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The Queene's Cure

Karen Harper




  “Karen Harper weaves a thrilling blend of historical detail and intriguing mystery. Her Queen Elizabeth I is not only a politically savvy royal fighting to preserve her realm, but she also possesses the fine detective's instinct of Sherlock Holmes. The result is an intense reading experience guaranteed to surprise and delight.”

  —Lisa Gardner, author of The Survivor's Club and The Perfect Husband

  “The Queene's Cure is superb.… It is the characters, especially the vulnerable queen and her loyal followers, who make this historical novel a winner.”


  “Harper's historical mysteries are like the pearls Queen Elizabeth I loved so well: she takes a tiny grain of historical truth and builds layer after layer of nacreous fiction about it, making a story sometimes baroque, but always engaging.”


  “Even those who usually steer clear of historical romance may be pleasantly surprised … Strong writing coupled with rich details … make[s] The Queene's Cure satisfying. Harper's Elizabeth is strong, brave, and smart but shows enough frailties to make us love her.”

  —The Columbus Dispatch

  “A fascinating series …a fine work.”

  —Library Journal

  “A very good depiction of Elizabethan London. The setting is well-drawn and the city comes to life. The back alleys, the streets, the shops, the suburbs all are impressively shown. The intrigues and plottings of the court are accurate and delineate what a dangerous game any ruler played. Especially interesting are the medical practices of Elizabethan England.”

  —Mystery News

  “Harper continues to rank among the top in [historical mysteries]. She paints a captivating portrait of one of history's greatest rulers.”

  —Abilene Reporter-News(Texas)

  “An Elizabethan fan's delight … [and] several red herrings that will delight the heart of mystery lovers.”

  —Romantic Times


  “Harper has a fine touch.… Both her fictional and historical characters breathe and provide the reader with spirited entertainment. So do her plots, perhaps as complicated as the real life of Elizabeth's court. Join the queen's Privy Plot Council and sleuth along with the best.”

  —Mystery News

  “Harper's exquisite mastery of the period, lively dialogue, energetic plot, devious characters, and excellent rendition of the willful queen make this a pleasure.…”

  —Library Journal

  “An exciting mystery… What makes The Twylight Tower comparable to the fine works of Alison Weir is the strong writing of the author, interweaving historical tidbits into a powerful story line.”

  —The Midwest Book Review

  “Harper's Elizabeth is a brilliant and willful young woman.… Conspiracies and lies take the story through twists and turns …”



  “Harper's facility with historical figures such as William Cecil, Robert Dudley, and the treacherous Duchess of Suffolk is extraordinary.”

  —Los Angeles Times

  “A nice mix of historical and fictional characters, deft twists and a plucky, engaging young heroine enhance this welcome sequel to The Poyson Garden.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Peopled with historical figures and bounding with intrigue and mystery, The Tidal Poole is a triumphant read. Harper does a masterful job at re-creating the era, and her portrait of the young queen is brilliant. The intricate plot will immediately carry readers away to Elizabethan times.”

  —Romantic Times

  “Harper delivers high drama and deadly intrigue.… [She] masterfully captures the Elizabethan tone in both language and setting and gives life to fascinating historical figures. …Elizabethan history has never been this appealing.”


  “Rollicking good action, wicked doings, and lively characters.”

  —Colorado Springs Gazette


  “An entertaining cross between a swashbuckling historical romance and a mystery novel. The heroine is spunky, the courtiers scheme and truckle, capes swirl, daggers flash, and horses gallop.”—Portland Oregonian “Impressively researched … the author has her poisons and her historical details down pat.”

  —Los Angeles Times

  “Poison, double cross, betrayal, sibling rivalry and a mass murder plan are believably made the stuff of Elizabethan times. Harper delivers a detailed look at the era and the people.”

  —Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

  Also by Karen Harper

















  Feverfew is the most effective against the fever if

  gathered with the left hand as the name of the victim is

  spoken aloud and with nary a glance behind.


  The Herball


  SEPTEMBER 15, 1562

  SHE MUSTN'T DIE. you WILL NOT LET HER DIE!” THE queen commanded the foreign physician when he was brought to the entrance of Kat Ashley's bedchamber.

  Though Kat's fever had made her insensible for hours and naught seemed to disturb her but her own delirious ravings, Elizabeth Tudor stepped quickly out into the hall and closed the door on the sickroom. With a yeoman guard standing sentinel, she studied the short, German doctor.

  After a quick, slipshod bow, the wiry, bearded man squinted up at her in the dim corridor. Gripping a worn leather satchel to his chest, he was shabbily garbed, especially compared to the impeccably attired palace doctors she had lately despaired could ever cure Kat.

  “Gott in Himmel alone,” Dr. Burcote muttered in his thick German accent, “not even you, Majesty, can decree such things.”

  “Lady Ashley has been like a mother to me,” she explained, wringing her hands. “I cannot lose her.”

  “Den ve best tend to her, ja?” he said impatiently with a sharp nod at the closed door.

  For his impudence Elizabeth would have liked to box his ears, but they were covered by the flaps of a traditional physicians' skullcap with its loose ties. Instead she nodded, and the guard swept open the door for them.

  As the stale smells of the room assailed Elizabeth again, she tugged on Dr. Burcote's long-sleeved gown. “Do all you can,” she mouthed to him. “All!” A brusque nod was her only answer as he shoved the tapestried bedhangings farther open. Elizabeth's four favorite ladies-in-waiting shifted to make room for him.

  The slender, red-haired queen had turned twentynine a week before, and Kat had been with her for twenty-five of those years. Katherine Ashley had been her first girlhood governess just after that dreadful time her mother, Queen Anne Boleyn, had been charged, tried, and executed.

  Now the queen's First Lady of the Bedchamber and Mistress of the Robes, Kat had been so sore ill that the chief royal physician, Dr. Huicke, could not break the fever, nor could the other palace doctors, Browne or Spencer. The learned men of the Royal College of Physicians, usually but a short summons away here in London, had journeyed to Cambridge for some sort of meeting, curse them. And since she'd banished from
court her favorite household herbalist, Meg Milligrew, there was no one of that ilk she cared to trust either, not that mere apothecaries were permitted to prescribe physick.

  So it had come to this, Elizabeth thought, gripping her hands before her stiff brocade bodice. All hung on an irascible foreigner, though she had to admit that the seat of superior medical learning was on the continent and not in her realm—yet.

  As she held tightly to the carved bedpost and held her tongue, too, the doctor took command of the situation. He smelled Kat's sweat, drew and tasted a drop of her blood, and examined a flask of her urine, which even the common rabble knew was the watery overflow of the blood and so showed its purity.

  “Sour blood—impure vater,” he pronounced. “And she vas born under …?”

  “Scorpio the Crab,” Elizabeth's lady-of-the-bedchamber and dear friend Mary Sidney put in before the queen could answer.

  “Den signs are propitious for purging her bad blood,” he muttered to himself as he felt Kat's wrist pulse while staring at a mechanical timepiece he'd fetched from his satchel. At least that showed he was a modern physician, Elizabeth assured herself. She'd seen English doctors time the pulse with old hourglasses, and some country quacks still counted the beats by the time it took to recite the Lord's Prayer.

  “Be certain 'tis not the pox,” Elizabeth hissed, unable to contain herself longer when he gave no more pronouncements. However much her people feared the plague, it was the pox that terrified her, for she had seen its power to kill many and disfigure most. Might as well be molding in one's grave, she thought with a shudder, than have one's skin pocked and pitted for life.

  “It isn't, is it?” she prompted when the wretch said naught.

  Silence from the brazen man. Kat moaned and thrashed about again, but at least she threw no more fits. The poor woman had thought they were back in rural exile with no new clothes to wear. She had screamed that Bloody Mary Tudor would kill the Princess Elizabeth just the way King Henry had killed two of his wives. Worse, she had shrieked that Elizabeth would lose her head, when indeed her delirium made it seem Kat already had.

  “Not the small pox,” Dr. Burcote spoke after an interminable, rude silence. “Bone-ache, digestive complications, and her heart's furnace has overheated. She is of a heavy, phlegmatic humor but has contracted hot, choleric disturbances, and they are at war with each other in her weak woman's frame.”

  Elizabeth fumed at those last words, for her woman's frame could brook no weakness. “And what will you do for her weak frame?” she demanded icily.

  “As I said, Majesty, bleeding to restore humoral imbalance.”

  “Not with leeches,” Elizabeth ordered. “Kat and I both detest leeches.”

  “Gut, if she holds still for a lancet and bowl,” he muttered as much to himself as Elizabeth. “I do not hold vit tying patients down as your doctors sometimes do.”

  As he produced a lancet, tourniquet, and bowl, Elizabeth stepped forward and took Kat's hand on the opposite side of the bed. Memories of Kat holding her hand and bending over her bed, Kat comforting her through childhood night terrors, Kat teaching her sums and spelling, Kat …

  “I said, Majesty, vill you stay?” Dr. Burcote asked, unwinding his cowhide tourniquet.

  “Yes. Anything to help her. And you surely realize that recompense is no object.”

  “Rank and title of patients and der friends does not change how I vill diagnose or dose her. Feverfew in a tonic and nightshade leaves pressed to her temples to vard off headache after I bleed her. And herbs in an electuary for the next few days, powdered unicorn horn vit double doses of strong ginger. Ve must send to an apothecary for the ingredients.”

  Elizabeth dared to hope. Everyone knew that the more pungent the smell of the medicine, the more powerful the remedy. She had been going to insist on one of the new-fashioned panaceas of powdered unicorn horn or ground mummy. If the learned doctors of her realm, including the twenty select Fellows of the London Royal College of Physicians, thought their queen knew naught of physick they were much mistaken. She had several bones to pick with them about that, and soon.

  While Dr. Burcote tied the tourniquet around Kat's brow, Elizabeth bent close to hear what she was muttering. “The royal physician, lovey—he's here?” the old woman asked, her eyes pinched closed.

  “Yes, my Kat,” the queen said, though that was not quite the truth. “Do not fret or fear. Dr. Burcote, highly recommended.”

  “Dr. Boorde, you say?” Kat murmured, stirring restlessly again. She tossed her head, pulling her silvered hair free from her bed cap and the tourniquet awry. The faint facial lines hidden by her plumpness seemed to etch themselves more deeply. “Poor Dr. Boorde,” Kat cried, her eyes still closed. “He's always trying to salve your fa-ther's leg ulcer, but His Majesty still rants in pain and anger.”

  Elizabeth startled, then recovered herself as Dr. Burcote leaned over the other side of the bed to pull the tourniquet back into place. Dr. Boorde, King Henry VIII's favorite Doctor of Physick, had died shortly after her royal sire, over fifteen years ago.

  As Dr. Burcote positioned his lancet and bowl, Elizabeth suddenly could not bear to watch. So many nights she had waked from horrid dreams of her real mother's head spurting blood …

  “Mary, hold her hand one moment,” Elizabeth said to the watchful woman who had come to stand behind her. Mary was Robert Dudley's sister and nearly as dear to her as he was—and without all the public and privy complications. “I will send for Dr. Burcote's unicorn horn and herbs and be back straightaway,” Elizabeth promised and swept from the room.

  Out in the fresher air of the hall, she wanted to collapse sobbing against the linen-fold paneling, but she summoned the guard with a flick of her wrist. “The doctor requires strong ginger, feverfew, and ground unicorn horn,” she told him. “Have Lord Cecil send his new man for it—to the closest apothecary shop, that one in the Strand—but the man is not to say it is for the palace. He will pay well for it and bring me the reckoning. Go now.”

  Clifford, the crimson-clad, tall yeoman guard, who was part of her personal watch, bowed, backed up a few feet, then turned to hurry away. Momentarily alone, Elizabeth leaned one slender shoulder against the wall.

  Ordering the cures from Meg Milligrew's shop was the least she could do, she told herself, for her lost Meg as well as for Kat. She hated having to banish people to whom she had once shown favor, whether it was her own deceitful cousins, Katherine Grey and Margaret Douglas, or a dear servant like Meg. Even Elizabeth's beloved Robin had been sent from court for a time and was yet best kept at arm's length. Standards must be set.

  She smacked her hands so hard into her full satin skirts they bounced and swayed. 'S blood, why did being sovereign mean that when others were punished or lost, she felt that way too?

  Elizabeth nearly jumped out of her skin as Kat screamed. Bolting back into the room, the queen ran to the bed. Three of her ladies were helping to subdue the struggling woman. Dr. Burcote had not yet begun to bleed her so that was not what was amiss.

  “Treason! Assassin!” Kat cried, her eyes wide for the first time in days as she pointed at Dr. Burcote's lancet with one hand she'd yanked free. “This lunatic doctor means to kill the queen!”


  Other distinctions and difference I leave to the learned

  Physicians of our London College, who are very well

  able to search this matter, as a thing far above my

  reach … none fitter than the learned Physicians of the

  College of London.


  The Herball

  SEPTEMBER 25, 1562

  QUEEN ELIZABETH WAS MOUNTED AND WAITING. She shaded her eyes and waved up at the parapet of Whitehall Palace where Kat Ashley was taking her first constitutional walk in the ten days since Dr. Burcote had cured her fever.

  Kat smiled wanly and waved back. The old woman's recovery would have ordinarily been enough to make the royal spirits soar, but Elizab
eth Tudor was en route to visit the Royal College of Physicians in the City. She was even less pleased with them than she had been ten days ago when she had needed them and they were gone. For since then, they had begged off a royal visit—twice.