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Richmond Palace, Surrey
"Now, when the Queen wakes, she is never in the best of spirits," advised Blanche Parry, leading Her Majesty's newest Lady of the Privy Chamber into the Queen's private apartments. Elizabeth was out hunting in the park of Richmond Palace, leaving the way clear for the induction into a lady's duties. The court had followed the sovereign like the train dangling from the back of her petticoats, sweeping across the snow in a glorious swatch of rich velvets and plumed hats, all mounted on first-rate horses--quite a pageant to entertain the commoners lucky enough to witness their passage.
"Your ladyship may be asked to sleep nearby to be on hand for messages. I, or one of the other Ladies of the Bedchamber, sleep within." Blanche gestured to the canopied bed in the room beyond. The apple-red hangings were exquisitely embroidered with flowers--pansies, roses and love-lies-bleeding.
The Dowager Marchioness of Rievaulx, as Jane was now known, smiled down at the stooped elderly attendant who was her guide in her first days as one of the Queen's ladies. Mistress Parry had served Elizabeth since before her coronation; now, at seventy-six, she surely had earned a better bed to sleep in than the one at the Queen's feet. Then again, perhaps the faithful retainer did consider it the best place in the kingdom. "I will await your commands, mistress," Jane said with a smile.
Blanche returned the smile and wagged her finger at the young widow. "I know what you are thinking, my lady."
"That someone as aged and half-blind as me should have been pensioned off some years since."
"No, mistress, not at all." But she had been thinking something a little similar, truth be told.
"All you young girls do. You try to sit me in the chair nearest the fire, make possets and other such foolishness as if I'm already an invalid. But as I've told Her Majesty, this old warhorse has served her for over fifty years and intends to die in harness."
Jane thought that to have survived the reign of four Tudors so close to the center of power was something of a miracle and certainly not to be rewarded with the patronizing treatment of untried youth. Jane touched the lady's arm gently. "If I make you a posset, I give you permission to pour it over my head."
The Queen's chief gentlewoman bubbled with laughter and patted the back of Jane's hand where it rested on her elbow. "That I will, my lady. Come, I'll take you to the steward so he can find you a room. You may have to share with one or two others, depending on how many are at court. I tell all my noble ladies that they would have been much more comfortable had they stayed with their families, but still you all beg for the honor of serving our sovereign--it speaks well of you."
"Thank you, but your praise is undeserved. I am proud to serve the Queen, but I have to admit that I came in the main because the late marquess my husband asked me to do so."
"Ah yes, dear Jonas." The lady's eyes flicked over the pretty widow shrewdly, taking in the mourning weeds still worn long after the month's mind had passed. "You grieve him truly, I see."
Jane twisted the heavy wedding ring of the Rievaulx on her finger. Before Jonas was cold in his grave, his eldest son, Richard Paton, had demanded it back for his own wife, and Jane had taken great pleasure in refusing to part with it. The sons had been predictably cruel from the moment Jonas had been laid in the family vault, spreading foul rumors about the young widow. She knew many--if not most--people at court would think she had married Jonas for mercenary reasons; Blanche's insight came as a surprise and a blessing.
"Yes, I miss him. He was a kind and wise husband. I had him for too brief a time."
"It gives me great pleasure to find a place here for his widow, though that is scant payment for the generosity he always showed me. Which reminds me: when you receive gifts from those trying to gain an audience with the Queen, it is appropriate to declare them to me or one of the other senior ladies. There is a fine line between a gift and a bribe, but we can help you discern the difference."
And so the instruction continued until Jane felt quite dizzy with information. Having spent her time since Jonas's death four months earlier on her own in Yorkshire, she found herself shocked by the sudden flood of people, noise and movement that made up the continual parade of court life. Jonas had passed peacefully, and his sons had let her remain in her home until the details of his will were settled. It was only when the lawyers had locked horns over her widow's rights that the new marquess had ousted her from Rievaulx House and refused to move the tenants from the dower property that by right should have been hers for the remainder of her life. Having no desire to put herself back in her father's care, Jane had been thankful for the foresight that had caused Jonas to arrange a place at court for her.
Blanche led Jane at a slow pace to the steward's apartment not far from the Queen's suite.
"What else can I tell you? Ah, yes. Naturally, you are entitled to the bouge of court, meaning lodging, food, lights and fuel for your fire if your room has a grate. Two suits of livery are also yours--I'll give you the cloth; you'd best see a tailor as soon as possible, as the Queen likes her attendants to be appropriately attired, the better to emphasize her appearance. We are the setting; she is the jewel--do not forget this."
"No, mistress. Then may I beg leave to go to my needlewoman this afternoon?"
"You have your own? Will not one of our court servants do?" Blanche did not sound too impressed by the fastidious habits of the rich ladies who thought themselves above a service that served others well.
"I am patron to a deserving woman, mistress--an old friend before her father's fortunes were overset. She depends on my custom for her finishing business. I would not want to wreck her prospects by withholding my custom."
"As kind as you are beautiful," chuckled Blanche, her opinion of the young marchioness restored. "I am sure you can be excused. You are not due to be sworn into the chamber until the morrow, so the Queen will not look for you this day."