Authors: Amanda Carmack
THE ELIZABETHAN MYSTERIES
“Meticulously researched and expertly toldÂ .Â .Â . paints a vivid picture of Tudor England.Â .Â .Â . Amanda Carmack's talent for creating a richly drawn setting, populating it with fully realized characters, and giving them a tight and engaging narrative is unparalleled. An evocative and intelligent read.”
New York Times
bestselling author Tasha Alexander
“This dramatic period is filled with intrigue, religious conflict, betrayal, and danger, which [Carmack's] writing brings out brilliantly.”
RT Book Reviews
(4Â½ stars, top pick)
“Carmack truly delivers on fascinating period details, along with intriguing danger and vivid charactersÂ .Â .Â . a true reading pleasure!”
“A very vivid and impressive picture of the time, the places, the people and the conditionsÂ .Â .Â . a fun read with a solid mystery and a determined and likable heroine.”
âHistorical Novel Society
“StellarÂ .Â .Â . flowing descriptions, wonderful historic and fictional characters, and an intriguing mystery.”
âOpen Book Society
“Another nail-biting, intoxicating rideÂ .Â .Â . that had me wanting the next book immediately.Â .Â .Â . Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend.”
âMysteries and My Musings
“Rich descriptions and [a] lively and interesting cast of personable characters.Â .Â .Â . This is going to be a great series.”
âSharon's Garden of Book Reviews
The Elizabethan Mystery Series
Murder at Westminster Abbey
Murder at Hatfield House
Murder in the Queen's Garden
Murder at Whitehall
Published by New American Library,
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375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
This book is an original publication of New American Library.
Copyright Â© Ammanda McCabe, 2016
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eBook ISBN 9780698196582
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To my favorite city in the world,
ERE LYETH MATTHEW HAYWOOD, D. DECEMBER 1560. “SING AND MAKE MUSIC IN YOUR HEART TO THE LORD.”
Kate Haywood watched, shivering, as the stonemason's men slid the newly carved slab into place in the floor of the church aisle. She felt so numb, frozen in place. The moment seemed to stand perfectly still, caught in the grayish ray of light that fell through the window over the altar. And yet it also seemed to rush forward too quickly, pushing her over a cliff into something she was not ready for. A world without her beloved father.
The scrape of the stone echoing in the empty church, felt even more final than the day Kate had tucked a sprig of dried rosemary and a locket containing a curl of her long-dead mother's hair into her father's cold hand, and then watched as the pallbearers lowered his coffin into the vault.
That day, there had been people surrounding herâher friend Lady Violet Green; her father's friends, the Parks, who had once played music with him at the court of Queen Catherine Parr; Lady Mary Sidney and her small sonâall sent by Queen Elizabeth herself to lay a wreath and condole with Kate. There had been music, composed by her father, soaring majestically to the old rafters of the solid, square Norman church. There had been stories of her father's life around the fireside afterward, tales of his great love for her mother, of the kings and queens he had served, the brilliant music he had brought into the world.
Now she was alone. She had sent everyone back to their homes, with many tears and fond embraces, in the days after the funeral. She had wanted the quiet days of waiting for the stone to be carved, wanted the time to pack her father's music and think on what she would do now.
She'd done little of that, though. The books and manuscripts were still piled by the trunks, her father's chair still by the fire. She had played her lute, stared into the flamesâtried to fight away the numbness. There was truly no question of what she would do now. She would go back to court to serve Queen Elizabeth with her own musicâand with other, more secret matters when the queen was in danger. That was her life now, a life she loved, a life where she was needed and that had great purpose.
If only she could shake away the cold and
“How does it look, Mistress Haywood?” the
stonemason asked. His voice was quiet, respectful, yet it still startled Kate from her icy trance.
She looked down to see that the workmen had finished laying the stone in place. It fit perfectly into the flagstones of the aisle, barely any line around its edge at all. The words were deep carved and crisp now, but she knew soon enough they would fade, mellowed by all the footsteps that would cover them.
“It is very fine indeed,” she said. “Thank you.”
The stonemason nodded. He twisted his cap in his hand as he studied the stone with her. “He was a fine gentleman, your father. He even taught my daughter some music on his lute; said she had a natural ear for a song. He will be missed here.”
“That is most kind of you,” Kate answered, making a note in her mind to send some of his music to the daughter. “I know he was most content in his home here.”
And that was true. After a long life of turmoil and trouble, of being always on the move as monarch followed monarch on the unsteady Tudor throne, of losing his beloved wife and bringing up a daughter alone, Matthew Haywood had found great peace by his cottage fireside. His gout kept him confined at the last, but his letters to Kate at court had been full of his work, the music he finally had time to write down, and his new friends.
That comforted her now, as did the knowledge that he was with her mother again at last. Surely they would both watch her and help her now.
Kate slowly turned and made her way out of the
church. Even though it was a cloudy day threatening rain, the pale light after the gloom of the church blinded her for a moment. The cold wind caught at her skirts. She drew the dark silk veil down from her small peaked cap and turned along the churchyard path toward the gate.
On such a chilly day, everyone in the village was tucked up by their own firesides, and she met no one in the frozen lane that led through the center of the community. She could smell the tang of woodsmoke in the air, the scent of the promised rain. After her months at the queen's court, moving from palace to palace amid the crowds and the schemes, such quiet still caught her by surprise. She could see why her father had liked it at the last, but she found she missed the noise, the company.
At the end of the lane, she reached the low stone wall that bounded her father's small garden. She laid her gloved hand on the gate latch, yet somehow she could not make herself push it open. Once she stepped inside that empty cottage, she would know her father was truly gone and was not coming back. Somehow seeing his name carved in cold, hard stone had shown her what was truly happening. She was alone in the world.
For a moment, she was sure she had imagined the sound of that voice calling her name. It was an illusion of a lonely moment and grief, mayhap, of too many sleepless nights. Rob Cartman would not be here in this little village. He would be with the queen's cousin Lord Hunsdon, the patron of Rob's acting troupe. His rare
letters had told her of all the masques and plays he had been writing and the stately manors they had visited.
She closed her eyes and shook her head.
“Kate!” But there it was again. Half daring to hope, Kate spun around and saw Rob hurrying toward her down the lane, leading his horse. He looked travel stained with winter mud on his high boots, his short woolen cloak wrapped high around him. Yet he was still, as always, gloriously handsome, with his golden hair beneath a lavishly plumed cap, his smile flashing brightly through the dark day. He raised his hand and waved.
Suddenly feeling lighter, Kate ran to meet him and flung her arms around his neck. He lifted her off her feet, laughing in surprise.
“Oh, Rob,” she said, trying not to break into sobs. She was a sophisticated lady of the court nowâshe could not show every emotion. But, oh, it felt so good to feel the warmth of a friend nearby again. An anchor in the worldâeven if an actor like Rob was the furthest thing from a solid foundation. His work took him from town to town, estate to estate, just as hers did. But she had missed him.
And his arms were comforting as he held her close. “If I had known I could expect such a fine welcome, I would have traveled faster,” he said with a laugh.
Kate drew back to study his face. Aye, he was as handsome as ever, yet he seemed rather tired, with shadows beneath his eyes and new lines bracketing his smile. She saw he had grown a beard, close-cropped
and golden, and he wore a pearl drop earring in one ear, which had been the new fashion set by Robert Dudley when she left court.
“You look as if you have been traveling long as it is,” she said. “Were you not meant to be with Lord Hunsdon at his estate at Eastwick?” Rob's acting troupe had been employed by the queen's cousin Lord Hunsdon for many months, entertaining the court under his auspices. It was a high place, with the promise of greater to come.
“So I was, organizing his lordship's Christmas revels. He went to the queen at Whitehall after New Year's, and that was when I heard you had left court. Lord Hunsdon gave me leave to depart right away. My poor, sweet Kate. Why did you not write me directly of Master Haywood's death?”
“I did not wish to take you from your work, not now. And Iâ” She broke off, shaking her head. How could she explain how much she had wanted to see him, but how she was afraid of it at the same time? How lost she had been of late?
Rob stooped down, not letting her look away from him. “Kate, have we not been good friends for a long time now? Have we not seen much together? A queen's coronation, traitors, and murderers? Actors of a much lesser caliber than my fair self?”
Kate had to laugh.
They had been that, and sometimes with the tiniest, diamond-bright promise of more. “Aye, we have known each other more than a year now. And truly, I am happier than I can say to see
you. I justÂ .Â .Â .” She did not know what to say, so she laughed and answered, “You have a new beard, I see. Most fashionable.”
He rubbed his hand over his jaw. “I am told it is quite dashing. Mayhap it makes me look more serious.”
“Serious? You? Never!” Another cold gust of wind snatched at her cloak and threatened to carry away Rob's plumed cap. “I am a poor hostess indeed to keep you standing here. There is a livery stable just along the lane. I shall make us some spiced wine while you see to your horse.”
Rob gave her a small frown, as if he wanted to argue or ask her something more, but then he just smiled and took up the horse's lead.
Kate let herself into the cottage. When she left to walk to the church, it had felt cold and lonely, but now it seemed to welcome her again. She laid aside her cloak and veil and stirred the embers of the hearth back to life. As she poured the wine and mixed up the cinnamon and sugar, she thought of Rob. Surely he had brought news of the court, of Queen Elizabeth and her latest activities. There would be word of the outside world again. As the flames caught, they seemed to melt away her numbness, and she was interested in life again.
Was it Robâor was it news of the excitement of the courtâthat made her feel thus? Queen Elizabeth declared that romanceâmarriageâwas the ruin of a woman, and the single state was to be preferred above all others. One could not blame her for such a view after all she had seen in her twenty-seven yearsâher
mother and stepmother beheaded under her father's orders, her young Grey cousins forced to the altar by their parents, untimely deaths in childbirth. The queen had her safety and independence at last, a throne all for herself. Yet Kate's own parents had been so happy in their brief time together, and she had seen other couples who made lives together and kept the coldness of the world at bay.
Kate rose from the hearth and turned to tidy the small table while the wine warmed. Her workbox sat open, spilling out thread and ribbons, along with books and slates she used to study codes and languages. Surely her confused thoughts meant she was just feeling lonely, with her father gone and her work at court far away. She needed distraction to feel of use again.
She swept everything into an open case and shut the lid on it. She knelt down beside the fire and reached for the heated poker to use for the wine. As she finished, Rob came through the cottage door, bringing the cold wind of the day with him.
Kate pushed away her old melancholy, her jumbled thoughts, and smiled at him. “Come sit by the fire, Rob,” she urged. She took his cloak and cap and hung them up next to her own. “Tell me all the news of court, every little bit.” There were two chairs by the fire, her father's cushioned armchair and her own stool. She hesitated for an instant, then held out her father's chair for him.
It was good to see it filled again.
“I can do better than that,” he said. He reached for his
saddlebags and took out a letter. As Kate took it from him, she noticed the queen's own seal pressed into the red wax, and her heart beat a little faster in excitement.
“Queen Elizabeth herself entrusted this to me, and said to give it into no hands but yours,” he said, his voice full of pride and his own excitement. They were both making their place in a royal world.
Kate eagerly opened the message and scanned the neat lines of the queen's spiky handwriting and the precious signature at the bottomâ
My dear Kate,
How gloomy this Christmas season is without your music! I hope you were comforted by memories of your parents, as I have been of mine, and will return soon to court. I am in great need of friends I can trust now, and have an errand that I can put in few people's hands. I will not say more now, but please heed my wishes and return with all speed. My cousin Hunsdon has sent Master Cartman to escort you and see to your safety on the roads. Make all hasteÂ .Â .Â .
Kate's curiosity was most piqued by the intriguing words. She glanced up to see that Rob sipped at his wine and looked into the fire as if to give her a private moment in the small sitting room. But she could tell from the glint in his eyes that he was as curious as she.
“Did the queen tell you about this letter?” she asked.
“Not at all. She merely commanded Lord Hunsdon
to give me leave from his household, and told me that once I found you I must hire a cart for your father's possessions and see that you returned to court as soon as could be.”
Kate looked down at the paper in her hands, her thoughts racing. She had learned so much in the past few months, studying with agents of Sir William Cecil, learning the ways of foreign courts and the methods of codes. She had seen the plots and schemes that seemed to lurk around every corner, just beyond sight, always there.
Was Queen Elizabeth in danger now? Could Kate's services be of some small use to her again? The frozen sadness of the past few days was still there, clutching at her heart, but at last it was not the only thing she felt. There was the anticipation of work, the excitement of moving back into the world and being of real use.
was really why the queen herself was so hesitant to marry. Few women were given the chance to be a person in their own right, to forge their own path. It was a heady prospect.
“Tell me more of what is happening at court,” she said. “I was sorry to miss the Christmas revels.”
“They say the music was decidedly of poorer quality without you,” Rob answered. “And the queen's masques were a great shambles with none to direct them. The glittering reputation of the royal entertainments will only suffer more if you do not come and rescue them.”
Kate laughed. She knew it was not trueâthe queen had an entire Office of the Revels to make sure everything was lavish and perfect. Yet it still made her happy
to think she was needed. “Such fustian. They have
now, do they not? I have heard that Lord Hunsdon boasts of the fine quality of his troupe of players.”