Today I’m giving you two posts! The second post today is from the lovely Wendy J Dunn. She has been featured on this site before, you can click here to read an extract of Falling Pomegranate Seeds!
I had heard news of Anna from George, who I had seen days before at a London tavern. Anna had, only a short time ago, been sent away from court because the King feared her illness could be the plague or the sweating sickness and thus wished to protect himself from contagion. I, who truly loved her, felt afraid for her and resolved to be with her at this time. The discord I had left at my house only increased my determination to see Anna and make some attempt to renew myself in her presence.
With my heart so heavy, I found it strange to ride my horse up those same tracks and lanes that had seen us running wild as children. I had only infrequently visited Hever Castle since I was sent to Cambridge University when I was thirteen. Now in my twenty-fifth year, I could not help but feel that I had lived through so much since the time of my boyhood that I had become utterly world-weary since those happier and simpler times.
Even though a summer’s day, it was cold and wet, and riding had become swiftly a damp business. I greatly looked forward to the end of my journey and the warmth of a welcoming fire. Even so, I could not resist my urge to stop my horse on the crest of the hill overlooking the castle.
From that distance, I found it as I remembered it, a small, charming, golden-stone castle, surrounded by a moat and high yew hedges. Aye, Hever—set amidst the green meadows of my childhood where I had numbered the flowers into thousands.
I wasted no more time, urging my horse into a gallop. Home! I was so near to home and my beloved Anne! At long last, now drenched to my skin, my horse’s hoofs rattled loudly over the wooden drawbridge, and I arrived in the castle’s courtyard. I slid off my exhausted mare only to find a heavily cloaked, silent groom had already come to take my horse’s head. I thanked him, gave him a coin to care well for her needs, and walked swiftly towards the entrance of my former home, enormously concerned about what I would
Happily, to the delight of us both, Simonette was there to welcome me, and quickly reassure me that Anne’s life was no longer threatened. All illness, she told me, thank the good Lord, had now passed from Hever. I had concluded this in any case as there had been no sign on the castle gate warning of contagion and Hever Castle lay wide open to all visitors.
However, Anne had come down with a very bad dose of the sweating sickness, and was now low in spirits. Simonette felt that it was her malaise, rather than any lingering illness, which was affecting her recovery and subsequent return to full health.
Our initial greetings done, Simonette took me to the room that I had once shared with George, leaving me while I exchanged my wet garments for drier ones. Once I had done so, I left my old room to rejoin Simonette in the castle’s Great Hall.
I found her seated by the main fireplace, in front of a spinning wheel sorting out the unspun wool. Seeing my return, Simonette stopped her work and stood, smiling to
me brightly and holding out her hands for me to take. It struck me, as I spoke to Simonette, how young she must have been when she had taken over those mothering needs of our childhoods. Looking at her face, still so youthful, and her almost unchanged hair and figure, I found it hard to imagine that she must now be fast approaching her forties. Her hair still as deeply auburn as I remembered it from my last visit to Hever, her skin also seemed to be as clear and untouched by age as I recollected from my youth.
“Simonette,” I said, “you grow more lovely with every
Simonette laughed softly.
“Oh, Master Tom! Your time on the Continent was well spent if you have learnt to be gallant. But, I know too well how time has sped. How could I not, when I remember the little lad I cared for and see him grown into the man before me… Yea, truly, time has gone too fast for me.”
At last, after giving me another kiss and wiping away yet more tears, Simonette left me, so as to go and prepare Anne for her visitor.
Soon after Simonette’s departure, I got up from the chair and wandered around the Great Hall, taking in all the changes. Rich tapestries hung on every large portion of available wall space and beautiful paintings were to be found in the smaller areas. I could see before me the clear evidence that the Boleyns had become wealthier than I remembered from my childhood.
Standing alone in this Great Hall, I tried to recapture some feeling of the magic that I recalled of Hever and my childhood. Twas all gone: the air I breathed still and ordinary, so much so I began to feel melancholy for a time forever vanished.
Despite struggling with this feeling, my childhood home appeared much the same, though I thought it also appeared to be diminished, lacking some inner strength.
I wandered to the nearby window. Outside, the weather was still bleak and miserable. The rain fell heavily, hitting in bursts against the thick glass, while the wind bowed tall trees as it howled around the castle. I looked away, and a small painting hanging on a nearby wall, glowing with such colour that it seemed almost jewel-like, caught my eye. I went closer to heed that it was a painting of Saint Francis. It reminded me of other paintings I had seen during my brief time in Venice. I remembered these other paintings were the works of Giovanni Bellini, an artist of Venice whom I liked for the poetic mood he often captured in his paintings. Being a poet myself gave me a sense of fellow feeling with Bellini, whose skills were such he could render as if poems on canvas.
I went even closer to the painting, to see if the painting of Saint Francis was in fact by him. I often find it strange the things bringing to the surface my true feelings; why I now felt bereft. As I looked away from the painting of this small Franciscan monk, it became crystal clear why the Great Hall seemed to me so utterly empty. Yea, I realised, as I waited for Simonette to return from Anne’s room, what it lacked was the giant presence of Father Stephen. The Great Hall stayed empty of the boom of his voice and laughter. The good father had died… yea, he had died to the grief of us all, during my last year at Cambridge.
At length, Simonette came down the stairs to tell me that Anne was now ready to see me. I walked up the spiral stone staircase leading to Anne’s chamber, wondering if I would find her more changed, and horribly afraid that I would. It had been two long years since we last had been together, and then we had fought with great bitterness over her relationship with the King.
Entering Anna’s chamber, I felt surprised to find her out of bed and seated by a fire, though she was dressed in what was obviously her night attire with a shawl slung loosely over her shoulders. Her black hair was braided in one thick plait and fell down over one shoulder to her waist. She looked both very young and very mature, as if she had become an adult since last we had met but her body not yet caught up with the changes wrought by the two years now gone.
On her lap she held her precious lute. Her hand, with its lovely tenuous and tapering fingers, was poised as if ready to pluck a note. I noticed some of her nails were badly chewed, something she had grown out of when last we had met but obviously taken up yet again. When Anne saw me she held out her free hand to me. I took it, concerned to find it even more fragile than usual.
“Dearest Tom!” she said. “I hoped and prayed that you would come!”