Of Royal Blood: Pt Two
“Guildford don’t you see, it’s perfect! They will never suspect a thing, why would they?!” Her excitement was almost visible in the darkened room; she inched her hand forward and laced her fingers through his. He gave her an encouraging squeeze before shifting under her so that she lay curled in his arms, her head on his chest. She listened to the steady sound of his breathing, his heart thudding softly against her ear.
“While I do agree my dear that this scheme of yours does sound rather intriguing,” he skimmed his fingertips down her side, causing her to squirm in delight and swat his hand away playfully. “I must wonder at how I am to pull it off. Surely you do not expect me to loathe you so vehemently; I think I would be a poor actor indeed.”
“I do not expect you to truly abhor me silly, but I am sure you could pretend just nicely. Yell at me, ignore me, run to that horrid mother of yours and complain about how wretched I am; it cannot be that difficult. Mind you this is only to be done in the public’s eyes, for if I find it carries over I will be most displeased and you will find I can easily give you ample cause to dislike me. But as for the pretense just improvise, I’m sure you can get ideas from watching our parents in action.” Her words were meant in jest, but Jane felt her husband stiffen around her.
“Never,” he whispered so quietly she had to strain to hear him.
He lay quiet for a moment before answering, “My father…often strikes my mother.”
This was no surprise to Jane, almost every marriage she knew of involved violence, even her own parents fought tooth and nail at times. Mostly she was the outlet for their rage but she had seen her mother cover more than one black eye with her cosmetic paint. It stunned her that Guildford was so unnerved about it though, but she could not deny it made her happy. “I do not expect you to hit me Guildford.” She said seriously, snuggling closer to him.
“Good, because I won’t.”
“I know dear, but we mustn’t let them think that we like one another. I am sure our parents did not force us to marry out of the goodness of their black hearts. No…they are up to something I’m sure of it, and you know what will happen if they discover out true…feelings. Every time they want for something it will be our job to produce whatever it is for them, even if it puts our necks on the chopping block. They would use you against me and me against you.”
“Don’t they do that already love?” Guildford asked, twisting a lock of her hair round and round.
“Yes, but you know it would be different. I do not want them to hurt you Guildford and they would, in one fashion or another. You know as well as I, there is more than one way to wound someone.”
Jane looked up when her nurse Ms. Ellen shook her shoulder lightly. “My Lady Jane, did you hear me? We must be going now. It’s time.”
Everyone was staring at her like they feared she had finally snapped. “I am sorry Madame; I don’t know what came over me.” Tossing her head back proudly Jane began the long walk to the top of the hill, leaving the others to gawk after her. She ate up the distance in her long stride. There was no use trying to prolong the inevitable and she tired of its constant presence in the back of her mind. Enough of this slow agonizing death, she was ready to live.
“My Lady, please…slow down,” Dr. Feckenham huffed, she could hear the old man wheezing as he fought to catch up with her. “Do not give up hope Lady Jane, Queen Mary may yet send out a royal pardon.”
“Doctor you know as well as I that Queen Mary will not pardon me, the usurper.” Feckenham opened his mouth to contradict her when Jane stopped abruptly and whipped around to face him. “Do not think I am a hopeful fool, I know very well what will happen when we reach the top of Tower Hill. The Queen did not pardon my husband did she? There is no chance then of my receiving this saving grace from Mary, now is there?! Do not patronize me Sir, I deserve more than that.”
“Yes, My Lady.”
Mollified slightly, Jane returned to her galloping pace. Her breathing was suddenly erratic, her blood pumped in her ears. It was unusual for her to lose her temper like that. Tantrums had never been her prerogative, nor would they have gotten her anywhere. Punches, slaps, pinches and beatings; her parents did not tolerate insubordination. Thinking back on it, Jane realized she had only ever tried to refuse her parents twice in her entire life: once when they announced her impending marriage to Guildford Dudley, and once when they proclaimed her the new Queen of England. The Protestant queen they needed, England’s savior was what they called her after her cousin, the King’s death. For nine days she had been their bloody Protestant Queen and look where it had gotten her.
“We must have a protestant ruler Jane, even one as dim-witted as you should know that!” Northumberland sneered as he wrapped his thick fingers around her slender wrist and bent down to press his lips to her hand; a grotesque display.
Her mind was buzzing, Queen! How could she be Queen of all England, it wasn’t her right, she was not meant for this! “No.”
“Jane! You stupid girl, you will do as you are told!” The hand her mother brought down upon her cheek was heavily decorated. It was obvious that she had already picked through the royal jewels and had chosen her share.
“No mother, I cannot…Mary is to be Queen, not me…I…I cannot…”
The slap that followed from her father knocked her to the floor. She held a hand to her reddened face, tears clouded her vision.
“Father…oomph!” A hard kick to her stomach and she reeled in agony as waves of nausea curled her inward, unable to breathe.
“NO! YOU WILL OBEY!”
“But father, Mary…” another blow to her gullet and she began to sob openly.
“Mary is the Catholic daughter of that Spanish whore, we cannot have a Catholic on throne she would kill us all. She cannot be Queen!”
“But Elizabeth then…”
“Elizabeth! The witch’s daughter, you would put our country in the hands of a witch, a devil-worshiper!”
Northumberland yanked her up roughly with by a fistful of her hair. “No, it is you that must be Queen, and my son King. You will name him King! Your mother has graciously given up her place in line for you and you will do as you are ordered. Do you understand?”
Jane shook her head. No, this was not what God intended. She was not born to be Queen.
Northumberland’s face turned a dangerous red and spittle flew from his lips, “You will make my son King!”
But she had not crowned Guildford. She tried to save him by keeping that title from him. They had forced the crown on her, almost killing her in the process but she didn’t want that for her husband. Once she was proclaimed Jane, Queen of England there was nothing her family or his could do about it.
Winded, Jane paused when she finally reached the top of the mound. There before her stood her death; tall and imposing she could see the block sitting against the railing of the wooden scaffold. The people who came to watch her die mulled around impatiently until they caught sight of her. A collective murmur ran rampant, the woman who stood before them looked too young to be dangerous, too beautiful to be put to death. The black silk gown she wore lifted gently in the breeze and there in the slit sleeves the crowd got a glimpse of the blood red silk that Ms. Ellen had sewn in hurriedly the past night. The people shuddered. The poor girl, she had the courage of a queen.
Jane waited for the others to catch up to her before taking a step toward the wooden structure. Please God I ask you for strength, for forgiveness, please be with me now! The crowd parted when she reached them, men whipped off their caps and women bowed their heads. Everyone but Jane prayed for a pardon from Queen Mary. It only took a few seconds for her to reach the scaffold. Slowly now, she lifted her foot and placed it gingerly on the first wooden stair. Her legs shook as she placed her weight on the stair but were mercifully hidden beneath her black skirts; nonetheless Jane was thankful there was only four stairs for her to climb.
A black clad man stepped towards her when she reached the floor, “Do you forgive me My Lady?”
Her throat closed suddenly. Finally after all these months this was it. Squaring her shoulders, Jane lifted her head and stared directly at the gentleman. “I do Sir.” With a wave of her hand, Ms. Ellen and her other handmaidens stepped forth and began removing Jane’s cloak and collar. When they had completed their work the two ladies squeezed their mistress’s hands in support before slowly backing away.
The block of wood before her was stained a permanent rust color but the hay around it was fresh and clean. “I am ready.” The executioner stood behind her for a moment before wrapping a black cloth securely around her eyes. The sun died, the sky tumbled from the heavens and the ground vanished beneath her until all she could see was the black of the night as it swallowed her whole.
“Kneel and spread your arms My Lady,” the executioner said bluntly.
Jane sank to her knees in an almost faint-like motion, her arms limp at her side. Oh God, please… Slowly like she was dragging them through water, she lifted her arms and reached for the block of wood before her… but it was not there. Her stomach began to rise in her throat. Where was it, was this some kind of sick jest on her part, was she to suffer more?! “Where is it?” she demanded, “Where is it?!” Jane could hear the sound of people gasping and a woman sobbing in front of her before she felt the vibration of someone coming towards her. Whoever it was grabbed her hands and placed them on the rough wooden square, “There you are My Lady.”
“Thank you.” She wasn’t sure if the words spilled from her lips or not, but she no longer cared. Placing her neck to the block she breathed deeply, sucking in all life as she remembered it and all she hoped it would be once this was over. Guildford. He was waiting for her. With a small smile on her lips she let go and threw wide her arms…