Paul Doherty: The poisoned chalice

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Paul Doherty The poisoned chalice
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    The poisoned chalice
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The poisoned chalice

Michael Clynes

Richard III – The last Yorkist king, called the Usurper or Pretender. He was defeated by Henry Tudor at Market Bosworth in August 1485. He was the wearer of the White Rose, his personal emblem being Le Blanc Sanglier – the White Boar.

Henry Tudor – The Welshman. The Great Miser, the victor of Bosworth, founder of the Tudor dynasty and father of Henry VIII and Margaret of Scotland. He died in 1509.

Arthur – Henry Tudor's first born. He died young and the crown went to his brother Henry.

Henry VIII – Bluff King Hal, the Great Killer, the Great Beast, Fat Harry. A king who had six wives and a string of mistresses. He is the Mouldwarp or the Dark One, as prophesied by Merlin.

Catherine of Aragon – A Spanish princess, Henry VIII’s first wife and mother of Mary Tudor.

Anne Boleyn – Daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn. Second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth Tudor.

Bessie Blount – One of the more dazzling of Henry VIII's mistresses.

Mary Tudor – Daughter of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, nicknamed Bloody Mary because of her persecution of Protestants.

Elizabeth I – Queen of England, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, nicknamed the Virgin Queen though Shallot claims to have had a son by her.

Catherine Howard – Henry VIII's fifth wife. Executed for her extra-marital affairs.

Francis I – King of France, brilliant, dazzling and sex mad.

Will Shakespeare – English playwright.

Chris Marlowe – English playwright and spy, killed in a tavern brawl.

Thomas Wolsey – Son of an Ipswich butcher, he went to Oxford and embarked upon a brilliant career. He became Cardinal, Archbishop and First Minister of Henry VIII.

Suleiman the Magnificent – Turkish Emperor.

Mary, Queen of Scots – Granddaughter of Margaret Tudor and mother of James I of England and Scotland.

Thomas More – Humanist, scholar. Minister of Henry VIII, later executed for opposing Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon.

Edward VI – Son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, a sickly boy who died young.

Catherine de Medici – Italian Princess. Married Henry II, King Francis I's son. She dominated France after her husband's death: a subtle intriguer, nicknamed Madame Serpent.

Claude – The ugly, dumpy, pleasant wife of Francis I.

Charles VIII – Ruler of France in the 1490s. Husband of Anne of Brittany whose province he annexed. An ugly little man, he is supposed to have died accidentally after hitting his head on a cupboard.

Louis XII – Charles VIII's successor, thought to have died from exhaustion after marrying Henry VIII's sister, the Princess Mary.

Michael Nostradamus – Seer and necromancer, often used by Catherine de Medici.

Prologue

If Murder is Satan's eldest son then Poison, Queen of the Night, is his favourite daughter. Why do I say this? Because I dreamt about her last night when my manor house had fallen silent and its mullioned windows gazed like sightless eyes over the dark, lush fields of my estate. I'd slipped out of bed, leaving Margot the launderess and her sister Phoebe gently snoring (they sleep on either side to keep me warm), and crept downstairs to my secret chamber, behind the high table in the Great Hall. Only I know which carved wooden panel to press to release the catch and allow me into the sanctuary of my past. Everything is there. Sometimes I just light the candles and squat, going through this coffer or that. Well, last night, I chose one 'specially. I unlocked the three clasps, took out the faded petals of a flower wrapped in oiled leather, as well as all the letters and documents from that fateful summer of 1520. I read them and cried as they took me back through time, down the long bloody passageways of the last seventy-five years.

I became maudlin, drinking more rich claret than my chaplain would like to imagine. I hummed a little tune, even as the ghosts gathered round me, silent and threatening. I didn't care. Old Shallot never gives a rat's arse.

I leaned against the cold brick wall, cradling the faded flower petals in my hands, and drifted into a demon-haunted nightmare.

I was in Paris again, standing in the dark fields around the Chateau de Maubisson. Above me, a strange moon, white as snow, waned behind purple clouds. Strangely, the sun also shone, though it turned a dusty red, blotted out by the dark wings of vultures. A terrible rushing wind tore at my hair and clothes as merciless demons appeared from all directions, faces twisted with rage, teeth bared between snarling lips, eyes shining like stars whilst flames burst out of their mouths. Behind them, in the blackest darkness, rode the Lord Satan (oh, yes, I've met the evil bugger a number of times) on his dark-winged steed. He swept towards me, like the wind raising a storm as soaring eagles raise dust. When he stopped before me, the steel-shod hooves of his war horse drew sparks from the ground. I looked up but his terrible face was hidden in the shadow of a helmet.

Suddenly a devil appeared beside me, with red hands and feet and a head as bald as a pig. This tormentor lifted a gold-ringed trumpet and brayed a terrible blast. I just stood wondering what would happen. (Even in my dreams, I follow one of the basic tenets of old Shallot's philosophy: In danger always run and, if you can't run, do nothing!) I looked towards the chateau entrance and saw Queen Poison, dreadful as an army in battle array, sweep towards me across the lowered drawbridge, arms extended as if she wished to clasp me to her deceitful bosom. I stared into her white beautiful face, the car-mined lips pursed into a kiss, and crumpled to my knees before this most dread Queen of the Abyss.

I woke stiff as a poker. My back ached, my bum was sore and my mouth caked with the rich tang of the wine. I staggered back to a cold bed but Margot and Phoebe had fled. They always do that, the saucy wenches, they like to tease and make me beg for them to come back. I was too exhausted. I slept the sleep of the just till the chapel bells roused me late this afternoon. Now I feel refreshed, I've downed a venison pie, a tankard of ale and two cups of claret, and have returned to the centre of my maze to dictate my memoirs. I will tell you what happened in that dreadful summer of 1520, for that's what the dream was about.

I am comfortable in my maze which is laid out like the one at Hampton Court was by the Great Killer's chief minister, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. My chair with its high back and strong iron wheels is positioned correctly to catch the sun. I have a jug of wine, two silver goblets and a jewel-encrusted plate of doucettes. My clerk is also ready. My little Mephistopheles, my darling chaplain. The little turd!

He always takes his time: he must get his ink horn out, his parchment smooth, his quill sharpened, and make sure his little arse is comfortable on the softest cushions my manor can provide. He says he is ready to take down my memoirs. The little hypocrite! I can see the smirk on his fat, greasy face. He thinks I am a liar. A liar! I, Sir Roger Shallot, Lord of Burpham Manor in Guildford, Surrey, Commissioner of Array, Justice of the Peace, the holder of many awards and decorations, Member of the Privy Council (believe me, that's well named), Member of Parliament (I'll tell you a funny story about that soon).

Oh, yes, Sir Roger Shallot, now well past his ninetieth year, the darling and most loyal subject of the great Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn (she had the most beautiful tits) and, allegedly, the Great Killer himself, Henry VIII – the fat syphilitic bastard! I say 'allegedly' because I know different. Oh, I'll tell you the truth some day but that's another story.

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