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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“She died because of me.” I sank to my haunches, my head in my hands.

He knelt beside me. “No. Not because of you. She loved her children; she would have loved you, too.” He cupped my chin, turning my face to him. “You have her eyes, the same pale gray that can turn blue or sea green depending on your mood.”

“How did you find me?” I whispered. “How did you know where I’d been taken?”

“That damn artichoke again,” he said, “the one Anne Boleyn had coveted. Your mother stated in her will that it was to be broken apart, a leaf given to each of the women she named. The duke didn’t care. Anne Boleyn had given birth to a daughter, and Brandon had to contend with the king. Your mother was scarcely in her grave before Brandon wed his ward, a girl of fifteen. He wouldn’t have troubled himself with his late duchess’s request had I not offered to distribute the leaves in her honor.”

“But you didn’t know about me? You did not suspect?”

“Not at first. Then I learned that one of the women named in your mother’s will was the herbalist, and it sparked my suspicion. Alice vanished after your mother’s death; no one knew where she’d gone. I believed the bequeathing of those leaves was a sign, a message meant for me. So I did my duty. I delivered one leaf to Princess Mary and returned to court to serve the duke, to watch and wait. I had the leaf for Lady Dudley as well, but there was something about her I mistrusted; I didn’t approach her yet. By the time the duke died,” he added, “I’d discovered that Mistress Alice lived in the Dudley home in Warwickshire. When I went to Lady Dudley for a post, she hired me as her steward because of my service to the duke. Alice couldn’t believe it when I walked into her kitchen. Neither could I. When I saw you sitting there with her, the spitting image of your mother, I almost wished you didn’t exist. I feared for the life you’d face, a secret son with royal blood in your veins.”

I knew the rest of the story; I had lived it. I’d barely survived it. Even so, the final question had to be asked, though it seemed unnecessary now, almost irrelevant.

“Are you my father?”

He did not answer at once. The wind rustled through the branches above us, a flock of birds scattered overhead. Our mounts stamped their hooves, ears upright to the sounds of awakening nature. Urian trotted back to us, panting and covered in mud.

“Yes,” he finally said. “I suppose I must be.” He rubbed his chin, as though the thought perturbed him. “I should never have kept the truth from you. I suspected you had returned the night you were eavesdropping on the earl and the princess, but I wasn’t sure. Then you appeared in the brothel, and I recognized you immediately. I thought, here he is. Here is my second chance. But I’d never expected to see you again, and you thought I was dead. I’d changed so much; I didn’t want to do what I knew I must.”

“So instead you followed me,” I said. “You still tried to protect me.”

He chuckled. “Didn’t do a very good job of it, did I? I’d seen the earl exchanging missives with couriers; I knew he’d become involved in something dangerous, helping Robert Dudley in the Tower. I figured, whatever had brought you back to court, you’d soon be in over your head. Old habits never die: I wanted to keep you safe.” He reached into his jerkin and extracted a small silk-cloth packet, tied with a frayed ribbon. “This belongs to you.” He put it in my palm. “I’ve kept it all these years.”

I closed my fingers over it. I didn’t need to open it to know what the packet contained: the jeweled leaf meant for Lady Dudley, which he never gave her.

“Thank you,” I said softly. I shifted nearer to him. He stayed immobile as I slowly put my arms around him. I held him close; though I didn’t look up, I heard him choke back a sob.

“Ah, lad,” he murmured, and his hand came up to caress my hair.

I finally had my past.

Now I could look to my future.

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