A Suspicion of Silver: A Sir Robert Carey Mystery #9

A Suspicion of Silver: A Sir Robert Carey Mystery #9

Edinburgh, 1593. The new year begins. Sir Robert Carey has just foiled a double plot against King James. He rides for Leith hunting the would-be assassin now identified as Joachim ...

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P F Chisholm

P.F. Chisholm is a pseudonym of a well-known writer of historical thrillers, childrens’ books, and nonfiction blogs and ebooks. Previous ...

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November 1571, London

The stable boys stood around their fallen hero, silent and staggered at the impossibility of what had happened. Marty couldn’t be dead, he couldn’t! Now he would never sail the seas to find gold or fight the foreigners as he had boasted he would. He had ruled them with justice and his fists for a year and led them in wonderful adventures that yielded apples and sweetmeats and stories. He hadn’t explained why he wanted a rich boy’s clothes, but that was all right, he never explained anything and it always turned out well. Now this.

The youngest of them knelt, tears running down his cheeks, to shut Marty’s eyes, and the eldest suddenly turned and ran to find the Head Groom.

 

Earlier

At last, after the usual chaos of getting warm gowns on and cloaks and then spending half an hour looking for Joachim’s hat which turned out to be on the top banister, the Hochstetter family of Augsberg were ready to see the famous sights of London.

Daniel Hochstetter and his four eldest children would walk to the Tower Gatehouse to see the lions and perhaps the armouries, but not the Mint which they had seen by special royal permission the week before. They would walk back, perhaps taking a detour to look at the goldsmith’s shops on Cheapside and perhaps even going on London Bridge as well to see the draper’s shops there. The baby would stay at their lodgings in Dowgate by the German Steelyard with her nurse. Daniel’s wife, Frau Radagunda Hochstetter, her eleven-year-old son, Joachim, and her daughter, Little Radagunda, would actually go to see the wonders of Whitehall palace.

Daniel found his wife a boat from Dowgate watersteps, a double-ended skiff rowed by two muscular men in the famous red boatman’s livery with their pewter badges on their shoulders. He lifted Little Rady into the boat while his wife nervously stepped onto the boards holding the boatman’s hand in a vicelike grip and the boat wallowed. Joachim hopped in and grinned, sat down on the cushions at the back like a lord. Radagunda sat rigidly in the middle, gripping the sides.

It was a long trip upriver. Little Rady wriggled and knelt on the seat to dabble her fingers in the water. She was told to stop it at once by her mother, who was deathly afraid that she would fall in and die and go to limbo because, of course, she was only a child and as yet unbaptised. In their religion, only adults could be baptised.

It was too far to walk, but Radagunda wished and wished she had not asked to see the Queen’s palace, for the terror of tipping the boat over filled her heart. It hadn’t occurred to her they would have to take such a dangerous route as the Thames. She muttered prayers the whole way, feeling sick, seeing nothing of the proud palaces and churches and gardens going past, nor the newly built Bearbaiting Ring on the south side.

Little Rady wriggled the whole way and Joachim pelted the boatmen with questions in English. Radagunda couldn’t understand him at all, although she had taken lessons in English too. Her lord and husband had insisted because they were moving from Augsberg to England, where there was copper ore but the people had no idea how to mine it. He had arrived back home from England in the summer, looked around the countryside, talked to some people, and by October they were in London. She supposed it was a wise decision, seeing how the poorer sort of people in Augsberg were starting to die of sickness and the harvest had failed again when they left. But she was nervous of going to the strange town of Kes-wick—where she knew nobody, and which was full of the peculiar English—though her lord was readying an island in a lake for her to live on and planting an orchard and building a mill and brewery there. That was a comfort.

“Haug and Company can afford it,” he reassured her over their first dinner in England, picking up a feebly spiced bread-stuffed English sausage on his knife. “And we will be mining copper and silver and gold for Her Majesty of England and the new Company of Mines Royal.”

She almost smiled with pride at this thought because her husband was an important man, never mind the constant difficulties with shareholders over money, and lazy English carpenters, and getting assays of the ores correct. He had told them stories of where he had been in England for so long, stories of the northern English who were hard to understand and lived in Cumberland. They didn’t know anything about mining, poor souls, but had incredibly rich veins of copper ore in the hills right next to them.

Some of the stories were a little frightening: the evil servants of the evil and Catholic (of course) Earl of Northumberland had actually killed Leonard Stoltz, their preacher, for being an Anabaptist. But then God had punished him through his own actions because he rebelled against the Queen and ran away to Scotland, where he was now imprisoned and it was only a matter of time before he was executed.

There was a shout and a clatter and one of the watermen waved an oar at another boat that had come too close. The sound of the shouting was ugly and frightening and Radagunda clasped Little Rady to her, though the child was trying to escape to see what was happening. Joachim was kneeling up on the seat, laughing at the people on the other boat who had got splashed.

The older waterman said something gruff to Radagunda, who had no idea what it meant, and bent to his oar again.

Her heart was beating so hard she felt as if it was actually outside her chest. The horrible wallowing of the boat seemed to slow a little and as the speed picked up, she felt a breeze. Her hand cramped on the side of the boat and she had to let go of Little Rady for a second to ease it. Rady instantly got up on her knees again so she could see and wobbled so that Radagunda had to hold her tight again, despite her muffled protests.

Joachim was laughing at her. “Mutti, Mutti, Mutti,” he said, shaking his head, “it’s only a boat.”

“Sit down and hold your hat on,” she snapped at him. He slowly put his hand to his hat and clamped it onto his head, deliberately insolent. She sighed. No, not insolent, he was a boy and a boy didn’t see these things the same way: despite how ill he had been with the measles last year, despite how his little brother had died of it and gone to limbo, despite the way he had been dazzled by even dim lights and she had had to keep the shutters closed, despite the nights she had sat up with him as he fought his way through delirium and far more frightening deathly stillness, it seemed he wasn’t frightened of death. He should be. Until he had been safely baptised, he could go to limbo at any time and she would never see him again, ever. Until she had children she had never doubted that the Anabaptist way, which followed Jesus Christ Himself in baptising adults, was right. Now? It was terrifying. If she let herself think of little Leonard whom she would never ever see again until the end of time and beyond, she couldn’t stop the tears from rising.

 

• • • • •

 

At Westminster steps, the boatmen were still tying up when Joachim jumped from the boat to the steps which nearly stopped Radagunda’s heart again. She told him off and he just stood there

 

smiling. Well, he was eleven. Boys were supposed to be bold. One of the boatmen picked Little Rady up and deposited her ashore, so she didn’t have to get her lovely green brocade kirtle wet. Radagunda climbed out of the rocking boat trembling, holding the other boatman’s calloused hand as tight as she could. She gave Joachim the 6d to pay the boatman, because the man should pay.

They walked up the steps and through into New Palace Yard with a still fountain in it, across to a towered gateway, and then turned right into King’s Street, away from Westminster Abbey. At the end was an impressive towered gate where they had to pay sixpence each to the Queen’s servant in his black-and-white livery in order to go through. Then they came to another courtyard where they had to queue up to go through the next elaborate gate. Other people were already queuing up, French people and some Low Dutch-speakers from the Netherlands, probably, and a couple of Scots and some English as well. They joined the queue and waited to pass through the famous Court Gate. There was an oddly pointless fence that they had to queue round.

Men in good woollen doublets were waiting nearby and one of them instantly attached himself to the Hochstetters, explaining in a loud slow voice that the gate they had just come through, yes, that building with the round towers and flags, was the King Street Gate. He pointed out interesting places over the walls: the Queen’s Privy Garden and the Privy Gallery on one side; on the other the Great Close Tennis Court, the Great Open Tennis Court, the Whitehall Bowling Alley, and in the distance the Little Close Tennis Court and the round roof beyond it of the Whitehall Cockpit. Yes, young sir, the courtiers enjoy playing tennis. No, young sir, bless you, you can’t go and try it.

Finally they were allowed to pass through the Court Gate into the Court itself, cobbled and swept clean; they went into the Chapel Royal which had not been badly damaged by Reformers and still had its roodscreen, to Radagunda’s disapproval. They did not go into the palace kitchens behind it whence curled pleasant smells of venison, chicken, and potherbs. They came out into the Preaching Place and the guide told them how many famous preachers and ministers had preached there, but they hadn’t heard of any of them. They looked into the Council Chamber which was panelled in pale yellow oak and had a long table with Persian rugs on it and comfortable chairs, but no councillors.

They went through the mazelike passages of the Court to the Great Hall and stared at the hammerbeam roof and the minstrels’ gallery and the portraits of the Queen and her father, Henricus VIII. A single small table and chair were on the dais, with a Cloth of Estate over it. All the people they had been queueing with were there, and they watched as four dazzlingly dressed and exquisite courtiers entered in procession. One in tawny damask and green velvet announced that the Queen’s Majesty would be at the dinner although Her Royal Person was absent. Then the courtiers attended the empty chair which four red-and-black-striped Gentlemen of the Guard were guarding. Each courtier collected a large silver or gold dish from a kitchen servant, brought it to the chair, knelt on both knees to the chair, lifted the cover off the dish and waved it over the chair, put back the cover, stood up, took three paces backwards as if the chair actually had the Queen sitting there instead of empty space. Then the courtier turned and carried the dish down from the dais to the door to the kitchen and gave the dish to the same servant who took it away and reappeared a moment later with another dish. Joachim had to swallow a laugh because it was totally ridiculous.

The food was real, though, and smelled surprisingly good. There was pork and chicken and venison and potherbs and cheese and sweetmeats and a jam tart, and each dish was announced in a brazen voice by one of the Gentlemen of the Guard.

Joachim let out a snort when a courtier laid an unused napkin beside the clean plate to indicate that the mad show was over. His mother shushed him.

“Quiet, Joachim, show some respect. Did you think the Queen would be there herself every day for visitors? She has other things to do. I wonder what the recipe for that pork with apple and cider might be…”

From there, as a special treat, according to the man, they were allowed into the actual Privy Gallery where the Queen lived when she was in residence. They were shown into the Queen’s Audience Chamber where there was a gilded throne with the Cloth of Estate over it like a little roof, bearing the arms of England. The French visitors raised their eyebrows at the fleur de lis quartered on it, in token of the Queen’s claims to French soil which King Henry V had so nearly conquered. This room was Radagunda’s favourite because it wasn’t big and impressive but small and intimate and she could see embroidered velvet cushions on the white rush mats for the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting and maids-of-honour to sit on, and the beautiful walls covered with white embroidered silk. The Queen met ambassadors and other important people in the room, explained the guide.

Something shouted “God save the Queen!” in a strange croaky voice. She knew the phrase but was appalled when she saw that the speaker was a bird, grey and red, with a big beak, sitting on a perch in the corner.

“That’s Jacob,” said their guide. “He’s a parrot. Would you like to feed him some apple, young sir?”

Joachim translated this for her, though in fact she had understood, and asked her if he could. When she reluctantly said yes, he took the piece of apple, approached the bird and teased him with it, then threw it up and the bird caught it neatly in his beak.

Little Rady started jumping up and down wanting to do the same. Radagunda didn’t like it; the parrot was worryingly clever for a bird. Was it infested with a demon?

The guide took Rady to another bird, this one smaller, and green and red. He got it to perch on his finger and brought it close to the little girl’s face. Radagunda was terrified the bird would peck her or bite her but the guide looked up and said, “This is Sandy. He’s sad because his wife died last month. Do you want to stroke him, young mistress?” Joachim translated it for her.

Little Rady’s small face was concerned. “Poor parrot,” she said in English, and actually dared to stroke the bird on his neck and he bowed a little and made a chirrup.

“There,” said the guide, “you’ve made him feel a little better.” He put Sandy back on his perch and Little Rady smiled her beautiful sunny smile, though Joachim was sniggering again.

Then they went into the Princes Lodgings, next to the old Stone Gallery and from the first room they could look at the Privy Garden with its formal short box hedges and winter rose trees and at the river on the other side.

“Birds don’t get married,” Joachim sneered to the guide and the guide said quietly, “Parrots do, they marry for life and are faithful too.”

Joachim shrugged and marched into the next room. That was where the gowns were, three of them, behind a wicker screen you had to peer through and they were on wicker stands so they looked as if the Queen had turned to twisted wood.

Radagunda was fascinated by the gowns and peered through the screen which was presumably there to stop people stealing the pearls and jewels. She stared hard at the nearest gown and established to her satisfaction that all the gems were in fact paste, which made her snort. Little Rady was standing on tiptoe to look but couldn’t see past the screen and so their guide kindly picked her up.

Of course Radagunda liked the green one best and admired the velvet and the forepart to the petticoat and then wondered why Joachim was being so quiet. She looked round and couldn’t see him.

Where was he? She couldn’t see him! When had he gone? Where had he gone? Sweet Jesu and his Mother, what could she do?

 

• • • • •

 

Joachim had found a little unlocked door in a corner that looked like the panelling on the walls. Looking back at his mother who was hypnotised by the boring gowns, he slipped through and shut the door behind him, found himself in a roughly boarded servants’ passageway. There was a smell of mildew and mice. He trotted along it and came out in an orchard with bare trees, crossed it and went in through the first unlocked door he came to and found a small yard there surrounded by higgledy piggledy houses. Some boys a bit larger than him were standing around drinking beer and playing dice. He could smell it was the terrible English beer and lifted his lip in a sneer.

One boy was squatting by a watertrough. Respectably dressed in a woollen doublet and hose of blue that looked as if it was only secondhand, he didn’t look like a stable lad, but maybe he was. He stood up and bowed quite low to Joachim who touched his velvet cap in response. The boy said something in English which was too quick and strongly accented for Joachim to understand. He smiled a little at the boy who said something like “parlyvu fronsays.”

Entschuldigung,” said Joachim and turned to go, but the boy grabbed his arm.

“Want see Queen?” said the boy loudly and slowly. “SEE THE QUEEN?”

Joachim wondered why he was saying that when the Queen wasn’t there—but maybe she was? The boy gestured for him to follow and ducked down a small alleyway between the houses. Behind him, Joachim heard a snigger and that warned him, made the world go slow for him.

He already had his dagger out when the boy suddenly turned and struck out at him with a stick he had picked up. Instinctively Joachim ducked and stabbed with the knife, missed and the boy put his hands out, said something about only joking. But the world was still slow, so Joachim stepped towards him, caught his shoulder and stabbed as hard as he could. It felt just like stabbing a dog or a cat, which was interesting.

Red flowered suddenly on the boy’s doublet and when the boy lurched towards him, Joachim backed, tripped, and sat down hard in the mud of the alley. That pulled his dagger out of the boy with a slurp, so he got up and ran back the way he had come. His last sight was of the boy staring in disbelief at the blood pouring out of his stomach.

He sprinted up the alley, through the yard where the boys laughed at him and shouted catcalls, across the orchard, up the servants’ passage. Just in time he stopped and looked at his knife which was still in his hand and bloody. So he pulled out his handkerchief and wiped it off carefully before sheathing it, then cleaned his hands too and tucked the dirty hanky into a mousehole. He paused to exult in what had happened. He had killed dogs before, they were so stupid, they just let him do it once he had convinced them he was their friend with a bone or two. He had killed a cat by wrapping it in a sack and bashing it with a rock. But this was the first time he had killed a person. And he had got away with it. And it had been utterly correct because the boy was trying to rob him. Joachim conscientiously thanked God for the chance to kill and hugged the deed to himself, replaying his quickness and ferocity and the blood in his mind’s eye.

Then when his breathing had quieted, he went through the door into the room with the incredibly boring gowns.

Reviews of

A Suspicion of Silver: A Sir Robert Carey Mystery #9

“Chisholm displays a masterful hand in drawing several plot lines from the previous novels to a resoundingly satisfying conclusion, and in setting a terrific hook on the last page. Mickey Spillane, who famously said ‘The last line sells the next book,’ would have given her a standing ovation for this one. I have never loved Sir Robert more.”

Dana Stabenow, New York Times bestselling author

“Chisholm smoothly inserts realistic details of daily life in 16th-century Britain into this fast-moving historical. Those interested in the mining techniques of the period will be gratified.”

Publishers Weekly

“Character-driven, swiftly moving, and filled with fascinating historical details about mining and the Scottish border country. Chisholm continues to impress with each new addition to a top-notch series.”

Kirkus Reviews

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