There was a loud thump on the door which Maria ignored, more focused on dragging her mistress back from the window, where she stood in her shift, sobbing.
"Infanta," Maria had her arms around Catalina's waist, pulling with enough force that the tiny princess should have been sent toppling onto the ground. But somehow her mistress held firm, fingers digging into the stone of the wall. "Come away, please!"
The thumping on the door continued and Maria heard a man's voice shout something in English. Lina responded before turning back to Maria and Rosa.
"It's the King." She told them. The Infanta's head snapped around letting Maria see her panicked tear stained eyes.
"My lady, please." Maria repeated.
The King yelled something from the other side of the door and Lina responded.
"Get a robe!" Maria shouted at Rosa, finally peeling her mistress away from the window. The King seemed decidedly enraged as he yelled again.
"What king?" The Infanta asked, voice cracking as she turned to completely face Maria.
"The King of England." Maria told her as she pushed her mistress' red, tangled hair from her shoulders and gasped in horror. A thick red line of blistering skin wrapped around her mistress' neck.
"Infanta..." Maria began as Rosa brought a red robe over.
"Where am I?" Asked the Infanta, voice cracking as the King yelled again. She heard Lina's gasp as the Moor caught sight of Catalina's neck.
"Get the Infanta dressed." Lina ordered. Rosa all but shoved Catalina's quivering arms into her robe as Maria rushed to grab a veil. The King yelled again but this time it was the Infanta who responded.
"You speak of curtesy while you beat and scream like an ape!" The Infanta said. Then, once again, she asked. "Where am I? This is not the Tower, where am I?"
Maria pulled a coronet from out of a trunk and grabbed the veil it had been paired with.
"At Dogmersfield, my lady." Lina informed her. "In England."
The King shouted again but this time, everyone ignored him. The Infanta looked around wildly until her eyes landed on Maria and her mouth fell open. Catalina's face took on a shade of white so ghastly that Maria feared she might collapse into a faint.
"De Sallinas?" She said as Maria placed the coronet and veil atop her mistress' head.
Catalina seemed to sway to the side but rosa grabbed onto her arm, righting the Infanta. The King banged his fist against the door so hard it shook.
"Open the door." Catalina said in English, to Maria's confusion. "Open the fucking door."
The King stormed in as soon as Lina unlocked the door. He was tall with a good nose and a greying beard, in a rose cloak. Maria curtsied with the other young women, thinking to herself that he was quite handsome. If his son took after him in appearance the Infanta would count herself a lucky bride and doubly so if Arthur had not inherited his father's manners.
"Infanta." The King spoke in a voice containing the minutest trace of a French accent. Maria looked at her mistress to see that she was gripping onto Rosa's arm with both hands.
"Your highness." She responded, in a voice so soft that Maria could nearly hear her. The King stepped closer and opened his mouth as if to speak but in the same low whisper Catalina continued. "It does not surprise me that a king would be so impatient but one might expect more restraint when faced with his own son's wife." The Infanta said. Maria saw Lina shift in discomfort and deduced that her mistress must have said something insulting.
"I merely wish to lay my eyes upon what we have waited half a year to see." The King responded. "Please remove your veil."
"You, Your Highness, seek to enter my rooms whilst I am in a state of undress and then demand that I expose myself further?" The Infanta spoke, pulling herself more upright and away from Rosa's body. "It is Spanish custom to wear this veil until my wedding day."
"Our customs are different." The King said.
"That may be, Your Highness." The Infanta said back, voice sweet. "And I will respect that when I do not have strange men entering my rooms while I am in my shift."
"I would see your face before you wed my heir." The King's voice was hard but not quite threatening in it's tone. Maria watched with a inevitable sense of horror as her mistress swayed first to the right and then the left. The King, praise be to god, noticed the movement and sprung forward grasping the Infanta by her shoulders keeping her upright.
"If you are ill you will have a doctor." The King told the Infanta. Maria thought to herself that that might be a dangerous idea.
"Come, fetch your mistress a chair!" The King stared right at Maria. His eyes were brown with light flecks of green. Maria scurried to grab the chair behind Rosa forward for the Infanta. Catalina all but fell backwards into it, doubling over on herself so that she was almost bent in two before she straightened up. The Infanta put her hands on the arms of the chair and straightened her spine as if a puppet pulled to life by a string.
"I fell out of my bed, Your Highness, and struck my head." Catalina said. "But I will see your physician and remove my veil when you so kindly leave to dress. Or is it English custom for the father of the groom to see the bride's naked body before the wedding?"
The King nodded his head, leaned forward and said something so low Maria could not hear. Then he turned on his heel and walked out. Catalina ripped the coronet and veil from her head and burst into tears.
Anne lay in the bed, curtains pulled. Catherine's bad with Catherine's fanatical Spanish ladies gossiping outside. She fought back the hysterical laugh bubbling up in her throat. She expected either Hell with demons and fiery whips or Heaven with her dead baby boys and brother. And Pourquoi. If dogs could go to heaven that was. But Anne was in neither. She was in bloody Catherine of Aragon's body with Maria de Salinas calling her Infanta. And Henry the Seventh.
Anne rolled onto her side and forced herself to take a deep breath, filling her sore throat with cool oxygen. The she put her hand over her face, feeling the massive owl like eyes, small upturned nose and the large red lips that would become Mary's only handsome feature.
What sort of hell was this? Anne wondered. To ride in the body of Catherine of Aragon while she wedded two brothers?
God, it was not as if Anne didn't have some pity-some bloody empathy-for the woman. She'd heard enough moaning and whining about the "Princess of Wales'" lodgings and the fact that Chapuys couldn't see her but Henry had had her killed on trumped up, shit charges. Bloody bastard.
That's what her husband had been, Anne finally allowed herself to think. She let out a bark of a laugh. A bloody obsessive bastard.
To think she hadn't sealed her own damnation when Henry had banished Katherine and Mary-Pearl of his world, Anne's asshole-away without a word or a backwards glance. Anne had not asked for that, oh she'd wanted them gone and she'd made no bones about it to Henry or anyone else but even she'd found it strange that they'd been all but vanished without a word. At least, until Mary had been put in Elizabeth's household. She should have known he was capable of murder when he'd done that. God, she should have known when he'd beheaded Thomas More.
"My lady," The curtain on her bed opened ever so slightly to reveal a woman Anne did not recognize at all. Maybe she'd been dead by the time Anne had returned from France.
"Is the Doctor here?" Anne asked, struggling to keep an accent that wasn't tinged with French.
"Not yet, Infanta." The woman said. "Let me bathe your throat."
Anne tensed on the bed, about to refuse, about to protest but the curtain opened fully to reveal what Anne could only describe as the most maternal woman she had ever seen. She was not plump but thin and her face was not vastly aged as Anne's grandmother's had been but her black eyes held a softness and warmth that Anne had not seen directed toward her in a very long time. Slowly she got out from beneath her blankets, Catherine's blankets, Catherine's body. Anne felt as if she could throw herself from the top of whatever mansion was housing them and not feel any pain when she hit the ground.
"It will be alright, Señora." The woman said, putting a hand on Anne's bare shoulder, making her jump. She then cradled Anne's cheeks. "You will meet Prince Arthur and be a wife soon. This homesickness will pass."
Then she bent and lifted a wet towel from the bowl that must have been on the floor.
"He's going to die." Anne told the woman. "He'll be dead before next winter."
She froze, large dark eyes peering into Anne's own. Catherine's own.
"Dona Elvira..." A woman who Anne could not see spoke.
"Be quiet!" Dona Elvira snapped. "Tell no one of the Infanta's premonition."
She then put the rag back into the bowl of water, rang it out and held it up to Anne's neck.
"What has God shown you, my lady?" She asked as she pressed the warm, soft fabric to Anne's aching throat. Anne jerked backwards as the touch made her pain worsen. She raised a hand to touch her neck since the first time she had awoken. Since she died.
Anne fought an unwelcome sob that rose up from the very center of Catherine's tiny body. She didn't win, feeling her eyes grow wet and her lungs heave as she let out a choked hiccup.
"Infanta Catalina?" Out of nowhere de Salinas appeared at her back, wrapping an arm around her. Anne twisted around and hugged the blond woman, eyes shut, imagining the spaniard was her own Mary. Anne began to sob, body shaking.
"No." Anne said. "No, I'm not."
Maria only held more tightly as she wailed. Another set of arms came to clasp her within them. She felt her entire body begin to melt into the two woman. Anne wished they could swallow her up, that she could disappear into the air. It had been a long time since she had been hugged or held by another woman. Maria de Salinas rubbed her hand up and down Anne's back. The touch heated Anne's skin, despite Catherine's nightshift between their skin. Catherine's skin. Catherine's bones. Catherine's fucking tears.
There was a soft rap on the door which Dona Elvira ignored. The elder woman kissed the top of Anne's head. It was like Anne's mother had done of her and she had done for Elizabeth what now seemed like a lifetime ago.
"Infanta, you must be strong like your lady mother." Dona Elvira whispered before she released Anne to de Salinas.
"My mother..." Anne spat out in English before loosing herself in another fit of sobs. Her mother would be barred in her rooms at this moment, mourning for the two-no, three, Mary was as unlikely to reconcile with their parents as they were to forgive her-children she had lost to ambition. Elizabeth Howard had no spine, acquiescing to her husband and brother's whims before Anne's childish eyes. When Anne was a grown maid she realized that may of of those whims had actually been planted in the earth tilled and watered by her lady mother. Such games were something Mary had never learned and Anne had been arrogant enough to think she was the master of.
"Infanta," De Salinas whispered. "You cannot weep in such a manner, you are the daughter of Isabel of Castille. You were raised on sterner stuff."
Anne hiccuped, swallowing her tears. Yes, she thought, Catherine of Aragon had been made of sterner stuff, just as her mother, the legendary queen had been. But Anne's mother had been a snake, buried in the grass along a road waiting for some hapless horse to step just within striking range and Anne La Boleyn, the Concubine, the Night Crow, thrice damned, brother fucking, witch would learn to use that snake spine.
By god, she had time. Catherine was what? Fifteen, sixteen? Henry had given her over twenty years and Anne only three.
"It's the physician, my lady." De Salinas told her.
"I will see him now." Anne pulled herself from De Salinas' arms and choked back a sob.
"So what's wrong with the brat?" My lady, the King's mother demanded. Thomas Butts wondered if the tiny, rail thin woman ever sat. She loomed over her son like a statue of some martyred saint.
"The Princess does not seem to have sustained any severe injury." Thomas assured the elderly woman. "In fact, I believe her weakness comes from exhaustion, my lady."
"Are you certain of that?" Margaret asked. "She seemed spirited enough when I spoke to her."
Thomas opened his mouth to assure her but the King spoke.
"The Infanta carried no sign of injury?"
"The Princess Catherine bore but one." He did not know how to describe it. The mark had been visible from the moment he entered the Princess' quarters and had turned his stomach. He! The physician who had tended limbs crushed under horses, who had attended over a hundred hangings, who had bathed dozens of diseased men in mercury before being appointed as royal physician. "An abrasion to her throat, your highness."
"Of what nature?" The King's mother inquired.
"The Infanta claimed she had fallen from her bed." The King informed him.
"Yes, your highness." Thomas said. He paused, thinking wilding. The wound had no resemblance, other than it's placement, to those condemned to hang but perhaps that would be enough. "I believe her highness became entangled within her bedsheets, for it encircles her neck."
"Around her neck?" Margaret Beaufort asked incredulously.
"Yes." Thomas responded. "I thought could be some kind of a disfiguring birth mark, my lady. But umbrage of the mark itself and the skin the frames it hinted of bruising."
"Thank you, Dr. Butts." The King nodded his head and flicked his fingers up in a clear dismissal. Thomas bowed and backed out of the room.
"That girl needs to be watched, Henry." He overheard Margaret Beaufort say to her son.
"I'm sure you are more than capable of that, mother."
Thomas heard Margaret's chuckle before the door closed behind him.
Anne did not know what to expect of Arthur. No one spoke of hi before or after the settling of The King's Great Matter. And Henry only talked about him when he was so deep in his cups that his memory would be lost the next morning. Anne remembered one night, a month or so before Henry had set upon his conscience and begun to hear legal opinions for the first trial of his marriage when the King had visited Hever and gotten drunk enough to go banging on Anne's door in a fever of misery.
As Anne followed Buckingham's instructions and walked down the crushingly narrow stairs and corridors of Dognerfield house, she was reminded of Hever. Her father had modified the mansion to open up every tunnel and dark burrow so that light lit every room, much as the palaces of France were styled. It made her home different than any other English manor she had visited. It was expensive, exotic, and somewhat awe inspiring. A bit like Hampton court but, more so, the opposite of Wolf Hall, the stone barn that she would not have even housed her dogs in, much less her family. Anne did suppose Jane was as much of a panting whore as any bitch in heat, so perhaps it suited the Seymours.
Anne was shaken from her musings by the first step of the staircase. She nearly pitched forward, heart spluttering in her chest as she felt her body drop out from beneath her head. Catherine's slippered foot hit the first stair but Anne did not breath until she reached the door in front of her and even then her breath were shallow, constrained by a body unused to a proper, French corset.
Catherine's slippers were soft and unhealed, making only the slightest of scuffing sounds that were almost drowned by the rustle of her skirts as she walked toward the door, arms swinging at her sides. She wanted to put them on her hips but instead gripped the sides of her skirts, fisting the fabric between her fingers. The door swung open.
Where was he? Anne thought as the sun blinded her eyes. Where was the prince?
In front of her were a group of nobles long dead before her time. Or banished. But she could recognize the nose of the Plantagenet de La Pole in a woman in a soft green dress and her own husband in the brown eyes of a woman she could only describe as the most disapproving creature she had seen. And Anne had once been threatened by a mob of merchant's wives at the start of Catherine's trial.
Her former husband's divorce. First divorce. La Foutu homme.
Anne forced herself to take a deep breath, eyes going up to the grey heavens. Where was the light? Anne wondered. There was a crow flapping overhead.
When she looked back down at the earth, Anne's eyes landed upon the fifteen or sixteen year old boy in front of her. Next to his gaping father. Well, not gaping, that was too generous a term for the slight part of his highness, Henry VII-Her Henry's-thin lips. The Kings eyes ran up and down Anne's frame-Catherine's frame-before they fixed on a point just past her shoulder. Interesting, Anne thought. She'd known what those looks meant since Mary had tumbled with François I. He was a goodly man, the King. Of course he was, he looked like Henry had when his hair started to grey.
"My lady," The young man in front of her said. "I welcome you to England."
Anne looked at the boy. He had large, sad, eyes that seemed somewhere between blue and green set around a thin Grecian nose in round cheeks. His chin could almost have been considered as pointed as Anne's but while her's had gifted her with a heart shaped appearance, on this boy it made him look more fragile than he likes was. He was Henry's brother after all.
"I thank you for your welcome." Anne responded. "Highness."
Then she curtsied. He bowed with all the ceremonial dignity of a bred prince that was duly rewarded with applause.
"May I show you the gardens, my lady?"
Shall we go for a walk, my lady? Henry used to ask her; used to whisper in her ear as they danced or they sat together, eating. Then it had become; Shall we get some fresh air, my Nan?
They would stroll, laughing and talking at first but soon every stroll became some mad rush into a noon so that Henry could haul her skirts about her thighs and press his mouth to her most secret places. Anne doubted that his highness, Arthur, Prince of Wales had even had a woman beneath his tongue before. Anne's cheeks still reddened at the innocent query.
"If my lord wishes," She curtsied as she agreed.
The gardens of Dogmersfield were plain and wet from the morning rain. Anne took deep breathes, filling her nostrils with the scent of grass that seemed tightened by the dew. There would be flowers blooming in the next few months.
Arthur cleared his throat, a hacking sound that failed to interrupt Anne's enjoyment of her surroundings. She liked the trees in the distance but thought they might be more beautiful once the storm had passed. Apple trees, Anne realized. It had been her favorite feature of Hever. They differentiated her home from many of the grander palaces in London or Paris. Arthur cleared his throat again. Anne turned her head to admire the picturesque group of nervous, watchful nobles. Anne thought her glance rather unnerved the de la Pole in woman in the green dress.
"Was your journey eventful, my lady?" Arthur, Prince of Wales asked her. She laughed, throwing her head back as she recognized the terrified grimace. Yes, that was Margaret de la Pole. Anne wouldn't have imagined the beleaguered the woman as any kind of beauty, but here she was, in the prime of life, and a pale skinned, doe eyed English rose. Like the Duchess of Suffolk had been. Anne sobered, eyes going back to the ground, smile dying on her cheeks. It was best not to think of that Mary. It was never best to think of Mary.
"My lady?" The Prince of Wales voice cracked as he spoke and he looked uncomfortable. Anne smiled again, this time at him. Arthur, this fifteen year old boy-that's what he'd been-cheek's darkened a shade better. His skin finally had some color. He raised a hand to his throat before, quick as a rabbit down a burrow he tucked his thumb back into his belt.
"Your voice is growing in strength, my lord." Anne told him, clasping her hands in front of her. "There is nothing to be ashamed of."
"I am already a man grown," Arthur responded in a tone that made Anne think he was trying to convince himself more than her. "Soon I will be eighteen and a man wed."
Anne fixed her eyes firmly on her hands, trying to keep from laughing like a madwoman, again. Then the implication of what Arthur had actually said hit her.
"When?" Anne asked, more dully than she expected. Catherine's voice was deeper and duller than her own shriek, accented down. Anne had thought it was hypnotic in a way when she had first been sworn into her service. By that time, Catherine spoke with a clearly English accent, well, she did when she was not playing the role of the scorned wife. Anne hummed softly and then clicked her tongue, unsure of how to feel about that.
"On the twentieth of September." Arthur responded, looking concerned. "Where you not told of me?"
"More of England itself than of your or your siblings." Anne told him, having no idea what Catherine had or hadn't happened to know when she'd put her dirty Spanish foot on the Plymouth shoreline.
"Well," Arthur said slowly, earnestly, in a way that reminded Anne of George when he was talking to Mark or Jane. Jane Rochford not bland, ugly Jane Seymour. Anne wondered if any man other than her husband had actually bothered to look at that girl twice.
Henry had called her a witch. But thinking on it, Jane fit the term better. Henry was, at his worst, a greedy, selfish, lying, hypocrite of a king but Anne had never seen him as he was following that last jousting tournament. That pretty blond wench had done her best to alleviate his pain but every word, every touch had seemed to poison Henry against her. Maybe that was how Catherine felt the five months she was Arthur's wife, as if she was wed to some malevolent entity more than a man because of Arthur's foreignness.
"My sister Mary is the littlest." Arthur began. Anne noted that his voice was naturally high as he finally spoke with not the slightest hint of nervousness. "She turns eight in March. Meg-Margaret-though that is what everyone calls her on account of My Lady Grandmother and Lady De La Pole-is fifteen already."
"She's to wed the King of Scotts is she not?" Anne asked, memory beginning to work at a slow shot.
"No." Arthur responded, confused and clearly upset. "Who told you that?"
And clearly lying, Anne thought.
"There was a rumor in my mother's court." Anne lied smoothly. "The Ambassador had heard it was planned but that James might want an older bride instead."
"Well," Arthur hesitated. "It is no concern of mine nor yours, my lady."
Anne raised an eyebrow at him or would have if the the muscles of Catherine's forehead had had that kind of mobility. Arthur had immediately developed the visage of a scolded puppy, looking suitably reprimanded. Anne pressed him.
"And you have a brother, do you not?" She asked. It was unpleasant, the eager uptick of her heart beat when she said his name. It came combined with the bile of rage in her belly. It was like a crawling, diseased, desperate creature simply screaming for an end to it's pain.
"Henry." Arthur said.
When we were children, we were never close, Henry had told her, drunk. as children. I was at Eltham with any sisters and mother while he had Ludlow. I saw him maybe every six months until his wedding then I never saw him again.
"He's sixteen and thinks himself a knight." Arthur told her. "But father wants him to go to the church, which means he knows more scripture than me."
Unless it was Yuletide, Henry had slurred, nuzzling into her belly. When he'd stay for a month and everything become about him.
"Watch your women about his friends, my lady." Arthur advised. "They are most ungallant."
Anne laughed and smiled at the prince beside her, not even noticing the offended knitting of his brow.
"Or perhaps too gallant." She teased, kicking her feet in the grass. She could see why perhaps Catherine had suggest Henry and her name their only living boy Arthur. The prince was a naive soul. Anne could already see how Catherine would have wanted her son to mimic him. Henry, on the other hand, had told her, stinking of wine, he'd gone back to his own quarters and cried over his brother for the first time when she'd asked him for that.
"A knight cannot be gallant if he ravishes noble ladies." Arthur spluttered.
Were you jealous of Arthur? Anne had asked Henry that night in her bed while he faded into unconsciousness.
No, Henry had said. I was too young to know what jealousy was. I wanted him dead though.
"You misunderstand." Arthur responded. "To be gallant is to be virtuous and a good Christian man."
"Gallant can be defined as being valorous or being flirtatious." Anne corrected. "A suitor too, if you mean it as a verb, my lord."
There was a moment of silence where Anne felt a drop of rain upon her forehead. She looked up not to see only the rumbling but to see a lone crow flying against the harsh wind. When she looked back down a hare darted across her and Arthur's path.
"I...." Arthur stuttered out, clearly having missed the animal while Anne froze, unable to take another step.
"I wish to return in doors." Anne informed Arthur, turned on her heel and did just that.
The second time Henry had told her about his dear, dead brother was when they were en route from Calais to England. They shared chambers on that voyage, broke bread, made love, drank wine and lived as man and wife tied together by their wedding the morning before their departure. Henry had married her in her traveling cloak just an hour before their ship ha sailed. But when they were abed together, blankets covering their nakedness while the waves rocked their boat, Henry had again spoken of Arthur. He spoke of wanting to raise their sons together, in one household. At Eltham perhaps, let us make it our royal nursery. I want our sons to always know one another as brothers, Anne. As I never knew mine.
The day after Anne’s walk with Arthur, Catherine’s court left Dogmersfield. Arthur’s as well, Anne supposed, but she paid little mind to them. She was stuck in a liter with Maria de Salinas and Dona Elvira, who had been dead or in a convent somewhere by the time Anne had come home from France. She wanted to be on the back of a horse so that she could make Catherine’s thighs and ass chaff in the saddle.
“Infanta?” Maria interrupted Anne’s train of thought. She must have been prattling about something or other. Her dress was hideous. It was a Spanish thing with a verdugado skirt, massive, dragging sleeves that hung untied from the wrist. Anne was certain that she herself would be forced into something just has hideous within the next few days. Perhaps she’d have time to stitch a few modifications, Anne thought. If she could just tie up the sleeves and pull the over dress over the stomacher to conceal the laces. Maybe bring the neckline down to just hint at her bosom.
“Yes?” Anne asked, cocking her head to the side.
“Did the Prince tell you more about the sun and mercury?”
“No,” She smiled softly, “It didn’t come up.”
Maria looked at Dona Elvira before ducking her head into Catherine’s shoulder and whispering.
“Did he tell you about how he wanted to hold you underneath his body?” Maria asked. Anne tensed and snapped Catherine’s head around to glare at the blond woman. Maria only smiled up at her through her pursed lips.
Saints Blood, Anne couldn’t even imagine Arthur thinking that. Well, he was a seventeen year old. But she doubted he’d have had the stomach to write filth. Anne looked at Maria through Catherine’s narrowed eyes and shook the Infanta’s head back and forth.
“He was a proper gallant.” Anne told the Spanish woman.
“A what?” Dona Elvira snapped. Anne glared at the older woman who sat there, half leaned forward with her mouth hanging open. Anne’s mother had never been much concerned with her daughter’s language. Elizabeth Howard had had much more to worry about than Anne and Mary’s language.
“A gallant.” Anne told the Dona Elvira. “It means suitor.”
She bobbed her head and went back to her sewing. Maria smiled at Anne with her big eyes peering out of her pale cheeks.
“What are you sewing?” Anne asked her.
“A rose.” The future Baroness told her. Anne held out her hand and when Maria didn’t give her the little embroidery hoop she gestured for it. The Spanish woman’s embroidery was magnificent, the half finished Tudor Rose filled with the tightest of stitches. Anne wasn’t surprised, sewing was all Catherine had seemed to do when she was queen.
“It’s lovely.” Anne said neutrally as she handed back the flower.
“You should be finishing your own rose, Infanta.” Dona Elvira chimed in. Her comment was unwelcome. Anne looked down at the scrap of cloth on her lap and pursed Catherine’s fat lips. They were sensual, Anne had to admit that. She’d spent almost an hour the night before tracing her fingers over Catherine’s face. As an old woman Catherine’s jaw and cheekbones had been caked by her fat, her beautiful hair turned brown and grey and her mouth gone gross and lined with stress. But, lord, that woman was beautiful in her heyday. Anne could see why Henry had wed her, had chosen her above all others. Until me , Anne reminded herself. Until he met me.
Anne remembered when he’d appeared at Hever just after dawn, having ridden through the night to her. It was after Dr. Butts had pronounced her and her father cured of the sweat. He had sprinted up to her room, the skin under his eyes blue from exhaustion and dropped to her knees before her. Anne remembered the crack they made as they hit the floor. Henry had looked up at her as if she was something holy. His hazel eyes had been wet with unshed tears and his mouth agape.
“My god,” He’d choked out. “Thank god. Anne.”
“I would like to ride tomorrow.” Anne told the two women in the liter, feeling overly warm and suddenly sick.
“If you wish, Infanta.” Dona Elvira assured her.
There was a bird kept in Catherine’s bed chamber. Anne hadn’t noticed him at Dogmersfield, too absorbed in her own agony but now she did. After she had pulled her feet from Catherine’s plain shoes and lain in silence on the bed for nearly an hour, Anne finally noticed the bird. He was a little green, exotic creature that chattered rather than sang, but he was, frankly, adorable. Anne walked, barefoot, to peer into his cage. Due to Catherine’s dwarfish height Anne only had to bend the redhead’s neck to meet his eyes. She hissed and flinched as the movement pulled at her bruise. She glanced around, looking to see if any of Catherine’s ladies had noticed. They had not. Doña Elvira, Rosa, Lina and De Salinas were huddled by the fire and sewing. Anne could see that the Duenna’s furred shawl was wrapped tightly around her shoulders. Anne had been glad that her english bred tolerance for the cold seemed to have carried through into Catherine’s body.
“ ‘Ello.” Anne cooed. “ ‘Ello dere.”
He squawked and Anne smiled, feeling Catherine’s lips press and flex in a thoroughly unfamiliar way on her face. She slipped a finger through the bars to stroke the bird’s wing only to see him flutter to the bottom of his cage, screeching as if she’d tried to break his neck.
“When are we ordering a larger cage?” Anne called over her shoulder, already seeing that the copper enclosure was too small.
“We are not, Infanta.” Anne heard Dona Elvira respond. “That would certainly be excessive.”
“I’ll buy one after the wedding.” Anne said.
“That would be a wasteful expense.” Doña Elvira responded. Anne’s head snapped around to glare at the older woman’s back. Anne would not have accepted such a response regarding her own money when she was a simple lady in waiting. Catherine was an Infanta .
“Comfort is never a waste.” Anne sneered. “Or is the gold thread of your shawl a necessity?”
Anne watched the older woman slowly turn her head toward Anne.
“Come join us Infanta.” She said calmly. Anne held the woman’s gaze, staring into her beady eyes for a moment and feeling fury build in her chest. No wonder Catherine had sent her Duenna away, Anne thought rather petulantly. She broke Elvira’s gaze, pulled the chair next to her out from the table and sat down.
Anne returned to the bird, who fluttered his wings and flexed his beak. He truly was a petite mignon enfant. Son corps pouvait aller à sa main. His body could fit in her hand. He was almost solid green with the gentlest of blue highlight streaking behind his eyes and a slightly darker blue smudge along the edge of his wings. Anne wondered if he’d been trained to come out of the cage. Anne looked around until her eyes alighted on a fruitball. She got up and strolled over. As she did she saw Doña Elvira turn her head with a raised eyebrow. Perhaps the woman thought she was victorious. Anne gave her a benevolent smile. Or what would have passed as a benevolent smile on her face . She had no idea what it looked like on Catherine’s.
Do I look like your docile charge? Anne thought as she snatched a pomegranate from the bowl. Well, yes, yes, she supposed she did.
Anne broke open the pomegranate after a short struggle, Cartherine’s filed down nails struggling against the fruit’s skin. Henry had liked that Anne wore her nails long, even if they did impact how she sewed his shirts. The tip and back of the needle would get caught underneath them. She couldn’t grip the thread between the pads of her fingers but Henry liked it when she raked them down his back or lightly traced them over his shoulders.
Anne froze, her heart thundering in her chest like that of a hare faced with a hunting hound. She took a deep breath, pried a seed out from the fruit’s husk, opened the cage door and offered it to the pretty bird. He ruffled his feathers, looked at her for a moment and bit her. The pain didn’t bother her much. She had never expected to feel pain again. Jesus save her soul, Anne had expected the next thing she saw after the executioner- French with a Calais accent -took off her head to be the white light of heaven. The Bible said nothing of a Purgatory, that was a Papist invention. Anne felt her eyes burn and her throat close up. She tucked her hand underneath Catherine’s nose. Her hand was too small and Catherine’s nostrils were too widely set to cut off her airway. If she had her own nose, she could have covered her nostrils with her knuckles and propped her elbow onto the table while she pulled her finger from Dominoes mouth. But Catherine’s nose could breath around Catherine’s knuckles.
With her free hand Anne groped for the pomegranate.
There was the sound of a chair being dragged and then De Salinas sat down next to her.
“Dominoes is a little savage, isn’t he?” De Salinas asked.
Excellent, Anne thought suddenly, Thank you, Salinas.
She’d even need to rename Catherine’s bird.
“He is.” Anne laughed wildingly, tossing her head around
“Would you like me to feed him, Infanta?” De Salinas asked.
Anne shook her head back and forth still laughing at the name. Dominoes, Anne thought, Saint’s Blood, Catherine must have been a child when she picked that name. It truly was a hysterical thought. Catherine, the noble, grey haired Spaniard as a little girl with pretty red curls and her large camisa sleeves.
Anne sobered up. Catherine was still all but a girl. She would have still been a girl.
“No.” Anne said to De Salinas.
“Infanta?” De Salinas asked. “Do you need to lie down?”
“I’m perfectly fine.” Anne responded, her voice cracking. She was lying. De Salinas’ hand touched hers, her littlest finger brushing against Anne’s. She brushed the tip of her finger over Catherine’s knuckle and Anne shuddered. Anne took a breath through her mouth, filling her lungs before forcing the air out of her nose. It made a noise as it rushed around her knuckles. She took another breath and held it this time. Anne dug Catherine’s knuckles more deeply into her nose, feeling Catherine’s body strain against her stomacher, laced tightly per Anne’s orders. I want a corset , Anne was finally able to think, I want a proper, tightly laced corset.
De Salinas laid her finger atop Anne’s so that she could feel it’s weight. She snapped her head around to stare, wild eyed at the blond. De Salinas looked back at her calmly, lifted her left hand from her lap and placed it over her right hand and Anne’s. Then the Spanish woman turned her head to look back at Dominoes with a smile on her face.
“Coocoo.” De Salinas said.
She squeezed Anne’s hand gently.
“Coocoo.” Dominoes responded happily. “Coocoo. Coocoo. Coocoo. Coocoo. Coocoo.”
“I would like to feed him some treats after supper.” De Salinas said. “With your grace’s permission, of course.”
Anne nodded her head and turned her hand beneath De Salinas’. The two women linked their fingers together and sat in silence for a moment, listening to Dominoes squawk. Carefully, Anne pulled a seed from the pomegranate with her free hand and offered it to the little bird.
Dinner was a noisy affair. Henry VII could not seem to shut his mouth for a moment. Henry, Anne’s former husband , had described his father as a somber, silent man with a sharp glare and an even sharper tongue. This man was cheery with sparkling eyes and a broad grin that remained unconcealed by his greying beard. He spoke happily to Arthur, leaning on his elbow with his hazel eyes fixed on his son's face.
Anne was ignoring the both of them in favor of drinking. The wine was thankfully French and therefore palatable.
Anne downed her freshly poured glass of wine and waved her hand, only to see that the page hadn’t left her side. Smart boy, Anne thought, Very smart boy. He refilled it and Anne forced herself to sip it. She looked down at her food, finding her plate completely piled with delicacies. Anne had very little interest in emptying it.
Her sharp eyes, or rather, Catherine’s watery blue orbs slid lazily around the hall, seeing Catherine’s ladies with their heads bent together in conversation and Dona Elvira watching over them like a mother duck. There was duck on Anne’s plate. She wrinkled her nose, preferring venison or chicken. She had eaten duck frequently enough during her engagement and marriage.
Je ne va pas penser sur ce foutu connard. I will not think about that fucking bastard. Anne thought. I will fucking not.
“Is Harry still tantruming about his tutor?” Arthur asked from two seats to her left. The name caught Anne’s attention and she fought the urge to throw her wine glass to the floor. It would be a waste of a fine vintage.
“He’ll have stopped by the time we return.” The King responded. Anne gave up on the little sobriety she had left and finished her glass. She could still see Arthur shaking his head from the corner of her eyes. His hair swished around his cheeks and it suddenly enraged Anne. She gestured for more wine and pushed her plate away.
“What’s his tutor done?” Anne snapped.
Both of the royal men’s heads snapped around to look at her. Saint’s blood, Anne thought, Arthur must be a right reflection of his mother. Other than the fact that they have different bits. Arthur and Henry might as well be second cousins. Or uncle and nephew, given her husband- former husband- had actually only been a few years younger than his father when she’d met him. She wondered what he’d looked like as a child. Henry had told her he looked more like his mother than his father. Just another thing you lied to me about, eh? Anne thought. Fuck you, putain de merde.
“I’m sorry?” Arthur asked. Anne pursed her lips and thought about the wording of her question for a moment.
“What did Henry do to his tutor?” Anne responded. She shook her head back and forth, trying to clear her mind of the heat of alcohol that was starting to truly roll over her. Her voice was slurred so heavily she could barely understand herself.
“Nothing.” Henry said. Henry VII said. “I've simply forbidden him from writing to an intellectual.”
“Thomas More.” Anne stated.
There was a moment of silence where both Tudors looked at her in shock. Anne looked right back at them, courageous in her drunken state.
“Where did you hear that?” Arthur asked. Anne decided she disliked his eyes. They were too big. He’d probably look even worse with smaller ones though. He looked soft, like some boy in a painting of Hermes or a cherub. He isn’t stupid, Anne thought. Come on woman. Utilisez votre tête.
“Your men gossip.” She said simply.
“I will speak to them.” Arthur responded.
“Don’t bother.” Anne flicked her wrist at him and laughed heartily. “What would we have to talk about if we couldn’t talk about each other?”
“Well said, Infanta.” Henry VII said. Anne looked at him with Catherine’s eyes. He looked, away, back at his son. Anne could see a redness creeping up the side of the King’s neck. Arthur looked down at his plate, his hair hiding his eyes from her.
The cheek length, chopped bob and bangs Arthur wore were common during Anne’s time but when she looked away from him to run her eyes over the men feasting in the hall all she saw was short hair. Their hair was either brushed to one side, nearly shaved or grown slightly wild around the face, not styled like Arthur’s. Brandon had worn his hair like that before he’d grown it down to his shoulders. Anne drained her glass of wine and pushed her dinner away from her.
“More.” Anne said as she held her glass out to the page. He hurriedly filled it.
Brandon, Charles jumped up Brandon. Now there was a man Anne could think about without the slightest twinge of embarrassment or a breath of uncomfortability. If the man was brought in front of her she wouldn’t spit on his. Brandon was a low blooded, loud mouthed, intelligent, doggedly loyal, reckless, ambitious, pious, womanizing drunkard. Anne had rather liked him but he hadn’t knelt when Anne had been executed. Now, that she couldn’t think about.
I suppose he never liked me much, Anne thought and sipped. It had a lovely burn as it went down. How did she miss that he was as much of a snake as the rest of them? Lord, he might be the best of them all.
She looked back over the men, half expecting to see Brandon’s greying blond curls somewhere out amongst the men. She drank.
Was he, what, four years older than Arthur? Anne wondered as she drank. No, Arthur was seventeen. He'd be just two years his senior.
Anne gestured for more wine as she turned back to the problem of Arthur’s hair. She looked at him for another moment.
“Why.” Anne enunciated as she studied him. Her voice was both too loud and slurred “Do. You. Wear. Your. Hair. Like. That.”
“He is my heir.” The King responded while the boy looked at her, his eyes wide, pleading and weak.
“He wears that hair because he is your heir .” Anne giggled. The page filled her cup.
“Yes,” Henry responded with a wry grin.
“What?” Anne laughed and leaned toward him, body swaying. Catherine’s breasts weren’t big enough to make any curve in the high necked gown Anne was wearing. Thankfully, the collar was loose enough that she could move without the fabric rubbing against the bruising on her throat.
“My youngest boy doesn’t wear his hair like Arthur.” The King informed her.
“He’d look like a ponce if he did.” Arthur grumbled.
“Why?” Anne asked. She took a sip of wine.
“Harry has curly hair.”
Anne spat her wine all over the table in front of her. She doubled over on herself, choking and gagging. She slammed her glass onto the table hard enough that it shook. A hard, stinging slap landed between her shoulder, forcing her to cough.
“My lady?” Anne heard Arthur say.
Anne continued to cough. There was the sound of a chair scraping against the stone floor. It was too loud. She looked up to see every eye in the hall on her. Another slap landed between her shoulder blades. Anne waved Catherine’s tiny hand in the air trying to get the person off.
“Get a physician!” She heard Arthur shriek, his voice higher than Anne’s had ever been. Or Catherine’s was for that matter. She waved her hand again as her coughing lessened. The king slapped her back for the third time and Catherine’s little frame lurched forward.
“She’s fine.” The King said briskly. Anne’s respect for him rose a negligible amount. He put his hand on her shoulder and bent his head so close that Anne could feel his breath on Catherine’s ear. It made her shiver. Catherine’s body shiver. Anne tried not to enjoy the sensation. It had been a very long time since she had been so maidenly .
“Breathe through your nose,” The king murmured. She felt his hand on the base of Catherine’s neck. “Fill your lungs and then empty your bosom through your mouth.”
That was not the touch of a paternal man.
Anne rode behind the Duke of Buckingham the following morning. Stafford was a handsome man but dark haired and dark eyed and tanned. Anne prefered paler flesh. He was alongside one of Catherine’s ladies. Rosa, Anne thought, another one that hadn’t made it until Anne returned from France. The two laughed, swaying back and forth on their horses as the royal party moved along. Rosa was a pretty girl, with skin browned in the same manner as Mary’s had been.
Anne flinched at the very memory of her sister.
Arthur, the strange, young, soon to be dead boy rode half beside her and half behind. Anne wanted to turn to look at him but didn’t want to further irritate the bruising on her neck. She wanted to see if he was looking at her. Anne had thrown off the ornate veil Catherine was supposed to wear, ripping it from her face right after she mounted her horse. Doña Elvira had already clambered into the litter so the duenna couldn’t tell her off. De Salinas- Maria, Anne had to start calling her Maria- had joined her as had the Moorish woman. Yet another that Anne hadn’t seen at court.
Rosa de Vargas wore a riding habit that was such a dark blue it looked black. Her sandy brown hair was half loose with a single, sloppy, loose braid keeping it’s strands back from her face. She had to be sweating buckets , Anne thought. Must not spend much time in the saddle.
Anne herself had pulled Catherine’s long red hair up into a hairnet. She had pilfered it from a redicilla that had had blue fabric but Anne was wearing red so that wouldn’t do at all. She had wanted to twist Catherines hair up into a double braided loop set around a net but hadn’t woken early enough. By some miracle Catherine’s constitution seemed strong enough to travel after a night of Anne’s over indulgence.
Thank god for that, Anne thought.
The air was clean and cool in her lungs, making the young woman feel as alive as she ever had. Anne remembered when she was fifteen and had first returned to Hever. She had thought it was an unimpressive, petite château but then she took herself out riding into woods. The woods of her family home were deep and quiet and secretive. They weren’t hunted for years at a time-other than the occasional poucher, of course-so the deer, birds and rabbit were always underfoot. Before she’d returned to her position in the Princess Mary, Duchess of Suffolk’s household she had enjoyed two months roaming those woods, either on foot or horseback.
The road ahead of Anne was utterly devoid of trees as the Royal party wound its way through a set of rolling hills. The land was green, wet and muddy from the rainfall three days ago. Anne wanted to spurr her horse ahead of the Duke and Rosa; ahead of the lords and knights that rode in front of those two; ahead of the guards; ahead of the bannermen that led the party. She wanted to swing her left leg up so that she could sit in the saddle like a man and ride until the courtiers around her were nothing but specks in the distance.
How funny it would be, Anne thought, If she were to break Catherine’s maidenhead herself. What would Wolsey have thought; What would Campeggio have thought if Catherine had gotten up and testified she’d given her hymen to her saddle?
She heard Rosa’s high pitched squeal of laughter from in front of her. Anne fixed her eyes on the girl. The Spaniard was smiling broadly as she looked at Stafford. Anne was close enough that she could see how the girl’s eyes were alight as she looked at him.
Is he married ? Anne wondered.
It didn’t matter. He’d be dead before she got back from France.
“My Lady?” That gentle voice asked from just behind her and to the left.
Oh no , Anne thought.
“Your Grace?” Anne asked. She turned to look back at Arthur, flinching as she did so. He sat straight backed and regal in his saddle with his cap set comfortably on his head.
“I was not told you were much of a horsewoman.” The Prince of Wales said. He was right. Catherine’s buttocks and thighs were going to ache like sin when Anne woke up tomorrow morning.
“I enjoy the English air.” She told him.
“I doubt you’ll much like the rain.” He said as he spurred his horse closer to hers.
“I don’t mind the mist.” Anne responded idly. “Though I detest thunderstorms.”
“Do you not like lightning?”
“I dislike the noise that accompanies it.”
“Does it scare you?” Arthur asked earnestly.
“Would you like to protect me, my lord?” Anne responded. It was almost an instinct that turned her mouth into a practiced smirk and made her peer through her lashes at him.
“My lady,” Arthur spluttered, going red faced. “It is my duty..”
“Would you invade the sky itself for me?” Anne asked. “Or would you rather keep your wife safe beneath your furs?
Arthur’s face went a shade redder than Catherine’s hair but he smiled broadly, looking rather pleased with himself.
“Would you like that?” Anne hummed. “A pity I have to take a sleeping draft when it thunders.”
With that, Anne spurred her horse forward to join Rosa and Stafford.
The courtyard was grey, dry and small but Anne was relieved to see it all the same. It was her fourth day on the road and Catherine’s entire body ached. Arthur had stubbornly insisted on riding beside her and sitting beside her and walking beside her and eating beside her and he’d probably piss and shit beside her if it wouldn’t be vulgar. Anne was rather impressed or she would be if she simply didn’t want to be left alone. Even when she’d been queen there were times when she could just bar the door and waste away an afternoon reading or dozing in bed. Or drinking at her desk. God knows, she’d done a lot of drinking after the Seymour thing had decided to sit herself in Henry’s lap.
“May I help you down, my lady?” Arthur asked, having just sprung off his horse. Anne nodded and hopped into his awaiting hands. Arthur quickly released her and bowed while Anne curtsied in the perfect mimicry of a courtly knight and his lady. Catherine’s thighs screamed as she sunk down to the ground, shaking hard enough that Anne thought she might fall down. Putain, Anne thought, How frail was this girl?
Arthur offered her his arm but Anne was already stumbling off toward the manor, her legs loosening with every step she took.
“Princess,” The Lord bowed low and his lady curtsied as she approached. Anne looked them up and down. The man was of middling age as was his wife who was dressed in the loose gown that had yet to display her growing belly. They had a little boy standing between them.
“I thank you for your hospitality, my lord.” Anne responded and gestured for him to rise. When he did Anne’s heart stopped in her chest. Her uncle, Thomas Howard, looked down at her as he straightened to his full height. Anne’s head snapped around to look at the honey haired woman standing beside him and the little boy between them. Anne, Anne thought, This was that Anne.
“Howard?” The King’s moderated tone sounded from behind and the family in front of her swept into another bow. “Lady Anne.”
“You are Anne?” Anne asked. Anne had probably seen her godmother once before she left for France but she couldn’t recall her at all. This wasn’t what she’d imagined, even though her daydreams were only those of a particularly vain child. Anne had imagined Anne of York as herself but with eyes so blue that they glowed at hair so blonde it was white. The changes still hadn’t made her prettier than Mary.
This Anne’s eyes could generously be described as dull and watery, though they were blue.
The Princess of York was blonde, Elizabeth Boleyn had said, She had the loveliest blue eyes and hair so long that she could sit on it. She liked poetry and rabbits. I remember she always seemed to have a rabbit underfoot. She often wore gloves and would always complain of pains after she had eaten cheese or drank milk.
Did they have children? Anne remembered asking about her uncle and her godmother when she was about eight. She’d been sitting on her mama’s lap, as had become her habit due to the fact that, at that point, she hadn’t seen Elizabeth in two years.
Yes, Her mother said. The poor woman must have lost a dozen sons before she had one live to see out the year but then he died too.
Years later when Mary was out every night bedding her William Carey, new husband, Anne’s future husband and God only knows who else, Anne had had the unfortunate privilege of walking into one of her uncle and his second wife’s infamous rows. They’d been screaming so loud Anne had thought she would lose her hearing. Anne couldn’t remember what it was about for the life of her. Probably that knight's-daughter-mistress of his.
So it really is that bad, Anne had commented to her mother later as the two black haired Boleyn woman watched Thomas Howard lead his wife around the dancefloor in a show of nonexistent congeniality.
Hmmm? Her mother had responded.
Your brother, Anne said, He really is impossible to get on with isn’t he?
His first wife and he managed some kind of a friendship, Elizabeth had said.
You mean when he wasn’t beating her? Anne had responded.
“Your majesty,” The York Princess stood rigid in front of the king but inclined her head and gave him a soft smile. Anne had heard that all the York Princesses had all gotten their mother’s beauty but some had taken their father’s hair. This one must be all Woodville with big, heavily lidded eyes. Anne studied her face closely as she studied all beautiful women. Anne of York’s smile was formed by the slightest uplift of the left side of her mouth but it didn’t reach those flat eyes at all. Her head was tilted down and to the left but then she straightened and her face lost it’s look.
“You are Anne of York?” Anne asked. “And Sir Thomas Howard?”
“Aye, Your Grace.” Anne’s uncle responded. She felt the sudden urge to slap him but instead she smiled benevolently. Good, She thought. That’s good Anne.
I bloody want to strangle him.
“I thank you for your hospitality,” Anne said. “Perhaps my lady might consent to showing me her home?”
“ Of course,” Anne of York readily consented.
Doña Elvira Manuel considered herself a patient woman and she was most certainly a pious woman but her charge had seemed determined to test both of those qualities since she had met her betrothed. She would have to have a word with Her Grace after supper. The princess in question was all but strutting ten or so paces ahead of her, walking alongside the Lady Plantagenet. The older woman was laughing at something the Infanta had said.
The house was modest. These nobles only had three tapestries to greet the royal party. Elvira had felt a deep sense of pity that a blood princess had been married to a man with so little to his name. The blonde woman stood nearly a head taller than Catherine but the little Infanta kept pace with her easily.
“Señora,” The voice of Catalina de Cardones distracted the older woman from her thoughts. She turned and saw the lady hurrying up the stairs, lifting her skirts high enough to show her ankles.
“What is it?”
“I was wondering if I may prepare a bath for the Infanta this evening.” The Moor asked.
“Yes. Use rosemary and have it prepared for after supper.” Elvira responded. “I will wash her myself.”
Before she turned back to the Infanta she threw a quick parting shot at De Cardones.
“Remember the modesty of your legs, my lady .” Elvira said. “You are in the service of the Infanta.”
When she turned back to the hallway Catherine had vanished. Elvira had little concern for her charge’s purity, but how willing the girl had become to wander off in strange company worried her. In Spain Catherine walked and sat in the center of her ladies, surrounded and protected by the woman. But that was foolish, the Infanta was likely eager to meet an English Princess.
It boded well for her future, Elvira thought as she hurried down the hall and peered into each door that she passed. She squinted as she was rather nearsighted.
Then she heard Catherine’s laugh. Elvira hurried toward the Infanta. When she stepped into the room she heard her young charge asking a rather concerning question.
“....join my household?” Catherine asked. “Perhaps after your babe’s birth?”
“Your Grace,” Elvira cut off Lady Anne’s response. The blood princess had barely opened her mouth when Elvira spoke. “That is impossible.”
Catherine snapped her head around and glared at her with a hatred Elvira had never seen in her princess’ eyes. It startled Elvira but she persisted.
“You have no authority to offer Lady Anne a position.” Elvira continued.
“Am I not the Princess of Wales?” Catherine asked. Elvira looked at her charge but found Catherine staring right back with pursed lips. “Am I not the Infanta of Aragon and Castille?”
Catherine looked at her for a moment as Elvira stared her charge down fully, expecting the Infanta to acquiesce to her gentle guidance. Catherine tipped her head back and peered up at her with her big blue eyes. The Infanta was not pleading. Then she broke Elvira’s gaze, not looking down as was her habit when she was being chastised but back at the blood princess.
“Lady Anne?” Catherine asked.
“I would be honored, my lady.” Lady Anne said rather cautiously.
“It would be my honor.” Catherine responded as if Elvira was not there. “Might I see your gardens?”
“Of course, your grace.” Lady Anne responded.
With that the two light haired women swept past Doña Elvira as if she were not there. Nevertheless, she hurried after them to the gardens.
They were cold but thankfully dry with low hedges and overgrown grass. There were dead bushes and rabbits everywhere.
How awful for a blood princess to be kept this way, Elvira thought. It made her worry for how the Infanta would live.
The Infanta had chosen to sit next to Anne of York at dinner. The Spanish girl was exceedingly friendly, curious, generous and sharp tongued. Anne did not quite
The Princess of York did not know what to feel for her but it could be said that she was a gracious, thankful guest.
I imagine she takes after her mother, Anne thought.
“Does Your Grace much enjoy riding?” Anne of York asked.
“I must confess it’s grown on me,” Catherine responded. She took a deep drink of wine and pursed her lips. “I have had the pleasure of a rather steady stallion since I’ve arrived in England.”
The Prince of Wales looked over at his wife, his cheeks turning pink and Anne raised one startled eyebrow.
Well, Anne of York thought, Perhaps they better prepared girls for the bedding in Spain than England.
Anne watched as the King subtly elbowed his son. When Arthur looked back at his father the King nodded toward the two of them. Catherine was oblivious.
“What about you, Your Grace?” The Infanta asked in return.
“I dislike hunting,” Anne responded. “My husband would be a better companion if you wanted to go on a chase.”
“Are there many deer on your lands?” The Infanta asked. Anne watched as the Prince leaned toward his wife and quickly spoke.
“At Ludlow, in the summer, we spend nearly every day hunting,” The Prince of Wales said eagerly.
“Perhaps you ought to invite Un-your uncle, Thomas.” The Infanta said to her betrothed. “Or his father. He’s an Earl isn’t he?”
“Who told you that?” Anne’s nephew asked the Infanta. Anne looked at Catherine of Aragon and quietly made note that the princess had firmly buried her face into her goblet.
“I did, Your Grace.” Anne answered her nephew’s question. He nodded his head to her and then returned to Catherine. Anne, recognizing her dismissal, began cutting her asparagus. It was good she rather liked the vegetables and that George, the cook, was rather talented at spicing them.
“Do you hunt a lot in Spain?” Arthur asked. Catherine gestured for more wine. It had to be her fourth glass. Anne made note of it.
I’ve only seen drunks swig like that, Anne of York thought, sinking back into her seat. Her baby had been quiet for the past two days, only rolling and kicking during the night but now he seemed determined to disturb her day.
“I did not.” Catherine said.
“I’d like to take you on a deer hunt at Ludlow once the summer comes,” Arthur told her.
“Your Grace may like whatever he wishes,” The Infanta responded flatly. Anne swallowed her asparagus and shook her head. “Afterall, is Your Grace not to be my husband? Or would you rather be my stag?”
Anne choked down a laugh at the lewd remark. She put her hand over her mouth to hide her struggle.
Saint’s Blood, Anne of York thought, She’s clearly expecting a hot wedding night.
Her son dug his foot into her bladder. Arthur let out a sputtering sound and his face went as red as his brother’s hair had been the last time Anne had seen him. Anne wondered if Arthur’s sandy hair would lighten when the boy wasn’t confined in dark, dank Wales.
“I’d rather hate to ensnare you.” The Infanta said. Anne of York couldn’t repress a snort.
Arthur looked at the Infanta quietly for a moment. He was growing into a proper York. Anne thought as his blush faded. Suddenly, she couldn’t look away from him. He had a slight smile that pulled his droopy bottom lip up in a way that only allowed Anne to see the ghost of Edward, her brother, with her father’s mouth and Anne’s own Woodville eyes. All of her siblings had Woodville eyes. She barely remembered her grandmother but her mother had said they actually had her eyes.
Luxembourg eyes, Anne thought. They’re barely distinguishable from Catherine’s eyes. Perhaps just a shade apart.
“You don’t think I’d be the hunter?” Arthur asked.
“No,” Catherine responded. “I couldn’t imagine you collaring much of anything.”
Anne of York watched her nephew deflate, narrowed her Woodville eyes and kicked the Infanta hard under the table. The Spanish princess looked at Anne with her wide, bulging, foreign eyes looking fit to pop out of her skull. Anne crooked her finger at the Infanta. The girl did not lean forward so Anne of York bent her toward her.
“That was uncalled for,” She hissed. “Remember your manners.”
The Infanta’s face flooded red with blood and she opened her mouth, shut it and then called for more wine. Anne of York kicked her again. This time she aimed her blow directly at the Princess’ shin. When it connected, the girl winced in pain.
“Were you not taught any?”
The Infanta looked down at her plate, her face filling with blood.
Anne swirled her way into her rooms, thoroughly enraged, exhausted and grief stricken. Princess Anne was pleasant enough and Anne could imagine growing fond of her godmother. It didn’t stop the anger or the prick of tears at the edge of her eyes. She felt unstable, shaky, like the ground was going to to start shaking beneath her feet and throw her to the very height of the world. That was not a very safe place to be. Anne knew that fact very well.
When Anne walked into Catherine’s bedchamber there was a steaming bath waiting for her. The room stunk of rosemary. Anne smiled, knowing full well that the water would loosen her aching muscles. She’d barely made it up the stairs on her shaking thighs.
“Infanta,” She heard Catherine’s duenna’s voice behind her and simply turned to her head to glance at the older woman.
“Will you so kindly help me undress?” Anne said in the mostly sickly sweet voice she could muster.
“Of course, Infanta.”
Anne watched the older woman close the door and approach her from over her shoulder. Then she raised both arms so Elvira could begin stripping her. The bath infront of her was far too large for Catherine’s little body. In fact, it would likely fit Arthur with room to spare. Probably not Henry or at the very least he’d have to bend his knees. He was already so hot blooded so he obeyed his physicians and only bathed in the coolest waters. Perhaps, if the water was hot enough, a bath could have boiled le salaud vivant . He deserved such a death.
Once Elvira removed Anne’s petticoat, the duenna moved to strip her of her smock but Anne sprung away from her.
“I can bathe myself,” Anne told her.
“I beg your pardon?” The duenna responded and Anne froze.
Catherine wouldn’t have bathed herself, She realized. Putain, l’Infanta wouldn’t have even known how to brush her hair or lace a stomacher or even slip a shoe onto her dainty foot.
“I would like to learn to bathe myself.” Anne rephrased the order.
“Nonsense,” Elvira responded as if she were talking to a child. “Come let me undress you.”
Anne ripped the smock off herself and dropped to the floor with an empirical flourish. Anne had had to learn to be entitled, demanding , regal to the point of insolence to wrench an ounce of respect out of anyone in the first years of her engagement. She should have entered a convent or run off with some handsome lawyer or a merchant. She did find Germans to be utterly charming, afterall.
Anne all but tore her snood off her head and let Catherine’s hair fall around her bare shoulders. Then she offered the little hair net to Catherine’s duenna, putting a hand on Catherine’s bony, thin hip. The duenna looked thoroughly unphased. Anne wasn’t sure if she’d expected anything different.
“Please get in the bath, Your Highness,” Elvira said. Anne had to wonder what this woman’s children must have put her through. She doubted she’d gotten that resilience from Catherine or any of the other Spanish ladies. Anne couldn’t even remember a scandal that had involved une des femmes espagnoles or even imagine one for that matter.
Anne got in the bath.
She laid down, legs, buttocks, stomach and back relaxing in the hot water. Her shoulders melted and then even her neck seemed to loosen. Anne stared at the stone ceiling above her and wondered what the actual Catherine had thought of this manor when she’d come to stay. She wondered what Catherine had found Anne of York lacking.
Anne didn’t want to think about her godmother.
I wonder if she found Arthur lacking, Anne thought. If Catherine had looked at her new, soft spoken husband and seen him as little more than a fumbling child.
She dunked her head under the water, drowning out the crackle of the fire, Elvira bustling about the room until only the sound she could hear was that of the poundings of Catherine’s heart. The warm water encased Anne like a blanket, smothering her lungs just as it cradled her. It seemed to cup her breasts, lay atop her belly and stroke her inner thighs. Anne enjoyed it, flattening her back so that Catherine’s thin muscles were stretched out even further, her spine popping into place. She laid there in the warmth and the silence until the air in her lungs started to burn. Then she laid there for another moment.
When Anne shot out of the bath it was to the sound of her own gasp and the rush of water as it writhed around her. Catherine’s hair hung, heavy with water over her face. She let it drip. A drop of water raced down the bridge of Catherine’s nose to settle on it’s button tip. Anne twitched her nose, only to realise that the broad little thing on Catherine’s face didn’t quite have the angle to force the water off her nose.
Fucking chienne espagnole, Anne thought. She bit her lip to keep from sobbing.
Damn her, Anne had said to Lucy Talbot, If only every bloody Spaniard in this country were at the bottom of the sea, England would be all the better for it.
She wondered what the bottom of the sea looked like. Rocky perhaps and desolate. Cold too, Anne thought. It had to be very cold. Anne wondered if perhaps she might see some kraken as Catherine’s body was dragged down, down into the murky depths. Catherine would have been praying as she was pulled to her death, eyes shut against the terrors before her, but Anne would have been staring into the void as she died. The deep, dark places of the world were refuges for the oldest and foulest beings to have walked the earth. Anne, in her curiosity, knew she’d want to see just how terrible they truly were.
Perhaps she would on judgement day.
If God was just, the Spanish chienne would already be in heaven, even Anne had to acknowledge that.
“Sit up please, Your Grace,” She heard Doña Elvira order.
Anne peered at the woman through Catherine’s hair.
“I can bathe myself,” Anne said.
“Nevertheless,” Doña Elvira said. “I will help you.”
Anne couldn’t see her but she could imagine the duenna glaring at her. Then she felt a gentle hand on her back. Doña Elvira pulled at Catherine’s hair, easing it away from Anne’s face. Her fingers weren’t quite rough, she didn’t pull or yank but her touch wasn’t as gentle as Anne’s own mother’s had been or as Anne’s had been when she’d stroked Elizabeth’s curls.
Elizabeth’s curls , She thought. Oh, god, they were Henry’s curls.
Her stomach rolled and her heart started to pound.
Bastard, He’d called Elizabeth. You bore a bastard, Madame. You’ve made me a cuckold, you bitch.
Anne burst into tears. She collapsed further over her knees and started to shake, locking her jaw to keep from wailing. She wouldn’t wail. She didn’t wail when they took her to the Tower, she didn’t wail when she heard her brother was to be executed, she didn’t wail when she learned she was to be executed nor did she wail before she was marched to the swordsman. She cried into her pillow at night, she cried when she took her confession and she cried and raged at her women but she did not wail. She would not screech like a dying bird.
Elvira's clothed arms wrapped around her, pulling Catherine’s body toward the side of the bath. Anne turned and buried her wet head into the woman’s bosom.
“What troubles you, Catalina?” Elvira asked.
Anne had been washed, dried, dressed and bundled into bed like a child. She was still sniffling when Elvira crawled in with her. Anne snuggled Catherine’s tiny chin deeper into the blankets and looked, lazily at the older woman.
She should have kept a bedmate. She should have made one of the Sheltons or Meg Coffyn sleep at the foot of her bed. Anne thought Meg would have been a good choice. The pudgy blond slept like a rock and cuddled like a kitten. Anne had become grateful for her presence after she was convicted, even if she was one of Cromwell’s little creepers.
She’d be what? Anne thought. Her mother would be what? Maybe two?
“Infanta?” Elivra asked as she wriggled close to Anne.
Anne looked past the duenna to see a chambermaid pulling the curtains of her bed closed.
Who’s little creeper are you? Anne wondered wearily. Uncle’s or Anne of York’s? Or both?
Anne knew it was unlikely that they conspired together. Her uncle was utterly unwilling to share his confidence with anyone, unless forced by the hand of chance or the King, but even then he raged against it, like a boar in a net.
“I miss home.” Anne told Elvira flatly. Her voice was only a Spanish whisper but she still sleepily listened for the chambermaid.
Truthfully, she did. Anne missed her royal chambers and a bed that wasn’t going to give her back knots.
“You must be brave Infanta,” Elivra responded. “You must be brave like your lady mother.”
“Brave?” Anne didn’t have the strength to scoff but she tried. Spanish was a hard language to sneer in afterall. They had wonderful insults, not quite as colorful as the Italians, but rather deep and angry.
“At Granada, your mother barely slept for fear that the Infidels would come in the night and butcher us all.” Elvira told her. “She spent her time walking amongst the sick and dying to offer them comfort.”
“Hmm,” Anne responded.
“Yet, she never let you nor your sisters know.” Elvira continued. “Nor your father at times, even when she fell ill.”
“Ill?” Anne wrinkled Catherine’s button nose.
“She took three fevers.” Elvira told her. “But she never let any of you know.”
Well, Anne thought, her brain sluggishly moving toward alertness. That explained a lot.
I’ve never been terrified of anything, Mistress Boleyn, Catherine of Aragon had told her. The miniscule, fat, grey haired Queen had pulled her aside one night not two weeks after Cardinal Wolsey had called what was the first to be a near a dozen trails. If only the butcher’s boy had had the guts to rule the Matter over and done with, Anne would have already been moved into Catherine’s bed and the Spanish woman would have been shut up in a convent. I am my mother’s daughter. If you challenge me you will lose.
Anne had curtsied and scurried away, heart in her throat and belly boiling with rage.
“The Queen knew God would guide her.” Elvira said. “And she trusted in him.”
So you’ve never been brave? Anne thought at the memory of that haggard, old, admirable Catherine. So you thought that Isabella of Castile was never brave, eh?
“You can only be brave when you're utterly terrified.” Anne told Elvira. She felt the older woman tense where she was laying next to Anne.
“No, Your Grace,” Elvira said. “Trust in God and you need never be terrified.”
“This is England,” Anne responded bluntly. “God left this land to the hands of men a very long time ago.”
“That is sacrilege,” Elvira hissed and then Anne felt the woman’s nails dig into her shoulder. She flinched but didn’t throw her off. It was sacrilege after all.
“I’m to be a widow before the coming summer is finished.” Anne responded. “I’m to be named a whore and tossed out like a diseased beggar. Where is God in that?”
“You must keep your faith, Infanta.” Elvira responded. “God gives the hardest tests only to his most devout followers.”
“Yes,” Anne responded. “Yes he does.”
She rolled away from the duenna, shaking her hand from her shoulder and settled into sleep but Elvira followed her and snuggled against Anne’s back. The Spanish woman tossed her arm around Catherine’s tiny body and snuggled her close. Anne tucked herself even closer to the older woman and drifted off into sleep.
Anne hadn’t thought about London since she’d arrived in Purgatory, hadn’t imagined the grand old city as it would be in Catherine’s day. She hadn’t thought about what merchant lanes would have been replaced by lawyers and vice versa. She hadn’t even considered who sat in Parliament or what colors the women in the marketplaces would wear.
Yellow, Anne remembered. They’d worn yellow for me.
All the whores kept their kirtles and hair tied up with yellow ribbons. They wore skirts of yellow silk too as they dawdled and crowed, catching the eye of every man in the crowd. Anne remembered the price of yellow cloth when she’d first arrived at court; 15 shillings or a sovereign depending on the quality. Twelve years later, when Anne had gone through her accounts, she’d seen that a single bolt cost three to five pounds.
God save the Queen, Anne thought bitterly as the royal party trotted it’s way toward the city.
The Queen of Whores , Jane Rochford had muttered to her sourly while they had rested after her coronation. That’s what they’re calling you. Anne, the Queen of Whores.
And yet, Anne had laughed, I’m the Queen of England and they’ll die as they lived; in the gutter.
Anne wondered if decking Catherine’s tiny corpse out in yellow would have the same effect. Catherine was a blue eyed, red headed, boy chested, large headed Spaniard. She’d look much better in blue, which was all the girl seemed to wear at the very least. Blue and red and gold, not yellow but gold. A dark, metallic gold that was heavy and hideous. Anne had seen the one dress laid out, on the nights when they managed to force her to change for dinner but the fading black bruise on her neck saved her. It had a strange verdugado skirt that looked like the spokes of a wheel.
Doña Elvira had begun sharing Catherine’s bed, either holding Anne close like a nurse with a lonely child or asleep with her back to Anne. Regardless, Anne had had little rest over the past week. Arthur didn’t help, keeping up a constant chatter. He really was a lovely boy but Anne found she had no stomach for his loveliness.
He’d damned Catherine the morning after their wedding. He was going to damn Anne unless she could force his jaw shut.
Bring me a cup of ale, He’d said. For this night I’ve been in Spain.
Anne looked at him as he rode beside her, swaying this way and that in his saddle. He had one arm raised up, squashing his cap back down onto his head. It hadn’t been made properly for his head. He’d likely outgrown it.
He’d also never touched Catherine, Anne knew that now. God’s blood, she’d known that then, back when Catherine wore that dress of purple and mink and brought Campeggio’s trial to a complete halt by getting on her knees but she’d heard the lie so many times that she believed it. It had clung to her thoughts like oil floating atop a glass of water which she’d drunk from for so long that she couldn’t tell the difference between the taste of water and oil.
I love you a thousand times more than Catherine ever did, She’d shouted at Henry, pleading for her life.
The memory made her flinch and look away from the dratted Prince of Wales. He was a boy, a foolish little braggart of a boy who’d ruined an honest woman. He’d also made Anne Boleyn possible . She didn’t like that thought.
After a moment or two there was a loud laugh behind her. When Anne craned her aching neck around she saw Rosa with her wild, loose hair hanging stringy and greasy around her face. Anne had already seen the acne blooming on her jaw but Buckingham was smiling a broad bearded, white toothed smile at her.
This was going to be trouble , Anne knew it in her guts. Just like Mary sneaking off in Calais was trouble. Though she did wonder what would come of these two.
Do I even know what will become of me? Anne thought.