I want your love and all your love is revenge
You and me could write a bad romance.
i. Wild for to hold, though I seem tame
She learnt very early that children were meant to be seen and not heard, if anything at all. And although Anne was no longer a child--near three years under the Archduchess of Austria's tutelage had surely stripped her of any childish airs--the newest gentlewoman to any great lady might as well be a child for all she needed to learn.
Much to the Archduchess' credit, however, Anne quickly ceased to be the curiosity any fourteen-year-old lady-in-waiting was by nature. Father would be proud; her French was exquisite, her manners impeccable. And she had just seen the Duke of Suffolk exiting the private chambers of la reine blanche.
Whether he had seen her was another matter altogether. Ladies-in-waiting were taught to move quietly, to exist only when required, and Anne had taken those lessons to heart. And even if he had seen her, Anne would have been shocked if he knew her name. Charles Brandon was renowned for a great many things, but neither wit nor observation were among them.
That he was a favourite of the English king, the entire court knew. But that, as every courtier was well aware, was a tenuous place at best, and an affair with the king's young sister might still send a man to the block. And Anne, as one of the few witnesses, kept her eyes lowered and her thoughts to herself.
Father would want her to tell him everything. Knowledge is more than power, Nanette. It is the currency of power. Who knew what price such a secret carried? Thomas Boleyn could buy himself a great deal if he were to alert King Henry that his sister was carrying on with one of his closest friends. But Mary Tudor was cleverer than much of her court-by-marriage--and, indeed, the court of her birth--gave her credit for being.
"Mademoiselle de Boullan," the absurdly young and beautiful Dowager Queen of France stretched out the name Anne never corrected when called thus in court. "For such a skilled linguist, you speak little."
Anne kept her eyes fixed on the embroidered silver border of Her Highness's white mourning gown. "One learns a language as much by listening as by speaking, my lady."
The Queen and her elder brother had the same smile, Anne had realised upon her first meeting with the then-Princess Mary. She had only seen King Henry once, from a window in Lille where he had been meeting with the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian, but his was a smile that could charm even the dourest of the Archduchess' ladies. It was that smile that now flickered to life on la reine blanche's face. "They tell me you're clever."
"Charles tells me you saw him."
The easy familiarity of Charles surprised her, and the young no-longer-queen's sharp eyes caught the truncated glance Anne nearly raised to her face.
"Do not deny it, Mistress Anne Boleyn." All traces of French pronunciation dropped from the name, revealing the utterly pedestrian Bullen beneath. "You have told no-one."
"No, my lady."
"But you were tempted. Of course you were. Who wouldn't be, with such a ripe secret?" Again, she smiled. "I shall require your services tomorrow, Mistress Anne. And your discretion."
She watched the next morning as Princess Mary of England, widow of King Louis XII of France and stepmother of King François I, pledged herself body and soul to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Who, it seemed, did remember her by name. She certainly recalled him from the festivities at Lille, where he had made a similarly impulsive proposal to the Archduchess Margaret and caused a great scandal.
It was la reine blanche's choice, she supposed, but Anne knew better than to imagine marriage to such a man to be a happy outcome. As the flurry of increasingly panicked letters flew back and forth across the Channel between my lady the Dowager Queen, Suffolk, and the Archbishop of York speaking on the King of England's behalf, Anne began to translate the lurid details under her breath to the new Queen of France, of an age with her and already with child. When it was revealed that the newly-married Duchess of Suffolk was similarly afflicted, she was immediately called home to Westminster and departed in the first weeks of spring. With her was only one of the two Boleyn daughters from her original train.
Anne's sister had wept on her departure, clinging to her like a drowning child. "I don't know how I shall do without you, Anne. You are the cleverer of we two."
"You shall have Mother and Father to look after you at court," Anne replied, smiling. "Fear not, sister. Write to me."
"I will. Every day, Anne."
She did not keep to her word, but Anne did receive letters on occasion, filled with gossipy details of all the happenings in the English court. To be sure, Mary was a far more entertaining correspondent than Father, who mentioned nothing of Mistress Elizabeth Blount or the son she bore the King that the Queen could not. Only when Mary wrote of her forthcoming marriage did Anne feel the sting of homesickness. She could not imagine Hever without Mary. Nor, however, would she have given up these years in France. Not for a thousand sisters.
She was, she supposed, her father's daughter.
ii. Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt
As well as I, may spend his time in vain!
It was her entire family accompanied the English King to meet King François on the field they named the Cloth of Gold. Father had been in Paris for more than a year already, having been appointed King Henry's ambassador. Indeed, it was he who had masterminded the great meeting between the two kings, and it was that undertaking that necessitated his absence from his own daughter's wedding.
If there was one thing at which men--and particularly kings--excelled, it was making the assumption that the least little thing was a battle of great import. In this case, it was the fairness of the ladies-in-waiting, and Anne found her favoured place usurped by the ladies of Navarre and Lorraine. It troubled her less than it might have done; as Mary's younger sister, Anne had long since grown accustomed to prizing her cleverness above another's beauty.
Mary, unsurprisingly, was in the Queen of England's train. What was surprising was that she seemed completely unaware of the glances that followed her, the heads she turned. Even King François insisted upon dancing with her, and it was inevitable that the King of England would follow.
Anne's lips tightened as she watched them, and it took George's prodding her with his foot to bring her attention back. "What on earth are you staring at?"
"I haven't misstepped yet, have I?" snapped Anne. Near seven years since she'd seen her brother and it seemed they still fell into childhood habits. "Your extension, however, mon frère...disgraceful."
"They don't teach you manners here, do they, Nan?"
"You're a fine one to talk." Anne glanced back to where Mary spun, delicate as a dancing doll in the King of England's enormous hands. "Is Mistress Blount here, do you know?"
"Bessie Blount?" George laughed. "Gone and forgotten, sister dearest. The King married her off and exiled her to the country with Monsieur Fitzroy. One might even say he's on the prowl."
"And you claim I have no manners," Anne said, sniffing. "I suppose it is a blessing my lord our uncle found a husband for Mary when he did."
"Must I spell it out for you, George? The King is not so foolish as to pursue a married woman."
"His grandfather did, and countless others before him. Who will gainsay the King, be she married or no?"
"Any woman with the sense God gave a sheep. Unless, I suppose," she added, laughter bubbling into the words, "she likes the country."
Such a woman, alas, her sister was not.
She learnt the news not from Mary, but from George. The Boleyn star is rising, sister. Myself in the King's chamber and Mary in his bed. And, within a season of that news, the summons from Father signalling that her time in France was at an end and that she was to be married to her Irish cousin James Butler.
As the Normandy coastline faded into December grey, Anne closed her eyes and tried to tell herself her life was not ending. Even the snow-draped gardens at Hever seemed plain and provincial beside the splendours of Bruges and Amboise and the glorious hunting lodge at Chambord, but no doubt Hever itself would seem a heaven compared to Ireland, if George's stories were even remotely true.
"Imagine nothing but dank castles. No tapestries, no silks and velvets, and God forfend you find a decent vintage there. I'm told you can find decent poets but only if you like the harp..."
Anne shuddered. "I shall die of boredom."
"Oh, I don't think you'll be bored," George looked uncharacteristically solemn as he slung his arm round her shoulders. "The wars'll see to that. Nothing but war in Ireland."
"Can't you at least pretend to care that Father and our uncle will be sending me there?"
"I care, Nan," he protested. "You'll never marry James Butler, I promise. Father will think of something. He doesn't like it any more than you do." Anne glanced up at him in surprise and he grinned. "The King offered our uncle of Surrey the post of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and God knows he hates that place even more than you do, so he suggested your marrying Butler so he could cut short his term and return here."
"Father did not send me to France for my education so I could be packed off to Ireland to rot," said Anne in a low voice. "If only they would let me go to court."
"What, so you could seduce the King like Mary?"
She swatted him on the arm. "No, idiot! So I could find a better husband than James Butler."
In light of what George had said, it was perhaps less surprising that Father took so well to the suggestion that Anne join Mary at court at least until the marriage to Butler was settled, but Anne was nonetheless relieved when word finally arrived from the Queen.
At the sight of Westminster's torches, she nearly laughed aloud from joy. Abbey and palace alike glowed in the dusk, lighting travellers and guests for the festivities marking Shrove Tuesday.
On that evening, the Cardinal had arranged a grand banquet and called upon Queen Catherine's ladies to counterfeit the trapped damsels of the Château Vert. Though white and yellow were by no means kind to her colouring, Anne, playing 'Perseverance', fell into step behind her sister, 'Kindness'. Her erstwhile mistress, the Duchess of Suffolk led the dance as 'Beauty'.
The King, after partnering his sister, turned to his latest mistress, who promptly feigned ignorance of the true identity of 'Amoress'. Anne's partner, one of the King's gentlemen of the chamber, stifled a snicker, earning him a frosty glare from Anne. "But the Cardinal intended it as jest, lady. Mistress Carey is kind indeed to His Majesty; too kind for her husband's liking!"
When, in a later dance, she found herself facing 'Amoress' himself, Anne favoured the King with a smile cold as one of Maestro da Vinci's ice sculptures. "Your Majesty."
He blinked. "My lady Perseverance. I fear I know aught else of you."
"Perhaps that is best, Your Majesty. We cannot all be so kind as my lady Carey." With a perfectly executed turn, she disentangled her hand from his and reached for her new partner, whose hat had turned slightly askew from the dancing, revealing mussed brown hair. She reached out and nudged it back into place. "Lest you lose it, my lord," she said. "The Cardinal might take it amiss."
A look of fleeting horror crossed his face. "Aye, he might, lady. For that, I am in your debt."
From the corner of her eye, she caught the King glancing her way as she laughed, relief and amusement comingling. "Your name, sir, if you please. I make it a point to always know those who owe me favours."
"Henry Percy, my lady." As his eyes met hers, she could hear the indrawn breath. "And yours?"
She smiled, raising one finger to her lips. "Perseverance, bien sûr, for this night. But if you seek me after, you shall find me with Her Majesty."
Much to her satisfaction, he barely took his eyes off her for the rest of the night. Her uncle of Surrey could eat his heart out in Ireland for all she cared.
iii. A strange fashion of forsaking
It took Anne very little time to accustom herself to the idea of becoming the Countess of Northumberland. True, Alnwick was practically as far from court as Ireland, but there was no reason why Harry shouldn't hold a position of some authority here. His family was one of the oldest and they had once all but ruled the North.
"Northumberland's heir?" George had murmured after catching them out in the arbour on a glorious day in July. "You play with fire, Nan. He'll never marry you."
"Fie on you, George Boleyn!" she laughed, linking her arm through his. "He'll marry me if he must needs swim the lake of fire to do it."
"A pretty picture, sister, but will he give up his inheritance?" At that, Anne turned to glare at him. "The Percies are proud as Lucifer and you know it well. Northumberland would never allow--"
"Lest you forget, George, our mother is the Duke of Norfolk's daughter."
George laughed. "That will hardly endear you to him. Northumberland is old and has a long memory besides. Not to mention, your Harry is already promised to the Earl of Shrewsbury's daughter."
"He can't stand the sight of her."
"What on earth led you to believe that matters? And, lest you forget, you are still betrothed to James Butler."
"Not for long. Just you wait and see."
George, to his credit, told no-one of what he had seen. And Anne, in spite of her confident dismissal of her brother's warnings, suggested to Harry that they be more discreet. If George was right--and, much as it galled her, he probably was--it would perhaps work to their benefit to slowly win the Cardinal over to their side.
"Why not your sister?" Harry asked after a moment's consideration.
"She has the King's ear, Anne. You may not like it, but you cannot deny that." He reached out and covered her hand with his. "Even my lord father would not gainsay the King. And he can be swayed by love. You saw it yourself, with Princess Mary and Suffolk."
Anne stared, torn quite vexingly between hitting and kissing him. "We are neither of us the King's beloved sister."
"Yes, but one of us has a sister beloved by the King."
That time, she did hit him.
It was a well-known fact in court that Queen Catherine knew every time the King bedded one of her ladies-in-waiting. Anne, who had known the infirm Queen of France, did not find this the least bit surprising. Nor did it surprise her that the King was ignorant of it.
Indeed, it seemed the Queen lavished more attention on Mary now she was the King's mistress. Perhaps it was easier when the lady was as much in debt to the Queen as to the King. Anne had elected to keep out of the way of both, an easy task when all around her were scrambling for the very opposite.
Mary, radiant in rose-coloured brocade that could only have been a gift from the King, clasped her hands and smiled. "Of course I shall speak to the King, Nan. I have asked him for little; surely he would grant me this for my love."
"You are too kind, Mary." In countless ways, her sister was too kind. Too kind to the King, to Father and George who used her so shamelessly, and to Anne, who stood by as they did so. For this as much as anything else, she threw her arms around Mary's neck. "I cannot go to Ireland, Mary! I shall die if I do."
"Nan, sweeting!" Surprise flared in Mary's voice as she held Anne close. "You'll not go to Ireland. What shall I do without my sister? The King shall see it done, I promise."
Mary meant well. Mary never meant anything but well. It was hardly her fault that the King's first response to any request was to ask the Archbishop of York. Nor was it her fault that Wolsey, for reasons of his own, would have none of the match and took it upon himself to inform the Earl of Northumberland.
In retrospect, it should not have surprised her that things fell out as they did. Anne only caught one brief glimpse of the Earl of Northumberland, a man as grey and forbidding as the moors from which he came. She knew then that Harry was lost. The only blessing she could draw was that at least the Archbishop of York could not surprise her with the news.
She had seen Wolsey countless times, of course. She saw him nearly every day. The red robes were unmistakeable, the whiff of scent from Araby following him like a shadow. But she had never truly looked at him until he stood before her, his mouth in a thin, forbidding line.
"You forget yourself, Mistress Boleyn. Your sister may warm the King's bed, but that does not make you a fit bride for the heir to the earldom of Northumberland."
He was a butcher's son. The entire world knew it, hide it as he might. And yet Wolsey met her eyes coolly as he spoke. Anne bit back the hundred retorts that danced in her mind and restricted herself to a tight nod.
"Harry Percy returns with his father to Alnwick. He will marry Mary Talbot. And as for you, Mistress, your father will escort you to Hever tomorrow. You will await your marriage there."
Anne could feel the walls of the room closing round her. "Your Eminence?"
The smile he gave her then was almost worse than his prior disapproval. "You thought to escape it, did you? You Howards and your distaste for Ireland. I'm certain you shall make the best of it."
In this, it seemed he was wrong. It was James Butler's father who broke the engagement. It seemed he had heard of Anne's dalliance with Northumberland's heir, although nobody could think of who might have told him. Anne's exile to Hever fell into a routine that was not unpleasant.
All that changed when Sir Thomas Wyatt returned home to Allington.
iv. Busily seeking with a continual change
The last time they had seen one another had been before Anne's departure for Mechelen, and she just barely recalled him. All she knew of him now was that his wife had left him for another man and he had just been posted to the Continent.
In the weeks before his posting began, she set three of his poems to music and he kissed her in the woods behind Hever. But he was no less married for it.
It had to have been Mary's influence that saw her summoned back to court before the Advent festivities. She had winter roses in her hair when she greeted Anne, and was wearing a necklace of pearls she soon admitted were a Christmas gift from the King. Young Henry Fitzroy was nearing his fourth birthday in obscurity but Mary showed no sign of being with child. So much the better for her, as far as Anne was concerned, no matter what Father seemed to think. Bearing the King a bastard son was far more complicated when rumour had it he had abandoned the Queen's bed altogether.
Thomas returned to court just before May Day, still aggravatingly married.
"Behave, sister," was George's warning, albeit with a grin. "He will spin out your heart in meter and rhyme, but believe him not."
"I never do, George."
She watched in silence as the year spun out and the King tired of kindness and of her sister. Mary did not weep, rather to Anne's surprise. Instead, she shrugged, a quirked smile on her face. "You warned me, Nan. And I don't mind, really." Lowering her voice, she added, "I want children, Nan."
"But the King--"
"Not once. And perhaps it is God's will that I have no children outside the bounds of wedlock. I never expected he would love me forever."
Quite unexpectedly, they both looked up to find the King in the doorway. Anne stepped away from her sister and sank into a curtsey. "Your Majesty."
"I was only saying farewell to my sister, my lord," Mary said, rising from the seat with aplomb Anne could not recall having seen before. "Your Majesty has been most gracious to me."
"And you to me, sweet Mary." When Anne glanced up a moment later, she realised he was looking at her, a frown between his brows. "You're the one Wyatt writes about."
"You flatter me, Majesty," she said, lowering her eyes quickly.
"And Henry Percy. You near drove the boy mad." There was a smile in his voice, a smile she knew was dangerous. "Anne Boleyn. Perseverance."
They said his grandfather could recall people he'd only met once, especially women. Anne kept her eyes fixed on the floor. "I did not expect Your Majesty to remember me."
But he had already turned back to Mary. Anne retreated from the room, realising only when she had closed the door behind her that she had been holding her breath all the while.
It was a pretty piece of irony that, within several months of leaving court, Mary was with child but no trace of that stained her joyous letter. Anne heard of Harry Percy's marriage to Lady Mary Talbot and found she felt little beyond a twinge of regret for a path not taken. Not that she had time to spare for reminiscence. The coinciding elevation of little Henry Fitzroy to the dukedom of Richmond and heir presumptive kept all of Queen Catherine's ladies fully occupied distracting their royal mistress from the blatant insult shown her.
Even Mary's exile had been a clumsy attempt to mollify the Queen, prompting only an acid retort from Her Majesty that she had quite enjoyed Mistress Carey's presence and that perhaps His Majesty's predilection for her ladies was insufficient reason for him to deprive her of them. Three of her ladies had already been dismissed for their vocal disapproval of the new Duke of Richmond. Anne kept her own counsel, though she did remark to Thomas and George that the King ought to know better than to trifle with the Queen.
Thomas, uncharacteristically, studied the whirling dancers below the gallery where they stood before saying in low tones, "He wants the marriage annulled. He no longer believes Her Majesty can give him a legitimate heir."
"You've seen the uproar about Richmond," George put in. "And all the prayers in the world can't restore a woman's youth. The question is who will replace her." Anne found herself looking at the Queen, a plain, dour-looking figure amidst the brightly clad dancers. Beside her on the dais, the King kept shooting longing glances into the crowd.
"Wolsey will support France," said Thomas, taking advantage of the scant light to trace idle patterns on the palm of Anne's hand. "For my part, I cannot disagree."
"Indeed," Anne said, capturing his fingers with hers. "It would be useful to have an ally when the Emperor decides to avenge the setting aside of his dear aunt." Both men looked at her and she laughed. "Queen Catherine knows well how and when to play the martyr. Half the country thinks her a saint already. Mary was wise not to anger her."
As if confirming her own words, Anne sent up a silent prayer that the Queen had forgotten her presence. She retired early of habit, making exception only for occasions of state. And, like clockwork, the Queen rose from her seat. The most senior of the ladies-in-waiting followed, but there seemed no indication that the Queen intended to concern herself with the rest of her train. Turning to Thomas, she smiled. "I am yours for the rest of the banquet, Master Wyatt. If you will have me."
"Have a care, Wyatt," added George, mock-sternly. "My sister still plans to make a grand marriage and we can't have you spoiling her chances."
"I'd look to my own marriage, if I were you," was Thomas' retort, occasioning a poisonous glare from George. As he followed Anne down the stairs, he asked, "Is Jane Parker really that awful?"
"She's madly in love with him," Anne replied. "Whatever his objections are, it makes them infinitely worse."
Her steps fell into the rhythm of the music as they weaved through the crush at the doors to the hall. Untwining her fingers from Thomas', Anne spun her way into the intricate pattern of dancers. The King had disappeared from the dais; now the Queen had retired, he wasted no time. And now Thomas had caught up to her, his look of irritation enough to send her into peals of laughter.
Mary had always been the better dancer when they were girls but Anne's years in service with Queen Claude had paid off. She would confess and beg forgiveness for vanity later. Tonight she had a new gown and Thomas was soon to leave court on the King's business and she fully intended to enjoy herself.
Even Thomas was smiling now, aware that they had attracted their fair share of attention. Ignoring the dagger-glare of Jane Parker, George's intended, Anne twirled beneath Thomas' arm only to find herself staring, through the press of people and smoke, directly at the King.
He had turned from whoever it was he was speaking to, his hand frozen in a half-gesture as their eyes met. Something seemed to shift beneath her feet, as though the ground below her had tilted just perceptibly, that a new path branched out before her. Carried high on a tide of pride and boldness and curiosity, she swept him a low curtsey without once looking away. Then, without further ado, she joined the pavane with barely a break in rhythm.
Thomas said nothing, but there was a tightness to his smile that left her unaccountably sad.
As Lent approached, it seemed the King was always there, at the corner of her eye. Even if she studied not to notice, Thomas grew increasingly skittish. Every time he left court for one of his postings, he seemed to watch her longer, as if trying to memorise her face for some more sustained separation.
Anne did not remind him that, separated or not, he was still married in the eyes of God and man and therefore had no claim on her. It certainly had not stopped her from dallying with him, and if the King wished to amuse himself in such manner, it seemed harmless enough. They all played the game, and she could not deny that the attentions of the King of England were flattering.
"Do you intend to bed him?" George asked her after Easter.
Anne frowned at the pendant she had been twirling between her fingers, tracing the intertwined letters HR. "He has not asked me."
"And when he does?" He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Mary seems happy. And he does marry his mistresses well."
"Assuming his new French Queen permits such indulgences." As if sensing her discomfort, George did not pursue the subject. It was only a matter of time.
v. But since that I so kindly am served
I would fain know what she hath deserved.
There was a story that had made the rounds in the French court while Anne had attended upon Queen Claude. It told of King Henry's grandfather, who had twice lost his kingdom for love of a woman. She had been the fairest lady in England--or, indeed, the world depending on the teller--and had caught the King's eye by appearing before him in a wood like the fairy Mélusine to Count Raymond. Some even said she was a witch, but Anne did not believe it. Men loved nothing better than an excuse for their own folly.
What had struck her about the story was the very nature of the lady's witchery. She had refused him. There was one tale where she threatened to cut her own throat rather than submit, a turn of events Anne found rather far-fetched but whose sentiment she appreciated.
The King had made his wishes clear. I promise that not only shall the name be given you, but that also I will take you for my only mistress, rejecting from thought and affection all others save yourself, to serve you only. This, some several months after she had refused him to his face and, thinking discretion the better part of valour, spent a few short weeks at Hever and avoided him at court thereafter.
She found, much to her annoyance, that she missed him.
Father had pulled her aside several hours after her quarrel with the King, his face hectic with rage. "Have you lost your senses, girl? You will be the ruin of us all!"
"Would you have both your daughters whore themselves to the King?" His hand connected with her cheek and Anne cried out, "Would you?"
"Better that than losing our heads for displeasing him," he growled. "What are you else? You'll not marry, choosy wench that you are. And now you dally with the King as if he were no more than that scribbler, Wyatt."
"I know what I'm doing."
"You have no idea. Wolsey has already moved against us. Who do you think engineered George's dismissal from the King's household?" He gripped her shoulders hard. "And now you've sacrificed our greatest chance for your own childish folly."
"He will come back." She wished she were half as confident as she sounded. Laughing, she sank onto the bed. "It'll drive him mad, the one thing he cannot have. The King can't stand the thought of something he can't have."
And now he had made her an offer--give yourself up, body and soul, to me--and who was to say he would not abandon her forthwith if she refused?
But he had already sent Wolsey abroad to seek a dispensation from the Pope to divorce Queen Catherine. She did not dare to imagine what that could mean. Even stuffy Thomas More, according to George, had written of the King's grandfather and the fair Lady Grey who had become Queen of England.
"Don't forget, Nan, that it did not end well for her. She saw her own children murdered."
"Then perhaps we ought to be thankful the King has no brothers."
"Will you stop jesting?" George buried his face in his hands. "Father has been all but hiding from His Majesty since you left court. Give him his answer and do it soon."
In the end, she did not tell him on paper. The King himself summoned her with so little warning that Anne fled into the gardens to escape from the flurry. It was to no avail; her father had seen her depart and informed the King.
"I came for an answer, my lady." The sun glinted off the great diamond in his hat, set afire the rings he wore. Behind him, she could see faces in the windows. One of them, she knew, would be Father. "Anne."
Before she could think to retreat, he grabbed her hand. "Christ Almighty, wench, you torment me. What will it be, yea or nay? I will have no more of this Purgatory."
Though she kept hold of his hand, Anne very slowly sank to her knees. "I think your majesty, most noble and worthy king, speaketh these words in mirth to prove me, without intent of defiling your princely self, who I find thinks nothing less than of such wickedness which would justly procure the hatred of God and of your good queen against us." After a moment's pause to catch her breath, she concluded, "I have already given my maidenhead into my husband's hands."
He stared at her in silence for what seemed like an eternity. "Your husband, Anne?"
"And you are married already, Your Majesty."
"I am the King, Anne!"
"And I shall not be your whore, Henry. Not now, and not ever." It was the first time she had used his given name, and the magnitude of the presumption nearly made her wish the words unsaid.
He flinched as if she had struck him. "You know I meant nothing of the sort."
"And you know I will not change my mind."
The only prudent course of action was for her to leave court immediately. Father refused to speak to her but George hugged her close and murmured laughingly, "You are mad, sister. But they say sometimes there is brilliance in madness."
She thought of the King--Henry now, the final breach of decorum behind her--and wondered if she had just placed the final nail in her own coffin. May Day came and went without word, and she found herself staring from the window as if willing a messenger into existence.
When a rider did come tearing up the road, the horse lathered and shivering from exertion in the summer heat, Anne had already thrown open the doors to meet him. "Is't from the King? For God's sake, make haste!"
George slid from the horse's back, a letter bearing a familiar seal pinched between his fingers. "I half killed myself and this horse to bring you tidings. The least you could do is give me a drop of wine."
"Fie, George Boleyn, on you and your wine! Give it here!" Heart hammering, she snatched the missive from him and ran into the garden to read it on her own.
Once, twice, thrice, she read the scrawled words. She barely heard George though his footfalls crackled against the gravel path. When she turned to face him, she was trembling on the verge of laughter, one hand pressed to her lips to contain her mirth.
"Nan! Christ Jesus, sister, tell me what he says! What says the King of England?"
Tears blurred Anne's vision as she lowered her head, words flooding on a breathless exhalation. "That he cannot live without me. That he is seeking an annulment for his marriage to Queen Catherine and that he will marry me if I will have him. George--" she groped for his hand and he held her steady, "--I shall be Queen of England, George."
"God help us all." As she raised her hand to hit him, he threw back his head and dissolved into laughter of his own. "God help us all, Nan." Grasping her hands, he whirled her round the garden till they near collapsed from dizziness.
"Are you content, sister?"
"Content?" She shook her head. "My heart is too full for contentment. He has given me the world, George. It is a wondrous thing and I fear me--" For a moment, she thought she heard something, a cry lost in the wind, but she could make out nothing but birdsong. Raising her eyes to him, she smiled. "I fear nothing, George. Not anymore."
It was not fear, so much as a tug on her heart. "Stay with me till sunset, brother."
They watched till the sun sank below the hills to the west and knew without a shadow of a doubt that, for better or worse, the world was irrevocably changed.