C. Gortner: The Tudor Conspiracy

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C. Gortner The Tudor Conspiracy
  • Название:
    The Tudor Conspiracy
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    St. Martin’s Press
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    Исторические приключения / на английском языке
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Now Mistress Ashley bustled into my chamber to declare, “You’re going to bring her home, yes? No shenanigans this time, no sneaking into forbidden rooms or jumping off leads into the Thames? You’re going to pack her up and bring her here, where she belongs.”

Clearly Kate had been confiding in her over the kitchen table at night, after I’d retired. “That would be the goal-if she’ll let me,” I added, with a rueful smile.

Kat Ashley snorted. “I warned you, serving her is no banquet. She demands more than she ever gives and rarely shows any gratitude. I hope you’re prepared. The only thing she hates more than being told what to do is being told what she should not do.”

“I’m aware of that.” I latched my bag, then lifted it to test its weight. Cecil’s loan had allowed me two new doublets, several changes of hose, and shoes suitable for court, all of which were heavy. I didn’t want my horse Cinnabar to be overburdened. It would take a full day’s ride to reach London, maybe more if the weather worsened.

Mistress Ashley reached into her apron pocket and took out an oil-paper bundle tied with twine. “For the road,” she said. I accepted it in gratitude, knowing there’d be a chunk of fresh-dried venison, good cheese, and fresh-baked bread. Then she pressed another pouch into my palm, this one unmistakably filled with coin. “I’ve been saving for a day like this. A smaller cut of meat here, some extra butter sold there-it all adds up.”

I started to protest that I had money left over from Cecil, but she held up a hand. “I insist. You cannot go to court like a pauper, not if you hope to impress the queen.” Her keen eyes met mine. “The girl is beside herself,” she said. I went still. “She won’t say anything because you are doing your duty, but she fears you, too, are going into the mouth of danger.”

“I know,” I said softly. “But no one at court knows much about Daniel Beecham.” As I spoke aloud the name of my alias, I touched my chin. I’d let my red-gold beard grow out as thick as I could, trimming it to the shape of my jaw, with a fashionable jutting prong at my chin. Between the beard and my long hair I hardly recognized myself. Would it be enough? Could I return to court and not give myself away as that callow squire who’d turned Northumberland’s plans upside down?

“You could be any man,” said Mistress Ashley, as if she read my thoughts. She took my face between her hands. “Kate needs you. Though she stays behind, her heart goes with you. All our hearts do. All we want is for you and Her Grace to return to us, safe and sound.”

A lump clogged my throat. “You’re not making this any easier,” I muttered.

“I don’t intend to.” She patted my cheek. I embraced her, losing myself for a moment in her crisp scent of herbs and linseed oil and all the uncomplicated good things in life.

“There now,” she muttered, drawing back. “Enough of that. Come, it’s getting late and you’ve a long journey ahead. The boy can hardly contain his excitement.”

I started. “Boy?”

She smiled. “Did you think we’d really let you go off on your own? Peregrine is going with you.” She wagged a finger, again cutting off my protest. “It’s not as if he’d stay, anyway. You know well that the moment you left, he’d be right behind you.”

Chapter Three

As we went into the courtyard, I saw Peregrine holding the reins of his horse, swathed in a cloak, his thick curls shoved under a wool cap. Mistress Ashley was right: If I tried to leave him behind, he’d not stay. I loathed exposing him again to the dangers of court, but he had always served me well. He had even saved my life-twice, as he liked to remind me. I could do no better when it came to a loyal companion.

Kate turned from checking Cinnabar’s harness. “Ready?” she asked, with brittle cheer.

“Except for him.” I motioned to Peregrine. He started to open his mouth in protest, but I cut him off. “You’re to do as I say at all times. No questions. No second-guessing me. You’ll act as my squire, and a squire must be at his master’s beck and call at all times. I don’t need to be worrying about what kind of mischief you’re getting yourself into. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, master,” he said indignantly.

Kate tucked my cloak about me. “Be safe,” she said. Her voice cracked.

“Kate.” I reached out.

She took a step back. “No. No good-byes.”

I gazed into her eyes. “I promise I’ll send word as soon as I can.”

“Don’t.” With that one word, she conveyed everything we dared not say aloud, the mere fact that by setting quill to paper I might betray myself. “Just come home,” she said, and she pushed past Mistress Ashley, going under the archway back into the manor.

I started to go after her. Mistress Ashley stopped me. “Let her be. I’ll look after her. You go now, before she changes her mind and orders her own horse saddled.”

I turned back to Cinnabar. My horse snorted, eager to be off. Jumping onto a mounting block, Peregrine scrambled onto his dappled gelding.

We rode to the road. I glanced over my shoulder to see Mistress Ashley framed by the redbrick house, the tenacious ivy turning brown where it curled about the windows. She raised her hand in farewell. I kept looking back as she and Hatfield faded from view.

Though I did not see Kate, I knew she was at one of those windows, watching me.

* * *

The day was crisp, the sun an opaque halo in the bone white sky. Once we cleared the manor grounds, we took to a canter, the horses impatient to stretch their limbs. I didn’t want to fill the silence with idle talk. Sensing my mood, Peregrine kept quiet, at least until we stopped to eat our midday meal. As I sliced the cheese, venison, and bread, he finally let loose the one question I was sure he’d been burning to ask since Cecil’s visit. As usual he’d been listening in on every conversation he could, ferreting out the purpose for our trip.

“Is she in danger?” he asked, munching down his bread. He had an insatiable appetite but never seemed to gain weight. Whenever I saw him eat like this, I wondered how much hunger he had experienced in his short life.

“Chew your food. And yes, she might be. Or she might not be in any danger at all. I don’t know yet. That is why I am going to court, to find out.”

He looked doubtful. “But I heard Kate and Mistress Ashley talking. Kate said the imperial ambassador was trying to have the princess arrested for treason.”

“Did you really? Those big ears of yours are going to get you into more trouble one day than you’re worth. Have you already forgotten what I told you?”

He sighed. “No second-guessing you.”

“That’s right. I’m serious, Peregrine. This is not a game.”

“Who said it was?” He sounded insulted. “But if she is in danger, you might as well tell me now. You wouldn’t want me to wander about not knowing.”

“You’re not to wander at all. You’re to do as I tell you or I swear, I’ll send you back to Hatfield hog-tied, if need be.”

“Yes, master.” He snatched the last slice of venison and crammed it into his mouth. “Just answer me one thing,” he said, chewing.


“Tell me you’re not planning on falling into the river again. Because sometimes the Thames freezes in the winter and it would be hard to rescue you-” He laughed, ducking from the hand I swiped at his head. He had a wonderful laugh, like a young boy’s should be. For the first time since we left Hatfield I found myself smiling.

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