Monday, July 09, 2012

The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr

Sandra Byrd

The author of To Die For returns to the court of Henry VIII as a young woman is caught between love and honor.

Juliana St. John is the daughter of a prosperous knight. Though her family wants her to marry the son of her father's business partner, circumstances set her on a course toward the court of Henry VIII and his last wife, Kateryn Parr. For she knows a secret. She has been given the gift of prophecy, and in one of her visions she has seen Sir Thomas shredding the dress of the king's daughter, the lady Elizabeth, to perilous consequence.

As Juliana learns the secrets of King Henry VIII's court, she faces threats and opposition, learning truths about her own life that will undo everything she holds dear.

"Rich in historical detail, full of intrigue, and starring a memorable heroine, Sandra Byrd's The Secret Keeper kept me completely engrossed in the tumultuous court of Henry VIII. I felt a part of the times, thanks to the author's skillful storytelling, vivid descriptions, and inspiring characters. Readers are in for a special treat with this remarkable novel." —Francine Rivers, New York Times bestselling author

Chapter One Excerpt

Once I began to read out The Acts of the Apostles, I quit, for the moment, of my fears and lost myself in the resonant words of Saint Paul and the upturned faces of the crofters, the millers, and the goodwives, breathing heavily in their mean woolen garb. Sir Thomas remained for the reading but left afore the townsfolk did. Afterward, Father Gregory called me back to a quiet closet shut off from hungry eyes and thirsty ears.

"And now, Juliana. Unburden yourself."

"You know of my dream." I spoke immediately.

He nodded. " I know a little. Would you like to share its entirety?"

"About a year ago, shortly after my father died, I began to have a dream. 'Twas not an ordinary dream, but it was powerful and left me in a sweat and fever with my senses vexed," I said. "My maid, Lucy, would calm me afterward though she was frightened, too." I forced my hands from twisting ropes of my fine skirts and continued.

"I saw a barn, a large barn, filled with wheat and livestock of all kinds. And of course the husbandmen and others who tended the flocks and fields. At night, something kindled within the barn and within minutes the barn was aflame. The livestock and grains were all burnt and the building was too."

"Yes?" His voice was gentle but prodded me to continue.

"At first I had the dream only once, and then six months later it came back. Then after a month, and then a week. Each time the dream would grow more fervent. The heat peeled my skin like parchment and I my ears could not refused the desperate bleating of the animals and the screams of men. One night, I noticed that the doors to the barn looked exactly like the doors to my father's warehouses. And then, 'twas pressed upon my heart, for this reason you have been shown the fire. After some nights I knew I must tell my mother. 'Twas not a choice but a compulsion."

He grimaced, as though swallowing bitter ale. "And she ..."

"Disbelieved me at first. But I was insistent. As you know I am wont to be. My Lady mother has said no more. But lately, I ... dreamt. And I know she heard me call out, though my maid sought to wake and still me as soon as she heard my unrest."

"Is this another of the same kind of dream?"


"Have you told your mother?"
"I have told no one." My voice made it clear that I would not be forthcoming, even to him, with the contents of this dream. "But she came to my chamber and saw my countenance. After my maid had left us she declared me a witch." I swallowed roughly. "Is it true? Am I a witch?"

I looked at my hands, not wanting to see his face, and nor how he might now view me, afore I heard his answer. I desperately wanted to keep his good opinion of me.

"No," he said gently. "You are not a witch. Do not let that trouble you again."

I sighed with relief, perhaps too soon, and looked up as he spoke. "But others could claim that you are one if they hear of your dreams or do not like the content of them. The penalty for witchcraft is death and forfeiture of all material wealth, no matter how highly born. Wait here." He rose and left the room, his long black clerical robes sweeping the fine dust beneath them whilst I tried to quiet the worries that newly beset me.

When he returned, he handed me a book. "Tyndale," I said, tracing my finger over the lettering.

He took the book from me and opened it up to the Acts of the Apostles, just a few pages on from that morning's reading. "It shall be in the last days, saith God: I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. And on my servants, and on my handmaidens I will pour out my spirit in those days and they shall prophesy."

We sat there, time marked by a hundred quiet breaths. Then he took the book from me and slipped threads that he pulled from his vestments between various of the pages before handing it back to me.

"My dreams ... they are prophecy?" I whispered, suddenly understanding why he'd chosen that passage.

"'Tis your gift." His drawn face showed me that he knew it to be a heavy burden.
I stood up. "An unsolicited gift! An unwarranted trouble!" I pushed my hair back from my head and when I took my hand away it was wet with the evidence of fear and despair.

"Woe to the pot who tells the potter how she should be fashioned," he rebuked me.

I sat down again, shamed. "I know it well. I am afraid."

"God has specially chosen you, and He will be with you, Juliana."

Cold seeped from the church walls and into my bones, which now felt very like those buried in the plot outside must feel.

"You must take care. There are laws against prophecies, too, if those in power or are noble or highborn are not pleased with the predicted outcome. The prophet or prophetess may be thrown into the Tower for such - and worse."

He took my hand in his own again and I readily yielded it. "God Himself has opened your eyes. Many of the things you foresee shall be difficult and unwelcome and the temptation will be to remain silent or run away. Some you must act upon in faith but may not learn the reason why during this lifetime. I shall pray for you," he said gravely. "That you may be able to resist in the evil days which will surely come. And to stand."

Please visit Sandra at; the book is available for purchase at fine bookstores everywhere.

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