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No Other Will But His

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No other will but his.

 

She’d chosen those words because no one else had mentioned the King in their motto. They were reflective of other aspects of Katherine’s life, though, and she sometimes pondered it as she sat in her room, wondering why all of them had been reincarnated.

 

Why not just Anna? Anna was the one who had died a virgin, who had never gotten to have a family of her own - of course, Katherine hadn’t had any children either, but she’d had the chance to. 

 

Why not Anne, to fix her mistakes? She’d made quite a great deal of them, but she was likely the reason England practised their own religions now. Certainly she could have been reincarnated alone and all six of them would have had less arguments. Maybe she’d have changed the world again.

 

Catalina, because she deserved another chance at life. She’d been loyal and ready to bend to the every whim of her husbands’, so she deserved a life of her own. She deserved a chance to take the good she’d given the world once upon a time and spread it without any of the others holding her down.

 

Jane would have had a family at long last, and Katherine thought maybe she was the best suited to reincarnating with the rest of them. She would get a taste of something she’d missed ever-so dearly, as had they all - but Katherine was certain it’d hit the third queen the worst. Still, she could have adopted every child in the world had Kit not been holding her back.

 

Cathy. Oh, Cathy. Cathy could have shared her opinions with the world had she been alone; she wouldn’t have been hindered by the rest of them. While she got herself out there, speaking out through their show… She preferred her blog and her books. Katherine knew this, and sometimes, when she watched Cathy write, she wondered how the survivor had such strength. If she had been alone in this world, she would have had only her views, not those of the rest influencing her as she etched worlds into paper.

 

Katherine. She had nothing for her here, save for the small family she’d made. Before then, absolutely nothing had been there for the teenager. She’d left everyone - and she meant everyone - she loved back then, dead, and she’d come back.

 

It pained her in the middle of the night, waking her from her nightmares as she saw heads on sticks, bloodied heads of those who she had loved - except now that she’d made a family, she saw their heads too.

 

It hurt, and even when the others came in to comfort her, they would never understand what pained her.

 

None of them had felt such love. None of them had gotten it torn away from them like a Band-Aid from skin.

 

Painfully.

 

~*~

 

One day, Katherine woke in the middle of the night, feeling pressure on her stomach and light touches along her legs. She knew what that nightmare had been, and she hated to think of the memories it conjured.

 

But she couldn’t stop thinking. She reminisced in what her life could have been, and tears streamed from her eyes as she cried loudly, burying her face in her arms as she wondered why everything she could have had was taken from her.

 

When Jane sat next to her, asking what hurt, she shrugged and responded in a croaky voice with, “My heart.”

 

Anna wrapped an arm around her, and Katherine didn’t flinch, leaning into the embrace and resting her head on her friend’s shoulder. “How so, schatzie? ” asked the German, ruffling Katherine’s hair.

 

“I loved him.”

 

Those three words always managed to escape the lips of every person in the house, and it was usually a difficulty to discern who was being mentioned. Was it a brother? A misconception of their shared husband? A previous husband?

 

“Loved who?” Anne asked softly from where she was seated at the end of the bed. Katherine could hardly see her cousin through the memories that flooded her mind.

 

“All of them.” A choked sob made its way out of the girl’s throat as she hugged her knees, squeezing her eyes shut as she tried to catch her breath. “I loved them all.”

 

~*~

 

The confession of sorts had shocked the rest of them, and they’d spent the night allowing Katherine to sob helplessly into their shoulders, occasionally asking what she had done wrong. They’d told her she’d done nothing wrong, of course, because they were a family and they were obligated to try and make her feel better.

 

It didn’t work, though, and she spent each night after waking up in tears after either a dreadful nightmare or a dream so real she thought it true.

 

She dreamt of the family she could have had, the wife she could have been, the life she could have kept. She dreamt of what was taken from her and what she had taken from others. She dreamt of the memories that had never been made, and what would have happened had they been real.

 

She dreamt of forgiveness, and she dreamt of utter joy that was ripped from her when her eyes opened in the morning.

 

~*~

 

She never elaborated on what she’d meant that night. She wasn’t even sure what those words had meant, but what did she know? 

 

Guilt overwhelmed her some days. Yes, she knew she’d had the bad end of it all. Yes, she understood she’d been a child and couldn’t possibly have consented to anything that had occurred. But still, there was the bitter taste of regret that filled her mouth as she sang her song, giving her view of things in a sense. She wasn’t sure she was being truthful. Her dreams had made her wonder such things, and she no longer trusted her own judgement.

 

After all, who would trust the judgement of a girl like her, of a girl who had never stopped loving even when everything was taken from her?

 

~*~

 

Katherine felt foolish one day, having asked Jane what made her so sure of her past love.

 

Jane had eyed her curiously, and then the blonde had shrugged in a manner that was nearly nonchalant. “I’m not quite sure, Kit,” she’d said, leaning back in her seat. “Whatever made you love them, I suppose. The sure feeling that this is it, that it’s what you’ve waited for your entire life. That it’s genuine, even if it isn’t.” She cast a side-glance to the younger girl, raising an eyebrow. “Was there a specific reason you were wondering?”

 

“I- Er- No, not at all, thanks, Jane!” Katherine responded in a rush, leaping off the couch to go… Grab her socks… From the kitchen. Yeah, that was it. 

 

She sat at the kitchen table, wondering how she’d felt so sure of things every single time, only to have it all ripped away. She’d been young, and she’d found love - was it love? - four times. Certainly that was something to be proud of, she thought, but her dreams said otherwise.

 

Did she deserve forgiveness for finding more love than the others? Did she deserve forgiveness for setting Cathy on the path to that cursed throne? Did she deserve forgiveness for the deaths of her lovers? After all, she had gone along with it - it was her fault, too, she told herself. She deserved what had happened.

 

The others didn’t deserve to be burdened by her sins.

 

~*~

 

She didn’t sleep for nights after that conversation with Jane, keeping herself awake by drinking coffee and energy drinks constantly, and hiding her lack of sleep with makeup. If there was anything she’d always been talented at, it was the skill of hiding things. Physically or mentally, young Katherine Howard had always found a way. 

 

She’d hidden her innocence and youth with Mannox. She’d hidden her hesitation with Dereham. She’d hidden her worries from the King. And she’d hidden her uncertainty from Culpeper.

 

Would they have listened had she done anything else, had she refused their advances?

 

Katherine had always been the pretty one, the one with no brains.

 

She’d used her mind, though, and she’d tried.

 

But she’d only been a child. What more could she have done?

 

Not much, it seemed, as she rolled over and buried her face in her pillow with a tired groan.

 

~*~

 

Katherine thought about the weight of her sins nearly daily. She understood that all of them held a weight on their spine, the weight of their sins forged into chains, as Dickens’ A Christmas Carol had so cleverly illustrated. 

 

Catalina probably had the least sins of all of them. No human was entirely faultless, but what had she done? Clearly, she was the one who deserved forgiveness.

 

The only one, Katherine thought darkly as she pondered what she’d heard of her fellow queens. Anna, maybe, hadn’t done anything wrong, she added, but it could have just been something inside her that made her not want to trust the woman she’d once been close with.

 

Something like jealousy, perhaps?

 

Kit’s head snapped up from where she sat in the kitchen, and she glared at the wall, angry with not only herself, but also the universe. The universe, which in some cruel form of a joke, had let her have a second chance of life. 

 

It hadn’t given the same chance to the people whose deaths she had caused. 

 

~*~

 

She had dreams when she took a small, fitful rest, and they were dreams she surprisingly hadn’t had much of yet. Dreams of the end were things that plagued the other queens quite often, ranging from Jane’s distress to Anna’s confusion as they awoke.

 

Katherine felt nauseous at first, and she felt as if she were awake. The rocking of the boat as it made its journey across the Thames to the Tower made her acutely aware of where she was, and although the boat was covered, she shivered in the slight breeze that found its way though.

 

She, Katherine Howard, Queen of all of England, was going to die.

 

Even if she had tried to tell herself otherwise the night before, she knew her execution was imminent. Within the next few days, she would be in two pieces, and someone else might take her place.

 

She thought of Jane Seymour and Anne Boleyn before her, and she wondered if they’d thought of who would come after them. Certainly not Jane, she thought, but…

 

As she thought about it, she was certain that she wouldn’t survive this. The very fact that she had been - no, still was - Queen let her know for sure: death was permanent. Her mother, Catherine of Aragon, Jane Seymour, and Anne Boleyn… They hadn’t come back from the dead. Neither would she. 

 

A sudden burst of terror bloomed in her lungs, and the girl coughed, her eyes widening to the size of saucers as she shook. She was going to die. She was going to die because some people couldn’t have kept their mouths shut about what had happened, about some of the acts she had hardly been sure of…

 

She sobbed. It wasn’t the queenly sob she should have given, but rather a wail befitting her age (at least, that was what her stepmother would have said). 

 

She was going to the Tower, and she wasn’t coming back.

 

That night, she asked for the block to be brought up to her chambers, so that she might at least die knowing she left the Earth in a queenly fashion. She could let anyone watching her know that even though she, Katherine Howard, might have been young, she had dignity, and even her arrest and execution wouldn’t take it from her.

 

She woke in a panic as the axe came down, clawing at her neck as a scream wrenched its way from her throat, which she wasn’t even sure was still intact. Hot tears trailed their way down her cheeks as she gasped for breath she was certain wouldn’t come. Her cries grew louder as she thrashed under her duvet, unable to see in the darkness that threatened to choke her. 

 

Before, she had woken up filled with bitterness of what she had taken from others. Now, she awoke with fury and terror pulsing through her veins. She was angry with those men for what they had taken from her. Her innocence, her youth, her life , taken because men weren’t happy with what they’d been given by others.

 

They just hadn’t had enough.

 

When would they ever have enough?

 

Katherine blinked tears from her eyes as she felt a hand on her shoulder, and she froze. 

 

She screamed.

 

Her hand shot up to rip the other person off of her, and she leapt off the bed, stumbling across her carpet until she found her window. “Katherine, schatzie, wait!” yelled a voice, but Katherine was already gone, stumbling out of her window (thankfully, she was on the ground floor, otherwise she’d be even more dead). She scrambled through the grass, running towards the pond with all her might.

 

The wind whipped through her hair, and Katherine felt her tears sliding off her cheeks as she tripped over a rock, landing on her hands and knees as she stared into the pond.

 

Her reflection hardly looked like she did. Kit’s eyes were red and puffy, her neck was red and covered in scratch marks, and she looked broken.

 

However, she also didn’t look like she used to. She had the scar, for instance, and her hair was half-pink. 

 

The sudden sight of herself was what she needed to be shoved back into the present, and she gasped, shoving a hand into the cool water and rubbing it on her face as she shuddered. Her neck was burning. The sensation itself was akin to what Anne had mentioned feeling before and what Katherine had felt one of those nights, but she’d never felt it so strongly.

 

She’d never had a nightmare about her own beheading, and the realisation she’d been used slapped her in the face as the cool pond water did so itself. What if they hadn't cared? What if her family didn’t care?

 

Katherine wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, grimacing at her reflection. It was all so surreal, she thought, as the smallest thing reminded her of her past life. The whooshing of the wind in her ears brought back discoloured memories of her time at court before she was Queen, when she had danced with Anna. Those had been some of the best days of her old life; she'd always loved to dance.. The bare trees let her recall the wintry morning she’d stood at the scaffold, ready to die.

 

Footsteps pounded behind her, making her gaze lift from the cool mirror of pondwater to Cathy’s caring face. “Kit,” Cathy said, and Anne and Catalina were right behind her, “Kit, love, are you all right?”

 

She called you ‘love’.

 

‘We have a connection, love,’ he’d said, and you’d raised an eyebrow. Hadn’t you heard that before? It wasn’t new, the feeling of a ‘connection’ between her and her lover, and it was already getting old. You had been certain this was it, that this was where you were meant to be, that this was your destiny - but what if you had been wrong?

 

“Katherine,” said Anne softly, placing a light hand on her shoulder, “please answer me.”

 

He was old, far older than you, and your family said it was an honour to serve him, an honour to marry him. Of course, you agreed, because they were right, weren’t they? It was an honour.

 

Until you met Culpeper, and everything went downhill.

 

‘Katherine, Kate, answer me,’ said Thomas, staring down at you greedily. ‘Don’t you want this?’

 

She was shaking, and she couldn’t do this. She couldn’t let him have her. She didn’t want to.

 

“Help,” Kit croaked, and she buried her face in her cousin’s shoulder as Anne held her tightly, allowing her to sob in their embrace. She couldn’t feel the chill of the air as her cousin held her, and she sobbed freely, occasionally murmuring things like ‘Sorry’, ‘hate’, and ‘used.’  

 

“Don’t be sorry, Kit,” Cathy said warmly, and while Kit couldn’t see her, she knew it was Cathy talking to her, not Dereham or Mannox or anyone else. It was Cathy , the Cathy who let her read her work, the Cathy who did her maths homework for her. This was Cathy, someone who was like a sister to her. 

 

“Yes, you have nothing to be sorry for,” Catalina chimed in. Katherine’s mind was flooded with joyful memories of cooking while Lina raved about some newfangled device in the background, Catalina running with Kit and Anna, Lina telling her that everything would be all right.

 

“Minette, I promise we’ll take care of you. You will feel better, and I will hurt whoever hurt you.” Anne. Her cousin, her cousin who had taken care of her immediately, who would give her life for her. Her cousin with a fiery temper that couldn’t be tamed but would certainly be used against a person who caused harm to anyone in their little family. Her cousin who held her now, making her feel strong enough to burn the bridges to her past.

 

She hugged Anne tighter, raising her head to stare up at Cathy and Catalina behind her, and she gave them a weak smile. “Cathy,” she said, and the sixth queen smiled back at her. “Cathy,” Kit said again, “thank you.”

 

There was a pause, during which she could hear the soft trickling of the pond, and she took a deep breath, hiccuping slightly as her sobs began to subside. “Thank you all so much.”

 

~*~

 

Kit found trust in her family, trust she’d never been able to have before, not in this life or a life before it. They were willing to go to great lengths to protect her, and she began to come out of her room and talk to them, listening to Anna when she said Thomas and Francis had brought their deaths upon themselves. That they had brought her death upon her, and she needn’t worry about what her family think because they would always support her. They would always love her, unlike the men who had taken over her life beforehand. 

 

Catalina helped her understand that the men she’d felt forced to be with didn’t define her, that she could be herself and they would all support her fully. Lina told her she could start anew and this would be a clean slate where she didn’t have to acknowledge everything if she didn’t want to.

 

But she did want to, and she wanted to prove she was better than they were. She knew that, at least in the eyes of her family, there was no need to, but she still wanted to show she had become strong enough to handle the memories. 

 

Strong enough to work towards forgiveness.

 

~*~

 

“I- Kit! Can you help me out?”

 

She glanced up from her schoolwork to see Cathy and Catalina gazing at her sheepishly from the kitchen. Lina waved slightly, shrinking back into the kitchen, and Cathy walked up to her. “We… We need your help.”

 

“My help?” Kit asked, feeling her eyes widen as a smile lit up her face. “What with?”

¡Mierda!”

 

There was a clang from the kitchen, followed by shouting, and Cathy grimaced. “That,” she said, “is what we need help with.”

 

Kit stood, closing her maths book and following Cathy into the kitchen, where Catalina was worrying over something in the microwave. “Cathy! Kit! It exploded!” she shouted, gesturing towards the closed microwave, which she backed away from. “It’s exploding!”

 

Cathy looked down guiltily, and Kit balked. “Cat- Did you- Did you put something in there?” she asked worriedly, rushing to Catalina, who was now against the counter.


“Katherine, it… Look at it!”

 

She glanced at the microwave, which was flashing and crackling as it worked its 21st century magic. “Catalina,” Katherine said firmly, “did you leave it on for too long?”

 

A frowning Catalina jumped when there was a flash almost like lighting, and she hesitated. “I don’t believe so; the can said to heat for two minutes and it’s only been one.”

 

There was another crash, and Katherine’s jaw dropped. “You put a can in the microwave!?” she exclaimed, rushing to the machine and opening it as quickly as she could. The can was flaming, almost like a fuse had been lit, and she hissed, blowing on it. “Get water,” she said to Cathy, who followed her instruction and filled a mug. After taking the mug, Kit tossed its contents onto the burning can, which, luckily, was quickly doused.

 

She stood for a moment, admiring her handiwork, when Anna and Anne peeked in. “What happened?” asked Anna, furrowing her brow.

 

Catalina pulled on an oven mitt and reached for the can, grimacing as she pulled it out. “This,” she said. “This happened.”

 

“Couldn’t you have asked Jane?” Anne asked, but the expression she held told Kit that she wasn’t angry in the slightest. “I mean, if you wanted to burn down the house, I definitely understand. I’ve been tempted to commit arson a number of times.”  

 

Despite the concerning words, everyone laughed, and Kit began to relax. These people, they were her family. She loved them, and they loved her. 

 

Even if they didn’t understand her, she loved them with all her heart.

 

~*~

 

“Hey, Kit?”

 

Katherine smiled warmly at Cathy, waving at Jane as the blonde walked past them. “Yeah, Cath?” she asked, leaning back on the couch.

 

Cathy smiled tightly. “Thank you,” she said, sitting next to Kit. 

 

Kit raised an eyebrow, turning to face her friend. “What for?” she asked, “I’m only being myself.”

 

“For that,” Cathy said, “and for having the courage to confront the demons of your past. You’re living proof that we can be better than the demons that haunt us.”

 

“You don’t understand,” said Katherine demurely, “No one ever understands.”

 

Cathy frowned, her eyebrows drawn together as she gazed at the youngest of them. “You may have loved them,” she said softly, as if she were telling Kit a secret, “in a messed up way, and I understand. They gave you what seemed to be their trust, and so you gave them yours in return.” She sighed, shaking her head slightly as she closed her eyes. “You thought you could trust them. You were wrong, and it hurt, it hurt so much that you didn’t want to believe it. I understand , Kit.”

 

Katherine glanced up, staring at Cathy through her eyelashes. “You do?” she asked gently, almost with the sweet ignorance of a child.

 

“Yes,” said Cathy firmly, and she looked out the window at what seemed to be nothing at all. “I know as well as you do that love comes with a price.”