Here’s the opening of my new novel which should be published within the month. I could say more but I’ll let the protagonist speak for herself.
To be a servant at the court of King Henry is to live with your heart in your mouth. This is so whether you are young or old, male or female. Some, of course, have more cause for concern than others. I am young and I am female. So the danger to me is considerable.
The danger is the more acute because I am pretty and the Queen is in the last month of her confinement.
Henry has divorced one wife and executed the second. But that is far from the whole story. A string of shattered hearts lies strewn across the land like pearls from a necklace broken in rage. Aye, it’s true that complicit fathers, brothers, uncles and even husbands have got rich by leading their women like heifers to the courtly market. It is the women who give the most and suffer the most grievously.
Unless of course, they are clever.
It does not do to be too clever. Anne Boleyn taught us this. For make no mistake, King Henry is more clever than any man in the kingdom now that Thomas Wolsey is dead. And he is as subtle and wily as even the most cunning of women. Anne’s head rolling from the block is testimony to that.
The trick is to show your cleverness to just such a degree that Henry is intrigued by it but not threatened. The second trick is to intimate that your cleverness is at his disposal even more than your own. And the third trick? Ah, the third trick is to be willing to bed the great beast of appetites and to know when to do it.
My name is Alice Petherton and I am seventeen years of age. I came to court as a simple servant but I caught the eye of Anne Boleyn when she was newly crowned. I was good at singing, could dance like an elf and made her laugh and think. She took me as one of her maids of honour and my slow approach to the furnace began.
I was very fond of Anne. She was not pretty but there was something alluring about her, some promise of carnality which affected all who knew her, King and subject, man and woman. I must confess that on more than one night I awoke hot with sweat having dreamed I had been bedded by the Queen, worn out and used by her, alive and half-deadened, exultant and dismayed.
There came one morning when she stroked my cheek and kissed me swiftly on the lips. I gazed into her eyes that day, telling her that I was willing. But she merely laughed and told me to get on with my sewing. So are we played with by those we must learn to call our betters.
I will become one of these betters, I determined. I will be fawned upon and bowed to some day.
Not that I aspire to be a queen, you must understand. That is too deadly by far. King Henry appears to be in love with Jane Seymour. He would, of course, for she carries his child. His greatest lust is for a male successor; even more than for any pretty face and shapely form. There is no sense in seeking to usurp Seymour’s place as Queen; no hope. If she proves to be a good brood mare he will rest content for a little while. But in the meanwhile he hungers. The furnace grows hotter by the hour.
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