Here’s an extract from my latest novel.
The King of England
19 September 1537
It was the third week in September but the weather continued unseasonably warm. King Henry had been walking in the garden with some gentleman attendants but must have wished for some solitude for he gestured them to move some distance from him. He walked over to a bower of roses which were now shrivelling on the branch. The autumn winds blew fallen petals about his feet, hither and thither, skittish as a filly.
I opened up my book of verse and strolled across the lawn, reading from the book as I walked.
The King had some small acquaintance of me although he had only spoken to me once, on Mayday. He wished me good day. I did him a curtsy and made to walk on.
‘You have a book, Alice Petherton,’ he called. ‘Is this for decoration or education?’
I curtsied once more and glanced up at him before looking at the ground demurely.
‘For education, Your Majesty,’ I said in a low voice. ‘I seek to improve myself.’
Out of the corner of my eye I saw his eyes slide from the book to my breasts and then to my hair.
‘Don’t bend your head to the ground, child,’ he said. ‘Your King will not harm you by his gaze.’
I took a breath and raised my head. The newly risen sun illuminated the lower part of my face but my eyes remained in shadow.
I saw his chest move, as if a wind of passion was surging within. He held out his hand for the book.
‘Poems by Sir Thomas Wyatt,’ he said, perusing the title. He flipped open the pages. ‘Do you like the Sir Thomas’s poems, Alice Petherton?’
‘I do Your Majesty. They are ably written.’
Henry’s eyes narrowed and his head turned as if he could not believe his ears. ‘Ably written?’ he said. ‘A chit of a girl talks of my foremost poet, a knight of the Kingdom, in such a manner?’
I curtsied again. ‘I meant no disrespect,’ I said.
‘Perhaps what you mean and what you say are very different matters, Alice Petherton?’
‘They are not designed so, Your Majesty. It must be my youthful ignorance.’
He said nothing but continued to stare at me. The sun had risen higher now and dissolved the shadows which had hidden the top of my face from his gaze.
‘You have very dark eyes,’ the King said. ‘Very dark. And yet your hair is blond and your complexion pale.’
‘Many have remarked upon this, Majesty.’
‘Your eyes are the colour of damsons,’ he continued. He gestured me closer, tilted my head and looked into my eyes. I felt the heat of him beating down upon me, or perhaps it was my own heat, gusting like a wind in summer.
‘Yes, very like damsons,’ he murmured. ‘Dark eyes are hard to read, don’t you think, Alice Petherton?’
‘Not as hard as the poems of the Sir Thomas Wyatt, Your Majesty.’
He looked at me again, a quizzical look upon his face. I saw his emotions battling, his thoughts flying. Then he tilted back his head and laughed. It was a pleasant laugh, not loud, not soft; as natural a laugh as a King could make. Yet as he laughed his eyes locked fast upon me.
I smiled, a gentle smile, as if I smiled not at my own words but at my lord’s pleasure.
His laughter stopped. He stared at me as if had not properly seen me until this moment.
When he spoke again his voice was changed, deeper and cloying.
‘I would know you better, Alice Petherton,’ he said. ‘I would read poems with you.’
‘I am at Your Majesty’s pleasure,’ I said, giving another curtsy. But as I did so I made sure that my eyes never left his face.
‘A Love Most Dangerous’ is available on Kindle for $3.07, £1.84 or equivalent.
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