Songbird: The Coffee Pot Book Club Blog Tour.
She has the voice of an angel…
But one false note could send her back to her old life of poverty.
After her father sells her to Henry VIII, ten-year-old Bess builds a new life as a royal minstrel, and earns the nickname “the king’s songbird.”
She comes of age in the dangerous Tudor court, where the stakes are always high, and where politics, heartbreak, and disease threaten everyone from the king to the lowliest musician.
Her world has only one constant: Tom, her first and dearest friend. But when Bess intrigues with Anne Boleyn and strains against the restrictions of life at court, will she discover that the biggest risk of all is listening to her own stubborn heart?
Setup: 1523. Bess is fourteen, and has begun to pay attention to the lives of those around her. A case of mistaken identity brings her before Anne Boleyn, who has a request. Craving excitement, Bess agrees to play a part in Anne’s scheme, not thinking about the risks in meddling in the lives of her betters.
No mention was made in the Music of my new airs and graces until, one afternoon at Richmond, Tom made bold to ask, “When did you decide to become Anne Boleyn?”
I sighed. A hint of a breeze rustled the canopy of deep green leaves above our heads, showing patches of a perfect pale blue sky. I did not want to quarrel over something as silly as the wearing of a ribbon, but his words, and the glance accompanying them, nettled me. Though I was loath to gossip, I did not want him to think badly of me. Tom was the soul of discretion: her secrets, as well as mine, were safe with him.
“To please the Lady Anne?” he said, incredulous. “Why?”
I squirmed, but there was no avoiding a response. “Because she was kind and asked my help.”
“Jesu, Bess, they are all kind within their means. Have you lost your senses?”
“I’m not a fool!” I turned my back on him and stalked a few paces across the grass. I had as a defense my wine-red skirts, worn this day for the first time. I swished them around me, hoping I looked elegant against the backdrop of the Thames.
Worn with my new gown was a set of red-laced canvas stays, a proper adult corset with bones and a carved wooden busk in front. It changed my silhouette completely, giving me a fashionably flat front while pushing what breasts I possessed right up under my chin. I might not be a lady, but I was shaped like one.
Tom’s voice trailed after me, and it sang not in praise of my gown, but in derision of my folly. “Only a fool gets involved in their intrigues. If the king is angered, you’ve risked everything, and for what?” He folded himself neatly on a rise overlooking the river, his green garments blending with the grass. “Do you believe she or Percy would help you if the king’s wrath came upon your head? Do you believe they would think of you at all?” There was an edge to his laughter.
“That won’t happen.” I did not want it to happen.
He raised himself on one elbow. “Who is trying to keep them apart?”
“The cardinal and the Lady Anne’s father.”
“We already know the Boleyn influence,” he said. “And in whose interest does the cardinal act in all things?”
In the interest of the king.
A chill ran down my back. “She asks nothing wrong.”
“Perhaps not, but you’re the king’s creature, not the Lady Anne’s.”
Voices interrupted our quarrel. A barge was coming in, mooring at the stairs nearby with a great splashing and shouting. Tom heaved himself up, and we retreated to a grove of trees overhanging the river, watching as Charles Brandon landed with a large party.
“Why are you so determined to do this?”
Brandon’s entourage made its way up the path, and I left the sheltering trees for the sunlight. “Because nothing ever happens to me.”
“Sweet God, Bess!” he exploded, losing his temper. “Nothing ever happens to you? You’re a child out of the bowels of Southwark, and look at the life you have.” His outflung arm encompassed the palace and all its surroundings. “The only future you had there was in the stews.”
I thought of the vile place where his mother plied her trade and shivered again. My stays felt too tight. “I’m not pretty enough for that.”
“Yes, you are, especially in your new gown. And besides”—he frowned at me for distracting him—“beauty isn’t a requirement, as well you know.” He considered me carefully, head cocked. “Perhaps not. You talk too much to be a successful whore.
“But look at yourself. You’re clothed, housed, fed. You’ve traveled and performed for kings. What more could you want?” His eyes blazed, exasperated with my mulishness.
“It isn’t enough.”
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Narrated by Jennifer Summerfield
Karen Heenan was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. She fell in love with books and stories before she could read, and has wanted to write for nearly as long. After far too many years in a cubicle, she set herself free to follow her dreams—which include gardening, sewing, traveling and, of course, lots of writing.
She lives in Lansdowne, PA, not far from Philadelphia, with two cats and a very patient husband, and is always hard at work on her next book.
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