Title A Secret Heart Burning
Char Kit Marlowe
Word Count 1736
A Secret Heart Burning
It had been less easy getting back in by the window. Kit had barked some skin off the back of his left hand. There was no time to get back to sleep now. He heard the chimes go, four. He composed his limbs for rest, at least, sucking at his scraped skin to comfort it. He waited for the pale light of morning.
Nick and Geoff had obviously noticed nothing amiss. They would have said if they had. But, after all they made only the usual early morning complaints. They and he splashed hands and faces clean. The cold water cleared the cobwebs a little.. He dressed, shivering, in his black gown. His stockings were dirty. Students were supposed to be clean in all things. His mouth twitched at the thought. They meant more than stockings of course, but his thoughts were his own. All his life so far, his thoughts had been like timid fish, hiding in the shadow of a footbridge. They had stayed well back, moving safe in the dim. Now he was different. Now everything crackled like lightning.
Stockings. The gown was long enough to cover all, but the gritty mud felt horrible. Tonight he would wash them. If he hung them before the fire early enough they would be dry by morning. When Kit had lived at home his mother had washed such things for him. And when he had been very small he and his sisters had been permitted to run down to dress by the fire. She had warm water for them to wash with and their clothing ready, clean and hot. Thinking of it now caused a strange wincing ache. Best not to think of it
The bell spoke. The scholars streamed together, flapping like field crows. speaking softly in Latin, more softly still in forbidden English. Behind him he heard someone laugh, briefly. They fell silent as they passed through the door. He took his place at bench, bowed his head. The prayer floated over him, touching him briefly perhaps, on its way to the sky. Kit made his responses and thought of breakfast. Porridge today, and soft and good. He ate as much as he could get.
They straggled to the schoolrooms. Kit took his usual place. He sat down with care. Get it right the first time and you would not be caught fidgeting. He pulled his gown close, he was far from the fire. He could feel the pitiful hair of his arms standing up to try and warm him. He tucked his dirty feet back out of sight.
By ten he was fighting not to yawn. He gnawed his cheek in secret.
The lecture was dull. It would have been dull even had he been fully awake. The man would keep talking for another two hours without pause. He spoke without pleasure, they listened with even less. Kit already knew what he was going to say.
It was just after ten when the door at the back of the room opened. Kit could not turn to see who it was, but heard the footsteps come up the center of the room, and sweep by him. This was not a university man, this was someone he had never seen. He was dressed in rich colors, deep green, soft brown. His hat, in his hand, had a pale feather. His boots were good ones.
He stalked to the front of the room, and the Master (who had stopped speaking,) inclined his head. The man said something that Kit could not hear. But he heard the sound of a paper changing hands.
"Marlowe?" The Master cleared his throat, a fussy sound."
"Adsum." Kit stood.
"This man has-- has need of thy-- help. Go, and do as thou'rt bid."
Well, what else could he say? Kit turned to collect his books.
"No, leave them. They will be here, safe when you return.." That at least sounded encouraging. It implied he would be returning.
Kit, who had no choice, bowed. With a lowered head, went.
They went into the hall, it was colder here without the warm bodies of his classmates.
The man did not speak like a servant. Pride hung around him like fog.
"How old are you?" The question was abrupt.
"S-seventeen sir." Kit's mouth was dry.
"Ah. Seventeen." The man's smile was a minimal thing-- a mere tuck of the cheek on one side. His eyes were very dark.
"Up the stairs."
The stairway led to the instructors rooms. Kit had never done more than sit on the third marble step. Foolish to be afeared. What could there be here, but rooms with benches and beds and books? There was no reason to think his transgressions were known. And there were students doing worse things. He knew of two with secret wives. Anyway, there was no choice. And he was curious, as well as frightened. The man swept up the stairs-- his cloak swung to his heels. Kit followed.
"Here we are."
He stopped at a closed door like any other, and he knocked. Kit heard a muffled voice respond. Impossible to know what it said. The man pushed the door open, and Kit stepped into the room.
For a moment he thought he actually would faint. He felt his blood flooding his face and middle, hot and prickly. His wrists were sweating. The man-- the golden man of last week-- the man who had walked Kit's heated dreams-- stood before the fire. Kit realized his mouth was hanging open. He shut it, at once, with a snap.
"You are Christofor Marlowe." The golden man had never spoken before, but surely this was the voice he should have, light and clear, and warmly amused. He made Kit's name sound as delicious as a peach.
Kit bowed. He found himself hoping that the action would bring the blood back to his brain.
"Please, sit." The man gestured to a chair by the fire. It was one of two, the wood of them black with age. They both had pillows. The man took the other, he leaned forward, elbows on knees. His eyes were very blue. Kit could feel his heart racing.
"Am I to help you, Sir?" He could not imagine how.
"Yes. But first, let me ask-- did you have difficulty gaining your chamber last night? Climbing out the window is one thing, but back in, I have always found, is another."
"Nay, fear not. It makes no matter to me. I did the same in my years here. Yes--" The man chuckled, "I was a scholar here too, Mr Marlowe. I am well aware of the merits of a dark night. Do you have a girl in town? "
Kit shook his head, mutely. He was fairly sure that his tongue had shriveled up.
"My name is Thomas Walsingham."
The man stretched his feet toward the fire, and Kit saw that he was wearing the same soft boots of the first day. His clothing was different though. It was deep black. Black was everywhere here, they all wore it. Kit's eyes were surfeited on black until, he wanted to shriek. This should have been more of the same, another crow in a town of crows. But this black was different. This was velvet , and it was shot through with threads of gold. The slashed doublet showed red silk beneath. Walsingam's pale skin glowed. His eyes were clever, and not unkind. They were very very blue. Thomas Walsingham looked like an angel. Kit needed to be careful, careful now when he could scarce breathe.
"Walsingham, Sir? Like Mr Secretary, the Queen's--"
"The Queen's loyal servant, yes.” He gave a brief smile, a relenting. “The Queen's intelligencer. He is my uncle. Tell me, Christofor, did you have a particular reason to follow Dr Kett last night?"
"Kett? I-- no. He was the man with the book?" But Kit knew the answer to that now. The name had slotted into place. Doctor Kett, kindly and a bit vague, he taught the older students.
"Yes. He was the man with the book. Did you have a particular reason for watching him?" The question was a sharp poke.
"No." Kit spoke slowly, feeling his way forward. "I just wanted to get out. I did not know anyone else was about. I wanted to think.” It sounded lame.
"Hmm. Well. As I have said, I did the same. I will not tell. It would be a shame to see you beaten for such small sin."
"Thank you Sir.”
Thomas Walsingham smiled again, a better fuller smile.
Thomas Walsingham poured. The glass he handed over was small and fine, his fingers brushed against Kit's and they were warm. The wine looked black in the dim light. It was sweet and thick in Kit's mouth. He drank slowly, his head was swimming already. Walsingham drank slowly as well. When he was done he held the cup, rolling it thoughtfully in his hands, back and forth. Kit could see the fire, distorted but lovely, caught in the facets of the glass.
“What do you know of Kett? What is your sense of him?”
The question was odd. His answer came slowly.
“Yes. I think-- yes.” Kit had not known he thought it, until now. But he felt more sure, as he spoke.
“Well.” Walsingham set his glass down. “I have kept you from your class long enough.”
He stood, taller than Kit, but not by much. He was older, but again not by much. For a moment they stood, thus, looking up, looking down, with the fire behind them.
“I am here, sometimes, upon my uncles work-- the work of the Queen. Maybe we will speak again, Mr Marlowe.”
He smiled at Kit's smile and the moment broke.
He turned for the door, and Kit had to follow him.
The stairs were brief, and then he had to go back in. The golden man had a name now, a name to breathe in the dark, to clasp to Kit's pounding heart. It was more than Kit had ever hoped to have.
He walked to his sitting place as quietly as he could. The lecture flowed around his head, his ears, his secret heart, burning burning.