Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir


  “Hold me!” he grunts, mercifully withdrawing his hand and clamping mine to his pulsating member, which seems even bigger than before. He is in a passion of excitement, an animal with only its primeval urge to satisfy. “Let go, you bitch,” he snarls, pulling my hand away. “Not now.” Then he mounts me, heaving himself on top of me and violently forcing his penis into me. Deeper and deeper he thrusts, and the pain is terrible, sharp and stabbing. I would be screaming, but he has rammed his lips close on mine, and I can only whimper and squeal, squirming beneath him, almost suffocating, and praying for him to stop. But he is jerking against me, slamming into me faster and faster, hurting me savagely, yet intent only on his own pleasure. Then suddenly, mercifully, he ceases his awful thrusting, tenses, and holds still, clutching me painfully tightly and gasping in what seems like agony. I feel him pumping his seed into me before he slumps on me, his erection slowly subsiding.

  The torment ended, I lie entangled with him, ravished, violated, unbearably sore, not daring to move. Is it of this that the poets write such heavenly verse? How could any woman ever achieve pleasure from such brutal couplings? And, oh, dear God, will I have to endure it again?

  To my astonishment, Guilford is smiling sleepily at me, his face close to mine on the pillow. He is still lying across me, heavy, hairy, and sweaty, and I can hardly breathe.

  “That was good,” he mutters hoarsely. “Very good. You were so tight. I could feel every sensation.”

  I cannot speak, I am so distressed. The pain inside my female parts is an agony.

  Guilford frowns. “What’s wrong with you?”

  “It was horrible!” I burst out, tears welling up. “Horrible. Worse than they told me. You hurt me.” I am weeping uncontrollably. “You hurt me. Oh, oh.”

  “For Christ’s sake, it couldn’t have been that bad,” he says, as if I am making a fuss about nothing. This makes me cry all the more pitifully.

  Guilford rolls off me and lies staring up at the tester. The sheets are in a tangle and he is obscenely exposed, flaccid now, damp. There is blood on his penis. My blood.

  I pull the covers around me and curl up into a ball, facing away from him. I am sobbing my heart out, but he makes no move to comfort me.

  “What on earth is wrong with you?” he asks impatiently. “God, what a little misery you are. I should have guessed you’d be like this. Or perhaps you don’t fancy me and would prefer to be fucking that sex-starved tutor of yours.”

  That is beyond enduring.

  “How dare you insult me so!” I cry.

  “You are my wife, God help me. I’ll use you as I think fit. Now pull yourself together and stop sniveling.”

  I respond to this by breaking into a further torrent of weeping.

  “Oh, go fuck yourself!” he swears, and flings himself across the bed, dragging all the covers with him. I lie naked, exposed and vulnerable, and scrabble under my pillow for my chemise. But Guilford is too quick for me. His face blazing with anger and something else, he rears up to his knees, seizes my hands in a grip of iron, and forces them back on the pillow. This renders me helpless, which immediately, and strangely, has the most unfortunate effect on him. His expression changes to a lustful contortion, and kneeling over me, he begins roughly sucking my breasts, kneading them with one hand and gripping his member with the other.

  “No!” I scream, pushing him backward with all my might.

  He slaps me on the cheek. “Yes!” he roars. “You will serve my pleasure. Whenever I like, and as often as I like.” He is above me now, forcing my legs apart with his knees, then driving into me again with a violent urgency. The pain is white-hot, knife-sharp, but my husband is relentless in his lust and ignores my pitiful cries.

  “You will obey me, you bitch!” he gasps, shuddering to a climax.

  I have died, I think, and gone to Hell.

  For hours I lie awake at the edge of the bed, as far from Guilford as possible, steeped in misery. Eventually, sheer exhaustion sends me off to sleep. When I awaken, he has gone and it is morning. Gingerly I sit up, inspecting my bruised body. Dried blood is on the sheets.

  By the time Mrs. Ellen comes in to dress me, I have made myself decent, but she must see from my face how distressed I am, for she makes the rare gesture of putting her arms around me to comfort me, something she has not done since I left childhood behind. Somehow she knows I cannot talk about what has happened to me, not even to her.

  “All right now, my lamb?” she says, handing me my shift.

  If anyone in the household heard me cry out in anguish in the night, they do not betray it by word or look. I am unable to sit, stand, or walk without discomfort and eat my breakfast by sheer effort of will, hiding my inner despair. What has been done to me is too shameful, too awful, for words, and my pride forbids me to disclose it to anyone. I feel dirty and sullied.

  Guilford, Mrs. Ellen tells me, departed at first light, apparently eager to get back to Greenwich. He dares not face me, I think. Even my mother and father are looking at me with concern.

  My lady takes me aside. “I take it your marriage has been consummated?”

  I can only nod. I cannot speak of it.

  “I hope, then, that you will soon find yourself pregnant. Then you might settle down to a more normal life and dwell a little less upon intellectual matters. I’m beginning to wonder if we made a mistake in educating you so well. It has given you unnatural ideas and made you discontented with your lot. Well, no matter—you will soon learn where your true duty lies.”

  I am bereft, remembering a world I have lost, and to which I can never return. The very idea of pregnancy fills me with fear. Pregnancy and childbirth are hazardous matters, to which I have now laid myself open, albeit unwillingly. Like the rest of womankind, I must risk my life to provide my husband with heirs. Within a year, I realize with horror, I could be dead.

  A week passes and still Guilford has not returned, I thank God. After my illness and my ordeal in the marriage bed, I am fragile. Inside, I am numb, closed-up, and leaden-hearted, carrying my sorrow and shame locked away in my heart. I’m sure Mrs. Ellen is worrying about me, for she complains I am too thin and not eating properly, and that if I continue this way, I will never recover my strength.

  I do not think I could care less.

  CHELSEA, JUNE 1553

  I am back at Chelsea now in the house filled with bittersweet memories of Katherine Parr. How happy I was then, and how sad it is that we do not always realize we are happy until happiness is gone. Now, instead of the late Queen’s kindly nurturing, I have to endure the harsh rule of my mother, who seems indifferent to my suffering and still takes every opportunity to criticize me. Now it is because Guilford has still not returned to see me; his absence must, of a certainty, be due to some fault in me.

  At Chelsea I live quietly. With the King so ill, it would be wrong to do otherwise. I spend my days trying to absorb myself in my studies, and praying that I will not be disturbed by any visits from my husband. My wounds heal slowly, and to my utter relief my monthly course arrives as usual. I dare to hope that Guilford will not think it worth repeating the dreadful marriage act, since I was such a disappointment to him. After all, it’s not as if he is his father’s eldest son, with an obligation to carry on the family name; nor do I lack sisters who can provide my parents with grandchildren. If only they would all just leave me alone with my books and my letters, I would be content to let life, and the world, pass me by.

  John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland

  GREENWICH PALACE, JUNE 1553

  Lady Suffolk sends me regular bulletins on the Lady Jane’s health. I am concerned about this new daughter-in-law of mine. I was told she was a modest girl, but at first, to be honest, I thought she looked more sulky than shy, and I have wondered ever since if she will prove as amenable as I had hoped. Then there is her health, which is not good. She’s too thin for a start, and overprone to illness, which is more cause for misgivings. Truly, I fear, I have invested all my hopes in a
weak and unpredictable vessel.

  Fortunately the marriage has been consummated. Guilford has openly said so, although I was not pleased to hear today that, when he visited her at Chelsea, she refused him her bed. That is a serious breach of duty on a wife’s part, and one calling for me to act. But I must go carefully: the Duchess of Suffolk tells me that her daughter has some malady of the spirit that prevents her from making a full recovery from her recent illness.

  I discuss the matter with my wife. Guilford has complained to her also of the wretched girl’s intransigence.

  “I think she is very willful,” my good lady says. Of course, she will take Guilford’s part: in her eyes, he can do no wrong.

  “Yes, that may be so,” I reply. “But could he be in any way to blame?”

  “Of course not! He has merely claimed his lawful rights. Really, John, this foolish wench is making a lot of fuss about nothing, and I mean to visit her and tell her so.”

  “No, wait. She’s been unwell, and it will not do Guilford any good if you interfere. He must sort this out himself—woo her back to compliance if need be. But first, I suggest we allow the Lady Jane time to fully recover her health. That’s why I had her moved to Chelsea—her father mentioned how happy she was there with the late Queen. Moreover, it’s close to London. I would like the Lady Jane near at hand in case she is needed.”

  I look down on the wretched example of human suffering that was once the pride of King Henry. Edward VI is on the brink of the next world; I don’t need the royal physicians to tell me that. But it is a hard, drawn-out death. The boy has no rest because of his harsh, tearing cough. The putrid matter he brings up is black, viscous, and stinking. His feet and ankles have swollen to twice their normal size, and he can hardly eat anything. Sleep eludes him unless he takes the noxious cocktail of medicines and drafts prescribed by his doctors. He is beyond human help now.

  “Your Grace, we can do nothing more,” Dr. Owen tells me.

  “How long will he last?”

  “A week or two at the most, I would say.”

  And that, I know for certain, is not enough for all that must be done to secure the succession to the Lady Jane.

  “Can you do nothing more to keep him alive?” I urge the doctors.

  “My lord, we have done all we can. He is in God’s hands now. It is only a matter of time.”

  With a brusqueness born of anxiety, I dismiss the physicians. Later, after a confidential interview with one of my agents, I am glad I have done so, because with what I have in mind, I do not want them poking and prying around, for I know that they will surely guess what is afoot. My priority is to keep the King alive long enough for my plans to mature, so that I can obtain the support of the great nobles of this realm and commit Edward’s sisters into custody. Above all, I must cozen His Majesty into lending some veneer of legality to what would otherwise, I am aware, be a blatant attempt to subvert the law of the land.

  All this requires secrecy and time. Time, time, time. I am becoming obsessed with it and sick of worrying about it and the ever-present need for urgency. But my time will surely run out when the King dies, or soon afterward, since even I cannot keep the death of a sovereign a secret for long.

  So I am profoundly relieved when my trusted agent—a man who is troubled by as few scruples as myself—comes to me with the name of a woman who may be able to prolong the King’s life.

  “She’s a Welshwoman, Tegwyn Rhys by name,” says Yaxley. “She was left widowed and childless at a young age, so she came to London to seek work and inevitably turned to prostitution. I’ve had some dealings with her”—he reddens—“and found her to be bright and, shall we say, versatile. It got so that she was very much in demand and managed to stash away quite a bit of money, enough for her to abandon that profession and set herself up in a modest shop in Cornhill.”

  “Where she sold?” I inquire.

  “Potions. Cures.” Again his cheeks flush.

  I lean forward. “For what?”

  “All kinds of complaints,” says Yaxley, clearly uncomfortable.

  “And your interest was?”

  “To be frank, my lord, I’d been one of her regular clients in the past, and I used to drop in on her from time to time at her shop. Later, after I got married, I experienced some small difficulty—”

  “Impotence?”

  He squirms. “Something like that, yes. Tegwyn gave me a potion for it, which did the trick.”

  Or rather, you believed in it so much that it did, I reflect. “So what has all this to do with His Majesty?”

  “Well, my lord, after that, whenever I or my wife needed any physic, I went back to Tegwyn’s shop. Her prices have always been reasonable, and her cures often work better than those expensive ones prescribed by the court physicians. I became a good customer, you could say. Well, more than that.”

  “You frequented her bed as well as her shop?”

  He nods. “We’re good friends. I could talk to her about anything; she’s that kind of woman. Yesterday, I was sitting in the shop as she was locking up, and we were talking about how dangerous some drugs can be. I was surprised to hear her say that arsenic, while it can be deadly, can also prolong life, if used in the right way.”

  Understanding dawns. This is what I have prayed for.

  “Summon her to Greenwich at once,” I command. “I want to talk to her.”

  The woman sits before me in my paneled closet. She looks awestruck by her surroundings; of course, she’s never been in a palace before. She’s comely in her way, if you like the overblown-rose type, but her eyes are sharp. I read in them intelligence and cunning. It takes a fox to know a fox.

  “I have been told that you can help me,” I say.

  “I can try, sir,” she says. “Is it a confidential matter?”

  “Very confidential. Not one word of what we say must be repeated beyond these walls.”

  “You can trust me,” she says, low. “Is it a—you know—personal matter?”

  I laugh briefly. “Oh, no, nothing like that. Much more serious. Tell me, Mistress Rhys, how come you are so gifted in curing people? My man William Yaxley has been singing your praises to the skies.”

  “I got it from my mother, sir. Seventh child of a seventh child, she was, and regarded by many as a wise woman with a gift for healing. She taught me all kinds of lore.”

  “I take it all this is quite legal?” I fix my stare upon her. “No magic, no witchcraft?”

  “Oh, no, sir. Just herbs and simples.” The flush on her cheeks tells me she is lying, and that there’s a great deal more to it than that. “I rely only on time-honored remedies.”

  “And poisons? Master Yaxley mentioned arsenic.”

  Ah. I’ve got her there. She looks like a hare cornered by dogs.

  “I’ve never harmed anyone,” she protests.

  “I’m sure you haven’t, but others might wonder. That’s why I think you will help me.”

  “Help you?” she echoes.

  “Yes. I understand you can prolong the life of someone who is ill.”

  “Prolong life?” she asks, plainly baffled.

  “Yes, by the use of arsenic. Is that correct?”

  “Well, yes, I—” She is more on her guard now. “I’ve heard it can be done.”

  “But you have never used it yourself for such a purpose?”

  “Never, sir. Never.” The emphasis suggests she is lying.

  “Then how come you told Master Yaxley that it could be done?”

  “I just repeated something I’d heard about years ago. From an old monk.”

  Clever touch, that. Most people nowadays would believe any monk capable of such infamy.

  “Well, wherever you learned it, what I want to establish is, would you yourself know how to use arsenic to prolong life?”

  “I daresay I could,” she says slowly, considering. “Is it for yourself, sir?”

  “No.” I take a deep breath. “It is the King’s Majesty whose life we are disc
ussing.”

  “The King?” She gasps, her eyes terrified.

  “Indeed, sadly so. He is dying, and there are urgent matters of state for him to attend to. I fear, however, that God will call him to Himself before these can be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and that the kingdom will then be plunged into chaos. If you can help His Majesty, Mistress Rhys, you will be doing England a great favor.”

  “I can’t,” she says, plainly horrified.

  “Why?” I ask, trying to conceal my impatience.

  “I can’t. It would be cruel.”

  “Madam, I am asking you to prolong the King’s life, not end it.”

  “The old monk told me,” she says, picking her words with care, “that to administer arsenic in this way can cause the greatest suffering and pain to the patient. Sir, you must realize what it will mean for that poor boy, King or not. It would be callous and inhuman—akin to torture, you might say.”

  “But will it prolong his life? And for how long?”

  “It would assuredly prolong his life, and probably for a week or more, maybe even a month, but—oh, sir—at a terrible cost. I beg of you, do not do it.” Her vehemence tells me she has seen the suffering she describes firsthand. But I cannot afford to heed her remonstrances.

  “Would you be prepared to take over his treatment? From today? You will be handsomely rewarded, of course.”

  The woman slumps in her chair. “And if I refuse?”

  “Well, Master Yaxley has been rather free with his confidences. Inquiries might need to be made….” I allow her a moment to think about this. She must know that the penalty for witchcraft is death.

  “I will do it, then.”

  I can feel my shoulders sagging with relief. “Good. But remember,” I say sternly, “speak of this to no one. There must be utter and absolute secrecy.”

 
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