I FIRST ENCOUNTERED ANNE BOLEYN AT ENGLISH COURT. It was inevitable once I arrived that she would cross my path, I suppose, as she was the object of the king’s affections and she knew everything that happened in court. Perhaps, I dare say, even better than the queen herself. She knew the rumors of my work, so she wanted to figure out who had brought me here. Whether that lady-in-waiting’s call for my help that brought me into Anne’s life was an act of God or not, Anne and I’s fates have become irreversibly intertwined and I think shall be so even for eternity.
Not, of course, that I should have it any other way. Anne was never simply another noblewoman of English court to me. From the moment I met her, I sensed that she was different. Even in a court of glittering gold and dripping with jewels, Anne stood out from the rest, long before she was queen. I think I was first drawn to her by her eyes. Her gaze feels like it could pierce into my soul, rather like the falcon on her family’s crest, and her smile hid secrets that drove men crazy and drew me in like a moth to a flame.
Though I knew it not when I first laid eyes on her, Anne would forever change my life and our fates would become inextricably bound together for the rest of our lives. Perhaps even for the rest of time, but that will be for our successors to determine.
HAMPTON COURT PALACE
WOMEN WHISPER WHEN I ARRIVE ANYWHERE, given that it is a place where rumors of my work have already reached them. It is expected, given what I do. Most women tend to look the other way when I arrive as well, and say nothing when an offensive husband or unwanted and too forceful suitor is found dead in his chambers.
My arrival to the Hampton Court Palace where the king resides with his queen and court is no different. It is a sunshine-filled day, and nobles swarm over the greens, most oblivious to my quiet entrance as I should like them to be. It is inevitable that some women’s eyes linger upon me, and I can guess their process of thought. The first is the wonderment if I am who they think I am, the second is the realization that I am and therefore something is about to occur. The third is most certainly the bleakest: Who is to die within the fortnight?
It is not usually the women I have to worry about noticing me, however. I provide services most often to them, and in return, they protect me from any possible suspicion falling upon my head. The same is true for the noblewoman I have come to serve. In exchange for my aid in ridding her of a pest, she will ensure I am safe and no one suspects a thing. She has arranged my quiet arrival, to which I am thankful, for it is far easier to ride into a village and leave than it is to attempt coming into the royal palace without being questioned why I am there.
The court bustles around me as I am escorted through the gates by a maid. I have heard of the beauties of this palace, but no accounts compare to it in real life. Imposing walls arch over my head, stark against a sapphire sky, and it is easy to see how this is fit to be the home of a king. As the maid shows me through the halls, I take a moment to breathe in my new surroundings. Such a shame that a beautiful place is so full of dangers that stalk its halls. Beautifully carved wood arches overhead, holding white walls hung with paintings of the monarchs of old and new, of stunning landscapes and other revered figures.
“Thank you,” are my quiet words to the girl as she shows me to a guest chamber, where some of my dresses have already been unpacked and readied for me. I am to greet the queen in just a few hours, and I must look presentable to her. Before I do so, I have one other meeting, a far more important one I dare say.
“Lady Windsor.” The smooth voice sounds at the entry of the chamber, hardly a moment after the maid has parted. “The queen bids me welcome you to the palace. I come bringing a gift.” A clever ruse. If anyone should ask, she only needs to mention the queen. It’s common for ladies-in-waiting to give gifts on the queen’s behalf to new guests.
“Lady Willoughby,” I reply swiftly, an invitation for her to step in and close the door. She does so in a swirl of deep green, placing a book on the chair before shutting the doors. I eye the gift she has brought, curious as to what it is. “Please give Her Highness my gratitude.”
Lady Willoughby is a woman of fair complexation, with a hint of brilliant red hair peeking out from underneath her hat. She is a quiet-spoken woman, though I gain the sense that she is a firm woman. Not much will slip by her. She is the beauty I have heard about, and I am curious to see if it is true that all of Queen Katharine’s women are as beautiful. I was but a babe nursing at my mother’s breast when Queen Katharine wedded King Henry, but growing up, I heard many stories about her, including her bravery on the front lines of the war. It is to be expected, though, considering her parentage.
“There is much to be discussed in such a short time,” I offer to her, and move to the chairs set in the center of the room. “Come. Tell me why you have asked for my services. I surely would not have journeyed out all this way without knowing more, except for an important lady as yourself.” She takes my invitation to sit, and I see the slight dart of her eyes about. “What is troubling you?”
“A suitor,” she finally utters. A sigh is drawn from her rosy lips. “He has begged again and again to court me, but my heart belongs to another. I would not normally ask such a service, but I fear he may become forceful in his pursuit of my hand.” Ah. There it is. “If he is to do such a thing, my chances of a good marriage are ruined, and surely the man I love will be forced to reject me as well. I should be lucky if Her Highness kept me on.”
That is the tragedy of being a woman in a man’s world.
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