Ludlow Castle, Wales- April 1502
The Princess of Wales knelt on the cold stone floor of the rounded chapel. Sleet pelted the darkened stained glass windows but Katherine hardly noticed as she hurriedly murmured prayers in a hushed tone. She had been there for countless hours, refusing to take food or drink as she prayed that God would spare the life of her young husband. Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, had fallen ill three days ago. His physician Dr. Butts, and Katherine's own, Dr. Farjad, had diagnosed him with the sweat and no one was permitted into the prince's bedchamber. The sweat was almost always deadly and so the only thing the young woman could do was pray.
At sixteen, Katherine felt she was too young to be a widow. She had only been married a little over four months to Arthur. In four months' time they had barely gotten to know each other, could God really be so cruel and take him away from her? She knew that He could and it terrified her. God could take Arthur away from her just like He took her brother, Juan, her sister, Isabel, and her young nephew, Miguel. She wanted to believe, like her mother, Isabella of Spain, that God did everything in his infinite wisdom. She missed her home so much. She longed to run into her mother's arms they way she would when she had fallen down. Isabella was wise and although she led troops into battle, she had a place in her heart for her youngest daughter.
"Catalina, mi hija," she would say. "You must be strong; you will be the Queen of England one day."
Now, slumped onto the cold stone floor in the wretched country she now called home, Katherine felt further away from her mother than ever before. She felt utterly alone. Dr. Butts told her that the outlook was grim for Arthur; they did not expect him to live through the week. Dr. Farjad poured over his books on medicine searching for some cure for the young prince. Farjad was a Morisco who had converted to Catholicism when Isabella and Ferdinand reconquered Spain from the moors. The moors brought with them knowledge from the East, if Farjad could not save Arthur, he would not survive. Dr. Butts already sent word to King Henry and Queen Elizabeth that the Prince of Wales was gravely ill. There was nothing to do now, but wait.
What would become of her if Arthur died? Surely, she would be sent back to Spain to her mother and father. There was a time when nothing would have made her happier than returning to Spain. She had been a stranger in a strange land with odd customs and she had no real friends, save for Maria de Salinas, who had come with her from Spain. Arthur was the one to help her overcome her fears. Once they were away from the king's court and his overbearing mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, her young husband seemed to thrive. He was patient and kind as he tried to teach her the ways of the English at their small court in Ludlow Castle. Lady Margaret Pole had also been a great help and comfort to her. She had once been a Plantagenet Princess and now lived at Ludlow with her husband, Sir Richard Pole, who was a loyal Yorkist. Lady Margaret had become like an older sister to Katherine, helping her to learn English. Slowly, but surely, the Princess of Wales was beginning to grow accustomed to her new country and she even saw the beauty in it. Just last week the weather had warmed and she and Arthur were able to enjoy a ride through the countryside. Spring would come soon, Arthur had promised her.
Spring did not come, Katherine thought bitterly. It grew bitterly cold again and now Arthur lay in his sickbed. She closed her eyes and drew in a deep, steadying breath.
Blessed Mother, she prayed silently. I kneel at your feet and beg you to implore your son to have mercy upon Arthur. Let him live, let him be the king he was born to be. If you but grant my request I will build a shrine in this place to you and pilgrims around England who seek your protection and beg your aid will visit it. Ave Maria, gratia plena, dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris Tui, Jesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Die, Ora pro nobis peccatoribus nunc et in hora mortis nostrae Amen."
When she had finished her prayer, Katherine lifted her head and sensed she was no longer alone. A hand was gently laid upon her shoulder but the young woman felt she would sink under its weight. She glanced up to see Lady Margaret standing over her. The look on her face was grim. Katherine straightened and braced herself for the news for which she prayed she would never have to hear.
"Your highness, it is the prince," Lady Margaret began, her voice wavering. Katherine closed her eyes and bowed her head. "His fever has broken."
Katherine checked herself and met her friend's gaze. "What?" she asked, needing to make sure she had heard the older woman correctly.
"His highness's fever has broken. Our prayers have been answered."
With the older woman's assistance, Katherine rose to her feet.
"Then he will live?" she asked.
"It is still uncertain. He is very weak, but this is a good sign."
"May I see him?" She has been unable to see him because the physicians feared he was contagious.
"I do not know. Dr. Farjad was still examining him when I left to bring you the news."
"Has he awoken yet?"
"Your highness," Lady Margaret said masking her exasperation with the young princess. "I do not know."
"Come, Lady Margaret. I wish to see my husband," Katherine said decisively as she led the way to Arthur's chamber.
The mood in the chambers had changed greatly since last she was there. Pages were scrambling with sheets, pitchers of water and other various things. They bowed hurriedly as Katherine entered the room.
"I wish to see Dr. Farjad," she said to one of the servants of the body. The young man disappeared and Dr. Farjad appeared.
"Your highness," he bowed.
"Is it true that the prince's fever has broken?"
"By the grace of God, yes, it is."
"Is he awake? May I see him?"
"Your highness, the prince is awake but right now, the grooms of the bedchamber are changing the bed linen and burning all of the old ones just in case it was a contagious disease. I do not think that it is, but Dr. Butts had other ideas. Infanta, perhaps you should rest. Sleep and when you are refreshed, come and see the prince."
"Dr. Farjad, I believe everything you have told me, but I will not rest assured until I see my husband with my own eyes. I will wait."
Katherine took a seat and placed her head in her hand. She was so very tired and so relieved at the same time. The events of the past few days played over in her mind. She felt as if she had just awakened from a bad dream that still lingered bitterly, haunting her.
"Can I get you anything, your highness?" she heard a familiar voice say. Looking up, she saw Charles Brandon standing in front of her. He looked tired and worried as well.
"Oh, Brandon," she said embracing her husband's closest friend. "Have you been with him yet?"
"Yes, I was with him when he awoke. I promised you I would stay with him. Unfortunately, once the doctors began examining him again, they made me leave. I have been here waiting for news as well."
Katherine had never seen Brandon like this before. He was always jovial, quick with a joke, quick with a smile, and popular with all of the ladies in their small court. He always taunted Arthur for being too serious. Now, he was quiet and restrained.
"You were very worried too," she observed aloud, sinking back into her seat."
"Of course," he replied taking the seat next to her. "He is like a brother to me. He is really the closest thing to a family I have ever had."
Katherine nodded silently. Arthur had told her about how the king brought the young Brandon to court not long after Arthur was born. Brandon's father had died serving King Henry in the battle of Bosworth Field and now his mother was also gravely ill. From infancy, the boys had been companions, almost inseparable.
"Thank you for being here," she said softly.
"I would give my life for him, just as my father did for the King."
"I know you would, but I pray it never comes to that." The pair turned as Dr. Farjad came out of Arthur's bedchamber.
"Your highness, you may see him if you wish." As Katherine passed by him he gently touched her arm. "He has made it through the worst of the storm, but he is still very weak. It is best for him to rest."
Katherine nodded and continued into the room. How small Arthur looked in the large bed. He was so pale that he nearly blended into the sheets. Arthur still looked so sickly that it frightened Katherine so much that she almost fled from the room. His eyes were closed but his breathing seemed strong and steady as she sat in a chair that had been placed next to the bed. Carefully, she picked up his hand and brought it to her lips. His eyes fluttered open and he tried to speak but no words came from his parched throat. Instinctively, Katherine filled a cup of water and held it to his lips to drink until he had finished all of its contents.
"Thank you," he said with a weak smile.
"The doctors have said that you made it through the worst of the illness."
"How many days has it been? What day is it?"
"It is Thursday, you have been ill for three days."
"Three days?" Arthur groaned. "I'm still so very tired."
"You need to rest. The doctors said that is the best thing you can do right now."
"Will you stay with me?" he asked so seriously. Katherine thought he looked like a little boy, afraid to go to sleep at night for fear of bad dreams. He seemed so vulnerable, it was almost endearing. He had never asked anything of her but, now, he was so sincere that she could not deny him. She took his pale hand in hers and smiled at him.
"Of course I will. I will be right here if you need anything."
Arthur smiled faintly and nodded. It was not long before sleep overcame him once again. As she watched him sleep Katherine thought back upon the last few months she had spent in England. For the first time Arthur had said that he wanted her with him. He needed her. For the first time, she truly felt like his wife. She leaned against her chair, thankful for its sturdy arms and back, and smiled to herself as she drifted off to sleep.