1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne.
There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…
2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.
Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?
The loud noise as she exhaled sharply, a violent ‘psssw’ of air and spittle, echoed around the almost empty, cavernous border control area. A cathedral for a modern age, welcoming all to its hallowed halls. Or possibly not all, Mathilde thought as she stood before the sour faced man in front of her. Incongruously, behind him a dusty sign announced: ‘Welcome to England’. Most of her fellow travellers were now in their cars and continuing their journeys, whilst the final few foot passengers disembarked from the ferry, dusty backpacks on tired shoulders. Here she was though, waiting in this enormous, cold, echoing space while an officious old man in an ill-fitting uniform kept firing the same questions at her.
‘Do you have dual nationality?’ he repeated slowly, waving her passport at her, held open with his thumb, ‘are you French, or Lebanese?’
‘Oui, French,’ she spoke slowly to give the impression she couldn’t understand, hoping he’d give up with his questioning and let her continue her journey, ‘I am French.’
‘But here,’ he showed her a page of her passport, ‘it says born in Lebanon.’ He enunciated each word slowly. She looked at him blankly, slowly unfurling her fingers from the clenched fist they were gripped in and stretching, before curling them back up again. Usually her vacant expression worked, but this old man was tenacious and she found herself being marched to a small interview room where they gave her a plastic cup of tepid water, while they waited for someone to find a French interpreter. They were twentyseven miles from France, how hard could it be?
Opening her bag, she pulled out the letter which had brought her here. It was on thick, cream coloured vellum, the sort of correspondence which immediately convinced the recipient to open it. A frightening, bureaucratic piece of mail. The solicitor sending it had embarked on a long explanation about how he’d seen a photograph she’d taken in Amelia magazine whilst visiting Stockholm and had subsequently tracked her down. Given how she’d spent her whole life moving about to avoid being noticed, he’d been lucky. If the publication had used her pseudonym rather than accidentally printing her real name, she’d still be living her anonymous life. But the letter insisted she made urgent contact regarding a property called Lutton Hall in England. Norfolk, to be exact. She’d changed her mind about coming to England three times before eventually booking her ferry. She might not understand what they wanted, but it seemed these solicitors were extremely keen to meet her.
And now here she was, as directed by the letter she was holding, en route to the village in Norfolk where she was hoping to find some answers. Or at least she would be, if these time-wasting idiots let her go. It was the same old story, someone with too much time on their hands and a uniform on their back who took one look at her slightly less than salubrious converted ambulance and immediately became suspicious. Especially when they asked to see her passport, the numerous visas and her place of birth showing she was always on the move. What else did they expect from a photojournalist? She wasn’t going to get many gritty, political or war zone photos sat in a one bed apartment in Paris, was she?
Her thoughts were interrupted by another man coming into the room.
‘May I have the keys to your van please?’ he asked. She looked out of the window to where she could see two police officers, both holding on to the leads of bouncing, energetic, springer spaniels, barking manically. She smirked slightly. They wouldn’t find any drugs in there; she knew exactly what those dogs were trained to sniff out. Reaching into her pocket she held out the keys.
‘I have plants in the front,’ her eyes narrowed, ‘herbs, not marijuana,’ she added. ‘Please make sure your dogs do not damage them.’ His face remained blank as he took the keys and disappeared. She watched as the police carefully sniffed at the myriad of herbs and spices she was growing, but eventually together with the disappointed looking dogs they locked the van up again.
Finally, at the point where she’d begun to wonder if she’d ever get further than Dover, someone on the end of a phone was able to confirm that although originally from Beirut, Mathilde now held French citizenship and therefore had every right to be entering the UK. With a snarl she snatched up her bag together with the returned keys and stalked out of the room, her passport in her hand. She’d already had enough of this godforsaken country and she’d barely stepped onto the soil. The sooner she could accomplish what she’d been called upon to do, the sooner she could return to her roaming existence, far from rules, the authorities and a society she neither liked, nor understood. Somewhere she felt safer.
Thank you, Clare Marchant and The Coffee Pot Book Club
About the Author
Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT, before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweller. Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins, or visiting the nearby coast
Amazon Author Page: https://amzn.to/3fkuf2r