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Authors: Barbara Kyle

The Queen's Gamble

Books by Barbara Kyle

The Queen’s Captive
The King’s Daughter
The Queen’s Lady

The Q



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Table of Contents

Books by Barbara Kyle
Title Page
PART ONE - Return from the New World
Execution Dock
The House on Bishopsgate Street
Adam’s Appeal
The Borderland Threat
The Ambassador’s Agenda
The Visitor
The Test
A Promise Fulfilled
In the Presence of the Queen
PART TWO - Through the Enemy’s Gates
The First Encounter
The Road to Edinburgh
The Rebel Camp
The Garrison at Leith
The Bridge
Through the Enemy’s Gates
The Enemy Queen
The Second Hostage
PART THREE - Yeavering Hall
Out of the Storm
The Secret Gift
New Friends, New Foes
The Postern Gate
The Cove
The Players
Treasures of the Mill
PART FOUR - The Threatened Queen
Return to Whitehall
The Plan
The Tower
Copyright Page


The Queen’s Gamble
is the fourth in my continuing “Thornleigh” series, and I am grateful to many exceptional people for the success of these books. My thanks go to:

Al Zuckerman, literary agent
whose sage advice and guidance I rely on.

Audrey LaFehr, editorial director at Kensington Books, New York, who so ably champions each of my novels. I am fortunate indeed to work with such a gifted and dedicated editor.

Kensington’s team of committed professionals, including Production Editor Paula Reedy, for transforming my hard-copy manuscripts into visually beautiful books; Creative Director Kristine Mills-Noble, for the gorgeous cover art; Copy Editor Stacia Seaman, for meticulous fact checking; and Editorial Assistant Martin Biro, for help always cheerfully offered. A special thanks to John Rosenberg, savvy publishing pro, who works such wonders for my books in Canada.

Stephen Best, my husband, an indispensable creative partner in every book I write. There is no better “go-to” guy.

Joy Isley, of Mesa, Arizona, for contributing the winning entry of “Noche” (“night” in Spanish) in the
Name Carlos’s Horse
contest that ran on my Web site as I was writing this book. Readers sent in hundreds of excellent names, and I sincerely thank you all.


When Elizabeth Tudor, at the age of twenty-five, inherited the English throne from her half sister Mary in November of 1558, the country was on the brink of ruin. Mary had bankrupted the treasury by her disastrous war with France, which she had lost, leaving Elizabeth burdened with massive loans taken in Europe’s financial capital of Antwerp, and a grossly debased coinage that was strangling English trade.

Danger threatened Elizabeth on every side. Spain, having ruthlessly established dominion over the Netherlands, eyed England as a possible addition to its empire that already spanned half the globe. France, whose queen, Mary Stuart, was Elizabeth’s cousin and claimant to Elizabeth’s throne, ruled Scotland as a virtual French province, its government run by French overlords, its capital garrisoned with French troops, providing an ideal bridgehead for the French to launch an attack on England. At home, Elizabeth faced seething discontent from a large portion of her people, the Catholics, who loathed her act of Parliament that had made the country officially Protestant. France and Spain sympathized with, and supported, the English Catholics.

If overtly threatened by either of those great powers, England would be vastly outmatched. The English people knew it and were frightened, leading officials in the vulnerable coastal towns of Southampton, Portsmouth, and the Cinque Ports to barrage Elizabeth’s council with letters entreating aid in strengthening their fortifications against possible attack. Unlike the European powers, England had never had a standing army. Her monarchs had always relied on a system of feudal levies by which local lords, when required, raised companies of their tenants and retainers to fight for the king, who then augmented the levies with foreign mercenaries. England was backward in armaments, too; while a revolution in warfare was happening in Europe with the development of artillery and small firearms, English soldiers still relied on pikes and bows. Even Elizabeth’s navy was weak, consisting of just thirty-four ships, only eleven of them ships of war.

Ten months after Elizabeth’s coronation, people throughout Europe were laying bets that her reign would not survive a second year. One crisis could destroy her.

That crisis came in the winter of 1559.


Return from the New World


Execution Dock

sabel Valverde was coming home. The brief, terrible letter from her brother had brought her across five thousand miles of ocean, from the New World to the Old, and during the long voyage she thought she had prepared herself for the worst. But now that London lay just beyond the next bend of the River Thames, she dreaded what awaited her. The not knowing—that was the hardest. Would she find her mother still a prisoner awaiting execution? Horrifying though that was, Isabel could at least hope to see her one last time. Or had her mother already been hanged?

The ship was Spanish, the
San Juan Bautista,
the cabin snug and warm, its elegant teak paneling a cocoon that almost muffled the brutal beat of England’s winter rain on the deck above. Isabel stood by the berth, buttoning her cloak, steeling herself. The captain had said they were less than an hour from London’s customs wharf and she would soon have to prepare to disembark. Everything was packed; three trunks sat waiting by the open door, and behind her she could hear her servant, sixteen-year-old Pedro, closing the lid of the fourth and last one. She listened to the rain’s faint drumbeat, knowing that she heard it in a way the Spanish passengers could not—heard it as a call, connecting her to her past, to her family’s roots. The Spaniards would not understand. England meant nothing to them other than a market for their goods, and she had to admit it was a backward place compared to the magnificence of their empire. The gold and silver of the New World flowed back to the Old like a river with the treasure fleets that sailed twice a year from Peru and Mexico, making Philip of Spain the richest and most powerful monarch in Europe. Isabel felt the tug of both worlds, for a part of her lived in each, her young self in the Old, her adult self in the New. She had left England at twenty with her Spanish husband and almost nothing else, but he had done well in Peru, and after five years among its wealthy Spaniards, Isabel was one of them.
she thought.
It’s how the world turns

Can it turn Mother’s fate?
She had clung to that hope for the voyage, and now, listening to the English rain, she was seized by a panicky need to have the gold in her hands. She heard her servant clicking a key into the lock of the last trunk. She whirled around.

“Pedro, my gold,” she said. She grabbed his arm to stop him turning the key. “Where is it?”

He looked at her, puzzled. “Señora?”

“The gold I set aside. In the blue leather pouch.” She snatched the ring of keys from him and unlocked the trunk. She rummaged among her gowns, searching for the pouch. The soft silks and velvets slid through her hands. She dug down into the layers of linen smocks and stockings and nightdresses. No pouch. Abandoning the rucked-up clothes, she unlocked another trunk and pawed through her husband’s things, his doublets and breeches and capes and boots. The pouch was not here either. “Open that one,” she said, tossing the keys to Pedro. “We have to find it.” She went to the brocade satchel that lay at the foot of the berth and flipped its clasps and dug inside.

“Señora, it’s not in there. Just papers.”

“Look for it!” she ordered.

He flinched at her tone, and she felt like a tyrant. Not for the first time. He was a Peruvian with the small build of his Indian people, which made him look more like a child than a lad of sixteen. He had the placid nature of his people, too, and a deference to authority that had been bred into his ancestors by the rigid Inca culture. When the Spaniards had invaded thirty years ago they had exploited that deference, easily making the Indians their slaves and themselves rich. Isabel hated slavery. Pedro was her servant, but a free person nonetheless. English justice said so. But his docile ways sometimes sparked her impatience, goading her to take the tone of his Spanish overlords, and when she did so she hated herself.

“Take out everything,” she told him, less sharply. “Look at the bottom.”

“Sí, señora,”
he said, obeying.

His native tongue was Quechua. Isabel’s was English. Neither of them knew the other’s language. They spoke in Spanish.

She was rummaging through papers in the satchel, a frustrating search since everything had been repacked when they had left Seville. That had been the destination of their long voyage, since only Spanish and Portuguese ships sailed to and from the New World. Other Europeans were forbidden to trade there by a treaty between those two Iberian countries, sanctioned by the pope. After two days in the port Isabel had booked passage on the first ship for London.

“And hurry,” she told Pedro. The captain had made it clear they were nearing the quay. But she would not leave the ship until she found the money. In Seville they had assured her that her Spanish maravedis would be accepted as legal tender in England. Gold was gold, after all. She upended the satchel, dumping out papers and scrolls. No blue pouch. She went back to the third trunk, where Pedro was trying not to disturb its contents as he searched, and she nudged him aside and groped through things helter-skelter. She was on her knees, pulling out her son’s toys from the bottom—a wooden caterpillar on wheels, a red rowboat, a yellow tin top for spinning—when the light from the open doorway darkened.

“Isabel?” her husband said. “What are you doing?”

Carlos stood in the doorway, frowning at the open trunks with their spilled-out jumble of gowns, smocks, capes, and boots. Raindrops beaded his close-cropped hair, which stood up like boar bristles, and rain glistened on his black leather doublet. No jewel-studded finery for Carlos, though it was so fashionable with his Spanish peers in Peru. He stuck to the plain clothes of his years as a soldier on the battlefields of Europe. For a moment Isabel remembered how frightened she had been of him the first time she had seen him. He had broken a man’s neck with his hands. Twisted his head. She could still hear the
. Carlos had saved her life.

“Isabel?” he said again.

“I need my gold,” she blurted. And then instantly felt how irrational her behavior must look. The pouch held a mere fraction of Carlos’s wealth, and he didn’t begrudge her any of it, had always been content to let her manage their funds, even at the beginning when they’d had so little. But the money in the pouch would be a fortune for any jailer. A bribe for her mother’s life.

“Now?” Carlos asked. His puzzled look softened to one of sympathy. “All the money is in the ebony chest. Up on deck.”

She saw that he pitied her, and it brought reality crashing in. She sat back on her heels, rocked by the certainty that the hope she had been clinging to was a fantasy. If her mother was not already dead, she soon would be. Adam’s letter had been brief but clear. Her mother had committed murder. No amount of gold could alter her sentence.

Carlos said gently, “Come up on deck.”

“The rain—”

“It’s stopped.”

“Really? You’re wet.”

Again, the look of sympathy. “You need some air.”

She needed more than that. She needed the strength to face whatever they were going to find, and to help her poor father. This would be killing him. For the hundredth time she asked herself, how had it happened? How had her parents sunk so low?

She took a steadying breath and got to her feet. “Yes, let’s go up.” She turned to Pedro. “Pack the trunks again,” she said, and then added as an apology to him, “Please. There’s time.”

The pounding rain had stopped, but only as if to catch its breath, and now came back to pester them as wind-driven drizzle. When the ship had sailed into the estuary they had finally escaped the violent Channel winds, but spiteful gusts still followed like a beaten foe refusing to give up. Isabel winced at the cold drizzle on her face as she and Carlos walked arm in arm past sailors readying the ship to dock. Some coiled the heavy rope hawsers while others climbed the netting of the foremast shrouds to shorten sail. Everything—spars and shrouds and sails—dripped with rain. Seagulls screamed, scavenging in the ship’s wake.

A dozen or so passengers huddled in the lee of the sterncastle deck, their faces pale after the rough crossing from Seville. Isabel felt sorry for them but was secretly glad that she never suffered that misery on the water. Since the time she could walk she had often spent days at a stretch on her father’s ships. A few of the men, whether hardier or just more curious, stood at the starboard railing to take in the sights as the north riverbank slipped by. Isabel and Carlos joined them, and she gave a nod to an elderly Spanish priest. She had spoken to him briefly when they had boarded in Seville, a neat and quiet man who was bringing a gift of books to his friend Álvarez de Quadra, Bishop of Aquila, the Spanish ambassador in London. Isabel had brought something for the bishop, too. Not books, but news from Peru.

She looked out at the riverbank and felt a tug of emotion. England, once her home, lay close enough almost to touch. Yet she knew the priest and his fellow Spanish gentry must find the sight dreary. Farmhouses squatted in soaked fields. Hammers clanged from rough-hewn boatbuilding sheds. Riverside taverns hulked under the gray rain. Atop one, a weather vane creaked as it veered from east to west, then back again in the erratic gusts. In the chill, Isabel shivered. She looked at Carlos and almost smiled, remembering what he used to say about England.
How can a country be so cold and wet at the same time?
She thought of their home in sunny Trujillo, its earthy heat, its vivid colors, and in the distance its mountain peaks. The two countries could hardly be more different.

“All right?” he asked. He had seen her shiver.

He didn’t have to come, she thought. Her family’s troubles were her woes, not his, and there was pressing business to keep him home where his silver mine alone took half his waking hours. She wished he hadn’t bought that mine. They didn’t need the money, and the overseer drove the Indian workers like slaves. But she knew it meant a great deal to Carlos to be accepted as one of the mining fraternity of Lima. It made her grateful that he had insisted on voyaging here with her. Neither of them had wanted to be apart. She tightened her arm, which was hooked around his, and answered, “Better now.”

They were passing the grimy little village of Wapping, where the reek of decayed fish rose from the sailors’ alehouses and victualing haunts hunkered around the river stairs, when a sound came from some men at the railing, a low grunt. Isabel looked out at the muddy shoreline and saw what was transfixing them. A gibbet stood in the mud, and from it hung a man’s corpse. This was Execution Dock.

She felt her every muscle tense. The corpse’s skin had turned to the color of the mud.
Will Mother look like that?
She forced herself not to make a sound, but Carlos wrapped his arm around her shoulder with a squeeze, and she knew she had failed to mask her horror. She turned her face into his chest.

“Pirate,” he muttered, holding her close.

She looked up at him. How did he know?

“Short rope,” he said.

She looked again at the hanged man. English law reserved this special agony for pirates. With a short rope the drop from the scaffold was not enough to break the victim’s neck, so he suffered a slow death from strangulation. When his limbs jerked in death throes the people called it the Marshal’s Dance, because prisoners were brought here from London’s Marshalsea Prison. As a final mark of contempt, the authorities did not cut down a pirate’s corpse right away but left him until three successive tides had washed over his head. English law held pirates to be the worst evil in an evil world.

But all Isabel could think of was her mother hanging by her neck from such a gibbet. She felt sick, and looked up at Carlos. “I don’t think I can do this.”

“Yes, you can. I know you.” He added soberly, “Whatever it is, we’ll do it together.”

She loved him for that.

A flash of red on deck caught her eye. A little boy in a red cap running for his mother. It made Isabel think of her son. She said to Carlos, “Where’s Nicolas?”

He shrugged. Then suggested, “With Pedro?”

She jerked out of his embrace. “No. I thought he was with you.”

She saw a flicker of concern in his eyes. Their little boy was only four. He said, “Where did you last see him?”

“Climbing a cannon blind by the mizzenmast. The bosun’s mate pulled him down and cuffed his ear, which the little scamp deserved. I told him to find you and stay with you while I helped Pedro pack.”
Behave yourself, Nico,
she had said
. No more climbing. We’re almost there

They both scanned the gunwales where six small demi-cannons sat. A merchant ship needed defenses, but the armaments were minimal, and a glance told them that Nicolas wasn’t near the cannons. Panic lurched in Isabel.
He climbed up one and fell overboard

“We’ll find him,” Carlos said calmly. “You take the topsides, I’ll search the lower decks.”

She hurried past sailors and elbowed around passengers, looking in every nook, her eyes flicking along the gunwales, constantly imagining her son’s small body tumbling into the frigid gray waves.
My fault. I should have kept him by me.

He was nowhere on deck. She was sure of it. She hurried down the companionway to the orlop deck, ignoring Carlos’s instructions. She was heading toward a victuals storeroom, almost out of breath from her hurry and her fear, when she heard it. A dull
thump, thump, thump
. It came from behind the closed door across from the storeroom. The carpenter’s cabin. She threw open the door.

The carpenter, a lanky man, was bent over a table pushing a planing tool that left in its wake a wood shaving curled like a wave. He was saying something about football but he stopped midsentence when he saw Isabel, and the wood wave drifted to the floor. There beside him was Nicolas, bouncing his green rubber ball,
thump, thump, thump

Isabel was so relieved she wanted to box her son’s ears for the fright he’d caused her. Instead, she swept him into her arms.

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