“Jane? My sweet Jane?” In the dark and oppressive room, not even the dust wanted to make a sound. “Jane? Please answer me.”
Queen Katherine sat forward in her chair and rested her hand on her husband’s shoulder. “Darling, Jane is not here. Remember me? Katherine?” She grabbed his hand and brought it to her chest. She could feel his fingers searching for Jane’s long locks of hair. For the briefest of moments, Katherine felt a pang of jealousy.
Henry’s eyes opened and looked directly at her. His ghostly left eye was blind and unfocused, but she held out hope that he could see her familiar face. “My name is Katherine, my dear.”
“Katherine? That’s not right. Jane? How I have missed you, and love you more than you know.” Henry’s hand reached out to touch the face of his queen.
Katherine embraced his touch and closed her eyes. “I love you, too,” she whispered. Henry’s hand fell to the mattress with a loud thump and his breathing became ragged and shallow. Katherine looked at the group of physicians surrounding the king’s bed. Their faces told her what she already knew. “Go fetch Cranmer.”
The lead physician stepped forward. “My Queen, there is time. He is not dying yet.”
Katherine stood and folded her hands politely in front of her. She walked up to the lead physician and summoned all of her strength to dominate this man. “He is dying.” Her voice was stern, but the slightest crack escaped her lips. She cleared her throat to push her grief aside.
“It is treason to say the king is dying, madam.” The lead physician looked toward King Henry with worried eyes and then back at Katherine. It was clear to her that the man feared for his life and did not want to make a mistake despite the late hour.
“Then condemn me, but my husband will see Cranmer before he crosses over to the other side. Fetch him, now.”
“Jane, my love. Please do not leave.” Henry’s voice was no louder than a whisper, but it called to Katherine. Her heart broke hearing the pain in his voice. She sat back down looking at her king and his bloated features. Out of the corner of her eye, Katherine saw the lead physician whisper to his assistant. He bowed his head to his master and then to her and her king.
Katherine grasped Henry’s hand. His eyes shot open again and he took in a sharp breath. The blind eye terrified her. What was he seeing behind that grey cloud?
“Yes, my king.” Her voice broke as a lump formed in her throat. “Jane is here.”
“Oh, Jane. I knew you would come back. You were never lost.”
“No, my love.” Katherine kissed his hand. The rings on his fingers had cut off the circulation and discolored the skin horribly. The tips were a deep and grotesque purple, and his pinky had turned completely black. As she leaned down to lay her head on his chest, she was instantly overcome by the foul stench coming from the open sores on his legs.
Too warm to remain covered despite the cold January air, his legs were out exposed and revolting.
Suddenly, Thomas Cranmer burst into the room with the assistant physician. “Is it time?” Katherine looked up and scolded him with her eyes. He withered under her gaze. Quietly, he pulled out his prayer book and began his reformed statement of faith. “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible…”
* * * * *
Henry heard the faint whispers beside him. But the words were just out of reach. Were these whispers for him? He turned toward his Jane. Her face was glowing a white light and her eyes looked at him with the love and adoration he so craved.
He reached his hand out to touch her face. His hand, he saw, was not bloated and ugly but rather pink and lithe. Surprised, he flitted his fingers around feeling the air. He formed a fist and felt the muscles in his arms solidify under his power. He felt young and strong. Smiling, Henry pounded the bed, shocking Jane. “Oh, darling. I did not mean to startle you.” He laughed, and her face softened.
“Yes, my love.”
“I cannot believe how I feel. Oh, Jane, I could get up and dance around!” He stopped and looked at his legs. He grew very serious as he summoned his strength and swung his legs over the side of the bed. With all of her grace and charm, Jane stood barely making a ripple in the air around her. She held her hand out for him to steady himself.
Much to Henry’s surprise, he stood without pain or struggle. With wide eyes, he looked down at his feet. He hadn’t seen them in what felt like years. They looked so foreign after being hidden away under his girth, a burden he carried for too long after the loss of his sweet Jane. It was no wonder that when she came back into his life, he felt healthier and more alive than he had since her death.
He looked at her hand in his, and then he stared deeply into her eyes. “Jane, what is this magic? How can I see you and feel like a man of twenty years?”
Jane looked at him with eyes that could pierce armor. “Oh, Henry, my love. It is because you are no longer alive.” A gentle smile crossed her lips, and then her features distorted into a gruesome monster with jagged teeth and a split tongue and black empty holes in place of her eyes. The mouth opened inhumanly and a scream echoed in the room shaking the candlesticks, paintings, and even heavy furniture.
Terrified, Henry stumbled backwards and fell toward the hard ground, but instead of landing, his body continued in a hellish free-fall. Henry, King of England, fell in a spiral of never-ending darkness. The only thing he could hear were his own screams.
To be continued…
To read more of Dreadful Dantes including about Marie Antoinette and Greg Abbott, click here.
(c) Copyright 2016, Alison C. Wroblewski. All rights reserved.
Resource: “The Life of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer,” The Anne Boleyn Files, 2010.
Resource: “The Church of England: The 39 Articles of Religion,” The Victorian Web, 2001.