Well jeepers. After years of lurking around the edges of fandom, I seem to have jumped in feet first by participating for the first time in Yuletide. And who says I can’t commit to things (Mom)?
This is what I wrote for yuletide-its set in the universe of Hilary Mantel’s Wolfhall and features a romance between Jane Seymour and Thomas Cromwell. I really struggled plotting this out since it was difficult to come up with a situation where either of them, but ESPECIALLY Cromwell would be stupid enough to do something like this-so I just made him drunk, which was a tiny bit of a copout possibly. Ultimately, it was surprisingly fun to write from Jane’s perspective, who-at least from Mantel’s books-has a lot more dimensions than one might expect. I also have to admit that my view of her is also heavily influenced by Alison Weir’s portrait of her in the Six Wives of Henry the 8th, where she comes across as a surprisingly tough lady.
No real warnings, other than mild romance and sexytimes. Also lots of long moody pauses.
Part 1. Jane
At the end of at all, if someone had asked her what the essential difference was between herself and Anne Boleyn, Jane would have said that it was fear. Anne had lived all her life dancing a volta on the point of a sword and laughing gaily at the devils who sneered up at her from every side. Is it any wonder that it was a sword which took her in the end?
Jane has never been considered a wit - never an intellectual - but she has always known to never forget to be afraid. Fear is her salvation, here in court and at home with her family, and during her short reign as queen she continues to cling to it like a rosary.
What all of those laughing ladies at court never understood, was that it was the fear which had drawn Henry to her, and which keeps him still. When all of life is filled with dashing knights and devil-may-care lasses with flashing eyes, what could possibly be more exotic than a maid who reminded you that all of this was fragile, and liable to be stripped away at any moment? Together, Jane and Henry could clutch hands piously, and pray the creeping dark away, secure that their fears would be channeled away to holy ends.
And if secretly Jane’s fear is not only for her lord and husband, but for the health and well being of another man, another life which she had barely touched with her fingertips before it had been ripped away from her, then she prays that God will forgive her. For she has seen the consequences of infidelity to Henry VIII, King of England, and may Jesus forgive her too, she fears them.
It comes about like this:
One particularly hot summer afternoon in Anne’s chambers, the women are scattered to and fro, attentions wandering frequently from their embroidery. The still newly made queen is sitting very still in the path of the heavy afternoon sun, with her eyes half closed, and her hands gently resting on her rounded belly, she looks as languorous and romantic as a cat.
In the corner, Jane is sitting with Mary Shelton, doggedly repeating lines of French verse out of a little primer. Mary is making a show of patience, but the heat is making both of their heads swim, and Jane finds herself repeatedly losing track.
"Will you two leave it! You are driving me mad!" Jane Rochford says suddenly and peevishly, too loudly, in their direction. The noise makes Anne start fully awake. The queen hides it well - but Rochford is clearly pleased to see she’s scored a little blow.
"I really think you should," Anne says, smoothly covering and patting her belly. "Mary, your efforts are well-intentioned but It’s become very clear that my son here will learn French before Mistress Seymour here.”
Shelton wears an expression of almost indecent relief at her reprieve from her difficult student. Jane blushes furiously and tries to hide her head in her little book.
Anne lapses back into her contented, dreamy reverie and presses no further. During these happy days, she is concentrating on affecting the hard won peace of the victor who can afford to be magnanimous.
Nevertheless, Jane has reflected recently, that more often than not, Anne seems like a soldier newly come back from war; greatly relieved at the respite, but ill at ease in the new status quo. She will always, eventually circle back to the attack. It is not in her nature to leave her enemies half alive on the field of battle, no matter how strong her own position, nor how inconsequential the foe.
"Did you think Master Cromwell will like you the better for it?" she asks from her chair, eyes still mostly closed.
Jane cannot help herself. Her head shoots up, her face completely alarmed.
The room looks on expectantly, Anne is fully awake now. “Note her with Master Cromwell, the next time he comes for a visit. He gave her a gift once, out of pity and now she is always following him around like a little dog looking for a pat. I expect that she fancies herself the eventual Mistress of Austin Friars.”
The ladies snicker at the image of little Jane Seymour, giving way to such a very large man of business.
"Well, Seymour?"Anne demands. "Am I correct?”
Jane wants very much to reply, but words are sticking in her throat and she feels overtaken as much by shame as by a kind of horrified fury. Never had she dreamed that she had been so indiscreet, especially in the queen’s chambers. And whatever her cherished most private thoughts had been, they had been inviolate, and only half acknowledged to herself before this very moment. To have them discovered and held up for examination by Anne herself, seems to be a kind of violation.
Anne observes her complacently from across the room, her question having seemingly received its answer in Jane’s battle for composure.
"Do you think he would have her?" Shelton dares to ask.
"And, could you imagine the two of them together? "Rochford puts in. "He would crush her in that great big paw of his."
"No,"Anne says. "I can’t imagine that he would. And Cromwell has served me loyally, he deserves a proper reward. It would be the height of disloyalty to my man for me to saddle him with such milksop wife from a notorious family."
Speculation about the romantic habits of the king’s chief counselor gradually leads to idle speculation about the exploits of other more appealing men at court and Jane is gradually granted a reprieve from the attention of the group without ever having to answer her charges directly. She picks up her embroidery and sits there miserably, doggedly working at her stitches with her face hidden from the group.
It is now the summer of 1533, and how does Jane Seymour feel for Master Thomas Cromwell? He has become an unexpected ally, certainly, a friend where she had not expected to find one. And if she feels something greater than a sense of peace when she is in his presence, she has never dared to admit it, even to herself.
As for Anne’s taunts, well, Anne is Anne, and Jane has survived even worse from her. Her deep humiliation is over the decidedly personal nature of the accusation, but nothing more. This time, Jane decides to herself, Anne is far off her mark. She must be.
The years go by, as they do, and some things lie, seemingly dormant to outside observers. As the wheel turns, Anne discovers that all of her hard won victories were seemingly built on unstable ground, once the long expected son comes forth as a princess and each future child comes forth as a corpse.
Jane spends her days blending into the walls whenever possible. She practices her humble face, replies civilly when she is spoken to, and determinedly chases away all unseemly thoughts from her head with the vigor of a monk at Lent. She sees Master Cromwell rarely, hears tell of him of frequently, and that is enough for her.
And now it is the summer of 1535 and the King has come to Wolfhall.
Jane spends the days leading up to the visit preparing herself for the new, somewhat unlikely role which has been thrust upon her: that of the King’s new favorite. It may be said that she is being prepared for the role by others: certainly her eldest brother Edward has taken to coming to her rooms at night to lecture her on her family duty, while brother Thomas, has been greatly amusing himself by making all manner of lewd jokes in the manner of “suggestions”within her hearing. She has lately visited masters to practice her dancing and her languages, for all the good they have done. And she has been kitted out by her father, with new gowns and jewels, as befitting a potential consort of a King.
But it is by herself, where the real work is being done. However improbable it may seem that the King’s eye should have alighted upon her, Jane understands that her duty to her family is to keep it there. Perhaps more than most of her relatives, she has seen the consequences of her father’s scandalous behavior and the subsequent humiliation which it wrought upon the family name. In the same way, she has also been well placed to see the benefits which may come to a family when a daughter is…honored by a king.
When she lies awake at night, unable to sleep from the weight of expectations bearing in on her, she reflects that whatever her lack of accomplishments and graces, she has always judged herself to be a good daughter, and one who would sacrifice herself with pride for the good of her family. Now that the hour is upon her, she prays for the strength to carry out that sacrifice.
The king is unfailingly good humored towards her. She thinks, he would not be such a bad husband, even taken as an ordinary man. Should her cause succeed and she become queen, she is not worried that she would provoke him to temper, the way Anne does - constantly these days - and therefore she would have no cause to fear a marriage to him. When he meets with her, he sits her upon his knee and talks to her as one would to a devoted daughter. She answers simply, the way a child would, and she knows that he is delighted by her innocence. Unlike the queen that was, and the unhappy queen that is now, Jane has grown up close to her brothers, and she believes she understands how to manage and keep sweet a king who is still so very much a boy at heart.
So if she awakes each night, sweating from nightmares where she is drowning in a sea of Henry Tudors, or escaping from a nest of vipers with Henry’s face, it is not the man that she fears. But she dares go no further in her examination of herself. She is, after all, a good daughter, and one who will fight for the family cause. And when the king comes, with a party that must surely include his chief counselor, she will remind herself daily of this fact.
It is the end of the first evening of the King’s visit to Wolfhall. Jane is returning to her rooms, grateful for some solitude after a draining day. She thinks-she hopes-that it has not gone badly with the King. He was courtly and solicitous throughout the evening, and seemed to delight in her every utterance. So, she might safely believe that no one has yet noticed her distress. Tonight, which was the longest she has spent in Master Cromwell’s direct company in some time, has left Jane feeling flayed. He has been like a talisman for her; the idea of him is an ocean of calm that looms larger in her dreams in proportion to the King’s ever growing presence in her life. But coming face to face to with the real man has punctured some illusions for her and she finds herself wondering if she truly knows him at all.
Out of the silence, she hears the approaching muffled sounds of struggle on the stairs. After a few moments of hesitation, she thinks she recognizes the voices and ducks into a corner where she can hide in the shadows. The scene she witnesses is brutal, yet bizarrely touching to Jane in her unsettled state: Rafe Sadler and Gregory Cromwell mount the stairs, dragging a half conscious Francis Weston between them. She watches as they call him to accounts for his insults to Gregory’s sisters. She watches as Thomas himself comes up the stairs, sees what his boys have done to Weston, and leaves them to their work. She wonders whether her brothers would defend her name with similar enthusiasm, if she were gone one day and her memory insulted. She also thinks that maybe she understands a few things more clearly now, although some questions still remain. Once the boys have finished their work with Weston, she goes to find Thomas.
Part 2. Thomas
It is the end of the first evening at Wolfhall and he has left Rafe and Gregory to their punishment of Weston in order to walk alone in the gardens. He is far drunker than he has allowed himself to become in ages and for a little while, he allows his mind to wander away from the tasks for tomorrow. It is peaceful in the dark here, away from the main house. He wonders if he has sufficient space at Austin Friars to extend his own gardens.
He sees her coming to him, translucent in the moonlight, and for a brief, wholly ludicrous second, he thinks he is seeing Liz, back from the grave and making her way to him. Then his vision clears, and he truly sees her.
"Mistress Seymour," he greets her formally, a little stiffly.
"Master Cromwell," she says. "May I walk with you for a little while?”
"I don’t believe that would be for the best. You have," he chooses his words carefully, "certain expectations placed upon you currently. It wouldn’t do for you to appear…indiscreet."
"I understand," she nods solemnly. "I was hoping for some counsel on precisely, those…expectations." She attempts a small smile. "You need not fear for your virtue, Master Cromwell." He stares at her, taken aback at the attempt at a joke. She looks at him ruefully. "I never had much in the way of wit; my brother Thomas says I shouldn’t even attempt it."
How could he not take her arm after that? They wander for a time, in companionable silence. Finally, he is compelled to ask, “You were looking for counsel?”
She stops walking and thinks, looking for the correct words. When she speaks, she cannot quite meet his eyes. “I am resolved to help my family.” She halts again, hesitating. He nods, gently. She tries again. “Whatever the sins of my father, I will do what he asks of me, whatever it may be.” She lapses again, he waits. When it comes, it is like an exhalation. “I saw you tonight, at dinner, when Francis Weston insulted your daughters. You were so silent, letting your son defend his sisters. And I thought,” she ducks her head, “I thought, why doesn’t he defend them? Why is it always the children who must go forth and do the work for their parents, even if all that the children want is to be left in peaceful obscurity?” She bites her lip, horrified at what she has just said.
He starts to speak, but she marshals her courage and holds up her hand. “I thought that at first, but then I continued to watch you and I think I understood. It is not that you loved them too little to speak of them, it was that you loved them too much, I think. You hide it well, but it hurts for you to speak of them, does it not? I thought, if I am to sacrifice what I…may be sacrificing…for my family, I wanted to understand what it meant to feel with that depth of feeling…” she trails off, cheeks flaming.
Once again, he opens his mouth to speak and once again, she stops him; this time by standing on her tiptoes and pressing her lips to his.
He rears back, places his palms on her shoulders and studies her. Thomas, who has conversed easily with dukes and bishops and merchants in several tongues, is not easily left speechless. This girl, and her incredibly inexpert…seduction…has somehow achieved the impossible.
She looks up at him now, face just as solemn as ever. “I am sorry,” she says. “That was ill done.”
"Yes," he manages. But there is the wine in his body, and there is moonlight, and perhaps the chance to banish the specter of his dead wife once and for all. And he is crushing her body close to him and kissing her like he is fifteen once more with all the world of possibility opening up in front of him.
Part 3. Jane and Thomas
He comes to her chamber that night. Each is more aware than the other of the danger, as they face each other solemnly, sitting on the bed.
"We need not do anything," he offers. "But if you wish, there are things we could do which would bring you pleasure, and which need not betray you to a future husband."
She nods, determined, but a little like she is facing her executioner.
He cups her cheek. She thinks briefly, of Rochford’s long ago comment, that he could crush her. But his hands are gentle against her skin. He kisses her slowly this time, and more deliberately, and she warms under his attention. She thinks a little wildly, that if he is bringing the same kind of meticulous attention to the nation’s accounts that he is showing to her mouth, than England’s coffers will be filled to bursting in a few more years.
He breaks away, reaches for her shift, and pulls it slowly, carefully over her head. Then, under her gaze, he undresses. She should be feeling very, very vulnerable right now, but all she feels is a sense of total safety and security as he eases his large body on top of hers and kisses her neck. Her whole body shudders against his tongue, like a struck bell, as he proceeds to trace a path from the neck down the center of her stomach. Then, in a move wholly beyond Jane’s imaginings, he moves his head between her legs. Once again, he is kissing her with the same, unparalleled attention to detail and she is making noises she has never before imagined she could make. He focuses his attention on one spot, and she forgets to think - forgets to breathe - forgets her own name - everything driven out of her mind by the sensations which are building up from the center of her body. At last, with an agonized sound, she convulses, then lies there for a moment, utterly stunned. He waits for her, with a fond expression in his eyes that she is certain that most other people would never believe he would be capable of. They kiss again, and for the first time, Jane is aware enough to see and understand Thomas’s condition. She is not entirely innocent. She understands what it means even if she is not sure what they can do about it. She marshals her courage, then dares to venture in a low voice, “Is there not something I could do for you?”
He smiles at the boldness of the question, he cannot help it. Such courage, this little mouse of a girl has, he is once again flabbergasted.
"Here," he says, taking her hand in his and guiding it to his sex. They grasp it together, and she shows her how to hold her hand and how to move it, until he pulses under her and explodes. Once more they sink down into the pillows together and she drifts to sleep in his arms.
When her eyes open next, there is daylight streaming into her chambers and she is in the bed alone. She lies there quietly for a while, evaluating her situation and trying to decide if she feels any lighter.