The Privy Garden lay under a heavy mantle of snow, and a leaden sky stretched over the palace and the city beyond. Catherine had never imagined such cold in Lisbon, and yet these English seemed not only to tolerate it but to thrive. The Thames had frozen over, and from the river side of the palace she had seen men gliding over the dull white ice on sharpened blades, a pastime Charles’s brother had brought from his exile in the Netherlands. Indoors there were great fires and hot drinks and games and dancing, as if merriment could provide heat that would seep into every corner of Whitehall.
Except into the new queen’s heart.
Catherine had wakened in the hours before dawn, while Lady Suffolk snored beside her and Annis, another of the seemingly endless chambermaids, breathed heavily at the end of the bed. After lying abed for a time, willing herself to sleep, she had risen, wrapped a down-filled quilt about her shoulders, and gone to stare out the window onto the Privy Garden. Torches at each arch and doorway gave the stonework around the garden an odd orange glow, and despite the hour there were still servants about their tasks. She marveled at how many people lived and worked in the palace, a small army of women and men.
There were two of them just below her window, shoveling snow from the path into a barrow to take away. She watched, fascinated to see how they edged the path to keep the snow from tumbling down again. They talked loudly, heedless of the sleeping nobility just above them.
“. . . My Mart’ say it’s all the best for ’er.” That was the square-set man with his head wrapped in a scarf and dirty scarlet mitts wrapped round the shovel haft.
“Wot, ’er?” The taller, thinner fellow jerked his head, and Catherine stepped back from the window when she realized the man meant her. The queen.
“Nar, she’s still flat as my ol’ auntie. Lady Barb’ry, the king’s whore. Ye’d think she’d know by now where babes come from. Only a month or so blown, but gettin’ center of the roast and all fine about ’er, Martha says.”
“Ain’t no doubtin’ ’is Majesty’s a man, aye.” The thin man stopped to lean on his shovel. “But ’e ain’t been able to put a baby in the Port-a-gee. Me, I spect ’e’ll tire of tryin’ after a time, send ’er ’ome.”
“Wot, and marry t’other?”
“Ol’ King ’enry married ’is ’oor, din’t ’e? Hark, yon’s t’ steward.”
The men fell quiet, shoveling with a will as one of the liveried stewards approached. What he said to them, Catherine did not stay to hear.
She fell back into the room, her ears full of buzzing. Charles gone to her again, after all his sweet promises, and she was pregnant? Catherine said a prayer, but could not be certain what she was praying for. That it not be true? That this child was not her husband’s?
The queen scurried back to her bed and fell into it, the quilt still wrapped around her, too cold to weep, shivering deeply. It was those shuddering gasps that woke Lady Suffolk.
“Your Majesty, are you ill?” The older woman sounded thick and stupid, half asleep still. “You are like ice! Hi, girl!” she tossed a pillow at Annis at the foot of the bed. “Fetch something warming for Her Majesty.”
“No, no!” Catherine sank back among her pillows. “Fetch nothing, I beg. I am—” she could not say she was untroubled. “A—dream. A bad dream. Sleep, Annis,” she urged the girl, who looked at her from under a tumble of brown curls. “Lady Suffolk—sleep, I beg. I—” She gestured at the pillows, still too distraught to remember the English words. “Eu também vou dormir. I sleep.”
Lady Suffolk, her dark eyes shadowed with concern, plumped pillows and tucked the covers around her. She is Barbara Castlemaine’s gossip, Catherine thought. She acts kind, but she is not. Does she know? If porters know, all the court must know. Catherine shut her eyes and curled about her unhappiness.
After a time she felt Lady Suffolk lie back in the bed; soon she was snoring again.
What shall I do? What can I do? She pressed a hand against her flat, empty belly. If I speak to Charles it will avail me nothing. If I speak to Lady Castlemaine— Catherine’s imagination failed at the thought of such a scene. Surely Charles will not send me home—he may not love me completely, but he loves me a little, I swear, Holy Mother, he does, and he is not cruel. So I must bear this—if it is true. And pray.
Thinking so, Catherine drifted into a light, troubled sleep.
There was a yip, and Feliciana was on her hind legs, nosing at the queen’s hand, begging her attention. The animal was suffered to go everywhere, even as the king’s dogs were. Eleanor Plumstead liked dogs well enough, but she disliked these little beasts that were everywhere underfoot in Whitehall, a symbol of everything she loathed about the court: spoiled frivolities in a place and at a time meant for seriousness.
The queen bent to pick up the half-grown pup and bury her face in the dog’s silken fur. “Foolish baby, your nose is so...