire to die. Fawkes

“Hear that he was going to light the match!” Knyvett shouted. He had deliberately misconstrued much for match.

Cleverly, Knyvett was twisting all Guido’s words. The others could hardly hear Guido talking let alone hear what he said.

What an intricate web Knyvett weaved when he practised how to deceive.

“Why would I blow up the house above my head and all those persons therein?” Guido replied weakly; it was a damning accusation.

“Mark these words guards; he was to blow up the house above our heads and everyone therein. Record that remark in your report, men. Ensure the scribe writes it exactly as he said it.

Do you wish to say anymore?” Fawkes

“I see, you will twist my words,” he whispered, realising that it was no use saying anything.awkes

His role as a night-watch-man had suddenly turned to the role of traitor.

Guido’s thick accent and soft voice helped in the deception, match, sounded like much, life and like, sounded similar, no matter what he said or how he said it.

Silence was the best defence for the time being until he could get a message to his friends. They would make Knyvett understand; they would clear up this mess.

Cecil had sent them away deliberately.

His friends were organising the delivery of the rest of the sack to the Midlands. . The remainder of the shipment was to be distributed at Cecil’s request; personally, to various customers he had won them throughout the Midlands.

These men could not help Guido so far from London. Fawkes

“Securely bind this man, use those ropes to tie his hands and guard him, tie this scarf about his mouth, he is to speak to no-one, and no one is to speak to him, is that understood,” commanded Knyvett sternly.

He tugged at the scarf that had been loosely draped around his neck, held it out for the gag to be administered.

“Yes, your Lordship,” the captain of the guard replied, stepping forward to do his duty as none of his subordinates dared.

Even though following orders to bind a plotter, Falsdart had no choice but to securely bind the scarf at the back, using a simple knot, left over right, right over left, the type favoured by seamen to secure two ropes.

“I must return to the King’s palace to tell him about the danger that has been prevented.

You have done well guards, but we must make sure that he confesses to the right people!”
At that moment, Doubleday arrived and that was when Guido realised the whole drama had been orchestrated, he recognised the man who had been in partnership with Catesby to buy the sack. When the whole horror of the situation sunk in, he realised that any hope of justice was gone. Fawkes

His heart sank.

That was when it dawned on him that he was lost and it was then that he decided to make a run for it, feeling it was his only choice.

He had been so compliant that resistance was totally unexpected.

Unfortunately, Doubleday’s bulk stood in the way of his exit. Guido ran towards him hoping to side step at the last minute, but his adversary was light on his feet and held his arms up to block him. Fawkes

Guido gripped Doubleday’s fingers on his left hand in order to push them away and the next thing he knew he was lying on his back, Doubleday had stepped behind him and moved his left leg swiftly behind Guido’s while slipping his fingers from Guido’s grasp. He pushed hard against the poor Guido’s chest. Guido toppled backwards and fell hard on the stone floor. Fawkes

His cry of pain was muffled by the gag and escaped as a tortured moan.

Dazed, he tried to struggle up, but the big man’s hands rolled him onto his stomach and in no time were around his legs and undoing the garters from around his hose. With his improvised bindings,

Doubleday proceeded to secure poor Guido’s hands together behind his back.

He ensured he pulled the strands tight. Then lay his bulk on top of him in a beastly revenge that knocked the wind out of Guido who gasped pitifully. Doubleday was no stranger to scraps and had a reputation as a cruel adversary. Fawkes

“Bring him along to the King when I send for him, you can keep him at my house until then,” Knyvett ordered.

“Will we be expected at Knyvett House?” Doubleday asked, looking up, his large bulk crushing Guido’s comparatively slight frame.

“Of course,” replied Knyvett impatiently, “my man servant awaits my return even at this hour.”


A well respected author

Michael Fitzalan was born in Clapham, South London where his mother had established a doctor’s surgery in a house which she filled with children.

With three sisters, two brothers and a library full of books, a love of literature was imbued in him from an early age.

Michael Fitzalan comes from Irish parents were doctors and they settled on the West Side of Clapham Common and had six children in quick succession.

A story by Michael Fitzalan

Michael Fitzalan’s first novel gained cult status and here are some others: Waterwitch was a hit with those who have ever sailed; two brothers battle storms and Spanish support for the Malvinas in an attempt to meet up with their girlfriends in Ibiza. They have to get from The Algarve to Ibiza, all very straightforward until engine failure and storms threaten to sink all their plans. The Taint Gallery tells the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet; the story is set in Cheslea and Fulham, not Verona, nevertheless, it is a doomed relationship. The book was shunned by big publishers for its highly charged and graphic sexual content and the small publisher who produced the book folded, copies are rare. A reprint is planned for its twentieth anniversary next year; it is still as pertinent and shocking today as it was back in 1996. Switch is an amazing mixture of Franz Kafka realism yet it reads like a Raymond Chandler thriller. Joe Ederer falls for a French girl but he is recovering from being dumped by his English girlfriend. A fish out of water in London, he chases her home only to be rejected. He hooks up with a suffocating drug addict and that is when his nightmares begin. Major Bruton’s Safari is the story of innocents abroad; a family invited to celebrate the coronation of the Kabaka of Buganda become indoctrinated into the ways of Africa. With an acerbic observer on hand, the family experience the warmth and ways of Uganda that help them to understand themselves a little better. IPG – Innocent Proven Guilty is about a teacher, Philip Hayward whose brother sold their shared flat and ran off to America with the proceeds. Philip bumps into his brother’s ex-girlfriend and she tells him his brother is back. Racing to the address she gave him, he arrives to find his brother with a knife in his back. As he leaves, his shoes leave bloody footprints and the police come looking for him. Carom – Finn McHugh and his team take on a swindler and smuggler, Didier, who is depraved in so many ways. They know he is smuggling art and drugs; he must be stopped before others take him out. The Cubans, want him dead, Finn wants to break the smuggling ring. Who will win? Remember the Fifth November – Guy Fawkes was innocent, Catesby was a broken man who brought his children up in the Anglican faith, yet Robert Cecil arranged for them to be portrayed as terrible villains. With a spy service second to none and with moles everywhere how could someone hatch a plot like this and fail to be discovered? The answer, they could not. Read the truth! One – Bullying does not go on anymore in schools. I would not bet on it. Weep as you read the terrible story of a school bully and the misery he dispenses to all the boys. Then, cheer as one of his victims takes revenge. Take a trip to a prep school in a time when kids built tree houses, danced and swung on Tarzan ropes!

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