The author of Murder at Westminster Abbey and Murder at Hatfield House is back with an absorbing and surprising new Elizabethan Mystery…
1559. Elizabeth has been on the throne for six months, and life in England seems newly golden. But for the Royal Court, murder and betrayal are foretold in the stars....
Kate Haywood, the young queen’s personal musician, has been keeping busy playing for a merry round of summer parties where famed astrologer Dr. John Dee and his fantastic horoscopes are all the rage. However, Elizabeth’s favorite stargazer fails to predict the discovery of a skeleton in the queen’s garden—and that the victim’s identity will call his own innocence into question.
When the doctor’s pupil is the victim of a second murder, the concerned queen enlists her trusted Kate to clear the accused killer of wrongdoing. But will the stars align to light Kate’s path through a tangled thicket of treachery to save Elizabeth’s prized astrologer and protect the queen from those who threaten her reign?
About the Author
Amanda Carmack is the author of the Elizabethan Mystery novels including Murder at Westminster Abbey and Murder at Hatfield House. Amanda Carmack is a pseudonym for a multipublished author. Her books have been nominated for many awards, including the RITA Award, the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, the Booksellers Best, the National Readers Choice Award, and the Holt Medallion. She lives in Oklahoma.
Read an Excerpt
ALSO BY AMANDA CARMACK
Nonsuch Palace, 1541
Amelia was right. He would very much regret doing this.
As Dr. Timothy Macey, astrologer to King Henry’s royal court, hurried through the night-dark gardens of the king’s pleasure palace at Nonsuch, his mistress’s words rang in his head.
’Tis not fitting for people like us to be amid the schemes of people like that, Amelia had cried when she learned what his new business was. It’s not safe, and it won’t end well—mark my words. Look what happened to poor Queen Anne!
Then she had sobbed, snatched their bewildered little son up in her arms, and dashed into the cottage, slamming the door behind her.
He had cursed her folly, shouted at her that she knew not what she spoke of and that she could rot in there all alone.
She had never had a problem spending the extra coin he earned now; that was for certain.
But he worried now there was some truth to her fearful words. The doings of kings, especially this king, with the blood of so many on his bejeweled hands, should be none of his business. He had seen what happened to those who displeased King Henry Tudor, had seen their heads on pikes. Yet his vast knowledge, hard-won from so many forbidden books, so many long nights over a scrying stone, had made him arrogant. He had thought he was different.
Only when he read what was written in the stars had he truly seen how far he had come along a dark road.
He paused at the entrance to the garden maze and peered back at the palace, sleeping with a deceptive air of peace in the darkness. It was King Henry’s pride, his great pleasure palace, meant to outshine any French château or Italian villa with its magnificence. Indeed it was surprisingly beautiful, with its carved towers and pale sculptured friezes, yet it was not finished. Despite the fact that Henry had begun to build it years ago, to celebrate the birth of his precious son, Prince Edward, whole wings around the courtyards were still left hollow, decorations half-painted.
Yet Henry had insisted on showing the house’s magnificence, bringing his court here with his new queen, the young Catherine Howard—half his age, golden haired, merry, laughing, dancing. Always dancing. The king’s “rose without a thorn.”
Dr. Macey cursed now to think of her. She had seemed to make his fortunes only a few days ago, when King Henry commissioned him to draw up the queen’s horoscope. No doubt the fat, sickly, stinking Henry was sure the stars would foretell the handsome sons she would give him, the love for him she had in her youthful heart.
But that was not what was in the future at all. Macey’s hands still trembled on the scroll he clutched, the terrible chart that told the truth of Queen Catherine and her young heart. The blood that would soon taint her white skin and stain the souls of so many around her.
Nay, he could never tell the king the truth, or anyone else! He was a mere messenger, but the royal rage, so swift and lethal, would surely fall directly on him. Not to mention what would happen if the queen’s lover knew the truth. It had to be concealed, and now, before Macey was caught.
He looked down at the parchment crumpled in his hands, and the pale moonlight caught on his rings. His night stone, whose power he had treasured ever since his old teacher had gifted it to him so many years ago, and the fine emerald set in wrought gold, a gift from King Henry that had once seemed such a treasure, both glinted in the light.
Now the emerald was a chain, dragging him down to the waiting demons of hell.
He heard Amelia’s sobs again, saw her fear-filled eyes. He had scoffed at her, but she was right in the end. His powers should never have been put to the service of a madman like King Henry and a strumpet like Queen Catherine.
Worse, he had given in to the basest temptation and taken coin from the queen’s lover—a man who was young and hot-tempered and who had killed before without thought or care—and played him off the king. That was what haunted him now, what chased him in the night.
They would find out what he had done in those papers, for the stars never lied, if they had not already, and they would take their revenge.
Macey spun around and hurried into the dark safety of the maze. The thick, thorny hedge walls rose around him, blotting out the sight of that cursed house, and only moonlight guided his steps.
He knew Queen Catherine used the center of the maze for her secret trysts. Where better to hide her secrets, and his own?
He had sent a copy of the chart to his best student, young John Dee, at Cambridge, instructing him not to read it unless it became necessary. John had the wisdom and discretion of men three times his age. He would know what to do with this knowledge, if need be. This copy, Macey would destroy now, before the king or the others could find him. He would have to draw up a false horoscope for Queen Catherine.
Suddenly, there was a shout behind him, from beyond the entrance to the maze. Booted footsteps pounded on the ground, and he heard someone call his name.
He knew that voice. It was Thomas Culpeper, the queen’s young ruffian of a lover. He and his friends Lord Marchand, who had hated Macey since their own days at Cambridge, and Master Dereham, the queen’s secretary, had already paid Macey for his secret knowledge of alchemy. And now he knew he truly was betrayed. They would try to destroy the horoscope and silence him.
But they still did not know the secrets the stars had told him. If he survived this night, he would make certain they never did.
He ran faster through the twists and turns of the maze, as the racing footsteps of his pursuers grew louder behind him. If he could only reach the safety of the next turn.
Yet it was too far away. He couldn’t breathe; his chest felt tight; his legs burned. He tumbled into the maze’s center just as a rough fist snatched a handful of his robe and shoved him to his knees. Pain jolted up his legs as he landed in the mud. The emerald fell from his finger and the paper was snatched away from his hand.
“Bastard!” Thomas Culpeper cursed. “You will get us all killed. Where is the horoscope? I know you have it; the maidservant who saw you told me.”
“May God forgive me,” Macey whispered. He had not considered the servants. He thought of Amelia, of their little Timothy’s face. And he feared it was much too late for anything at all.
“Make way, you varlets! Make way for the queen!”
The guards in Queen Elizabeth’s green-and-white livery galloped along the dusty, rutted lane, pushing back the eager crowds who gathered to watch the queen ride by. They had left the nearest village behind, with its rows of cottages and shops, its stone gaol, but the crowds were still thick.
Along the road, the royal procession seemed to stretch for miles. Hundreds of people rode with Queen Elizabeth on her summer progress, an endless stream of horses, wagons, and coaches. Baggage carts were piled high with chests and furniture, maidservants and pages clinging to them precariously as they bounced along. The courtiers on their fine horses were a many-faceted jewel of bright velvets and feathers, a brilliant burst of color emerging from the brown dust of the hard, rutted summer pathways.
None were more glorious than the queen herself. She rode in her finest coach, a gift from one of her suitors, the Prince of Sweden. It was an elaborate conveyance painted deep crimson and trimmed with gilt paint, lined with green satin cushions. Six white horses drew it along, green ribbons braided in their manes and tails fluttering in the wind. Queen Elizabeth, resplendent in white-and-silver brocade, her red-gold hair piled atop her head and twined with pearls, waved her gloved hand at the crowds who clamored to see her.
“God save our queen!” they shouted, falling over one another, tears shining on their faces. Parents held their children up on their shoulders to glimpse a real queen.
“And God bless all of you, my good people!” Elizabeth called back.
Sir Robert Dudley rode beside her on his grand, prancing black horse, almost like a part of the powerful beast himself in his black-and-gold doublet. A plumed black hat trimmed with pearls and rubies sat on his curling dark hair. He laughed as he caught some of the bouquets tossed to the queen, and he leaned into the carriage to drop them in her lap. Elizabeth smiled up at him radiantly, the very image of a summer queen, full of heat and light and pure, giddy happiness.
Kate Haywood could barely glimpse the queen’s coach from her own wagon farther down the lane, but even she could see the sunburst of the queen’s smile. It had been thus all summer, from Greenwich to Eltham, a procession of dances, banquets, and fireworks over gardens in full, fragrant bloom. After so many years of danger and fear, it seemed summer had truly returned to England at last, and everyone was determined to enjoy it to the hilt. Especially the queen.
Kate looked down at her lute, carefully packed into its case and propped at her feet. She let the stewards load her clothes chest, filled with her new fine gowns and ruffs, into the baggage carts, but never this, her most prized possession. It had once belonged to her mother, who died at her birth, and she had grown up learning to play her music on it. It was her most trusted companion, and now that she was a full member of the queen’s musical consort, it earned her own bread as well. It had seen much activity in the last few weeks, playing deep into the night as Queen Elizabeth danced on and on—mostly with Robert Dudley.
Kate flexed her fingers in her new kid gloves. They, too, had seen much work lately, and she couldn’t afford for them to grow stiff. Once they reached Nonsuch Palace, there would be much dancing again. It was said that Lord Arundel, the palace’s owner, was much set on wooing the queen and had planned many elaborate pageants to advance his suit.
For a moment, Kate thought of her father, content in retirement at his new cottage near Windsor. She received letters from him on this progress, full of his news as he finally had time to work on the grand Christmas service cycle he had longed to finish. He also had words to say about a kindly widow who lived nearby and who brought him fresh milk and new-baked bread. He seemed happy, but Kate often missed him a great deal. They had been each other’s only family for so long.
And yet—he had kept her mother’s secret from Kate all her life. And she hadn’t yet been able to bring herself to confront him about that. She didn’t know if she ever could. It made her feel so very lonely.
Kate leaned farther out of the wagon into the choking clouds of dust to study the coach in front of her. Catherine Carey—Lady Knollys—the daughter of the queen’s aunt Mary Boleyn, rode there with her beautiful daughter, Lettice, the fine new conveyance a sign of their high favor with the queen. Beside them, talking to the ladies through the open window, was Lady Knollys’s brother, Lord Hunsdon.
He threw back his head and laughed, his red beard glinting in the sunlight, and his sister peeked out the window to laugh with him. She caught her plumed hat just before the wind would have snatched it from her dark hair.
Whenever Kate saw Lady Knollys, she wondered if her own mother had looked something like her, with her delicate face and shining black hair—Boleyn hair, they called it. Kate’s own mother, Eleanor, was the illegitimate half sister of Anne and Mary Boleyn, a fact Kate had discovered in a most shocking way only a few months before.
Not that the Careys, or anyone else, ever spoke of that fact or acknowledged it. Though sometimes Kate thought she saw Lord Hunsdon looking at her. . . .
The convoy suddenly lurched to a halt, startling Kate from her brooding thoughts. She clutched at the wooden side of the wagon to keep from tumbling to the floor.
“Are we stopping again?” cried Lady Anne Godwin, who sat across from Kate. “We shall never get to Nonsuch at this pace! I vow we could walk faster.”
Mistress Violet Roland, from her perch on the bench next to Kate, smiled and said, “Of course Queen Elizabeth will wish to stop and talk to the people whenever she can. Most of them will never see such a sight again.”
Kate smiled at her. She had come to like Violet very much on their travels, for they often found themselves in the same conveyances and sharing lodgings in the palaces and manors of the summer progress. She was one of the queen’s newest maids of honor, small and pretty, with blond curls and a quick smile. She enjoyed music and could help while away dull hours on the road talking of the newest songs from Italy and Spain. She was also a fine source of gossip about the court, conveyed in quick whispers and giggles. Who was in love with whom, who was seen speaking to whom.
Information that seemed most frivolous but could prove deadly useful—as Kate often discovered lately.
Violet seemed especially excited today, for her brother served as a secretary to Lord Arundel, and she would get to see him at Nonsuch.
“And it is such a lovely, warm day,” Violet said. “Who can grumble about being out in the sunshine?”
“I can,” Lady Anne muttered, readjusting her silk skirts around her. Unlike Violet, she was not often very merry. “My backside is aching from this infernal, jolting wagon. And your nose will grumble, too, Violet, when you get hideous freckles.”
Violet just laughed and leaned out to see what was happening. Kate peeked over her shoulder to see that the queen had halted her carriage to call forth a man with a little girl in his arms. The child shyly held out a bouquet to Queen Elizabeth, who accepted it under Dudley’s protective watch.
Kate felt a pang of strange wistfulness as she watched the tenderness Sir Robert always showed the queen, the affection that was always so obvious between them. It had been many weeks since she had seen her friend Anthony Elias, who worked to become an attorney in London. Yet she thought far too often of his smile, his beautiful green eyes. The safety she had found in his arms when she nearly died on the frozen Thames. If he ever looked at her as Sir Robert looked at the queen . . .
But Anthony would not. And she had her own work to do. She had to cease to think about him.
She sat back on the narrow wooden bench and made sure her lute was safe still. Music was all she ever knew for certain.
Violet turned and gave her another smile. “Have you had your horoscope done by Dr. Dee yet, Kate?”
Kate shook her head. “I have not yet had the time,” she said. She had seen Dr. John Dee’s bearded, black-robed figure hurrying around the court, his apprentice, the pasty young Master Constable, dashing after him with his arms full of mysterious scrolls and books. Having one’s horoscope cast was considered essential by many people at court in recent days. Dr. Dee had forecast the queen’s coronation date, as well as where she should visit on this progress. Queen Elizabeth relied on his wisdom entirely.
But Kate was sure the hour of her own birth, which had been the hour of her mother’s death, could not augur well for the future. She had to learn how to make her future for herself. It seemed best not to know her destiny.
“Oh, but you must!” Violet cried. “Everyone is doing it. Dr. Dee had no time to cast mine, so Master Constable did it. He said I was born under Saturn, and am thus of melancholic disposition. I should marry within the year, but never to someone born under Mars, or great misfortune will ensue. I must make sure all the humors are in balance.” She glanced toward a group of men on horseback nearby, and a small frown fluttered across her lips. One of the men was her persistent suitor, a certain young Master Longville, and Violet showed no signs of returning his favor. But she was soon laughing again.
Kate shook her head. She thought of Violet’s frequent laughter, her love of dance and song. It seemed Master Constable wasn’t learning much from his apprenticeship.
“I am surprised the learned Dr. Dee would even wish to return to Nonsuch,” Lady Anne said with a smirk. “Surely that would be a most bad omen for him.”
“What do you mean?” Violet cried.
“Have you not heard the old tale?” Lady Anne said. Her eyes were shining with the pleasure of gossip. “I know not much about it, but my uncle was there when it happened. It was in old King Henry’s time, when he was married to poor Queen Catherine Howard.”
Catherine Howard—who had lost her head in the Tower when she was barely more than a girl. Kate remembered all too well the chilly feeling of dread that surrounded the Tower. She thought of that dark, cold night when she knelt on the stone floor of St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower with Queen Elizabeth, sure that unseen eyes watched their every movement.
“Oh, do tell us!” Violet urged. Kate said nothing, but she was intrigued.
Lady Anne smiled. “’Twas on a summer progress just like this one. Nonsuch was the king’s then, and not yet finished, but he was determined to bring his new queen there. When Dr. Dee was very young and first at Cambridge, he was an apprentice to a man called Dr. Macey, and King Henry wanted Macey’s advice that summer and summoned him to Nonsuch.”
Kate glanced ahead to where the queen greeted more of her subjects, smiling and holding out her hand to them. The radiance of the scene seemed so far away from when the old, mad king had come this way with his frivolous, flirtatious young queen. Had King Henry require some dark magic from Dr. Macey that year? There had been such frightening tales, of alchemy and spirits. . . .
“What happened?” Violet whispered. Her eyes were wide, as if she, too, feared to know of ungodly arts.
“A courtier named Lord Marchand accused Dr. Macey of—of treason!” Lady Anne hissed the last word. “He declared Dr. Macey predicted the king’s death and the queen’s black fate, which is a burning offense.”
“Was he executed, then?” Kate said, appalled.
Lady Anne shook her head. “That is the strange twist of the tale, Mistress Haywood. This Lord Marchand took it all back. No such horoscope predicting the king’s death or the queen’s downfall could ever be found, but poor Dr. Macey quite vanished. He was never seen again. Dr. Dee went abroad after he finished his studies at Cambridge, and they say he never speaks of Dr. Macey. Lord Marchand died soon after; they say he went mad or something of the sort. And it all happened at Nonsuch. What can Dr. Dee be thinking to go back there now?”
“How terribly sad,” Violet sighed. “And Dr. Macey never reappeared at all?”
“Never,” Lady Anne said with obvious relish. “My uncle said some people declared a demon spirited him away at his own conjuring.”
“A demon!” Violet shrieked.
“Don’t be silly,” Kate said. “How would a demon appear in the midst of a crowded court? Surely there would at least have been the smell of brimstone.”
She laughed, but she couldn’t help shivering. The warmth of the summer sun couldn’t quite banish the old, dark memories of the past.
The procession jolted forward again, and Lady Anne and Violet talked of happier matters—the latest style of ruff from France, the new Spanish ambassador, Bishop de Quadra, who was betrothed to whom, and whose heart was broken. Horoscopes and mysterious vanishings seemed forgotten, especially when they rolled over the crest of a hill and Nonsuch Palace came into view at last.
Even Kate was stunned by the sight of it, despite the paintings and etchings she had seen. She had heard many tales of Nonsuch, of course—King Henry had begun building it the year his precious son, Prince Edward, was born and intended it to surpass in luxury and grandeur any châteaus of the French king. He had demolished a whole village, old Cuddington, to make way for it. It was to be the most lavish palace in Christendom. But he never finished it, and Queen Mary sold it to Lord Arundel. They said the last time Henry visited was when he brought his new queen Catherine Howard to show it to her.
It was dazzling, all golden stone and rosy brick in the sunlight. It rose above the lush green parks and gardens like a palace in a troubadour’s tale. Gilded cupolas crowned octagonal towers at every corner, and crenelated walkways joined the two inner courtyards. The walls were decorated with enormous colorful stucco reliefs of classical gods and goddesses. Above it all rose a marble statue of King Henry himself, looking out on all he had dreamed of and not quite accomplished.
It was beautiful, elegant, joyful. Hardly a place where treason and dark magic could ever triumph.
Hardly a place where anything as evil as murder could ever happen at all.
Kate leaned out of the open window casement, caught by the song that floated up to her from the garden on a warm, rose-scented breeze. She was meant to be on an errand for the queen, fetching a book from the royal bedchamber, but the sound was like a siren song she had to follow. She was always captured by snatches of music.
The scene below her window was so wonderfully idyllic it could have been a painting or a tapestry. Queen Elizabeth sat on a marble bench beneath an arch twined with climbing roses in Tudor red and white. They perfectly framed her green satin gown and the pearl-twisted loops of her red-gold hair. Some of her ladies sat around her on cushions scattered over the ground, like flowers themselves amid petals of white and silver and sky blue silks. They passed around apples, sweetmeats, and goblets of wine, giggling and blushing over the romantic song.
Or perhaps they blushed over the singer, who strolled among them as he strummed on his lute, and Kate could not really blame them. It was young Master Green, a secretary to the queen’s—and now Kate’s—cousin Lord Hunsdon. Master Green came from some obscure family in the North, and his fortune seemed merely adequate, yet the favor and employment of a royal kinsman could take him far. Lord Hunsdon often declared he could not do without Master Green’s services, his sharp wits and unflagging energy, and such a high patron was not an asset a young lady could discount.
Nor could she discount his personal assets, for Master Green was a bonny lad indeed. Kate nearly laughed behind her own hand as she watched him sing, and giggling was not something she often did. She was far too busy for ogling young courtiers, but any lady would have to be blind not to look twice at Master Green. He was tall and elegantly slim in his fashionable dark red doublet and striped hose. He wore no cap today, and the dappled sunlight of the rosy arbor gleamed on his glossy curls.
“‘Come, oh come, my life’s delight! Let me not in languor pine, love loves no delay, thy sight the more enjoyed the more divine. . . .’”
Yet, for all his charms, Kate felt rather as if she admired a fine painting when she looked at him. She marveled that a real person could be so lovely. He certainly rarely took notice of her, and when he did she never felt that sudden fluttering in her stomach, the flight of all words from her mind, that happened when she looked at someone else.
Someone she hadn’t seen in months.
Kate frowned at the sudden shadow on the bright day. It seemed as if a grayish cloud suddenly blotted the golden scene as she was reminded of Anthony Elias and his green eyes, his all-too-rare dimpled smiles. The way it felt when his fingers, ink stained from writing out so many legal documents, folded around hers. Or the warm, perfect safety when he caught her in his arms after she feared she would die on the icy river.
Yet she hadn’t seen him in so long. Not that she expected to. He had his work in London. Soon his apprenticeship with the attorney Master Hardy would end, and he would have to build his own career. Her place was here at court with Queen Elizabeth, as it always would be, and the queen’s summer progress had taken them all across the countryside. With her music, the banquets and masques, her compositions, and the secret tasks she had lately undertaken, she had no time to think of anything else.
Except when she paused for a moment between duties, between banquets and hunts, and remembered. Then memories, both good and ill, caught up with her and tugged at her skirts again.
Kate leaned farther out the window and took a deep breath of the flower-tinged summer air, so clean and green. Memories surely had no place in such a moment, at such a place. Not memories of feelings she wanted to forget, to push away. Certainly not memories of the fear and panic of that freezing night in January, when she had nearly died in the river at the hands of a madman. That was gone now, all of it. The summer was for merriment and frivolity, for rejoicing anew that Elizabeth was queen and had been for many months now.
Not that everyone rejoiced at that fact. Mary, Queen of Scots, the new Queen of France, waited across the water for her chance, as did her mother, Marie of Guise, just over the border in Scotland, massing her armies. Spain lurked, waiting its chance, as did Tudor relatives much closer to home. Elizabeth refused to worry about such things, choosing to ride and dance and laugh as she had never been able to do before, but her chief secretary, William Cecil, looked more gray and worried every day.
Kate studied the gardens, which rolled away in a perfect series of riotously colored flower beds, sweet-scented herbal knot gardens, white-graveled walkways, and emerald green meadows, peppered with the tents so many courtiers had to lodge in. On hilltops and in groves waited Grecian follies, just perfect for trysts and secret meetings. An ornamental lake, dotted with boats, shimmered blue and green in the distance.
Nonsuch was beautiful indeed, built and lavishly appointed to be a place for summer joy. A place to forget the perils of the outside world, forget illness and war, and just—dance. Old King Henry had intended it thus, a pleasure palace to rival those of the French kings, when he showed it to his young and beautiful—and supremely frivolous—queen Catherine Howard, and Lord Arundel had made it even lovelier since he bought it from Queen Mary. It was said he thought to use its pleasures to lure Queen Elizabeth into marrying him, elderly and Catholic though he was.
Yet there was little in its rare beauty that could truly protect a vulnerable queen, her throne still tottering beneath her. No high walls, no moats. Dreams could do so much, but they couldn’t keep enemies at bay forever.
Kate swallowed hard as she remembered how very many enemies there were out there. Her own body bore the scars of some of them, and William Cecil’s lessons in reading codes and breaking locks showed her how very vast the web of wickedness was. So many enemies, both bold and hidden, did not want Elizabeth as queen, and they all had to be vigilant to keep England from sliding back into the chaos and fear it had known with Queen Mary.
She studied the scene below her window anew, and this time saw more than the beauty of it. The silken petals of the roses concealed poisonous thorns.
Standing behind the queen was her now-constant companion, Sir Robert Dudley. He leaned lazily against a pillar of the trellis, dressed in glorious counterpoint to Elizabeth in a pearl-embroidered green satin doublet. His arms were loosely crossed over his chest, and his foot, encased in a glossy black leather boot, tapped in time to the song. He smiled lazily, the very image of an indolent courtier at his leisure, but Kate knew now how deceptive that image was.
Sir Robert’s dark gypsy eyes were constantly on the watch, past the queen and her laughing ladies, past the music and the wine, to see all that lurked in the shadows. His sword was strapped at his lean hip, and even here at fairy-tale Nonsuch, his hand would be swift to grasp its honed steel hilt.
Everyone thought him a creature of burning ambition, grasping to raise his formerly disgraced family by the jeweled hems of the queen’s skirts. A man of impulsive action, of battle and rash daring, who sought only to wed the queen and become king—despite his ill wife locked away in the countryside.
And surely he was all of that. The court was filled with people of just such hungry ambition, such eagerness to play for the very highest stakes, despite the dangers of royal favor. They were always with the queen: the Howards, the Greys, the Carews, her Boleyn cousins, the Douglases. Rumors that one or the other was rising or falling were always floating in the perfumed air of court. Robert Dudley had learned in the hardest of schools to be more adept than most.
Yet Kate had seen a different side to him last winter, when he’d helped her chase the evil villain who would have turned Elizabeth’s triumphant coronation into a bloodbath. Behind Sir Robert’s laughter, his piratical dark looks, he was solemnly watchful. Courteous, aware, and even admiring of the intelligence of others, willing to die for Elizabeth—both the queen and the woman. Kate couldn’t help but admire him, despite his blatant courtship of a woman he could not have, not while his own wife lived.
Which was a feeling not many shared. The Duke of Norfolk, the highest nobleman in the land, despised Dudley and his brand of brash “new men.” Cecil distrusted him. The new Spanish ambassador, the Bishop de Quadra, spread rumors of Dudley and the queen throughout the courts of Europe. Dudley would have to protect himself and his family along with the queen.
Sir Robert noticed her at the window and gave her a small nod. Kate nodded in reply, suddenly remembering why she was standing there at all. She was meant to fetch the queen’s book, not loll about in windows thinking up fanciful notions of danger and romance. The queen was surrounded at all times, by Sir Robert and his men, her ladies, by Secretary Cecil and his retainers, by all her suitors and their ambassadors. She couldn’t be reached by her enemies, even at Nonsuch.
Not if Kate had anything to say about it.
She glanced once more at Elizabeth, sitting in her rosy arbor. Master Green had finished his song and knelt on one knee as the queen and her ladies applauded. Elizabeth teasingly tossed him a sweetmeat, and he caught it in his mouth. She laughed even more and clapped her hands in delight. The sound of her laughter was a joy, her merriment like a balm for the whole country after the perils of the coronation.
All her ladies giggled too, falling against one another in a wave of frivolous mirth. All but one of them. Lady Catherine Grey, who sat at the edge of the group with her best friend, Lady Jane Seymour, glanced back over her shoulder at the gardens beyond, a frown on her pretty, heart-shaped face. She tucked one of her golden curls back into her cap and sighed, plucking at her silver-and-white skirt.
Lady Catherine surely should have been rejoicing. After Mary Queen of Scots became Queen of France and brazenly declared herself the rightful Queen of England as well, Elizabeth had drawn Catherine Grey closer as her other Protestant heir. She restored Catherine to the post of Lady of the Bedchamber she had enjoyed under Queen Mary and kept her nearby at every banquet and hunt.
“One must keep one’s rivals closer than one’s friends, Kate,” the queen had told her one morning, frowning as she watched Lady Catherine dance with her friends. “Always remember that.”
Yet Lady Catherine only seemed to grow sadder and paler as the summer days passed, smiling only with Lady Jane, and, more worryingly, with the new Spanish ambassador. Was it because the handsome Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, was not yet at court, and in her boredom she played with political schemes? Kate was sure of it, and so was Elizabeth.
Kate turned and made her way along the empty corridor. Nonsuch was small for a palace, pretty but compact around its courtyards and gardens, forcing much of the court to lodge in those picturesque tents on the grounds. This tower was set aside for the queen’s state apartments during her visit, and thus was quiet, with all her ladies outside attending her and the servants snatching rest. Only a few people loitered in the privy chamber, whispering near the open windows.
Yet Kate could hear the echo of noise from other parts of the house, the laughter from belowstairs, the bellow of Lord Arundel as he found something not quite perfect for the sight of the queen. She knew Elizabeth would grow restless sitting in the rose arbor idyll and would soon be leaping up to dash through the gardens or come inside to demand that everyone dance or play cards. She would forget then that she even wanted the book she’d sent Kate to fetch. But if she did remember and Kate had failed to return . . .
Kate laughed ruefully to think of the storm that would ensue. The queen had thrown a shoe at Lady Clinton just that morning. But such flashes of temper passed as quickly as they came.
Her steps quickened, and she was near racing when she reached the end of the corridor and swung around a doorway. She was so distracted by her errand, she almost tripped over a man standing there. His black robes blended into the shadows of the tapestry-draped walls.
Kate’s heart beat a little faster with the startlement, and she knew she had not yet recovered from what had happened on the frozen river. The man reached out to steady her, and his hand was freezing cold even through her silk sleeve. She stumbled back a step and looked up to see that it was Master Constable, Dr. Dee’s apprentice, who lurked there.
She barely knew Master Constable, but she had seen him trailing after Dr. Dee around the court, his arms filled with scrolls and books. He was said to be a naturally gifted astrologer and mathematician in his own right, and some allowed him to cast their horoscopes when Dr. Dee was occupied with the queen’s business.
But Kate remembered how he had declared Violet Roland of “melancholic” disposition, when Violet was one of the most lighthearted people she had ever met. So Kate had her doubts about his skills.
Especially now, as she peered up at him in the dim light. His round, pale face, still marred with youthful pimples, looked even more ghostly with his sparse fair hair tucked into a black cap. She had heard tell he had left Cambridge to study with Dr. Dee at the completion of his studies, which would put him in his early twenties, but he seemed younger. His eyes looked wide and startled as he squinted down at her, and she wondered what he was doing there. Surely he could not be on the queen’s business himself?
“Master Constable,” she said. “I am sorry, but I did not see you there. I thought everyone was outside enjoying the fine day.”
He swallowed audibly. “Mistress Haywood. The fault is entirely mine. I was sent on an errand by my master.”
“Dr. Dee?” Kate peered past him, as if she could find a clue to his task there, but she saw only the empty room. The queen’s throne sat on its dais, draped in a scarlet cloth of estate. Two guards in the royal livery of green and white stood at the doorway to her bedchamber, their halberds at the ready, so he could not have slipped in there. Yet it seemed strange that he was lurking about at all. Kate did not like the glint in his eyes, the way he kept shifting on his feet and would not quite look at her.
People who lived and made their way at a royal court were usually most adept at hiding their true feelings and motives behind merry smiles and flattering words. A few, like Catherine Grey, never seemed to gain the ability for playacting all the time, but most had learned that keeping their heads attached meant never revealing what was inside them. And most would sometimes let their masks drop when only a lowly female musician was nearby.
She thought of Lady Anne’s tale of murder and disappearance, here at this very palace, involving Dr. Dee so many years ago, and it made her feel suddenly cold. She wanted to back away from Master Constable, but something told her he was hiding something.
He seemed to be more of the Catherine Grey sort of courtier, unable to completely hide his feelings. But that seemed most odd for someone who was meant to be studying the deepest secrets of the universe.
“Aye, I must return to him immediately,” Master Constable said all in a rush, sidling around her. “If you will pardon me . . .”
He scurried away in a rustle of stiff black robes, a whiff of some strange chemical from no doubt fathomless experiments. Kate looked after him, puzzled.
“Ned,” she said to one of the guards at the bedchamber door, a young man who enjoyed music and was always ready for an idle chat, despite his stern face. Guards, much like musicians, could become invisible when needed and heard many interesting things. “Was that man here very long?”
Ned gave a snort and shifted his halberd to his other hand so she could slip past. “Not long. I think you frightened him. He was tiptoeing around the dais, as if we couldn’t even see him, but he didn’t touch anything.”
“Most odd,” Kate murmured. She studied the dais, which was grand and gilded, draped in swaths of brocade and cloth of gold, but it held no concealed secrets that she could see. “If he perchance comes back, would you let me know?”
Ned’s eyes narrowed. Like everyone else at court, he did enjoy an intrigue. “In trouble, is he?”
“Not that I am aware of. But one never knows.” Kate gave him a quick smile and hurried into the royal bedchamber to find the queen’s book. She, like Master Constable, had an errand to perform, and she had already been too long at it.
The bedchamber, like the privy chamber outside, was grand and beautiful, but also small and intimate, perfectly designed to appeal to Elizabeth. The four-poster bed, with its massive carved headboard, had been carried from palace to palace and was draped in purple velvet and gold tassels, piled high with lace-edged pillows. These matched the cushions scattered across the floor for her ladies. Tapestry frames with half-finished work were propped up along the walls, among clothes chests and locked boxes of state documents waiting for the queen’s changeable attention. Lapdogs snored among the pillows, and the scent of flowery perfumes and the smoke of beeswax candles hung in the air.
Queen Elizabeth’s desk was placed near the open window, and the soft breeze from outside rustled the documents held down with a carved crystal weight. The books were stacked beside them, and Kate hurried over to find the one she sought, a slim volume of poems lately arrived from Milan. No sermons or philosophy to be read today, not here at golden Nonsuch.
As Kate took up the leather-bound volume, her glance fell on the papers waiting for the queen’s fleeting attention before she was distracted by a dance or a song. The one on top appeared to be written in some code, a mix of strange letters and numbers, but the tiny seal at the top showed it came from the queen’s embassy in Paris. Curious, she took it up and read it. Master Cecil had given her a few lessons of late, but her skills were still very elementary. All she could make out was Queen Mary Stuart’s name.
A sudden loud noise from below the open window snatched her attention from the document. A burst of trumpets, like a royal fanfare. She quickly slid the paper back into place and leaned over the casement to peer outside.
The view below the bedchamber faced away from the rose garden, toward the long, winding drive that led from the road, past the elaborate confection of the gatehouse to Nonsuch. The gilded gates were thrown open, and a crowd of curious onlookers gathered along the graveled lane. Satin-and-velvet-clad courtiers jostled together like children at a market fair. Even the most jaded among them needed some excitement now and then.
Kate shielded her eyes from the glitter of the sun and saw a most intriguing sight indeed. A caravan of brilliantly painted carts, drawn by black horses caparisoned in gold, wheeled by musicians who walked alongside, clad in more black and gold, with their drums, tambours, and trumpets. Bright flags flew from every corner of every vehicle. Banners snapped in the breeze. It was like a market fair on the move.
“Kate! Kate, are you here?” someone cried, and Kate turned to see Violet Roland rushing through the door. Her pale blue skirts swirled and shimmered, and her pretty face was flushed pink with excitement.
“I’m here, just fetching the queen’s book,” Kate said, holding up the volume of poetry. The music grew louder outside the window, an alluring, winding tune that was strangely—familiar.
Kate suddenly realized it was one of her songs, a merry tune she had written for the queen’s favorite dance, an Italian volta. She started to spin back to the window, but Violet grabbed her hand.
“Her Majesty says you must come at once,” Violet said breathlessly. “There is ever such a marvelous sight to be seen!”
“A company of players?” Kate gestured to the window behind her. ’Twas true that she was not so jaded as to fail to be excited at the prospect of a new play. Long years of quiet exile in the countryside were not so far behind her that she didn’t long for every bit of color, of music, of loveliness.
But the months since the queen’s coronation had been filled with pageants, banquets, and masques. What made this one different? Why did the queen need her there now?
And why were they playing her song?
Before she could peer out the window again, Violet tightened her grip on Kate’s hand and pulled her along for a mad dash along the corridors and down the stairs. Kate held tight to the book with her other hand, laughing. Violet’s sense of fun always reached out and grabbed everyone else around her.
They tumbled out into the garden, where Violet’s brother, Thomas Roland, secretary to Lord Arundel, waited with his friend the lovely Master Green. Master Roland was as handsome and golden as his sister, and the three of them looked like an image out of a poem as they linked arms, laughing together.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Murder at Hatfield House:
“Meticulously researched and expertly told, Murder at Hatfield House paints a vivid picture of Tudor England and a young Princess Elizabeth. 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
“Amanda Carmack writes beautifully. . . . I enjoyed Murder at Hatfield House and recommend it; it is a cozy excursion into Tudor times with a lively heroine.” —Historical Novel Society
“Historical suspense with a solid murder mystery and very enjoyable heroine. Near perfect.”—Mysteries and My Musings
“We see the action unfold through Kate the musician’s eyes, but the most exciting revelation is not the unveiling of the mystery, but the unveiling of Elizabeth.”—Heroes and Heartbreakers
“I enjoyed this novel, with the rich descriptions and the lively and interesting cast of personable characters. I think that this is going to be a great series to follow and I highly recommend it to those who enjoy a bit of history to their mystery!” —Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I was sent this book to review and it is the first in this series that I have read. I don’t know that I would have picked it out for myself. Actually, I know I wouldn’t have. Historical mysteries aren’t something I normally read. That being said, I’m very happy I was given the chance to read MURDER IN THE QUEEN’S GARDEN. It was an enjoyable detour from my normal modern day cozy mystery reads. This was a very well written, interesting mystery, with much intrigue and a great plot. Every chapter had me wondering what was around the corner. Ms. Carmack has created a very likeable character in her series lead, Kate Haywood. Kate is personal musician to Queen Elizabeth and a trusted member of the Queen’s court. She is also quite smart and strong for a woman of this time period. If you are a fan of historical mysteries you will really love this book. If you haven’t tried historicals, and you’re looking for something a little different, give MURDER IN THE QUEEN’S GARDEN a try.