Читать онлайн "The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr"
Автор Sandra Byrd
Principal Works of Reference
Reading Group Guide
About the Author
Copyright © 2012 by Sandra Byrd
All rights reserved.
For permissions information, address Howard Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
First Howard Books trade paperback edition June 2012
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HOWARD and colophon are trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
All Old Testament Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version. Public domain. All New Testament Scripture quotations are taken from
Cover design by Bruce Gore.
Cover photograph © Steve Gardner/Pixelworks Studio
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The secret keeper : a novel of Kateryn Parr / Sandra Byrd.—1st Howard Books trade paperback ed.
ISBN: 978-1439183144 (print)
ISBN: 978-1439183151 (eBook)
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
—The Book of the Prophet Isaiah
Her voice sounded by turns pleased and then pleading, her laughter scaled from bass enjoyment to treble fear. A highborn woman held fast the girl’s arms while the rougher hands of a man ran over the young woman’s jawline, her hairline, her hemline. I could not see his face, but on his left small finger he bore a costly gold and black onyx signet ring. With the other hand he took his dagger and began to slash.
Pieces of her black gown fell to the ground, one by one, like the locks of a condemned woman shorn before execution, though he stayed himself from touching her bright red hair before sheathing his dagger again. Her woeful face betrayed that she knew this would be her utter undoing. The gown was ruined and the black clumps, which had plummeted to the ground, received the breath of life of a sudden and became a flock of beady-eyed ravens that took wing toward the Tower of London, whilst we watched in horror and dread.
I entered the church on a May morn and allowed my eyes to adjust to the dim light and my body to the chill of the stone-cooled air. I sought Father Gregory, who caught my glance and smiled. I tried to return it in kind but my lips quivered. I waited in the back till he finished lighting the candles before the morning service.
Once he joined me, he immediately asked, “Daughter, what ails you?”
My face had betrayed my qualms. No others were around us so I answered him frankly as was my habit. “My mother believes I am a witch. And I fear that she is right.”
Father Gregory reflexively drew back a little and for the first time I tasted dread. If this man, who knew me well and trusted me to read aloud in his church, might consider the possibility that I was a sorceress, all was lost. All would be lost, whether it were true or not, if my mother had whispered her accusation to any but myself.
“’Tis not so,” he said soothingly, and then as he was about to say more the rough townsfolk began to pool in the church’s nave like motes on a ray of light. Father Gregory’s face registered surprise, and then humility, and then perhaps a tint of fear. I turned toward the door to look upon whom he’d fixed his gaze: a well-dressed man, the most finely dressed man I had ever seen. The man nodded and approached us.
Who was he? Was I to curtsey? Cast down my gaze? Take my leave? Before I could decide, the man was upon us and introductions begun.
Father Gregory bowed. “Sir Thomas Seymour, please allow me to present Mistress Juliana St. John.”
I decided, quickly, on a short curtsey and a brief, modest dip of the head. This pleased Seymour, who held out his right hand toward me. I took it and he did not wait afore softly kissing my slightly bent knuckles before speaking.
“I am well pleased to meet you, Mistress Juliana.” His deep brown eyes held my gaze with immoderate affection and I turned away from it. All knew that the Seymour family was the highest, richest, and most powerful family perhaps in the entire realm. Prince Edward, the long-awaited heir to King Henry, was also the son of their sister Jane, the lamented queen who had not lived long enough to enjoy the rewards of her greatest achievement. They flew high and we dared not offend.
“Mistress Juliana is one of our lectors. Her father, Sir Hugh St. John, God rest his soul, was a great benefactor of the church and also ensured that his children were well educated.” Father Gregory turned toward me. “Sir Thomas was an occasional associate and, er, friend, of your father.” He pointed toward the front of the church. “You’d best prepare for this morning’s reading, Mistress Juliana.”
I nodded toward Sir Thomas. “I am greatly pleased to make your acquaintance, Sir Thomas.”
“As am I,” he said, and then bowed toward me, a maiden not yet eighteen, who was well beneath his standing. I gathered my skirts and my courage and made my way to the front, where the chained Great Bible, which had been secured to the altar to forestall its being stolen, was already open.
Once I began to read out the Acts of the Apostles, I quit, for the moment, of my fears and lost myself in the resonant words of Saint Paul and the upturned faces of the crofters, the millers, and the goodwives, breathing heavily in their mean woolen garb. Sir Thomas remained for the reading but left before the townsfolk did. Afterward, Father Gregory called me back to a quiet closet shut off from hungry eyes and thirsty ears.
“And now, Juliana. Unburden yourself.”
I spoke immediately. “You know of my dream.”
He nodded. “I know a little. Would you like to share its entirety?”
“About a year ago, shortly after my father died, I began to have a dream. ’Twas not an ordinary dream, but it was powerful and left me in a sweat and fever with my senses vexed,” I said. “My maid, Lucy, would calm me afterward, though she was frightened too.” I forced my hands from twisting ropes of my fine skirts and continued.
“I saw a barn, a large barn, filled with wheat and livestock of all kinds. And of course the husbandmen and others who tended the flocks and fields. At night, something kindled within the barn and within minutes it was aflame. The livestock and grains were all burnt and the building was too.”
“Yes?” His voice was gentle but prodded me to continue.
“At first I had the dream only once, and then six months later it came back. Then after a month, and then a week. Each time the dream would grow more fervent. The heat peeled my skin like parchment and my ears could not refuse the desperate bleating of the animals and the screams of men. One night, I noticed that the doors to the barn looked exactly like the doors to my father’s warehouses. And then, ’twas pressed upon my heart,
He grimaced, as though swallowing bitter ale. “And she …”
“Disbelieved me at first. But I was insistent. As you know I am wont to be.”
We smiled together at that.
“At some point she said she would approach Sir Matthias about having the ...