Happy Monday, everyone! I have another fun short story to share with you today, and its from another second time poster, Sara! She sent in a submission for a contest I had a while back, which you can read here.
A note from the author,
A few months ago I was scrolling along on Facebook and I found an article about Henry VIII’s secret wife – a young woman by the name of Anne Mourgan that Henry married in secret between the death of Jane Seymour and his marriage to Anne of Cleaves. The article went on about how scholars believe it’s time for the truth of Henry’s seventh wife to be known! And then, at the end of the article, the creators of the website threw the punch: it had all been an April Fool’s joke. Henry, to the knowledge of scholars and historians, only ever had the six wives we all know about.
But that article got me thinking about what it might have been to be Anne Mourgan. How might she have felt being courted by the King? How might that have played out? All those questions led me to my computer screen and a blank Word document.
The Seventh Wife by Sara Stevenson
A soft silence fills the palace. It bounces off the walls, hits the stained-glass windows, and burrows in the ears of everyone walking down the corridors. I keep my head down, staring at the tops of my shoes, as we make our way through the palace and to our separate chambers; the late Queen’s ladies veer to the left, breaking away from the group, but I stop when I hear the king call my name.
I move away from the small group of ladies, but none of them seem to notice my departure. I approach the king, my head still bowed and my eyes focused on the tops of my shoes. Though I’d been one of the queen’s closest ladies, I’d always felt intimidated in the presence of the king. He is tall — over six feet tall — and has a burly frame, and he has gorgeous reddish-brown hair. Though he’s always been kind to me, there is something about his status that makes me quake.
“Your Highness.” I gather the skirt of my gown in my hands and dip into a low curtsey.
“I know it may seem a bit obscure and informal, but may I request your company in my chambers later this evening?”
I jerk my head up, ever aware of the other eyes observing our exchange. It is common knowledge that, over the years, the king has taken mistresses despite his marital status, but we have been fortunate that no one ever questions his continued requests for me to join him in his chambers; we meet each other under the guise of grief counseling, and the king’s advisors and the other ladies readily and easily accept it.
It has been almost a year since the death of Lady Jane Seymour and the young prince that all of England had been anticipating. I have watched the king crumble beneath the weight of losing Lady Jane. Despite his past two marriages — Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn — and the rumors that surrounded his reason for moving on to Lady Jane so quickly, it was clear to me that he loved Jane with every part of his being. She was the first to bear him a son, and there was something in the way they looked at one another that no one could deny. Where he’d looked at Anne Boleyn with the eyes of a lusty animal, he’d looked at Jane with soft eyes and a subtle smile tipping the corner of his lips.
“Yes, Your Highness.”
He nods curtly before turning and continuing down the corridors toward his chambers. The advisors that had stood by his side give me a once over, taking in my appearance, and I know they are silently judging me the way I’ve so often silently judged the other women I’ve seen courted by the king. I give them a brief curtsey before turning on my heels and retiring to my chambers.
Once behind the locked door, I sigh heavily and allow my lips to tilt into a giddy smile. I move across the room, ever aware of the bounce in my step, and pull open the doors of my wardrobe. My eyes rove the gowns that hang in front of me, searching for the one I know the king fancies over the others. My fingers brush against the soft fabric as I pull it from my wardrobe and begin to primp and prepare myself to meet the king.
My heart hammers against my chest as my knuckles knock against the large wooden door that leads to Henry’s chambers. The guard that stands off to my right gives me a harsh, sideways glance, the same glance he’s given me every time he sees me coming to the king’s chambers. Though I’ve repeatedly informed him that I am there merely to comfort Henry and ease him through his grief, I get the feeling that he sees right through my lies.
James is one of Henry’s oldest guards, someone that Henry feels he can trust with his life, and I respect him for all he’s done for Henry over the years. James has made many a sacrifice for his king, and I don’t doubt that he’ll continue to make them as he serves on the King’s Guard.
I give James a curt nod and a tight smile before the door to Henry’s chambers opens and Henry steps into the doorway. He glances at James, giving him a single, quick nod. James readily takes the instructions and retires from his post for the evening. My stomach twists into knots; Henry has never sent James away when we meet. With his trust in James’ physical ability to protect him came Henry’s unwavering faith the James would wordlessly carry any secrets he happened to hear during Henry’s conversations with me. I can’t begin to imagine what it means for him to send James away.
“Lady Anne,” Henry greets, a smile easily slipping across his face.
He steps aside, allowing space for me to slip past him and into the large room. No matter how many times I’ve been in his chambers, the size of the room — more than double the size of my own chambers — astounds me. Henry closes the door behind him, the sound of the lock clicking into place echoed off the cleanly-decorated walls. My heart jumped into my throat as Henry came up behind me, his arms snaking around my waist and his lips finding the sweet spot on my neck. A low, soft sigh slipped between my lips at the feel of him against me, and it took a great deal of effort to pull away from him.
“What’s going on, Henry?”
Wordlessly, the king takes a step forward and wraps one arm around my waist. He effortlessly pulls me against him, pressing his lips firmly against mine. My initial instinct to pull away quickly dissolves. I wrap my arms around Henry’s neck, tangling my fingers in his hair, and deepen the kiss. A low growl slips from between his lips as he pulls away and leads me to his bed.
“You’re wearing that gown again,” he states, gently shoving me onto the bed. A smirk plays on my lips as I watch him strip off his shirt and discard it on the floor. I shudder at the sight of his tanned skin pulled taut over rippling muscles. He raises an eyebrow, and I understand his silent command. I make quick work of my gown and my corset, dropping them to the floor beside the bed.
The king climbs next to me, and I eagerly accept his warm embrace. The tips of his fingers trail delicate paths along the back of my neck and down my spine, conjuring one shiver after another to jolt through me. I close my eyes, feeling myself already become attuned to Henry’s body, and I feel his lips brushing against mine.
“What would you like, my Lady Anne?”
My lips tug into a smile. We’ve played this game every time I’ve come to his chambers. I arch my back as he moves and hovers over me, waiting for my response. I can feel his warm breath against my cheek, and the sensation sends a new wave of exciting jolts through me.
“Take my, your highness. I am yours.”
As the high from our love-making dissipated through the air of Henry’s chambers, I tried to make sense of Henry’s urgency. Though I’ve come to his chambers a number of times since Jane’s death, this was the first time I’d felt that hunger and passion. Our tumble in the sheets had been fierce and filled with an unfamiliar intensity, and I could still feel it radiating off his sheet-clad body.
“What are you thinking about?”
Henry’s voice is gruff, and I stir at the easy way it makes my body respond. I take a deep breath, releasing it slowly through my nose. “Why did you want to see me tonight?”
He smirks. “I want to see you every night, Lady Anne.”
I fight the urge to roll my eyes like a petulant child. “Henry.”
A light sigh escapes me as I soften my features, hoping he would easily open up to me as he’s done so many times in the past. He’d told me time and time again that he felt I am someone he can trust, someone he can be himself around, and I’d spent the last year building upon that trust and creating the foundation of our relationship.
Wordlessly, Henry rises from the bed, the thin sheet falling from his body and piling on the floor with our discarded clothes. My eyes wander down the toned muscles of his back, and I fight against the tightening in the pit of my stomach. I shift from beneath the light-weight sheet that remains on the bed and grab one of Henry’s tunics from a nearby clothing rack.
“Wolsey and the others are still talking about a marriage to Anne of Cleaves,” Henry says quietly. He runs his fingers through his hair before cupping his hand around the back of his neck. “They tell me she’s a pretty enough girl, gentle, and worthy of being on the throne, but her portrait has yet to arrive. More than that, I’m not sure I want to wed another woman I have no inclination to be with.”
He turns to me and catches my gaze. My breath catches in my lungs, and I force it out in a slow, even breath. This is the first time he’s mentioned Anne and the potential marriage, but the rumors have been spreading through the castle. Everyone has their own opinions. Some wonder if Henry is capable of love, given his history with Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn while others believe that he will never love again now that Jane Seymour has passed on.
I believe that he did truly love Jane Seymour, but I am hopeful that he is able to find love with another.
Before I can tell him my thoughts on Anne of Cleaves, he has closed the space between us. He wraps his arms around my waist and pulls me against him, crashing his lips against mine. I brief moment of hesitation passes between us as I register his kiss, but I quickly submit to him. I slide my arms around his neck, tangling my fingers in the hair at his neck. Henry holds me for a long minute before he pulls away. He rests his forehead against mine, his breath matching my own quick pants.
My breath catches in my lungs again as I take a small, stumbling step backwards. “What?”
The word comes out as nothing more than a breath, forced between my lips to fill the empty space between me and the king. Henry takes a step forward and grabs my hand. His grip is soft, but it demands that I don’t move further away.
I swallow the lump building at the base of my throat and catch his gaze. His eyes are alight with a passion and a desire that I’ve never seen, and it lights something new and foreign in the pit of my stomach. His grip tightens slightly as he pulls me back toward him.
“Marry me, Anne Mourgan.” His voice is gruff, and that foreign feeling in the pit of my stomach stirs again. Eagerness that crawls through me, building from the strange and unfamiliar feeling in my stomach and becoming a new, raw desire. Henry’s eyes glistened with anticipation, and I can’t help the upward tug of my lips.
I press my body against his, feeling his immediate reaction to our closeness, and bring my lips to his. It’s a brief and chaste kiss, but I know that Henry can feel the passion and desire behind it.
“All right,” I say when I pull away. He slips his free hand around my waist, keeping me against him. Henry’s lips tilt into a smile, and I can’t help but mirror him. My arms return around his neck as he lowers his lips against mine once again.
As he turns and moves us toward his bed again, I can’t think about anything but the feel of lips against my cheek, my neck, my collar bone. I can’t think about how he exiled Catherine and removed himself from the Catholic Church all because of Anne Boleyn. And I can’t think about how he had Anne beheaded after the rumors of her infidelity.
As King Henry presses me into the soft cushions of his bed, all I can think about is how I’m going to be his wife.