‘Another stone will suffice’. In the grim pressing-room of Newgate Prison, a man was being crushed to death. It was a prolonged affair and the audience was small and yet throughout each groan and permutation there were formalities to observe. Five days had passed already and the stench was as bad as the suffering. Peine forte et dure, strong and hard punishment, could be a blunt and heavy means of execution.
‘Why bear such pain?’ The interrogator leant forward on his stool. ‘Why endure so much when reason cries out that you should speak?’
Pinioned beneath the plank board, the prisoner whimpered breathlessly at the force bearing down. It seemed the entire English state was squeezing life from his body. He should have known that the dark arts of Protestant subterfuge would ensnare and drag him here. It was the fate of many Catholics. And he had been willing to accept the risk, to join the English regiment with other believers and fight for Spain in the Low Countries against the heretic uprising there. With fire and sword he had helped cleanse the land. Until the day a trusted brother-volunteer had taken him down to greet a ship of new recruits; until the moment he found himself bound and lying helpless in its hold. That erstwhile friend with his sly patience and charm and searing blue eyes, had been in the employ of the chief English spymaster.
Again the voice. ‘Some struggle for ten days or more. It ends the same’.
‘You want a confession?’ The words fluttered out near inaudible.
‘We ask for names before you die. We demand to know the identity of those who would do us harm.’
The prisoner’s chest heaved; a thousand agonies melding into one. God forgive him. Confusion infested his mind, stirring false memory and incident.
All the while the voice, reasoned and insistent: ‘Speed your journey and give us what we seek’.
‘I… must… have… air…’.
‘One name and you shall have relief.’
He heard from afar his own thin and high-pitched moan. There was some comfort in believing that he went soon to a better place and that others would joyfully follow his example. Plot was already afoot. King James and his satanic coterie would rue their overconfidence.
‘Speak louder.’ The interrogator tried to interpret the sounds. ‘Summon your thoughts.’
A silence that extended and then reply. ‘Guido…Fawkes…’
Treason is published by Bonnier Zaffre