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Jane Parker sends me letters from court; they are my only absolution from boredom and solitude, even if Jane’s cramped hand and attention to the trivial does grate on me. She expends more words describing the Countess of Devonshire’s new sleeves than on how it is being whispered that the Queen has lost another baby. She is of an age with my mother – surely that was her womb’s last swell? Poor woman. Katherine can pray until her knees furrow stone, but for all her pains there will be no Tudor princeling to follow King Hal, and it will be killing her to know it.
I can picture her clearly, ponderous and resolute in that chair close to the fire, where she liked to sit in the mornings. Her smile is sweet, but watery, like her eyes. Her smiles must be rarer now, as she draws furs around her aging body, a dark thing against the red of the fireplace, whilst the Boleyn girl – and who knows who else? – does what she cannot, and grows fat with her husband’s child.
I once spent a brilliant and bright springtime afternoon picturing what my little Percy children would look like; they were beauties, dark-haired and long-limbed. I’ve thought of them from time to time since then, and it’s like probing an aching tooth with the tip of my tongue. I wonder if things would have been different if I hadn’t demurred, if Harry had been less of the gentleman that he is, if we had gone to my father with the Northumberland heir safe under my ribs.
I’d wanted to do it, to cement our union in his bed. I’d found it hard to control myself as he breathed love against my neck in hidden corners of Greenwich Palace, stroked it into my skin with his fingertips. But I’d gotten too used to playing the lady whilst my sister plays the whore. I’d insisted we wait; and so now I’m left with nothing but phantom children and my wonderings on whether I’d do it all differently, if I had my chance at Northumberland again.