I, Jane: In The Court of Henry VIII (16 page)

“I must serve them, Father, please,
I must…
” She could still hear her own pleading, feel through her fingers the tears she had so dramatically called up to win her way. And in the end he had done her bidding because his daughter was all he had left in the world, his wife having died giving her life. She knew the tale well and she used it skillfully, just as she had decided years ago to use Jane, rather than attack her again.

How gullible are people of means,
Lucy thought ruefully,
how willing to believe the best in others.
When they were children, Lucy had made amends with Jane because she had seen the concern William had displayed for her. She could never become William’s wife, but if somehow she could win even a small piece of him, that would be enough. The Dormers were set to return to Wiltshire in July, and at last she would find a way to bed him. Hopefully, it was not too late to be his first.

That way, he would surely never forget her.

In preparation, Lucy had honed her skills on an eager Thomas Seymour. How willing he had been! She had not meant for Jane to see them that afternoon, or to suspect what was truly a part of her plan. For now, she meant to kill Jane with kindness. Figuratively, or otherwise, if it came to that.

The journey to Marlborough for Elizabeth’s wedding was a grueling affair. The roads were rutted and muddy from a pelting June rain. Jane was particularly out of sorts to begin with, having to endure
a younger sister’s wedding before her own. Whatever she had with William years ago, it was long over, she reminded herself frequently. Jane tried very hard to put on the brave face of a young and content spinster now, one settled into her life.

Sir Anthony’s renown was such that the Lord Treasurer, the famous Earl of Surrey, had agreed to attend the wedding in St. Peter’s Church—the very place where Thomas Wolsey was first ordained. For all of her pleading and bribery through the years, it was this singular event that at last was to bring Margery’s own important and powerful cousin from his vaunted place at court to mingle briefly with his poor Seymour relations.

Jane stepped from the drawn litter at last and drew in a breath of air, glad to be out of the muck and mire of traveling. The rain had stopped and the clouds had parted. She straightened her gray velvet dress and straightened the bell sleeves as the swirling activity behind her reached a fever pitch and the church bells tolled from the tower high above her. Ladies in their much more elegant silks and brocades were chatting and laughing and admiring the bride’s dress as Elizabeth stood with her friends on the wide stone steps in front of the church door. All of the attention was on Elizabeth, with her sleek blond hair long beneath her jewel-dotted headdress. Jane pressed back the envy. It was a matter of course for her, a movement as common now as breathing. This was not her life. Not her fate.

And then there was Margery, standing in the center of it all, arms crossed over her chest, surveying the scene with such pride that it was a palpable thing.

“Sheer perfection,” she declared of her younger daughter.

Jane saw tears actually shining in her mother’s eyes. She was quite certain that it was the first tear her mother had ever shed. Certainly the first one she had ever seen. At that, the knife of
disappointment twisted a little more deeply in Jane’s heart as she forced a smile she did not feel.

Edward had found success. Soon, Thomas. Now, Elizabeth. Jane might as well have been Lucy Hill for her own lackluster life. No one noticed her. No one knew what she was feeling.
The great invisible Jane,
she thought, feeling incredibly sorry for herself.

“Don’t just stand there looking envious!” her mother suddenly barked, bringing Jane back to the moment. “Do come over here and help me with your sister’s train! ’Tis nearly time to go inside!”

Time heals all wounds…Time waits for no man…Time is the wisest counselor of all.
The platitudes rolled around in her head like marbles. She moved forward, managing that same grim, forced smile. She realized at that moment how good she had become at showing the world the person they believed her to be. Deception was every bit as much an art form as were the talents of those who sold them—or their bodies.

Everyone has their own skill, she thought bitterly. Masquerading was hers.

The ceremony was grand by any standard, a mix of pomp and ostentation to rival any court wedding that Jane could have imagined. She sat on the slickly oiled wooden pew beside Edward and his new wife, Catherine, a girl he had married at court and whom Jane did not know. The pew smelled strongly of polishing wax as Jane trained her eyes on the dozens of flickering candles in their heavily carved holders, then on the crucifix of a suffering Jesus at the altar. She looked at anything to avoid looking again at the naked adoration on the slightly grizzled face of her sister’s wealthy older groom.

Let it be over,
Jane thought as they exchanged their solemn vows and her mother raised a handkerchief to her eye. Her brother clutched his new wife’s hand as the couple at the altar knelt. They
pledged their troth.
Just let the sounds of the vows and the music end, and lead me to a tall cup of ale,
Jane silently pleaded as they kissed and turned to meet the world, married now, joined forever.

As the guests took turns half an hour later toasting the couple, Jane busied herself by feeding scraps to the hunting hounds that rested beneath her feet under the table. Sir Anthony had a dozen dogs, who were free to roam the great dining hall of his manor. They were a great distraction. She thought how they might be the most interesting guests in attendance on this day, when she could not possibly have felt more pathetic or alone.

Francis Bryan set down his goblet and took up her hand to stop her from feeding the hounds. Until then, she had not even cared who was sitting beside her, or noticed.

“That dog is eating better than am I, which I confess is saying quite a lot,” he chuckled.

Jane looked at his face and those kind eyes. He had a sage way about him, which she loved and trusted.

“’Tis just disappointing to be last at home. Thomas is going off with you to court, and Edward is in the employ of the king’s son, Lord Fitzroy, now Duke of Richmond.”

“It came to nothing, then, with that boy, I presume?”

“There was never anything there,” Jane answered, knowing he meant William.

His cavalier expression quickly gave way to his customary wry smile. “Never mind that, then. I see she has not told you yet about the far more interesting circumstance that awaits you than life alone with your parents at Wolf Hall.”

“I’ve no idea what you mean.”

“Your mother was to speak to you of it on this morrow, but I can see she has not done so, or spared you a moment’s time to prepare.”
He shook his head, then picked his goblet back up as the music floated around them and several couples began to dance a branle. “’Tis a shame, since you could do with a bit of preparation, certainly some color on your lips and a new dress or two.”

“Pray, why on earth would I require such things?”

“You certainly cannot serve the Queen of England in a dress like that, Jane.”

“The queen?” Although foreign and exciting, it seemed a strange term to pass across her lips, especially in relation to herself.

He must have seen the shock on her face, because he continued.

“Several of Her Highness’s ladies have gone from court recently. Like rats from a sinking ship, if you will pardon me, since the king has begun more actively to question the validity of their marriage and is casting his interest elsewhere, yet again. You are smart, Jane, and sly, but there is a loyal quality to you. The queen can use those attributes right now. I have behaved rather badly of late, spending too much time in the company of the king and a new lady love.” He grinned devilishly. “Still, our queen is fond of me. I must make amends, so I have spoken your praises and arranged an appointment for you within her retinue.”

“I am to go to court, then?”

He nodded and smiled. “If she favors you, it can only increase my standing, so do not look upon me too gratefully yet.”

“Of course.” She nodded, thinking perhaps this was some horrendous joke. “I mean you no offense, sir, truly, but why would you do this for me? Surely there are young women far more deserving.”

His smile was twisted then, and pleased. “Oh, Jane, you are a smart little one, aren’t you? So delightfully unassuming.” He scratched his small, pointed beard, glanced around, and lowered his
voice. “Very well. The truth is not just that I have thrown too much of my attention to the queen’s rival; Her Grace suspects me of being led to all manner of dark pleasures by the king’s new mistress.”

“Are you not?” Though she did not know who this mistress was, Jane was certain that Francis would never pass up a temptation.

“Of course I am.” He chuckled devilishly. “That is hardly the point.”

“What is the point, precisely?”

“Truth is, I need a little mouse in the queen’s corner since I can no longer be there myself. I must remain apprised of what is going on, and who better for the job than my sweet cousin Jane?”

“I can see how I would suit your purpose,” she cautiously conceded.

“Perhaps you can put in a good word for me now and again and tell me if my standing with her is in any real danger.”

“That’ll not do either of us any good, shall it, if he replaces his queen? Thomas says there is a new girl who just might have that sort of influence over him.”

“Oh,” Francis scoffed. “Katherine of Aragon will never be unseated,” he said with the greatest authority. “There is no female living who is powerful enough to unseat the daughter of Spain’s Queen Isabella. Not even Anne Boleyn.”

“Mary Boleyn’s sister?” Jane gasped as her mind reeled with the memories of their childhood encounter.

“The very same. She was with us in France; do you recall?”

“I recall her only too well.”

“I can imagine that you would. She really is quite bewitching now that she is grown, and there is a huge battle brewing. She may no longer be a great beauty, but Her Highness is a smart woman. You actually have many of her same qualities.”

Jane had realized long ago that beauty was not one of her God-given attributes, but she had decided she was better off cultivating her other assets anyway. No one seemed to suspect that she was more than a plain face. But beauty was overrated…and hidden talents were always useful. Especially if she were to come face-to-face with her old rival, Mistress Anne.

PART II
Jane and Katherine

So my conscience chide me not,
I am ready for Fortune as she wills.

—DANTE ALIGHIERI

Chapter Six

March 1526

Richmond Palace

W
ith all of their other children now gone from Wolf Hall, John and Margery Seymour were free to escort their eldest daughter to Richmond Palace in hopes of having an audience with the king.

As the court was busy preparing for the Lenten rituals, Jane walked between her parents, her heavy skirts swishing with each stride, and her heart moving to the rhythm of a steady drumbeat as they passed beneath a brightly gilded doorway. The echo of her shoe heels matched the thump of her heart as she traversed a vast tiled corridor with arched windows that faced the river. Jane was to be presented to the queen, and then, if Her Highness did not object, Jane would begin her service in Katherine’s massive household. It would be a while, she was told, before she would be styled an actual lady-in-waiting to the queen. That was an honor given only if she acquitted herself well in the initial period. It was a comforting notion, Jane thought, still able to recall the incident in France, how she had tripped in front of the queen, and the horror of her embarrassment.

Through the grand presence chamber, past a massive series of tapestries depicting the triumphs of the gods, the trio silently strode. Heads turned as they moved toward the second set of heavily carved oak doors, flanked by stiff liveried guards, each bearing a dauntingly heavy metal halberd. Jane was surprised to feel her mother reach down and clutch her hand. She did not recall ever touching her mother’s hand. It was small and very cold now. Jane felt herself tremble.

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