“What some call weakness others recognize as wisdom, my lord,” Luke said, bowing to the king. “And now, a moment’s pardon while I tend to my son.”
“Yes, yes, of course.” The king waved him away, plucking grapes from a gilded plate.
As Luke loped toward the door, Williams began to shake with fear. “Lord Cahill,” he said, holding out a parchment scroll, “we have received a formal resignation from yet another—”
Luke batted the parchment away. “Are you so poorly suited, Williams, to the task of finding one good governess from among the entire population of England?”
Williams bowed, blathering apologies. But Luke pulled his son into the corridor. “What now?” he scolded. “You are expected to shine before the king!”
“So I can marry his wretched daughter?” Master Winthrop mumbled.
“Who will give birth someday to an heir,” Luke said, “who will then be king. A Cahill king! Don’t you see? The daughter will not necessarily earn the throne. But whomever she marries shall become king!”
“Does that seem fair, Father?” Winthrop asked.
“Fair?” Luke drew his son closer, his face growing red. “Is it fair to watch one’s father burned to death and be blamed for his murder? Is it fair when sickness takes one’s beloved? Is it fair to wander the countryside destitute, with a baby boy? I worked my way into this court by grit and cunning. I had to step over others who wanted it less. Fairness was not part of the calculation. My only desire is to redeem our family. House of Lancaster, House of York, House of Tudor — pah! It will be the dawn of the Lucian Age.”
Master Winthrop frowned. He had heard this story too many times. What was so great about being king anyway? Better to be a bandit or a jousting knight! “But, Father, the king wants to divorce Queen Catherine,” Master Winthrop pressed on. “Then Mary will no longer be princess. And then I will have to be married to that hideous —”
“Mary will remain princess,” his father snapped. “And you will be closest in line for the throne. I shall make that certain.”
“But there are others in line to succeed—”
“Not to worry, Luke; I have plans for the others.”
Master Winthrop shuddered. His father’s tone of voice suggested something far worse than pranks with salamanders.
He tried not to think of the word assassination.
“My lord?” a voice piped up from behind them.
The two Cahills turned. Hargrove, the king’s manservant, was standing in the corridor with a young woman in a peasant dress and governess’s bonnet, her face cast toward the floor. “I would like to introduce a candidate for the office of governess, a fine young woman of exceeding—”
“Yes, yes,” Luke said impatiently, “surely she can speak for herself. Is the floor about to collapse, girl, is that why you look down? Do you have a name?”
Master Winthrop was used to people’s reactions upon meeting his father. Some cried. Others shrank away. Two or three had even fainted, such was his power. But he had never seen an expression like this young woman’s. Her eyes fixed on Luke’s intently, as if she were trying to look through them to the other side of his head. Then they softened, misted over, as if she were about to cry — but not with fear, exactly. With some other kind of emotion Winthrop couldn’t name. If it didn’t seem so absurd, he’d think it was something like joy.
“I am M-M-Madeleine Babbitt,” she said, “of Scáth.”
“A daughter of Ireland, then,” Luke grunted, his own brogue sneaking into his speech. “Well, let’s hope this one lasts longer than a week.”
As he walked back into the chamber, Master Winthrop stared coldly at the new governess. He didn’t like her. She was too young and too strange. She had no warts or whiskers. And she didn’t smell bad. What fun was that?
“I’m sure we will become close friends,” said the Irish lass.
Master Winthrop crossed his eyes, said “close friends” with a lisp, and stalked away.
But he couldn’t help noticing that her face seemed very familiar.
Madeleine Cahill shivered. She had lived through nineteen frigid winters by the lake, but nothing prepared her for the iciness of her brother Luke.
She paced her spare, dank bedchamber — seven steps from one end to the other. The height of English power, and all they could give her were four stone walls, a dusty wood floor, and a bed with a sunken horsehair mattress!
Her eyes kept darting toward the window. Every flash of white gave her a start.
Vesper had been in the food market. She’d seen his badger-head of hair. If she hadn’t caused the distraction by upsetting the fruit cart, he might have caught her. How long could she keep this up? How long could she survive alone? She would have to confront Luke, get him to join her. Somehow.
She had come too far to fail. On the days following the funeral she’d become ill in the forest. Overcome by cold, rain, grief, and self-doubt, she had nearly died. But as she read her mother’s notes by a peat fire, one line had struck her:
H VIII meant King Henry the Eighth. The Palace of Placentia was just outside London. A huge journey — across the Irish Sea, all of Wales, and most of England! But Luke seemed her best hope. He was twenty-three years older than Madeleine. He would be the wisest sibling. So she’d mastered disguises, stowed away on a trade ship, slept in caves and trees — somehow managing to leave each location just as Vesper arrived to try to flush her out. By the time she reached London, she’d nearly starved. Seeing the ROYAL GOVERNESS WANTED notice had been a stroke of luck.
And now … what? How much better was her brother than her enemy?
Olivia had once described Luke as “larger than life” and “forceful.” But this man was also bloodless, cruel, and deeply sad. His eyes seemed to be following Madeleine still, hovering, judging, condemning. They were nearly the same eyes as her mother’s, piercing and smart — but with all the kindness drained out. Like a familiar painting with one color removed.
Madeleine thought about Promise Three: Unite the Cahills when the time is right. Was the time right? Was Luke ready to give up his place in the court to help unite the family?
His eyes didn’t seem to hint at yes.
Outside her window, she could see knights practicing for a joust. On a vast field they raced their horses at top speed, thwacking targets made of pigskin stuffed with straw. One of the knights, who rode a majestic dun-colored horse, had far more power and agility than the others. She watched as he came to rest and took off his helmet.
She was not completely surprised to see it was the king himself, Henry VIII. He was known as a champion jouster. But even he, the most powerful man in Great Britain, feared her brother Luke.
In moments, young Master Winthrop would be arriving for his first lesson, and she needed to prepare. Williams had suggested tin flute lessons, “a taming influence for the little beast.”
Madeleine looked forward to that. Olivia had taught her to play. You’ve a jot of Jane in you, Mother would say after a particularly fine lesson. Madeleine cherished that comment. There were other compliments, too — a cut of Katherine, a touch of Thomas, a lick of Luke — for her technical skills, athletic victories, strategic thinking. She was a bit like them all, Olivia had said, but with an extra quality all her own. Do not let the meekness swallow you, Madeleine, for someday people will see you for who you are. You are strong yet with the soul of a peacemaker. You bring people together. Call it a magnificence of Madeleine.
She hadn’t been feeling very magnificent lately. But with a roof over her head and food in her belly, she could think clearly now. And plan. She would win over Winthrop first. Work her way into Luke’s trust. And when she felt comfortable, she would reveal her identity. That would be the “right time” to begin fulfilling Olivia’s dream.
A united Cahill family.
Madeleine picked up the tin flute and played a bit. The instrument was rusted and sounded like a dying weasel. She suspected there was a hole and found one at the bottom of the instrument. She looked around for something to plug it. Horsehair? Too flimsy. A ripped piece of fabric? Too bulky.
She checked the hallway — empty. Reaching under her blouse she unhooked the pouch and peered inside. Hooks and darts? The wrong shape.
Then she held up the ring.
The flute tapered to a tip narrow enough to slip the ring over. Carefully, she slid it up the instrument. It fit snugly over the hole, as if it were meant to be there.
Madeleine played a C major scale, which floated through the room, clear and sweet. She smiled. If only she could afford to expose the ring like this! Naturally, that was impossible. It would be violating Olivia’s promise.
Or would it?
Professor Xenophilus liked to say that the best hiding places were in plain sight. Only Mother and Father knew about the ring. Vesper was chasing her for the serum formula and knew nothing about the ring. If Madeleine were to be captured, it would make sense for the ring not to be on her anyway….
A loud burp at the door made her jump. She turned to face her scowling charge, who stared at her with folded arms.
If you let him control you, Williams had warned, you will lose both this job and your sanity. “You are seven minutes late,” Madeleine said. “I trust that will not happen again —”
“I know who you are,” the boy interrupted.
Madeleine’s heart began to pound. Had she been followed? Had Luke recognized her? “Kn-kn-know me?” she said.
“You’re the thief!” Master Winthrop blurted out triumphantly. “From the market! I saw you on the back of the royal carriage, with a mask!”
Relief washed over Madeleine. Dealing with a mischievous child was one task she was sure she could handle. “Well. I guess you’ve flushed me out….”
“Like a pheasant!” Winthrop crowed. Hands on hips, head cocked, he began circling Madeleine. “But we are not without mercy. I will spare you, but I have some demands.” He began counting off demands on his stubby fingers. “Five minutes of memorization per week. Latin only on Tuesdays. No mathematics ever. Three hours for lunch. Vegetables forbidden. I eat and drink what I want. And no wooden paddle.”
“You are a clever negotiatior,” Madeleine said.
“I am the son of Luke Cahill.” Master Winthrop preened as he sat on the edge of the bed. “And I have decided that I shall not learn today.”
“Oh?” Madeleine nodded. “Well, then, fine.”
“Because I have too much gas, and the flute will make me …” Winthrop’s voice trailed off. “Did you say … ‘fine’?”
“This hour belongs to you. If you choose not to learn, then I will play and you can listen.”
She lifted the tin flute to her mouth. He looked away, already bored. Eyeing the ring, Madeleine realized it resembled no more than a grooved collar. With its cogged design, it could have been found on the floor of the smithy’s shop. No one would take it for a valuable secret. And it certainly made the flute sound magnificent.
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