Her clothes are composed of coarse material, but they are well-made. Henry sees the familiar work of her own hands in the seams. Ever the seamstress, my Catherine. You truly have not changed.
She curtsies low, though she favors him with an oblique glance from beneath her lashes. He feels nervous at the lack of recognition in her eyes. Not so much as a glimmer or a shine. It is as though she is a mere subject arrived at the behest of her king, not a queen returning to her throne.
Henry rises and descends the steps to meet her. He offers her his hand and brings her to her feet. “My lady, my Queen, arise. There is no need for this. You are home.”
“I do not understand,” she whispers, her melodic accent heightened by time spent among the common, teaching them her native tongue.
“You are home, Catherine,” Henry pronounces, brushing his finger against her cheek. For the benefit of the Court, he continues, “In spite of the machinations of certain ambitious courtiers, you have been returned to me. It is God’s will that this is so.”
The eyes he has loved and despised in equal measure look upon him with unease. Henry can feel the tension radiating from her, her jaw clenched beneath his touch, her posture taut at his nearness. If this is my wife, she does not know this to be true. Damn it, Charles, I was told that no harm had come to her. Boleyn will pay for what he’s done to my queen. The Tower will seem a mercy when I’m through with him.
“My lady, are you well?” He knows his fingers around her arm grasp too tightly. Were he not so afraid of her vanishing before him, he’d let go. But he is afraid.
He holds on tighter.
“Forgive me, Your Majesty. I’m merely overwhelmed. I…I did not expect that I would ever return and, now, I am here.” She attempts to smile and Henry is somewhat heartened that she cares enough to ease his distress, but nothing has changed. She is not the Catherine that coyly teased him in the early days of their love, nor the one who steadfastly revered him in its sunset. This woman does not know him yet has sense enough to be wary because of what the truth might do.
Does my reputation precede me in such a manner, Catherine, that even forgetting me, you fear me?
“As I have said, it is by God’s grace that you have returned. Princess Mary has missed you, as have I, wife.” He smiles in the hopes that she’ll remember. She trembles instead.
“Then, I am glad that my return brings the King joy—and the Princess, of course.” Henry thinks he sees something curious in her expression at the mention of their child. His smile widens. Of course, our beloved Mary. Our daughter can bring her out of this!
He turns immediately to Charles, with whom he plans to have sharp words at another time. “Have the Princess return to Court immediately.” His brother-in-law and old friend bows before dashing away to do his bidding. “Once you see Mary, I’m sure everything will fall into place.”
Catherine nods, just short of her former regality but far too properly for a mere lady. As unfamiliar as she seems, she is his wife in every discernible way.
“Perhaps you’d care to see your rooms,” he offers, drawing her closer with a linking of arms. “I had your things placed exactly as you had them when I was told you’d been found.” He guides her away from the throne room and the prying eyes of the courtiers. This is no longer a reunion for the public.
“That was very generous of you, Your Majesty,” she replies, eyes cast toward the floor. I could not ask for a more deferent servant, if she were a servant.
Henry doesn’t know what else to do. She is no longer a woman fit for a throne, and yet she is a queen. His queen. Please, return to me, Catalina. I know you’re here. I have known you as I have known no other, as you have known me. Do not abandon me now that I have finally found you.
“How can I help you to recall, my lady?”
“Your Majesty?” She lifts her gaze in dismay.
“What can I do to make you remember? Would a ride on the moors remind you of our time together? A walk in your gardens with Mary? Your Bible, which I’ve kept by my bedside for months? Tell me, Catherine, and it shall be done. Anything to remind you that you are the true Queen of England.”
She shakes her head and looks away. “I do not know, Your Majesty. However, I will do whatever His Majesty wishes. What I have forgotten, I will learn again.”
“When you say this, you are so like my Catalina, that I can hardly see the difference.” He halts them in their stroll and turns her toward him. “How are you so different, Catherine?”
“I am different in that your queen has only a daughter and I have a son.” It is a confession she seems to fear and yet remains unashamed of. The daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand, indeed.
“Yes,” Henry swallows, anxious as he has never been. “I had heard about the boy. As he is the son of the Queen, you may bring him to Court. I will give him a title and ensure that he is well cared for.”
Catherine purses her lips and inclines her chin, her expression thoughtful.
“Will that be a problem?” Henry thinks he’s being more than generous in keeping the bastard son of his wife, born out of ignorance or not. As it is, the boy’s father is lucky he has not been found or the king would be sorely tempted to behead him as punishment for defiling his queen.
“No, Your Majesty. Again, I am most grateful for your compassion. But, I think it necessary to tell you that I do not know the identity of my son’s father.” She bites her lip, a commoner’s habit.
Henry narrows his eyes. “Meaning?”
“Meaning…I do not know. As the sisters of the abbey have told me, I was with child when I arrived in the village. I simply had yet to show the signs.”
With a tilt of his head, Henry begins to deduce a truth that is either so gratifying as to be a further miracle or so horrifying as to be an abomination. It was only a single night. Surely, we couldn’t have produced a child in so short a time. But in his heart, he knows it already to be true.
“Your boy, how old is he?”
Catherine exhales slowly. “He is aged nearly sixteen months.”
Henry nods curtly. “Then his father is no mystery.” It is a relief, an answered prayer, and a blessing, but not a mystery of any kind.
“Your Majesty?” Her eyes are wider in curiosity than in fear. Henry decides that he shall love her curiosity and shield her from her fear.
“He is my son, Catherine, conceived upon the Royal bed.”
“That he is the crown Prince, yes. I finally have a healthy son and, someday, he will be king.”
“Jesu Cristo,” she exclaims, clutching her chest in disbelief.
Henry laughs for want of anything else to do. For surely God has been with them all along.