By Royal Appointment 1620
You men of Britain, wherefore gaze you so,
Upon an angry star? When, as you know,
The Sun must turn to dark, the Moon to blood,
And then ’twill be too late to turn to good.
O be so happy then, whilst time doth last,
As to remember Doomsday is not past;
And misinterpret not with vain conceit
The character you see of Heaven’s height;
Which though it bring the World some news from fate,
The letter is such as none can it translate.
And for to guess at God Almighty’s mind
Were such a thing might deceive all mankind;
Therefore I wish the curious man to keep
His rash imaginations till he sleep.
King James, the first monarch of Great Britain, having finished his oratory, leans back, declaring, ‘A poem o’ ma own devising. On that angry star that obsesses ye, an’ sae many others.’ His Scottish accent is so strong that it sounds like a foreign language to his English courtiers.
A sharp-faced tall man, cloaked in black, kneels before him. Fraser Campbell, a man who died two years past. The deceased original would have quaked with fear to be in the presence of one who considers himself not only God’s lieutenant upon earth but, as the scriptures say, a god himself. This doppelgänger holds no trepidation. He may have the outward appearance of a humble supplicant before his lord and master, but, in truth, he believes himself a far superior being to this creature on his throne, particularly in the art of manipulation. Unlike the man he has taken the form of, who was only capable of the rough speech of the Highlands, this being speaks with eloquent intelligence.
He considers his tactics. He knows, from his own trajectory to earth, that the component he seeks will be somewhere on this island. Before communication ceased he ascertained that it had taken the form of an infant female of the species. Therefore, having an undeveloped brain, it will have no understanding of its purpose. It, she, will, before long, manifest itself as being out of the ordinary. Treated with suspicion. To find her he will need the state apparatus of this world, which only a King can grant. He will need all his devious skills in the art of persuasion.
‘A finer example of the poetic arts I cannot imagine, your Majesty,’ he states, attempting to massage the monarch’s ego.
The diamonds of his rings catch the light as the King wags an admonishing finger at the supplicant.
‘A fellow Scot, you should know better than tae try tae flatter me. It wis no’ written for fancy, it wis meant tae convey a warning. Doomsayers an’ pessimists from Scotland tae Sicily claim tae have witnessed portents an’ prodigies in its fiery tail. For aw we know it was nothin’ else but Venus wi’ a firebrand up her arse!’
Fraser, realising that this King may be a little harder to influence than imagined, tries another tack.
‘Your Majesty, as always, your skepticism is well placed. For if the comet was a heavenly sign, would its meaning not be unintelligible to mere mortals?’
James tut-tuts testily. ‘Exactly. It is ma belief that any attempt tae interpret or predict God’s actions in this way is at best misguided, at worst dangerous. Sae why seek for an audience wi’ yer king tae discuss this matter?’
‘Only, as the most humble of your subjects, to beseech your wisdom regarding a theory I have, your Majesty.’
‘Eh?’ The King raises an eyebrow. ‘A theory, ye say?’
‘Yes. For what if it was not a heavenly sign? What if its appearance was not an action of God? For did this apparition in the skies not have an extremely long tail of a reddish hue?’
‘Satan!’ exclaims James.
‘Yes, the devil himself, I believe, your Majesty,’ replies Fraser, ‘with forked tail, come to earth to wreak his will. That is why I felt I must consult with you.’
‘That wis wise o’ ye. ’Twas oan Satan’s command that witches raised a storm tae destroy ma freish bride an’ masself as we crossed th’ sea fae Denmark.’
‘Indeed, your Majesty, and were you not appointed by God to lead a crusade against the dark one, and the scourge of witchcraft that infests your kingdom? Have you not written the foremost volume upon this subject?’
‘Mmm. Whit ye say may have some validity.’ He points to a small leather-bound book on the table beside him. ‘My Daemonologie,’ he murmurs, leafing through the pages. ‘Magic, necromancy, witchcraft, sorcery, spirits an’ spectres; ah have provit the existence o’ such forces an’ detailed the trial an’ punishment these practices merit — i’ ma view, death.’
‘Yes, your Majesty, but perhaps it might be wise to interrogate them first? For their knowledge of Satan’s plan?’
‘Aye, but whit makes ye sae sure thon devil came tae earth on this angry star?’
‘Has there not been a notable onset and increase of reports of witches? Have there not been numerable threats to your Majesty himself?’
The King looks fearful. Awkward, slim and ungainly, the only reason he appears a larger figure is because he fills his bejewelled doublet with padding, as a protection against assassins with knives. The thought of an attempt on his life constantly haunts him; for he knows that his clothing will be no defence against the dark arts.
‘Guido Fawkes threatened ma life wi’ gunpowder. Ye believe thon supernatural forces could be an e’en greater threat?’
‘I fear so, your Majesty.’
James’s mournful, shining eyes stare at Fraser. ‘So, whit action wad ye suggest ah take tae counter this attack on ma kingdom, bah Lucifer hisself?’
‘This return of the Antichrist?’ replies Fraser. He pauses, to give the impression that he is wracking his brain for a plan, a plan which, in fact, he has been leading the King towards from the very beginning. ‘Might I suggest the solution relies upon a powerful organisation of government, to seek out and purify the country from every manifestation of his witchcraft?’
‘And what would you call this office of government?’
Fraser hesitates, unsure of a title that could clinch his argument. Thinking of the real purpose for this department of government, he comes upon a name that will appeal to the King’s religious fanaticism. He replies, ‘An Office of Resurrection.’
‘As our Lord is was resurrected, so we will resurrect the true faith, and banish heresies.’
The King nods, appreciatively. ‘And ye wad be its leader?’
‘Majesty, I am your most devoted subject,’ the thin man declares, ‘anxious ever to serve you in deed as in word.’
The King eyes him thoughtfully. ‘Aye, deeds speak louder than words. Fraser Campbell, henceforth ye will be known as Witchfinder General. Serve me well, for we’ll no’ be safe until the angels o’ darkness, the servants o’ Beelzebub, have been vanquishit.’
The Witchfinder bows low.
‘Go aboot yer business, then. Ye will be given aw the support yer enterprise requires.’
Well content, the monarch beams on all the courtiers gathered around.
As he bows low and backs away, a slow, unseen smile spreads across the Witchfinder’s face.