Excerpt

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COMING 2017

 

Chapter One—August 1559

 

“Make way, you varlets!  Make way for the queen!”

 

The guards in Queen Elizabeth's green and white livery galloped along the dusty, rutted lane, pushing back the eager crowds who gathered to watch the queen ride by.

 

Along the road, the royal cavalcade seemed to stretch for miles.  Hundreds of people rode with Queen Elizabeth on her summer progress, an endless stream of horses, wagons, and coaches.  Baggage carts were piled high with chests and furniture, maidservants and pages clinging to them precariously as they bounced along.  The courtiers on their fine horses were a kaleidoscope of bright velvets and feathers, a brilliant burst of color emerging from the brown dust of the hard, rutted summer pathways.

 

None were more glorious than the queen herself.  She rode in her finest coach, a gift from one of her suitors, the prince of Sweden.  It was an elaborate conveyance painted deep crimson and trimmed with gilt paint, lined with green satin cushions.  Six white horses drew it along, the green ribbons braided in their manes and tails fluttering in the wind.  Queen Elizabeth, resplendent in white and silver brocade, her red-gold hair piled atop her head and twined with pearls, waved her gloved hand at the crowds who clamored to see her.

 

“God save our queen!” they shouted, falling over each other, tears shining on their faces.  Parents held their children up on their shoulders to glimpse a real queen.

 

“And God bless all of you, my good people!” Elizabeth called back.

 

Sir Robert Dudley rode beside her on his grand, prancing black horse, seeming to be a part of the powerful beast himself in his black and gold doublet, a plumed black hat, trimmed with pearls and rubies, on his glossy, curling dark hair.  He laughed as he caught some of the bouquets tossed to the queen, and he leaned into the carriage to drop them in her lap.  Elizabeth smiled up at him radiantly, the very image of a summer queen, full of heat and light and pure, giddy happiness.

 

Kate Haywood could barely glimpse the queen's coach from her own wagon further down the lane, but even she could see the sunburst of the queen's smile.  It had been thus all summer, from Greenwich to Eltham, a procession of dances, banquets, and fireworks over gardens in full, fragrant bloom.  After so many years of danger and fear, it seemed summer had truly returned to England at last, and everyone was determined to enjoy it to the hilt.  Especially the queen.

 

Kate looked down at her lute, carefully packed into its case and propped at her feet.  She let her clothes chest, filled with her new fine gowns and ruffs, be loaded into the baggage carts, but never this, her most prized possession.  It had once been her mother's, who died at her birth, and she had grown up learning to play her music on it.  It was her most trusted companion, and now that she was a full member of the queen's musical consort, it was her way of earning her own bread as well.  It had seen much activity in the last few weeks, playing deep into the night as Queen Elizabeth danced on and on—mostly with Robert Dudley.

 

Kate flexed her fingers in her new kid gloves.  They, too, had seen much work lately, and she couldn't afford for them to grow stiff.  Once they reached Nonsuch Palace there would be much dancing again.  It was said that Lord Arundel, the palace's owner, was much set on wooing the queen, and had planned many elaborate pageants to advance his suit.

 

For a moment, Kate thought of her father, content in retirement at his new cottage near Hatfield.  She received letters from him on this progress, full of his news as he finally had time to work on the grand Christmas service cycle he had longed to finish.  He also had words to say about a kindly widow who lived nearby, who brought him fresh milk and new-baked bread.  He seemed happy, but Kate often missed him a great deal.  They had been each other's only family for so long.

 

And yet—he had kept her mother's secret from Kate all her life.  And she hadn't yet been able to bring herself to confront him about that.  She didn't know if she ever could.  It made her feel so very lonely.

 

Kate leaned further out of the wagon to study the coach in front of her wagon, through the choking clouds of dust.  Catherine Carey, Lady Knollys, the daughter of the queen's aunt Mary Boleyn, rode there with her beautiful daughter Lettice, the fine new conveyance a sign of their high favor with the queen.  Beside them, talking to the ladies through the open window, was her brother Lord Hunsdon. 

 

He threw back his head and laughed, his red beard glinting in the sunlight, and his sister peeked out the window to laugh with him.  She caught her plumed hat just before the wind would have snatched it from her dark hair.

 

Whenever Kate saw Lady Knollys, she wondered if her own mother had looked something like her, with her delicate face and shining black hair—Boleyn hair, they called it.  For Kate's own mother, Eleanor, was the illegitimate half-sister of Anne and Mary Boleyn.  A fact Kate discovered in a most shocking way only a few months before.

 

Not that the Careys, or anyone, ever spoke of that fact or acknowledged it.  Though sometimes Kate thought she saw Lord Hunsdon looking at her...

 

The convoy suddenly lurched to a halt, startling Kate from her brooding thoughts.  She clutched at the wooden side of the wagon to keep from tumbling to the floor.

 

“Are we stopping again?” Lady Anne Godwin, who sat across from Kate, cried.  “We shall never get to Nonsuch at this pace!  I vow we could walk faster.”

 

Mistress Violet Roland, from her perch on the bench next to Kate, smiled and said, “Of course Queen Elizabeth will wish to stop and talk to the people whenever she can.  Most of them will never see such a sight again.”

 

Kate smiled at her.  She had come to like Violet very much on their travels, for they often found themselves in the same conveyances and sharing lodgings in the palaces and manors of the summer progress.  She was one of the queen's newest Maids-of-Honor, small and pretty, with blonde curls and a quick smile.  She enjoyed music, and could help wile away dull hours on the road talking of the newest songs from Italy and Spain.  She was also a fine source of gossip about the court, conveyed in quick whispers and giggles.  Who was in love with who, who was seen speaking to who.

 

Information that seemed most frivolous, but could prove deadly useful—as Kate often discovered lately.

 

Violet seemed especially excited today, for her brother served as a secretary to Lord Arundel, and she would get to see him at Nonsuch.

 

“And it is such a lovely, warm day,” Violet said.  “Who can grumble about being out in the sunshine?”

 

“I can,” Lady Anne muttered, readjusting her silk skirts around her.  Unlike Violet, she was not often very merry.  “My backside is aching from this infernal, jolting wagon.  And your nose will grumble, too, Violet, when you get hideous freckles.”

 

Violet just laughed, and leaned out to see what was happening.  Kate peeked over her shoulder to see that the queen had halted her carriage to call forth a man with a little girl in his arms.  The child shyly held out a bouquet to Queen Elizabeth, who accepted it under Dudley's protective watch. 

 

Kate felt a pang of strange wistfulness as she watched.  It had been many weeks since she saw her friend Anthony Elias, who worked to become an attorney in London.  Yet she thought far too often of his smile, his beautiful green eyes.  The safety she found in his arms when she nearly died on the frozen Thames.  If he ever looked at her as Sir Robert looked at the queen...

 

But Anthony would not.  And she had her own work to do.  She had to cease to think about him.

 

She sat back on the narrow wooden bench and made sure her lute was safe still.  Music was all she ever knew for certain.

 

Violet turned and gave her another smile.  “Have you had your horoscope done by Dr. Dee yet, Kate?”

 

Kate shook her head.  “I have not yet had the time,” she said.  She had seen Dr. John Dee's bearded, black-robed figure hurrying around the court, his apprentice, the pasty young Master Constable, dashing after him with his arms full of mysterious scrolls and books.  Having one's horoscope cast was considered essential by so many people at court in recent days.  Dr. Dee had forecast the queen's coronation date, as well as where she should visit on this progress.  Queen Elizabeth relied on his wisdom entirely.

 

But Kate was sure the hour of her own birth, which had been the hour of her mother's death, could not augur well for the future.  She had to learn how to make it for herself.  It seemed best not to know her destiny.

 

“Oh, but you must!” Violet cried.  “Everyone is doing it.  Dr. Dee had no time to cast mine, so Master Constable did it.  He said I was born under Saturn, and am thus of Melancholic disposition.  I should marry within the year, but never to someone born under Mars, or great misfortune will ensue.  I must make sure all the humors are in balance.”  She glanced toward a group of men on horseback nearby, and a small frown fluttered across her lips.  One of the men was her persistent suitor, a certain young Master Longville, and Violet showed no signs of returning his favor.  But she was soon laughing again.

 

Kate shook her head.  She thought of Violet's frequent laughter, her love of dance and song.  It seemed Master Constable wasn't learning much from his apprenticeship.

 

“I am surprised the learned Dr. Dee would even wish to return to Nonsuch,” Lady Anne said with a smirk.  “Surely that would be a most bad omen for him.”

 

“What do you mean?” Violet cried.

 

“Have you not heard the old tale?” Lady Anne said.  Her eyes were shining with the pleasure of gossip.  “I know not much about it, but my uncle was there when it happened.  It was in old King Henry's time, when he was married to poor Queen Catherine Howard.”

 

Catherine Howard—who had lost her head in the Tower when she barely more than sixteen.  Kate remembered that dark, cold night when she knelt on the stone floor of St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower with Queen Elizabeth, sure that unseen eyes watched their every movement.

 

“Oh, do tell us!” Violet urged.  Kate said nothing, but she was intrigued.

 

Lady Anne smiled.  “Twas on a summer progress just like this one.  Nonsuch was the king's then, and not yet finished, but he was determined to bring his new queen there.  Dr. Dee was an apprentice to a man called Dr. Macey, so they say, when Dr. Dee was very young and first at Cambridge, and King Henry wanted Macey's advice that summer and summoned him to Nonsuch.”

 

Kate glanced ahead to where the queen was greeting more of her subjects, smiling and holding out her hand to them.  The shimmering, brilliant radiance of the scene seemed so far away from when the old, mad king came this way with his frivolous, flirtatious young queen.  Did King Henry require some dark magic from Dr. Macey that year?  There had been such frightening tales, of alchemy and spirits...

 

“What happened?” Violet whispered.  Her eyes were wide, as if she, too, feared to know of ungodly arts.

 

“A courtier named Lord Marchand accused Dr. Macey of—of treason!”  Lady Anne hissed the last word.  “He declared Dr. Macey predicted the king's death and the queen's black fate, which is a burning offense.”

 

“Was he executed, then?” Kate said, appalled.

 

Lady Anne shook her head.  “That is the strange twist of the tale, Mistress Haywood.  This Lord Marchand took it all back.  No such horoscope predicting the king's death or the queen's downfall could ever be found, but poor Dr. Macey quite vanished.  He was never seen again.   Dr. Dee went abroad after he finished his studies at Cambridge, and they say he never speaks of Dr. Macey.  And it all happened at Nonsuch.  What can Dr. Dee be thinking to go back there now?”

 

“How terribly sad,” Violet sighed.  “And Dr. Macey never reappeared at all?”

 

“Never,” Lady Anne said with obvious relish.  “My uncle said some people declared a demon spirited him away at his own conjuring.”

 

“A demon!” Violet shrieked.

 

“Don't be silly,” Kate said.  “How would a demon appear in the midst of a crowded court?  Surely there would at least have been the smell of brimstone.”

 

She laughed, but she couldn't help shivering.  The warmth of the summer sun couldn't quite banish the old, dark memories of the past.

 

The procession jolted forward again, and Lady Anne and Violet talked of other, happier matters—the newest style of ruff from France, the new Spanish ambassador Bishop de Quadra, who was newly betrothed to who.  Horoscopes and mysterious vanishings seemed forgotten, especially when they rolled over the crest of a hill and Nonsuch Palace came into view at last.

     

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