The Tudor Throne Series: #6

The Last Fire-Eater

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Back Cover:

Echoes of former violence still haunt the northern counties of England.

Davina, a talented fire-eater with a tendency to find trouble, arrives in the ancient city of York on the eve of the princess’ arrival. She’s just in time to witness the rising tensions between the two feuding great houses of the North—the Archbishop of York, and Percy, Earl of Northumberland.

Hundreds of their armed men flood the streets amid the peasants come to celebrate the Tudor princess’ impending marriage to the King of Scotland, and the sparks between them threaten to catch the city ablaze in the fires of wrath and revenge. She and the king’s falconer, Lambert Simnel, get caught up in the violence that threatens to destroy a fragile peace… and it may draw someone’s attention to her that she does not want: Sir Thomas Lovell, the royal enforcer.

Davina has her own reasons to be in York, and her own secrets to hide…

Author's Notes:

Far be it from me to toot my own horn, since I hate pretentious authors (you know who you are, various and sundry Famous Writers Who Shall Not Be Named but who grit my teeth together), but this splendiferous novel came about during the Pandemic. Yes, indeed. I spent many an hour wallowing in depression and attempting to create a world into which I could escape—and get away from such things as riots, people hating each other, and high death tolls.

So I created a world in which there are riots, people hating each other, death threats, and… oh.

Well, there is also a also fire-eater, and adorably romantic and sexy romance between said fire-eater and everyone’s favorite character, Lambert Simnel. (Seriously, people adore my smol bean falconer, probably because he's so presh.) The usual tension between Sir Thomas Lovell, all-around “secretly a good guy but hopes you don’t find that out, because I have to maintain my villain reputation for street-cred” and his moralistic wife (along with their hot make-out session in the shadows of a Scottish castle -- who said arranged marriages aren't fun?), a bit about falcons, and probably the most hate-worthy jerk in my arsenal of “men who are full of themselves.” The Earl of Northumberland, also known as Percy, could put the most bloviating self-important dolt to shame, as he parades through this narrative drenched in velvet and bedecked in jewels, with a woman on his arm that would probably stick a knife in your back as soon as you turned it. And that's to say nothing of his wife.

Percy is in the midst of a feud with the peacock-loving Archbishop of York, so their men are often squabbling in the streets, much to Lovell’s General Annoyance. What happens as a result, I leave you to find out—because sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and history likes to bend when I tell it to, because I despise unhappy endings. <

Astute Tudor readers will notice specific cameos that set up Future Things in the series, but ignorant ones can just sit back and enjoy the ride—because it’s a whopper, and it includes probably my favorite, nastiest, low-down plot twist right before the end, to give you a good kick in the head.

But I promise, because I am not George RR Martin, it all turns out all right. Mostly.

Excerpt:

Davina has awaited this day since her childhood. From the gleeful faces around her, she isn’t alone. Rather than solemn mourners, delighted souls follow the funeral procession. Two massive horses draw an ornamental hearse down the street. Spit and dung spatter the back of his coffin. The driver and guards do nothing, because no one liked Magistrate Thorne.

News of his death reached her in the next county where Davina packed up her fire sticks, stuffed her precious jars into her satchel, mounted her horse, and made haste to watch his interment. A glut of people slows her progress through the streets, crowded by travelers eager to witness the princess’s historic trip to Scotland to marry its king. The princess is only fourteen. Davina pities her, married so young.

“You come upon a favorable day, Davina.”

Davina glances down to find the tavern owner beside her. Late afternoon light glints off his bald spot. Roberts has stepped out of his business to watch the unruly crowd pass. She tightens her grip on the reins. “How did the magistrate die?”

Roberts’ wrinkles his bulbous nose in contempt. “The bastard went in his sleep. His heart failed him in the night. It’s too good for him if you ask me. The old devil kept my brother in prison for six weeks after I refused to pay him a bribe. May Satan rot his soul.” Roberts crosses himself for protection against evil spirits.

Shivers run up her spine. Davina has heard many similar tales and has more reason than most to celebrate his death. The mob follows the hearse around the corner, and their jeers fall into a lull. The odor of fresh dung lingers on the streets. Much as she wants to see Thorne buried, she knows the bishop’s guards may surround the graveyard to prevent a riot. Rather than continue, she dismounts. Last night’s rain has left the cobblestones damp.

“Who will the archbishop appoint to fill the position?” she asks.

Roberts climbs the tavern steps, his scorn discernible in his tone. “One of his nephews, as usual. The bishop never lets a promotion slip through his family’s clutches. His men mentioned Sir George, though I never listen to their conversations.” He winks at her.

She loops her reins around a post. “Careful what you say about the bishop. The Blue Guards may believe you are on their side.”
Roberts scoffs. “I no more support their master than yours.”

She has seen more of them in York than usual. The Blue Guards serve Percy, Earl of Northumberland. Under a pretext of helping keep order, he has sent a thousand of them into the city. They hate the archbishop, and his own significant forces are on edge.

Davina unties her satchel and carries it into the dim tavern. She never lets it leave her sight. It contains the precious liquid she uses to create her white fire. She scans the room and chooses an empty seat near the front. Roberts vanishes into the kitchen to fetch her supper and slides meat pie, bread, and cheese in front of her upon his return. She digs into it hungrily.

A group of hooded men tramp across the threshold. Roberts waves them to a large table in the corner. From their immaculate cloaks, Davina recognizes them as the bishop’s White Hoods. She catches Roberts’ sleeve and asks, “Have you seen any trouble?”

“Yes.” Roberts swipes a rag over the knife-scarred bar to knock the crumbs into his palm. “The Blue Guards put them on edge. I had to prevent a quarrel yesterday. I don’t need troublemakers to smash up my business. Watch yourself. I suspect Percy’s men will harass anyone employed by the archbishop.”

“I’ll keep clear of them,” she assures him. “What can you tell me about the princess’s arrival? Who escorts her to Scotland?”

Roberts grabs a dozen tankards off a shelf and fills them with ale out of a barrel. “I hear many stories; I don’t know who to believe. They say the traitor Lambert Simnel tends her falcons. Surrey, who laid waste to York during the rebellion, leads her parade. Sir Thomas Lovell, the king’s enforcer, protects her. Trust him not, if you wish to keep your head firm on your shoulders. So they say.”

Lovell’s name causes her stomach to drop. “I know of him.”

“Roberts! Bring the ale!” a newcomer shouts.

“On my way, Captain Simpson!” Roberts whisks the cups onto a tray, sloshing the bar in his haste, and scurries to serve their table.

Davina savors her meat pie and checks to make sure none of her jars leaked on the trip. She shakes one, comforted by its familiar rattle, wraps it up in her costume, and secures the satchel clasp.

A group of Blue Guards ascend the steps and enter the tavern, their arrival silencing all conversation at the full tables. A tension fills the air, and the locals hurry to finish their food. Their dark-haired leader pulls his gloves off his muscular hands, appraises the room, and points to the table nearest to Captain Simpson and his friends. “Ale and meat pies all around. Make haste.”

“You can wait your turn, Captain Jonas.” Simpson leans back in his chair, but his hand does not stray far from his sword hilt.

Jonas says, “Our master outranks yours. We will get served first if the barkeep knows what’s good for him.”

The fire-eater counts her coins and leaves them stacked on the bar. She hopes to slip away before this escalates into violence.

Roberts’ focus flits between their scowls. “I can tend you both.”

“You know what the good book says,” Jonas sneers. “One man cannot serve two masters. Which one will you choose, Roberts?”

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