LEGACY the acclaimed novel of Queen Eliz - By Susan Kay

Author’s Note

When portraying characters and incidents based on recorded historical facts I have tried to be as accurate as possible, with one notable exception. Henry Ratcliffe and Thomas Ratcliffe, both Earls of Sussex, were actually father and son; but, for the purposes of dramatic cohesion, I have condensed the two into one character. Also, the reader will find Edward Seymour introduced on his first appearance in the text as the Earl of Hertford. This title did not actually become his until later in the reign of Henry VIII. Several major characters were elevated following Henry’s death and it seemed inappropriate to alter the elder Seymour’s title twice within such a relatively short space of narrative.


He was only a small rat, but bolder than most, with a disproportionately long tail which curled behind him on the stone floor, losing itself in the half-gloom of a solitary candle’s light.

The crumbs of bread and stale marchpane, which had first tempted him out into danger, were long since finished. But still he sat there furtively, listening to the rain which teemed down the rough glass windows and drummed into the dirty moat outside the fortress. Black eyes, like polished buttons, gleaming yet opaque, nose quivering with the pungent tang of human scent, he sat and watched a shadowy prey. Young and female, it would be sweet between his teeth if only he dared to bite. But he did not dare, not yet; he was uncertain.

Once, in a darker, deeper cell than this, he had eaten away the entire face of a young boy on death’s helpless threshold. It had been enough to teach him that human flesh was better warm and void of decay; and now that dangerous craving inched him forward against the warning note of instinct. All his sharply defined senses told him that this victim was still dangerously alert. And yet there was an utter immobility which lulled him, drawing him ever closer in the faint, hungry hope that he might have been mistaken.

She sat on a low stone window-seat, wrapped in a cloak against the creeping cold and, like the solitary stone pillar that supported the roof, she might have been carved in that pose out of stone. She sat staring out of the window into the courtyard below, straining her eyes to see the yawning cavern that was the Tower’s main gateway.

The gate was her lodestone. Night and day it drew her to the stone-hooded window, and there was a starkly simple reason for her obsession. She had not entered beneath that archway and had even less hope of leaving by it. Through Traitor’s Gate she had come to this “very narrow place,” a grim fortress which had swallowed up so many lives—one of them, her mother’s.

Her long legs were drawn up beneath her chin, and a crumpled sheet of red-gold hair fell like a curtain over the arms which clasped them. She was just twenty, and had been waiting here to die for so many days that there had begun to be hours when she even forgot about it. Tonight she was well beyond her native fear of consequences, past caring about a tomorrow she had less hope of seeing than most.

Within the deeper shadows of the semi-circular room, there was a movement and a sudden shriek which sent the little piece of vermin fleeing through the stinking rushes for sanctuary.

“Hell’s teeth!” said a voice from the window-seat, strong and vibrant, yet curiously soft. “What have you seen now, Markham?”

Isabella Markham drew her cloak more closely round her shoulders and replied defensively. “A rat, madam. Close enough to have bitten Your Grace.”

The girl laughed. “The only rats I fear walk on two legs.”

“Then you ought to fear them, madam,” insisted Markham severely. “Father swears they carry the plague.”

“There are worse deaths,” said the girl, and was silent, thinking of one.

Markham snatched up the single candle and began to beat about in the dark corners of the room with a poker. There was an agitated savagery about her movements which suggested hysteria.

“When I find his hole I shall stop it up with rags. I won’t have you shut up in this filthy God-forsaken place with that—that unspeakable creature.”

“For Christ’s sake, Markham, it’s only a little rat.” The girl’s voice was still amused, but suggested a touch of impatience now. “We have them bigger than that at Hampton Court and Greenwich.”

“It’s not his size that troubles me,” muttered Markham grimly. “It’s the way he watched you. Madam, it was horrible—if you