I, Jane: In The Court of Henry VIII (10 page)

To her surprise, the voice behind her belonged to William Dormer. She had seen him only at a distance since they had arrived in France, and yet now, as in Savernake Forest, he simply appeared before her.

“I do not
want
to survive here. I want to go
home
!” Jane countered through quivering lips as she brushed tears away with the back of her hand, trying vainly to steady herself. “People here are ruthless and cold and not at all what they seem.”

“Then learn from that. While you must be here, why not make it count for something?”

He was older and probably a little wiser, but what he was saying
made no sense to her. It was then that she saw him staring at her butchered hair, still free from her hood. “What happened?” he gasped.

Jane tried to flatten the chopped strands with her hands and tuck them behind her ears, as if she could make the reality of her appearance disappear with so futile a gesture. It was a nervous, pointless attempt. “It matters not.”

“It matters to me,” he said.

“Why?”

“Because we come from the same place. We are bound by that.”

“You only visit one of your homes in Wiltshire. One of the smaller ones, from what I hear. Your life is nothing like mine.”

“Our parents will stop at nothing to inch into the world of the English court, and we are both here because of that. We do have that in common.”

Jane had not thought of it like that. She tipped her head and considered. There was something engagingly sincere about him. Something she felt she could almost trust. If she were not so afraid to trust anyone. She told him of what happened after that day in Savernake Forest and watched him cringe with compassion.

“I do not like that Boleyn girl. She is dangerous,” she angrily admitted after her story.

“More dangerous than Lucy Hill?”

“Lucy is not so bad, actually,” Jane replied, remembering their conversation and the vulnerability she had seen in Lucy’s eyes before she left Wiltshire. Anne Boleyn did not have any softness at all. Her heart seemed as hard as her dark, fathomless eyes, and Jane vowed to stay as far away from her as she could for as long as they were in France. Soon enough she would go home, and the name Anne Boleyn would fade from her life and eventually her memories. Jane
was counting on that, even as she was distracted by the pierce-your-soul blue eyes that she was sure were the deepest, most beautiful eyes in the world.

It was an odd feeling, caring for another person. It was a feeling to which William Dormer was certainly unaccustomed at the age of thirteen. He had recently come to realize that he was the only son of parents who had put everything into him except their emotions. Thus, he had grown to feel more important than loved, more needed than wanted. Caring for people had never seemed worth the risk.

Whatever it was he was feeling for the young Seymour girl, it was certainly different. It must be a protective instinct, he told himself.

Jane’s life certainly seemed similar to his. As he walked, just having left her to return to her duties, William cringed again at her explanation of what had happened to her hair after that day he had met her in the forest. She seemed vulnerable. Life was going to be difficult for her. Plain faced, pale, soft-spoken. The confidence of the other girls made it worse for her. He was old enough to see that.

And yet, he thought, there was still a spark, the promise of something more that made her different, though what it was exactly, he could not tell. As he watched her a moment ago, rubbing at the jagged ends of her shorn hair as if the movement could undo the past, something awakened in his blood. It made him want to protect her, and it was powerful. He had never felt like that in his life.

“Ho, what are you doing there, lad?”

The man who seemed suddenly to appear like an apparition before William was imposing—a grand and dark, sweeping tower of a man dressed in black velvet edged in luxurious fur. William jumped and the man reacted with a restrained smile as if he enjoyed frightening people.

“So out with it. Why were you loitering around the queen’s apartments? The French king needs no more reasons to rid himself of our train of attendants. You are obviously an English lad. I can tell by the rough cut of your tow-headed hair.”

“Yes, I am English, my lord. I am William Dormer.”

“I know not that name.” The big man sniffed unpleasantly, then rolled his dark eyes. “Another position bought and paid for, no doubt.”

William would have defended his family then if it had not been the truth. He knew perfectly well the strings his ambitious mother had pulled, the endless stream of costly gifts she had sent to court. Silver plate, a jeweled goblet, brandied cherries, a barrel of costly Spanish wine, a case of quail, and another filled with doves. But the bribery had certainly worked, since he was here, after all.

“Mind, next time stay where you are meant to, Master Dormer,” the imposing man ordered as he went unceremoniously around a corner and disappeared in the same sweep of black velvet in which he had appeared.

Another voice came from behind. “You are a fortunate lad, indeed, that he did not see you straight out of France before you could make your mark. Do you know who that was? I see by your expression that you do not.”

William turned to find a handsome, auburn-haired young man with wide-set brown eyes and an impressively strong jaw. His puffed satin sleeves were full of pearls that shimmered.

“Forgive me, my lord, but I know not who anyone here is, save the French queen herself, and the girl I was just speaking to, who is my neighbor at home in Wiltshire.”

“Well, be aware that I am Francis Bryan and that was Sir Thomas Howard, the most powerful Lord High Admiral, son of the Duke of
Norfolk, a great politician at court and the man who heads this entire delegation here. I trust you know the name, if not the face.”

“I do of course, my lord Bryan.” William bowed awkwardly then, seeing the expression of expectation before him.

“That at least is something.” Francis Bryan shrugged in a manner that said he found William of no consequence beyond this moment. “You shall be gone in a day or two anyway, so no matter, really. What did you say your name was?”

“Dormer, my lord. William Dormer.”

“Forgettable.” Francis sniffed unkindly, glancing around. “See if you can do something to change that.”

As he walked away, William thought how right Sir Francis Bryan was. He was out of place at the court of France, able to utter barely a few words in French. At home in England, he felt confident and driven toward a life of comfortable local prominence.

William did not like it here, but he did feel somewhat protective of the awkward little Seymour girl from Wiltshire. It was a new sensation, having come from a world where his mother was the only female he truly knew. The domineering Lady Dormer certainly did not need to depend on anyone. Or at least that was the impression he’d had in his life so far.

Jane lurched forward toward the king. Anne had pushed her. She had not even had time to fully dress. She wore only her cambric shift and beige stockings. She stumbled onto the polished wood floor. The sense of humiliation pushed past the shock as the other ladies attending King Louis and his new English queen began to whisper and chuckle at her. Anne Boleyn cruelly snickered.

“She hasn’t any dress!” the young queen gasped in broken French, fingers touching her lips to press back the sound of shock.

Jane felt blood flood her face in a hot rush. Pulsing. Horrifying. She wanted to run. As fast as she had run into Savernake Forest, she wanted to do so again. She glanced quickly around the vast room, desperate for a safe haven. The laughter rose as all eyes turned judgmentally upon her.

“Elle n’a pas une robe!”
someone else echoed in French with a chuckle as Jane felt the heavy press of bodies behind her, an impenetrable wall.

Jane looked back at the new queen sitting on a raised dais beside the king. Suddenly it was not Mary Tudor’s face but Lucy Hill who looked at her with that odd mocking smile that had first frightened her. Lucy with her freckles and wide mouth and huge blue eyes.
Oh, those eyes!

“Jane! Jane! Do wake up. You’ve overslept! We shall be late!”

It was not Anne Boleyn pushing at her now but rather Anne’s sister, Mary. “There’s the masque to rehearse in ten minutes’ time! Pray, do not make us late or Mother Guildford shall have both our heads!”

The fog of her horrifying dream began to fade behind Mary’s frantic plea. Praise God, she had not embarrassed herself in public without her dress, nor become the shame of her family. Not yet anyway. She now remembered lying down for only a moment, giving in to the fatigue of another day spent standing motionless for endless hours while the king and queen dined, enjoyed the revels, strolled, and then challenged each other at the lute or primero. Such activities defined her month here in France.

Jane scrambled to her feet, having only a cursory understanding of the workings of a court masque, or what her small place in it would be. Participation in the rehearsal, however, was not optional. Jane and Mary dashed down the tiled corridor then, skirts flying,
and Jane investing all of her trust in the hope that Mary knew where they were going.

The vast room into which they scurried, then drew to a halt, skirts flying up, was already full of milling courtiers. The hum of activity was everywhere, massive props on wheels were being moved into place, men were shouting directions, a collection of musicians was practicing a discordant tune in the corner, and ladies of various ages were holding up costumes to compare sizes and styles.

As usual, Jane recognized very few people. They were a sea of lovely but unknown faces moving before her, their titles and positions a mystery, as anonymous to her as she was to them. Some continued to look askance at her after the embarrassing scene when she had lost her headdress and had run tearfully from the room.

As she looked out, however, there was a single face she did recognize. A small perfect oval with wide dark eyes and strikingly long lashes met hers. The girl was gazing up at the tall, powerful Duc d’Orléans. She was smiling with an expression of such innocent adoration that it struck Jane with the force of a blow. This girl seemed entirely changed from the cruel one who had pulled off her headdress and tripped her a fortnight ago. How could anyone so young be two such different people? This girl, little Anne Boleyn, flirting with the grown heir to the French Crown? Yet she saw the absolute picture of childlike innocence. What an odd and frustrating little girl, thought Jane, relieved that soon their paths would never have to cross again. She was going to return home to England with the other unnecessary attendants from the queen’s retinue, as the king wished it.

Jane was actually relieved to feel the cloying nausea of seasickness rise inside her again just over a month after she had come to France.
Even as she slumped, weak and trembling, against the polished ship’s railing, she knew it meant that she was going home to Wolf Hall and to the comfort of obscurity there.

True to his word, after a bit of negotiating with the queen, the King of France permitted only a small contingent of English courtiers to remain with the country’s new queen. Jane’s brother Edward was among those chosen. Once the decision was made, Jane and a dozen other children were thrust into litters and herded unceremoniously back to Calais for the return voyage to England.

It was a reminder to her just how insignificant her presence had been in France. Certainly no one would even remember her, or her brief visit. But Jane would remember everything; the court, the infighting, and that nasty-tempered little dark-haired girl named Anne Boleyn, of whom Jane was enormously glad to be free.

“You acquitted yourself well in France,” said William, coming up beside her and gripping fast to the railing as the sea wind battered her hair and cheeks, flushing them.

“It could not be that well, since I am returning to England.”

“As am I. We were never actually meant to remain. And I, for one, am glad of it. I miss home.”

Jane looked into his face and those eyes that stopped her from thinking every time she looked into them, as if they had a power all their own. “I no longer miss it at all.”

“Your family, then?”

“Less than that.”

William pushed out his lower lip, as though he were considering the statement. “Me either, actually.” Then he smiled. “’Twas nice to be free of the structure for a while, though.”

“English structure anyway.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “Your parents shall be glad you were there at least. ’Twas quite an honor we both were given.”

“My parents are proud of Edward.”

“I wish I could say that I understand, but I fear I have yet a great deal to learn about the world,” William said.

“After this, I am not certain there is much more I want to know beyond the pages of my books. It seems to me now a rather confounding world.”

“To me as well,” he agreed. “But we are young.”

“I certainly am.”

“I still hope that I see you again after this. I would quite like us to be friends.”

“That does not seem likely, since it took nearly nine years for us to meet the first time.”

“The next time my family is in Wiltshire, I shall make certain of it.”

Jane turned to gaze out at the sea again, her hands tightening on the railing as a wave crested and splashed them, but she did not say anything else because she knew how unlikely that was to ever happen.

Chapter Four

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