C. Gortner: The Tudor Conspiracy

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C. Gortner The Tudor Conspiracy
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    The Tudor Conspiracy
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    St. Martin’s Press
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    Исторические приключения / на английском языке
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The Tudor Conspiracy: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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“I came to see you.” He sat. “Kate sent me a note, but I wrote to her first. I told her I had important news to impart. She returned word that I should present myself.”

“You could have written to me.”

“Yes, I could have. But would you have replied?”

“Depends.” I eyed him. “You still haven’t answered my question.”

To his credit, Cecil looked discomfited. “I would not have come were it not a matter of urgency, I assure you. I’ve no desire to cause you any more trouble than I already have.”

“Is that so?” I asked, and as we faced each other for the first time since the tumultuous events that had first brought us together, I reflected on the irony that two such antithetical men could hide such powerful secrets about each other. For only I knew how ruthlessly Cecil had acted to destroy his former master, Northumberland, and protect Elizabeth, just as only Cecil knew the truth of who I was.

I tensed as Cecil shifted aside the pile of books on the window seat and perched on the cushions. He picked up one of the volumes, perusing it. “I see that besides your swordsmanship, you’ve taken to studying Spanish and French. Quite a formidable endeavor, if I do say so myself. One might think you’re preparing for something.”

I had to school myself to meet the impact of his pale blue eyes. Enough had gone between us for me to know I’d always be on the short end of the mallet when it came to Cecil. Even now, as he stood poised against the window embrasure as if he were still holding audience in his London manor, his power and influence vast, though rarely exercised in public, I felt a shudder pass through me as I contemplated everything he was capable of.

I clenched my jaw. “Lest you forget, I now serve Princess Elizabeth. I am not your informant anymore, so get to the point. What is this urgent matter?”

He inclined his head. As usual, his matter-of-fact air didn’t do justice to the exigency that must have propelled him to Hatfield. Still, his opening volley took me off guard.

“Have you any word from Her Grace?”

I felt a chill that had nothing to do with my sweat-dampened chemise. “Not recently. We had a short letter from her a month or so ago, saying she was staying on at court through Twelfth Night. We assumed the queen had invited her to stay.”

Cecil arched his brow. “Oh, she is staying, but not because she was invited. Mary has ordered her to remain at court.” He paused. “Do I have your interest?” He reached into his satchel to remove a sheaf of papers. “These are reports I recently received from an informant. I assumed that under the circumstances, you wouldn’t take my word for it.”

I crossed my arms with deliberate nonchalance, hiding my disquiet.

“Elizabeth is in danger,” he said. “Grave danger, according to these reports.”

I took a moment to meet his gaze. I found no deception there, no conniving. He looked both troubled and sincere. Then again, he was a master at hiding his motives.

“In danger?” I repeated. “And you have an informant at court who told you this? Who is it?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know.” He untied the leather cord binding the sheaf. “These reports started arriving a month or so ago-all anonymous, all in the same hand.” He extended one of the papers to me; as I took it, he added, “That’s the last one. It arrived about a week ago. You can see the paper is a common grain, like the others, but I believe the man who wrote these reports must be employed at court. His information indicates proximity to the events he describes. Look at the handwriting: It’s orderly but not overly literate; a secretary or notary, perhaps.”

I scanned the report. The writing reminded me with a jolt of the neat lettering I’d often seen in the castle account ledgers kept by Archie Shelton, the Dudley family steward. Shelton had trained me to be his apprentice. He also first brought me to court to serve as a squire to Lord Robert Dudley, plunging me into danger.

I tore myself away from the memory. “I don’t understand,” I said, looking up at Cecil. “This is an account of Queen Mary receiving a Spanish delegation to offer the Emperor Charles V’s congratulations on her coronation. Why is that unusual? The emperor is a fellow sovereign.”

“Turn it over,” he said. “The page. Turn it upside down, and hold it up to the light.”

I went to the windowpane and pressed the paper against it. I had to focus, but then I began to see them: translucent white lines, surfacing like ghosts between the inked ones.

There was another letter, hidden within the letter.

I squinted. “I can’t make it out. The words are too faded.”

“The special ink he used is activated by lemon juice,” Cecil explained. “It’s a familiar ploy, and I’m ashamed to admit it took me a while to figure it out. Clearly this is not the work of a trained spy. At first, I thought someone was playing a trick on me, in rather poor taste, sending me reports of seemingly innocuous events at court. But as they kept arriving, I started to get suspicious. Fortunately, Lady Mildred always keeps on hand the juice of preserved lemons from our orchard.” He met my stare. “I have transcribed everything for you here, on this paper. What that invisible letter says is that unofficially, the Spanish delegation brought Charles V’s secret offer of marriage to his son, Prince Philip.”

“Philip?” I started. “As in, the prince of Spain?”

“The same. And the emperor is more than a fellow sovereign: He is the queen’s first cousin, whom she’s always treated as a family confidant. She relies on his advice. Should she accept his offer of marriage to his son, one of the terms of the betrothal will be returning England to the Catholic faith. Charles V will tolerate nothing less. It also goes without saying that a rapprochement with Rome would be calamitous for every Protestant in this realm, and most of all for Elizabeth.”

He picked up the page on which he’d transcribed the invisible words from the reports. “See here. ‘Her Majesty heeds exclusively the imperial ambassador, Simon Renard, who deems Elizabeth a bastard and heretic, and menace to the queen.’” He glanced up at me. “They’re all in this vein: two or three secret lines per report, yet taken together they present an undeniable picture.”

My heart started to pound. Cecil might be a liar, but when it came to Elizabeth he was nothing if not thorough. She meant everything to him; she was the reason he persisted, the beacon that guided him through the shoals of his disgrace, as the fall of Northumberland had been his fall as well, for Queen Mary had exiled him from court.

“Her Majesty doesn’t strike me as someone who is easily swayed by others,” I said.

“Yes, she is like her father that way; she makes up her own mind. But she is also the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, a princess of Spain, and Simon Renard represents Spanish interests. He has served the Hapsburg emperor Charles V for many years, and she takes his advice seriously. If Renard is advising that Elizabeth poses a threat to her faith and her desire for a Hapsburg marriage, nothing could be more calculated to rouse her suspicions. After all, religion is the queen’s lodestone. She believes God himself guided her through her vicissitudes to the throne. Elizabeth is a Protestant; she stands in direct opposition to everything Mary hopes to achieve, including returning England to the Catholic fold.”

Alarm went through me. “Are you saying this man Renard seeks the princess’s arrest?”

“And her death,” replied Cecil. “It can mean nothing else. With Elizabeth out of the way, the succession is to Prince Philip and Mary’s future child. An heir of Hapsburg blood to rule England and unite us with the empire, thereby encircling the French-it is Charles V’s dream. Renard is a career civil servant; he knows whoever delivers that dream stands to gain a great deal.”

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