Prologue: The Scythe of Cronos
May 17, 1536, the Tower of London, London, England
"Viciousness has Henry's face," stated Anne Boleyn, the condemned Queen of England. "Henry is killing all of us because I haven't given him a son."
Assembling all her strength, she compelled herself to stand up from the bed. Fearing that she would be too late, she dashed across the queen's chambers like a scared doe running for its life from a predator. Dragging a chair to the window, Anne climbed onto it and peered out.
At this moment, George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, ascended the wooden platform with impressive firmness. Swathed in black cloth, the scaffold was guarded by arquebusiers. Pointing to the White Tower, where she was incarcerated, George said something to Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and Anne's heart constricted at the realization that he thought of her.
At the sight of him addressing the spectators, Anne braced herself against the tide of bereft nothingness. She strained her sight to behold her brother's final moments.
She regretted that she could not hear George's speech. She saw that there was a peculiar air of serene tranquility about him, tinged with a cast of melancholy. Yet, his eyes were so bright, almost feverish, as if he were dying a death by burning with the resignation of a Christian martyr.
"Christian men, I'm born and judged under the law, and die under the law, and the law has condemned me. Masters all, I haven't come here to preach, but to die, for I have deserved to die if had twenty lives, for I'm a wretched sinner, and I have sinned shamefully."
As he paused, the crowd that had gathered on Tower Green didn't insult and curse him. A sliver of sadness veiled their features, a leaden weight of unsaid words upon their lips. Had the folk's sentiments towards the Boleyns softened? She'd believed that the spectators would be happy to see the alleged traitors dead. But as her brother went on, a pall of gloom shrouded everyone.
"I have known no man so evil, and to rehearse my sins openly would be no pleasure for you to hear them, nor yet for me to rehearse them, for God knows all. Therefore, masters all, I pray you take heed by me, and especially my lords and gentlemen of the court which I have been among, take heed by me and beware of such a fall. And I pray to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, three persons and one God, that my death may be an example to you all. And beware, trust not in the vanity of the world, and especially in the flattering of the court."
"What is he saying?" Anne asked herself, her scrutiny riveted on him. "What?"
Visions of their childhood flitted through her consciousness. The three Boleyn children running through Hever's gardens … George hugging Anne after her return from France… Her brother teasing her and mocking her skills at chess until Anne had sputtered... Again, George joking that the Boleyns would always have to fight against gory hordes of relentless foes.
Something vivid had emerged in those days, prophetic like a solar eclipse. Perhaps there was an appointed time for every affair under the heavens, as justice was as fleeting as the wind.
Stilling for a split second once more, George moved to the closure. The queen yearned for time to cease, but instead, it ticked like a slow march of mortality.
"I cry God mercy, and ask the world forgiveness, as willingly as I would have forgiveness of God; and if I have offended any man that is not here how, either in thought, word or deed, and if you hear any such, I pray you heartily on my behalf, pray them to forgive me for God's sake. And yet, men do come and say that I have been a setter forth of the word of God, and one that have favored the Gospel of Christ; and because I would not that God's word should be slandered by me, I say to you all, that if I had followed God's word in deed as I did read it and set it forth to my power, I had not come to this. I did read the Gospel of Christ, but I did not follow it; if I had, I had been a living man among you: therefore I pray you, masters all, for God's sake stick to the truth and follow it, for one good follower is worth three readers, as God knows."
His expression devoid of earthly trappings, the Viscount of Rochford knelt on the block, courageously and with the grace of an elegant courtier. Perhaps, impressed by the dignity of his farewell, the throng broke into loud cries, their faces anything but hateful. The prisoner veered one sad glance of bitter anguish towards the White Tower, as if remembering his sister.
"I'm here, George," whispered Anne, tears moistening her eyes. "I'm with you…"
At the drop of a hat, the executioner raised his hand. The axe flashed and descended like the hatchet of destiny. The head was severed from the torso with one clean strike.
Antoine de Castelnau, Bishop of Tarbes and the French ambassador to England, winced at the sight of the blood spurting out of the militated body. It was not the first time he had attended an execution, but this was awful, for they were all innocent. As his master, King François had said in his codified message, the English king had stepped on the path of unholy darkness.
At the same time, a horrified Anne agonized over the tragedy. "It flashed like the scythe of Cronos." Even in such minutes, her magnificent intelligence didn't sleep, flowing inside her head in whimsical patterns. "Cronus was King of the Elysian Fields, where admission was reserved for heroes. So, my brother shall become a hero in heaven."
Seizing it with his left hand, the axeman held the head aloft, shouting to the assemblage, "Behold the head of a traitor!" Surprisingly, the folks observed it with mournful eyes.
Her sobs rising like sails, the queen crossed herself. "Rest in peace, sweet brother."
Her heart broke into numberless smithereens as the two pieces left of George were taken away. Forcing herself to control her emotions, Anne watched the ghastly spectacle until every of her alleged paramours – Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, Francis Weston, and William Brereton – were dead. Littered with their corpses, the scaffold was now deluged with innocent blood.
Finally, the tiny thread of her control broke like a tree limb under too much weight. The snap impelled her to howl with horror, and she slipped from the chair to the floor.
"Oh God!" sobbed a distraught Anne, her face a mask of excruciating agony, wet from tears. "Oh God!" She clutched her chest, as if she were having palpitations.
All of the queen's ladies had huddled in the corner, staying at a distance from her since dawn. They had all been handpicked by Thomas Cromwell to act as his spies, but some of them emphasized with her. She was grateful that they had left her to her grief.
Her tear-filled eyes flashed like those of a Cyclop. "Henry! It is your entire fault! Your lust for that Seymour strumpet killed them all. The Titan Cronus used a scythe to castrate and depose Uranus, his father, and I would gladly have done the same to you."
A cavalcade of remembrances of Elizabeth resurfaced in her head, reopening old wounds. Henry had blamed Anne for giving him a daughter, even though their girl had never been a failure. When she'd been pregnant with Elizabeth, the astrologers Anne and Henry had consulted had assured them that the baby would be a boy, but they had all erred.
Nevertheless, one old woman had claimed: "Your child is divinely gifted. Blessed by the Lord, and is destined to bring a Golden Age to England." Based on her daughter's extraordinary intellect and precociousness, Anne was inclined to believe that prophecy. Elizabeth would attain such a distinguished rank in the earthly realm that her greatness would ring out through all the impermanence of time. That astrologer must be right!
Another recollection stirred in her consciousness. When they had been out of anyone's earshot, that woman had apprised her of something that Anne had dismissed as baloney back then. Now the odd oration echoed through her head like the utterance of a messiah: "Two kings! One is your pain and ruin, the other is your joy and life". Nonsense, so she dismissed it again.
Scrubbing the tears away, the doomed queen rose to her feet with a titanic effort. She trudged to the bed, ribbons of her sorrow intertwining with those of her prayer for the dead men.
"Sleep in peace," Anne pronounced quietly as she reclined onto the pillows. "You are all innocent victims of a libertine and a monster. You shall welcome me in heaven tomorrow."