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A story of MaryTudor, Queen of England.

Judith Arnopp


Published in 2020

Copyright © JudithArnopp.

The author or authors assert their moral right underthe Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author orauthors of this work.

All Rights reserved. No part of this publication maybe reproduced, copied, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in anyform or by any means, without the prior written consent of the copyrightholder, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other thanthat in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed onthe subsequent purchaser.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is availablefrom the British Library.

St James’ Palace – October 1558

Ihate autumn; I always have. It heralds the onset of megrims, endless days of gloom,nights of frozen misery. It is so dark. Why haven’t they come to lightthe torches or stoke the fires? Where on God’s earth are they?

I move my arm, dislodging apile of books, and a tankard of ale crashes to the floor. A dark stain spreadslike blood. The noise alerts my women, who should be attending me. The dooropens and a face peers tentatively around the edge. Expecting it to be Susan, Ifrown vaguely at the child who creeps forward.

“Who are you? Where are mywomen?”

“You sent everyone away, YourMajesty, on pain of death.”

I grunt acknowledgement; I hadforgotten. My damned women are always fussing and fiddling, whispering andwatching. Waiting for me to die. I get tired of it. I squint at the blur of herwhite face that seems to float in the darkness. I wave my arm again.

“Get someone to light thetorches and then do something about that fire.”

She bobs a curtsey. I hear thedoor open and close, and know I am alone again. A scattering of raindrops peppersthe windows, a draught eddies around my ankles. It is only October. The thoughtof the long winter months ahead fill me with gloom. Perhaps I will not live tosee the spring. I let my chin drop to my chest and close my eyes. Sleep willhelp me forget; it is a refuge, my only friend.

The present blurs, music playsin the recesses of my mind – music and laughter … I am slipping into oblivionwhen the pain bites deep in my gut. I cry out and clutch my belly.

“Your Majesty, should I callthe physician?” SusanClarencius, who is braver than the rest, bursts into the chamber and bends overme. I feel the anxious hush of her breath against my cheek. I push her away.

“I told you I wanted to bealone.”

She stands over me just as mylady governess used to do. Folding her hands across her stomach, she sniffsdismissively. “But if you are sick, Your Majesty…”

“I said I wanted to be alone. Getthat girl to stoke the fire. I will tolerate nobody else near me tonight, doyou understand?”

The effort of anger makes mecough and she takes a step forward, but I point toward the door. “Out. Now.”

She hesitates for just amoment before curtseying low and leaving me in peace. I close my eyes.

When I open them again, I becomeaware of stealthy movements. My neck is stiff from sleeping in my chair andthere is drool on my chin. I turn toward the hearth where someone is kneeling,trying to silently rouse the flames.

“Is that you, girl? Are youstill here?”

She rises.

“Yes, Your Majesty.” By hervoice, she can be no more than twelve. My eyesight is so dim I have to imaginehow she looks; a child in grubby skirts, the beginnings of a hole on her left shoe.What must it be like to be such a person, so lowly? I doubt it can be as hardas it is to be queen.

Maybe she would make a betterjob of ruling than I have. When I came to the throne I had such good intentions.I meant to put everything right but … I can’t even pinpoint when the troublebegan…

“Do you think it is easy beingqueen?”

I speak suddenly. The girl gaspsand drops her poker, rolls to her feet in a flurry of petticoats.

“I – I beg pardon, YourMajesty?”

“Being queen…” I poke my headforward, trying to bring her features into focus. “I suppose you think it’s as simplea task as lighting fires or fetching buckets. Well, you’re wrong. It is hard.Hard, do you see? I – I thought the people would love me … they loved myfather, didn’t they, despite everything he did? They always loved him.”

I glare at her. She thinks I amcrazed, and she is not alone. It is a question I have sensed frequently in thevoices of my women and the quizzical brows of my physicians of late. It istheir pity I hate the most. I narrow my eyes.

“What is your name?”

She clears her throat beforereplying. “A–Anne, Your Majesty.” She has the grace to sound apologetic.

Surprising even myself, I letout a bark of laughter and find it difficult to stop. She waits while I rockback and forth, showing my gums, tears dampening my cheek.

“My least favourite name,” I explainas soon as I have adequate breath to speak. I mop my watering eyes on mysleeve. “Was your mother an admirer of the Boleyn woman? You were named in herhonour, I suppose?”

She steps forward determinedly.“No, no, Your Majesty; not at all. My mother was a good Catholic soul. I wasnamed in memory of my granddam.”

Hmmm. Choosing to believe her, I indicatethat she should pass me a cup of ale. It is the only thing that soothes myraging thirst.

“Should I not fetch your women– Lady Susan or…?”

I shake my head. “No. Thereshould be a cup on the tray. Pass it to me.”

She hesitates, wiping her handon her apron before doing as I ask. I sip the liquid and let it flow wet andwarm down my parched throat.

“She started it all, you know.The Boleyn woman. The misfortunes I have suffered are all due to her. I washappy, we all were. My parents were contented before she danced like the devil andstole my father’s eye. We were all content. She bewitched him, changed him, andforced him to follow where she led.

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