Here is the opening of my new Alice Petherton novel.
‘For goodness sake stop that awful caterwauling,’ I said.
Sissy looked up at me in alarm. ‘I was only humming, Alice. It was a little song.’
‘Well it’s a very irritating little song.’
She bit her lip. ‘Sorry. It’s just I don’t notice when I’m doing my needlework.’
I shook my head in exasperation and turned back to my notebook. I could not find the right word. The verse was almost finished and I was pleased with it. But I needed a word to describe how the maid felt when she first saw her lover. No word was right. Some sounded too ridiculous, the ravings of a love-sick child. Others sounded too cold, too austere to describe a real true love. I wanted the woman to be a woman not an ice-maiden. And I did not want her to spout words like some scholar who had read of love in dusty volumes but never experienced it.
I put down my pen. Was the difficulty because I had never truly felt love in my own heart? I felt myself frown as I thought back on these last two years. Oh, I had known plenty much of love-making. Despite his age and injury the King was boisterous and demanding when he felt in the mood for pleasure. But how much had I known of love?
The King sometimes told me that he loved me. But this was in rare moments, the times when he let his guard down. Perhaps it was when he was hot with lust and intent on wooing me, or perhaps because he was distracted by some passing thought and forgot he must ever play the King. Or perhaps because we had just made love and for a moment he was a little more besotted with me.
But had I loved him? That was the question. Had I loved any man? Unbidden the image of Art Scrump came to my mind. I dismissed it at once. It was best not to go there. Best not to uncover that nest of baby birds and hissing vipers.
I thought back to the King. Had I loved him ever? Did I love him now?
It seemed a silly question as I asked it, a foolish notion altogether. Of course I did not love him. I was his mistress, his bed-fellow; that was all. And he was my protector, my shield. My master in every way. Pay-master, bed-master, lord and master.
Could a servant truly love her master? Could a hound? Yes, a hound could. But a kitten? Now there was a different matter entirely.
‘How’s the poem going, Alice?’ Sissy asked shyly.
‘Not very well.’
‘Ah, I’m sorry. You write such lovely songs.’
‘They’re not songs, Sissy. They’re poems. How many times do I have to tell you?’
She bit her lip, her face contrite. ‘I’m sorry, Miss. It’s just hard for me to understand. When you read them they sound a bit like songs.’
‘But they’re not songs.’
‘Why not though? I bet Mary could set them to music. Then they’d sound much better.’
I opened my mouth to remonstrate but thought better of it. Sissy would never understand the difference between poetry and songs. To be very honest I wasn’t sure I could explain it either. I would have to ask Sir Thomas Wyatt.
‘Where is Mary?’ I asked.
‘She’s with Susan in the sitting room. They thought you’d best be left in peace to get on with your songs.’
‘Poems, Sissy, poems.’
‘Yes, Alice.’ She put down her needle-work. ‘Shall I get them? Shall I tell them you’ve finished?’ She looked out of the window. ‘Oh look. It must be nearly time for dinner. How this day has flown.’
I glanced out of the window. The sky was a murky, grey colour, mud-brown. I hated this time of year. The lovely colours of autumn had flown away and the dull dank days of November had settled on the world with all their sullen misery. It had been a particularly dreary November this year. Brooding, heavy clouds blanketed the sky without even the relief of rain. On a few days the wind had whipped up and blown the sky clear. But within hours the clouds had crept back; darker, more determined. It lowered my spirits.
‘When will Christmas come?’ I wondered aloud.
‘Not long now,’ Sissy cried. ‘It’s Advent Sunday tomorrow.’
‘So it is.’ My heart sank. This meant it would be an exceptionally long sermon tomorrow, even more so as the priest would want to impress the Archbishop who was coming to the Palace. At least he was courteous company.
Sissy got up and stood over me. She had that quiet determined look which she had developed of late. ‘It is dinner time, Alice,’ she said. ‘They’ll be waiting to serve.’
Waiting on me, I thought. Even after a year I could not quite reconcile myself to the fact that I was mistress of Greenwich Castle.
‘Come along then,’ I said. ‘Let’s join the others.’
I’m about 20,000 words into the first draft of the new novel. Lots of new characters and a deadly peril for Alice.