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The Queen's Own Fool: A Novel of Mary Queen of Scots (Stuart Quartet Series #1)

The Queen's Own Fool: A Novel of Mary Queen of Scots (Stuart Quartet Series #1)

by Jane Yolen, Robert Harris

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Fans of historical sagas and the CW show Reign will be swept up by this clever tale by Jane Yolen and Robert Harris 

Once she was a traveling player . . . Now called La Jardinière, a resourceful and clever jester to the queen’s court, Nicola was a most unlikely person to end up “fool” and friend to Mary, Queen of Scots.


Fans of historical sagas and the CW show Reign will be swept up by this clever tale by Jane Yolen and Robert Harris 

Once she was a traveling player . . . Now called La Jardinière, a resourceful and clever jester to the queen’s court, Nicola was a most unlikely person to end up “fool” and friend to Mary, Queen of Scots. But Nicola isn’t an ordinary comedian tumbling and clowning before the court; her quick wit and sharp tongue are rare amongst the fawning nobles. As fate takes Mary from France to Scotland, and into confrontations with rebellious lords and devious advisors, Nicola remains deep in the queen’s inner circle. But when the Scots start to turn on Queen Mary, Nicola struggles to find something—anything—that she, just a fool, can do to save her friend.

“Based deeply in fact and full of detail both luscious and sordid. . . . [Yolen and Harris] spin a historical tale of great immediacy and impact.”—Kirkus Reviews

"This rich and involving novel of Mary Queen of Scots and her court will have readers clamoring to know more about this dramatic period in French and Scottish history. Readers are treated to a fascinating look at royal politics."—School Library Journal 

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Queen's Own Fool

“Based deeply in fact and full of detail both luscious and sordid. . . . [Yolen and Harris] spin a historical tale of great immediacy and impact.”—Kirkus Reviews

"The reign of Mary Queen of Scots comes alive with distinctively drawn characters . . . The authors immerse the reader in the time period with a powerful tale. This is top-notch historical fiction."—Children's Literature 

"The authors seamlessly weave fiction and fact together to tell Mary's sad story . . . will surely appeal to fans of historical fiction."—VOYA

"This rich and involving novel of Mary Queen of Scots and her court will have readers clamoring to know more about this dramatic period in French and Scottish history. Readers are treated to a fascinating look at royal politics."—School Library Journal

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"La Jardini re," one of the court jesters to Mary Queen of Scots, is the subject of this collaborative offering from veteran Yolen (Off We Go! and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, reviewed above) and Scottish debut author Harris. The resulting lengthy first-person novel will appeal to fans of historical sagas, but it lacks the emotional punch that would seem to accompany its interesting subject. A member of a slovenly traveling troupe, young Nicola performs for Queen Mary, wife of the newly crowned King Francis, in Rheims while the royal family mourns the death of Francis's father. Nicola's clever and fearless observations soon win the queen's favor as well as a place at her side: "I am sure it befits a nobleman of France to be to be grand in every sense," she quips, punning on their girth. Nicola remains loyal to the royal through the latter's two subsequent husbands (both nefarious), persecution for her Catholicism in a Protestant Scotland and the queen's being falsely accused of murder. While Nicola's wit sparkles, Mary remains an elusive character. At times the authors seem confined by the facts: several prolonged illness and escape sequences have very little effect on the story's outcome, and the numerous members of court may well blur together for readers. Unfortunately, the curious position of court jesters--intimates with royalty, yet never equals--is only hinted at and never fully explored. Ages 10-14. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Children's Literature - Children's Literature
Shortly after performing for the young Queen Mary of France Nicola Ambruzzi finds herself no longer working as part of her uncle's troupe of traveling minstrels but rather in the Queen's employ. The queen asks only that Nicola will always tell her the truth. That is easy for Nicola to do in France, but after the untimely death of King Francis, Mary returns to her homeland of Scotland. Power, politics and court intrigue test the degree of Nicola's honesty but never her loyalty. The reign of Mary Queen of Scots comes alive with distinctively drawn characters. It is cleverly told from Nicola's perspective. Descriptions of hangings and bloody decapitations, the punishments for treason used in the sixteenth century, are here. But so are clever wordplay and a clear vision of the entanglements. The authors immerse the reader in the time period with a powerful tale. This is top-notch historical fiction. 2000, Philomel Books, Ages 14 up, $19.99. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo
Prolific fantasy author Yolen teams up with Scottish author Harris to present an exciting and thoughtprovoking look into the doomed life of Mary, Queen of Scots. Court jester Nicola Ambruzzi, called La Jardiniére because of her fondness for gardens, tells the story. Orphaned at an early age, Nicola is raised by her uncle and his family of traveling entertainers. When Troupe Brufort is commanded to perform for the French court, the teenaged queen notices Nicola's quick wit, beauty, and agility. Asked to become the queen's personal fool, Nicola gladly leaves her uncertain, transient world for the luxury of the court. Nicola is educated in religion, social graces, and the politics of court life. Fearing reprisals after the courtsanctioned murders of several Huguenots, Queen Mary's entourage moves from one castle to another seeking safety. When her husband, King Francis, dies in 1560, Mary leaves France for Scotland to reign as queen. As one of the young queen's closest friends, Nicola witnesses the shift of loyalties and the threats from those wishing to usurp Mary's power. The queen's marriage to Lord Darnley prevents Nicola from carrying out her mission of always speaking the truth to her beloved majesty. She can only watch while the queen is threatened and eventually imprisoned by Elizabeth I in England, never to return home. It is difficult to believe that Nicola is only ten years old as the story begins because she appears wiser than her age. In spite of this flaw, the authors seamlessly weave fiction and fact together to tell Mary's sad story. This easytoread but lengthy book might be useful for middle school researchers but will surely appeal to fans of historical fiction.VOYACODES: 3Q 2P M J (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2000, Philomel, Ages 12 to 15, 448p, $19.99. Reviewer: Brenda MosesAllen
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, November 2000: To be frank, most of my knowledge of the historical period this book covers comes from two films: Elizabeth and Queen Margot. The same scheming royal families are featured in Queen's Own Fool and the two films: there are murders galore, sexual scandals, religious wars, bloody executions, gorgeous and powerful women, loyal courtiers. The length—almost 400 pages of this drama—is unusual in a YA book, but welcome. The narrator is a little-known historical figure: Nicola, Queen Mary's own fool. The story begins as Nicola, an orphan, is part of a troupe of entertainers who perform at the French chateau where the Queen lives with her husband, the King of France. When the Queen takes to her (Mary is about 18 years old at the time) she invites her to stay as her own fool, obligated to always tell the Queen the truth. Nicola then relates the dramatic events of the next ten years of their lives: wars with the Huguenots, the death of King Francis, Mary's decision to go to Scotland to claim her throne there, Mary's second and third marriages, the endless scrambling for power among the Scottish noblemen, alliances with English noblemen, Mary's imprisonment in Scotland and her decision to seek refuge with her cousin Elizabeth, Queen of England—the readers are expected to follow this convoluted history; they are not given a watered-down version, and the authors are to be congratulated for having such faith in their readers. Mary is certainly a major character, but she is seen only through the eyes of her devoted Nicola. Nicola does acknowledge Mary's weaknesses and abhors many ofher choices, but she loves her Queen and remains loyal throughout. Yolen is a familiar writer for YAs, someone who knows how to appeal to young people and keep a story moving swiftly; Harris is a Scot, the creator of the fantasy board game Talisman, someone who must have provided knowledge of Scotland and its history as well as his own gifts of plotting and characterizations. Category: Paperback Fiction. KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2000, Penguin, Puffin, 390p., $7.99. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; KLIATT SOURCE: KLIATT, March 2002 (Vol. 36, No. 2)
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-This rich and involving novel of Mary Queen of Scots and her court will have readers clamoring to know more about this dramatic period in French and Scottish history. Readers are treated to a fascinating look at royal politics through the eyes of Nicola Ambruzzi, an orphaned performer to whom the queen takes a fancy. Queen Mary appreciates Nicola's wise wit and decides to keep her in the court as a "fool," believing that the girl will always tell her the truth rather than flatter her. After King Francis dies, his mother seizes the throne, and Mary is stripped of her French royalty. She returns to Scotland where she is queen by birth. Two thirds of this novel takes place in Scotland between the years 1560-68 when Queen Mary faced almost constant troubles from the Protestants, her own lords, and her womanizing husband. Yolen and Harris do an excellent job of weaving historical information into the story. The use of Le Jardini re, the queen's nickname for Nicola and an actual figure, personalizes the narrative even more and the girl's spiritual and emotional growth make her a flesh-and-blood character. Readers will laugh at Nicola's way with words and forthright manner, and delight in her skill of almost always being able to say the right thing to comfort the Queen or squelch the pompous advisors who surround her. The play of language is another major highlight in the novel. Read this along with E. L. Konigsburg's A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver (Atheneum, 1973) for a compelling look at two doomed queens.-Cheri Estes, Detroit Country Day School Middle School, Beverly Hills, MI Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Kirkus Reviews
With a handful of historical facts and a great deal of research, the prolific and marvelous Yolen has teamed with a Scottish maker of a fantasy board game to spin a historical tale of great immediacy and impact. In Rheims, in 1559, a troupe of street performers captures the eye of the radiant young Queen Mary. Before she knows it, Nicola, an Italian orphan much put upon by her uncle, the leader of the troupe, is taken to be Mary's own fool, and nicknamed Jardiniere. The rest of the recounting sees Mary through Nicola's fond but perceptive eye: when the sallow young French king dies and Mary goes back to Scotland, a veritable vipers' nest of intrigue begins. Mary marries, and marries again; nobles rise up against her and are banished or return, craven, to her service; she bears one son and loses twins. Through it all, Nicola loves and supports her queen, finds humor amidst danger and deception, and in the end, returns to France, and to love, while Mary becomes her cousin Elizabeth's prisoner. Based deeply in fact and full of detail both luscious and sordid, the story's length will not discourage any reader who picks it up and begins to be enthralled. (Historical fiction. YA)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Stuart Quartet Series , #1
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)
740L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 15 Years

Read an Excerpt

The rain poured down throughout the day, hard and grey as cathedral stone. One by one, we dragged to a halt. I stopped dancing first, then Annette, our skirts hanging in damp folds, tangling in our legs.
"It is like walking with dead fish," I said. "Slip-slap."
Annette giggled. But then she found everything amusing. Even in the rain.
Taking the tin whistle from his lips, Bertrand flicked it several times, trying to rid it of water. Nadine's tambourine went still, and she shifted little Jean to her other hip.
Now Pierre alone kept going, flinging the clubs into the air. One and two, three and four, five . . . I wondered if he were going to try seven at once, here on the drowned streets of Rheims where no one would see him fail.
"What are you doing?" Uncle Armand cried out, and began hitting the rest of us for stopping. "Troupe Brufort does not stop for mere rain!" His hand was like some small, fierce, whey-colored animal nipping and pinching where it could.

Pierre dropped one of his rain-slicked clubs. It landed with a loud splash in a puddle at his feet. He stooped to pick it up.
Uncle Armand turned and slammed Pierre on the head with the gold-topped cane. "Clumsy fool! Did I tell you to stop?"
Stepping to Pierre's side, I began, "But Uncle, there is no one on the street. Even the beggars have left the road to seek shelter. We have come to the holy city for nothing, and . . ."
Whap! This time the cane fell on my head, and I saw stars. Pierre had been smarter, going right back to his juggling. Would I never learn? One day Uncle would kill me with his cane.
"Mademoiselle La Bouche du Sud," Uncle said, meaning Miss Mouth from the South, "says we have come to Rheims for nothing. But she is the nothing, not we."
This time I bit my lip to keep from answering back. One day, I swore, I would break Uncle's cane over my knee.
Uncle was not finished speaking, though. His nose wrinkled as if he had smelled something foul. "We have come to Rheims for the young king's crowning. Fortunes will be made here. The new queen loves pageantry, songs, dances, mummery. All of which Troupe Brufort can supply."
"But Uncle . . ." I began, wanting to remind him that the city was draped in black for the old king's death-"A lance in his eye while jousting," a walleyed beggar girl had said. "The new king insists on a long mourning." So none of the grand folk racing to the coronation had heart or coins for street players.
"Dance!" Uncle commanded. "Now! Good will come of it."
"Wet will come of it," I mumbled. But not so he could hear.
Bertrand began to play a three-step on the pipe, and Nadine beat the tambourine against her sodden skirt once more. Annette and I shuffled our feet obediently in time and Pierre tossed up three clubs in a rotation he could do even in a pouring rain.
"Bon!" sang out Uncle, a rare compliment.
Just then a well-dressed merchant and his three dark-clad daughters hurried past us, holding cloaks over their heads. The girls squealed in their distress.
"Papa! My boots!" cried both the eldest and the youngest.
"The rain is ruining my skirts," the middle one added.
"Talk less," their papa responded. "Run faster."
Uncle insinuated himself into their way, smiling. He is like a serpent when he smiles-all lips, no teeth. "Pause for a moment, good sir. Witness the wondrous skills of Troupe Brufort, only recently returned from the courts of Padua, Venice, Rome."
Of course, Troupe Brufort had never been to any of those places. Only I, born in my papa's beloved Italy, had traveled beyond France. But Uncle always dropped great names like a horse with too much grass in its mouth letting fall the extra bits.
The merchant spun around Uncle and hastened his whining daughters homeward, the backs of the girls' tufted dresses looking like a dark rolling ocean.
"This is stupid, Papa," Pierre muttered, wiping his clubs one at a time on his shirt, a useless action, as his shirt was as wet as the clubs. "We will all come down with a fever, and for nothing."
Ignoring Pierre, Uncle strode over to Bertrand and snatched the pipe from his mouth. "Enough tiddly-piddly, boy! Do your tumbling. Nadine strike up a beat."
Annette and I clapped in time to the tambourine, making soft smacking noises. One and two and one-two. On Nadine's hip, little Jean awoke and tried to catch the raindrops.
All at once, a clatter of hooves on the cobbles to our left, and a dark carriage approached, drawn by two dappled horses, their backs so wet, the hair looked black. On the carriage door was a coat of arms and a motto, but as I could not read, I did not know what it said. I glimpsed a red uniform under the driver's cloak, the only bit of color I had seen in the city so far. Then the driver drew the cloak more firmly around his shoulders and that brief flame was quenched.
Beside the driver was another man shaking as with an ague.
Uncle nodded. "Ha!" he cried, as if the appearance of the carriage vindicated all the beatings.
The carriage pulled up close to us, so close that Bertrand hesitated in his tumbling for fear of frightening the horses. A gentleman peeked out of the window. He seemed very short for someone who carried himself so proudly. Toying with his thin mustache, he watched us for quite some time.
"Do not stop!" hissed Uncle.
Bertrand leaped up again, doing first a double twist, then a series of no-handed cartwheels.
Annette and I added some shuffling steps to our hand claps, and Pierre lofted five clubs.
"Climb," I whispered to Annette.
"But my skirts . . ." she began.
"To the devil with your skirts," I said, locking my fingers together and holding my hands down low.
Annette was so shocked at my swearing, she climbed without further comment, scrambling to my shoulders and leaving muddy footprints on my bodice. I gripped her ankles. Luckily she was only six years old and very light.
"Smile," Uncle hissed.
We smiled.
The shaking man climbed down from his station on the carriage and stood at attention by the carriage door. He had a disgruntled air, as if he dearly wanted to be in a warm, dry spot.
The gentleman in the carriage just sat there, rubbing his mustache, while his servants got soaked, and all for the sake of our poor show. If he were to throw us a good-sized purse, Uncle might let us stop and find someplace dry. I smiled again, what Pierre calls my "winning smile" and Uncle calls "Nicola's grimace."
Finished with his routine, Pierre gathered in the five clubs. But Uncle pinched his ear to get him started again.
"Enough!" the gentleman announced abruptly. "You will do."
Gratefully I lowered Annette to the ground. Her little golden curls were now hanging in long, wet strands. Pierre tucked the clubs under his arms and Bertrand-at the long end of a tumbling run-came back unhurriedly.
"Do?" Uncle brightened.
The gentleman pursed his lips. "As I have seen no other troupe on this forsaken street, you will have to do. Jacques, show them the way to the palais." Then he banged his cane against the carriage roof and called, "Get me home before I catch my death."
The servant Jacques jumped aside in time to avoid a splash of water from the carriage's wheels as it pulled away, though Bertrand had no such luck and was drenched to the knee.
As soon as his master was gone, Jacques let his shoulders droop. Glancing sourly at us, he rubbed his nose with the flat of his hand. "Follow me, and try to keep up. I do not want to dawdle in this weather."
"Whom have I the extreme honor and privilege to be addressing, monsieur?" Uncle asked in the oily voice he used when speaking to rich people.
"It is no honor addressing me," Jacques answered, turning away and saying over his shoulder, "nor privilege neither. You had best save your fine manners for the new king."
For a moment Uncle froze, his lips silently forming the word "king".
The king. I thought. With the pretty queen who loves pageants.
Then Uncle stirred, bowed and waved at us, his face suddenly exultant, open like a dried flower bed after a good shower. "Come along. Do not just stand there. The king is waiting for us. And," he added, "remember-obey my every word if you wish to make a good impression. Nicola, you especially, do not open your mouth."
Pierre and I hurried to the wooden cart, each taking hold of a handle. The ancient cart creaked and protested, but for the first time ever it sounded like music to me.
Bertrand, Annette, and Nadine grabbed their sacks off the ground, slinging them into the cart, then followed behind us. For once there was no chatter. We were going to entertain in a palace. How could anyone complain-even of the rain? Perhaps we had come to Rheims for something after all!
Chapter 2: In the Palace
Marching ahead of the cart, a step behind Jacques, Uncle went proudly. His balding head was tilted at such an angle, he looked as though he were leading a parade rather than following a sullen servant along a rain-soaked backstreet.
Jacques looked as if he had a bean stuck up his nose. He never even glanced around to see if we followed. Clearly he wanted no one in Rheims to think he had anything to do with our ragtag troupe.
The rain began to ease at last, but the evening was drawing in. Rheims was still grey above, grey below, and grey in the middle, but there was a small, hopeful, golden glow in my belly. Each step I thought: But one more step and one more and one more towards the warmth.
I was so concentrated on getting to where we were going, I had no idea where we were, and so I was entirely startled when Nadine cried out, "Look, children, there is the king's palace."
Jacques sniffed at her. "No, madam, that is the palace of Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine and Archbishop of Rheims. The king and queen are but guests here. But it is our destination."
The cardinal's palace was certainly large, but not nearly as large as some we had seen in our travels. As for that stone wall-we were connoisseurs of walls: cathedral walls, palace walls, the walls of fortresses and castles. They were often the backdrops for our performances, though we had never actually been invited inside before.
Still-walls meant roofs. Roofs meant shelter. Suddenly I was filled with new energy. Grabbing my cart handle, I gave it a hard shove which skewed the cart so that it wobbled on the cobbles.
"Easy," hissed Pierre. "Do not overturn the cart. Not now."
"As if I could!" I countered.
"Amazon!" he said.
And then we looked at one another and laughed. We were as close as brother and sister. Closer, really, for although we were not the same age, we were of the same disposition. We had chosen one another as confidante and friend.
"Be quiet, all of you," Uncle said, "and Nicola especially." He raised his cane as a warning, for Jacques was talking to two guards at a small portal.
"Servant's gate," Pierre whispered to me.
"Peasant's bolt-hole," I replied.
The two guards stepped aside, lowering their spears, and Jacques waved us through.
After crossing a gravel-strewn courtyard, we parked the squeaking, protesting cart and took from it only those items we would need for our show.
Then we followed Jacques inside. The passages were narrow, whitewashed, but dimly lit. I had expected something grand, I suppose, but it was like a rabbit warren, with lots of doors along the halls. At last Jacques stopped in front of one door and pushed it open.
This was no luxurious apartment, but a plain room with a bare stone floor, bare walls, a single long table, and a couple of chairs.
"Not even rushes or hangings to take away the cold!" I complained, for in the fairy stories my mother had told me there were always such things in a palace. How I missed her stories. How I missed her and Papa, almost two years gone.
Jacques glared at me as if to say: What do you know of such things? And I blushed deeply-for shame, and for anger, too. To treat us so when we had done nothing to him.
Uncle made a quick movement with his hand in my direction, promising a beating. Then he turned and said to Jacques in his deepest voice, smooth as oil, "I thank you on behalf of our troupe for these excellent accommodations."
Jacques merely grunted in response.
"I am thankful, too," I said, trying to make amends. After all, there were three basins of water, several towels, and two small cakes of scented soap on the table. A warm fire crackled in the grate. What were rushes and wall hangings compared to those?
But Jacques' face got its bean-up-the-nose look again. "Try to make yourselves respectable," he ordered curtly. "If that is possible. Someone will come for you in a short while."
As soon as the door shut behind Jacques, Uncle wheeled on me. "Your mouth will get us all in trouble, mademoiselle," he said, with a finger flick at the side of my head. It stung, of course, but I did not care. We were out of the grey rain, the fire was beginning to dry our clothing, and perhaps there would be food as well.
Bertrand, Annette, and Pierre all made for the fire. As I went to join them, Uncle hauled us back, directing us to the basins.
"Clean yourselves first." He mimicked Jacques' voice exactly. "If that is possible. Only then dry your clothes."
"But Papa," Annette began, fingering her strings of wet curls.
"There will be no buts," Uncle told her.
So we did as we were instructed while Uncle Armand had the fire all to himself. I swear that if he could have, he would have soaked up all the warmth and left none for the rest of us.
After placing the sleeping Jean near the hearth, with a rag under his head, Nadine fussed over Annette and me, trying her best to wipe every spot of mud from our faces. Then she turned her attention to Annette's hair, spinning the curls around her finger and blowing on them.
I was left on my own, first drying my hair with a towel. If we were to perform before the king and queen, I would have to make myself presentable. Uncle often told me that I was the least talented member of Troupe Brufort, adopted and not born into it, but still I would not disgrace the others with my looks. However, when I tried to comb my plaits out with Nadine's hard brush, every tug hurt enough to make my eyes smart.
"Do not stop brushing," Uncle commanded. "Make something of that bird's nest of yours."
"It is harder work, Uncle," I said brightly, "tidying what is on top of my head than keeping straight what is inside it." I thought to make him laugh, but the look he gave me was so cold, I returned to the brush with a will.
My hair finally in order-though much was left in the brush-I went over to the fire to dry my still-damp skirts and sandals. The smell we made steaming out was musky and familiar. Many a time Troupe Brufort had taken refuge-like the Holy Family-in a farmer's stable, and glad of the shelter.
I closed my eyes and, despite my excitement about performing before the king, fell fast asleep in front of the fire standing up, like a horse.
The door opened creakily and I was startled from my sleep. An elderly woman with a heavily-lined face came in. She was dressed in a black silk mourning dress without a hint of ornamentation. Her eyes were the color of stone and her lips but two thin lines, one atop another, like folded linens. She glowered at us, as if adding up our virtues and finding us lacking a full measure. Then reluctantly, she stepped aside to admit a tall, delicately-boned young woman into the room.
This woman had amber-colored hair, enormous green-gold eyes under heavy lids, and a lovely long neck. Unlike her companion, she wore a dress of white and pale green. As she moved-spring to her companion's winter-the skirt swelled out with close-set pleats like a bell that parted to show a smooth green underskirt. Her velvet overbodice was embroidered with gold leaves and green florets. The ruff at her neck was tinged with green from which jeweled ropes of pearls and beads hung down. She was like the fairy princess in one of Maman's tales, and I drew in my breath in wonder.
The older woman made a downward gesture in our direction with the flat of her hand.
Only Uncle understood. He bowed deeply, motioning us to do likewise.
So I bowed, just like Uncle and the boys, and was embarrassed when Nadine and Annette each performed a graceful curtsy. I could feel the heat rise in my cheeks as I blushed again.
Uncle scowled at me. I think he would have beaten out his displeasure on my poor head, but the cane was lying too far away.
The tall girl did not seem disturbed by my bow. In fact, looked positively amused to see me act like a man. Perhaps she had made a similar error in not wearing mourning? I felt a sudden compassion for her.
"What pretty young women and what handsome young men," she said brightly to Uncle. Then for the first time she looked around the room. "But why is this room so plain? So . . . empty? I must have rushes and hangings sent down at once to warm it up."
"Rushes and hangings-I asked for such," I blurted out.
All of Troupe Brufort glared at me.
But the tall girl smiled. "So should you all!"
I turned and grinned at the troupe, but no one smiled back.
The tall girl continued. "I am delighted that you have come to us. Pray, do your very best to bring some joy into this dark day." She shook her head and a wave of perfume wafted over us, like a wind over a flower garden. "This should have been the happiest of times for our new crowned king. But with his papa so newly and horribly dead, he can take little pleasure in it."
"So the beggar girl said," I put in. Pierre grabbed my skirt and pulled me back and I realized I had gone too far, so I gave a quick curtsy.
But the tall girl nodded, as if she had heard from the very same beggar. "Still, we must have some celebration today, a small token, do you not agree?" She smiled again. "So tonight do not hold back, Troupe . . ." She hesitated, looking for the name.
"Brufort, Your Highness," put in Uncle, his voice deeply oiled.
"Brufort," she said, dimpling at him.
Having finished her little speech, she turned gracefully and left the room. Her silk skirts sounded like a rivulet rushing over stones, but softer and more intimate and much more welcoming.
"Highness? Highness? Who was that?" I whispered to Nadine.
The elderly woman raised her eyebrows at me as though I had just spat upon the floor. "Stupid girl. That was the new queen, Mary. It is at her insistence this entertainment has been arranged." The scowl on her face was evidence that she did not herself approve.
"Queen Mary," I whispered with the kind of passion one reserves for a life's pledge.

Reprinted from The Queen's Own Fool by Jane Yolen and Robert Harris by permission of Philomel Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Jane Yolen and Robert Harris. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Meet the Author

Jane Yolen (janeyolen.com) needs no introduction! She has been called the "Hans Christian Andersen of children's literature" (Time) and has won countless awards for her wide-ranging body of work—picture books, poetry, nonfiction, middle-grade fiction, YA novels, and novels and poetry for adults. She was also the editor of her own imprints at Harcourt (Jane Yolen Books and the reprint line Magic Carpet Books), where she published best-selling authors Patricia C. Wrede, Bruce Coville, and Anne McCaffrey, among many others.

Robert Harris (robert-harris.com) is the author of nine bestselling novels: Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, Imperium, The Ghost Writer, Conspirata, The Fear Index,and An Officer and a Spy. Several of his books have been adapted to film, most recently The Ghost Writer, directed by Roman Polanski. His work has been translated into thirty-seven languages. He lives in the village of Kintbury, England, with his wife, Gill Hornby.

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