Blog tour: The Queen’s Almoner.
The Queen’s Almoner by Tonya Ulynn Brown
Sometimes loyalty to the queen comes at a cost.
Thomas Broune is a Reformer and childhood friend of the young queen, Mary Stuart. When Mary embarks on a new life in her estranged homeland of Scotland, Thomas is there to greet her and offer his renewed friendship. But the long-time friends grow closer, and Thomas realizes his innocent friendship has grown into something more. Yet he is a man of the cloth. Mary is the queen of the Scots. Both of them have obligations of an overwhelming magnitude: he to his conscience and she to her throne.
When he must choose between loyalty to his queen or his quiet life away from her court, he finds that the choice comes at a high price. Driven by a sense of obligation to protect those he loves, and crippled by his inability to do so, Thomas must come to terms with the choices he has made and find a peace that will finally lay his failures to rest.
In the meadows, the first to make its appearance were the stubborn colt’s foot, their bright yellow heads popping up as if they were baby birds awaiting a morsel of food from their mother’s mouth. Lowly in birth and a tell-tale sign of neglect, they lie beneath the more regal and useful buds that tower above them, the golden cowslip. Two shades of yellow clashed in the open fields with a victorious spot of crimson splashed here and there for dramatic effect—an after-thought of the Great Creator, no doubt.
“Here!” Mary Beaton exclaimed. The grassy knoll amongst the scattering of trees would suit a picnic perfectly, and everyone quickly agreed.
While the men secured the horses, the Marys began unpacking the basket that had been stuffed with food items. “First, we eat,” one of them said, while the others laughed.
Even the queen chimed in, “Anything else will have to wait until our stomachs are satisfied.”
Meat pies and oat cakes, rolls stuffed with honey, cheeses of different varieties, figs, raisins, and mulled wine were all swiftly unpacked and eaten before the horsefly could even catch a scent. Although we ate as if our bellies had been denied food for a fortnight, nothing thereafter was done in haste. The party laid about, drinking in the warm scents of scurvy grass and lilac as the April breeze brushed softly across our faces.
After lunch Mary Fleming and Maitland wandered off in pursuit of wild garlic. Maitland dabbled in botany and had enlisted Mary’s assistance in locating a few herbs that were beginning to bud in the fresh, new grass of the meadow. Rizzio sat, leaning against a tree, strumming his lute and softly singing songs of courtly love. Thomas Randolph, the English ambassador, entertained Mary Beaton with a story from the courts of Queen Elizabeth. Randolph, who had been invited out of courtesy, fancied himself in love with the buxom Mary Beaton.
The sunshine was delightful and the warm breeze brought a comfort that was much needed. Mary had not spoken much since returning to Holyroodhouse. Knox’s sermons since the Chastelard incident had been relentless against Mary, attacking her for her lustful actions, accusing her of luring Chastelard into her bedchamber and damning her court for lascivious and wonton behavior. The mass was mocked and condemned, and everyday new reports surfaced of another lord who had renounced the queen and her devilish religion.
For this reason, there were many topics of conversation that were off limits. However, Randolph, who was the outsider in our little party, tried to pick the least controversial to make conversation.
“Did I hear correctly that the Earl of Bothwell has been imprisoned?” he asked innocently.
“Aye, you heard right,” I said, not expounding on the topic. The less said about that man, the better.
He turned from me and placed his attention on Mary. “Remind me again why he was imprisoned. Wasn’t he a faithful supporter of your mother, Your Majesty?”
“Yes. Bothwell is voraciously loyal to Scotland, but he is dangerous. He’s a troublemaker and the proverbial fly in the ointment. If we are not careful, he will interfere with our plans.” Mary wouldn’t say any more to Randolph about what plans she was referring to, but I knew her to be speaking of her plans to unite Scotland and England under one throne one day.
Mary Beaton then threw a handful of flower petals onto Randolph’s head, distracting him from any further conversation.
The queen arose from her seat near Rizzio and came and sat down next to me. As if reading my mind, she spoke softly.
“Bothwell needs to stay out of the way for the time being. James, is quite angry with him for his interference and thievery last year of a goodly sum of money confiscated from England and intended for the Lords of the Congregation.”
“But Bothwell did that in your mother’s name.”
“Yes, all while lining his own pockets.” She pulled a daisy up from the root and began plucking the petals off one by one.
“You fault him for that?” I asked, barely believing the sound of his defense in my voice.
“Not entirely. But he does do things in a rather brandish way, don’t you think?”
“Aye. And what of Arran’s accusation that Bothwell tried to convince him to kidnap and force a marriage upon you?”
“Pffft.” She waved her hand as if to dismiss the ridiculous accusation. “Arran changed his story so many times that by the end he had Bothwell scheming to take me for himself. There was no evidence. But still, Bothwell had other damning allegations against him.”
“So, what do you intend to do with him?” I watched as the petals fluttered lightly in the wind then fell abruptly to the earth to find a final resting place.
“Let him sit, for the time being. Humble him a bit, maybe. He takes matters into his own hands entirely too much. I don’t want him ruining things for me, nor making decisions for me that affect my livelihood. He’s too deleterious.” She tossed the remaining portion of the flower into the wind then plucked another to start the process all over again.
“And how are things proceeding with your fair cousin? Have ye any news of late?” I shooed away a fat bumble bee that chose to hover just a little too close to Mary’s feet. The question caused a slight flush of excitement to brighten Mary’s cheeks.
“I have had a letter from my dear sister just this week. We are negotiating the possibility of a meeting betwixt us.”
“And what is the likelihood of such a meeting taking place?”
A shadow darkened her otherwise fair brow and a look of consternation overtook her. She threw the daisy down that she had been dismembering. “Elizabeth’s closest advisor, William Cecil, does not fancy me, so I’ve been told. My sources have revealed that for every persuasive word I pen to my dearest cousin, Cecil is right there waiting to blot it out with his unfounded accusations against me.”
The breeze picked up a strand of Mary’s hair and laid it gently over her face. She quickly moved a long, slender hand to brush it aside. Usually, her hair was twisted and tied in knots and curls and carefully tucked away under her attifet. But on days such as today, when the formalities of court could be laid aside, Mary often preferred to loosen her hair and wear it in a simple sweep, away from her face and cascading down her back. I observed how much younger she looked when she wore her hair down, and today as the warm sun highlighted the bronze and copper flecks in her hair, she took my breath away.
I was still meditating on how her auburn hair hugged the soft curve of her neck, when suddenly I was startled back to reality by Mary’s giggling.
“Thomas, you haven’t heard a word I’ve said!” She spoke sharply but her upper lip pressed firmly into her bottom lip, forcing the sides of her mouth to curl into a sly smile.
“Thomas, you better come sit in the shade, your face is flushed,” admonished Mary Fleming who had just arrived back from herb-gathering and had heard Mary scolding me.
“Not to mention you’ll catch a biting midge or two with your mouth gaping open like that,” Maitland teased.
I forced my mouth shut, not realizing I had been staring, as they all laughed heartily at my expense. Mary placed the palm of her hand on my face as if she were to wipe my tears. She brushed her thumb gently back and forth across my cheek as she laughed.
“No need to be embarrassed, Thomas. I’m not your schoolmaster. You’re not obliged to listen to me ramble.”
I hung my head in mock shame but couldn’t hide my own amusement. I smiled, but on the inside the warmth of her hand sent a wave of fire that spread from my cheek and surged throughout my body reaching into every cavity and making every extremity raw with the ache for her. Mary leaned into me and whispered, “Thomas, will you walk with me?” I nodded and gulped hard, trying to swallow the heart I felt lodged in my throat. I was afraid to speak for fear that my words might resound with the force I still felt racing through me.
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Tonya Ulynn Brown
Tonya Ulynn Brown was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, USA, but now calls southeastern Ohio home. She spent her younger years right out of college, living in Europe and teaching English as a second language. She attributes her time in Eastern Europe as being one of great personal growth, where her love for history, the classics, and all things European was born. Tonya holds a Master’s degree in Teaching and is now an elementary school teacher where she uses her love of history and reading to try to inspire younger generations to learn, explore and grow. Along with all the historical characters that she entertains in her head, she lives with her husband, two sons and a very naughty Springer Spaniel. Her mother has also joined their home, making for a cozy and complete little family.
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