Author Note: Though this is historical fiction, the timeline of events and the actual occcurence of historical events may not be accurate.
He surveyed the scenery surrounding him. Not a soul was paying him the respect he was due. They seemed more concerned with the loud, brightly coloured, and over-sized baubles racing around on carriage wheels. No such creation could be thought of by the Lord; thus, he deduced, they were spawned from Lucifer himself.
‘I am Henry!’ he bellowed at a man jogging toward him in a matching tunic and breeches—both terribly loose fitting, ‘I am King Henry! I command that you cease this foolishness, and bow to me!’
He stepped into the jogger’s path, propping his hands on his hips. The jogger stumbled in an attempt to avoid the impending collision.
‘Oh, piss off,’ the man angrily replied as he came to a standstill.
‘I am your king, sir! You will obey or you shall lose your head!’
The jogger frowned disbelievingly at the lunatic before him, ‘Look, I get that it’s Hallowe’en and that’s why you’ve got the whole Henry VIII thing going on but, to be honest, he was kind of a dick, so … you might want to keep the whole “I am Henry, hear me roar” on the down low. And anyway,’ he added as an afterthought, couldn’t you have come up with a better costume than ye olde pajamas? ’
And with that, the jogger took off again, muttering ‘git,’ under his breath, and leaving an astounded and confounded Henry in his wake.
‘What proof do you have?’ he bellowed into the face of his subject, ‘What sin have you witnessed in order to elicit such treasonous statements from your person? Quick, tell me, man!’
The courtier cowered beneath the red-faced king, trembling with every emphasised syllable. He was wringing his hat in his hands, and there was a pinkish hue creeping up his neck.
‘Forgive me, Majesty, I—I have no proof. I just heard the wenches at the tavern speaking. They were hollerin’ about m’lady in a most afierced and defaming way, sire. They said she were not a maiden when she entered your marriage bed.’
‘And what proof have they on such matters? I ought to have their heads!’
The young man fell to his knees, ‘Forgive me, sire, I know not of proof. I only know what they said. I came as quick as it were spoken.’
The burly king threw his head back with a scoff, ‘And in doing so you have sent your own head to the executioner’s block. I must congratulate you on your efficiency.’ And with but a jerk of his hand, the guards came down upon the poor courtier and dragged him to the carriage that would take him to the tower.
‘Bring in My Lord Suffolk,’ the King spluttered.
The summoned man came forward to address his sovereign, ‘Sire,’ He gave a low bow.
‘You are to find out who spoke treason against my wife,’ he lowered his voice, ‘you must find out whether there is any truth to these accusations. If my wife were not a maid when she entered the marriage bed, our marriage was not a marriage from the first.’
With a slight nod of acknowledgement, the Duke of Suffolk departed in the company of a few other men.
‘Why must this always happen to me?’ the King’s large frame slumping to his throne; then as an afterthought, he flicked his fingers, ‘Leave.’ And thus, his pair of footmen stationed at the door, filed out the door.
Days later, Brandon, the King’s oldest friend and Duke of Suffolk, returned from his assignment. He swayed slightly, rolling on the balls of his feet.
‘Majesty!’ he cheered across the marble tiled room, ‘I found the whores that treated m’lady so ill! We threw them in the tower, so we did. Master Giddings now bears a scratch from ear to chin where one of the wretches dug her nails in.’
‘Charles,’ the King spoke with monotony, ‘Cease your blathering. I wish to seek your counsel in a more private setting. Master Childs, sober him up.’
Master Childs, a slight and wiry man, raced forward, a pail in his hands. The sloshing water within could be heard from every corner of the room. Master Childs stopped a little way from the duke and flung the pail directly in the Lord’s face with as much force as he could muster. The servant span on his heel with a slight smirk and hurried back to whence he came.
The King, suppressing a chuckle at the now disgruntled and soaked duke, exited the room to his counsel chamber. The duke duly followed and found his king seated at a large oak table.
‘So what news, Charles? Is there any truth to these accusations?’
‘Nothing absolute, Majesty,’ His breeches slapped wetly against the chair as he sat, ‘was the water absolutely necessary?’
‘You knew not what you were saying, Charles.’ Henry chuckled, then added sternly, ‘But there was a hint of truth to their words?’
‘They seemed not to lie, Majesty. They were in earnest. I have never seen whores so resolute in the face of arrest and execution for treason.’
‘Aye,’ the King thought upon the matter, ‘thus we must further investigate. Let us not raise suspicion in Kathryn. She need not know anything ‘til her neck be lain on the executioner’s block.’
‘You are sure she were not a maiden, then?’
‘Kingdoms were not born on mercy, Suffolk. Now, away and investigate.’ The Duke stood to take his leave, ‘and bathe, you cad. You reek of the floor of a pig pen.’
Later that night, the King Henry and his Queen Katheryn dined privately in his chambers. The room was cold, despite the healthy fire in the grate. The nineteen-year-old queen smiled sweetly at her husband as he stuffed his face with roast mutton and pork. He, thirty years her senior, seemed to pay little notice to her looks of admiration.
‘My love,’ she eventually attempted, to which she was given a grunted acknowledgement, ‘should we not try for a son tonight?’
Henry knew that Kathryn had thought this over for some time. It was evident that she was not mentally ready to bear a child, and she was visibly repulsed by the King’s festering wounds, but the only way that she could ensure that her position by the King’s side was secure was to give birth to a healthy and strapping son.
Their doctor, Timkins, had reported to Henry a few weeks ago that Kathryn had been enquiring about the King’s leg wounds. She knew that the wounds weren’t Henry’s fault—that he could not help them being there—but it did make lovemaking much less enjoyable, and … active, she had said.
Henry now wondered whether she had considered taking more agile man to her bed. He had seen the way the Master Culpeper fawned over the Queen. Henry had done nothing as yet. The affection seemed innocent enough and did not seem to be reciprocated. He knew not where this new-found mercy had sprouted from. He liked the Master Culpeper, though, he was an exceptional dresser.
‘Not tonight, my love.’ The king said, wiping his thin mouth on his napkin, ‘Dr Timkins is to come to my chambers to drain the pressure in my leg. I would not have that dampen your spirits. Perhaps on the morrow.’
She stared at him a while, processing his words carefully. Breaking from her trance, she shook her head slightly and forced a smile, ‘Of course, husband. But, a cup of ale before I retire?’
‘Of course, sweet Kathryn. But one cup.’ He gestured to the servant to refill their glasses.
‘Ah, husband,’ she intervened, ‘I shall fetch it. After all, is that not the role a wife should play?’
‘But you are my queen. You are no regular wife.’ He frowned.
‘We are alone. Here we are merely husband and wife, are we not?’
After some consideration, he reluctantly assented and she duly collected the cups and went to fill them from the ale jugs, sitting on a small table by the window.
When she returned, she watched as he drank deeply from his cup. She did not stay much longer, before Dr Timkins was announced and she was escorted by her ladies back to her own chamber where she readied herself for bed.
‘Apologies, Majesty,’ Dr Timkins cringed as the King’s face distorted in pain, ‘it is imperative to draw the infection from the skin.’
‘Just get on with it, man,’ the King grunted.
The doctor, a skittish fellow, worked as though someone prodded his rear with a hot poker. He danced about, the smallest of noises, making him squeak and jump. It was a mystery to the court why Henry trusted such a nervous man to attend to his health. But Henry trusted the man implicitly, it seemed.
Once the procedures were complete and the wounds re-bandaged, Dr Timkins left with a Groat for his efforts.
That night, the king fluctuated between hot and cold, covered and uncovered, awake and asleep. He rolled and he kicked and he groaned and he stared blankly at the canopy over his bed.
When he had memorised every detail of the pattern of that fabric to the point of insanity, he sat up slowly and began to pace the decidedly worn out rug which lay on the floor beside his bed. He limped heavily, the freshly drained wounds stretching, gaping and weeping beneath the bandages.
‘What is this ghastly racket in my head?’ he grumbled to the air.
His mind was travelling through the occurrences of the past few days. He was loathe to condemn his new wife. No doubt the majority of his subjects would disagree on that point, though they would never admit that for fear of losing their own heads. The young queen was fanciful and known to indulge too much in the luxuries of life as a royal.
‘’Tis no use!’ he threw his hands to the sky.
With a flourish, he snatched his robe up from the back of a nearby chair and shoved his meaty arms into its sleeves.
The clock on his mantle indicated that the night had progressed into very early morning. Even the servants wouldn’t be up for hours. With a dramatic sigh, he swung his chamber door open and stepped, with immense conviction, over the threshold.
Instead of finding a dark and musty hall, though, he found himself standing on the edge of a thoroughfare. If he didn’t know better, he would have said it was a road, but there were no carriages, there were no horses and it was so congested that nothing was moving. The sun was hanging from its peak in the sky—the night seemed to have been eaten by this new, alarmingly bright sun.
The noise was atrocious. The stationary, brightly coloured beasts were making intermittent blasts of sound. Not only were they as big as the animals that the sailors were finding abroad, but they seemed to have eaten people whole. The victims, though, seemed to be content, bored even, in the face of imminent digestion—you could see them in the bellies of the beasts. They moved like carriages, but they were alive—their ability to move coming from within.
‘Lucifer has taken me,’ Henry muttered, ‘For this must be the most hellish earth.’
Nearby, a woman walked up to a box made of glass and a material that was the most alarming shade of red—a shade he had only seen on the best tunics of the King of Spain. The woman, clad in breeches and tunic, opened the side of the box and stepped inside. How blasphemous for the fair sex to be dressed in such a way! He had only seen such wardrobe changes when the court had put on plays for his entertainment, but even then the women were still dressed in gowns pinned to look like breeches.
He took a small step backward, abruptly colliding with the wall of a building. The colours, the sounds, the behaviours of the people around him, all scratched at the walls of his sleep-deprived brain.
He suddenly thought of Kathryn sleeping soundly in her bed chamber, unaware that her husband had crossed over from her realm to this hellish afterlife.
‘Should not the evangelical king and the head of his own church be given the royal suites of heaven?!’ he hollered, ‘Why must you, Satan, kidnap me from my rightful place beside Our Lord Almighty?! I demand you release me! Damn you! Damn you, I say!’
People passing by, darkened spectacles sitting atop their noses, gave him a wide berth and frightened glances.
‘Chill, old codger,’ a speckly youth sneered.
‘Exactly!’ Henry lunged forward and clutched at the collar of the youth’s shirt. He continued to shout, ‘Chill! A place cooler than this! Heaven, have you not heard of it?’
‘Sure, mister.’ The youth’s features transformed from mocking to terrified, ‘Look, please don’t hurt me. I was only having a laugh.’
‘I will not cause you harm, boy, but tell me but one thing,’ he remembered the angry young man in the matching and ill-fitted tunic and breeches, ‘what is this place?’