Roger Ascham and the Dead Queen's Command is a short sequel to Matthew Reilly's novel, The Tournament.
It is the January 18th of 1559, and it has been three days since the 25 year-old Elizabeth I was officially crowned Queen of England, following the passing of her half-sister Mary I a few months earlier. On this day, Elizabeth's former teacher Roger Ascham has been summoned to Her Majesty's throne room, and Ascham is able to deduce that something is wrong by the fact that he has been allowed to carry his bow at Elizabeth's insistence. Upon greeting one another (and Ascham shocking the court by making a cheeky remark despite Elizabeth taking it in stride), Elizabeth orders all but Ascham, her chief advisor William Cecil, and the Captain of the Queen’s Body Guard Sir William St Loe, to leave them be.
Once they are in private, Elizabeth tells Ascham that she believes someone is going to try to kill her the next day, and she has Cecil show her former teacher a trio of high-quality dolls which all have an arrow stick through their chests. Cecil explains that over the previous fortnight, the three men whom the dolls represent were murdered two days after each doll was delivered to the palace. From this, Ascham asks to see the Queen's doll, having concluded that Elizabeth also received one in her image the previous day, and is thus now also in danger.
As Ascham examines the doll, he is informed that Elizabeth's coronation festivities will take place the next day, with the Queen herself set to be on a flotilla flowing down the Thames. Ascham suggests that she cancel the flotilla, but Elizabeth refuses. With England having been divided by the actions of her father Henry VIII and half-sister Mary during their rules, particularly after the latter's execution of several Protestants, Elizabeth knows it is her duty to unite the Kingdom and cannot show any weakness. In any case, Elizabeth is confident that the assassin can be thwarted by Ascham, and thus he now has 24 hours to find him.
Ascham, accompanied by an ensign from the Queen's Body Guard named Jonathon Hopgood, ventures to the Tower of London, where the bodies of the previous three victims are being kept. Examining each of the bodies and the arrows which killed them, Ascham is able to determine that each of the victims was hit by an arrow that was fired from very far away, meaning the assassin is extremely skilled at archery. Additionally, the arrow that killed the last victim, Lord Radcliffe, has a distinctive yellow shaft and gold arrowhead, so the assassin is also a noted champion archer. Ascham asks Hopgood if Elizabeth removed all of Mary's advisers and the Guard of Catholics upon beginning her rule; Hopgood notes that some in the court remain, but all of the Catholic guards resigned, aside from one, Silas Maynard, who resigned a few weeks before Mary's death. Ascham then asks Hopgood to check the records of the resigned Catholic guards to see if any won an archery contest while he looks into where the dolls came from.
Unfortunately, with the recent coronation of Elizabeth, there are many dolls in the Queen's image, and Ascham cannot find any that match the artistry of the one sent by the assassin. However, he eventually hears of a dollmaker of great quality, Emily Wimple, who works on the London Bridge. Visiting her establishment, Ascham finds that the doll came from there, but there are several more like it so the one sent to the Queen was not unique. Since the nearby buildings provide a good view over the Thames, Ascham leaves a request for the landlord owning most of the buildings to send a list of his tenants to the palace urgently.
As Ascham is making his way back to Whitehall, he gets the felling he is being followed, and manages to double back and hide. His suspicions are confirmed as a fellow with a three-cornered hat and bushy mustache appears. Having lost Ascham, the man departs, leaving Ascham free to continue back to Whitehall. There, Hopgood informs him that one of the Catholic Guardsmen, Maynard, was an expert archer and a favourite of Queen Mary's. Though no one seems to know where Maynard is now, Hopgood is able to give Ascham a description, which matches the fellow who was stalking him earlier. Hopgood adds that there were rumours that Maynard had been summoned to Mary's bedside as she was dying and then immediately resigned. With no other leads, Ascham decides to speak with the only man who attended the mysterious meeting, the Bishop of London, Edmund Bonner, a notorious supporter of Mary's.
The following morning, Ascham and Hopgood go to visit the Bishop, however he makes them wait a long time before finally meeting them. Bonner makes clear his dislike for Ascham due to his teachings to Elizabeth making her a heretic in his eyes. Regarding the meeting between Mary and Maynard, Bonner gleefully reveals that Mary gave him a final command to be carried out after her death, and a large enough sum of money to ensure he lived out the rest of his live easily. Though Ascham demands to know what this command was, Bonner refuses, instead remarking that, should Elizabeth die, her cousin Mary Queen of Scots, a devout Catholic, would take her place on the throne.
With no other lines of inquiry and the flotilla likely already out on the Thames, Ascham and Hopgood are at a loose end until a messenger from Elizabeth reaches them. In addition to a message from Elizabeth, Ascham receives a list of Rimington's tenants, and from it he sees that Maynard is renting the space above the Wimple doll shop, realising that is where he is going to shoot Elizabeth from.
Rushing to the doll shop, Ascham rushes inside and upstairs, spying the Queen's barge on the Thames, which is almost within range of an archer's reach. Bursting into the room, Ascham finds Maynard preparing to take aim, and the two men both hurry to fire their respective arrows. Though Ascham is hit in the shoulder and pinned to the doorframe, his own shot has struck Maynard directly in the heart, killing the assassin. After Hopgood frees him, Ascham watches from the window as Elizabeth's barge approaches. Noticing him, Elizabeth realises her teacher has succeeded and gives him a knowing smile and nod.
The following day, Ascham gives Elizabeth, Cecil and Sir William his report, and how Mary's final command to Maynard was the assassination order, which the now-imprisoned Bonner has confessed including making Elizabeth fearful for her life, which is why Maynard killed the other men and left the dolls first. Elizabeth thanks Ascham for his assistance, and offers him a reward; while Ascham merely requests that he have no more missions like this one, Elizabeth decides to also grant him a title and some land. All she wants in return, is for Ascham to continue calling her Bess as he used to, which Ascham agrees to.
- Roger Ascham
- Queen Elizabeth I
- William Cecil
- Sir William St Loe
- Jonathon Hopgood
- Emily Wimple
- Albert Rimington (mentioned only)
- Bishop Edmund Bonner
- Lord Radcliffe (mentioned only)
- Sir Peter Cavendish (mentioned only)
- Queen Mary I (mentioned only)
- King Henry VIII (mentioned only)
- This is the first short story to serve as a sequel to a stand-alone novel that Matthew Reilly has written.