The Queen's Christmas SummonsBy: Amanda McCabe
“Royal courts are glittering places. But there can be many dangers there.”
The words of Juan, the shipwrecked Spanish sailor Lady Alys Drury nursed back to health, echo in her mind as she puts on another courtly smile.
Then Alys locks eyes with a handsome man amid the splendor of Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas court—Juan is posing as courtier John Huntley! Alys is hurt at Juan’s deception until she learns he’s an undercover spy for the crown... Amid the murky machinations of the court, can true love still conquer all?
Alys started to put on her courtly smile, prepared to meet another of Ellen’s peacock friends—and her smile froze before it could form.
It had not been an illusion, a fleeting trick of her tired mind. It was him, Juan. Right there before her, when she had been so sure she would never see him again, could never see him again. She shivered and fell back a step, suddenly feeling so very cold.
He did not quite look like her Juan, bearded and ragged from the sea. He was just as tall, but his shoulders were broader, and he wore no beard to hide the elegant angles of his sculpted face, his high cheekbones and sharp jawline, his sensual lips. He wore courtly clothes of purple velvet trimmed with silver, a high, narrow ruff at his throat. But his eyes—those brilliant summer-green eyes she had once so cherished—widened when his glance fell on her.
‘You must stay right here, Alys, and not move. Do you understand?’
Lady Alys Drury stared up at her father. Usually, around her, he was always smiling, always gentle, but today he looked most stern. In fact, she did not understand. In all her eight years, her father had never seemed so grave. The man who was always laughing and boisterous, ready to sweep her up in his arms and twirl her around, could not be seen. Ever since they journeyed here, to this strange place, a royal palace, her parents had been silent.
After long days on a boat and more hours on bumpy horseback, riding pillion with her mother, they had arrived here. Alys wasn’t sure what was happening, but she knew she did not like this place, with its soaring towers and many windows, which seemed to conceal hundreds of eyes looking down at her.
‘Yes, Papa, I understand,’ she answered. ‘Will we be able to go home soon?’
He gave her a strained smile. ‘God willing, my little butterfly.’ He quickly kissed her brow and turned to hurry away up a flight of stone steps. He vanished through a doorway, guarded by men in green velvet embroidered with sparkling gold and bearing swords. Alys was left alone in the sunny, strange garden.
She turned in a slow circle, taking in her fantastical surroundings. It was like something in the fairy stories her nursemaid liked to tell, with tall hedge walls surrounding secret outdoor chambers and strictly square beds of flowers and herbs.
And the garden was not the only strange thing about the day. Alys’s new gown, a stiff creation of tawny-and-black satin, rustled around her every time she moved and the halo-shaped headdress on her long, dark hair pinched.
She kicked at the gravelled pathway with her new black-leather shoe. She wished so much she was at home, where she could run free, and where her parents did not speak in angry whispers and worried murmurs.
She tipped back her head to watch as a flock of birds soared into the cloudy sky. It was a warm day, if overcast and grey, and if she was at home she could climb trees or run along the cliffs. How she missed all that.
A burst of laughter caught her attention and she whirled around to see a group of boys a bit older than herself running across a meadow just beyond the formal knot garden. They wore just shirts and breeches, and kicked a large brown-leather ball between them.
Alys longed to move closer, to see what game they played. It didn’t look like any she had seen before. She glanced back at the doorway where her father vanished, but he hadn’t returned. Surely she could be gone for just a moment?
She lifted the hem of her skirt and crept nearer to the game, watching as the boys kicked it between themselves. As an only child, with no brothers to play with, the games of other children fascinated her.
One of the boys was taller than the others, with overly long dark hair flopping across his brow as he ran. He moved more easily, more gracefully than the boys around him. Alys was so fascinated by him that she didn’t see the ball flying towards her. It hit her hard on the brow, knocking her new headdress askew and pushing her back. For an instant, there was only cold shock, then a rush of pain. Tears sprang to her eyes as she pressed her hand to her throbbing head.
‘Watch where you’re going, then!’ one of the boys shouted. He was a thin child, freckled, not at all like the tall one, and he pushed her as he snatched back the ball. ‘Stupid girls, they have no place here. Go back to your needlework!’