I, Jane: In The Court of Henry VIII (33 page)

George Boleyn, now Lord Rochford, clothed in a sweep of silver-studded velvet, met Jane and her brothers at the door to the queen’s privy chamber. His dark hair was more oiled than she remembered, and bore a streak of silver.

“Welcome back, Mistress Seymour,” he said with his customary note of arrogance. Jane had not known him well before, but even from a distance he had always frightened her. Along with their father, Thomas Boleyn, and Mary, they were a tightly knit family obsessed with having complete control over their standing. “Sir Francis has done commendably well for you with this placement, considering his own growing distance from the queen,” Boleyn coolly remarked.

“I am grateful to Her Majesty,” Jane said as softly and sweetly as she could manage as she curtsied.

“See that you remember that, and your place. Your brothers and your cousin may be pressing their way forward with our good king, but none of you has done so admirably with me, or with the queen.”

“So noted,” Edward interceded, sparing Jane a reply.

When she was at last shown into the queen’s privy chamber, Jane found Anne standing before a full-length mirror, half gone with a new pregnancy and looking like a garish bird in a shimmering gown of bright yellow silk with long, fur-lined bell sleeves. Her sister-in-law, Lady Rochford, was placing a gold-and-diamond-studded circlet on her head and arranging her long black hair beneath it. As Jane advanced, Anne looked her over, sniffed at her, then turned back to her own reflection without acknowledging her for several awkward minutes. Finally, without looking back, Anne coolly spoke.

“There is only one reason you are returned to court, despite what anyone may tell you, Mistress Seymour. My husband, the king, spoke up for you, obviously at Sir Francis Bryan’s prompting. Personally, I would not have someone about me who had once chosen allegiance to my rival, but His Majesty seems to have a short memory these days, and an even shorter fuse. I’ll not risk challenging him on something so trivial as attendants.”

Jane was surprised by her acid tone, but with the king’s record of amours, and her own inability to produce a male heir, it seemed likely that Anne was suspicious of everyone now.

It was at that moment that something very grand shifted inside of Jane.

The girl who had intentionally tripped her all those years ago in the presence of the French queen was vulnerable now. Her powerful hold over Jane was diminished, and she no longer had the upper
hand. Jane had never forgotten that moment, like so many others in her life that had come to define her, even though the incident was long forgotten by Anne. Realizing that, she straightened her back and tipped up her chin. Anne did not even notice.

“It is an honor to be in Your Majesty’s service,” Jane finally said, feigning sincerity so well that she almost believed her own lie.

“I would work on your tone of voice, Mistress Seymour,” said George Boleyn. “My sister will not abide simpering.”

She curtsied deeply then so that neither would see the wild rebellion newly kindled in her eyes. She was here for only one reason: to help Thomas and Edward. Only family was worth suffering a jade like Anne.
Yield not to every impulse, but consider things carefully and patiently in the light of God’s will.
She believed entirely in the tenets of
The Imitation of Christ
, the book that had defined her girlhood.

That night, Jane stood on the fringes of the banquet hall for her first true state occasion. The evening was in honor of Anne de Montmorency, Admiral of France, and no expense had been spared. The ceiling beams had been freshly painted in bright colors, and the molding was painted a shimmering gold, which the light of the candles and lamps cast in a flattering glow. After her audience with the garishly dressed queen, Jane herself had gone to change into a new gown of stamped blue velvet with gold-embroidered sleeves, provided on her departure from Wolf Hall by her parents. It was a costly creation, intricately beaded, and she felt almost pretty in it as she watched the rest of the court make their showy entrances. There were neatly plumed caps and diamond-studded headdresses bobbing everywhere as the guests began to mingle and everyone waited for the entrance of the king and queen.

It was beyond Jane to be impressed by any of it. Queen Katherine’s funeral Mass had been said earlier that day. Frivolity like this
seemed vulgar in light of that. But to Jane, nothing could be more vulgar than Anne Boleyn. Especially now, as she strode into the hall with her noticeable belly protruding to the peal of trumpets beside the king, who wore the same garish, bright yellow silk fabric as the queen. It was the color of treachery, Jane thought, as he nodded and smiled to the assembled masses as if neither he nor his wife had a care in the world.

Poor Queen Katherine. It is better that you are no longer of this world to witness any of this…

As they were shown to their tables by a large assemblage of liveried pages, Charles Brandon approached her. He, like the others, had aged in her absence from court. But by his steady gaze, she would know him anywhere, and she disliked him even more.

“If it isn’t the little mouse returned to our big, happy family,” he said pleasantly, taking up Jane’s hand after she had curtsied to him. He led her away from the queen’s other ladies and to a table quite close to the king.

The queen was already seated and speaking to the French ambassador, who was with the guest of honor. She could hear their rapid Gallic conversation even over the music and laughter.

“His Majesty is correct; you are quite a different creature, are you not? Grown into someone quite pleasing,” Brandon remarked flirtatiously.

“My thanks, Your Grace.” Jane nodded to him as he glanced at the sea of far more elegant and beautiful ladies.

“If I may say, Mistress Seymour, I found what you did regarding the queen—or, rather, the
queen—to have been quite noble. I was always fond of Katherine because she was dear to my departed wife,” Charles declared sadly, yet his voice lacked real sincerity as he
continued to appraise the queen’s most attractive new ladies, Mary Scrope, Elizabeth Browne, and Nan Cobham.

Jane did not know, under the circumstances, whether to believe Brandon. Like so many others, he had publicly thrown his lot in with Anne Boleyn early on. Now that the tide was slowly turning again, it seemed an odd opportunity for revelation to the contrary.

“Your Grace’s words are high praise,” Jane skillfully replied with a ladylike smile.

“Who have we here?” the king asked with a wide and welcoming smile as he came upon them suddenly, looking like a stout, red-faced canary in his yellow finery amid the happy tune his musicians played from the gallery above.

They were both still like boys, she thought, grown men with their adolescent smiles and competitive nudges.

“Ah, but, Mistress Jane,” the king said affably. “How do you fare now that you have returned to our little court? It must be something of a change from the last time you were here.”

“I fare well indeed, sire, thank you,” she softly replied, lowering her eyes shyly. It felt like the polar opposite in tone of any response Anne Boleyn would have given, which brought her greater confidence.

At the precise moment that she looked up again, she saw him.

Everything shifted as it always did, as it always would.

William, newly knighted, was standing with Master Cromwell and a pretty young woman in a pink dress. The new Lady Dormer. She knew it. Her heart seized at the sight of them together. Just seeing William touched her so deeply that she could not move, but now the emotions it brought were rejection and pain.

“The last time we saw each other, I was not at my best. Pray, tell
me I appear a bit different on this occasion,” the king said, ignorant of her distraction. Jane’s gaze returned to the king’s garishly bright, yellow, jewel-studded costume.

“I could find my king nothing short of magnificent, sire,” Jane said.

“Indeed,” he preened. “My, but you have a clever tongue. Have I not always said that, Brandon?”

“Indeed you have, sire,” Brandon said with a slight sneer. Jane doubted that the king had ever said anything of the sort, and Brandon knew it as well.

“Do come and sit with us, Jane, and we shall speak of your family’s beautiful estate, Wolf Hall, and the merry times I’ve had hunting in Savernake Forest there.”

Since there was no empty chair, he hooked a powerful arm around Jane’s waist and drew her onto his lap with a carefree chuckle. “Ah, here is the best seat in the house!”

At that strangely fortuitous moment, Jane’s eyes met William’s amid all the noise, laughter, and music, but his gaze silenced everything in her mind. She watched his eyes slide to the king, then back to her. She knew he could see that the king’s and duke’s attentions were trained on her as if she actually mattered in this world. At first she did not feel vengeful, though she did feel greatly empowered.

She liked thinking she could make William jealous. Suddenly, because she knew he was married and all hope was gone, she wanted him to hurt as much as she was hurting inside, as awful as that was. Jane turned away from William and offered a small, wan smile to the king. “’Twould be my honor, Your Majesty, to sit anywhere you would have me,” she said sweetly, knowing that William was still watching her and that it would bother him.

As the king held fast to her on his lap, he and Brandon took
turns regaling her with tales of their many hunting adventures through the years, especially around Jane’s Wiltshire home. Fortunately, Anne was entirely unaware of the new focus of attention in her own midst. Jane tried not to settle back too far on Henry’s wide thigh as a silver plate of steaming stewed sparrow was laid before them and a fresh goblet of wine was brought. She tried only to sip at the crimson liquid, not wanting to lose her wits at such a critical moment for her brothers. Both Thomas and Edward were seated across from her with George Boleyn and his father, Sir Thomas. Each of the four of them, for his own reason, had fixed his critical stare upon her.

“So tell us, Jane, what instrument do you most favor?” the king asked with a broad smile of true interest.

She was uncertain how to answer the question, knowing the king’s reputation as a clever and intelligent man—even as he balanced her on his knee like a Bankside whore in full view of everyone.

“The lute, assuredly, but only if Your Majesty plays. I am rather clumsy with the strings,” she said softly enough that he and Brandon strained to hear her over the din of chatter and rousing music.

“Well, I must give you a lesson, then. ’Twas clearly your teacher who was inferior, since you seem to do everything else with perfection.”

She blushed at the compliment but was further empowered by it as well. She could see how drawn in he was by the demure front she was projecting.

Then, for the second time, William caught her eye.

Why did the world tilt so when he looked at her?

He was seated on the opposite side of the room, quite far from the royal dais. He and his wife were no longer beside Cromwell, who had taken a more prominent place beside the queen’s uncle, the
Duke of Norfolk. A tapestry of Zeus rippled on its iron rod overhead as the servants moved quickly back and forth past it. It seemed he had not lost sight of Jane even for an instant, as she had him. Once, those eyes, now full of sadness and disappointment, would have completely controlled her every thought and action. Tonight, she would take away their power. William belonged to someone else. She said it over and over again, but she would have to keep reminding herself. Her survival depended upon it.

“If Your Majesty would not find it too much of an imposition, ’twould be a great honor,” she replied sweetly.

“Does tomorrow afternoon suit you?” he asked.

“You have your poetry reading with the queen then,” Brandon chimed in. “I could acquaint Mistress Seymour with the musical fundamentals in your stead.”

“You know perfectly well you cannot play a proper tune to save your life, Charles,” the king reminded him. “Besides, are you not to contend with your own new, young wife? I did warn you that marrying someone so young as Kat Willoughby would take all of your energy and focus.”

“The only one ever worth all of my energy and focus was your sister, my beloved Mary,” Brandon said solemnly. “Now that she has departed this earth, the rest is all just pale entertainment until God calls me to join her.”

Jane thought it was a slightly forced pronouncement, particularly for a man who had married for the fourth time less than a year after the death of his best friend’s cherished sister—the royal beauty who had supposedly been the love of his life for eighteen years.

“I would welcome help from either of you,” Jane said graciously as a troupe of Venetian dancers, costumed in flowing silk, began a light entertainment in the cleared area in front of the dais.

William’s pretty wife was chattering in her husband’s ear. Jane watched the incessant moving of her lips, even as William stared straight ahead, not acknowledging her. It was a frenetic scene to Jane: the king and Brandon joking back and forth over her shoulder, the dancers, the fluttering silk, the loud music from the gallery above, the chatter and laughter, the milling servants. The queen’s squawking laughter. The rich French wine was suddenly having an effect on Jane’s head. There was a dreamlike haze to everything now.

“Splendid. Then it is settled. Tomorrow, ’twill be up to your king to teach you how to play the lute. And who knows what else!”

She smiled demurely at the sovereign’s jaunty tone, even though she entirely understood the implication. “Pray, do not expect too much of me, sire. I fear I may not be as swift a learner as you are accustomed to.”

“What I have been accustomed to is of no importance, as I find myself increasingly ready for a new experience, not a replay of the old,” he responded with a sly smile.

It was difficult not to think that he was referring to Anne Boleyn. It was curious, Jane thought, as she glanced at her place a few seats away, that the queen did not seem to notice, or care, that Jane was sitting on the king’s lap. She seemed utterly taken with the poet Thomas Wyatt, who sat beside her. If she bore the king a son, she would have earned the luxury not to notice or to care, Jane thought.

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