The Queene’s Christmas

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Authors: Karen Harper
perhaps Hodge defiantly became that peacock, which was fine looking, though it was dead.”
    “Aye, he was always proud of how he dressed the peacocks, swans, boar’s heads, too,” Master Stout said. “But maybe how gay and glad we all were in the kitchens that day made him think how wretched he was, so he climbed up on that stool, brought the chain pulley down a bit, and did the dreadful deed right then.”
    The three of them stood silent until the queen thanked Master Stout. He bowed and left the room, saying no more.
    “You’re no doubt much relieved,” Cecil said from the other end of the table.
    “I am. My stomachache is even better. It all fits. Perhaps now I will not call the late meeting of my Privy Plot Council, and we can all get back to normal after the prayers for the poor man’s soul tomorrow. He won’t be buried in hallowed ground now, but I will have Stout send a message to that unforgiving father of his. What? Why are you looking at me that way, my lord?”
    “I am tempted to tell you all is well, but you have not yet heard some other things I have learned from your commanding me to observe the coroner’s work and the scene of the death.”
    Her hopes plummeted; her stomach cramped again, despite that hippocras she’d drunk after dinner.
    “When I appointed you my chief advisor, Cecil, I charged you to always give me true counsel, whatever the risk or cost”
    “Then you’d best call that meeting, Your Majesty. More than that booted print in the cumin under Hodge’s body suggests that foul play was indeed afoot.”

Chapter the Fourth
    Maids of Honor
Make pastry enough for a double-crust pie. Preheat brick oven by burning wood or coals inside, then raking them out. Roll out pastry and cut in rounds, then fit in small bun or tartlet tins. Prick pastry with fork tines. Bring to near boil ½ pint fresh cow’s milk with 4 level tablespoons of white breadcrumbs (2-day-old bread is best). Remove from heat and leave for a few minutes. Into that mixture beat 8 teaspoons butter, cut in cubes. Beat in 2 tablespoons sugar, grated rind of 1 lemon, and ¾ cup ground blanched almonds. Although the mixture has some texture, be sure it is not lumpy. Beat in 3 good hen’s eggs. Half fill the pastry shells and bake for 15 minutes or until pastry has pulled away from side of tins and filling is golden brown. Car fully lift pastry from tins and cool before eating .
    IT WAS NEARLY ELEVEN O’CLOCK THAT NIGHT WHEN THE queen opened the hastily called meeting of her Privy Plot Council in her presence chamber. “I am not certain that we even have a murder to investigate,” she explained, “but considering the holiday season and all that depends on its going well, we’d best at least put our heads together on Hodge Thatcher’s strange demise.”
    She glanced around the table. Cecil sat next to her, frowning at a written report under his folded hands. Across the table, Meg Milligrew was wide-eyed; Jenks, beside her, looked intent, too. At the far end of the table, Ned Topside seemed glum and distracted when he should have been happy, for he had told her he’d found his old players’ troupe and they were coming to court tomorrow.
    On Elizabeth’s other side, Harry, Baron Hunsdon, was disturbed by being so suddenly summoned from the festivities, but then he was the one among them who knew nothing of these events yet. He was probably alarmed because each time her covert council had struggled to solve a murder, deceit and danger followed. The queen rued Kat’s absence, but she needed her sleep and should not be disturbed by unrest. Elizabeth longed to invite her maid of honor, Rosie, to replace Kat in this company, but if a murderer were out to disgrace Robin, her little band would have to investigate Rosie’s kin Lord Sussex—along with about half the court.
    The queen concluded her opening remarks with “Now that I have summarized for you the case for the poor man’s suicide, my lord Cecil will present the

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