The Tudor Throne Series, Book 3: The King's Players

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One year ago, Suffolk gave King Henry the slip.

His mistress also disappeared.

No one has since seen her, not even her best friend, Edda. The talented seamstress works for Lady Keelyn, wife of Sir William, Suffolk’s younger brother. As she sews delicate loops into an expensive new gown for her mistress, she frets at what the future may hold.

For the king is on his way to Suffolk Hall. He has not said why, but she suspects it’s to arrest Sir William. The rest of the town share her fear, including her father, the local woodcarver. Sir William hopes his exquisite throne may soften the king’s heart, but they know nothing can alter the intentions of his ruthless enforcer, Sir Thomas Lovell.

Many want to seek their fortunes at court. News of the king’s coming brings a theatrical troupe desperate to find a patron. The playwright, Tristan, has misgivings… but knows if they cannot secure a position before winter, they may starve.

The king’s arrival sparks of a series of events, from a shipwreck to an assassination attempt, and a mysterious figure in the cemetery. They are all about to discover Suffolk Hall is more than it first appears...

Author's Notes:

TIn this third installment of my Tudor Throne series, King Henry is on the hunt for traitors and sniffing about Sir William de la Pole, brother of the infamous Duke of Suffolk. William's wife, Lady Keelyn, is fretting about what that means for their future. Her beloved maid, Edda, finds a spark of romance with a traveling writer in a theatrical troupe. And there's a stallion the grooms think may be possessed by the devil, and a lovable dog named Lancelot along for the ride.

This was one of those books that sort of invented itself, but in the process, introduced me to some of my favorite characters. Lovell is back, for those who love my black-clad enforcer, but... Edda, her lovely father Allard the woodcarver, the theatrical troupe, and even the crabby lord chamberlain kinda wormed their way into my heart. I hope they find their way into yours..

Excerpt:

King Henry reaches the monastery at nightfall.

Lush green ivy climbs its formidable walls. A dim lantern shines outside the moss-covered gatehouse. He halts his stallion a dozen paces from the entrance. Jones, his bodyguard, dismounts to jerk the bell. It jangles in the stillness. His eleven-year-old son sits astride a white pony. They have traveled twenty miles since dawn. The lad does not complain, but exhaustion slumps his shoulders.

A barefoot novice peers out at them. “Who is it?”

“His Grace, King Henry of England.”

Gaping at them, the boy hurries to unlock the gates. The iron hinges creak under their weight. They pass him into a shaded lane framed by fruit trees. A round stone brewery looms to the right, a church visible in the inner yard.

Henry swings to the ground to greet the priest, a tall, stout, serious-looking man. His cassock ripples over the wet cobbles. He bows in the weak torchlight. A modest smile flashes across his wide jaw. “Welcome, Sire. I am Abbot Rudolph.” He motions to the cloisters. “I have prepared the royal chambers.”

Statues of saints decorate the arches in the monastery’s halls. Tallow candles cast eerie shadows over their carved hoods. The tang of fermenting grapes drifts in the breeze. The abbey has no relic to draw visitors or patrons, so its brewery earns its revenue. Henry removes his deerskin gloves and tucks them in his belt. Jones follows him up a stairwell into a large antechamber. Plum-colored pillows cover the chairs. Oak furniture clusters at the empty hearth. Meat, wine and fruit overflow silver platters. The king’s greyhound sniffs the bearskin rug. Rudolph beams at his pleased expression. “Do you need anything, Sire?”

“No.” The king peers into a bedchamber dominated by a four-poster bed. A fresh basin of rosewater sits on the sideboard.

The abbot bows and shuts the door in his retreat. A sharp word scatters the onlookers in the hall. Their footfalls fade into the yard. Prince Harry kicks off his shoes, washes his hands, and drags a chair to the table. “I could eat a bear.”

His father peers out the low window into an orchard shrouded in darkness. Henry cannot see the stables, but hears Ghost, his stallion, give a loud whinny. The king has owned him a month, not long enough to tame him. “When will Sir Thomas arrive?”

Jones says, “I expect him within the hour, Your Grace.”

The prince tosses the bodyguard an apple. “Sit and eat with us. I want to hear more about your adventures guarding the Tower.”

“Thank you, Sire, but I must dine alongside my men. We must discuss arrangements for your safe travel tomorrow. I’ll be across the hall if you need me.” Jones bows and retreats into the corridor.

The boy feeds the dog under the table. The king inherited him after his eldest son, Arthur, died. “You should name him, Father.”

Henry eases his weary bones onto a crimson cushion. Twenty-mile days never troubled him in his youth. He finds it harder since his bout of consumption. The more severe symptoms faded but left him tired. “Arthur never gave him one?”

The candlelight deepens the prince’s hair into auburn. “No.”

A solemn mood enters the room. His dead son never told them many things. “We could call him Lancelot,” the king offers.

The child lifts the dog’s head to admire the long, pointed snout. His round, boyish cheeks break into a broad grin. “I like it.”

Henry eats in silence. His son chatters about how the peasants gathered by the road to shout “God save the Tudors!” The king feared Arthur’s loss might cause widespread dissent, but finds his subjects eager to support the younger brother. Absorbed in deep thought, Henry does not notice the prolonged pause.

The prince slips from his seat to touch his father’s sleeve. Henry stirs and looks deep into the earnest blue eyes. “Father,” the boy says, “what if Sir William is a traitor?”

“I will drag him to London and lock him in the Tower.” Henry pushes away his half-empty plate. He has lost his appetite. They approach a potential nest of rebellion. William’s brother, the Duke of Suffolk, wants to raise an army to seize the English throne. He has a claim through blood. Suffolk seeks allies in the Netherlands. Henry cannot afford to take chances with his family. He wonders how many more men must die before Suffolk yields.

Lancelot nuzzles the prince for attention. The child fondles his ears. His tone turns thoughtful. “If William were a traitor, would he not have fled beside Suffolk? Why stay and risk arrest?”

Henry does not want to discuss it. “Word may not have reached him in time, or he might have stayed to recruit local support. We can talk about it tomorrow. Go to bed. We have ridden far today.”

His son ambles across the room to his bedroom. He pauses at the threshold and turns his face into the light. “Good night.”

“Sleep well.” Henry’s smile fades once the door closes behind him. The poised confidence he wore all day eases into a dejected slouch. His chamber feels empty in his wife’s absence. Elizabeth, her sister, and Lord Courtenay travel the Welsh Marches to restore public morale. It is the first summer they have spent apart in years.

A familiar voice in the stairwell interrupts his brooding. His enforcer strides into the room and scrapes the mud off his boots. The tall, slender Sir Thomas Lovell has a thousand-yard stare and a fearsome presence. He removes his cloak and flings it on a chair. His soft leather gloves soon follow. Lovell spent the last month arresting Welsh traitors. “Good evening, Sire.”

“Thomas. How is the low country?”

The enforcer washes his hands at the sideboard. “I left it better than when I arrived. The Welsh will trouble you no more.”

Henry feeds Lancelot his pheasant, his humor improved. He trusts no one more than his oldest friend.

Lovell loads his plate, joins him at the table, and reaches for the salt bowl. “Now, we can turn our attention to Sir William.”

“Do you have any proof he writes to his brother?”

The rich meat falls off the bones beneath his fingers. “None, but I recommend you not leave him in control of his estate.”

Henry pours him a cup of wine. “Do you believe him innocent?”

“No.” Lovell tears off a hunk of bread and soaks it in gravy. “He stayed for a reason. Give me enough time and I’ll prove his guilt.”

Years of experience have taught Henry to trust his enforcer’s instincts. He rubs his cheek and ponders what awaits them. Lovell tosses a scrap at the dog. Lancelot snaps it up and looks to him for more. He scratches behind the hound’s ears.

“Sir William does not expect us for two days,” Henry says. “Men let down their guard in their homes. What if you arrive early?”

They share a conspiratorial glance. “I’ll leave at dawn.”

After further discussion, they retire to separate chambers. The king shuts the door on the servants clearing off the table. Lancelot explores every corner of the small room and flops onto the bed. His weight sags the rope supports. Henry kneels at the altar and crosses himself. After his usual prayers, he adds, “Forgive me what I must do to protect my children.”

He executed two men to secure their throne. He hopes there will be no more.

A draft flutters the curtains at the mullioned windows. He slips between the clean cotton sheets, plumps the pillows, and puts out the light. Lancelot heaves a happy sigh and rests his nose on the king’s chest. Henry rubs the hound’s ear between his forefinger and thumb. “You are a less pleasant bedfellow than my wife.”

In his dreams, he sees Elizabeth’s fair hair and teasing smile. He follows her up a corridor, never able to catch her before she darts away. Her golden skirts flutter in her wake. Elizabeth turns the corner into the courtyard, and Henry steps out into the snow.

He finds no trace of her.

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