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Authors: Laura Andersen

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BOOK: The Virgin's War
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“And now, I suppose that whatever spins at the very center of your many wheels is aimed at protecting as many of your subjects as possible,” Minuette said decisively. “Am I to assume that you wish Dominic and me to participate in some of that wheel-spinning?”

“Are you amenable to my wishes?”

“War is coming, Elizabeth. We do not need you to tell us that. And as my children seem determined to be involved in so very many dangerous situations, what use is sitting at home and fretting?”

“Is that a yes?”

“A qualified yes. First, Dominic and I will hear the details of what you wish from our service. But unless it involves us assassinating political figures…we will serve our queen.”

The relief this time was not a breeze, but a deluge of icy joy that left Elizabeth shaken. “Thank you. Let us not waste time—summon Dominic and we'll begin.”

I
n late April the Princess of Wales and her private household traveled the forty-five miles from Middleham Castle to York. Anabel enjoyed every moment of the processional from the medieval walls through the beautiful town as the population cheered her arrival. Their destination was the Treasurer's House, once belonging to York Minster; now passed, since her grandfather's death, into private hands. Only steps from the gorgeous church for which York was famed, the house made an ideal base to begin her consolidation of the power of the North.

Much of Anabel's household and court would be quartered elsewhere in the city. Matthew Harrington had been inordinately busy in the preceding weeks making the physical arrangements. It was Anabel's task now to charm those citizens disobliged by her presence so that they considered only the honour of it, and not the cost.

Thanks to Maisie Sinclair's flair for business, Anabel's household was solvent and she could afford to pay for much of what they required. That alone helped ease their welcome, as did the reputation she had begun to acquire for a willingness to listen to the discontented Catholic recusants. There were surely many watching her arrive who, for the first time in years, had hope for their own futures.

The first days passed in a procession of banquets and official visits from the guilds of York and the chief officers of the town. These were occasions Anabel could handle with ease, while allowing a tiny part of her mind to fret about the silence that had fallen from France. It had been two months since she'd heard from Kit, and Pippa'd had nothing from either of her brothers. As she suspected her own mother had always done, Anabel covered her worry with work.

One week after arriving in York, Anabel received Tomás Navarro in the wide reception room of the Treasurer's House she used for official engagements. In the last year, she had forsaken using the royal coat of arms, with its white bordure denoting her as heir to England's throne; today the canopy of estate stretched above her seat bore three white feathers rising through a golden crown. This emblem of the Prince of Wales included an azure ribbon with the motto
Ich Dien.
I serve.

Reminded of that fact, Anabel cloaked herself in the Spanish hauteur inherited from her father and accepted the credentials the Jesuit priest offered. The credentials themselves were problematic, implying as they did that Spain considered Navarro an official envoy. Difficult, to say the least, considering that there was already an ambassador to England at the queen's court. Tomás Navarro did not look as though he were the slightest bit worried about causing difficulties. In his midthirties, the priest was slender and ascetic in his black robes, his clean-shaven face a picture of arrogant certainty. A man willing—and perhaps eager—to cause trouble.

Anabel did not falter. “You are most welcome, Father Navarro,” she said in her flawless Spanish. She handed the written credentials to Madalena, who stood to one side of her throne with Pippa. “I trust your journey was not too troublesome.”

The priest answered in Spanish, though no doubt he spoke acceptable English. He would want to highlight Anabel's attachment to Spain, weighted as it always must be with powerful undertones. “It was no trouble, Your Highness, though any trouble would be worthwhile to be in your royal presence. Your father wishes only that the two of you could meet once more in person.”

She smiled politely. “That is a worthy wish for any father—or daughter, for that matter. I trust you will be a fond advocate for him, and for me as well.”

“I trust so, Your Highness.”

“There will be entertainment, of course, but also work. If you care to join us tomorrow, we are meeting with the Lord Mayor and the city's guild leadership. Your counsel would be welcome.”

“It is to counsel that I have come.”

As if everyone here didn't already know that.
What did Navarro think, that the people of England were stupid? Everyone knew that Navarro's presence at her court was a direct slap at the queen. It was up to her to use both his presence and the public's expectations to her own advantage.

Anabel drew a deep breath of released tension once Navarro was gone and she could retreat with her nearest advisors. In the closest thing to a privy chamber that the Treasurer's House could provide, she smiled wryly at Madalena, Pippa, Robert Cecil, and Matthew. Beneath her tightly laced pale blue bodice, she felt the flutters of her stomach absorbing the nerves she would not show.

“So it begins,” she pronounced. “There's no drawing back now. From this day, the division between the queen's court and my own begins to widen.”

“And next?” Pippa prompted. Her face had grown thinner over the last months, so that her jewel-green eyes looked very wide. That did not make it easier to interpret the expressions of said eyes.

“The Council of the North, attended by more Catholic nobles than have been gathered in one place for more than twenty years.”

It was not the answer Pippa was waiting for. She eyed Anabel narrowly, until the princess sighed. “And yes, I shall write to James Stuart and suggest a meeting between us at the border this autumn.”

“You needn't sound so mordant about it.”

“And you needn't be so quick to remind me of my duty, particularly when your own emotional life is hardly a sterling example of success, Pippa!” Even as the words left her mouth, Anabel wished to recall them.

It would take far more than that to send Matthew Harrington fleeing, but he did flinch involuntarily, and Robert Cecil looked as though he longed to be anywhere else.

“I apologize,” Anabel said winningly—to Matthew, not Pippa. “This is a conversation I believe Lady Philippa and I should continue privately.”

She did not miss the long look Matthew directed at Pippa before he left. Pippa stared straight ahead, but Anabel could trace the slightest flush of her friend's throat.

“This is absurd!” Anabel exclaimed when the room had emptied. “If the two of you cannot come to an accommodation, I shall have to let one of you go. I can hardly concentrate on my responsibilities with you and Matthew actively ignoring each other.”

“I thought we were discussing
your
emotional life, Your Highness.”

“With James of Scotland? Emotion does not enter into it, only policy. You need have no fear that I will forget my responsibilities. And I suspect you are only focusing on my personal matters in order to avoid your own.”

“If you wish me to leave, I shall of course oblige my princess.”

“Pippa, stop being an idiot!”

They glared at one another, and for a moment Anabel had great sympathy for her mother. How many times had the queen come to these sorts of impasses with Minuette Courtenay? And which of them bent in the end in order to continue their friendship? The two women had not seen each other since Stephen's banishment more than two years ago. Was she really going to banish Pippa away in a similar fit of fury?

Finally, reluctantly, Anabel let her temper slip away. “I wish I knew what you were afraid of, Pippa. If you will not share, I cannot help you.”

“No one can help.”

Anabel never knew what might have followed this bleak statement, for at that moment there was an unusually aggressive knock at the door.

“Come!” she called irritably.

She had not expected to see Matthew again so quickly. His grim face was lighter than she'd seen in some time as he announced, “Visitors from the Sinclair Company, Your Highness.”

“Did we have a meeting I'm not aware of?” she asked acidly.

“Their purpose is to deliver guests directly to your court from Edinburgh.”

Despite herself, Anabel's heartbeat spiked. There was no chance that James Stuart himself had impulsively crossed the border, was there? What a mess that would be…

Then Matthew stepped aside to allow the small party behind him to enter. An older man who must be from the Sinclair board; a boy just entering his youth, tall and awkward; and then a man with hazel eyes and hair like sun-warmed honey, a laugh to rouse the dead, and sweetness to charm the birds from the trees.

She should be restrained. She should be formal. She should be the princess she had been raised to be. But Anabel was already across the room and in Kit's arms before any of that sensible advice penetrated.

“You're home,” she said, happier than she had been in many long months.

“I'm home,” he agreed.

30 April 1585

York

Your Most Gracious Majesty,

I have been formally received at your royal daughter's court in York. She is all that I would expect your child to be—intelligent, discreet, and farsighted. I am cautiously hopeful that she will indeed be amenable to our dearest hopes. A princess of such gifts and ambition will always look to wield her power.

Unexpectedly, one of our assets has presented himself at the perfect time. Lord Christopher Courtenay arrived unannounced in York the very day of my reception. The entire city is awash in rumours of their mutual attraction. Rumours Her Highness has done little to squash. Not, of course, that she behaves in other than the most proper of ways. But the young lord is without doubt one of the strongest wedges into her life.

I have heard only the barest details of how Courtenay came to be so suddenly returned to England, with the boy Felix LeClerc in his company. It appears the French general, Vicomte Renaud LeClerc, is dead, in a violent manner unspecified, and both Courtenay sons fled France under threat of their lives. The only other detail that I have heard whispered is that there was a symbol connected to these attacks—a nightingale.

I offer this to Your Majesty's wisdom to decipher and follow as seems best. Faithfully your servant in God,

Tomás Navarro

Philip, by the grace of God King of Spain and the Netherlands, ruler of an empire on which the sun never set, finished Navarro's letter and, in a rare display of temper, ripped it to pieces before throwing the remains into the fire. All of the good news passed on from his daughter's court had been eclipsed by that single sentence about nightingales.

But because he was a man whose passions were always ruled by his will, he refrained from immediately confronting his wife. It was not difficult, for Philip by nature preferred to take his time. Here at El Escorial, his own purpose-built retreat, he had designed a private suite next to the monastery church. Small and plain and difficult for others to penetrate, the study and alcove bedchamber were Philip's preferred environment. He would work for hours alone at his desk, listening to the chanting of the Hours from the monks.

Since his divorce from Elizabeth, that work had centered increasingly on the Enterprise of England. His advisors had been counseling a military solution to England's heresy for twenty years—in the last four, Philip had begun to listen. It was hardly as simple as some wished to make it. When asked for a realistic estimate of what the Spanish fleet would require to defeat the English navy, Admiral de Bazan had provided a list that detailed five hundred ships and would cost nearly four million ducats.

As neither demand could possibly be met, Philip had asked the army in turn for their assessment. The Duke of Parma, leading the Spanish forces against the rebels in the Netherlands, claimed he could ferry an army of 35,000 across the Channel in one night. He did not provide an answer as to how the English were to be kept ignorant about such an army assembling near Dunkirk, nor how the barges could avoid the formidable English navy that would bar their way. Philip read the overoptimistic report, and in his habitual manner of commenting on what he read, wrote in the margins of Parma's letter,
Hardly possible!

It was nearly a week after Navarro's letter before Philip traveled to the Alcazar of Segovia to, ostensibly, visit his sons and, actually, to confront his queen. Mary did not always keep residence with their young twins, but it was certainly politic of her to be with them now. Perhaps she had sensed Philip's simmering anger from afar. In any case, she took care that the two of them met in the royal nursery.

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