Disclaimer: Not mine.
Chapter 9 – And The Wheel Turns: The first Christmas of Henry VIII's reign was a happy one. The Queen was carrying the King's child, due sometime in the spring. Her belly curved proudly as she sat at the top table, presiding over the festivities. She wore an indulgent smile on her face as Henry swept up a different lady for each dance. After all, she couldn't dance with him and so did not begrudge his fun. Still, she preferred the times when he danced with his sister, Margaret.
When Margaret wasn't dancing with Henry or a handful of other young men Henry trusted – because while they were all terrible flirts, they were also his closest friends – she was usually sitting with her sister-in-law, confined to her chair because of her condition. Katherine had another companion as well – Mary Willoughby, now Brooke, had returned to court at Katherine's invitation. Miguel, welcomed as the King's brother-in-law and created Viscount Beauchamp of Hache, also came by to talk to his sister often.
"I can't believe this, Cata – I'm sorry, Your Majesty," Mary corrected herself, smiling at her friend.
"You can keep using Catalina if you like," Katherine said with a smile. "You were my first friend here, I don't forget that, Mary."
"Now don't go saying that," the Englishwoman said, mock-sternly. "It sounds as though you're about to offer me some gift or honor that I really don't deserve."
"No, unless you consider being my chief lady-in-waiting an honor you don't deserve," Katherine said off-handedly. "I have been doing without an official chief lady because I wished to offer the post to you."
Mary stared at her. "Your Majesty... Catalina... I'm honored, but your chief lady should be an experienced woman, not someone who's only ever been a minor maid-of-honor and hasn't even been at court for some time."
"You served under the King's late grandmother for a while; I'd say if that didn't teach you how a royal household should be, nothing would. Besides, you've been running your own household since you married. I trust you, Mary, and that's what is most important. I need my chief lady to be someone I know I can rely on."
Mary just stared at her. "I'm not old enough to be chief lady," she said, bewilderment clear in her voice. "I'm not important enough either, it's..."
"It doesn't matter," Catalina said confidently. "You were my first friend when I came to England, and I'm Queen now. Henry says I may choose who is to be in charge of my ladies, and I wish it to be you. You wouldn't defy your Queen, would you?" The last bit was said jokingly, but Mary still knew that Katherine really meant this. Her old friend was giving her a place she had not earned, but perhaps she could make herself worthy of it.
"In that case, Your Majesty, it would be my very great pleasure to accept."
Katherine soon had great cause to want a friend beside her, when in the second week of January, she woke to a pain in her stomach and blood staining her sheets. There was nothing the doctors could do, and her daughter was stillborn, months early. For three days, Katherine didn't leave her bed, turning her face to the wall and letting herself fall apart.
Then they gave her a new hope. He examined her carefully, and then informed her that she was still pregnant, and had only lost one of twins. She could have embraced him in her joy and relief. She still had a chance to give Henry a child from this first pregnancy, an heir for England or a daughter to love. She knew a boy would be preferable, but surely a girl wouldn't be a problem, not in these early days?
At first, Katherine believed him. But then... Well. Her belly began to shrink, and in late February, her courses returned. But the doctors had been so sure... She didn't understand. Nor did she know what to do. She didn't dare to summon the doctors back again, but she had to know. Perhaps a midwife could be smuggled in, or something of the sort? It was only two weeks before she was to go into confinement; she needed to know. She spoke to Mary about it, unaware that her brother was within earshot.
Miguel knew of a doctor. When he had arrived in England he'd been lonely, missing his homeland, and he had befriended another expatriate, despite the man's Islamic faith. Yusuf was of African descent, but he had himself been born and raised in Spain, the freeborn son of a slave woman. He'd been forced out when Ferdinand and Isabella had taken al-Andalus, and now spent the majority of his time in England. Miguel considered him a... very dear friend, without whom he was sure he would be much less content with life.
"You want me to meet your sister?" Yusuf asked with a wry smile. "Miguel... I think that's unwise, don't you?"
Miguel shook his head. "Not for that! She's having pregnancy troubles, and the English doctors are little better than quacks. I wanted you to see her, to find out if she really is still pregnant with one twin, as those doctors say, or if they're lying for some reason."
"It might not be a lie," Yusuf said bluntly. "These English doctors – more specifically, these Christian doctors, without meaning offense – often make well-meant mistakes. I can speak with your sister, examine her as much as she will allow, if you wish, but I can't see my opinion carrying much weight with the royal physicians."
That was true, but Miguel felt that any help he could give Catalina – and she would always be Catalina to him, whatever she said – would be something.
Katherine knew the man for a Moor the moment she saw him – his dark, Nubian skin gave him away. Still, this Yusuf, son of Ismail was a friend of her brother's, so she greeted him with a faint smile. "Miguel tells me that you can help me," she said without any preamble. This was too important to waste any time on pleasantries.
"I will do what I can, Your Majesty," he said politely, his voice carrying a lilt she knew all too well, from some of the neighbors she'd grown up around. It made homesickness well in her for a moment, before she pushed it aside as a useless emotion. She sighed, looking down at her hands before lifting her gaze to meet his again.
"I have lost a child. A daughter. The physicians say that I was carrying twins, but... I am not sure that I believe them. My belly is shrinking, my courses have returned, and yet they continue to insist that there must be a second child, and that the shrinking is because I grew to accommodate two children and am now shrinking for one."
Yusuf nodded. "And so you wish to know for sure."
"Exactly. If there is another child I will have to go into confinement, the whole world will be watching me. I want to know that there is another child alive in me, and if it's a boy if there is any way to tell such things." She sighed. "I would trust my own doctors, but they... They are not educated as was the rule in Spain. I am a Christian, I believe that heresy must be stamped out, but if you are a friend of my brother then you know that my father was a converso. Somehow, you who do not follow the true religion have yet been guided to know things that we do not, things the Church condemns, and yet..."
"And yet?" her brother's friend prompted softly, ignoring the soft gasp from Mary. Katherine ignored it too, meeting Yusuf's eyes squarely.
"And yet, priests and Popes do not have to live in the world. They don't know what it is like to be a woman, and so I take the risk of seeking knowledge they would scorn in hopes of giving my husband an heir for his throne, and trust that God will forgive me the sin as it was done with good intent."
His smile was kind as he nodded. "I think that you know what I will tell you already, with a woman's sense."
"I don't. I am confused, and frightened, and I wish for their words to be true, but I fear they are wrong, and so I cannot trust myself, because I think I trick myself into believing first one and then the other."
"And yet, your body will tell you, despite that," Yusuf said gently, before he began to ask questions of her. "You say that your courses returned?"
"Yes, last week."
"Your breasts are tender, fuller than usual?"
"They were tender, but no longer, and they are no fuller."
"Do you feel the child moving inside you?"
"I've felt nothing since I lost the girl."
"May I examine you?"
"No!" Mary burst out, flushing when both of them turned to her. "I'm sorry, Your Majesty. I don't understand how you can let this man even advise you but I trust your judgment and Lord Beauchamp's. But he can't touch you, you're an anointed Queen."
Katherine sighed, seeing the skepticism on Yusuf's face. "She is right. I have an anointed body, and in our faith it means that I should not be touched anywhere but the most innocent of places by anyone who is not also anointed or my family."
Yusuf shook his head. "I do not understand such customs, but very well," he said quietly. "But I would take your hands at least, because even working from guesswork, it is a hard truth I must give you, and I wish to offer what comfort I can."
Katherine hesitated, and then stretched out her hands, feeling those dark, surprisingly soft hands engulf her own small ones. "If your courses have returned then your womb is empty, with no child. If your breasts are not fuller then there is no milk gathering there, and if by now you feel no child move, then it is either dead or there is nothing there at all. I am afraid your doctors were wrong. I understand that your stomach remained full for a time, and that was probably an infection that has now run its course. I am very sorry."
Katherine's hands tightened around his, her blue-gray eyes stinging as she met his black ones, seeing nothing but honesty and compassion there. She had known it, really, before now, but to hear it said was something else. She wanted to deny it, to say that he was wrong and the English doctors right, but she'd known Moorish doctors in Spain. Moorish cures had worked on the illness that killed her mother, in earlier years, but Ferdinand and Isabella banished the Moors and the Christian doctors and barber-surgeons who replaced them had been as hapless children beside them; her mother had died where others had easily lived.
She knew he was right, much as she wished he had told her something else, anything else.
Henry stared at his wife in consternation when she told him. He could see she was not lying – her belly had shrunk and her eyes were full of tears – but it made no sense to him. "But the doctors said..."
"They were wrong, Henry. They tell me it sometimes happens, when a woman does not immediately start to lose the signs of pregnancy, that it can be another child or simply a mistake, and they truly believed it was the former. But time has proven them wrong." Katherine took a deep breath, and for reasons he couldn't fathom, her face became slightly hopeful. "But, Henry, this is not as bad as it seems," she told him.
He raised an eyebrow. "Oh? And tell me how that might be so, Catalina." He reminded her of who she had been by using her old name, an ambassador's daughter that he had raised to be his Queen. And she had failed him. But she did not flinch at his bitterness, instead lifting her chin slightly, confidently. He often wondered where her courage came from, never guessing that her spirit had been tempered by years of prejudice for her father's blood, and the constant terror of doing something wrong and being brought before the Inquisition. He had never asked, and so she had not shared these things with him.
"We are fertile, Henry. I'm told that sometimes, even when both a man and woman are capable of having healthy children, sometimes their combined humors do not work well together, and so there are not even pregnancies that end in miscarriage or stillbirth, much less living, healthy children. This was misfortune, of the kind that can happen to any couple."
"So, you do not believe it's a punishment from God, losing a child?"
"No," she told him, and her assurance made him believe it too, even if a tiny part of him still wondered otherwise. "But, to protect against more misfortune," she continued, "once I am fully recovered, I would like to make a pilgrimage to Walsingham, to ask Our Lady for her intercession.
Before, Henry might have protested, or wanted to go with her. He could not have borne the idea of being parted from her for long. But this disappointment made him feel as though something was changed, that things had gone awry, and he thought he could use the time to think and clear his head. Katherine would go to Walsingham, and he would find his own comfort among his court. The image of Anne Stafford, Buckingham's sister, and her pretty smile flashed through his mind, though he told himself it did not as he focused on his wife. He assured her that he didn't blame her, that it was just bad luck, as he said.
He barely heard his own words. They were just empty comfort. He would tell himself that he believed it, and that nothing was wrong, but some seed of doubt had been planted, and nothing save the birth of a healthy child – no, a healthy boy – would shake it. He didn't realize that yet consciously, but it was nonetheless true.
Katherine went to Walsingham, and she found comfort looking up into the kind face of Mary. She understood, almost, how in the days before Christ, pagans had sought out mother goddesses to worship. They wanted someone who knew their pain, and the Blessed Mother was the truth of that, the truth which they had longed for but had been born too early to find. She was grateful that she had not been.
Mary was a mother, and she was the special advocate of all women. Countless wives must have come to her after miscarriages or the deaths of their beloved children, and poured out their pain to her, seeking solace in her compassionate face. Kneeling before her statue, Katherine was filled with a certainty that someone understood how she felt, finally. She felt that Mary would understand how she valued the compassion and honesty of the Moor, infidel though he was.
Her pilgrimage restored her spirits and her faith. This was nothing but a temporary setback. She had lost one child, but she and Henry were both young and healthy. There was no reason to think they would not still have a nursery full of children. She was certain that they would, and they would be princes and princesses for England, beloved by their parents and their country.
It was this rosy picture that she held in her mind as she made her return journey, and it held through the first days of her return. But then rumors about Anne Stafford and an affair with Charles Brandon reached her ears. The Duke of Buckingham left court, taking his sisters with him. And she discovered that, for some reason, it seemed that royal money had been used to pay for Brandon's illicit courtship of Anne.
Brandon was Henry's best friend, and Henry was oddly distant with her. He would not pay for his friend to seduce a woman, but might he enlist his friend to act as cover for him? A chill entered Katherine's veins as she realized that yes, he would. Henry had wanted her for a mistress once. She should have seen this coming.
A/N: A few things here. My Katherine is a bit less stringent religiously because, as the child of a converso, she would have been on the wrong end of such attitudes, even if only during childhood bullying. It's another divergence from the character she's based on, and a deliberate one, though I hope it's also clear that she is still a devout Christian. She is a bit of a Marian, blame the books on Cleopatra Selene and her devotion to Isis that I've been reading for that, though I do think that the fact that she is female and would understand things that a woman goes through would be comforting in a patriarchal world like the Church and the 1500s in general. Yusuf and his scene with Katherine are largely taken from and inspired by the character and scenes in Philippa Gregory's The Constant Princess, though the implications of his relationship with Miguel are my own.
Sorry it's been so long between updates, hopefully the next will be sooner since I pretty much know what the next chapters will entail. A bumpy ride coming up, boys and girls.