Summary: What if you were offered the chance to take back the greatest mistake of your life, but only if you would pay the highest price?
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: 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, 'The Tudors' 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 II: This story is inspired by a challenge by X5 - 452 and 494, where Henry realizes that Anne is innocent... but not until after her execution.
It was more than seven months after Anne's execution that he began to contemplate the possibility that she might have been innocent, a thought he had guarded against until then.
Seeing Elizabeth started it.
After he was told about Anne, he wanted nothing to do with anything or anybody connected with her, including the daughter who came in place of the son Anne promised him.
It was easy to believe that she was not his child at all, that she was Henry Norris' brat and that, far from being a curse, her female sex was actually a blessing from God who, in His wisdom and in His mercy and compassion towards Henry, would not give Anne and Norris a son that he would be fooled into believing was his son, would not allow him to be tricked into proclaiming the boy his heir, Prince of Wales and future King of England, and into staying married to the boy's mother, even after he realized that Anne had seduced him into marrying her through witchcraft and after he met Jane, who loved him truly, because he would not be able to do anything that would call the boy's legitimacy into question and rob himself of the male heir he had longed for for so long.
A prince would have tied him to Anne forever, and ensured that she would enjoy her title as Queen for as long as he lived, and that of Queen Dowager when he was dead, perhaps even wielding the power of Regent, backed by her father as Lord Protector if he did not live to see the boy come of age, as he could not exclude his son's kin from power, no matter how he felt about them, not even if he feared for the safety of his eldest daughter once Anne and her father ruled England, as they might believe that they should execute Mary to protect the boy's throne. Now that he had his Jane, he couldn't help but feel relieved that Anne was never allowed to bear a boy whose birth would have forced him to forget any ideas about making Jane his wife.
He was sure that she would never agree to be his mistress, however much she might love him, and he could not have insulted her by pressing her to give herself to him without the marriage that he would never be able to offer her while Anne lived, if she had given him a son.
Nobody could have expected him to give up his happiness with Jane for the sake of a daughter, and Henry had not contemplated shrinking from the idea of annulling his marriage for Elizabeth's sake, any more than he was prepared to turn a deaf ear to the allegations against Anne rather than allow Elizabeth's mother to be executed. A daughter's happiness could be set aside.
It was so easy to refuse to see Elizabeth, or to accept the responsibility of providing for a child who might not be his... and then he saw her again.
If Mary and Jane had told him what they were planning, hinting at the identity of the surprise guest they intended to present to him at Christmastide, he would have forbidden them to bring Elizabeth to court, reminding them that she was the bastard child of a whore and a traitor and that he did not wish for her to set foot in his court or to hear her spoken of in his presence. Anne was gone and he wanted to forget about everything connected with that whore, including her child.
Perhaps they had known that.
Perhaps this was why they did not ask him before they sent word to Lady Bryan, instructing her to bring Elizabeth to court for Christmas and even arranging for a seamstress to make a court gown for her, a miniature of the one Mary wore, knowing that, since Anne was executed, he had not been willing to pay for new clothes for the daughter she left behind and that it was certain that Elizabeth would have outgrown the finery Anne lavished on her while she lived and that she would have nothing suitable to wear for such an important audience with her royal father. They said nothing to him, trusting that once he saw Elizabeth, face to face, he would not be able to harden his heart against her, or to command that she should be removed from his sight.
They were right.
How could he have failed to be touched by the sight of his young daughter walking towards him, through a sea of courtiers whose shock at her presence among them was plain, and who must all have been wondering what kind of reception Anne Boleyn's child could expect from the father her mother had so grievously wronged and whose disgrace tainted her daughter, staring curiously at the child as she made her way towards the dais, her back straight and her small face solemn?
He could imagine the thoughts that must have been running through the heads of his courtiers as the child approached the dais, could imagine that some were expecting – perhaps even hoping, if they were among those who clung to the belief that Mary was legitimate and who feared that, if little Elizabeth was welcomed back into favour, Mary's chance of restoration to the succession would suffer further damage – that he would refuse to acknowledge the child and insist that she should be removed from his presence, but Elizabeth was fearless.
Just three years old, returning to court for the first time since her mother's disgrace and execution in May, to be presented to the father she had not seen in months, and uncertain of the kind of reception she could expect from him, unable to know if he would even be willing to recognize her as his child or if he would deny her to her face and insist that she was the bastard of one of Anne's paramours, as he had believed her to be, when he was told of Anne's crimes. He was sure that Mary and Jane had bolstered her confidence with assurances that her father loved her but the child must still have been uncertain, yet Elizabeth approached him bravely, without hesitating, showing a degree of courage one would expect from a seasoned warrior rather than from a small girl, and when she addressed him, in her pretty French, her voice was clear and confident.
The last time Elizabeth had come to court, she was honoured by all as the Princess of England, the heir to the throne until such a time as her mother gave her a baby brother, and the courtiers had revered her as such, bowing and curtseying at her approach, knowing that their King expected this of them and that he would be mightily displeased if they denied his daughter any of the honours he demanded on her behalf, but if Elizabeth was unhappy to see that nobody bent their knee to her when she entered the Great Hall, unwilling to accord her such a degree of respect until they knew where she stood in her father's favour, she gave no sign of it, holding her head as high as an Empress, let alone a Princess, and approaching her father with a grace that belied her years.
If she felt any fear or apprehension, she showed no sign of it.
Her smile when he motioned for her to approach, however, let him know that she loved him and that she was delighted that her exile from his sight was at an end.
She had the most beautiful smile he had ever seen... with one exception, an exception that he did not care to think of, one that still had the power to cause him pain when he thought of it.
He had seen, almost from the moment of Elizabeth's birth, that she was very like her mother, save that her hair was fair while Anne's was dark but when Elizabeth was presented to him at Christmas, he could see some of his traits in her small face, and her hair had deepened to the same shade of red-gold as Henry's mother's hair. Her likeness to her mother was still apparent, he could not deny it if he wanted to, though he hated to see any reminder of that whore, especially in their child's face, but it was clear that she was a Tudor instead of a Boleyn.
When he saw Elizabeth again, the doubts he had about her paternity melted away and he was pleased to welcome her back into his life as his daughter, lifting her onto his lap and kissing her, holding her close to him and marvelling at how much heavier she was than the toddler he had last lifted in his arms. She was a little girl now instead of a toddler, a wonderful, clever little girl and he could feel confident that Norris could never have sired such a perfect child as his Elizabeth, even if Anne had bedded him in the hope that he would be able to get a boy on her.
Elizabeth had her mother's beauty and charm, inheriting the best of Anne, everything that he had once loved in her, but her bravery and her precocity came from him, he was sure of it. She was his daughter, something that nobody who saw her could deny, himself included, and he was glad that Mary and Jane had brought her back into his life, where she belonged.
He would not have wanted to be deprived of her presence a moment longer.
"Je suis en famille!"
The courtiers had applauded when he spoke those words, pleased to see their King happy, and to see that Queen Jane had brought both of her stepdaughters back into their father's good graces, and into the bosom of the royal family – not as princesses, it was true, as both girls were illegitimate and unfit to bear that title, no matter how much Henry loved them and no matter how much he would have liked to allow them that honour, if it was possible for him to grant it to them, but as girls to be honoured by all as the King's daughters, and accorded the respect that was due to those with royal blood flowing in their veins, to the daughters of so mighty a prince as himself – but Henry was certain that nobody present was as happy at that moment as he was.
He had his family back together, against the odds, his two daughters back in his life but with their mothers dead and unable to cause trouble for him – Katherine unable to fill Mary's with lies about being legitimate, the rightful heiress to the throne and the daughter of the true Queen of England, making their poor daughter feel guilty because she had realized the truth instead of spending the rest of her life clinging to the lies her beloved mother had told, and Anne unable to corrupt Elizabeth's childish innocence with her wickedness – and he had his sweet Jane by his side.
He was happy then, and was sure that he would have been happy forever if he had not begun to doubt a truth he had held to for over seven months, since he was told of Anne's crimes.
After Elizabeth's visit, when the child had returned to Hatfield with Lady Bryan, after receiving an affectionate farewell from her father, stepmother and half-sister, he began to suffer from sleepless nights from time to time, spending long nights tossing and turning in his bed with sleep eluding him, even when he brewed possets for himself, unable to shake off the nagging doubts about Anne's guilt. He had been so sure that Elizabeth was no child of his, so sure that she was Norris' child and that Anne had duped him into believing that Elizabeth was his but now that he knew that she was his daughter and, no matter how hard he tried to shut out such thoughts, he couldn't keep himself from wondering if his belief in Anne's guilt was also mistaken.
If he was wrong to harbour doubts about Elizabeth's paternity, he couldn't dismiss the possibility that he might have been wrong about Anne's guilt too.
At first, he was sure that it was just his mind playing tricks on him, and he almost managed to convince himself that his doubts stemmed from his love for Elizabeth, and a natural desire to believe that she was not tainted by her mother's blood, that she was not the daughter of a whore and a traitor, a woman who had callously manipulated his feelings for her so that she could force him to make her his Queen and injure good people for the sake of her ambition, but his doubts persisted and they led him to Richard Rich, of whom he demanded to be shown the evidence collected against Anne, every testimony that had been used to send her to the scaffold.
Even then he knew, deep down, that he could not ask Cromwell, knew that if he raised the issue with his Lord Chancellor, some of the evidence would conveniently disappear before he had a chance to examine it for himself, perhaps replaced by forgeries that would support his account.
Rich, however, had not dared to withhold anything, and the evidence was illuminating.
Just not in the way that Henry had hoped.
There were over twenty separate counts of adultery, with various partners, listed against Anne.
How could all of them be so easy to discount?
Even if Anne was a witch, she would not be able to be in two places at once, so how could she have bedded Norris in the October of the year before their deaths, at a time when she was with him at Whitehall Palace and Norris was halfway across the country, overseeing his estates? If he hunted through his papers, he would probably be able to find Norris' petition to absent himself from his duties at court to manage his own estates, a petition he readily granted, believing that it was natural for Norris to want to get his estates in order before proposing marriage to Madge.
How could she have shared a bed with George when her brother was in Paris, negotiating with the King of France in the hope that Francis could be persuaded to formally acknowledge Anne as Queen and accept their child as a bride for his son, the Duke of Angouleme, so that they could show the Emperor that, if he denied Anne's place as Queen, England would befriend France?
How could she have shared Smeaton's bed on the same night when he himself shared her bed, conceiving the child she miscarried after she saw him sitting with Jane?
How could she have taken a lover – any lover – in the weeks immediately following Elizabeth's birth, when she was still confined to her apartment, constantly surrounded by her ladies?
His heart sank as he remembered each date, remembering why the circumstances of each one made it impossible for Anne to have betrayed him.
There was no doubt in his mind that Anne would have been able to dispute these accusations as easily as he was able to find fault in them, answering each charge with cool logic and explaining why it was simply impossible for her to have bedded the men in question on the days and in the places where she was alleged to have taken them as her lovers, but it would have done her no good, no matter how persuasive and reasonable her arguments were, no matter how effectively she managed to show the utter ridiculousness of the charges laid against her.
Nobody would have listened to her protestations of innocence, no matter how truthful they were, no matter how absurd the charges laid against her were. Even if some of the lords who acted as her judges at her trial were convinced by her words, even if they balked at sending a woman they believed to be innocent to the scaffold, they would not dare to declare in favour of Anne, not when they believed that it was the wish of their sovereign that his wife should be condemned, and that he would be angry if he was told that she was guiltless and would have to remain his wife.
It was an open secret at court, and probably throughout the country, that his marriage to Anne was no longer the happy, loving union it once was, just as it was well known that his eye had fallen on Jane, that she was too virtuous to ever become any man's mistress, particularly a married man and that, as he would never insult such a dear, sweet and pure lady by pressing her to abandon her principles and share his bed when he was married to Anne, it was his earnest wish to be free of Anne so that he could make Jane, his sweetheart, his Guinevere, his wife.
No man would have dared to snatch this chance at freedom and of the marriage he wanted away from him, not if he valued his position and even his life. Had he commanded Anne's father to sit in judgement on his son and daughter, even Thomas Boleyn would not have dared to do anything except condemn his children for their alleged treason, so how could any other lord in England, many of whom had no good opinion of Anne, with some of them still feeling resentment towards her because she had replaced Katherine as Queen, be expected to do otherwise?
He had known that when he first gave the order that Anne should be tried for her alleged crimes. He had known that there could be no fair trial for her but, at the time, he did not care.
At the time, all he could think of was that when Anne was executed for her crimes, burned or beheaded at his pleasure, he would be able to marry Jane the next day if he wished.
Her death was something to be eagerly anticipated, not dreaded or regretted.
Even the testimony of Brereton, the man who had confessed to adultery with Anne, admitting his crimes freely, without even being threatened with torture in order to loosen his tongue, did not bring him the reassurance he sought. He had not wanted to read Brereton's confession when he first made it to Cromwell, feeling revolted by the mere thought of reading the bragging confession of another man who had lain with his wife. He did not want to know the details of the fornication between Brereton and Anne but now he wished that he could have read it sooner, not because it would have reassured him of Anne's guilt but because he would have known better than to accept the charges against her at face value without investigating the matter further.
He would have ensured that he made it abundantly clear to Cromwell that, if Anne was innocent, the last thing he wanted was for her to be condemned unjustly. Better that he should take the time to have the validity of their marriage investigated, and some suitable grounds found for its dissolution, than that he should risk having innocent blood on his hands. Anne's innocent blood.
This confession was nothing more than the ramblings of a madman.
It was not evidence, it was scurrilous slander, born of insanity and not to be credited.
A sixth finger on the side of her right hand... a body covered with moles, teats for the Devil to suckle at... Anne had no such marks on her body, as he had good cause to know.
How could Brereton believe that he would have loved Anne for so many years, seen her naked and shared her bed without ever noticing that she possessed those deformities, which would mark her as a witch? Had he seen such a mark on Anne, he would have abandoned the idea of making her his Queen as soon as he saw them, knowing that if God had marked her in such a way, it could only be proof that He did not intend for Anne to be Queen of England, and he would have known well that he could not allow a woman with such deformities become the mother of his son.
England needed a Prince of Wales, but not one who would be marred by the Devil from his birth.
The man was mad, there was no other explanation for his ridiculous assertions.
When Brereton was first arrested, when he was conducted to the Tower and told that he was accused of having been the Queen's lover, and of conspiring with her to place a bastard born of their treasonous union on the throne, his mind must have broken. The Tower was a fearsome place, and the prospect of being charged with treason and executed for it more fearsome still. A strong man might be able to hold to what he knew to be true, even if he was threatened with torture or death if he did not obey those who held him prisoner, but a weak man would break under such strain, too frightened by the prospect of death to be able to think clearly.
Brereton's sanity must have slipped away from him, leading him to confess to crimes he had not committed in the hope that his life would be spared if he told his captors what they wanted to hear from him and, in time, when he was locked in a chilly, damp cell and knew that the hour of his death was rapidly approaching, he must have come to believe that the lies he told in his confession were the truth, that he really had committed treason with Anne and that she was the witch of his dark, twisted fantasies, a monster who had lured him into betraying his King. It would have been the only way he could reconcile himself with the acts of disloyalty that he believed himself to have committed. In order to cope, he had to make Anne his scapegoat.
The wretched man must have gone to the scaffold believing himself a traitor. He would have gone to the scaffold believing that Anne was guilty, and that he did the right thing by confessing to their crimes together and clearing his conscience, even if it meant that they would both die for it. Brereton would have believed that, when Anne followed him to the scaffold, it would be to face a punishment that she richly deserved for her betrayal of the King to whom she owed so much, little realizing that, in his madness, he had helped to bring about the death of an innocent woman.
Henry wished that he could believe that but he couldn't, not any more... and if he couldn't believe that Anne was guilty, he couldn't believe that her execution was a just one.
Had he committed murder in order to clear his and Jane's path to the marriage bed?
The thought was one that filled him with dread.
Jane was no coquette, not like Anne, and she was not a woman who would dissemble when plain speaking would serve her better, preferring to speak of things openly rather than nursing secrets and sharing them only when it suited her to, but when he sat down to breakfast with her that morning, he could sense from her demeanor that she had a secret that she was keeping from him, and knew from the sparkle in her eyes that it was a happy one, perhaps even the thing that he had hoped and prayed to hear her tell him, from the moment when they were first married.
If he was honest with himself, he had to admit that he was disappointed that it had taken her so long. They had been married almost nine months now, and on their wedding day, when Jane thanked him for his gift of a beautiful necklace and he confided in her that he hoped that he would soon be able to thank her for the gift she would give him, he had expected that, by now, Jane would have begun her lying-in, awaiting the birth of the Prince that all of England longed for, but that didn't matter now, not when he could hope that she was now ready to tell him the good news, news that he knew would be worth the wait, however long it was.
When she saw what she had chosen to have for breakfast, he was sure of it.
As if to confirm his suspicions, she gave him a small smile as she speared a slice of quail's egg with her fork and brought it to her lips, chewing it slowly.
"I see you're eating quails' eggs again, sweetheart." He remarked as casually as he could, his calm tone belying the excitement he felt welling within him in happy anticipation of the news he was certain that she was about to give him. He managed to remain seated, despite his desire to run to her, take her in his arms and dance her around the room, rejoicing in this blessing. He could not lose control in front of servants... especially if there was the slightest chance that he was mistaken about Jane's news. "Did you not have those yesterday?" He prompted her.
When Anne was carrying Elizabeth, she longed for apples during those first months, and even though apples were scarce in the early spring, he had gone to great lengths to obtain them for her, and anything else she fancied, determined that the mother of his unborn son would not be deprived, even for a moment, of any of the foods that he needed to thrive and grow strong. With her next two pregnancies, she could not bear the sight or smell of apples, or of any of the foods she had craved with Elizabeth, something he had taken as a hopeful sign rather than something to be concerned about, a sign that her stomach rebelled at the prospect of the foods she needed to grow a girl because, this time, she was carrying a boy instead.
For a fleeting instant, he wondered whether the apples were the food that had given Elizabeth the strength to grow strong in the womb and to thrive after her birth, strength that her baby brothers had not shared, and he wondered if he should have obliged Anne to eat at least a couple of them a day when she was carrying them, whether she liked it or not, so that their sons would share their sister's strength, but he forced the thought from his mind.
Anne was dead now, and would never give him a son. Nothing he could do would change that.
Jane was alive, Jane was his wife and it was on Jane that he needed to focus now.
Jane was smiling at him as she answered his question, as aware as he was of the question he was truly asking her. She knew as well as he did how vital a question this was for them, and for all of England, and he could see from the expression on her face that she was happy to be able to give the right answer. "Yes, Your Majesty." She said. "I seem to have developed a fondness for them."
"A special fondness?" Henry pressed, trying to suppress his eagerness.
"Well, indeed." Jane replied, her smile growing broader. "For some reason, I desire quail's eggs above everything else." Despite her innocent tone, it was plain that she understood exactly why she craved quail's eggs, and equally plain that she was just as happy about it as he was.
He managed to keep calm long enough to order the gentleman servers and Jane's ladies-in-waiting to leave the room, to allow them some privacy for this wonderful moment, and he waited until they all obediently departed before he addressed his wife. "I think you're with child."
Jane nodded slightly. "I am." She confirmed happily.
He balled his napkin in his hand and tossed in on the table in front of him, rising from his chair and moving to kneel next to Jane, taking her in his arms, but his happiness did not long outlast the meeting. While he was with Jane, it was easy for him to forget that Anne ever existed, and he certainly was not about to dwell on the subject of her execution when he and Jane were together, making plans for the nursery that would house their child, a nursery fit for the Prince of Wales, and choosing his name and his godparents – he happily agreed with Jane that the Lady Mary should be the one honoured with the role as godmother to the Prince, as a reward for her submission and subsequent loyalty – but once they parted, his doubts haunted him once more.
The child in Jane's womb, the son he had longed for for so long, since the day when he first succeeded his father as King of England and knew that it was his duty to secure the succession by siring at least one male heir, and preferably more, as the lives of children were so fragile, was a child whose existence was made possible by the murder of an innocent, his half-sister's mother.
Henry was afraid to think of what that would mean for him.
Jane was a good, kind woman but so was Katherine. Katherine's goodness, as well as her devotion to God and the fervency with which she said her prayers had not kept their sons safe, when God decreed that they should die so that their parents would understand that their union was incestuous in His eyes, a sinful union that would never be blessed with male issue, no matter how hard or how often they prayed and no matter how many good works they did to win His blessings. Jane's goodness, her loyalty and love for him, her genuine affection for Mary and even the kindness she had shown to little Elizabeth when the child returned to court, would not be enough to protect their son if God believed that he should die in payment for Anne's murder.
How long would it be before the midwives had to be called to tend to Jane when their son began to slip out of her womb, far too soon for him to have any hope of surviving? How long would it be before he entered a darkened bedchamber, his nostrils assaulted by the combined smell of blood and the strong soap and vinegar that would be used to cleanse the room from top to bottom? How long would it be before he would have to comfort Jane for their shared loss, unable to find words of reassurance or to tell her of the true reason why their boy was taken from them?
Would Jane herself survive, or would she die too, her life taken in payment for Anne's?
"I didn't know!" He pleaded with the crucifix in his bedchamber, where he was to sleep alone until Jane was safely delivered of their child... if she was allowed to carry him to term... for fear that their son would suffer if he lay with her now. More had given him the crucifix, four Christmases ago, on his first Christmas with Anne by his side and Katherine banished from his court, a merry Christmas he had believed would be the first of many joyful occasions with Anne, little thinking that, within three and a half years, her headless corpse would lie in the precincts of the Tower, her memory defamed and the only child she gave him rendered illegitimate. He wished that he could talk to More now. The other man would know what he should do. More would understand why Anne had been executed, and would know that Henry would never have intentionally sent her to the scaffold when she was innocent of any crime. "I thought that she was guilty!"
He could have sworn that he heard soft, mocking laughter. Was it Anne's laughter?
"They told me that you were guilty!" He was shouting the words, half-hoping that Anne could hear him and half-hoping that, wherever she was now, she was not in a position where she could see what had happened in England since her death. While it had been easy for him to turn his back on little Elizabeth after Anne's death, easy to reject the child as Henry Norris' bastard daughter and to refuse to have anything to do with her, he didn't want Anne to know how long he had refused to see Elizabeth, refused to write to Lady Bryan to find out how the child was faring or to send the governess money to provide for her, or to know that he had not invited their daughter back to his court of her own free will, and that, but for Mary and Jane, the child might still be in exile.
As angry as Anne would be over the wrongs he committed against her, her anger over the wrongs he committed against Elizabeth would be multiplied at least tenfold.
"I believed that you betrayed me! I believed that Elizabeth was another man's child! You know that I couldn't allow her to stay a princess after that." He argued vehemently, only partly aware of the absurdity and futility of arguing with a dead woman, and feeling that he had to defend himself against the accusations that he could imagine Anne speaking, if she was here and able to give them voice, the accusations that he felt certain that he would make, in her position. "If she wasn't mine, I couldn't risk letting her be my heir, and I couldn't let you live if you betrayed me!"
If he and Jane had not been blessed with a son, his previous doubts about Elizabeth's paternity would have haunted him. How could he contemplate taking any chances with the dynasty his father had charged him with preserving by letting another man's child wear the crown?
In the same way, he could not have allowed Anne to live if he knew that she had made a cuckold of him, even if he was not so angry with her as to be unable to contemplate the idea of showing her mercy. Even if he annulled their marriage, even if he locked her away in the most remote convent in England – and he would be happy to leave it open instead of ordering its dissolution, if the nuns there had had the power to keep Anne away from him – he would not put it past Anne to claim to be Queen from her place of exile or even from behind convent walls. Most people would pay no attention to her claims, he knew that, but even if just one man in a hundred believed her to be Queen, it would be one man too many for his liking, one man more than he could tolerate.
When Jane bore his son, no man in England must dispute the boy's legitimacy.
There was no answer to his words but, instead of being a relief, it made him feel even angrier.
"Say something, God damn you!" He demanded furiously, able to picture Anne's mocking gaze, all too easily, and to imagine her looking down on him, taking a malicious pleasure in the guilt he was feeling and in the knowledge that, thanks to her, he could enjoy neither happiness nor peace, not even today, just hours after Jane told him her wonderful news. He was sure that, if she knew of Jane's condition, she would be furious to think that another woman would succeed where she had failed, and would never want him to have a son with Jane. "Talk to me!"
Was he going mad, berating a dead woman and expecting her to answer him?
Was he to be doomed to spend the rest of his life startled by shadows, imagining Anne's laughter and her voice, convinced that she was still there, haunting him? How could he bear that?
"What do you want from me?" He demanded of her. "What will it take for you to leave, and never come back? You know that I believed that you were guilty when I signed the death warrant, I wouldn't have signed it if I knew you were innocent, not even for her." Some instinct told him that it would be better if he did not mention Jane by name, for fear that he would either enrage Anne further or prompt her to turn her attentions and her malice on Jane, punishing her for being the reason why he had wanted his freedom so badly that he did not want to contemplate the possibility that she might have been innocent. He felt an icy wind blow through his bedchamber and he shivered, terrified to think that Anne was in the room with him, and that she might do more than make him feel cold. Who knew what powers the dead possessed, especially when they believed themselves to have been wronged, and who knew what vengeance Anne might decide to exact. "Be reasonable, Anne, it's not as though I can change what happened!"
"And if you could?"
The voice was not Anne's voice.
It was deeper, a man's voice, though he did not think that it was the voice of George Boleyn or of any of the men who died with Anne, and the tone was challenging.
"Who are you?" He demanded, but the voice did not answer straightaway.
"What if you could go back? What if you could undo it all, and keep her from dying, keep yourself from allowing her to stand trial?" The voice enquired. "Would you do it?"
He couldn't think what to say in response to this extraordinary offer. This could not be real. He was dreaming, or mad. No man could undo what had already happened, even if he came to regret his past actions, even if he wanted to change them... and Henry wasn't entirely sure that he did want to take back what happened with Anne. Guilty or innocent, her death had set him free and, as a free man, he had married Jane, whom he was sure was the perfect wife for him, reconciled with his eldest daughter and now he even had hope of a son with Jane.
How could he give that up?
Instead of answering the question, he kept his voice steady as he commanded the speaker. "Show yourself." He ordered, though he kept his voice low, half-afraid that the grooms who were standing outside his door would hear him and come in to see him speaking to thin air and that they would believe that their King was a madman. "I want to know who you are."
At first, he thought that it was a trick of the light, that he was imagining a figure when there was only a shadow but as he stared, the figure took shape, a tall muscular man – no gentleman of the court, if the clothes were anything to judge by – with his face shrouded by a brown mask. In his hand, he carried a beautifully wrought silver sword, its long blade gleaming in the moonlight.
He did not need to announce his identity.
"You're the one." Henry managed to say, though his mouth was as dry as if he had spent a month in the desert, without a drop of water, and his tongue felt huge and swollen. "You killed her."
The voice of the Executioner of Calais was harsh and unforgiving. "So did you."