I hurried along the corridors of the Palace.
It was growing dark, the sun had just set and the threatening storm was painting the sky a morbid grey. It was not yet twilight but that time of threat and promise was close. Rush lights and candles had been lit by the unseen hands of servants and they flickered in the draught. Strange, I thought, they give less light now than when the night has settled fully. In the half light they flickered sickly like Will o’ the Wisps beguiling unwary travellers to their doom.
Even though I had never been near to it I knew how to find the King’s Study. Hampton Court Palace was vast and many people got lost within it, even some who had lived here for a while. But I had made a map of the Palace in my head, plotting its warren of chambers and halls and corridors.
My bedroom was on the top floor overlooking the Lower Court. To get to the King’s Study was a long walk; down several stair-cases, along the corridor next to the Kitchens, through the Great Hall and past the Watching Chamber where the King’s Guards were quartered. I walked as fast as I could, determined to keep the King waiting for as little time as possible.
My breath was coming fast as I crossed the Great Hall, whether from my speed or from thought of being alone with the King. I turned left and passed by the Watching Chamber where I could hear the low conversation of bored men. I forced myself to walk even faster as I passed the Pages Quarters for I knew the Pages’ eyes were quick and their tongues even quicker. No doubt the boy who the King had sent to summon me was even now the centre of attention, basking in the temporary notoriety from the gossip he brought to his fellows.
I turned right into the Gallery and slowed my walk. It would not do to arrive at the King’s Study with heaving breast and reddened face. I could not afford to tarry long, of course, but I forced my feet to stop and took breath. I leaned my face against a window to try to cool it. The gathering wind rattled the glass in its frame and it vibrated against my skin. I waited until I felt the flush leave my face and stepped out towards my rendezvous. I stood outside the door to the Study and composed myself, patting at my hair and checking my bodice to make sure it was not in disarray.
I knocked upon the door, a knock as quiet and gentle as my heart was loud and hammering. I waited for a moment in the silence and then I heard the single word, ‘Come.’
I entered the Study and curtsied. My eyes blinked in amazement. The wall was lined with books. I had never seen so many in my life, could barely imagine that so many had been written and printed. The smell of old leather was heavy in the air yet not unpleasant. A large table stood in the middle of the room with four chairs placed around it. In the far right was another door which led, I imagined, to a second chamber. On the longest wall stood a large fireplace with a fierce blaze burning in a deep grate. To one side of this were two easy chairs, with a small table between them. The room was warm as an August afternoon.
There was no sign of King Henry or so I thought at first. Then suddenly I saw him. He stood in an alcove in one of the bookshelves, an alcove so deep it almost hid him. If he had kept the figure of his earlier years it would indeed have done so.
What did he mean by this? Was I supposed to come to him the week before, after our meeting in the garden? Had I been expected to come to him without his command?
‘I came immediately I was summoned,’ I said.
‘We sent our Page to you some while ago,’ he said. ‘Your King is surprised he has been kept waiting.’
‘It is a goodly way from my chamber, Your Majesty,’ I said. ‘And it took me a while to find my book of verse.’
‘It took you a while?’ He held out his hand for the volume. ‘I assumed it would be your constant companion.’
‘I read many books, Your Majesty.’
I paused, wondering whether to risk saying what was in my thoughts. I took a deep breath. ‘And besides, I had to wash myself.’
He stared at me, his eyes suddenly hard. ‘You kept your monarch waiting while you washed yourself?’
He walked away from the alcove and flung himself into one of the chairs by the fire. I bit my lip, aware that tears were forming in my eyes.
Henry saw this and I saw his eyes flicker with amusement.
‘The King is glad of it,’ he said at last. ‘He applauds you for it. Cleanliness is something the King takes very seriously.’
He gestured towards the other chair. ‘Sit, Alice Petherton and tell me which of the Earl of Surrey’s poems you best like.’
I continue to work on my new Tudor novel. Alice Petherton has got me as beguiled as the title of the book. Once I have written the first draft of this I will go back in time for more more than four centuries and do the final edit of the third part of my Edgar Atheling novel, ‘The Lost King: Mercenary.
I am resuming my series of talks with authors shortly. I am also starting a series looking at the Writing Spaces of my fellow authors. Looking forward to that.
My books are available on e-readers, through most retailers. I am hoping to publish Artful for the first time on Kobo, Nook, Apple and Sony shortly.
- ‘Beguiled’ Part 2 of my new work in progress. #SampleSunday #histnov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- ‘Beguiled.’ The opening scene of my new work in progress (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)