I wrote this a while ago, and after the demands of my friend to put it up here, I feel I should share it with you! As I’ve said in the title, there’s a slight need to suspend realism when reading it; this short story is not meant to be accurate 🙂
Yours as long as life endures,
A sigh. Alone, she drifts in and out of delirium, spending her time between screams and tearful denials. Her fine skirts, rubies and diamonds that she worked so hard for have been replaced now with simple woollen dresses and bare necks and wrists.
The penultimate night, she asks the warden for a block. Slowly, daintily, she places her fair neck upon it. Lifts it up, and lays it there again. Up; and again. She practices there for some time, silent tracks of fear down her cheeks.
“I’m not a good person, I know that,” she bargains with herself. “I’m silly and selfish and rude. But I really did love him. I loved him. Why don’t they understand that?”
And then she indulges herself in amnesia. “We’ll have a cottage, me and Tom. He’ll farm the fields and I’ll have little rosebuds growing on the outer walls. We’ll come home each night and sit by the fireside and talk. The King’ll let us, surely. We’d be in nobody’s way.”
It rushes back to her, and she reels with shock, returning again to her last glimpse of her beloved. Disembodied, a lone head amongst many on Tower Bridge. One eye pecked out by hungry crows, flesh moulding and flies gathering.
“Stop it, stop it!” She sprints to the door, banging herself against the heavy wood and bound metal.
Day arrives, and she’s counting the hours, minutes, seconds. They slip away from her like a mockery of her former power and fame; quick to arrive and departing soon after.
And then; it’s time. Tower Guards fetch her, supporting her swaying frame as she walks down the staircase. Blearily passing more guards, she walks out of the building, and stops. The glaring light and roaring shout of the crowd assaults her, smashing her senses so that she almost collapses into the arms of the guard behind her.
Yet she does not, steeling herself to balance as her knees give way. She stands, barely hearing the rustling sounds of the noisy, expectant bustle before her. Faces swim in front of her; commoners eating nuts, children feeling oddly grown-up, eyes that are lifted, cheerful, excited.
After minutes of spoken words and blessings, she is beckoned forward. She is teetering on the ground, but manages to say a few words. They are memorised, and have been written for her. Her pride is such that she will not say the truth.
Time slows. She kneels, placing her fair neck carefully on the pristine wooden block. Her fast-muttered words float on the breeze, distorted to sound like prayer to any listener. But they are not prayer.
“I love you, Thomas,” she whispers, and as she senses the swoosh of an axe, high above her head, something strange happens. So close to death, she sees her love for him drift out of her and fly joyously up into the skies.
Her adoration, having been so fiercely concentrated on him for so long, secreted away in the corners of her heart, is set free, soaring high up into the sky. There, it shatters, red-hot love diffusing across the clouds in bursts of splintering light.
The axe falls. The crowd roars with shouts and cheers, as Queen Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s adulterous fifth wife, is beheaded.
That evening, rain tinted with golden sparks falls down upon those beneath, and life feels just a little infinite for all touched by it.
* The painting above is actually of Lady Jane Grey, another beheaded Tudor with an equally heart-wrenching story. It’s also romanticised; and not very accurate – it was completed in 1833. But it evokes the same emotions in me as those I felt when writing this story, and I love it. *