Bedingfield’s guards would be patrolling the old palace grounds every hour.
Nonetheless, Malcolm insisted on accompanying me to within sight of the lodge.
‘I will see you safe inside before I leave,’ Malcolm said stubbornly, waving aside my whispered protest.
In silence, we walked another quarter of a mile across the unkempt lawns and halted near the stables, in a cobbled, weed-infested yard overlooked by the back windows of the lodge. The kitchen door was near at hand, and although there was no key to secure it, I knew it was unguarded, for the hounds slept there at night and would soon bark if an intruder tried to gain entrance that way. Since I often fed them scraps when the cook wasn’t looking, I knew the dogs would not bark at me. Though my cousin was a different matter.
Malcolm asked which was Elizabeth’s bedchamber, and seemed disappointed when I told him it was on the other side of the building, where Bedingfield’s guards tended to patrol most frequently.
‘Promise you will try to get us into the lodge one day soon,’ he whispered in my ear, ‘and I will leave.’
‘That’s not fair.’
He lowered his head and kissed me lightly on the mouth. ‘Promise me.’
I was flustered, remembering how much I had enjoyed his company as a child, following him about in a daze, my handsome older cousin.
‘I promise to think about it,’ I managed.
His smile was wolfish. ‘Very well,’ he said softly, and kissed me again, this time more lingeringly. Then he pulled back and told me goodnight before melting back into the shadows, hood drawn cautiously over his head.
I waited until Malcolm was out of sight, then turned to make my way across the yard to the kitchen door.
Catching a sudden movement at a casement window high above, I glanced up and recognized the dark profile at the glass.
Alejandro de Castillo, still awake at this late hour, had been watching me cross the yard.
What else had he seen?
Flushed and breathless, angry that the young Spaniard seemed to be spying on me, I pulled open the door and slipped into the kitchens with only a quiet word for the wolfhounds there.
Let him watch jealously from the shadows and report my loose behaviour back to the old priest, or even to Queen Mary herself in London. I did not care what the disapproving Alejandro de Castillo thought of me, so long as he believed me a loyal Catholic and no witch.
Casting the Circle
BEING KEPT BUSY with our new regime of daily prayers and meditations on the Catholic faith, it was another five days before I was able to send a note to my aunt, warning her of the arrival of the Spanish priests at Woodstock. Along with a coin from my meagre hoard, I gave it to the servant who had brought me William’s message and asked him to ride over to Lytton Park with it as soon as he could find an excuse to leave the grounds.
Not entirely trusting the man, I worded the message with extreme caution in case it fell into the wrong hands, and hoped she would understand. Elizabeth had stubbornly refused to miss our next meeting with my aunt. But she had at least suggested we could hold the ritual somewhere safer, beyond the patrolled grounds of Woodstock. Now all that remained was for us to slip away for an hour or two at dusk, returning before the princess was missed at evening prayers.
On the appointed day, I took early morning Mass with the princess in the decaying palace chapel.
We kneeled on the flagstones under the steady gaze of Alejandro de Castillo, who seemed almost more interested in my faith than in that of my mistress. Just visible through the latticed rood screen, Father Vasco blessed the wine and raised the Host, his muttered Latin incomprehensible.
It was all I could do not to stick my tongue out at the dark-robed Alejandro when he turned solemnly to offer me the blood of Christ.
Instead, I restricted myself to a dutiful ‘Amen’ and saw his lips twitch.
Late that afternoon, Elizabeth took to her bed with one of