Despite his words I was not summoned by the King for seven days. I counted them off with care. The warm weather waned and an autumn chill crept across the Palace. I began to think he had forgotten our meeting and pondered how best to arrange a second one.
No good ideas came to me and I did not want to tarry in halls and chambers like some love-sick child anxious to meet their beloved. I cudgelled my brain for ways in which to meet him, to no avail. Then, one evening, when a fierce wind rattled the windows and a storm could be seen growing in the west, a servant appeared in the Queen’s chamber.
There were half a dozen of her ladies in the room. Her favourites were not here as she had summoned them to her bed-chamber. Her time was near and she would not rise again until she had given issue. I fiddled with an embroidery, a scene of hounds and hares as I recall, but I could not focus my attention on it. My thoughts were far away, veering between the memory of my meeting with Henry and the plight of the Queen in her chamber. I did not love Jane Seymour as I loved Anne Boleyn but as I’ve said before, we had once been friends.
A Page appeared in the chamber. He was young, perhaps thirteen or so, but that did not prevent the women in the room casting appraising eyes upon him. Thirteen year old boys became fourteen and fifteen. They grew at a prodigious rate.
‘Where can I find Alice Petherton?’ he asked. His voice was still that of a boy although I could detect the cracks in it.
I lifted my head. ‘I am Alice Petherton.’
‘You are requested by the King, madame,’ the Page said. ‘He awaits you in the King’s Study.’
He stood back, his duty done, embarrassed, uncomfortable. A buzz arose in the room, the sound that bees might make when their hive is being robbed.
I feigned more surprise than I felt although, in truth, I had all but given up on ever getting such a summons.
‘His Majesty requires that you bring the book of poems with you,’ the Page said.
This request, unusual and easily doubted, set the hive buzzing again.
‘Tell His Majesty that I must fetch it from my bed-chamber,’ I said. ‘Pray he forgives me for the slight delay.’
The boy swayed from side to side, uncertain what to do.
‘Well hurry,’ I said. ‘If I must keep him waiting it were best you did not as well.’
The boy blushed, cast a quick look at the ladies in the room and raced away.
‘Be careful, Alice,’ Margaret Crane said. ‘The King grows heavier and is said to ride his horses hard.’
The buzz became laughter, the yelping of puppies in a kennel.
‘I bid you good-night, dear friends,’ I said with a bow.
‘Read sweetly, dear Alice,’ said Susan Dunster. ‘Be careful not to make any mistakes.’
I gazed at her. She gave nothing away by her look but I hoped that she was giving me honest advice.
I hurried to my chamber and found the book of poems. My hand was shaking as I poured a jug of water into a basin. I dabbed a cloth in it and wiped my face. Then, thinking more clearly, I slipped my garments off and swiftly washed my body. I caught up a mix of herbs and spice and chewed upon them ferociously before spitting them out into the basin. Above all my breath must smell fresh and pure.
This is my second foray into the turbulent world of the Tudor age. The first novel languishes on my computer. I don’t know where Alice Petherton came from. She entered my mind one morning this week when I sat down to write. Unbidden, fairly complete but full of surprises. I’m looking forward to knowing her better.
- ‘Beguiled.’ The opening scene of my new work in progress (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)