As they stood up Tom could see a terrible incident being played out before the court. The key player, a man who unlike the courtiers was wearing plain garb in dark fustian and worsted fabrics, had been thrown face down on the floor. Whatever was being said to him was lost on Tom but he could tell by the Queen’s wild gestures, her hands balled into fists and her eyes flashing whilst she spoke through gritted teeth, that she was terrifyingly angry. The man had his head in his hands, congealed blood where his fingernails used to be and Tom could see his swollen face was bloodied and bruised. One of the guards hauled him to his feet and held him there as the man wobbled about as if his legs would give way. Tom felt his gut quiver in fright and for once he was relieved he couldn’t hear the screaming he imagined was happening, if the wincing from the other people around the room was anything to go by.
Finally, the Queen pointed to a door hidden in one corner of the room where the panelling had opened up to reveal a stone staircase beyond and the man was hauled off by his feet, his head dragging across the floor as if he were already a corpse. Tom caught a glimpse of the man being pulled away and down the stairs, the back of his head bouncing off every step as he disappeared from view. Hot acid bile clawed at the back of Tom’s throat. What on earth was he doing here? As he and Hugh were ushered forward it took everything he had not to vomit. As he knelt again, he could see specks of blood in front of him on the floor.
He turned his attention to the Queen. She was talking to Hugh but he caught the gist of what she was saying from the occasional word. Her mood seemed to have switched in an instant – all thoughts of the poor wretch dragged away just seconds earlier gone – as she exclaimed her delight for the vanilla flavouring which she’d never tasted before and insisted the two apothecaries sought out more. She got to her feet and turned towards Tom, her small dark eyes burning into his as if she could read everything tumbling through his mind; his thoughts and his fears laid bare before this diminutive woman who was the most powerful female in the world. His legs began to shake, her supremacy and confidence rolling from her in waves. Now they were closer he could see the pale face paint she wore was disguising a harsh pockmarked complexion and together with her hooked nose she was less attractive than the portrait he’d admired as he followed Hugh along the corridor a few minutes previously.
‘I am told by my apothecary that you are responsible for bringing this new spice, vanilla, to my court.’ Tom had to watch her thin-lipped mouth carefully as she spoke. Thankfully she seemed to consider each word for a moment before she said it and he had little trouble understanding her. He bowed again from his waist, before standing up so he could watch her face once again. ‘And you can neither hear nor speak and yet understand what those around you say?’ Tom nodded, wondering what she was thinking and if his time at the palace was about to come to an end. He watched as she made her way back to her throne behind her, the weight of her gown almost swamping her tiny frame and preventing her from moving.
Once she was perched on her throne and her skirts carefully arranged around her by a young girl with blond hair, dressed in a lovat green dress with simple ribbon decoration who’d spent the entire time stood silently to one side, the Queen addressed him once more.
‘You intrigue me, Tom Lutton. You cannot hear and yet you are able to understand everything that I say. I have never come across someone like you before and I wonder if you may be of use to others at my court. And not just because you make a delicious bedtime drink.’ She looked over to Hugh. ‘You are both dismissed,’ she told him, before turning her attention to Tom and adding, ‘for the present.’
The Queen’s Spy
By Clare Marchant
1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne.
There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…
2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.
Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?
Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT, before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweller.
Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins, or visiting the nearby coast.
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