King Arthur kissed his queen’s hand as he looked amongst his courtiers and family feasting on the most decadent food that the kitchen had prepared in a very long time. Platter after platter came out of roasted swans, peacocks and partridges with gilded beaks and their plumes placed on decoratively. The pastries were filled with pheasant encased with partridge, squab and then pigeon. Gold plates were filled with the bounty of the English seas, followed by venison, boar, rabbit and beaver tails. Arthur made sure that Erica’s favorite Swedish foods such as the delicate crimson lingonberries, sugared atop of custard were there to please her. The finest claret from France was served in silver chalices, this was to be a feast to be remembered. Arthur admired the flickering candles that illuminated the room as he listened to the festive melodies of the musicians. Everyone was dressed in their finest clothes, each courtier trying to outdo the other with their jewels, silks and furs. He wanted tonight to make up for the tragic events that took place during his wedding feast. He looked into Erica’s azure eyes and promised her that tonight all of England would be celebrating their news. Even his mother managed to drag herself from her self-imposed exile in Wales. His family would bow to Erica and give her the respect she deserved as his most cherished and beloved queen.
Erica looked out amongst the sea of people with a false smile pasted on her face. She could not let go of the memories of her tragic wedding night. She looked at Bessie and wanted to go to her and embrace her for she knew her dear friend was mourning her loss. But Arthur had tried so hard to please her, repeating that he had several surprises for her. She smoothed her cornflower blue, silk gown embroidered with silver thread, sapphires, diamonds and pearls. She wore the sapphire crown that Arthur had made to match her eyes. She was glad that the gown hid her growing stomach. She looked at her beloved husband and gave him a tender kiss.
“Arthur, you have gone through so much trouble. Everything is beautiful and I see all the special details you have done to please me. I do not believe any woman or queen has been so lucky. I pray that tonight all the people who were against our alliance and marriage will rejoice in our wonderful news. If only they could know the love I have in my heart for their king and country. I still read all your letters that you sent me before I arrived and met you. Of all the princesses in the world you chose me. I am blessed in so many ways, both the English and Swedish navy are becoming stronger and I am married to the most handsome man. Jag älskar dig, I love you, I love you with all my heart.” She looked up at him and this time her smile was real and her tears were tears of joy.
I smile sweetly at Erica. After spending much time with cooks and my staff, this banquet was perfect in every way. Seeing her happy was my one true desire, I wanted her to know how happy I was about her condition. I also wanted everyone to see how much I love my wife and that I will protect my new family. There was no way this banquet would end like the last one. Remembering the special care I took by hiring more guards and several food samplers to be sure nothing was poisoned this time. Everything had to be perfect. “This is all for you my love, nothing more than to show my love for my one true queen,” I said as I leaned in to kiss her gently. My heart leaps with joy seeing her smile, now I know that I made her happy. I look over at the crowd hoping to see that my people for once happy with their new queen. My eyes fall on my brother’s glare. I partly wished to know what he was thinking, but at the same time I knew it would not be anything favorable. I could already see that he left his wife’s side, leaving her to spend another banquet alone. I knew I would have to end this soon considering how close Erica and Bessie had become but also because of the problems this would make with the duke of Norfolk. These were problems I could ill afford.
I saunter into the room with Elizabeth at my side, shaking my head and laugh to myself at the sheer ostentation of this celebration and think of how the barbarian queen has wormed her way as such, that she has the mighty king of England now choosing menu fare and selecting decorations!
I wish it were so that our father were still alive he would be ashamed of the impotent, simpering sire of his loins… yet father-the lion who slew the son of York-ruled as Arthur rules now. England requires a warrior king, not an administrator! I look up to see The barbarian queen smiling at my brother and he, holding her hand, his eyes glazed over, smiling back as a lovesick suitor and I am brought to sickness. My main consolation being however, that the first phase of my plans is nearly complete.
“Elizabeth…?” I turn to my sweet Lady Norfolk and take her hand. “Come, let us bid good tidings to my brother and his queen.”
I take Henry’s hand with my head held high, pointedly ignoring the scandelised look of the assembled courtiers, fawning and preening as would bedecked peacocks in mating season, and follow his lead. My gaze sweeps almost imperceptibly around the room and is relieved to find no sign of my good for nothing husband lurking in a dark corner as was his recent want.
I cannot suppress the triumphant smile that lingers on my lips as Henry sweeps me through the throng of people toward his brother, his strong hand, firm around mine to show everyone that it is I he wishes to have by his side and not his simpering wife.
My eyes narrow slightly in revulsion as we reach the dais, the ridiculous look in the king’s eyes as he gazes like a love sick puppy at his barbarian bride-I refuse to refer to her as queen, is almost laughable. England needs a strong monarch on its throne, not some star-gazed boy with no real mettle to handle her. And a queen who can support her husband and can assist him and be more than a pretty ornament carved out of the ice of the north. It is embarrassing.
The ostentatiousness of the event has me thinking, I wonder whatever would push the king to organise such a lavish event and I whisper my concerns to Henry as we walk. My gaze meanwhile flickers to his wife, Bessie, standing watching us from a far corner. The glimmer of triumph in my emerald eyes is difficult to hide as she quickly averts her gaze and I await my loves thoughts.
I see my brother approach and nod to the musicians to quickly finish their tune so I may tell our news to my realm. “Ah, dear brother I’m glad you could join us. I was afraid that when Bessie arrived by herself that you would not be joining the celebration.” I say with a sneer, making sure he hears the tone of disapproval in my voice for bringing his mistress here. I refuse to acknowledge the duchess. Besides my distaste for her I know this would upset Erica if I brought more pain to Bessie, his true wife and princess. I look at the courtiers just waiting to hear my news and I look to Erica first so she could see my love for her. She returns my look with such excitement and happiness that I swear I would personally bash in the face of anyone who dared take that smile off her face. Be it a mother, brother, or nobleman.” Since you have joined us, it is time I tell everyone the reason we have gathered here for this celebration,” I stand up holding my goblet as the musician stops so the crowd can hear me as I walk next to my queen, “I bring great news for my realm.” I reach and gently take Erica’s hand and kiss it. “My wife, your beautiful queen is with child!” I smile watching my brother’s face and enjoy the look of shock and displeasure. “We will finally have a prince for England!” I hear loud applauding and cheers but watch as Henry’s anger becomes noticeable. You would think he’d know how to conceal his jealously by now. My mother stands there with Stafford with a blank expression on her face. How typical of my family. I wish that Mary and Brandon could be here but they should be almost at France by now. I will make this night perfect, and I look at Erica and Clarisa’s face as their father, Gustav enters the room with a big smile as he takes his daughters in a big bear hug. I hope that tonight makes up to for our disastrous wedding celebration which turned into the sort of morbid scene usually played out in Italy, not in MY country.
I am overjoyed as the news of my coming nephew is shared. Such joy for Erica! As Arthur announces the news, I scan the room for traitors who may look to spoil this momentous occasion.
Prince Henry and his concubine are livid. It is as if he expected Erica to be barren. Unlikely, we are of fertile stock. I stand and begin to make my way to Erica, to be at her side in support and shield her from the malice of these bitter people when a commotion draws my attention from my sister to my father. I forget all and run to my father and into his arms. Finally we can feel safe.
I look around at the sea of faces. I had not touched English shores since the royal wedding. Being here now, all those memories of that ill-fated night come flooding back to me in waves and I cannot help but wonder, with a sense of dread, if on this night the hand of tragedy waited once again to reach out and touch this gathering.
Erica still looks happy, they both do, even though I fear the wolves still lurk to pounce. I trust Sven to watch over both her and Clarisa, but he is the only one I trust and he is but one man. I should perhaps remain here a bit longer, then again I cannot leave Margareta alone for so long as I know the tentacles of treason here reach all the way to Stockholm. I try at this moment to enjoy myself. This is my daughter’s celebration and I pray there be nothing to regret this night.
‘Tis then I see the smiling face of my beloved Clarisa. Truly she has brought me as much joy as her sister and as she runs to me I embrace her warmly and laugh.
”Clarisa min dotter… Du ser underbar ut denna kväll… Hur känner du dig?”
“Papa! Jag kan inte beleve du är här! denna natt är nu verkligen perfekt!” I step back to look into my father’s smiling face and I begin to relax. I did not know the tension I had been keeping as the webs of intrigue were continuously being spun, the suspicious behavior of my brother and the concern for the safety of my sister. On-lookers were looking at us curiously, attention momentarily diverted from that snake Henry. ”Erica has kept your visit a secret from me! How long have you been here? Will you be here long?” I look up hopefully, but I know he cannot leave Sweden alone for too long.
I motion for a server to bring my father a drink impatient at the clumsy fools clearly not capable of their work.
I smile up at Arthur as he tells the court our wonderful news and kisses me to the loud applause and cheers. Maybe I will be finally accepted as queen of England. But I see someone approaching us and my heart skips a beat. Min fader, Gustav is right before my eyes, I almost feel as if I am dreaming but I hear his voice and see Clarisa run to him. I feel blinded by my tears of happiness, Arthur planned this. I had no idea what my father’s presence would mean to me at this happy time. I kiss Arthur and thank him then run into my father’s big arms. He hugs Clarisa and myself at the same time, neither of us wanting to let go.
“Clarisa, did you know fader was coming? How could you have kept this such a secret papa? I am so happy to see you, it means the world to me to have you here for such a joyous occasion.” I smile at him, “Papa, I hope that I am carrying your dotterson, I wish to make you proud.” I look at him with so much love and emotion, I feel safe, which I haven’t since my wedding night. Almost as if I was still a child and my fader could save me from anything, he is the man who brought peace to Sweden by driving out the Danes. A wave of relief runs over me, I kiss his cheek again and hold his big hand.
“Erica, min vacker dotter… is it true that you carry the king’s child? This is a glorious occasion indeed!” I take your delicate hands in mine and smile broadly, unable to keep my stern bearing at this glorious news, guaranteeing the alliance between our nations shall last into the next generation. That is if the forces that oppose that alliance can be stopped for good. I fear even now they are surrounding us, but this is not the time for concern, this is the time for joy… to celebrate.
“I could not be happier for both hans majestät and yourself, and our two nations. So now that I am to be a proud grandfather to a prince, I must truly spend more time here, though still not enough as I’d wish.”
I look around and notice that I do not see Dieter here. I do wonder what he is up to. “Nevertheless, I am here now and shall remain in England as long as I can to be with my two precious dotters, ja?”
The taste of wine lingers upon my lips, wine is the only thing to help ease my burning to be in Edwards arms. I wish nothing more than to leave this God forsaken place. In sooth, I love my children, but alas I shall never approve of Arthur’s barbarian bride. How could he possibly think she is suitable for a king of England? A queen with no blood and no allies but barbarians who can hardly even run their own country. Edward makes it all so easy, I love him and he loves me. I would rather spend my days in exile with him than watch England fall to ruins with my eldest Laissez-faire ruling.
Suddenly Arthur speaks unmentionable words and my breathing stops for a moment as he utters the words she is with child. Why must God forsake England? Now that this marriage is consummated there is no possible way to annul the marriage. They are legally bound in the Pope’s and God’s eyes. I stand there in a daze, shell shocked. This is an absolute tragedy, my sweet naive Arthur is not fit to rule. I look over to Henry and take another long sip of wine. Mayhap, England has one fighting chance.
The Swede leaves Arthur’s side for a moment so I take the opportunity to see Arthur. I walk up to him pushing aside the nobles who crowd around my son and I curtsies to him slightly “Your majesty … my dear son. “ I pause for a moment “What a joyous occasion for you my dear boy. Apparently I have been away much too long. “
My face lights up as Erica runs to her father. I knew seeing her family would be quite a surprise and delight her. I wanted nothing more than to see her sweet smile. I look around and admire the banquet, happy that things are going according to plan. I suddenly hear my mother’s words as they interrupt my thoughts. “Ah, mother I am very happy to see you back at court. You have been dearly missed.” I say sarcastically as I smile kissing her hand. “But I do think it’s time you try and have a civil relationship with my queen.” I say hoping she can gauge my irritation with her absence from court. My spies still were never able to tell what she was up to, or if she was spending time with anyone in particular. In fact, she rarely left the grounds and no one was seen coming or going. I had told my men that even though she had returned, to keep a watchful eye on her, for I still could not trust my mother. I see her smile fade when I mention Erica, “Mother I know you do not approve of my choice. But you must see how happy I am and that England and Sweden have become strategic allies, the perfect foil to France and Spain. The Swedes are even ready to help if the Scots start raiding our borders again. Believe me mother when I say that Erica is a PERFECT queen.”
Edward Stafford stood silently to the right of the dowager queen. His queen, with whom he would have had rather been off somewhere holding her close, away from the madness of court. He sipped his wine nonchalantly as he surveyed the room. This wildling wife of the king’s proved to be a pretty decent tactician after all. She clearly had Arthur wound so tight about her finger his head looked to explode. If this thing went any further, the progress of this whole country would be reversed back to savagery and simplicity, those of noble blood and proper rank would be forgotten and order and dignity would cease to exist. There was still time and quite a few ways to fix all the things wrong with this unholy union.
The Duke scanned the room slowly. A tiny, proud smirk revealed itself upon his visage as he noted his daughter on the open arm of Prince Henry. Unashamed and both with almost a wicked gleam in their eyes, even as the prince’s wife turned away from them. Stafford chuckled softly. In due time, Elizabeth would be an English princess and maybe one day, an English queen.
Edward blinked as he felt the blood drain from his face as Arthur made his announcement. The wench sure did breed quickly, but then again those of low birth always did. ”Dear God…” he muttered to himself as he raised his wine glass to the couple in a group tribute, Liz then walked up to her royal son. With any luck, the witch would only produce girls. It was possible. Rolling his eyes, he slinked off toward a servant, in need of a great refill of wine as the barbarian ”king” and his ilk approached the throne.
I am beginning to grow restless, feeling a little dizzy in the hot and crowded room. But I keep my head held high, as a lady should, and allow no sign, except perhaps a paling of my complexion to show that I am in the least uncomfortable.
I turn my head and catch the eye of my father, standing, as ever on guard next to the queen mother. I offer him a sly smile, a Stafford smile. I know he is thinking the same as I about the assembly. It should be Henry and I on the dais welcoming our guests and not those who stand there presently. The twinge of sadness in his eye is something only a daughter would not miss. I know the secrets of his heart without him having to tell me and I hope that one day I will watch that glimmer fade to one of happiness.
Looking around the room, I can barely manage to contain my sneer of derision as the two heathens run at their grizzly bear of a father, like little lost children. It is pathetic; no queen should behave that way. It goes to show just how ill-bred they truly are. And now she is pregnant…
The thought makes me nauseous. England deserves better than a child begotten of a heathen nobody and a weakling boy in kings clothing. I set my hand on my stomach and grip Henrys arm more tightly. I know I carry the future of England, not the silver haired woman who sits on the throne, and I am going to make damned sure he will be a king that all will be proud of.
Seated amongst the queen’s ladies I have an unimpeded view of the parade of court peacocks entering the banquet. I smile prettily at the lords and ladies, catching my brother’s eye as he enters with the dowager queen. My niece saunters in with prince Henry, a flush across her cheeks the only sign of her condition. A small mischievous smile plays across my lips as the daughters of Sweden run to their father. Very un-English. That won’t endear the foreigners to the masses. I clap delightedly at the news of the impending birth of our future prince of Wales. I say all the right things to those around me, toasting our royal family. As I play the part of a well-bred courtier, I watch those around me. My brother and niece look scornful and angry, no doubt plotting. As the ladies and I discuss our future prince, I note the un-grandmotherly reaction of the dowager queen and count my blessings that she is not my family. As our cups are refilled, I flirt shamelessly with young lords about the king and prince. I need to find my eyes and ears amongst the men. I must know the complete lie of the land as the factions plot their next move. I smile, sip my wine and join in the current round of toasts.
I pat Elizabeth’s hand as she squeezes mine, reassuring her that the charade of a show mine brother put on meant nothing. I would be more interested in watching a bear being baited for a fight. Mine brother is more like a lamb being brought to slaughter. The future of England belongs to me and mine Elizabeth. She has more royal blood coursing through her delicate pinky then the heathen has in her entire Viking body. The Gustav’s were elected, who has ever heard of a king being elected? But what can one expect from a country that is only frozen tundra?
I bring Elizabeth’s hand to my lips to kiss it as I rub the nape of her neck softly, not caring who sees. Her porcelain skin looks a bit pale but besides that she is the picture of health. Mine child that she carries has made her radiant. I still desire her every minute, not like when Bessie was with child, where I could only get pleasure in the arms of any buxom wench or noble lady of my choosing. I will divorce Bessie and marry my duchess even if I have to murder Norfolk myself. I see him in the corner with his mistress, the sniveling coward. I would never let anyone take Elizabeth away from me if I was him, be it prince or king.
I drain my goblet of the claret and nod for more. It will take an ocean full of wine to get me through this travesty of a celebration. As I look up, I see my mother with Elizabeth’s father, Edward Stafford. I have not seen mine mother in ages. She has been holed up in Wales to get away from Arthur and his ice queen. Mother does not look well but who can blame her with such news. I will go check on her in a little while and see what she has to say about this garish affair. I laugh to myself thinking again what a fool my brother is. This is not the Camelot mine father envisioned for our realm.
The ’finest’ of England have gathered and now honour the fornication of the royal couple. Hardly any have my cunning and strength not to mention the nobility of my blood. My feelings for the Swedish nobility must remain hidden under my perceived loyalty……or now. Raising my goblet to my lips, I drink heavily. Looking at a seat to my left, my eyes survey the rotund specimen that purports to be a lady. To the right some pasty excuse for a human who claims to be a minor noble, sniffs and snivels.
This heir of Arthur could rule our land, if he survives childhood. The thought causes a grim smile to play at the corners of my mouth. Should I speak to my tenants and lords, challenge the throne as being ruled by a foreign power? No! Far better remain a loyal subject and play these fools to my own ends, toady them as their royal protector and saviour and manipulate events for my own power, status and reputation. My eyes scan the so called loyal subjects and land upon my wife, being groped by that whelp of royal cross breeding. I could crush him in the tiltyard or on the battlefield! The slattern is mocking me by her presence, who is she to disgrace me? She may tempt men with her voluptuous presence and beauty, even stirring desire within my own loins, but my honour has been tarnished. My honour has precedent above all lust and desire. She might have been a good match for me at one time, her blood almost being as pure as mine, her sexual appetite could almost match mine, but her cunning and intelligence were an even a greater asset than her body. …She looks to the throne!
But my mind is equally devious, my duchess, I can exploit your weakness for my advantage.my views of rebellion would change.
I look away, plans forming in my head as my eyes, search the faces. Without thinking my gaze rests upon my Bess, the radiance of her beauty lighting the dull crowd. All devious thoughts slip from my mind as softly as her gown slipping from her shoulders. Our eyes lock and she smiles, her eyes containing the promise of what is to take place in my chamber later this evening.
I have dressed with much care tonight knowing that the duchess would be here with Prince Henry. This gown was Thomas’ latest gift, a gold brocade embroidered with pearls, onyx and diamonds. The rows of pearls on the bodice make my waist look even smaller. At my throat is a necklace of pearls and diamonds, a gift that Thomas’ servant brought to me this morning. I look at my reflection in the looking glass and am well pleased with my appearance. I do not think that anyone else knows the side of Thomas Howard that I do. He loved Elizabeth Stafford and wanted her to get information from Prince Henry, not be his mistress, but this has presented a good opportunity for me. I do love my duke and I know deep in his heart that he loves me too. I never envisioned a future beyond being his cherished mistress but perhaps I have now been dealt a difference hand.
I arrive and applaud at the news that our queen is now with child. England has had so many foreign queen consorts. I do not know why a Swedish queen is so difficult to accept. I for one am happy for them. I see Thomas and can see that he is seething with anger. I am not jealous for I know his love for Elizabeth Stafford has died but she has wounded his pride. I would think that she would know Thomas better. Not even the prince will be able to protect her from Thomas’ wounded pride and humiliation. He turns and looks at me and I am glad that I took such care with my appearance. I know by that look in his eyes that he has plans for us tonight. I am eager to please him and to try to heal his wounded pride. I look forward to spending the night in his arms and show him a dazzling smile so he knows that I understand what he is thinking……
I stand by the queen’s ladies and try not to stare at Henry and his whore. The stares were obvious from everyone gathered as he paraded around his mistress. The whore was smiling as if she belonged with Henry, when it was my place. I smiled but it was false for my heart was broken. But I had to look happy for the queen and try not to think of the utter betrayal Henry was showing. But I knew even if Henry appealed for a divorce that the king would deny him. For how could he allow the queen’s closest friend such embarrassment? No matter how wide the whore opened her legs I would always is his wife. I smiled at the thought as I drink heavily from my goblet. I clapped for the new baby that I knew Erica had been carrying, for I had recognized the signs. I was very happy for my dear friend, a baby might even stop my husband from trying to get ahead, though I doubt he ever would. Sighing I drank more knowing I had to stop before I lost my composure and went over the line…
Gilbert observed the festivities from his position leaning against a pillar, a prince for the realm was indeed good news. It seemed to him that most courtiers were either thrilled about the queen’s pregnancy, or beside themselves with contempt, no party seemed indifferent. He heard, of course, the mumbles around him, be them good or bad, but he thought better than to voice his opinion, not that it would really matter much.
Gilbert’s eyes glided around the room and passed many faces he either knew or did not care to know. The face he most wanted to see was that of the princess Elizabeth’s, ever since their first meeting he thought of no one else, and that kiss upon her hand! Surely the lady must have felt something too. ‘Twas not hard to locate the beautiful lady, she stood near the queen, for shame, Gilbert would have liked to speak with her once again. But he could not, not with prince Henry strutting about, even with his mistress on his arm.
Gilbert tried to catch her eye, but when he could not he sighed and made his way through the throng and closer to the princess.
As an honored guest of the English court, and especially as the queen’s brother, I wear as usual my finest clothes to attend this Babylonian feast. Embroidered with the most expensive golden threads, the coat of arms of my family lies, shinning bright, on the back of my jacket, to make sure everyone remembers who I am. What I am here for is still secret, except of course for Prince Henry and his … lady friend, as well as my dear Louise. I exchange understanding looks with the athletic prince and gaze across the room, where my younger sister is dwelling around, near my father. His visit was a surprise, he did not tell me, and I will say it was not a pleasant surprise, especially when he declared his feelings towards my intention to make Louise a princess of Sweden.
I watch the court preening and prancing about with a veiled amusement in my eye, sipping delicately from a silver goblet. Oh how these people think they are superior to the world, and how wrong they are. The court of France is far more decadent than the English kings, and those of Italy, even more so. I can see in Prince Henry’s face that his thoughts are trained along the same line as my own. He cannot hide his disdain, as hard as he tries.
My eyes assess the queen as her announcement is made. For my part, I think it wonderful news. It will keep Erica’s mind from what her brother is doing and upon the child she will bear. Clarisa is far too frivolous to be much of a concern when it comes to politics, so she worries me less than her far cleverer sister. The only one that truly troubles me is the Swedish king himself. The dark look that has settled in Dieter’s eye as his father walks into the room is concerning. His father will not approve of me, of that I am certain. heathen brute, I have more noble blood in my veins than most of the people in this room! But no matter, I know my prince. Once he has his mind set on something, then I have no doubt he will achieve it. And he has his sights set on the highest prize of all. No blustering fool will stop him, of that I have no doubt.
I catch my prince’s eye and throw him a knowing, but seductive smile in the hope it will cheer his countenance. Yet the spectacle caused by the rest of his family as the queen and her sister run at their father, makes any hope of that unlikely.
I pick my way carefully though the crowd to his side and subtly slip a delicate hand into his, hidden beneath his cloak and give it a reassuring squeeze. I wonder what other surprises this evening will bring.
After embracing his daughters a final time, Gustav turns from them to face his son, Dieter and walks over to him, looking a bit hard. “Son, I hope you are behaving well at the English court? I want no trouble to cloud your sister’s prospects.” Gustav surveys him as if he were trying to figure him out.
My father approaches me and Louise, kingly as he may be, his eyes do not fool me. He has come here, not only for my sister’s sake but to control me. To keep a close eye on me “As usual father” He smirks a little, he knows I do not always behave as he should like, but he forgets the days of his youth. Most people say we are very much alike. I look at my sisters for a moment “You should be more concerned for my prospects, don’t you think? After all, I am to be your heir” I raise my brow. He looks at Louise with disdain as I tightly hold her hand into mine and he asks “And who is this?”
I approach Dieter and some woman he is with and try to hide my distaste. His days of countless women and doing as he pleases must come to an end if he ever expects to be king of Sweden. He cares nothing about his people or the running of our country. The king needs to be aware at all times. The Danes can start up the war again without any warning. Mine son should be learning to command an army, not playing in England. He is needed at home! “Are you to be my heir? I have much to say on that subject. But I came here to make sure your sisters were safe, since you do not seem to concern yourself with the assassination attempt of your sister.” I look at the woman he is with and notice she is wearing the French style of clothing and carries herself nobly. Dieter can play all he wants but his marriage will be one that is beneficial to Sweden and on that I will NEVER bend. “Dieter, I must speak to Sven but when I finish with him, we will continue this conversation.”
With those words, I leave to seek my other son. I have kept Sven’s paternity a secret so as not to hurt my Margaret but I wish Dieter had more of Sven’s work ethic and military experience. Who says I cannot make Sven my heir? Am I not king? “Sven, I have been looking for you. Hur har in hittat England, how have you found England? Tell me where your investigation has taken you? What have you learned of the assassins? ” I look at him seriously with great concern.
“Ers Majestät,” I bow deeply to the king of my homeland, “These Englishman are snakes, every last one of them.” I relay in hushed tones, I do not need anyone listening in on mine and king Gustav’s conversation. “I look forward to returning to Sverige after my investigation concludes.”
It is true; I am tired of England, to be a Swede in this court is not a good thing. “I have no definite leads presently, but I have started looking into a few likely suspects. Rest assured, Her Majesty and Her Highness are well protected at all times, His Highness has persistently avoided me and my inquiries regarding the assassination attempt. If I may say so, the prince does not act in such a way that reflects well upon your family or the house of Vasa.”
Perhaps I should not speak ill of Dieter, no doubt the king already knows of his son’s indiscretions, but as it is my duty to serve the king. I feel that not telling him everything I know would be disgraceful.
The heat in the room is stifling. Whether by the volume of bodies, or the hot air being spouted by his majesty and his minions though, I cannot tell. I have felt unwell all morning. It seems the child is determined to make me suffer, much to Henrys amusement to think that this means he will be a strong and healthy boy. But no matter. It is the trial I must endure for triumph, for glory, and I do so happily. The babe within me, born of Henry and I’s love, will be a king, of that I have no doubt. Within me I carry England’s heir, the boy that Henry so desperately needs, and a king to unite this fractured country with the strength she has been sorely lacking. Even if I have to spend every morning from now until he arrives, suffering the torments of pregnancy, with my maid holding back my long copper curls, I shall do so gladly to bring my love what he needs most.
I fear my pallor is testament to my condition as Henry turns his head to look at me, concern filling his eyes and enquires if aught is wrong. I shake my head with a smile and reply that I am merely over warm. It is about time my condition was announced, I will be unable to hide it much longer it seems. This ridiculous spectacle is beginning to revive my nausea. The pathetic display from the heathen princesses at the sight of their portly father is so unbecoming of royalty that the raised eyebrows in the room increase in number. It is clear that many share Henry and I’s view about her unsuitability as queen.
I pointedly ignore my glowering husband’s eye as he stands in the shadows with his latest whore. She is welcome to him if it keeps him out of my way. With any luck, we shall not be shackled together much longer. More difficult to avoid is my lovers wife. Her eyes bore into the back of my head as if by a look she could fell me. Foolish woman, if she knew what was good for her she would step aside and let him go. For Henry will have his way in this as he does in everything and it shall not end well for her if she decides to fight.
I am suddenly struck by an idea. A way to break up this farce of the evening and to wipe the look from Bessie’s face. Another supposedly happy event ruined for the queen, will remain long in people’s minds, the superstitious amongst us may even whisper that it bodes ill for her time on the throne. They may begin to think that England and her king have been cursed since we allowed ice to rule in our land.
Resisting the urge to smirk at the deviousness of my own plan, I dig my nails into Henrys arm as if to steady myself, swaying slightly on my feet. My hand flies protectively to my stomach with a slight gasp as if of pain and I buckle my knees. A faint murmur of my lovers name escapes my lips as, ashen faced and wild eyed, I crumple to the floor at his feet as if in faint. I enjoy the sudden commotion and clamour of voices as I fall, Henrys horrified cry and he feels my body go limp and collapse and close my eyes, my work well done to see what happens next.
My Elizabeth does not look well. She has been suffering through this pregnancy, but from what I remember about Bessie and mother, the next few months should be easier. I smile to myself knowing that Elizabeth carries the next king of England. Let Arthur and his barbarian spawn as many Swedish brats as they wish. No Englishman will want any of their children to rule. Elizabeth is a Stafford and has royal blood already in her veins. I look around and drink as much wine as I can to suffer through this farce of a celebration. All of a sudden I feel Elizabeth’s hand grip on to mine as she suddenly falls to the floor. Dear God no, don’t let anything happen to mine Elizabeth. I bend down and scream her name, “ELIZABETH, can you hear me, speak to me my love.” Her hands feel cold and clammy but she is breathing. “FETCH MY DOCTOR, NOW!!! We must help the duchess, SHE IS CARRYING MY HEIR!!!” We are surrounded by people, I see no one but my pale darling and I hold up her head lovingly and try to get her to sip some wine. My personal physician finally arrives and I scream to him “SHE CARRIES MY CHILD, MAKE HER WELL!!!”
I hear people shouting trying to make room for my physician to examine, I refuse to leave her side. He gives her some smelling salts and she slowly opens her eyes, the color begins to come back to her face. The doctor claims that she will be fine, it was just the heat and her condition. I stroke her copper locks and insist she take a few more sips of wine as my beloved sits up. I embrace her tightly and kiss her soft lips. “My darling, you are fine. It was just the heat and your condition. Come if you can stand let me take you to your chambers. I will stay with you and your ladies, you must rest.” I help Elizabeth up and see Arthur in front of me glaring with a look of disgust, his Viking queen looks red and embarrassed. I care naught! It is time the world knows that Elizabeth will be mine wife and mother of my son. This child will do more for England then any of Arthur’s heathen children. This has been a blessing in disguise for now the entire court knows my joyous news.
I sip wine as it helps quiet my mind as I coldly stare at the duchess wanting to wipe that smile off her face. I watch her faint and try not to smile, even though the worst thoughts come to my mind. As soon as Henry screams for a doctor and speaks out loud about the bastard that she is carrying, all the conversation stops. I can then hear every man and women begin to whisper and stare at me. I knew as soon as the duchess fainted that she was pretending, the strumpet loves attention. I breathe deeply and walk away with every ounce of dignity I could muster. I was not going to give her the satisfaction of acknowledging such a farce. But every muscle in my body seethed with anger. Once I heard Henry claim the child as his heir, ignoring the fact that the infant she carried was his BASTARD my mind saw red. He had a legitimate child whose rights trumped the whore’s child. MY Mary is his heir! My dignity was replaced with a fierce hatred and I could feel myself walking towards them as if I was in a trance… “YOUR CHILD you say.” I speak loudly feeling all eyes upon me. “I sincerely doubt that, how many men has your concubine slept with? She most likely sleeps with any man the minute he sniffs her. How do you know it is not Norfolk’s? “The words slip through my mouth, as I hear everyone gasp and watch the shock on my Henry’s face. His anger amuses me for it was about time he knew how ridiculously he was acting. Not only to me but to the duke, who I knew must be more insulted and embarrassed then I ever could be. I look over to see Norfolk coming and hope I can use him as an ally. “Either way your mistress’ child could never be your heir. It is insulting to your family to even utter such words, even if she is carrying your child, my daughter is your rightful heir” My anger explodes as Henry helps the duchess up and I speak right into her face. “No matter what slithers out of you, your spawn will bear the sin of its parents and will not deserve God’s blessing to breathe.” My bosom is heaving as I look into her eyes and all reason leaves me as I slap her face.
I refuse to accept the reptilian words that crawl into my ears, not that my disgust is aimed at the slattern and her coupling with that interbred imbecile Henry. But they dare do this to me? They would dare insult my noble status and undermine the power I hold, even hindering my quest to grasp the power I deserve? So her experienced skills between the sheets have brought her closer to the throne!
My eyes scour the court room, consuming the pale sycophants, each praying for my discredit, using this as an opportunity to tarnish my name and further their own ambitions. Like a grey wolf, the court watches with its fangs bared, waiting to see which way I move, marking its target and waiting to strike, ripping great chunks of flesh from my body. s, the strength of noble blood, forged on the fields of combat and warfare. The same fierce blood that cut and sliced at Bosworth, the ferocity and strength of warriors who hammered the fierce northern tribes of Celts and Picts, subjugating them to honour the rule of England! Could such a pitiful excuse for a man stand in the path of me, a pure noble and born warrior? s gentle touch sparks inspiration, this inspiration grew and burned with a blazing heat that matched the ferocity of the anger that seethed from my body!
I feel my strides consume the distance to the pathetic couple, courtiers cowering from me, ignoring their gasps and indignant looks of the crowd, and I gaze at the whelp. My lips roll back as the words hiss from clenched teeth, as my stare locks with his pathetic gaze! “That child is a Howard, it already displays the pure strength that belongs to a Howard! Even before his or her birth, it cripples the slattern who disgraces its lineage, for it knows its true position! It belongs to my lineage, the noble family of Howard!” I refuse to add ‘Highness’ to my words, for I refuse to accept his position. My hands rest by my side, fists clenching and unclenching with rage, but Bessie’s presence as she stands next to me, pours sensibility into my rage. This sensibility burns with her strength and her intelligence. Sneering at him, my voice becomes louder so all can hear “You have attempted to defile my character and position! This was foolish and rash, for I could rip you apart and tear you to pieces with my two hands…” My hands rise so all can see, my fingers resembling claws that would dive into his flesh and tear him apart! My voice booms as if I am controlling knights in combat. “But I will only fight like a TRUE noble, observing the “Law of Chivalry” and the etiquette a noble should display in the court of his monarch!!!” My voice now becomes cool and icy “Choose your time, location and form of combat” my eyes glare and glitter as I wait for his next move……
I help my beloved Elizabeth up and before I can say two words, Bessie is screaming like the wife of a fishmonger, I have never seen her so angry. Then to my utter furry and amazement, timid Bessie slaps my Elizabeth. I want to physically harm her but pull her arm away as I squeeze her wrist tightly and I speak to her in a rage. “Have you lost your mind Bessie? How dare you lay a finger on my future wife! I can have you flogged for this. Remember that at the moment you are my POSSESION to do with as I choose. I was a fool to ever marry someone as low and coarse as you. You are not fit to give birth to a Tudor prince or princess. No child of yours will be my heir, I can assure you of this. When the pope annuls this farce of a marriage then your daughter will be a BASTARD.” I look at Bessie’s crushed face and do not feel an ounce of remorse. She will rue the day she struck Elizabeth.
I turn around and there comes Elizabeth’s husband, Thomas Howard, the duke of Norfolk ranting and raving, strutting like the peacock that he is with his whore by his side. The nerve of him, and then he says the most deceitful lie. He dares to claim my child from my loins as his? The idiot then wants to fight me in a duel. It is almost comical. I snarl at him “You pompous fool, Elizabeth has not shared you bed in ages. You dare claim my child as yours with your whore right next to you? You forget your place and with whom you speak. Guards arrest this man and take him to the tower. Then have his tongue cut out because that is what we do to treasonous liars. ” The guards come and hold Norfolk as he convulses in anger. “If I ever hear another slanderous word against my future wife and heir your head will feel the blade of the axe as you lose it for treason. I care naught about your Howard blood, I am the prince of this realm and you will bow to me and Lady Elizabeth before the guards haul you away.” I look directly into his eyes and match his hatred. He has made a crucial mistake for he will forever be my enemy… that is until I have his head on a spike.
I climb to my feet somewhat unsteadily and have barely time to right myself before Bessie comes at me like a crazed animal. I suffer her slap with as much dignity as possible, merely turning my cheek with the slightest wobble back against Henry as she strikes me, turning my face straight back to her with a look of pure hatred flashing in my emerald eyes. Before I have chance to raise my voice with the scathing remark on my tongue, my husband comes stalking over with his habitual swagger and starts raving. I could cringe in embarrassment as he speaks, his anger getting the better of him as he foolishly dares to challenge my Henry to a duel. What on earth is he thinking, he cares not a fig for my honour and it is too late to save his pride. The country despises his arrogance and ambition.
What a mess, this is turning into quite the spectacle. Just as I had hoped. Another supposedly happy occasion ruined for the queen, as planned, and my little secret revealed in the most dramatic of ways. I turn to Henry, his face flushed with rage and indignation, shouting his intentions to make me his wife for all the court to hear and am filled with pride that I hold the love of a man so powerful and fierce in my defence.
Now they all know. Now they all see what we are to one another, that I am not merely one of his whores to be toyed with and then tossed aside. That I, Elizabeth Stafford will be his wife and the child I carry his heir, and in turn, one day, I shall be queen of England. I would beam with pride at him if the situation permitted. As it is, I merely grope for his hand and keep my head held high, ignoring my brute of a husband completely and keeping my gaze fixed firmly on Bessie. She looks as though Henry has struck her. The foolish girl seems genuinely shocked to hear the words from his own lips that he no longer wants of cares for her. I allow myself the slightest of smirks in her direction, ensuring she, and only she sees me. She can strike me all she likes, that one small curve of my lips is my triumph and shall haunt her far more than any tirade of mine would have done. She has made her own bed in this case, had she been more sensible, things would have been dealt with far more discreetly.
I grip Henrys hand slightly and turn my head back to him, attempting to soothe his rage with a loving smile to show him that I care not for the scorn of any when it comes to our relationship and am not ashamed in the slightest to carry his child.
“My love, pay them no heed, for those that are jealous of our love and your graces person are not worthy of your precious time.”
Each word Henry says stabs me like knife. Though they did surprise me, I knew that soon he’d try to fight for a divorce. But it could never happen since Norfolk claims the child. I let a smile gleam on my face. Even if Henry thinks he can claim his whore’s child and try to let it inherit my daughter’s rights, it could never happen. There was no pope that would grant a divorce when someone with as powerful of a name as Norfolk claims the child as well. I look at lady Norfolk, who seems to have a smile of victory on her face. A smile that needs to be wipped off. I fight the urge to hit her again. “YOU REALLY THINK I CAN BE SO EASILY BOUGHT OFF? No pope will ever grant you a divorce, I am your wife FOREVER Henry” I scream making sure my words are clear. “Even if you could, you could never legitimize a child who is being claimed by someone else. That bastard will be Norfolk’s heir no matter what!” I watch my husband’s glare get colder. A part of me feels the urge to beg him to stop, to return to our love, but I don’t dare let that show. If I want to win, I must be strong….
I watched the confrontation with rapt attention, as did everyone in the hall, Princess Bessie and the duchess of Norfolk making such a scene at what was supposed to be a joyous occasion for King Arthur and Queen Erica, really was shameful.
I feared for the princess, Prince Henry would surely punish her and I felt compelled to weave through the crowd and take her some place safe where Henry’s rage could not reach her.
I must admit that I gave a few laughs when Princess Bessie slapped the duchess, but the second her adulterous husband laid a hand on her I saw red. How dare he harm that beautiful lady, would I have been married to her, I would have never raised a hand to her. How dare he threaten her? Was it not enough that he cheated the princess’s bed with the duke of Norfolk’s shrewish wife and disgraced her? And when he delivered the final blow of dismissing his own daughter—his heir—on top of everything he’s done to his wife, I had had enough.
I pushed through the crowd and stood as close to Princess Bessie as I could without seeming like I was coming to her rescue, the last thing I needed was for an angry Prince Henry to come at me with his sword drawn. But if needs be, I’d be there to protect her.
When the princess made her final remark, I waited until Henry and his concubine left, and then bowed to her. “Your highness, forgive me for being so bold, but might I ask you if you would take a walk with me?”
Erica watched Bessie walk off with Gilbert Talboys and then turned her icy glaze to Henry and Norfolk’s wife. A wave of hatred so strong washed over her entire body. HENRY was the source of everything bad that had happened to her since she arrived in England. She took a few breaths to calm herself for she knew this could not be good for her baby and unconsciously rubbed her stomach. Henry was out of control, it is one thing to take a mistress but to make Norfolk’s wife his mistress was beyond reckless. Norfolk had enough men to make a strong army. She shook her head in disgust but in that instant she felt the baby move and Henry was not important any longer. Erica knew that she was the only one carrying England’s heir. Henry’s scandals would just make Arthur look better in the eyes of the court and the people. Arthur went to so much trouble to surprise her and make her happy. She went up to him and took his hand.
“Arthur, thank you for this surprise, it has been so wonderful having my father here but I have a surprise for you.” She took his hand and placed it on her stomach and he felt their baby move too. She cupped his chin and kissed him. “I love you and I pray every day that God will deliver us a healthy son. But Arthur, what are you going to do about your brother? His son is killed at our wedding celebration, then he has set Wolsey up because we know he is innocent. But to take Norfolk’s wife as his mistress is asking for a fight. Norfolk is not going to close his eyes and just accept this humiliation. He had erred in making an enemy out of Norfolk. Henry has to know that the child will be Norfolk’s regardless of who the real father is.” Erica felt exhausted from all the drama and leaned on Arthur. “You must find a way to fix this and get your brother under control.” Erica refused to shed a tear or let anyone know how much this upset her. She had faith in Arthur, he would do the right thing where his family was concerned.
Anger rushes through me, how dare my brother ruin another grand event. All my careful planning ruined because he can no longer control his mistress. Worse of all he has upset my wife in her delicate condition. I look carefully at my love seeing her blue eyes blinking back tears, which only enrages me more. I hold her tightly kissing her forehead. “Don’t fret my love, his behavior will no longer go unpunished.” I slowly let go of her and head over to confront him. “ENOUGH of this!” I shout as everyone stares. “Guards release his Grace, the duke Norfolk,” I watch as they let him go. “I am very sorry for these events, Your Grace. But I assure you that your honor will be avenged. Please escort her Grace and Lady Holland out of here. I will check back with you to see if there will be anything else you require this night.” I watch as Norfolk’s eyes glare at Henry, I could feel their eyes staring at me as Norfolk leaves with both women, gripping his wife’s shoulder. I knew this would push Henry over the edge but I no longer cared about his spoiled tantrums. This was my mother’s doing, never seeing any wrong in Henry’s boorish behavior. Suddenly, Henry lurches forward to stop the duke from leaving and taking Elizabeth. “DO NOT TRY AND STOP HIM HENRY, his Grace, the duke of Norfolk has every right to see to it that his wife and future child are taken care of. You are to follow me, we have much to discuss! ” I dismiss my guards and walk quickly to my chambers to speak to Henry privately. Henry dares to object. “Not up for discussion BROTHER, you will come with me NOW or so help me GOD I will have my guards drag you to the tower! You may be my brother, but I am KING HERE, NOT YOU and nothing will stop me.” Henry stares at me, his eyes bulging with rage as his face becomes red and contorted. It takes all of my control to not strangle him here in front of my entire court. I keep my own anger in check. If he wants a fight, I could gladly pull my sword. “Unless you want to be taken to the tower immediately, you will follow me NOW!” I snarl at him as I start to walk, not waiting for his reply. I knew he was smart enough not to challenge me here and now with all my guards around. No, Henry, will challenge me when I least expect it and may God help us both. If need be, his head could end up on a spike at the tower with all the other traitors. At this moment I could happily watch the crows pluck out his eyes. For it seems we are not to get on any better than Cain and Able. I hope my mother can live with herself for turning brother against brother but as my grandfather did to his brother, I can do the same to mine if it is the only way to keep my rule and realm safe.