I’ve just completed the first draft of my new novel set in the time of Henry VIII of England. I plan to publish it in the New Year. Here’s a sample.
Margaret Wicks was by far the prettiest of the maids of honour. I heard tell that she was twenty five years old although she never admitted her age to anyone. She was a particular favourite of Queen Jane. She had beautiful red hair with a lustre which glowed like gold. Her cheek-bones were high and distinct which made her look a little like a cat. Her lips were pink and full and they invariably wore a smile. She was said to have the prettiest nose in court although I cannot recall who told me that. I think it may, in fact, have been her. She was a special person and I was glad to be her friend.
Her closest friend was Joan Bray. I often wondered that they were so close for where Margaret was pretty, Joan was plain. I could not call her ugly, that would be unfair. But plain suited her well. She had a square face with deep-set eyes and tiny little mouth. Where Margaret tripped along the corridors of Hampton Court Palace, Joan trudged. I do not know how old she was. She might have been thirty, she might have been forty or even older.
‘Alice, where have you been?’ Margaret asked as I hurried into the maid’s sitting room.
‘I couldn’t find my bonnet,’ I said. ‘It had fallen behind the chair.’
‘It looks it,’ Margaret said. She reached up and pushed the bonnet more securely upon my head. ‘In fact it looks as though you’ve been using it as a chair.’
I smiled at her jest.
‘Her hair escapes the bonnet,’ said Joan Bray.
Margaret stared at my head. ‘You’re right, Joan. It would never do to have Alice’s hair all bedraggled across her head.’
She tucked the errant locks firmly back beneath the bonnet. I sighed to myself. I hated that my hair was forced into trammels. Margaret, I noticed, always left a small fringe of her hair showing. But it was a lovely colour so I could see why she did this. Joan was all forehead.
Margaret grasped my shoulders and pushed me back from her so that she could examine me more carefully. ‘You’ll do,’ she said brightly. ‘Come, we must not be late.’
I followed Margaret and Joan along the corridor. I was grateful they had waited for me, although I could see that Joan was fretful at the delay.
Margaret, of course, seemed less concerned. She did not dawdle but nor did she hurry. I smiled quietly to myself, smug that she had chosen to befriend me.
The Queen’s chamber was crowded when we arrived. Jane Seymour sat close to the window, working, as always, at her embroidery. She was said to be the finest needlewoman at court, and not merely by those who were sycophantic towards her. I admired her work and knew that no matter how hard I tried I would never produce anything close to its quality.
This was partly because I loathed working with needle and thread. I much preferred to spend my hours in reading, or even writing. But Queen Jane liked to do neither and so all her ladies and maids must, perforce, bend themselves and their minds to the constant poke and stitch of needlework. Sometimes, at the end of the day, my fingers looked like pin-cushions.
Jane gave a frosty glance as I entered the room. Then she gave a little smile when she saw Margaret enter the room behind me. Her fingers signalled for her and Joan to approach. I wondered whether to follow but thought better of it. Susan Dunster and Mary Zouche sat close to the door and glanced up at me. I slipped to the empty chair beside them and pulled out my needlework.
‘You’re late, Alice Petherton,’ Susan whispered. ‘Tut tut, that will never do.’
I did not answer for my face had blushed scarlet. Susan laughed quietly, as if to herself. Mary smiled gently and continued with her sewing.
The room fell silent except for the drawing of thread through fabric. You would never have credited that such a tiny act could produce such a volume of noise. It rasped through my brain, if truth were told. The more I listened the more it seemed like the sharpening of a blade.
Every push and draw of my needle felt like the days of my life running away from me. I shook my head to concentrate. It was so easy to go awry, so easy to make a mistake which would take long hours to unpick.
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