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The Hooded Hawke: An Elizabeth I Mystery (Elizabeth I Mysteries)

Karen Harper

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Chapter the First

  Chapter the Second

  Chapter the Third

  Chapter the Fourth

  Chapter the Fifth

  Chapter the Sixth

  Chapter the Seventh

  Chapter the Eighth

  Chapter the Ninth

  Chapter the Tenth

  Chapter the Eleventh

  Chapter the Twelfth

  Chapter the Thirteenth

  Chapter the Fourteenth

  Chapter the Fifteenth

  Chapter the Sixteenth

  Chapter the Seventeenth

  Chapter the Eighteenth

  Chapter the Nineteenth





  Author’s Note

  Copyright Page

  Chapter the First

  Ten days later, the queen’s summer progress left Oatlands Palace, where everything had been assembled; the parade of wagons, horses, and people stretched into Surrey for nearly four miles. They stopped and ate outside for midday meal, then went on.

  Led by green-clad harbingers and nearly four hundred laden baggage and provision carts, each pulled by six horses, the middle of the entourage consisted of a military escort, then scarletattired yeomen guards with their ceremonial halberds gleaming in the sun. After that, in the heart of the procession, came the queen herself, not riding ahorse for the last few miles toward the town of Guildford but ensconced in a ceremonial gilt and ostrich-feathered coach-and-six.

  Pulled by matching white horses with manes and tails dyed orange, the conveyance was open-sided with crimson cloth and gold lace upholstery. Its leather curtains were drawn back to show England’s queen, decked in a golden gown, waving, nodding, and smiling to acknowledge the cheers. Riding behind her came the court, nearly thirteen hundred people, everyone from councilors to lords and ladies to grooms and pages.

  “Uncap, knaves!” The cry went out to rude rural fellows standing along country lanes, agape at the grandeur.

  They hastily snatched off their caps and shouted, “God save our queen! Good save our good queen!”

  Milkmaids cried and shepherds huzzahed. Parents held children up or sat them on their shoulders to see the monarch who loved the common folk, for they adored her as a glorious goddess in return. Despite her worries and the cursed bouncing of the coach into ruts and potholes, Elizabeth’s spirits soared to be among her people.

  Suddenly, a big-shouldered lout pushed his way through the crowd, dragging two little girls behind him. He snatched a straw hat from his head. Four yeomen guards instantly crossed their halberds to keep him back, but the queen caught the awed look on the man’s face. He seemed almost entranced, and she hoped he was not drunk.

  “Hold!” she shouted. “Hold here!”

  Her coachman Boonen jerked in the horses, and those behind reined in. It was the queen’s custom along the way to hear petitions or speak with local folk, though usually during a respite on a shady village green.

  “Let him approach,” she called to the guards, who stood aside. “My good man, what business, then?”

  Though his garments were soiled, his face looked freshly washed; his hair was wet, where he had probably doused sweat or grime away in a trough or stream. When he opened his mouth, no sound came at first, and then a stutter before he knelt in the road, pulling the two small girls down with him—ages six and eight, the queen guessed.

  “Ju-just wanted them to see you close so b-bad,” he got out.

  “Rise, man, and bring them forward. At what task do you make your livelihood?”

  “Thatcher—roof thatcher—c-climbing ladders with reeds, Majesty.”

  “I have well noted how fine some of the cottage thatching is in this area. And the girls’ names?”

  “Anne and Jane, Majesty.”

  Both girls were wide-eyed and tongue-tied. Elizabeth pulled off her perfumed, gold-threaded gloves and leaned out of the coach to touch the children on their shoulders as they rose awkwardly to their feet.

  “God bless you, master thatcher, and may our good God in heaven keep your family and all of us safe,” she said loudly enough so the others, now hushed, could hear. “On, Boonen!” she shouted, before the stunned thatcher realized she’d given each girl one of her gloves.

  As the procession picked up again, Elizabeth’s cousin, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, rode up on her other side. Though he was but thirty-one, he now headed the powerful House of Howard, royal relatives through her mother’s sprawling Boleyn family. To everyone’s amazement, the wily Howards had managed to survive the downfalls of both beheaded queens, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

  Norfolk was England’s sole duke and the queen’s hereditary marshal, who, unfortunately, was a widower for the third time and fancied, though supposedly in secret, that he might wed Elizabeth’s rival, Mary, Queen of Scots. Norfolk was such an uncompromising Catholic that he almost made the queen regret she allowed her subjects freedom of conscience, if they worshipped circumspectly. Norfolk was more than circumspect; he was covert and crafty.

  She had to admit, though, the man kept in fine physical form; his long face was framed by a nut-brown beard and thick eyebrows under his fringe of hair. He had a hawklike nose, chiseled cheeks, and thin lips, all of which made him look older than he was. He seldom smiled, and when he did, it looked forced, flitting across his face without lifting the corners of his narrow chestnut eyes. Frowns were more his forte—and stealthy behavior of late, which Cecil’s spies tried to ferret out.

  “Should word of your generous gesture to those two roadside urchins be noised about, Your Grace,” Norfolk said, speaking out of the side of his mouth as he was wont to do, “you’ll soon be out of gloves or missing your entire vast wardrobe if the mobs keep coming forward with flattery and open hands.”

  “Then perhaps you will purchase me new garb with all your money, my lord, that is, unless you are buying pretty gifts for someone else these days.”

  “No one, Your Grace.”

  Norfolk always called her that, rather than Your Majesty, though both forms of address were entirely proper. She and Cecil weren’t certain whether he did it intentionally or without realizing it, though Norfolk’s brazen flaunting of his lofty rank to one of far loftier did boggle her mind. It seemed she and the duke were ever verbally fencing or wrestling in some silent sport.

  “As first peer of the realm, cousin,” he went on, “I am sore grieved that you undervalue my influence and all I could do for you in the way of advice and counsel. For instance, the breakneck elevation of new names within your court—Cecil, for instance, and I hear you’ve sent for that baseborn seaman Francis Drake to inform you. That is perhaps why such bootlickers as that laborer back there think they can approach you.”

  “Norfolk, the common people of my realm believe they can approach me because they can approach me. And I shall continue to elevate men of merit and not only those of rank.”

  Robin suddenly appeared on the other side of the coach as if she had sent for him. “Enough,” she said, raising her voice because of the increasing din from up ahead. “Whatever is that caterwauling about? Can either of you see?”

  “I shall ride ahead to look,” Robin offered.

  “No, let Norfolk. He is eager to be of aid.”

  Obviously seething at her subtle snubs, the duke spurred his huge horse ahead.

  “He’s livid you mad
e him come along at all,” Robin said.

  “I’m doing him a favor, for I’ll not have him all cozy with the northern lords or sending secret marriage proposals to Queen Mary. I am trying to save his hide, and I shall tell him that plainly again, so you need not put in your pennysworth to him, my lord.”

  “Not I,” he said with that flash of white smile that stood out so in a face so handsome it made her heart flutter. “For I am along on this jaunt only to please the woman I adore—as well as the queen I honor.”

  Not wanting Robin to know he could still make her blush, she was almost grateful when Norfolk came flying back along the edge of the progress. “It’s just some dirty, drunken louts having a brawl of a football game,” he reported, as he reined in between Robin and her coach. Robin glowered at being cut off. Now both men looked like thunderclouds, and she knew she’d have to stop at least their impending brawl—no, she’d stop two brawls. For football oft turned bloody with bones broken; even bystanders had been hurt. More than once, a player had died, so the state had passed an edict against such violent matches, however much few heeded it.

  “Stand down, you two!” she said quietly, glaring at each in turn. Then she shouted again to Boonen. “Hold! Halt here!”

  “Your Grace,” Norfolk said, as Robin edged out his horse to leap down and help her alight, “the local sheriff gave everyone the day off from labors, and they probably don’t realize, with all their own noise, that your procession has arrived. I suggest you send some grooms or guards to break it up if you must, but stay put.”

  That did it. She was getting to the point with this man where she couldn’t abide him and didn’t trust him. As soon as the footman smacked down the coach’s wooden steps, she took Robin’s hand and alighted.

  She did not have to ask for directions to the football game, for the noise and dust gave the spot away. When she lifted her hems and strode across the road to look at the raucous game in the adjoining field, her guards and then the common folk parted as the Red Sea had for Moses.

  Both teams were so intent on driving a leather-covered bladder ball between their opponents’ goalposts that no one so much as noted her. Men kicked, tripped, and punched each other to get to the ball. In a knot of at least four men, fists flew. One lout lay on the ground, holding an obviously broken leg and cursing at the top of his voice, while more than one oaf looked beaten and bloody.

  “Your Majesty,” Robin said beside her, “let me—” But she strode out onto the long, narrow field. One man, another, then the rest saw her with her guards trailing and Robin and Norfolk hustling to flank her.

  The closest fellow, sporting a bloody nose and two black eyes, gasped and fell to both knees. The sudden silence was deafening across the field and behind her on the road as man after man turned her way. They went still as statues before going down to their knees like ninepins, all except the one with the broken leg and two who groveled facedown.

  “You—each man jack of you,” her clarion voice rang out, as she leveled a finger at each in turn, “are attacking those whom your queen might require to defend this realm! I do not deny you games of sport, but I will not have fellows who may be needed as archers if our enemies attack being bloodied and beaten by each other! Have you not heard of the ruling that each Englishman must be able to pull a bow in defense of queen and country? My lord Leicester, I believe you were in council when the edict outlawing rough sport and promoting the protection of our realm was passed shortly after I became queen. Tell them, then.”

  “Ah, yes,” he said, clearing his throat, then raising his voice. “Male subjects between ages seven and fifty—”

  “Sixty,” she corrected.

  “And sixty are to possess bows and arrows and to be able to shoot them. This entails weekly practice at the butts, and should there be some national need, all must stand able-bodied and ready to serve.”

  “Exactly,” she said. “Is there anyone here who does not understand why we must not maim and harm our fellow countrymen when the greedy Spanish would like to gobble up our kingdom for themselves and force us back to the foolish faith of a pope who threatens to excommunicate your queen?”

  Beside her, Norfolk visibly startled, but she ignored him. The sweating, dirty lot of rural men hardly breathed. She could hear nothing but a screeching jay somewhere in the distant trees and the snorts of impatient horses from her retinue behind her.

  “Excellent. Good day to you all, defenders of queen and country,” she said, and turned away with a wave and a smile that left everyone—but for Norfolk, whom she could see grinding his teeth—with mouths agape, just the way she liked to see all people regard her when she passed.

  Meg Milligrew, the queen’s herbalist and strewing herb mistress of the privy chamber, slumped in a corner of the royal rooms at Loseley House, a fine gray-stone mansion where the huge entourage would spend several nights near Guildford, Surrey, as the guests of Sir William More.

  It didn’t matter to Meg where she was. She stared at the rush-strewn floor in the corner of the royal withdrawing chamber and not out the nearby, sun-struck window. The voices of the ladies-in-waiting and that of Her Majesty blurred with the buzz of a fly. Nothing mattered but that, two months ago today, Edward, her and Ned’s year-old son, had died of the croup.

  “ … she’s going out hawking with Sir William, and we’re to go along … al fresco supper in the meadow … a sea captain newly arrived, Francis something … a fine fantasy of a play tonight with Ned Topside acting …”

  My Ned acting, Meg thought, trying to seize on the women’s words, to make them mean something—Edward Thompson, alias Ned Topside, the queen’s principal player and master of revels whom Meg had loved for so long and had wed nearly three years ago, dear handsome, volatile, green-eyed Ned. Since Meg had lost the babe they’d named after Ned—she’d tried every herbal cure she knew to save him, and the queen’s doctor had tried, too—she could not make herself feel anything or want to do anything. The queen had insisted she come along, said the change of scene would do her good … but nothing seemed good anymore …

  “I said, good, there you are,” the queen’s voice pierced the babble of the others. “Come along, Meg. I am certain there are herbs to be had outside, and the fresh air and activity will help.”

  Meg nodded listlessly and stood up straight. How proud she had once been that she was more than a servant to the queen. Her Majesty had chosen to have her tutored by Ned, because Meg resembled the queen and could stand in for her when there was some dire need. Elizabeth Tudor had even included Meg with Ned, Jenks, and several other servants in solving certain crimes right along with Secretary Cecil and others of rank.

  “Meg, now!” the queen repeated, as she swept by and her women made neatly matched pairs to depart the chamber.

  Meg dragged herself after them, putting one foot ahead of the other, from the privy chamber into the presence chamber, where most courtiers attending the queen awaited, but in the corridor, she fell back again and leaned against the wainscoted wall as everyone’s footsteps faded down the stairs. After all, she’d forgotten the large, curved knife she used to cut herbs. Thick patches of yarrow bobbed in the breeze near the spot the court was going hawking; she’d seen that much when they rode in yesterday.

  Meg went down a crooked back staircase to a small, windowless room near the kitchens. Both courtiers and servants were packed in cheek by jowl on a royal progress. Certainly, no host could spare a room for wedded servants; sometimes not even married courtiers bedded together. Ned was staying with their friend Jenks and with Fenton, the queen’s falconer, in the east wing while Meg was housed with several tiring girls and Jenks’s wife, the royal laundress, Ursala, who had a child—fourteen-month-old Bessie—she’d brought along and kept with her all the time.

  No one was within now, though, so Meg grabbed the knife from the basket of drying herbs and forced herself to go outside. At first the sunlight staggered her, but she meandered across the front lawn and down the lane where the
queen, her elderly host, and many courtiers were flying falcons in a meadow edged with yarrow.

  The lord of Loseley House, Sir William More, was a Catholic sympathizer, one with a big family. Most of his children and grandchildren were here to meet the queen. The sea captain must be that new man standing near Her Majesty. He sported a reddish beard trimmed to a sharp point, and the queen was half a head taller. Meg had heard he was newly wed, so he’d probably have babes soon, a whole boatload of them, however much he went to sea.

  Meg gazed down at the knife, shaped like, though smaller than, a scythe, and was surprised to find she gripped its bone handle so hard her knuckles had turned white. She flexed her fingers, then cradled the curved blade in her arms as if she could cuddle it to her, however sharp, just like her memories.

  Laughter and shouts floated to her. Meg began to hack at the long green necks of tall yarrow.

  The queen had liked Francis Drake from the moment she met him. Though he was a bit blustery and rough-hewn among her clever courtiers, his bluff speech and lack of politician’s skill meant to her he cared not for prevarication or pride. Like her, he was red-haired as well as ambitious and driven by duty and discipline. Besides, it was obvious he hated the Spanish, perhaps almost as much as she did.

  “Later I shall have you tell me privily all that happened on that dreadful day our ships were bested on your fateful voyage,” she told him, “and I shall ask that you share your opinions of our future seafaring and navy.”

  She sensed how deflated Robin and Norfolk were that she would not request that recital before them all. Both had edged closer to Drake with ears flapping to hear of his tales and exploits. But enough of business—public business—for she intended to fly all four of her hawks Fenton Layne had brought along on this progress.

  “I’ll send word back to my ship, then,” Drake said, “that I shall remain at your disposal at least until you reach your southernmost staying point.” He’d explained how he had sailed the tattered Judith from Plymouth westward through the Channel and had come up the River Meon to lease a horse to ride to her. The fact he’d been newly wed but a month had given her a moment’s pause, but a seaman’s wife, even a new bride, must become accustomed to having her helpmeet away.