The Peoples Queen by Vanora Bennett

By Vanora Bennett

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He doesn't want another woman wearing Philippa's trinkets. She respects that; she really does. But she can't help herself. It's not in her nature not to ask for more. ' Alice finishes, disconsolately. Her voice trails away. There's no point. Neither of the men is listening. ' Duke John says with slightly rough familiarity, as they step close in the column of couples. Alice doesn't mind dancing, if it's the stately, dignified basse dance, and if it's with him. They've talked privately before; she's spent many a Christmas with Edward and his family.

Don't get me started on priests,' Aunty said, a bit apologetically. 'What you need to know is, some bishop's sorted it out so that we don't all burn for eternity because of their selfishness. He says laymen can make confession to each other if they can't find a priest. The Apostles did that, didn't they? And if there isn't a man around to confess to, it can even be a woman. And if there's no one around at all, then, they say, faith must suffice. And it does. Suffice. You keep that in your head.

People were dying of it in Italy a year ago. Maybe it had come to the ports of Italy in ships; maybe it was the earthquake in Italy that had let the foul sulphurous fumes out from the inside of the earth, from the hellfire below. And now, Aunty said, she'd heard tell of worse on the way. Strange tempests, with sheets of fire and huge murderous hailstones all mixed up together, so you couldn't know whether you'd be burned to a crisp or battered to a pulp first. People said the fish in the seas were dying, and corrupting the air.

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