“Then best I show you the mirror that I believe is very probably like the fine concave one that was used for the fire, Your Grace.”
“But these two mirrors made the tent burn,” Cecil cut in.
“Granted, my lord, but the other would have done it more swiftly and surely; and I believe,” Dee said as if he were pronouncing a life-or-death verdict, “the fire caught quickly—hence, a fine-grade concave mirror like the one I bought in Venice. It may distort some images, though it magnifies wonderfully. I will fetch it straightaway.”
Elizabeth and Cecil waited, unspeaking, while Dee darted into his laboratory and out again. “And now,” he told them, placing the black tooled-leather box on the edge of the platform, “though Katherine will be loathe to part with this, here it is, the most precious gem of all I’ve seen so—”
He opened the box with a flourish. It was empty but for the crushed black velvet form where a round mirror with a thick handle had lain.
“Ah—forgive me, Your Grace. She must have taken it out to preen—or polish it, more like. Katherine!”
Still holding her wooden oven paddle, Mistress Dee came out instantly as if she had been lurking just inside the door. “Where is my Venetian mirror, my dear?”
Her eyes widened and her Cupid’s bow lower lip dropped. “But you said—I thought I suggested,” she stammered, “you could demonstrate with the others.”
“I need this one of necessity, wife. Please fetch it.”
“What?” Dee demanded, his voice rising.
Katherine burst into tears, dropped the oven paddle, and ran back inside.
“If she broke that mirror,” he said, his voice quavering, “my mirror …” He could not finish the thought.
“I see we must have that mirror or proofs of its fate,” Elizabeth said, and patted his arm. “You men stay here, and I will speak with her on it.”
“But Your Maj—,” Dee protested as the queen descended the platform and went out of the bright sun into the dim house. Even from here, Katherine’s wails sounded entirely wretched, even panicked, as if she couldn’t catch her breath. And Elizabeth meant to find out why.
THE QUEEN THOUGHT AT FIRST THAT KATHERINE DEE might have run sobbing to her mother-in-law, but she soon saw that was not true. Still in her chair by the kitchen hearth, Dame Dee sat alone, shaking her head as Elizabeth walked into the cluttered kitchen. She motioned for the old woman not to rise. When she evidently realized her queen sought Katherine, she gestured toward the door that opened onto the kitchen garden. Stepping out into a sunny patchwork of herbal beds, Elizabeth saw Katherine had collapsed on a wooden bench in the only shadowed corner of the walled garden. Now she sobbed silently; her shoulders shook.
The wretched woman seemed to sense the queen’s presence, for she turned her tearful face and jumped to her feet to offer a tipsy curtsy.
“Sit,” Elizabeth said, striding toward her. “Sit and I shall too.”
“Please forgive me, Your Majesty,” Katherine said, swiping tears from her cheeks with both hands as, looking awestruck, she made room for the queen on the bench. “You see, I so hate to disappoint him—John—when he knows so much—
so much to so many—especially to you—and here I am, trying to please him, but stumbling along … .”
“Buck up, girl. The man loves and dotes on you.”
Katherine sniffed hard, and Elizabeth offered her an embroidered handkerchief from up her sleeve. Hesitantly, she took it.
“Dotes on me, maybe,” she said. “Loves me in that way men love when bodily smitten, though their minds are oft elsewhere.” She wiped under her eyes. “But I want to be needed for his work—admired by him, Your Majesty. You see, my father and then my first husband owned a grocer’s shop in London near Cheapside. They relied on me. I kept the tallies too. But here, with all these experiments and theories and long, difficult books …” As if overwhelmed, she stopped talking and blew her nose.
“But surely,” Elizabeth said, “Dr. Dee did not expect or desire a helpmeet who could assist him with his unusual and abstract work.”
“But it’s what he thinks about day and night. And now I’ve ruined everything.”
“Hardly everything. The mirror, you mean? What became of it?”
“I should never have had it out of its case, of course, at least not when he wasn’t here. You see, it distorts terribly but it magnifies wonderfully. It’s good for plucking wayward eyebrows and finding freckles to wash with milk.”
“You are speaking of it as if it still exists. Do you know where it is?”
Katherine shook her head so hard her eardrops rattled. “Gone,” she whispered, not meeting the queen’s gaze.
“Gone where?” Elizabeth could not help it, but her voice took on an edge.’S blood, she had come not to comfort this woman or hear her beauty secrets, but to get her hands on that mirror, which Dee claimed was the very type that had ignited Kendale’s tent.
“I—I had intended to say I broke it, but that would be a lie. And yet I fear it’s gone for good.” Her eyes, gray as wet brook pebbles, widened as she stared into the distance. “I had it outside, here, in the sun only last week to see a blemish on my chin. I went back inside, perhaps for a quarter of an hour, remembered it was still out here, returned, and—it was gone.”
Katherine nodded wildly. “Of course I asked Mother Dee and Sarah. Indirectly I inquired of my husband. But no one knew anything.”
“On this very bench?” the queen said, rising and scowling behind it as if the mirror would emerge from the new-sprouted tansy, dill, and horehound.
“I guess someone could have climbed the wall,” Katherine said, jumping to her feet when the queen rose. “Several trees closely abut it outside, and then there is that pear tree over there for an escape.”
Elizabeth pictured the drawing Dee had done of the fringe of the hunt park near the burned tent. Someone who was adept at climbing trees had become her prime suspect. Yet what possible connection could there be between Dee’s mirror gone missing from this bench in Mortlake and one evidently used in the hunt park?
“Well, I must confess to him,” Katherine said. “What I can’t figure is how someone knew to come over a wall he couldn’t spy over, for a mirror I’d left behind for only a few minutes.”
“You are certain your girl Sarah did not take it?” the queen inquired, eyeing the six-foot-high brick wall. The only exit from this small area was the door into the kitchen.
“She said not, and I’ve found her ever trustworthy—she came from London with me.”
Elizabeth again sat on the bench, and bent over a bit to the height Katherine would have held the mirror, then craned her neck to look above the walls. After all, Dr. Dee had convinced her of the import of angles, slants, and slopes. She could see trees from here but mostly the very heights of them. The only man-made thing in sight was the top floor of the Riverside Inn. Could someone have watched a comely woman from there, then seen her leave the mirror behind? The queen bent farther to the level where the mirror could have lain on the bench. Yes, the inn’s top windows were still barely visible. The mirror could have shone in the sun that day to draw attention to itself.
“Did Dr. Dee have someone about the house or laboratory helping him the day the mirror disappeared?” she asked Katherine.
“He was not at home that day. He’d gone out to prepare for his annual May Day celebration, where a bonfire is built on a distant hill. He amuses everyone with his big mirror by sending signals from it, flashes of lights in some sort of code. I’ve never seen that event, but everyone far and wide in these parts looks forward to it. It’s an old Celtic custom—forgive me, Your Majesty, but quite pagan in origins.”
“Now that is something I would like to see.”
“I know he planned to invite you today, Your Majesty—and your courtiers at Nonsuch. Since Richmond Palace lies close by Mortlake, perhaps you could move there for the celebration.”
Elizabeth studied the young woman in the sun. She seemed so sincere, yet there was something too planned out about all this. “Though this is your first year here at Mortlake, Katherine, do you know how large a signal glass he uses for his May Day revels?”
“It’s under a shroud in his workshop. As big as this,” she said and, childlike, rounded her arms over her head so her fingers almost touched.
“I’d almost forgotten,” Elizabeth mused aloud. “He’s spoken to me before of wanting to experiment with large mirrors from fortress to fortress or from ship to ship in some sort of code.” Though she did not let on, she also recalled that Dr. Dee himself had mentioned how Archimedes had burned ships’ sails from afar with his huge concave mirror. But all this meant nothing. The profound Dr. Dee and his flighty new wife were not under suspicion for anything yet, though, indeed, they had ridden into Nonsuch shortly before the tent caught fire. And Dee had let slip that his wife took a walk in the woods just after they arrived.
As if her thoughts had summoned him, the queen saw John Dee in the kitchen door, an anxious look on his face. “When you did not return, Your Majesty,” he called out, “I thought it best I look in on both of you. Besides, the Earl of Leicester believes it is time for you to head back to Nonsuch.”
“And so it is. Katherine, you will speak with your husband on the missing mirror. Dr. Dee,” she said as she passed him, “I bid you good day and tell you I have accepted Katherine’s invitation to join you this year for your May Day celebrations. I shall bring a party of forty or so and will leave a man here tonight to find us accommodations. Richmond Palace is being cleaned, and I’d rather not move everyone there for just one night.”
“But of course, you may stay with us, Your Majesty,” Katherine put in, hurrying behind. “As for forty, though …”
“I would not impose. As I said, I will leave my man Jenks with you this night and will see you again in but a week. Until then, Dr. Dee, I shall send for you if there is more you can do in the matter of the fire murders.”
She swept through the kitchen and into the small solar, where her retinue amused themselves over a chessboard. Clifford and Jenks jumped to their feet while Robin and Rosie stood more slowly with a bow and a curtsy. Cecil must still have been outside.
“Jenks, to me,” Elizabeth said, and stepped into the narrow hall with him. “I am leaving you here one night to do two things. Arrange for myself and a party of forty or so for May Day in the Riverside Inn just across the way.”
“That big old place? But Richmond is so close—”
“Do as I say. I want to be near events, not walled off in a palace which is being cleaned. Except for that one night, I am determined to stay at Nonsuch until we find our arsonist.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“Also, keep your eyes and ears open for whatever passes between the Dees about a lost mirror. And while you’re about all that,” she whispered, “see if you can butter up that serving girl Sarah to find out if she saw what happened to the mirror Mistress Dee says she left on the garden bench before it simply disappeared.”
“Like magic?” Jenks lowered his voice even more. “Some say John Dee knows all the sorcerer’s arts, you know.”
It was later than Elizabeth had intended when the royal retinue returned to Nonsuch, so she did not summon her artists to paint her. Instead, to help foster the feeling of normalcy, she hosted a dinner set up on plank tables in the outer courtyard, followed by a recitation of rural love sonnets by her master of revels and principal player, Ned Topside. The festivities, the queen had announced, were in honor of Lord Maitland’s visit. He was leaving for Scotland the next morning, so she and Cecil spoke with him in private after everyone else was dismissed to return to their tents.
“I charge you to continue to counsel my dear cousin Queen Mary not to wed Lord Darnley,” Elizabeth told Maitland as the three of them sat in her outer chamber over wine. Though she had set this marital trap for Mary, she wanted to clear her conscience somewhat. “Tell her the man’s character is not well proven.”
Maitland shook his big head. “Unlike you, Your Majesty, Queen Mary has little wit for knowing whom to trust truly, especially when it comes to dashing men.”
“Or she would trust you more, would she not, my lord?” Cecil needled him. Elizabeth was ever amazed by how well the two of them, considering their opposing loyalties, got on.
“I wish it were a laughing matter,” Maitland replied. “Indeed, not only her passion for Lord Darnley, but her leaning so hard on the Italian upstart, David Rizzio, shows how misguided she has become. The man began as one of her musicians and has become her closest adviser!”
“Is he handsome, then?” Elizabeth asked, and sipped her wine.
“Strangely not, Your Majesty. Dark and swarthy, but he favors her match with Darnley. Rizzio’s getting as arrogant and greedy for power as Darnley himself,” Maitland groused, twisting his big signet ring on the middle finger of his right hand. “I tell you, I do not look forward to going home. But is there any other message you would send to Her Grace?”
“Yes,” the queen said, rising and setting her goblet down so hard that wine sloshed from it as both men also stood. “Tell her this, my lord, word for word. If she must gaze in mirrors to admire herself, best she not be so dangerously confused she does not realize she sees only the Queen of Scotland there and no other.”
“And,” Cecil added, “tell her if she does anything to incite our northern shires to rebellion, she might as well break every mirror in her kingdom and add up seven years of bad luck for each. The Queen of England will not allow her people or her places to be inflamed against her.”
The next morning, the queen posed for Lavina, Henry Heatherley, and her Gilberto Sharpino in the meadow between the hunt park and the palace. Cecil had counseled against it, but she wanted to demonstrate she was not afraid to sit near the spot where the tent had burned. Despite the tragic loss of Will Kendale and his servant boy, life must go on.
Besides, she’d argued, if her posing drew out the arsonist with the mirror, so much the better. Next time, they would catch him. Ned Topside had reported that no one he’d interviewed had seen anything unusual the morning of the fire, so she was getting desperate to flush someone out.
Her people seemed to be defiant too, for both courtiers and commoners from the palace and the encampment sat or strolled nearby, enjoying both the weather and the sight of their queen, sitting still as a statue for once. Floris had brought Kat out, and both women sat at their apparently favorite pastime when outside, stringing flower necklaces for everyone. But it warmed the queen like the sun to have her Kat content.
“I must admit, Your Majesty,” Henry Heatherley pronounced, grandly flourishing a crimson-tipped brush, “this is the best light an artist can have. It will help me keep the colors true, and it brings out your fine features.”
“It casts wonderful, stark shadows,” the queen heard Gil murmur under his breath, though no one reacted to that.
Lavina said, “Oh, yes, I like it too, Master Heatherley. Your Majesty, being in the sun of late has put the pink back in your cheeks.”
Elizabeth was tempted to say,
So I no longer look so whey-faced?
but she kept silent. Posing here was much better than sitting within the confines of a palace in London or even inside Nonsuch. The air was fresh and cool, and she did not feel trapped. And no foe, threatening fear at the most and fire at the worst, was going to steal all this from her.