The Thorne Maze
    “Her Majesty only mentioned she’d drop by because she’d be nearby,” he rushed on, letting the parchment recoil itself. “She’ll be staying at Hatfield en route to a visit to Cambridge.”
    “Cambridge? Your old stomping grounds, as they say. After all, she did name you Chancellor of Cambridge when you didn’t even finish a degree there, but of course, Her Majesty must know that and why. Your only grand mistake, you once said and yet you risked all for it, your family’s wrath, all your plans, all your dreams.”
    He smacked his goblet down. He did not need to be reminded of those days when passion and not prudence ruled his life.
    “After all,” she went on, “I rather think—”
    A rap resounded on the hall door. Mildred nearly leaped to answer it as if she welcomed the excuse to say no more. It was Jason Nye, one of his most trustworthy assistants.
    “Lady Cecil, milord.” He greeted them with a nod. “You said, milord, to tell you if Matthew Stewart came back to court, and he just rode in. Don’t even think his countess or son knows he’s back yet.”
    “I’ll be right there,” Cecil said and rushed to seize the correct leather satchel from his array of them in his brass-bound coffer. “My dear, let’s dine here and go over the plans … .” he began as he spun around to bid farewell to Mildred.
    She was not in the room.
    “Her ladyship went out in a hurry,” Jason said, standing wide-eyed in the open door and gesturing into the hallway.
    “So I see. She needs a breath of air, I believe.”
    “Aye, that’s it. Saw her walking in this very corridor late last night, too.”
    “No,” Cecil corrected him as they dashed out and Jason closed the door behind them, “Lady Cecil was not herself last night and kept to her bed.”
    “Must have been someone else, milord,” he amended, but it was Cecil’s own words which echoed in his head. Mildred was not herself, so who was she of late? He obviously needed more than a single servant girl to watch her. Thank God he had her away from the children for a while. He was actually starting to fear that in her strange moods, she might do damage to herself—or to someone else.
    “We’re going where, Your Grace?” Rosie asked. “The kitchens?”
    “The flower garden was one thing,” Anne Carey put in as the two of them stretched their strides to keep up with their royal mistress, “but the kitchens? The hearths will make this hot day absolutely stifling in there. Your Majesty, are you certain you meant the kitchens?”
    “You two sound like that parrot my brother once had,” Elizabeth teased them. “I believe I am queen here, and will visit my kitchens if I so desire, when I so desire.”
    “I’ve seen them, vast and smoky,” Anne said, still sounding miffed, as two yeomen guards fell in behind the three women. “Hold your skirts close, or you’ll get grease-speckled, Your Grace. But it will give the staff something to talk about besides what such-and-such dish was fit for you, or what lord just dumped what for his dogs.”
    The queen ignored their prating. She was not paying a surprise visit to the kitchen block on a whim. Nor was Stackpole one of the guards with her for no reason. The scent of gillyflowers in the so-called haunted gallery outside Mary Sidney’s rooms had—damn, had haunted her. Despite the fact Meg Milligrew had claimed there were no such flowers in the kitchen herbal beds, she must be mistaken. That spicy scent was distinctive and she was intent on tracking it.
    Like the entire sprawling palace of Hampton Court, the kitchen block was a veritable warren of chambers. Commonly called Cooks Court, it encompassed numerous passageways and backstairs connecting pallet chambers, irregular cobbled courtyards, and work rooms. These included a bakehouse, brewhouse, dove house, pastry house, flesh storage, confectionery, boiling house, garnish room, larders, the wine cellar with its three hundred barrels, and an

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