“Jane,” the Queen says, “you have missed the time again.” Jane hangs her head. She is new to court, and everything is new to her, and no one has ever called her quick. Even the steps of a dance leave her confused.
“Don’t worry, child,” the Queen says kindly. “You are in need of a teacher, that is all. She lifts her voice. “Mistress Anne,” she calls, “you are our best dancer, I think. Mistress Jane would like a lesson.”
Anne Boleyn comes gracefully to the center of the room and holds out her hand to Jane. “I’ll take the man’s part,” she says. “That way you can learn yours.” The words are innocent enough but still Jane flushes.
The Queen gestures and the music begins. She was an excellent dancer in her day, they say, though she does not dance any more. Still, she has a high standard for her ladies, and she claps the rhythm as Anne counts it for Jane. Anne’s voice is low but sharp and Jane tries to think of nothing but the music and the steps. When Jane stumbles Anne’s hand pulls her into the next movement. Anne’s fingers pinch Jane’s wrist but Jane doesn’t mind, as long as Anne masks her missteps from the Queen.
“What a pretty picture this is,” a familiar voice says from the doorway, and Jane curtseys with the rest of the ladies as the King walks in. The Queen stands to greet him and the King kisses her hand.
“My ladies are practicing,” the Queen says with a smile, “so as not to shame your court.”
The King looks at them. “Oh, these ladies could never shame my court,” he says, and Jane flushes again and lowers her eyes. This close to Anne she hears Anne’s breath catch, just for a second, and feels Anne’s fingers tighten over her own.
“You always have such lovely ladies, my dear,” the King says. “They say it is the sign of a beautiful woman. It is only ugly women who fear to be outshone.”
The Queen smiles. It is true, Jane knows, they say the Queen was beautiful in her day. “Catherine,” the King says, and the Queen gestures to her ladies and they hurry to the door. Jane’s hand is still clasped in Anne’s.
Outside the door Anne drops Jane’s hand and drifts off down the corridor toward their chambers, talking with one of the other ladies. Jane lingers for a moment. Through the door she hears the Queen laugh. Then she picks up her skirts and rushes after Anne.