The waiting crowd jeered as the condemned man was led up onto the scaffold. She recognized him right away. She would never forget those cold, blue eyes. She had seen them many times in her nightmares since that fateful day.
It had started out normally enough. Her husband had left for the fair, kissing her good-bye and promising to be back soon. She had been just going about her normal business when he and his friends had come riding along all high and mighty on their horses. She had greeted them in a friendly manner and had at first been puzzled when he had asked if there were any children around. To her horror, she had soon learned the reason he had asked.
She had tried to run away, but it had been of no use. There were three of them and only one of her. His friends had held her down while he had had his way with her.
Her husband had come home to find her broken and sobbing inconsolably. She had been able to calm down enough to tell him what had happened. He had done his best to comfort her, then left to confront the brutes. It had been the last time she had ever seen him.
Much later she had learned that her husband had been found dead, stabbed to death by the man he had gone to confront. Now she had the grief of widowhood to add to the grief of violation. Grief upon grief.
Now he stood before the block, facing the sea of onlookers. She looked straight at him, her hand upon her rounded abdomen. His eyes met hers, then drifted downward. He gasped with surprise, for of course he hadn't realized that he had left a part of himself inside her that day.
She watched calmly, without passion, as he knelt before the block. It was not for the crimes against herself and her husband that he was to meet his fate that day; oh, no. The King had overlooked that. She and her husband had been but common people, peasants. Yet afterwards, Thomas Culpepper had gone too far; he had dared to bed the wife of the King, Katherine Howard. It was for that that he was to die.
She watched as the axe hovered over Thomas' neck, watched the headsman draw it back and then aim straight and sure. Thomas' head was off with one stroke. It was probably a quicker and more painless death than her husband's had been. The headsman held the head up and the crowd cheered. She felt the babe inside her stir, as if it intuitively knew what had just happened to its father.
"Don't be sad, little one," she whispered. "You may have no father but you will be loved nonetheless." As she turned to walk home, she felt a deep peace settle over her heart. It was finally over.