Book Title: The Queen’s Spy
Author: Clare Marchant
Publication Date: 8th July 2021
Page Length: 400 Pages
@Archaeolibrary, @maryanneyarde, @ClareMarchant1,
1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne.
There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…
2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.
Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?
All around him crowds of people, men, women and children pushed each other as they disembarked, standing on the quayside looking around in confusion, as if shocked they were finally back on dry land. The air was full of the smell of the sea, now so familiar to him he could taste it lodged in the back of his throat; sharp salt together with the harsh tang of the fish he was so sick of eating, mingling with the reek of sweaty unwashed bodies he barely noticed now. After two days on the boat his legs felt shaky, and although he was on dry land, he could feel himself still swaying slightly. A small boy beside him clutched a cage containing two small yellow birds flitting back and forth. He smiled and winked at the child who grinned back. Everyone seemed delighted to have arrived, even though thankfully it had been a smooth and easy crossing. Above him huge white cliffs soared away to a pale, cold unwelcoming sky. Tom questioned his belief that this journey would help him finally find everything he’d been searching for.
A large hand slapped him on his back, and turning he was pleased to see his shipmate William. They’d become friends on the crossing when both men realised they were carrying similar luggage containing plants and bulbs. Despite Tom having been both deaf and mute since birth, the two men managed to communicate with rudimentary hand signals combined with Tom’s lip reading and writing some words on a wax tablet Tom had brought with him. A piece of smooth ivory overlaid with many layers of wax meant that he could scratch words in it then rub them over afterwards to use again. It was easier than forever searching for scraps of parchment. He’d needed to learn how to convey and share information from a young age, and his adoptive mother had taught him as they worked together in the stillroom where they created potions and medications from herbs and other plants. Now he understood most words and was never taken for a fool. William enjoyed the fact Tom couldn’t engage him in idle mindless chatter, and they’d sat together on the deck for hours watching the wheeling, ever-present gulls in companionable silence. He indicated to Tom to pick up his baggage and follow, and together on unsteady legs they made their way off the quay.
They’d barely walked a few yards when Tom felt a pull on his arm and turning, he was face to face with one of the port guards. The man was speaking to him and Tom watched his lips in silence hoping to catch an occasional word he understood, to guess the gist of what was being said, but he was at a loss. His English was poor despite it being his mother tongue; he hadn’t used it for many years and this, combined with the fact that the man was talking rapidly, resulted in him being very confused. The wafts of foul, sour breath together with the man’s blackened teeth made him wince and take a step back. The hand on his arm gripped tighter so it was pinching his skin. Tom had no way of hearing him although he could tell from the man’s red face and the way the drool was flying from his mouth that he wasn’t happy with the lack of response. Tom was used to it. He attempted to start his normal hand signals to indicate his deaf and mute status, but it wasn’t easy with one arm held fast.
Suddenly the man’s head whipped around behind him as over his shoulder Tom could see a fight break out beside the ship they’d just disembarked from, and then the guard was gone, running towards the affray. Tom wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to make himself scarce and hefting his sack of belongings higher onto his back he turned and hurried after William towards the road to London. His lack of hearing and speech made him more noticeable despite his desire to blend into the background and he was used to being apprehended everywhere he went. Suspicion and mistrust were the same in every language.
The sack containing his belongings was heavy and his precious triptych, a painting in three separate parts crudely hinged together to appear as one when it was opened out, dug into his shoulder with its sharp corners, but Tom didn’t mind. He was pleased to be back in England, the place where he’d been born over forty years previously. His recollections of living here were hazy now, having been taken by his adoptive mother to France when he was still a young boy, just hours before they were hounded from their home by His Majesty’s men. After his father – the only father he could remember – had been murdered by the King. Killed for no reason other than having worked alongside a secretary by the name of Francis Dereham who’d been convicted of committing adultery with Queen Catherine, the King’s fifth wife. Dereham had been executed and his innocent father had died whilst being tortured for information he didn’t have. His adoptive mother had kept their memories alive though, in her drawings, her sign language and the saffron she grew. Nevertheless, he hoped to find a home here once more, somewhere he could feel safe and accepted. People didn’t like you if you were different, and he was certainly that.
Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT, before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweller. Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins, or visiting the nearby coast.
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