Jean Plaidy

The Shadow of the Pomegranate

“Sir Loyal Heart”

IN THE ROYAL BEDCHAMBER AT THE PALACE OF RICHMOND the Queen of England lay alone. “She should rest now,” the doctors said. “Leave her to sleep.”

Yet, tired as she was, Queen Katharine, who was known to the people as Katharine of Aragon although it was ten years since she had left her native land to come to England, had no desire to sleep. It was long since she had known such happiness. She had come through humiliation to enjoy the greatest esteem; she who had once been neglected was now courted and treated with great respect. There was no woman in England who was accorded more homage than the Queen. During the month just past she had celebrated her twenty-fifth birthday; she was reckoned to be handsome and, when she was dressed in her jewelled garments and her lovely hair with its tints of reddish gold fell loose about her shoulders, the looks of admiration which were bestowed upon her were those given to a beautiful woman, whether she were Queen or beggarmaid.

Her husband was devoted to her. She must share in all his pastimes; she must be present to watch his prowess at the joust; she must applaud his success at tennis; and it was to her he presented the spoils of the hunt. She was the luckiest of women because her husband was the King—five years her junior, it was true, but an open-hearted boy, generous, passionate, loving, who, having escaped from the tiresome restrictions of a miserly parent, was determined to please his people and asked only adoration and admiration from those surrounding him.

Katharine smiled thinking of this big handsome boy whom she had married, and she was glad that she was older than he was; she was even glad that she had suffered such poverty and humiliation when she had lived in England as the widow of Henry’s brother Arthur and had been used by her father-in-law, Henry VII, and her father, Ferdinand of Aragon, as a counter in their game of politics.

All that was over. Henry, headstrong, determined to make his own decisions, had chosen her as his bride; and as a result he, like some sixteenth-century Perseus, had rescued her, had cut her free from the chains of poverty and degradation and had declared his intention of marrying her—for she pleased him better than any other woman—and setting her beside him on the throne of England.

How could she ever show enough gratitude? She smiled. He was never tired of her gratitude; his small blue eyes, which seemed to grow more blue with emotion, would glisten like aquamarines when he looked back into the not very distant past and compared her state then with what it was now.

He would place a heavy arm about her shoulders and give her one of those hugs which took her breath away; she was not sure whether he was unaware of his strength or liked to pretend he was, and so make others the more aware of it.

“Ah, Kate,” he would cry; Kate was his name for her; he liked to be thought bluff and blunt, a King who could talk on equal terms with his humblest subject. Kate was a good old English name. “’Tis not so long, eh, since you were languishing in Durham House, patching your gowns. A different story now, eh, Kate!” And he would burst into that loud laughter which brought tears to those blue eyes and made them brighter than ever. Legs apart he would survey her, head on one side. “I brought you up, Kate. Never forget that. I…the King…who would let no other choose my woman for me. ‘You shall not marry Katharine,’ they said. They made me protest against the betrothal. That was when I was but a child and powerless. But those days are past. Now it is my turn to decide, and none shall say me nay!”

How he revelled in his power…like a boy with new toys! He was twenty, strong and healthy; he was well nigh perfect in the eyes of his subjects, and quite perfect in his own.

And Katharine, his wife, loved him; for who could help loving this golden boy?

“How happy you make me,” she had told him once.

“Ay,” he had answered proudly. “I have, have I not, Kate? And you shall make me happy too. You shall give me sons.”

The blue eyes looked complacently into the future. He was seeing them all—boys, big boys, with red in their hair and their cheeks; with eyes as blue as aquamarines, boys strong and healthy, all made in the image of their glorious sire.

She had determined that he should not be denied his desires. He should have sons; and within a few weeks of their marriage she had become pregnant. She had been very unhappy when her still-born daughter had been born. She, who had suffered in dry-eyed silence for so many years, wept at the sight of Henry’s disappointment. But he could not long believe in failure. The gods were smiling on him even as his Court and subjects did. All Henry desired must be his.

But she had quickly become pregnant again, and this time she had given him all that he needed to make his contentment complete.

In the cradle lay their son. What a happy omen that he should have been born on New Year’s Day!

Henry had stood by her bed, his eyes ablaze with triumph.

“Here lies Your Grace’s son and heir,” she had said. “My New Year’s gift to you.”

Then Henry had fallen on his knees beside her bed and kissed her hand. She had thought that he was but a boy himself, for all his joy, all his pleasure in her and his son, was in his face for everyone to see.

“I would ask a boon of you,” Katharine had whispered.

“Name it, Kate,” he had cried. “You have but to name it…and it is yours.”

He was ready to give her anything she asked because he wanted her to know how he felt; he wanted the whole Court, the whole world, to know of his gratitude to the Queen who had given him his son.

“It is that this Prince shall be called Henry after his most noble, his most beloved Sire.”

Henry’s eyes had been moist for a moment; then he had leaped to his feet.

“Your wish is granted!” he cried. “Why, Kate, as if I could deny you aught!”

She smiled, remembering. Almost at once he had been impatient to leave her, because he was planning the christening ceremony which he had decided must be more magnificent than any such ceremony had ever been before.

This was his first-born son, the heir to the throne, who was to be called Henry. He was the happiest of Kings; so she, in whom love for him had grown out of her great gratitude, was the happiest of Queens.

It was small wonder that she had no wish to slip into the world of sleep, when waking she could savor such happiness.

* * *

THE KING SMILED with affection at his opponent in the game of tennis which they had just finished. It had been a close game, but there had never been any doubt in the mind of the King that he would be the victor. There had been no doubt in the mind of Charles Brandon either. He was not such a fool as to think of beating the King, although, he was ready to admit, it was questionable whether he would have been able to. Henry excelled at the sport.

Now Henry slipped his arm through that of his friend with the familiarity which was so endearing. They were almost the same height, but not quite; Charles Brandon was tall but Henry was taller. Charles was handsome but he lacked the pink and golden perfection of his King; he was wily and therefore he always saw to it that, although he jousted as a champion and excelled at all sports, he just failed to reach the perfection of his master.

“It was a good game,” murmured Henry. “And I thought at one time you would beat me.”

“Nay, I am no match for Your Grace.”

“I am not sure, Charles,” answered the King, but his expression showed clearly that there could be no doubt whatsoever.

Brandon shook his head with feigned sorrow. “Your Grace is…unrivalled.”

The King waved a hand. “I would talk of other matters. I wish to plan a masque for the Queen as soon as she is able to rise from her bed, and to show in this my pleasure in her.”

“Oh fortunate Katharine to be Queen to such a King!”

Henry smiled. Flattery delighted him and the more blatant it was the better he liked it.

“I fancy the Queen is not displeased with her state. Now, Charles, devise some pageant which will please me. Let us have a tournament in which we shall appear disguised so that the Queen will have no notion who we are. We will surprise the company with our daring and then, when we are acknowledged the champions, let us throw off our disguise.”

“That would give Her Grace much pleasure, I am sure.”

“You remember how I surprised her at the Christmas festivities in the guise of a strange knight, and how I astonished all with my skill. And how surprised she was when I unmasked and she found in the strange knight her own husband?”

“Her Grace was delighted. She had been wondering how it was possible for any to rival her husband and when she had seen one who showed the same skill it was only to discover that it was the King in disguise!”

Henry burst into loud laughter at the memory. “I remember a time when I, with my cousin Essex, forced my way into her apartments dressed as Robin Hood and his men,” he mused. “And there was that occasion when, with Essex and Edward Howard and Thomas Parr…there were others also…we appeared dressed as Turks and we blacked the faces of our attendants so that they looked like blackamoors.”

“I remember the occasion well. Your Grace’s sister, the Princess Mary, danced disguised as an Ethiopian Queen.”

“She did well,” said the King fondly.

“It was a goodly sight though her pretty face was veiled.”