The Tudor Throne Series: #5

The Queen's Falconer

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Back Cover:

Lambert Simnel has never wanted to draw attention to himself. The last surviving Pretender to the throne, he has lived a quiet life since his pardon as the queen’s falconer. But the discovery of a small silver crown in his slice of cake makes him king of the revels for a night.

Fascinated by him, Princess Maggie draws him into a conspiracy to reveal a man’s true nature to her besotted friend, Nan Browne. A recent heiress due to the suspicious inheritance left to her by a potential traitor, Nan has fallen in love with the most undesirable man at court.

After a midnight mishap leaves Lambert drenched in blood, he has no choice but to do the last thing he ever imagined—join forces with the feared and hated Sir Thomas Lovell, the king’s enforcer, to solve a mystery, unearth a nest of traitors, and discover the connection between a beautiful white falcon and the tragedy that awaits them all.

Author's Notes:

Those of you who know something of Tudor history may understand, before you even start reading, why I dreaded writing this installment. As a way to distract myself from the inevitable plot twist history had in store for the Tudors, I found an unexpected piece of delight in the inclusion of Lambert Simnel.
Born an orphan, stolen away as a child, forced to become a Pretender, and then raised in Henry’s court as a spit-turner and then a falconer, history has somewhat forgotten this golden-haired boy whom the previous Duke of Suffolk tried to pass off as Edward Plantagenet. I knew the basic facts of his life, but not what a delightful soul he would become in my story. Not the beautiful friendship he would form with Princess Maggie, or the sheer joy his love of falcons would give me. Or the adventure that would unfold for him, starting with a dangerous incident amid the Twelfth Night feasts and leading to an epic confrontation in a cold northern castle.

So while this book may, I hope, bring you to tears, I also hope it gives you joy, entertains you, and introduces you to yet another unforgettable person in the Tudor court.

Excerpt:

Lambert Simnel steps out of the falconry, raises his simple brown hood, and strolls to the river. He did not expect Marquis Grey to include him in his will, but wonders what the queen’s half-brother has left him. He wants for little in the service of King Henry.

A boatman awaits him at the palace’s stone pier. He has spent most of his adult life at Richmond, when he has not traveled with the Tudors. An unfamiliar guard dressed in scarlet and black halts him. “Who are you? Where is your permission slip?”

“Lambert Simnel.” The falconer shows him the summons signed by Lord Dudley, the king’s secretary. “I can leave for an hour.”

The man scans it and stands aside. “See you do not dawdle.”

Careful not to slip on the steep steps, Lambert climbs into the craft. It rocks under his feet. An unlit lantern swings on its prow. The oarsman rows him past the banks of Southwark. Once, illegal activity flourished in the area. Now, rows of empty shacks sprawl underneath a massive cathedral. A few brave souls still live there, but most fled when the enforcer burned it to the ground.

They pass beneath London Bridge and float toward a section of vast houses. This is where the merchants and the nobles fallen out of the king’s favor reside. The marquis occupied the largest estate. The boatman leaves him on the private dock and agrees to wait.

A stern-faced servant meets Lambert at the back door. Curious, the gray-clad man glances over the falconer. His gaze lingers on an ugly scar across Lambert’s left cheek. “Lambert Simnel?”

Lambert ignores his disapproval. “Yes.”

“Come with me.” The servant leads him through a dark corridor and up a stairwell to a vast room heated by a walk-in hearth. Its roaring fire warms him even at a distance. Three men await him at a table, one of them the royal enforcer, Sir Thomas Lovell. Cowed by his presence, Lambert hovers on the threshold.

The twenty-five-year-old can smell the recent death that hangs over the enormous house. A silence stretches into its halls. It feels empty, though Marquis Grey had seven children. His likeness hangs over the mantel. His shrewd eyes bore into his guests. Born into the nobility, Thomas Grey leaves behind a considerable estate.

The will’s executor, Lord Dudley, glances at a list of names and clears his throat. “Come forward, Lambert Simnel.”

His footfalls echo on the immaculate stone floor. To his relief, Lovell does not stare at him. He gazes out the window across the Thames. Sunlight glints on the gray in his dark hair. Dressed in his expensive black broadcloth, he reminds Lambert of a bird of prey.

Lambert turns to the secretary seated behind the table. Several inches shorter than the enforcer and less fearsome, Dudley has a round face. A wave of his hand brings a servant to sit a chest in front of them. Dudley holds out a key. “He left this for you. Please open it in our presence, so we can account for its contents.”

Lambert fits a key into the lock. Its click echoes in the stillness. His heart thumps. He lifts the lid and stares into its depths.

In a bored tone, Dudley says, “Show and tell us for the record.”

The enforcer looks at him. Lambert has never liked his hawkish gaze. He swallows his apprehension and finds his voice. “A cloak of gray russet fabric, a pair of protective sleeves, and a ruby ring.” It’s small but will fetch a good price, if he ever needs to sell it.

Dudley notes this in his book. “He also left you the trunk.”

Too self-conscious to examine it, Lambert pockets the key.

Dudley pushes a paper across the desk. “Sign this as the receiver. Then you may return to your duties, Master Simnel.”

Despite the tremor in his hand, he scratches out his name. The sound the nib makes on the parchment seems loud. Glad to leave, he walks into the hall, but the servant has disappeared. Unable to remember the way out through the serpentine corridors, Lambert peers at the double staircases. His arm tightens around the box.

A deep voice calls out, “The left one leads to the dock.”

The enforcer materializes out of the gloom behind him. Lambert shifts his burden to his other hip. “Thank you, Sir Thomas.”

Much to his dismay, the enforcer follows him down the stairs. A bead of sweat forms under his shirt. Lambert tries to keep his tone steady. “Do you intend to escort me to Richmond?”

“No.” Lovell opens a door into the brisk morning air. It shocks Lambert into closing his cloak. In the boat, his oarsman blows into his cupped hands for warmth. Another craft floats to their side. Lovell reaches out to help fifteen-year-old Nan Browne onto the steps. Lambert has often seen her in Princess Maggie’s company. Her chaperone, Lady Boleyn, exits behind her.

The boy climbs into his boat, grateful he did not make a fool of himself. He rests the trunk at his feet. He breathes easier on the river. Ice forms on the banks, and frost coats the slanted roofs.

After a time, the oarsman asks, “Was that Sir Thomas Lovell?”

“Yes.” Lambert shudders at his infamous name.

Murky water passes beneath them. “Is he as bad as they say?”

“That depends on who you ask.” Lambert tucks his boots under the bench. “By God’s grace, I see not much of him.”

Lovell has imprisoned and executed many traitors, and Lambert feels privileged not to stay among them. He came close to their fate. The guard stationed at Richmond gives him a stern nod. He hurries past the stables on his way to the falconry. Lambert is so intent on his destination, he does not notice the king standing by his stallion’s stall until he calls his name. “Come here, Simnel.”

The boy’s heart sinks at his recognition. “Yes, Sire?”

Henry fixes an intent gray stare on him. It is distant to anyone except his family. The breeze tousles his silver-dark hair. “I intend to take the queen to Hampton Court after Twelfth Night. If the weather holds, my children will want to hunt. Ready our falcons.”

Lambert looks into the face his last master hoped to supplant. It has little changed since his childhood, except in the creases around his mouth. “Yes, Your Grace. I’ll choose your swiftest hunters.”

The king pats his stallion’s side. No one except he dares stand so close to the horse. Ghost shoots the falconer a scornful look. Remorse crosses the king’s face. “I lack the time to ride today.”

“Your Grace has much to anticipate this evening. We all wonder what Baron Willoughby planned for the misrule.” Lambert knows he should not respond, but Henry has never proven unkind. Other than the scar. Though tempted to touch it, he keeps his hand low.

“I hope the baron does not run to excess in his plans.” Henry Tudor strides across the gray slush to enter the palace.

Lambert enters his bedroom beside the falconry. A fire keeps it warm. He enjoys living close to his beloved birds. The rustle of their feathers brings joy to his heart. He turned spits in the kitchen until the king saw his interest in falcons. His responsibility is to make the straps, hoods, and anklets for the birds, and gauntlets for the royal family. A half-finished glove lies on his table.

The falconer puts away his gifts. He wonders why the marquis rewarded him. He tended his birds on hunts, but they never spoke.

Lambert picks up a bucket and enters the meat house. He cuts venison into small chunks for his charges. All know and greet him on his return. Lovell’s large brown falcon tries to peck at his hand. “You remind me of your master,” he says.

The rest show better manners. He strokes their feathered chests and goes to the courtyard to rinse the bucket in the trough.

“Move the king’s stallion to another stall,” the stable master tells his grooms. Lambert looks up at his voice and watches him cross the yard beside them. “Lord Greene arrives tomorrow. The king told me in no uncertain terms to keep Ghost off Greene’s mare. I want no accidents. That stallion is worth a fortune.”

Inconvenienced by this change of plans, the reluctant grooms clean another stall. No one looks forward to handling Ghost. The king is the only man, apart from his personal groom, who can ride the white beast without being kicked. On his way to fetch fresh straw, young Eldon catches Lambert’s eye. “Isn’t that just like the court? Not even the horses can breed without royal consent.”

Lambert laughs and dumps out the clean bucket. “Is it what you would change as the misrule king? Who we can take to bed?”

“Do not tempt me, Simnel. I hope I find the crown in my slice of cake. I want to rule the English court for the night.” Eldon pushes a full wheelbarrow into the empty stall.

The falconer can imagine nothing worse. On the way back to his room, he traces the scar on his cheek. Though Lambert no longer resembles the queen’s cousin, Edward Plantagenet, he did as a lad. The Duke of Suffolk’s brother chose him to become a Pretender in order to seize the throne. The day they invaded, battle tents and banners rippled in the wind. The rebels kept him on horseback to lead Suffolk’s troops. A spear killed the duke within the hour. His supporters abandoned him.

It’s better to live a falconer than die a king.

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