The Fifteenth Day of January,
in the Year of Our Lord 1570
The Queen's Presence Chamber--
I am sitting with the other Maids of Honour, awaiting the Queen. We are huddled as close to the roaring fire as we can get without scorching our skirts. I must be especially careful for Mrs. Champernowne, the Mistress of the Maids, has warned that there is not an endless supply of kirtles for me. (The last one only had a little tear from my recent entanglement with a holly bush and I did not mean to put my foot through the hole!)
We are not usually at the Palace of Placentia at this season. We moved here in a rush, for there was talk of plague near Whitehall last month, where we were to have spent the winter. I think it was just a rumour, for plague generally strikes in summer, but Her Majesty has a horror of it. So there was nothing for it but we must pack everything up and come to Greenwich.
Mrs. Champernowne has left instructions that we are to do our embroidery and listen dutifully while Mary Shelton reads to us from "A Godly Meditation of the Christian Soul," by Marguerite of Angouleme. It is the Queen's own translation, done when she was only fifteen, and I am sure it is excellent--but Marguerite of Angouleme is a little too Godly for my taste.
I am pleased to write in my new daybooke. It is a beautiful book with a pink vellum cover, and a gift from Her Majesty herself for the New Year. I must be certain I do not make ink blots over it. But that will be hard, for I have exciting news!
Today a most unusual guest arrives at the palace--Banoo Yasmine of Sharakand! "Banoo" means "Lady," for Banoo Yasmine is from a noble family and said to be very beautiful. Sharakand is thousands of miles away near the Holy Lands. No one at Court has ever visited it, but the stories are many and the Maids are chattering of exotic clothes, strange animals, and fruit to be picked from the trees all year round. Banoo Yasmine is an exile from this wondrous place and Her Majesty has offered her sanctuary. I must be sure that no one peeks over my shoulder as I write, for only I of all the Maids know the reason for the Banoo's exile. It is most entertaining to listen to their fanciful ideas on the subject.
"I have heard she is a great sorceress!" said Penelope. "Mayhap she has upset someone by turning them into an earwig."
"I am certain that she must have fled on account of a prince of Araby," Lady Sarah Bartelmy told us all with a flick of her copper curls. "He wanted to steal her away because he was smitten with love for her."
Lady Sarah thinks of nothing but love and marriage.
"That could be true," agreed Mary Shelton, "for her beauty is legendary. She will surely win all the men's hearts here at Court."
That, however, did not please my fine Lady Sarah, for she considers herself to be the most beautiful of the Maids and does not like any sniff of competition. "No one has yet seen her!" she snapped. "I warrant that in truth she is really ugly and has cast an enchantment on those who look at her! That would be how she caught the eye of the prince of Araby."
"Perhaps you should try that, Sarah," said Lady Jane Coningsby, very sweetly.
Lady Jane and Lady Sarah see themselves as rivals for the affections of all the young unmarried gentlemen at Court and cannot be friends. But before Lady Sarah could make a barbed reply there were shrieks from Carmina and Penelope.
"We must not be unkind about the Banoo!" exclaimed Carmina. "Or she may cast a spell on us!"
"She could turn us into frogs!" giggled Penelope.
"Or crows!" squealed Carmina. "Or even pigs!"
They rocked with laughter till I thought they would fall off their cushions.
"In truth," I said solemnly, "the Banoo will not need to turn you into any beast."
"Why not?" asked Mary.
"Because she will bring her own fabulous creatures with her," I told them, trying not to laugh.
"What are they?" gasped Carmina and Penelope in one breath.
"Huge birds that can carry a man on their wings, fearsome snakes, and giant lizards with two heads," I said. "And they are all her enemies under enchantment. Now I must begin my new daybooke before Her Majesty arrives. It will please her to see me writing in it."
I wish that the Banoo's story was as exotic as the Maids imagine. Alas, it is rather sad. The Queen told me the real reason for Banoo Yasmine's visit some weeks ago when her messenger came with letters asking for sanctuary.
"Keep your counsel until the Banoo's arrival, Grace," she bade me. "For the other Maids are too apt to gossip. They would work themselves into a great ferment over the matter and I have not the patience to bear it."
The Queen often confides in me, for she knows I am her loyal subject and would not break her confidence. I have been at Court since my birth, and the Queen is my godmother. Both my parents are dead. My father died just after I was born and two years ago my dear mother drank poisoned wine intended for the Queen, thus saving Her Majesty's life but losing her own. I am the youngest Maid of Honour in Her Majesty's service, and secretly--it still gives me a thrill to write it--I am her Lady Pursuivant. That means it is my duty to seek out wrongdoers and those who wish her ill.
But I am wandering from my story. The Queen told me that the Banoo comes from a noble family which has served the kings of Sharakand for centuries. The head of the family has always been the king's Chief Minister, rather as Secretary Cecil is to our Queen.
And so it has been for hundreds of years. But now all is changed. There has been a revolt. The old king was murdered by a usurper who took the throne by force. The new king, Ashraf, declared the Banoo's family to be traitors and had them killed! Only Banoo Yasmine escaped. She fled Sharakand with a few of her loyal servants and her horses. She hopes to find a safe home in England, and so she comes to ask our Queen for sanctuary and for a loan, since the new king has stolen so much of her land and wealth that she is left quite poor! She will have to provide the Queen with surety for the loan, of course--something of a similar value that the Queen will hold in her safekeeping until the loan is repaid. But the Banoo still has many jewels--and mayhap some fabulous beasts or items of sorcery that are not to be found in all of England!From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Exile by Lady Grace Cavendish. Copyright © 2006 by Lady Grace Cavendish. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.