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Authors: Ella March Chase

The Queen's Dwarf A Novel

BOOK: The Queen's Dwarf A Novel
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To Owen Muir Bautch,
the beautiful, earnest little greenwood lad who made springtime forever brighter. I will always remember you on the day after your first birthday, riding in your mom’s backpack, your wide-eyed gaze fixed on the redwoods, your fingers reaching toward dogwood blossoms as we hiked on sun-washed trails. May you find peace and beauty and many delightful adventures in the forests your namesake cherished. I am so grateful to have you in my life.
In loving memory of my father, Warren Ostrom, who loved the wilderness. He never gave up.

 

A
CKNOWLEDGMENTS

A gifted editor
is a treasure. I’ve been fortunate enough to share Jeffrey’s journey with three. Karyn Marcus’s vision helped breathe life into the images captured in Van Dyck’s famous painting of Jeffrey Hudson and Queen Henrietta Maria. Karyn’s passion for Jeffrey’s story and her faith in my ability to tell it offered me an opportunity to reach and grow as a writer, which I will always be grateful for. I could not have taken this journey without her. When Karyn accepted another career opportunity, Margaret Smith leapt into Jeffrey’s world with delightful enthusiasm.
The Queen’s Dwarf
became her baby, and she shepherded Jeffrey through the edits, honing the story until it sparkled. When adventure beckoned, Margaret, like any worthy heroine, seized the opportunity. She gathered all her notes and her plans, passed Jeffrey into the capable hands of Anne Bensson Brewer, then embarked for a new life in Canada. The swashbuckling cavalier era is famous for heroes who dash in at the last moment to perform seemingly impossible feats. Anne swept into Jeffrey’s world the week before the book’s in-house launch and dazzled me with her fierce championing of this novel. Not only did she read the manuscript and prepare her presentation, she sent me her own edits on the manuscript, polishing it even further. Jeffrey and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

I’ve been so lucky to share this journey with agents extraordinaire: Andrea Cirillo and Christina Hogerbe, as well as the rest of the talented crew at Jane Rotrosen Literary Agency. Your excitement over this project and your help in making this book the best it could be is a gift beyond price.

My amazing daughter, Kate, her wonderful husband, Kevin, and their irrepressible boys, Sam and Owen, bring me joy, make me laugh, and love me no matter what. Thank you for teaching me how to play again.

To David, who shares memories, bright and dark. You tamed the chaos of moving Dad from our childhood home to an apartment, then to his final resting place with our mom. You faced tough situations with a dignity and decency that made me proud you are my brother. I love you more than ever.

My critique group: talented writers Leslie Langtry, Janene Murphy, and, as always, Susan Carroll (the woman I’ve “shared a brain” with for nearly thirty years). Jeffrey and I raise countless cups of highly caffeinated coffee to salute you.

Thanks to dear friends Maureen Dittmar, Eileen Dreyer, Elizabeth Grayson, and Tami Hoag. You were always a phone call away.

To Bob Bradley, the talented, tenderhearted man who shares my passion for writing, reading, history, and a neurotic collie named Oliver. Thank you for playing “train songs” for Sam over the phone, for coffee in the morning, and making sure I remember to eat when I’m on deadline. Thank you for music that makes every day magical and for your unselfishness in caring for my dying father so I could go to Owen’s first birthday. Thank you for conversations that delight my heart, your poet’s vision which makes each fallen leaf beautiful. Thank you for understanding me. Thank you for loving me.

 

C
ONTENTS

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Historical Note

Also by Ella March Chase

About the Author

Copyright

 

P
ROLOGUE

Jeffrey Hudson, the Queen’s Fool
Seventeen Years Old
March 1629
Greenwich Palace

It is easy to assassinate a queen. The thrust of a dagger in the midst of a masque, the blast of a pistol as she walked to chapel or some invisible poison applied to her spaniel’s collar. Queen Henrietta Maria could never resist burying her nose in her beloved dog’s fur. An ingenious assassin could apply some elixir over time, making her seem to sicken, then die of natural causes.

Such murders had happened in her native France, the legacy of her de Medici ancestors.

Any one of us in the queen’s “Menagerie of Curiosities and Freaks of Nature” could have administered the venom or found some other means to murder our mistress on countless occasions.

But it was the teeming humanity around her that chilled me. More people wished her ill than I could count—too many to guard against and control. God himself could not have kept an eye upon them all.

Besides, there were many ways to kill. The only implement you really needed was hate—or love. I could not guess which of those emotions the queen now felt for me. Did it matter? I braced myself against the chair the queen had had joiners build to fit my undersized frame and wondered. The chamber courtiers call the “Freaks’ Lair” spilled before me—the room appointed with the tools of our trade, the haven where we awaited the queen’s pleasure. Around me, my fellow performers were beginning to move toward the door on their way to the Great Hall. Anger burned beneath my ribs.

The royal menagerie was leaving me behind. I felt their furtive glances as they passed, regarding me with the fascinated horror of those who find a plague cross painted upon their neighbor’s door. They feared that whatever ill luck had driven the queen to exile me might strike them down, as well. A year ago, I would have considered the irony of rejects sitting in judgment rich meat for jest, tossing their desertion of me back in their mismatched faces. But I could no longer attempt a battle of wits. What use was my skill in satire if Queen Henrietta Maria would not allow me to use it in her defense? I frowned at the mechanism in the clockwork bird I hoped to include in a trick I was working on and tried to drive my thoughts away from the masque to be performed that night.

The scenes enacted from myth and legend would delight the queen’s favorites, her costumed courtiers dancing upon scenery whose “magic” feats of engineering would awe anyone lucky enough to be in the audience. Tonight’s fare was just the latest in the endless stream of court entertainments that delighted the queen. Yet such sinful pleasures horrified the Puritans who drudged through joyless lives beyond the palace walls. Other queens had danced in masques without such outcry. But they had played silent roles, not spouted lines like a common actress. Queen Henrietta Maria adored delivering speeches. Her playacting offered one more opportunity for those who hated the French-born queen to maneuver her into saying something reckless that could cost her her life. England is not kind to cast-off queens. I should have remembered that when I came to court.

Now forcing my thoughts away from the things I could not change, I fixed my attention on the preparations of the troupe of players I had lived among for over three years.

Boku, our master of illusions, murmured a sonorous blend of English and his exotic native tongue, searching for accents that would give the words the most effect. The turban bound around his head looked like a red jewel against black-velvet skin.

A fellow dwarf named Robin Goodfellow retrieved filigreed balls from spaniels wearing sapphire-studded collars. He began sending the spheres flying to the limit of Simon Rattlebones’s reach, cheering our animal trainer’s exaggerated leaps, laughing when Rattlebones missed.

A ball rolled against my boot. Once I would have tossed the sphere back with a quip. Now I doubted anyone would take it once it touched my hand.

Rattlebones snatched the ball up, the cadaverous acrobat’s face angled away from me. I could see the toothsome grin stiffen until Simon was once again at a safe distance, bantering with Goodfellow.

Only one person seemed oblivious to the tension: Deborah Martin, the rope dancer our giant had rechristened Dulcinea after hearing courtiers discuss Cervantes’s
Don Quixote.
She seemed to float above our world with butterfly grace, her body swathed in gauze the hue of Valencia oranges. Her tip-tilted eyes fixed on something none of us could see.

It seemed cruel that Little Sara, the dwarf woman, had to follow in such beauty’s wake. The tambourine Sara held jangled without rhythm as she tried to straighten her headdress with fingers too thick to be nimble.

Silent amid the clamor of this family I had once laughed with, fought with, depended upon, I braced myself for the sensation of being abandoned.

A year ago, I would have been lord of these revels, the member of Her Majesty’s menagerie that every man, woman, and child in England was most eager to see. Jeffrey Hudson, Lord Minimus, the angel-faced freak who barely reached a man’s thigh. Queen Henrietta Maria’s marvelous dwarf, whose face and form rivaled that of the most exquisite cherub painted in Greenwich Palace.

Foreboding clutched me, and the urge to follow the menagerie was more than I could resist. I knew how vulnerable the queen would be during a masque, with pools of manufactured mists that could conceal an enemy, trapdoors to slip through, scaffolding behind the scenery that was easily climbed, and a host of masked players in flowing costumes that could disguise a weapon.

I started to rise, but a huge paw engulfed most of my arm, keeping me in my seat. It could only be Will, my overgrown friend. The seven-foot six-inch sergeant porter was the one person within the menagerie still willing to offer me companionship—and tempt the queen’s wrath for my sake. The bearskin that transformed him into the villain of the upcoming masque gave off a musty scent. I tried not to resent his kindness. No small struggle while knowing he was about to experience everything in this life that I loved.

His voice rumbled. “You must not give up hope, Jeffrey.” How many times in the past months had he offered just this comfort? “Her Majesty will remember all you have been to each other. She will forgive you.”

“I don’t think that likely.” I remembered the loathing contorting her features as she forbade me her company.
Your spirit is as unnatural as your form, just as the surgeons say. You are a monstrous creature unable to love or give loyalty even to those who have shown you nothing but kindness.

How many times these past years had I feared that was true?

Will pulled me from my dark thoughts. “Whatever is amiss between you and the queen will mend in time. I know you refuse to explain what happened to upset her, but I am sure you meant no offense. You’ve always been her most loyal supporter. She can’t have forgotten that you were her first true friend in the English court.”

BOOK: The Queen's Dwarf A Novel
3.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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