Above all others, p.1

Above All Others, page 1

 part  #3 of  Above all Others - The Lady Anne Series

 

Above All Others
 


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Above All Others


  Above All Others

  Book Three of Above all Others

  The Lady Anne

  By G. Lawrence

  Copyright © Gemma Lawrence 2017

  All Rights Reserved.

  No part of this manuscript may be reproduced without Gemma Lawrence's express consent

  This book is dedicated to Brooke Aldrich, my Editor.

  For helping me to achieve my dreams,

  And for always being a friend.

  Table of Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Chapter Thirty-Seven

  Chapter Thirty-Eight

  Chapter Thirty-Nine

  Chapter Forty

  Chapter Forty-One

  Chapter Forty-Two

  Chapter Forty-Three

  Chapter Forty-Four

  Chapter Forty-Five

  Chapter Forty-Six

  Chapter Forty-Seven

  Chapter Forty-Eight

  Chapter Forty-Nine

  Chapter Fifty

  Chapter Fifty-One

  Chapter Fifty-Two

  Chapter Fifty-Three

  Chapter Fifty-Four

  Chapter Fifty-Five

  Chapter Fifty-Six

  Chapter Fifty-Seven

  Chapter Fifty-Eight

  Chapter Fifty-Nine

  Chapter Sixty

  Chapter Sixty-One

  Chapter Sixty-Two

  Chapter Sixty-Three

  Chapter Sixty-Four

  Chapter Sixty-Five

  Chapter Sixty-Six

  Chapter Sixty-Seven

  Chapter Sixty-Eight

  Chapter Sixty-Nine

  Chapter Seventy

  Chapter Seventy-One

  Chapter Seventy-Two

  Chapter Seventy-Three

  Chapter Seventy-Four

  Chapter Seventy-Five

  Chapter Seventy-Six

  Epilogue

  About the Author

  Thank You

  No coward soul is mine

  No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere

  I see Heaven’s glory shine

  And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear

  O God within my breast

  Almighty ever-present Deity

  Life, that in me hath rest,

  As I Undying Life, have power in Thee

  Vain are the thousand creeds

  That move men’s hearts, unutterably vain,

  Worthless as withered weeds

  Or idlest froth amid the boundless main

  To waken doubt in one

  Holding so fast by Thy infinity,

  So surely anchored on

  The steadfast rock of Immortality,

  With wide-embracing love

  Thy spirit animates eternal years

  Pervades and broods above

  Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears

  Though earth and moon were gone

  And suns and universes ceased to be

  And Thou wert left alone

  Every Existence would exist in thee

  There is not room for Death

  Nor atom that his might could render void

  Since Thou art Being and Breath

  And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

  Emily Bronte

  No Coward Soul is Mine

  Prologue

  The Tower of London

  The Morning of the 18th May 1536

  I thought I was to die today.

  I was ready… eager, even… I was prepared for the end of life; ready to take the skeletal hand of Death and step into the light of Heaven. I had steeled myself to face the crowds who would come to watch me die. I welcomed the thought of seeing my brother once again. I thought by now I would be free of my mortal pain and fear. At dawn, I took the Sacrament and made my last confession. I called Master Kingston, the Lieutenant of the Tower, to hear my confession. I swore, upon my soul, before witnesses and before God that I had never offended the King with my body, that I had never betrayed him with another.

  But they did not come for me… I sat upon my stool. I waited.

  The women about me, these horrors in the pay of Cromwell and Chapuys, they tell me Henry is already engaged, although I am not yet dead. Their words strike deep into my heart. My mind whispers, reminding me he did such once before… with me… with Katherine.

  Their eyes gleam, bright and happy, to see the pain they inflict… How much more can they maim me? I have already lost everything. Only my immortal soul is left to me now. My husband has chosen another; my daughter will be declared a bastard by my own words; my brother and friends are dead and soon I will follow them to the coldness of the grave. I think on my poor mother and sister… what are they thinking now? Hiding at Hever, hoping this tempest will pass them by. On my father, I try not to think. I know he will scrabble about in the dirt that stains my name for a chance at redemption. He will try to put the loss of his heir, George, from his mind. But I cannot. The empty hole my brother’s death has left is a gaping wound in my heart; raw and bloody, it tears, it rends, it rips when I think of him.

  His smile… his laugh… the way we used to talk… walks promised, now never to be taken. His soft friendship armed me against a hard world. I cannot forget him. My brother… He was my courage and my best friend.

  I had thought that by now I would feel his hand, soft and warm, curled about my own. I had thought by this hour I would see them all again, all the innocents who have died for my sake, as we stood before the Almighty, in the soft light of Heaven. But it was not to be. My execution was delayed. The small hope I had left, to leave this life and enter the next, was ripped from my hands.

  What do they hope to achieve with this delay? Is it a sign that the King relents? I think not. Were I to believe the worst, I would consider my enemies wished to offer me false hope. They would offer me this just so they could snatch it away, so I might understand their power over me. Hope… it can become a weapon, when it is used well.

  When Master Kingston told me my execution was postponed, I gazed at him with glassy eyes brimming with disbelief. I had been in thought and prayer all morning, thinking of the past, and praying to God for strength. I rose unsteadily from my stool, my legs numb. My mind swam with the knowledge that I must wait another day, another night, for the blessed release of death. My courage faltered. My face fell. I must linger yet, in this pain and horror. Outside the Tower, the wind blew strong and fast, whipping about the walls. Its scream of despair echoed in my frail heart.

  But even then I could not quite bring myself to believe that this delay meant that I would live. Event
s have gone too far now. My enemies would fear that Henry might agree to see me, if I lived, and might come to forgive me. They feared the remnants of my power over him. They worried that, even now, I might be able to reach into his heart and find mercy there. To allow me to live would only endanger them, as well I know from the lessons of the past. They would not make those mistakes, my clever enemies who had bested me at my own game. No… I knew that this delay was not my salvation. It was but another punishment.

  I turned to Kingston, regarding him with my weary, red-rimmed eyes and tired mind. “Master Kingston,” I murmured. “You say I shall not die afore noon and I am very sorry therefore, for I thought to be dead and past my pain.”

  “I am sorry, my lady,” he said, not conferring upon me the title of Queen that I had so long worked for, and yet held for so small a time. The title is mine no longer. I gave it up in the last hope that it might buy my life, might save my daughter from persecution by my enemies. It was a fool’s hope, but I had done as they asked; for Elizabeth even more so than for myself. I agreed I was never married to the King, both for my long ago dismissed contract with Henry Percy, and for my husband’s past affair with my sister. “Your execution will come on the morrow, at nine o’ clock, my lady,” Kingston continued, glancing at me with troubled eyes.

  His words sparked something of my old humour. I chuckled, strange emotions were bubbling within my breast. “I have heard the executioner is very good.” My lips quivered with eerie mirth. “And I have a little neck.”

  I put my hands about the slim contours of my throat and pressed them into the soft skin there. Once, Katherine had called me a swan for the elegance of my bearing… Many times, Henry had kissed me here, his warm lips lingering on my flesh as he muttered words of love and devotion. It all seemed so far away now… as though that person were another Anne, one who was loved so deeply by her King that she could never fall from grace. I wondered where that Anne was, now. She was lost to me. I started to laugh louder. The sheer ridiculousness of my present fate overtook me.

  Master Kingston stared at me as mirth spilled out over my lips, over my form, bouncing from the walls. It sounded unearthly… unnatural. I was nearing the edge of my capacity for calmness. I forced the laugh to end, shutting my lips over it, and turned my feral, dark eyes away. “I will return to my prayers, for the rest of the day, Master Kingston,” I whispered, seeking to claim control over myself again. “If you would be so good as to leave me with my almoner.”

  Poor man… What was he to do for me? What was anyone? Did he remember when he faced one of my enemies in a situation so similar to this? When I brought down the great Cardinal Wolsey and Kingston was sent to bring him to this same Tower? How history enjoys circles. How fate likes to play games. Should I have known then that one day I would face the same destiny as the foe I crushed on my path to the throne? Should I have known that one day I would be a pawn in this game, when I had always thought myself a queen?

  I returned to my prayers; that is the only love I have left within me now… for God… for my faith… But amongst the words I offered to God, the past beckons to me, still my memories cry out.

  My memories… They call to me. They speak of the years that passed after I ran through my family’s lands, crying out for joy that I was loved… that Henry, the man I had adored from afar for so long, had offered me his hand, and a place on the throne of England. What dreams for a young maid to be offered! What riches! What promise life held for me then! We thought it would only be a matter of months until Katherine could be prevailed upon to take the veil. It would not be long until we were joined as man and wife. Perhaps within a year, I would hold Henry’s son in my arms. How very wrong, how very arrogant we were…

  I bow my head in prayer as Kingston leaves. But amongst my pleading words to God, memories rise, reminding me of all I did, all that I achieved, all that I fought for… All that I became. I had thought that merely holding the heart of the King of England in my hands would be enough to secure my future and my happiness. I was wrong. It took more, so much more… so much of my wit and intelligence, so much of my guile, strength and allure… I had to use all the weapons at my disposal to achieve what I wanted.

  The past does not want to be forgotten. It calls out for its tales to be told.

  Chapter One

  Hever Castle

  Summer 1527

  Nine Years Earlier…

  The night after Henry left me to ride for London I could not sleep. I lay, wide awake in my bed of soft eiderdown, with the covers bunched about my waist. I stared at the hangings about my bed and ran a hand through my thick, dark hair. Strands of it stuck to my skin. It was a sultry night. The light rain which had fallen earlier in the day had passed over, heading to London… following the same path as my King…

  My King… My Henry! He loved me as I loved him. Our love had been made truth by our words. It was done. We were promised to each other. One day soon he would be mine, as I would be his.

  I remembered his forceful words of destiny and duty… I remembered his soft eyes… the way he had looked at me when he told me of his love. No longer was Anne Boleyn considered suitable as the mere mistress of the King of England… No, he wanted me as his own, his love, his wife, his Queen. Henry had said this was decreed by God; that I had been sent to Henry by God to make him understand the sin within his marriage. Was Henry right? I wondered on the manner in which Henry talked of God. It was as though the two of them were equals, allies, friends, even. Was that the usual way, for kings? To feel so close to the Almighty that they could sense His thoughts? That they could know His will? Kings were chosen by God… Was it indeed God’s will that I become Queen in the place of Katherine? Even as I welcomed the thought, I was made uncomfortable by it. It seemed arrogant… And yet, somehow, when Henry said those words, they had made perfect and beautiful sense.

  I thought of the past. How swiftly had life changed for me! Thoughts and recollections of my life swam before my eyes, knotting my thoughts into confusion. I remembered shaking before I met the Archduchess Margaret in Mechelen. I remembered Henry’s blue eyes watching me as I danced at his court and the sight of him riding through London on the eve of his coronation. I recalled how his hands had burned when he touched me. I remembered the day he had fallen from his horse… the day I thought I had lost him. I remembered him saying he loved me, that he wanted me, that he would make me his wife…

  It must come to pass! I thought. Katherine must be prevailed upon to see the sense and reason in Henry’s arguments. Theirs was no true marriage. Being so good and pious a woman as she was, she must come to understand she had been living sinfully with Henry all this time… she must…

  But there was another part of me that was not as sure… She is proud, it said. She will not suffer to be set aside, as she was once before, when Arthur died. She has known abandonment and poverty; she will not willingly choose that path again… She will not look on the King’s arguments with an eye of favour…

  “What of her, then?” I said aloud, to myself, willing that troublesome voice to cease its prattling. “If she will not see reason, then she will be made to… The King has decided that this is how it will be, and so it will!”

  Bess rolled over in her pallet bed on the floor and blinked sleepily, roused by the words that had tumbled from my lips. “Mistress…?” she asked, rubbing a hand over her eyes and gazing up at me blearily. “Did you need something?”

  I shook my head and felt my cheeks ignite. “It is nothing, Bess,” I murmured. “I must have been talking in my dreams… Please, go back to sleep.”

  My tired maid hardly needed telling twice. She put her head to her hay-stuffed pillow and was asleep before I ceased to speak. It had been a long few days for her. Standing at my side as Henry had laid out his plans to leave Katherine, annul their marriage and marry me was quite enough excitement for my young maid to merely witness. I, who had been part of these plans and events, was even more exhausted. And yet, slumber would no
t come for me.

  I lay awake. I listened to the quiet sound of Bess breathing, her nose burrowed deep into her covers of thick, warm English wool. In the depths of the night, the sticky heat of the day retreated and coldness grew. I pulled my covers over my slim shoulders, ruffling into them, thinking that nesting like a harvest mouse amongst the barley stalks might lull me to sleep. But it did not.

  Late that night I heard the screech of an owl, and climbed from my bed to go to the window. Through the fine panes of glass I saw her; a ghost winging through the black-blue skies. She floated, white and silent through the air like a lost soul seeking rest. I watched her until she was out of sight, and only then noticed how cold I was. My bare feet padded eagerly across the floor and I climbed back into bed.

  I had thought I would never sleep, but eventually I must have, for I found myself within a dream; a dream so familiar that for a moment I looked around with wide and astonished eyes. I have been here before, I thought, I know this place… I stood on a barren and open hill, surrounded by scrubby, half-dead plants dotted here and there, resting on red-brown earth baked by the brilliant red-yellow sun above. Fragments of earth skittered, dry dust flying along, pushed by a small breeze. The wind lifted my hair from my hot neck. I stood before a tower built of great grey stones, so tall I could not see the top… and from the walls and stones of the tower, there flowed blood.

  This was why I knew this place… I had dreamed of it before, when I was but a girl and journeyed to Mechelen to become a part of the Archduchess’ household. I gazed at the tower. It bled. Blood seeped from the walls and the stones, from the cracks and oozed up from under its foundations… It burbled like a busy brook, seeping over the parched soil. I stared at the tower in fascinated horror and then I reached out and touched the stones. The blood spilled over my hands, under my nails, over my palms, down my wrists. I could feel it… warm and sticky, its sickly sweet, iron-stench rising from the heat of my skin. I shuddered and pulled my hand back, but blood continued to flow, as if from nowhere, over my hands. I held them out before me, shaking, and saw a drop of blood fall from my chin to join the swirling mess upon my hands.

 
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