Summary: Anne Boleyn has been convicted of treason. King Henry VIII, her husband of almost three years, believes that this is true until he hears something that robs him of his certainty. If he is going to sign her death warrant, he can't afford to doubt her guilt but he can't keep himself from doing so.
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to 'The Tudors' and am not responsible for the creation of any of the characters that appeared on the show.
Author's Note I: I had no intention of taking on another story for 'The Tudors', at least not until I had finished at least one of my WIPs but when Henry&Anne4Ever got in touch with me a while back, with an idea for a story where, shortly before Anne's execution, Henry found evidence exonerating her of the crimes she was accused of, I was intrigued by the idea, I took the challenge and this story was born. I hope that you all enjoy it.
Author's Note II: This story is, first and foremost, a work of fan fiction, by which I mean that it is based primarily on the characters and events in the show rather than on the historical personages and events that inspired it so, with regard to things like the characters' ages and appearances, the sequence of events, etc, I'll be going with the show's canon rather than real life.
Author's Note III: This story takes place towards the end of episode 2.09.
Dedicated to Henry&Anne4Ever for providing the inspiration for this story.
15th May 1536
Her verdict came as no surprise.
In a way, Anne's trial was little more than a formality. Smeaton and Brereton had confessed their crimes and Norris had been found guilty when he faced trial. If those three men were guilty, then Anne, their partner in crime, could not be innocent. As Queen of England, and as a peer of the realm in her own right, she, like her brother, was entitled to be tried by a jury of fellow peers instead of in an ordinary court like the others but it would have been nothing short of ludicrous for those peers to have acquitted her of the charges laid against her.
With George Boleyn, there had been a chance. He was Anne's brother, devoted to his sister and affectionate towards her, which was natural enough, and harmless. Henry hadn't wanted to believe that the young man, of whom he had become rather fond over the past years and who had been a good companion to him, could have committed such a vile, unnatural crime, anymore than he wanted to believe that Anne, the woman with whom he had lived as man and wife for three years, was so depraved that she would be capable of seducing even her own brother, for carnal pleasure or in the hopes that he would sire a son on her, a bastard child whom Henry would believe to be his own son, never thinking to be suspicious if the baby boy bore a strong resemblance to his uncle. There had been a possibility that George would be innocent but the evidence against him had clearly been compelling, for the twenty-six peers sitting in judgment had unanimously voted him guilty, after spending only a short time deliberating over the evidence and witness testimonies presented to them.
Revolted by the thought that his brother-in-law had been his wife's lover, that the two of them might even have shared the bed that he himself lay with her in, Henry was able to sign George's death warrant without hesitation, affixing his name to the document drafted for him by one of Cromwell's clerks and authorizing the Constable of the Tower to arrange for George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, to be executed by either hanging, drawing and quartering or by beheading, according to the King's pleasure.
He would decide later whether he would be merciful and grant the young man the quicker, more dignified and more painless death, a mercy usually meted out to all highborn traitors, regardless of the severity of their crimes, or if he would rather that he endure the awful, bloody and agonizing end meted out to traitors of humble birth, a method of execution designed both to make the victim's last moments as terrible and as painful as they could possibly be and to make an example for those who witnessed the execution, as a warning to anybody else who considered committing a crime. He would also have to decide whether he would allow George the dignity of a relatively private execution within the precincts of the Tower, with a limited number of people permitted to be present for it or if he would order that his end should be a public one at Tyburn.
After sprinkling the first death warrant with sand to dry the ink of his signature, he set it aside and picked up the second warrant, laying it on the desk before him. He dipped his quill in ink, carefully wiping off the excess so that his signature would not be smudged or blotted and he held it poised over the parchment, ready to sign but hesitating.
That was all that was required of him.
All he had to do was write down Henry Rex and he could wash his hands of this whole sordid affair, wash his hands of that whore. Once the warrant was signed, it would be conveyed to Sir William Kingston, the Constable of the Tower, who would be able to make all the necessary arrangements for the execution and before the week was out, Anne Boleyn, the woman whom he had once believed to be his loving and devoted wife, the woman who had made such a fool of him for so long, would be dead and he would be a free man, free to move on with a new wife, a woman who was truly worthy of him.
Thinking of Jane brought a hint of a smile to his lips. Surely she was an angel sent to him by God, a sign that in this corrupt, slippery world, there was still goodness and purity to be found, if one knew where to look. All those years he had made a fool of himself chasing Anne, so besotted with her that he could not see that she was leading him a merry dance for ambition's sake, and all that time, what he wanted – what he needed – had been tucked away in obscurity in the countryside, in Wolf Hall, where a virtuous, untouched maiden awaited him.
If only he could have seen Jane first!
How much more pleasant his life might have been if she had been the one he made his wife.
It was strange, almost frightening to think that if he and Brandon had not ridden out so far, if he had not felt as though he could not bear to return to the palace yet, as though he could not bear to see Anne, and if they had not had the need to seek out Wolf Hall and Sir John Seymour's hospitality that night, he might never have met Jane, might never have known that such sweetness, gentleness and purity could exist.
God had surely been guiding their horses that day, leading them to ride further and further away from London as they rode, leading Henry to the woman that He wanted him to make England's new Queen, a woman who was truly worthy of the role, a fitting wife for him and a fitting mother to the sons they would surely be blessed with as soon as their union was solemnized.
Once the warrant was signed, it would only be a matter of days before he could be with his sweet Jane honourably, before he could have all that he desired... so why was he hesitating?
Why was he finding it so difficult to write two little words, to end this matter once and for all?
Was this some witchcraft of Anne's? Was she reaching out with some kind of dark power, preventing him from breaking the final chain that bound him to her, clinging to him with the last vestiges of her strength and refusing to allow him to move on from her? No, that could not be the case. Anne was in the Tower, behind a bolted door and under heavy guard, too far away from him for her dark magic to hold any sway over him.
He was safe from her but he still could not bring himself to sign the damned thing.
Without meaning to do it, he set the quill down, tracing the words written on the parchment with a gentle finger.
First her name; Anne, Queen of England, four words that made this document unique. No Queen of England had ever been condemned to death under the law before. Those of royal blood had been murdered before, and under Henry's father's reign, the young Earl of Warwick had been executed for treason, though his only real crime was the Plantagenet blood flowing through his veins, but Kings and Queens were set above the law, they were not answerable to them as lesser folk were.
Although Cranmer, even now, was hard at word trying to find grounds for Henry's marriage to Anne to be declared invalid, as Henry had no intention of allowing that whore to leave this life bearing the title of his wife or as Queen of England, or to allow her daughter to continue to be his heir or to rank above any daughters that Jane bore, after her mother's death – and he thought that once she had given him a Prince of Wales and a Duke of York, he would have liked a daughter by her, a girl with both her mother's beauty and her sweet, gentle and obedient nature – both titles were still hers when she was brought to trial and when she was sentenced to death, something that had reportedly caused a stir among the people, who were both amazed and troubled that an anointed Queen could be brought to trial like a common criminal.
To Henry's indignation, there were even rumours that Anne's trial was an unfair one, and that she was convicted of adultery not because she was guilty but because he had tired of her and wished to replace her with another wife. His love for Jane had nothing to do with Anne's conviction! She had only herself and her own lust and evil to blame for her downfall; even if he wished to be free to marry Jane, he would never have ordered the peers acting as Anne's judges to condemn her unjustly.
He tore his eyes away from the details of the offences for which she was condemned, looking instead to the sentence; ...to be burned or beheaded at the King's pleasure.
The idea of letting her burn had its appeal. After everything she had done to him, the thought of condemning her to die by fire, a death that he knew would be slow, agonizing and terrible, gave him a thrill of sadistic pleasure, pleased to think that he might be able to make her feel the kind of pain that she had inflicted on him. After the sins Anne had committed in life – and he was certain that those she was condemned for were merely a few of the many offences she had committed; she had been condemned for adultery, accused of imagining his death but they had not had the evidence to be able to see her brought to trial and condemned for poisoning Katherine, or for trying to do the same to Mary – he was convinced that she was bound for Hell as soon as her soul quitted her body, there to spend eternity in torment in the Devil's fiery kingdom and it seemed fitting to give her a taste of what she must surely endure afterwards... but he hesitated. He couldn't sign his name.
He could be merciful, Henry told himself. Christ himself was merciful, even to sinners. There would be enough fire awaiting Anne once she died; he did not have to be cruel before then, he could allow her the quicker death by decapitation. He would even send for the executioner of Calais, a skilled swordsman who would ensure her the most painless death.
To his dismay, even this concession could not allow him to pick up the quill again and sign his name to it. It was as though some unseen hand was preventing him.
Unbidden, the memory of the last time he had seen Anne came to mind.
The bottom of Anne's gown was muddy.
It seemed strange that that should be the first thing that caught his attention about her. Anne was always so careful – so vain – about her appearance, never anything but immaculately coiffed and gowned in the latest, most exquisite French fashions but today, the train of her light green, almost white, brocade gown dragged in the mud and strands of her hair escaped from the simple twist it had been pinned in as she followed him.
She carried Elizabeth in her arms, struggling to manage both the weight of the toddler, who had grown a great deal over the past year or so, from an infant into a pretty and clearly intelligent little girl, and the heavy train of her gown before giving up on the latter and concentrating on keeping a secure hold of the child she carried. Their daughter was scared, he could tell that much from the expression on her face. She was bewildered and frightened by what was happening. Anne had undoubtedly taken the child out of her nursery, hoping to use her… to use his love for their daughter to soften his anger towards her, as though she thought that his love for their child – if Elizabeth was even his child! – could induce him to forget what he had heard and to pretend that nothing was amiss, for her sake.
"Henry!" Her voice had a desperate edge to it, one that he had never heard from her before. She had always been so confident, facing down setbacks without allowing anybody to see her fears but now that she knew that she was caught out, exposed as the whore and the traitor that she was, her courage and her dignity had deserted her and she was reduced to pleading and desperation.
He turned away from her. He didn't want to see her, not now, not when he knew the truth about her. She followed, almost running as she tried to keep up with him, hampered by both the cumbersome skirts of her gown and Elizabeth's weight in her arms.
"Please! Henry, please! For the love you bear our child – for the love of Elizabeth! Have mercy!"
He didn't turn back, half-afraid that if he did, if he looked at her face, he might strike her, strangle her with his own hands or take his dagger and plunge it into her heart, before their young daughter's eyes. He fully intended to ignore her, to walk away and never turn to look back but he couldn't keep himself from responding, from allowing himself to give voice to some of the anger and betrayal he was feeling. "You lied to me! You've always lied to me!"
Despite his resolve not to look at her, he whirled around, pointing an accusing finger in her face. "You were not a virgin when you married me! You were not what you seemed! Your father and your brother arranged everything!" He almost thought that he could have forgiven her for lying about her virginity, even though he burned with embarrassment at the thought of how foolish he must have seemed when he refused to believe anybody, including Brandon, who dared to suggest that the woman he intended to make his next wife and the next Queen of England was not the untouched maiden she claimed to be, he might have been able to accept that that was a natural lie for an unmarried girl to tell, particularly a girl whose elder sister had the reputation that Mary Boleyn had earned for herself, and that it would have been difficult for Anne to admit that she had lied later, but he could never forgive her for the fact that their relationship had been a lie, one she had entered into at the urging of her male relatives, who hoped to profit from the connection and not because she cherished any affection for him as a man.
How they must have laughed at him amongst themselves, every time he poured his heart out in a letter and every time he pressed a gift on her, beseeching her to accept it for his sake!
"No!" Anne denied it vehemently, hurrying after him when he turned to walk away again. "I loved you." She quickened her pace, hurrying to stand in front of him, to force him to look at her as she pleaded with him. "I loved you. And I love you still."
He almost believed her. A part of him wanted to believe her. A part of him wanted to allow himself the comfort of accepting her words as true and of ignoring all that he had been told, wanted to take her in his arms and kiss her, to apologize for ever having doubted her and promise her that everything would be well now, to pretend that none of this had happened but he wouldn't – he couldn't – allow himself to do that, not now. He knew too much for him to ever be able to go back to the way things had been.
Anne's fingers clutched desperately at the fur trimming of his coat as she continued to plead with him. "Please, after everything that we've been to each other, after everything we were, please." He tried to push past her but she wasn't prepared to let him pass. She climbed up a shallow flight of stone steps, tightening her grip on Elizabeth as she made her final appeal. "One more chance. One more." Her blue eyes were wide and earnest, as though willing him to believe that she could give him the male heir he craved if he would only give her another chance.
He couldn't believe it. She thought that this was about a son? She thought that, after everything that had happened, she could still save her skin if she gave him a son? She thought that he would agree to give her a chance, that she could tempt him with the prospect of a son, that he was foolish enough to trust her and that he was so desperate for a male heir that he would blindly accept the boy she bore – if she was even capable of bearing one! – and make him Prince of Wales, even though, for all he knew, the brat might be Smeaton's or Brereton's or Norris' or even an incestuous bastard born of an unholy coupling between brother and sister?
If barrenness was the only crime she had committed against him, he might have been able to give her the chance she pleaded for; it was under three years since Elizabeth's birth, after all, and Anne was still young, young enough to be able to bear many other children, so he might have been able to allow her a year to try again, though no more than that, as he was getting no younger himself and could not afford to wait much longer for his son.
If barrenness was the only crime she had committed against him, he would have seen to it that she was well cared for after the annulment of their marriage, certainly better cared for than Katherine had been. She would have been allowed to continue to enjoy her title of Marquess of Pembroke and the income from the lands he had granted her with that title, enabling her to enjoy a dignified and comfortable retirement in England or, if she preferred, abroad. She had always had a fondness for France and King Francis was sure to make her welcome in his country and court.
But barrenness was not her only crime. Anne's crimes were crimes that could not be ignored.
She was a traitor and for traitors there was only one fitting punishment.
He wasn't going to listen to any more! He pushed roughly past her, not caring if he knocked her to the ground as he stormed away from her, ignoring the desperation in her voice as she called out to him, over and over.
"Henry! Your Majesty! Your Majesty, I beseech you!"
He didn't look back.
He had to get away from the palace, away from the courtiers who were treading around him so warily, so uncertain of his temper after everything that had happened, as though they were afraid that he might turn on them any minute. It was no surprise that he was finding it difficult to sign Anne's death warrant here, in the palace which had been their home once they were married and where he had courted her for years before that, where he had honoured her and feted her as a Queen long before the title became hers.
There were too many memories here, memories that he needed to get away from, at least for a while.
He needed Jane.
After a few hours in her soothing, cleansing presence, he would be able to free himself of the last vestiges of Anne's hold over him, then he could come back and he would be able to sign.
Usually, when Henry went out riding, he was accompanied by grooms to tend him and soldiers to guard him on his journey, with one man riding a little ahead of the party bearing the royal standard, so that everybody would know that the King approached and that they should make way for him, clearing the roads so that his journey would not be delayed by even a moment. If he was travelling to pay a visit to one of his lords, regardless of whether he intended to be there only for a few hours or if he was on progress and intended to stay longer, then a messenger would usually be sent on ahead, warning the of his arrival so that his host would be able to make preparations to receive him in the style that his royal dignity demanded, ensuring that none of his lords would be caught unawares and left to face the embarrassment of being inadequately prepared for a royal visit.
Today, however, he wasn't riding as a King.
Today, he was merely a lover, a suitor seeking the hand of a maiden and that was how he would travel to Wolf Hall, accompanied by only two grooms, plainly dressed, without the royal standard and without sending a messenger ahead. He would arrive unannounced, surprising his Jane, who would surely not be expecting him and who was sure to be pleased and honoured that he would drop everything to make the journey to her family's home to see her, flattered to know that he cared so much about her that he would be willing to leave behind all the cares of ruling England so that he might spend a few hours in her company.
It would be sweet and refreshing to see her unfeigned joy at his presence, and the becoming shyness with which she greeted his attentions, as befitted a modest young lady of gentle birth. When he was with Jane, he always felt as though she was amazed that he should ever consider looking at her, as though she truly was not aware of her charms. Although Jane was a beautiful woman, pale and golden where Anne was dark and enigmatic, Henry felt that her other qualities, her sweet, submissive nature and her maidenly modesty, were what he loved most about her.
He deeply regretted the fact that he could not have her with him at court, at least for the time being, and he badly missed her company but he knew that their separation was unavoidable, the best thing for all concerned. While he knew that his love for Jane had nothing to do with what was happening with Anne now, he had to acknowledge that there were many who would believe otherwise if he was seen with Jane while the investigation and the trials were in progress – as though they could really think that, if he had never met Jane, he would be prepared to turn a blind eye to everything he had learned about Anne's crimes and allow her to continue to enjoy the honours and privileges of a Queen, while she crammed a cuckold's horns on his head! – and he knew that he had to make sure that Jane's reputation would not be tainted by what was happening, even if that meant that he had to be deprived of her company.
Jane had not spoken a word of protest when he sent her away, or even asked him to tell her why he should wish for her to leave, and so soon after he had beseeched her to allow him to serve her and worship her. She had obeyed him without a question or a murmur, an excellent quality in a wife and one that made her a complete contrast both to Katherine, who had refused to acknowledge the invalidity of their marriage and insisted on denying him justice out of stubborn pride, and to Anne, who seemed to barely understand the meaning of the word 'obedience', let alone be able to exercise any degree of that quality.
It would be a very pleasant change to have a lady like her for his wife.
As he rode to Wolf Hall, he felt as though he was trying to outrun the ghosts of his past, trying not to draw parallels between this ride and one he had made years ago, to Hever Castle, to visit another lady, a girl who had captivated his attention so utterly that he felt as though he would go mad if he could not possess her. He had had other women before, but none of them had made him feel the way she did. She held him off at first, claiming that she could not become his mistress as she had already vowed to preserve her maidenhead for her future husband, whoever he might be, but even when she yielded, even when he held her in his arms, knowing that she was willing and that he could take her if he wanted to, something had stopped him, something had prompted him to go further, to ask her to be his wife rather than his official mistress, and then to pledge to honour her maidenhead until the day of their marriage.
What power had Anne had over him that had prompted him to take such a step, especially when he knew how scandalized people would be to learn that he intended to replace Katherine, a Princess of Spain, with Anne, the daughter of a viscount; was it the ordinary power that a beautiful, captivating woman had over a man, or was there more to it, something unnatural?
Why could he not stop thinking about Anne, even now that he was on his way to see Jane – the woman he truly loved?
Would he ever be free of her?
He spurred his horse onwards, urging it into a gallop, trying to both put as much distance as possible between him and Anne and to bring himself closer and closer to Jane with every stride.
He should have brought her a gift.
He was not coming to Wolf Hall as the King of England, he was coming as a suitor for Jane's hand and a suitor should bring a token of his love when he came to court a lady... but then, Jane had never been greedy for his gifts. She had declined the purse of sovereigns he sent her as soon as Brandon had passed them into her hand, once he explained the origins of the gift, and she behaved with becoming modesty, not wishing to compromise her honour by accepting such a gift from any man, even the King, when she was an unmarried maiden. The locket he gave her was a simple thing, and it had touched him deeply when she promised to wear it always, to know that she valued it for the fact that it held his portrait, and not because of its material value. He doubted whether Jane would have noticed or cared if the locket was made of gold, silver or of some base metal. All she had looked at was his image at its centre and it was for that that she would cherish it.
Anne sent him a locket once. Her first gift to him was a silver locket with her initials on the outside and a tiny portrait of her inside it... as soon as this thing with Anne was over, he would have the locket melted down, and every portrait of Anne would be destroyed.
When he married Jane and brought her to live at court as his Queen, he would not have Anne's image staring down at them, refusing to leave them in peace, to allow them to bury the ghosts of the past and move on.
Once this was over, he never wanted to hear Anne's name spoken again.
As he rode, a clump of wildflowers growing in a hedgerow caught his eye and he dismounted, waving for the grooms to remain where they were and refusing their offers of assistance as he knelt down to gather the prettiest blooms, thinking that a nosegay gathered with his own hands would be a fitting gift from a suitor to his intended bride. Once the flowers were gathered, he mounted his horse again to continue on his journey, imagining that it would not be long now before he would be able to return to court in Jane's company.
The thought of being able to bring Jane to court as his wife, to be able to give England a true Queen at last, brought a smile to his face. She would be a Queen that the whole country would be proud to own, unlike Anne, the Queen he had had to force on the people, threatening their lives if they refused to accept her as he wished them to... even killing good men like More for her sake.
With Jane sitting next to him on the throne, the Emperor would be happy to make peace with him, happy to know that the woman who had taken his aunt's place on the throne was no more. As long as Anne bore the title of Queen and consort, the Emperor would never have been happy or at his ease with an alliance with England, an alliance that would necessitate his acknowledgement of Anne but now that Anne was no longer an issue, he would be pleased to accept Queen Jane.
With Anne gone and Jane on the throne, he was sure that even Mary would quickly become reconciled to the way things were now, especially since Jane was so sweet and so kind and would undoubtedly wish to do all in her power to make her stepdaughter feel welcome at court. As long as Anne was Queen, Mary would never have been willing to repudiate her mother, acknowledge herself to be a bastard and return to the court where her enemy reigned and, although Anne was good at making a show of trying to reconcile with her stepdaughter – so convincing a show that Henry himself had been fooled by it, praising Anne for the fact that she had made the effort and blaming Mary for her refusal to yield, turning against his daughter for failing to have the sense or the courtesy to accept her stepmother's overtures – he was sure that this was the last thing she had truly wanted.
When she offered to reconcile Mary to him in exchange for her acknowledgement of Anne as Queen, she knew that the offer was one that Mary would not be willing or able to accept but she still taunted her with the prospect of a return to court, secure in the knowledge that she would never be called upon to fulfil her end of the bargain, either in terms of bringing Mary to court or encouraging Henry to think kindly of his daughter once more. She had not wanted to encourage his love for his daughter and was content to see Mary out of his good graces so that his affections could be directed towards Elizabeth instead.
Anne had always wanted to see Elizabeth honoured, to make it plain that she was the only legitimate princess of England and the heir to the throne, never breathing a word of protest when he decided to make Mary one of their daughter's attendants, although she must have known that, although the position would be an honoured one for the daughter of a knight or a lord, it would be extremely humiliating for a girl who had been raised to believe that she was a princess and who had been honoured as such for the first fourteen years of her life to be made to take on the role of a servant.
Anne was so concerned with Elizabeth's marriage, despite the fact that their daughter was a child of not yet three years, but she had never even thought to concern herself about Mary's betrothal, even though Mary had been of marriageable age for several years and even though, since Katherine's death, she stood in a mother's place to Mary and should care for her as such, taking an interest in her future. She never suggested any candidates or even encouraged him to bring his elder daughter to court, where she might meet eligible noblemen or ambassadors who would report back on the comely girl of marriageable age and royal blood, even if she was a bastard, to Kings and princes seeking suitable brides for themselves and their sons.
He was sure that Jane wouldn't be like that. Even after they had children of their own, she would not forget about her stepdaughters and would continue to be concerned with their interests.
Mary was an obstinate girl, deeply loyal to her mother and she would never be prepared to buy her way back to court, or even back into her father's good graces, by allowing Anne a fresh triumph but it would be a very different matter once Jane was Queen, and once Mary no longer had to see Anne's child honoured as a princess while she was named a bastard. Once the marriage was annulled, once Princess Elizabeth became Lady Elizabeth, disbarred from the succession as the bastard daughter of a whore and an adulteress, it would be easier for Mary to swallow her pride and accept the overtures that her new stepmother would undoubtedly make to her.
When Jane was Queen, she would be able to help bring his daughter back to him.
As he rode, he could picture Wolf Hall in his mind's eye, a pleasant country manor, simple compared to what Henry was accustomed to but still a warm, homely place, the kind of place where he could easily picture his Jane growing up, learning from her mother the things that a girl of her class needed to know, so that she would one day be able to run her own household, but without being ruined by an excess of education, as Anne was. It had been a long time since he had felt as comfortable at Whitehall as he had the night he and Brandon had dined with Sir John, spending long hours sharing flagons of his best wine and reminiscing over days long gone, when the three of them rode against the French. It was so late by the time they were finished that there could be no question of them returning to court and Henry was pleased to accept his host's gracious invitation to spend the night.
Perhaps Jane would be able to bring some of the warmth of Wolf Hall with her when she came back to court, turning the palace into a true home for them.
The days were becoming longer now but even so, it was evening when Wolf Hall came into view and he spurred his horse forward, leaving his grooms to follow at a discreet distance. He had barely crossed into the courtyard when he leapt lightly from his horse's back, passing the reigns into the hand of the servant who appeared to greet and tend them and hurrying to the door.
As a rule, the King entered by the main entrance, the one leading into the main Hall, where Sir John and his family would be waiting to greet him with all due formality and deference but that was not what Henry wanted today so, ignoring the faintly horrified expression on the face of the servant who opened the side door to admit him and firmly declining the man's half-desperate offers to go ahead of him and let Sir John know of his arrival, Henry pushed past him, making his way through the narrow corridor leading away from the kitchens, the pantry, the stillroom and the laundry, the part of Wolf Hall that was the servants' domain, to the larger, more comfortable rooms where the Seymour family lived and received their guests.
A couple of the servants spotted him as he made his way through the manor, recognizing him from his recent visit and stopping dead in their tracks when they saw him, bowing low.
He could almost read their thoughts, see the panic in their eyes as they wondered whether or not their master was aware of the fact that the King of England was under his roof at this very moment, unattended, but Henry waved aside their hasty offers to find Sir John for him, hushing them with a finger to his lips and sternly cautioning them not to breathe a word about his visit to anybody.
The nosegay he carried had wilted slightly since he gathered the flowers but it was still pretty, giving off a light, delicate fragrance.
When he decided that he would pay a surprise romantic visit, without ceremony and without sending any message of warning ahead, it had seemed like a good idea at the time, one that would please and honour his Jane, but now that he was actually at Wolf Hall, Henry realized that he had neglected to consider one vital, practical issue – how was he to find Jane without asking a servant and without alerting her to his presence?
For all he knew, she might be spending the night away from home, and she was so sweet and loving that he could imagine her having many friends who would be only too thrilled to make her their guest for the night now that she was back from court, eager to spend as much time with her as they possibly could before the time came for her return, this time to make Whitehall her permanent home. Perhaps he had come all this way for nothing... no, not nothing, as he would still be able to speak with Sir John, his old friend, and with his friend's two sons, who were fine young men but it would still be disappointing to learn that after his journey, Jane was not there.
Although his pride shrank from the idea of finding a servant and asking for his assistance in locating the Seymours, questioning him to find out whether or not Jane was there in the first place, Henry was almost ready to do that when he heard the sound of voices coming from behind a heavy wooden door, the door of Sir John's study, if he remembered correctly.
He could hear Jane speaking and a slow smile began to spread across his face at the sound of his beloved's voice... only to begin to fade when he heard Sir John respond.
"I am so proud of you, my dearest," even through the heavy door, Henry could easily make out the other man's words, together with the tone of fatherly pride infusing his tone. "I always knew that with your beauty and with your virtues, you were sure to do well, and that it would be easy enough for me to make a fine match for you, even without a large dowry to tempt a man to the altar but never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined this! It won't be long now before I see my Janey as the new Queen of England!"
It was natural enough that he would be proud of her, Henry told himself firmly – he would have been proud to have a daughter like Jane – and it was not surprising that Sir John would be able to predict that he would soon see his daughter sitting on the throne as the King's dearest wife and consort; Henry might not have indicated his intentions towards Jane yet, at least not openly as that would not be seemly as long as Anne lived and called herself his wife and Queen, but only a fool would have missed the fact that he favoured Jane and that he looked for more from her than that she should simply become his next mistress, something he told himself that he would never have agreed to, even if she was willing he would not have dishonoured her like that, and Sir John was no fool.
"I never dreamed that this could be possible!" Jane said, slightly breathless with awe, her words bringing the smile back to Henry's lips as he listened, pleased by the modesty of his sweetheart and by the fact that she, unlike Anne, had never been ambitious for her own advancement or even that of her family. She had never so much as dropped a hint that he might do something for her father or her brothers, taking advantage of the fact that the King of England loved her and would do anything to please her. He was certain that she would have loved him just as much if he had been a humble stable hand, able to offer her neither title or wealth. "When you told me that I might be Queen, after the King asked to serve me – I didn't dare to believe that you might be right!"
What? Henry was certain that he must have misheard her, telling himself that Jane was merely excited by everything that had happened over the past couple of weeks and that she was so overawed by the prospect of becoming his wife that she spoke wildly.
"I must confess that I was not sure of it myself, not at first," Sir John said jovially. Henry could imagine him patting his daughter's hand, or perhaps brushing a kiss against her hair or cheek. "It was no surprise to me that the King would take a fancy to you, my dear, but even though there were many people who wished to see Queen Anne removed and even though the King himself was tiring of her, she could not be discounted, not yet, particularly when she was with child. It's a mercy that the baby was lost, or that might have been an end to all of our hopes." He added, his tone far colder than usual.
Despite the fact that it was true that he and Anne had been having their problems and that he no longer loved her as he once did, Henry was still displeased to hear one of his subjects, even one that he would have called a friend, speaking of it so openly. His marriage was a private matter and if it was in difficulty, that was nobody's concern but his own. What truly made him angry, however, was the way in which Sir John spoke of Anne's miscarriage, the callousness in his tone as he referred to Henry's lost son, rejoicing that the baby was lost because it meant that he would not be able to pose a threat to his ambitions for his own family.
He longed to hear Jane object to his father's words, to declare that she would prefer that she never had any hope of sitting on the throne if it meant that the King could have the living son and heir he needed, even if the birth of a son to Anne would mean the death of any hope she might cherish of replacing her. He tried to tell himself that it was unfair to expect a good, dutiful and obedient daughter to contradict her father like that, to force himself to believe that he would be displeased to hear Jane arguing with Sir John if she did try to contradict him, but he couldn't quite convince himself that this was the reason why Jane remained silent.
"It is a mercy that Master Cromwell and the Queen fell out, and that he no longer wished to tie himself to her interests." A third speaker, whom Henry recognized as Edward Seymour, spoke up in calm, measured tones, almost devoid of emotion. "As long as he was on her side, it is certain that he would have found some way to secure her position and her power and to encourage the King to think favourably of her once more. Once Anne lost his support, it was only a matter of time before she fell."
"I don't understand." Jane said, unknowingly echoing Henry's own thoughts. "Queen Anne was condemned for adultery, brother, for treason. Surely even Master Cromwell's friendship would be of no help to her there; she would still have had to pay the price for her crimes. Master Cromwell had nothing to do with them, after all."
The silence that followed was long and awkward, heavy with meaning and with unspoken words and as he listened, eager to hear how Edward or Sir John would respond to this, Henry could feel a knot forming in his stomach, as heavy as a lead ball.
It was true that Anne and Cromwell, who had once gotten along quite well and whom he would once have described as allies, had fallen out in recent months. He was aware of the fact that they had had disagreements over Cromwell's intentions for the monasteries but he had taken very little notice of that; Anne was only a woman after all, and even if she was more intelligent and far better educated than most of her sex, she still couldn't be expected to have the same grasp on political matters and affairs of state that a man would. It was rumoured that Anne had been particularly displeased by the fact that Cromwell had offered to give his rooms to the Seymour family, and that she had even made threats against him – absurd of her, if that was true, as she must have known that she was in no position to be able to make threats against anybody who had Henry's favour – but was Edward Seymour right that their falling out had led to Anne's fall from grace?
As Jane had said, if Anne was guilty of adultery and treason, then regardless of whether or not she had Cromwell's backing, it was only a matter of time before she fell. If their falling out had led to Anne's fall from grace… Henry didn't want to follow that thought through to its logical conclusion but he couldn't keep himself from doing so.
Part of him – even most of him – wanted to find one of the servants, ask him to let the Seymours know that he was here and to proceed with this visit as planned, ignoring everything that he had heard but he couldn't bring himself to do it.
Anne's death warrant was still sitting on his desk at Whitehall, awaiting the signature that would seal her fate.
If he was going to sign it, then he couldn't afford to have any doubts.
The nosegay slipped from his fingers and he made no attempt to retrieve it, leaving the flowers scattered on the wooden floor as he walked away, determined to find answers.