Originally published in 1984.
About the Author
Seattle native Mary Richardson Daheim lives three miles from the house where she was raised. Upon getting her journalism degree from the University of Washington, she went to work for a newspaper in Anacortes, Washington. She married David Daheim and moved to Port Angeles where she became a reporter for the local daily. Both tours of small-town duty gave her the background for the Alpine/Emma Lord series. Mary spent much of her non-fiction career in public relations. She began her career as a novelist with seven historical romances before switching to mysteries in 1991. She has published at least 55 novels. Mary's husband David died in February, 2010; they had been married for more than 43 years. They have three daughters, Barbara, Katherine and Magdalen, and two granddaughters, Maisy and Clara. For more information, go to www.MaryDaheimAuthor.com.
Read an Excerpt
Morgan squinted against the April sun and frowned. She couldn't be mistaken. The feet sticking out from under the much-hemmed riding skirt definitely belonged to her cousin Nan, but why was Nan crouched under a huge golden forsythia bush with only her shoes and backside showing?
Picking up her own worn muslin skirt, Morgan hurried noiselessly, stopping behind Nan's motionless form. "Whatever are you doing?" Morgan hissed at her cousin, whose posterior twitched with surprise.
Nan extricated herself as quietly as possible from the bush, yellow blossoms clinging to her wide shoulders and night-black hair. "Hush, Morgan!" whispered Nan, a mischievous twinkle in her dark eyes. "It's Bess and one of the Madden twins. They're — they're . ..." Nan's big eyes grew even wider, and she spread her tapering hands in a helplessly inarticulate gesture. "You know what I mean!" she said in a breathless voice. "See for yourself!"
Morgan looked perplexedly at her younger cousin. Bess, the cook's sly-eyed daughter, was scarcely sixteen, only a year older than Nan and two years younger than Morgan herself. Morgan had a vague idea what Nan was talking about and knew Aunt Margaret had said recently that Bess was "no better than she ought to be." But still....
"I've no intention of crawling around in the bushes to peer at Bess and one of the Madden twins," Morgan replied haughtily. "Whatever they are doing, as long as they are not stealing from us, it's their business."
"Ooooh!" Nan was all but jumping up and down with excitement. "You're afraid to look, Morgan Todd; you're too prudish."
Despite the difference in their ages, Nan had always been the more adventuresome of the two cousins — the first to learn to swim, the first to take her pony over the hurdles, the first to climb to the pinnacles of the manor house's single turret. To make matters worse, Nan had surpassed Morgan in height the previous year and now was a good three inches taller and showed no signs of stopping her rapid growth.
Morgan gave in to the taunt with a toss of her thick tawny hair. "I'm not a prude," she announced with injured pride, and marched resolutely to the forsythia bush, pulling aside two of the more forbidding branches. At least she didn't have to worry about ruining her clothes since she was wearing a very old kirtle and an even older bodice; her good clothes were already packed along with the new items she would need for life at King Henry the Eighth's court in London.
Crawling on her hands and knees along the pathway Nan had already made, Morgan peered through the green and yellow maze of flowers and leaves. The stable door was ajar, and sure enough, there was Bess, bare to the waist, her high round breasts exposed, her skirts bunched up to reveal long, slim legs. One of the Madden twins — Davy or Hal? Morgan never could be sure which — was lying naked as a newborn babe on top of her. Bess was giggling in a strange, throaty sort of way, and Davy — or Hal — looked far more serious as he concentrated on whatever he was trying to do between her thighs.
But of course Morgan knew and felt her cheeks turn hot. She knew that men and women did such things. She could not have grown up in the same household with her French grandmother, Isabeau, and not have known. Indeed, she had seen the animals at the manor house mate during their seasons and it all seemed quite natural. But here, before her very eyes, was one of the Madden twins — a boy her own age who, along with his brother, had been a stable hand ever since Morgan could remember — and the shifty-faced, hip-swaying Bess, rutting away like a couple of goats. And Bess was actually giggling! Morgan turned away and plunged back through the forsythia bush, almost poking herself in the eye with a wayward branch.
"They really ought to have closed the door," Morgan declared with what she hoped was an air of disdain and composure.
"Oh, they did!" Nan laughed. "But I opened it!"
"You what?" Morgan all but flew at her younger cousin, the tawny hair flying around her slim shoulders.
Nan put up her hands in a reflex of self-defense. "Stay, coz, I didn't do it on purpose! I was going to ride my new mare, the one your father bought me for my birthday last month, and when I opened the stable door, I saw Hal and Bess tussling by the feed sacks. They didn't see me, so I decided I'd better leave the door open or they'd know I was there." Nan blinked twice, looking ingenuous and smug.
"So you spied on them?" Morgan was shocked and incredulous.
"Well, sort of. I was curious. Bess spends a lot of time in the stable when she's supposed to be in the kitchens. And I've seen Davy pinch her bottom."
"Davy — or Hal?" Morgan asked in exasperation, at last finding a less embarrassing target for her distress.
Nan waved her hands again. "Oh, I don't know which. Probably both."
Morgan glanced over her shoulder in the direction of the stable. "Probably," she drawled, and now her own topaz eyes glinted with humor. "No wonder she gives herself airs and sneers at both of us. She must fancy herself quite the worldly woman for all that she is just a kitchen wench."
"Well, that's all she ever will be," Nan said, starting to wander along the lime walk which circled Faux Hall. "Not that there's anything wrong in being a servant. Maybe Bess is having a better time than we are."
"Nan!" Morgan paused at the edge of the oval fishpond with its borders of white and pink azaleas. "You'd rather be off in a stable somewhere with the Madden twins than have fine clothes and the chance to serve at court?"
Nan sat down by the pond and took off her shoes. "No," she said in a vague sort of way, "of course not. But people like Bess seem to have more freedom than we do. They may not live in manor houses or palaces or go to balls and supper parties, but they seem to — I don't know, just enjoy themselves more."
Morgan was about to retort that she did not consider rolling around in the hay with Hal — or Davy — a very enjoyable idea, but held her tongue as she gave more thought to Nan's remark. Both girls had been brought up at Faux Hall at the edge of the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire; both had been only children; both had led sheltered, relatively pampered lives, exposed only to as much of the real world as was seen fit by their doting parents. Nan's father had died four years earlier, and Aunt Margaret had become even more protective. Morgan's parents, Lady Alice and Sir Edmund Todd, had made sure that the two girls were well educated, well mannered, and, except for a trip to London and an occasional visit to Aylesbury or St. Albans, confined to their own little world, which revolved around the family and Faux Hall.
But all that was about to change for Morgan, who was eighteen, marriageable, and ready to leave for London the following day. It was Nan, now dangling her bare feet in the fishpond's cool waters, who brought up this great adventure. "But you will be at court in just two days," she said rather peevishly. It was, after all, a sore point with Nan, who saw the three years' difference in age as no barrier to prevent her from joining Morgan in what would surely be the most momentous event in anyone's life.
"You'll have your chance, too," Morgan said a bit wearily, for she and Nan and the rest of the family had argued this very point into the ground over the past few months. Following Nan's lead, she also took off her shoes and dipped her feet in the pond. "Besides, if you must know, I'm frightened."
"Frightened!" Nan kicked one foot up and splashed them both. "How can you be frightened of anything so exciting?"
Morgan shrugged, gazed up at the dovecote, then turned to watch a pair of barn swallows swoop in the direction of the granary. "King Henry is said to be very fierce when he's angered, Anne Boleyn has a vile temper, and all those great personages with their wealth and wit and power . ..." Morgan shook her head as the swallows disappeared toward the orchard. "I'm just another young girl from the country, trying to be a fine lady. Why wouldn't I be frightened?"
"Well, your Uncle Thomas is there, and he's said to wield influence almost as great as the King's. Surely that ought to make you feel better." Nan pulled her feet out of the pond and stood up, shaking the cold water off onto the new spring grass. "Lord knows he rose from nowhere and is now His Grace's most indispensable accomplice."
"That's the word, 'accomplice,'" Morgan said glumly. "You know perfectly well that nobody here at Faux Hall gives a fig for Thomas Cromwell. In fact, they blame him more than Anne Boleyn for what's happened to the Church since Henry got rid of Catherine of Aragon."
"Oh, Morgan," Nan said, her dark eyes huge, "you won't say things like that at court, will you?"
Morgan lifted her feet from the pond but decided not to put her shoes back on. The grass felt soft and fresh beneath her bare feet, and it occurred to her that it would be a long time before she could go without shoes again. "Of course not," Morgan assured her cousin. "At least I hope not. Lord knows we have always been able to speak freely here. Anyway, Uncle Thomas is only related by marriage."
"But his influence won't harm you any," Nan teased, but got no reaction from Morgan, who seemed deep in thought, staring into the pond, apparently not even seeing the darting movements of the brilliant orange goldfish. "I take it you're not frightened about seeing Sean O'Connor?"
This comment did rouse Morgan, who whirled on her cousin. "Sean! Why do you say that?"
Nan leaped away from Morgan. "Because you're mad with love for him and have been ever since he was here last spring on his way to London. For six months all you said was, 'Don't you think Sean is handsome? Aren't Sean's eyes ever so blue? Doesn't Sean have the most attractive freckles?' I felt like throwing up."
"Oh!" Morgan threw her shoes at her cousin, missed, and watched in horror as they fell into the fishpond and sunk out of sight. Nan laughed, and Morgan started to chase her cousin, but the younger, longer-legged girl had a head start. Morgan watched her disappear down the lime walk and around the corner of the gray-stoned manor house.
Nan was right, of course. Sean O'Connor, now apprenticed to the great court artist Hans Holbein the younger, did have the bluest eyes, the most attractive smattering of freckles, the waviest black hair, and a smile that would have melted an ice sculpture. Morgan had known Sean all her life, since he was distantly related to her father and came from Armagh at least once a year with his own family for weddings, christenings, funerals, or whatever event served to unite the Irish side of the family with its English counterpart.
But it wasn't until the previous spring when Sean had stopped on his way to London that Morgan had realized she felt more for the young Irishman than just familial affection. He had kissed her, gently, lingeringly, and she knew that what she felt for him must be love. Surely he must love her too. Though Morgan was indeed apprehensive about the glitter and glamour of the court, she was also very excited about seeing Sean O'Connor again. She thought suddenly about Bess and the Madden youth. What did their raucous mating have to do with love? Real love wasn't two young bodies crudely rutting in the stable. By Our Lady, Morgan thought, real love was meaningful glances across a crowded supper table, clasped hands under a star-filled sky, tender kisses exchanged under the rose-covered arbor. It was what she felt for Sean O'Connor and had nothing to do with whatever repellent activities went on between Bess and the Madden twins. Buoyed by anticipation, she thrust aside her increasing doubts and fears about her court debut as she wandered off the lime walk toward the orchard. She could almost still feel the touch of his lips on hers and how she all but reeled in his arms. Morgan had been seventeen at the time and, some would say, overripe for her first kiss, but Faux Hall was relatively isolated and young men of her own age did not often come to call. On the rare occasions when they did, both Lady Alice and Aunt Margaret watched their daughters like a pair of mother hens.
A sparrow was pecking for food in the grass, but flew off as Morgan approached. She paused to reach up and break off a cluster of lilacs, savoring the blossoms' heady fragrance. She could still see the old stone granary beyond the flowering fruit trees and could not help but wonder when she would return to Faux Hall again. Suddenly every gray stone, every shining leaf, every scrap of sod seemed touchingly dear. Morgan had entered the world in this very place during a blinding February blizzard. Lady Alice had favored the name Elizabeth for a girl, but Sir Edmund Todd wanted his female child called Jane, after his mother. Neither parent would give in, but Lady Alice finally suggested a compromise.
"Since there are Elizabeths and Janes aplenty, and as I'm very fond of my kin by marriage, Morgan Williams, why —"
Sir Edmund had all but exploded at the very notion. "A daughter called Morgan? You would want her to be a witch such as Morgan le Fay?"
"Scarcely, since Morgan Williams is a man and certainly not a witch!" Lady Alice had laughed. "But it is a distinctive name."
Sir Edmund had to agree with that. "Morgan Williams is also the only connection with your Cromwell kin that you can abide, so I suppose it's only right to honor him somehow."
"My sister showed poor judgment by marrying a Cromwell," Lady Alice had acknowledged, but had added archly, "of course, her name is Jane."
Sir Edmund had chuckled in spite of himself, gazed down at his firstborn, and decided that perhaps Morgan wasn't such a peculiar name for a girl after all. And the child was unusual-looking, even as a newborn: Her eyes were not the customary blue but flecked with green and gold; her full head of hair was neither brown nor blond but somewhere in between; the facial features were perfect, yet somehow exaggerated, as if a painter had added a touch here and there for dramatic emphasis.
As she had grown into young womanhood, with her tawny hair, big green-tinged topaz eyes, and the wide, full mouth and high cheekbones, only her small, turned-up nose seemed underemphasized. And while Morgan had never considered herself actually pretty, the adults among her family and friends commented on the drama of her striking looks rather than mere beauty.
But as she grew older, there were no brothers or sisters to join her in the nursery. For some inexplicable reason, Lady Alice never bore another child, and Morgan's only company at Faux Hall was her younger cousin, Nan, whose own mother had lost her other two babes in childbirth. Still, it had been a happy, peaceful existence.
When Morgan was twelve, her parents had taken her to London, some forty miles to the southeast. How awed she had been by the bustle, the throngs of people, the fine houses along The Strand! She had no opportunity to glimpse Henry or his first Queen, Catherine of Aragon, but just passing by their palaces of Whitehall and St. James had thrilled her.
And now she would actually live in London with the court. Of course Catherine was no longer Queen; Henry had forsaken her for Anne Boleyn. It was hard to think of anyone but Catherine as Queen. She had been consort long before Morgan was born. It was especially hard to think of Anne Boleyn in her place, since Morgan's parents neither approved of the new Queen nor of Henry defying the Pope to marry her.
But politics and religion were not uppermost in Morgan's mind as she strolled along the edge of the oval-shaped fishpond. The cloud of anxiety which had fallen upon her so swiftly had departed. Sean awaited her in London; the court awaited her; the whole center of the world seemed to await just a two-day journey away.
From somewhere, a cry broke Morgan's reverie. A cat, an owl — or was it human? Morgan turned slowly, unsure of where the sound had come from. The dovecote, maybe, or the stable. Perhaps one of the servants had been hurt. But she heard the sound again, and alert this time, she decided it was coming from far out in the orchard and was not human but an animal cry. Picking up her muslin skirts, she ran past the stable and through the tunnel of trees laden with pink and white blossoms. There, not far from the road, was Gambit, the family's aged collie, in obvious pain and tended to by a very tall man dressed in riding clothes. Morgan paused, unable to recognize Gambit's rescuer and faintly bemused that the dog seemed unafraid of a stranger.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Destiny's Pawn"
Copyright © 2016 Mary Daheim.
Excerpted by permission of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc.
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