I, Jane: In The Court of Henry VIII (46 page)

“Is it to be a big wedding, then?” William’s wife asked as the group idled for a while.

“I shouldn’t think so,” Jane replied. “His Majesty, after all, has already done this before.”

“Twice,” Elizabeth Carew put in with a slight smile before she took a sip of her own wine.

“Mine was a quiet event as well. My husband was adamant that it should be small and private. My father would have liked something
more grand, and he fought for that, but William would not be put off his stance,” Mary said with a wistful sigh.

Jane and Anne Seymour exchanged a little glance before Jane looked away. Any reference to William was a painful one, and Jane stubbornly pressed his image, and the memory of their passionate kisses, to the back of her mind yet again.

Jane did not realize how late it was getting until she noticed the slant of shadows on the floor. Suddenly, Francis Bryan stormed through the doorway, short of breath.

“’Tis done. The queen is condemned to die. They all are!”

Roused from a half sleep, Jane struggled to sit up and focus on her cousin, her brothers, and Nicholas Carew, who had followed Francis into the room. She was seized with terror at the announcement and could barely breathe. Was there truth after all in the whisperings she had heard earlier?

“All?” Jane murmured as she absently grabbed her neck.

“Smeaton, Norris, Brereton, Weston, and Rochford have already met their ends on the Tower lawn.”

“When?” she croaked, unable to find her voice.

“Two days past. The king did not wish you to be disturbed by the details, but now with the queen herself condemned to die, His Majesty thought it was time you were informed. Anne Boleyn is to be executed next for the crime of infidelity. Cromwell has come to report to you, but I told him ’twould be better coming from me.”

So that was why she had been spirited away from the rest of the court; not to protect her, but to keep her from voicing the objections Henry knew she would present. There was little she could say to spare the woman most loathed by all of England.

Francis sank beside her and gently drew her hand into his lap. “Are you all right, cousin?”

“He said the marriage would be annulled. There is no reason for her to die!”

“It was annulled. Cranmer made the pronouncement this morning, thus also declaring Princess Elizabeth a bastard.”

A harsh word, gently delivered, did not make it any easier to hear. Yet Jane could not help but remember Princess Mary and how devastating the same pronouncement had been for her mother, Queen Katherine, long ago.

“Is that not enough? Must she die as well?” Jane asked in a dry whisper, yet already knowing the answer reflected on the faces of her companions, who were not nearly as stunned as she was.

“His Majesty is coming by barge to see you. He will arrive this evening.”

“So he sent a team in advance to soften the blow?” Jane snapped bitterly.

“I believe he thought ’twould please you, knowing you are a step closer to becoming queen.”

“A step nearer for me is a step nearer the grave for her,” she said.

“Jane, have you forgotten how she treated you all these years?” Elizabeth Carew tried feebly to remind her. “I see that your throat still bears the scar of her wrath that day.”

Instinctively, Jane reached up to press her fingers to her neck as she scanned the faces of her friends, deeply feeling the cataclysm that neared.

“And remember what happened in France all those years ago,” Thomas put in with a note of support for the others’ sentiments.

You remembered me not at all from when we were children in France, did you?
she thought bitterly then of her rival. Jane had worn the scar since that time as one of the many things that had hardened her. But even now, was she hard enough for what lay ahead?

“You cannot lose your courage now,” added Francis. “Not when you have come so far.”

The crash of her conscience, the pressure and guilt, were almost too much to bear. And suddenly, out of the blue, she knew she must see William. The need called to her. He was here with Cromwell. She was certain of it.

As everyone whispered together, two liveried servants came to stoke a fresh fire. Jane went to Francis and drew him away to the window.

“He is here with Master Cromwell, is he not?” she asked softly, knowing he knew whom she meant. “I need to see him, cousin…privately.”

“There’ll not be much time,” he warned in a tone so low only she could have heard.

“Then I shall take what I can gratefully,” Jane said.

They could outrun the moment, but not the future.

Jane and William knew it as they embraced desperately inside the hidden grotto down a short, wooded trail that had been built by Nicholas’s father. It was a place of which few knew, and where no one would disturb them. Their time would be brief. Francis had warned them. But like a drowning man grasping at straws, William clung to Jane desperately, kissing one cheek tenderly and then the other. Their lives had paralleled each other’s for so long. Now, not only Jane but William could see that in the distance their paths were about to diverge forever.

“She is dead.” Jane murmured the words painfully, sinking against him as if somehow he could shield her, take her into him, and keep her there, safe from harm, safe from the future.

“I know. But they say it was quick. He brought a swordsman from France.”

“’Tis so violently horrid. He sent me here to have me out of the way until it was over. He did not need to do it that way.” Jane began to weep. “Cromwell got the annulment from Archbishop Cranmer…She could have gone to France. She did not need to die!”

“The king is a man, though, Jane,” William tenderly tried to explain in a soothing tone. “And you must know that his pride was wounded. How could a man not avenge that much flagrant infidelity?”

“If ever she was unfaithful…I was in her company often, William, and yes she bantered with them and smiled at them. God knows I did not like Anne Boleyn, but I do not believe her guilty of the crimes for which she has been executed. Now I am to take her place, two days hence! What if he finds fault with me next? What if he learns about
you
?”

“That would be impossible,” William said, but his smile was a grim line in his impeccably handsome face. “He loves you, Jane. As do I. And I always will.”

They sank onto the edge of the iron bench at the grotto’s center, their arms still wrapped around each other. He touched her then in an intimate way, as if they had been the lovers both had always hoped to become. He ran a hand gently down her neck to the crease between her breasts, which the new fashion of her dress formed. His fingertips lingered there on her warm, smooth skin, and Jane did not move or object. She wanted this, and so much more. But there was no future for them, only a long, disappointing past of
almosts
.

“You know, I used to daydream about our children, and in my mind our daughter always looked fair and gentle, just like you,” he said achingly.

“Poor dear,” Jane tried to jest, though her heart was broken.

“Her name was always Jane. Jane Dormer,” he whispered tenderly, and she saw his eyes glisten with tears as he leaned over and kissed her.

“You’ll not be able to do that again after today, or we shall both end up like Anne and those men,” she said, touching her lips.

“I know you are right, but my heart resists believing. As it has resisted for so many years. I would have married you, Jane,” he murmured pleadingly. “I would marry you right now.”

“I spent my life wanting to be your wife. That will never change.”

This time, it was Jane who kissed him with all of the wild abandon she felt. She pressed William’s hand into the bosom of her gown until she felt him arch with restrained passion. She moved her own fingers down to his codpiece and let them linger there, touching the part of him she would never fully have. She tasted his desire.

I, Jane, have known great love…

“Be happy, Jane,” he said achingly as he drew her hand from his codpiece and pressed it to his lips for what she knew was the last time.

“I would settle for remaining alive, which may prove more difficult to achieve than I previously had thought,” she tried to joke, but there was truth to her words that neither could deny.

“He’ll not harm you, or he shall have Sir William Dormer to contend with,” he declared on a boastful little smile, belying what she knew was true heartbreak at the end of something so enduring.

They were interrupted then by the trumpets’ blare, the jangle of heavy silver harnesses, and the thunder of galloping horses fast approaching the manor along the trail outside of the grotto. The king had arrived.

So had the end of their story.

William kissed her again, and she tasted the salt of his tears, along with her own.

“Promise when you are Queen of England that you’ll not forget the country lad who once saved you from drowning at the edge of a little pond.”

“I could never forget the other half of me,” she murmured as she softly wept.

Outside, just beyond their temporary little haven, a sentry called out the king’s arrival. She could hear Henry’s deep, throaty laughter and that of his companions who followed. They both could. It belonged to the man who had sealed their fate.

Epilogue

October 24, 1537

Hampton Court

A
nne Seymour had tears in her eyes. The candle lamps made them glisten like jewels as they fell along her cheeks in ribbons. “Was that the last time you ever saw him?”

“Of course,” Jane answered weakly from beneath the pile of satiny bedcovers, a defeated little thing with gray skin and hollow eyes. She barely resembled Jane, Queen of England, mother of the king’s heir, their twelve-day-old son, Edward. “William is too much a gentleman to ever attempt to see me. I saw him and Lady Dormer together at a distance last Michaelmas, but he never approached me after that day in the grotto. You really are the only living soul who knows the entire story.”

“I would’ve thought your brother Thomas—”

“He never knew the end of it. To be honest, I no longer trust Thomas or Edward, especially after the death of the king’s son, poor Fitzroy. Thomas swore to me he was not involved, but I knew how afraid he was that Mistress Blount’s son would end up as heir to the throne before I could produce a rival. We Seymours were raised to do our duty fully,” she said bitterly. Fatigued from speaking, Jane
closed her eyes for a moment. As she did, her mind filled with the colors and images she liked the most, those carefree early days at Wolf Hall before fate had yet to claim her…

Her sister would be here to care for her son. Edward and Anne as well. For Jane was dying; she knew that. She could feel the life draining out of her from the very moment she had given life to her son. She knew, somehow, that Edward was meant to live, and even as she faced her own final breath, she was glad. She had paid an enormous price for it, but Jane had done what neither Katherine of Aragon nor Anne Boleyn could do in more than twenty-eight years. She had given Henry VIII a legal son and heir.

“Read me that passage one more time from Thomas à Kempis, would you? It will comfort me, Anne.”

Anne Seymour picked up the volume on the queen’s bedside table and opened it to the page marked with a ribbon. “Love is swift, sincere, pious, joyful, generous, strong, patient, faithful, prudent, long-suffering, courageous and never seeking its own; for wherever a person seeks his own, there he falleth from love.”

There was a calm smile on her face now. “I want you to keep this story I have told you, and lock it away for someday after Hal and I are both gone. After William and Mary have left this earth as well. ’Tis too beautiful to be lost to the ages.” Jane drew in a shallow, labored breath. “Tell me, Anne, how does it begin again?”

Anne Seymour wiped the cloud of tears from her eyes with the back of her hand and drew in a deep breath. “It begins,
I, Jane
…”

Author’s Note

Sixteen months after her marriage to Henry VIII, and the birth of Edward VI, Jane Seymour died on October 24, 1537, at Hampton Court Palace. The few details of her connection to William Dormer that exist today were told, not by Jane and William themselves, but by the daughter of William and Mary Dormer in a book called
Life of Jane Dormer.
William did serve Thomas Cromwell while Jane Seymour was at court, and his eldest daughter was indeed named Jane. Details beyond that of what truly happened between Jane and William shall remain a mystery locked to the ages.

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