Chapter 1 of ‘Dear Heart, How Like You This?’

WENDY J. DUNN


From Dear Heart, How Like You This?

My Anna was dark and lovely—full of life’s burning light. How strongly my love’s fire did blaze. Too strong, yea, too strong for this world. For her bright, burning light has forever been put out; aye, put out, and my life is eternally dark. Too dark tout de suite for me to ever see the end of my despair.

I knew my Anna and loved her from the beginning of my life. We grew up together as children, for we were also blood kin—being cousins—and lived our early lives as close neighbours. Then a day came when almost every moment of my childhood became a time to be shared with her. Gentle and sweet my Anna was in those early days, overflowing with laughter and the joy of living life.

I learnt to love her as I learnt to live, and loving Anna made her as much a part of me as the blood flowing in my veins. Anna grew to love me too. Not as much as I wanted her to love me. Not as I desired her to love me. But, for me, enough with to make do and take all my life’s joy.

Only once were we true lovers. If our merciful and gentle King Harry finally decides to allow me to live, then the memory of that one wet, summer’s day, those few short hours of bliss when she at last led my burning desires to a brief fulfilment will be all which remain of joy. No more. Nothing. All is so empty.

What is now my future but a stark, dark void in which to fall?

Oh, Anna! My burning light. My lovely girl. Dearest of hearts. My only beloved. To know that you lie dead. Oh, how dark has become my world! I cannot help but feel that the best of me is gone. It vanished instantly when your life was taken.

I curse the fates, cursing all the disappointments that caused you to first set your feet upon the road leading to such a terrible, bloody end. But most of all I curse the despot we call King. He so willingly and selfishly defiled your name and honour so to destroy all that was precious to me.

The King never knew you as I did. How could he? He never saw you as I did: growing up untouched by the world at Hever. So innocent. So in love with life. So believing in all life’s goodness.

From almost the beginning of our lives, you were always my good and constant playmate, even though more than three years separated our births. Aye—how I remember us: lying on our bellies in the meadows of your Kentish home, breathing in the sweet aurora of the wet spring grass, trying, with so much pure enjoyment, to outdo the other’s childish poetry. I think it was with you, my Anna, that I first became aware of the beauty one can create with words. I know it was with you, dearest of hearts, that I first became aware of all that love could mean: its joys that had you ascending near to Heaven, and its heartbreaks that left you sore and bleeding but, yet, painfully and utterly alive.

How could we have known then what life held in store for us? Never could we have imagined that the English Caesar would one day desire you. Indeed, desire you so much that he would cause the breakup of your first youthful love—when you gave your heart to Hal Percy—with the result that you, angry and torn apart, would plan to use the King’s lust as a way to gain revenge.

Oh, my lovely Anna! If only you could have known then the danger your scheme would lead you to. If only you had listened to me that dark day (when the cloudless sky served only to mock) so long ago, when we fought in the gardens!

I wish I could wake to find I have been dreaming all these desolate, hateful happenings. Even more, I wish I could wake and find that we could go back. Yea, go back to Hever and the green, rolling meadows of our childhoods, and begin our lives yet again. Oh, dear God— please, dear God—can we not begin our lives again? Aye, begin our lives again but this time, aye, this time fulfil the sunshine that once was?

Of all the thoughts which keep me company in this lonely room in my father’s castle, as much my dark dungeon as the cell in the Tower, the ones haunting me most are: If only your father had not seen fit to send you to France. If only he had seen his children as other than chattels to add to his worldly wealth. If only he could have seen that we two were soul mates and thus, in the best of loving wisdom, suited to be betrothed to one another.

If only! It would have saved both of us so much grief and agony. It would have saved you from dying on a scaffold. And I believe—yea, I believe with all my heart—that you could have grown to love me as I have always loved you. Even now, when your earthly, headless body lies rotting in a disused box meant only for arrow shafts, do I profess my love; I will always love you until my last breath is drawn.

More unending tears roll down my cheeks. Grief imprisons my heart just as my love for you once did. How can my heart still thud in my chest when I am forced to live my life without you?

Yet you are such a part of me that I need but close my eyes to see you at almost every stage of your life. As a child you were a slight and tiny girl who loved to run and ride, but especially you loved to dance. Even when there was no music but what you alone could hear— music vibrating with every beat of your heart. I close my eyes and still see you, my Anna. A fairy child with long, loose ebony hair, wearing a heavy golden dress, spinning this way, spinning that way, always, always spinning. That is how I first became truly aware of you. One day I, a child of five, saw you, a child of two, with eyes shut tight and arms outstretched, dancing to your private and silent melody in a sun-drenched corridor. Full grown you were of middling height— so slight and graceful, with a swan-like neck, made even more bewitching and sensual by an upraised, brownish mole placed where one could feel the echo of your heartbeat. Hair so black it shone with vivid blue lights. Hair that, when loosened, flowed past your tiny waist. Hair that felt like silk. Bewitching brown eyes, beautiful eyes— drawing me into deep inside of you. Oh, Anna, how many, many times I thought I would drown into your eyes.

Aye—’tis true—many people said you had little true beauty, except for your eyes and wide, sensual mouth. (A mouth made for kisses. My kisses! Your mouth once so moist and soft, so hot and eager for my hungry lips.) Yea, so many people said that you had little of true beauty—rather there was something about your whole being that captivated. An aura surrounded you making you unforgettable; an aura that led you to such a dreadful death.

No, I am not blind nor am I deaf. I know living with fear on one side and the threat of death on the other made your temper fiendish at times. Indeed, many called you a shrew, therefore believed it was not surprising that the King became sick enough of you to seek any means he had to escape the savaging of your tongue.

Many also called you witch, taking as proof a slight deformity on your right hand, a hand that even so was beautiful. What use is it now, when you lie murdered, to say to them that they speak of what they know not.

You were no witch. Rather you had the gift of living deeply, touching people’s lives in one way or another. Most people never knew you; they only saw an exterior created by the King and his selfish lust. Inside you were still my lovely Anna; my Anna so terrified of the Pandora’s box she had opened.

As I sit here in my father’s home, not knowing for certain if I am to live or die, I slowly and painfully turn over the pages of my life. I find the only pages I desire to dwell upon at all are those emblazoned by your presence, Anna… my dark Lady. Even when you and I were separated, I carried the thought of you in my heart and took solace that my beloved walked on the same earth as I. And I… I cannot help wondering if the King decides I am to live, when he has brought death to so many others (so many others for no cause, yet ’tis I alone he ought to have slain) how am I to live without you—without you, my Anna? Aye my life… a life where I will no longer hear your voice or laughter. A life that will no longer contain the joy of watching you dance so gaily to a song of your own creation. A life where my Anna no longer listens closely to my words, considering deeply what I say. Aye—you—Anna, my dear friend as well as my beloved. What has life now to offer me? These bloody days have broke my heart.

By all the wounds of Jesus, I cannot yet think myself forward. Better that I go back to the time of our childhoods at Hever Castle. Hever Castle: more home to me than my father’s manor and heritage at Allington. Your Boleyn grandfather had it rebuilt as a statement of his improved status and wealth. Originally falling down with neglect and age, it had been lovingly converted into a fine home for his family and dependents. Surrounded by a moat and green, lush meadows, it was a perfect place for the children we once were. Aye—for the children we once were.

Chapter 1

Despite the tenth hour of morning, darkness deluges the room. Even so, at the room’s far end, a little light emits from a dying fire in the hearth and a tall, narrow window—at the back of an embrasure constructed in the grey stone wall— gives out some more. In the embrasure, a small boy kneels on the confined window-seat—seemingly gazing out at a dull day as rain beats its rhythm upon the thick lattice glass. Upon the veil of condensation formed onto the glass surface, the boy begins doodling his name: T-h-o-m-a-s W-

The sound of an opening door turns the boy from the window to see—silhouetted against the light in the next room—a man’s shape fill the doorway.

Somewhere near, there is the weak mewing sound of a newborn infant.

“Father!”

The boy swings his body away from the window, but he hesitates and sits on the edge of the seat, watching.

The man comes in the room and walks over to the hearth, removing a rush from beside it. Taking a flame from the fire, he lights the candle in the sconce fixed high in the wall, then tosses a log of wood into the fire, stirring the embers back to life. His gaze turns toward the boy.

“Have you been forgotten, Tom? You shouldn’t be in the dark.”

With his head drooping, face unshaven and eyes red-rimmed, the man sits beside the boy. Glancing at the boy, he looks very sick.

“Tom, my boy, I must leave soon to return to court. Soothly, when I go, I believe it would be best if you leave Allington too. But not to court, Tom; you’re too young for that yet. I plan to place you in care of our Boleyn kin. Would you like that, my son? I know you like your three cousins and they are closer in age to you than your sister and brother. They’ll be good companions for you, and I would be happier knowing you were not so alone here.”

Wordless, the boy moves closer to his father, until he nestles into him. With tears running down both their faces, the father enfolds his small son tightly in his arms.

*

“Anna! Wait, I beg of you!”

The taller boy sped towards the little girl, pausing in her skipping to look back at him and her brother. Her feet barely keep still on the ground. The elder of the two boys reaches her side first.

“Is there call to be always so fast? You must stay with us, Anna.”

The other boy, shaking his head as if in repressed laughter, stands beside him.

“Simonette is right, coz. My sister has quicksilver pumping in her veins, rather than the usual red blood.” He places a finger under the girl’s chin, lifting her face so she looks at him. She gives him an impish grin. “Please listen, Nan If you wish to be with us you must do as mother expects. She would get very cross if she saw you running, and I don’t dare think what would happen if she catches you skipping. Remember, sister, who you are.”

The little girl bobs a brief curtsey.

“Simonette says one day I shall be a great lady.”

The boys look at each other, and laugh. Her cousin drops to his knee before her, with her brother quickly following suit.

“And we shall be your noble knights!” her cousin proclaims in his deepest voice.

Anna laughs and, picking up her skirts, she starts to run, calling over her shoulder, “My knights! Catch me then, I dare you!”

Glancing at one another again, the boys laugh before racing after her.

*

Two boys climb an old oak tree, the older one helping the other up. They climb up until they find a branch on which they both can safely sit; when they do, they settle their backsides, swing their legs, and look out towards the castle.

“Shall we have a wager on how long it will take for them to find us, Tom?”

The darker boy turns to the fair one, considering him.

“What sort of wager, coz?”

“Father gave me a new dagger for my name day; if I am wrong, you may have it. If I’m right, I get to keep it.” “Show me this dagger of yours, George.”

The younger boy takes a dagger from his belt, and hands it to the other who inspects it carefully. He looks back to George.

“All right—shall we spit on it?”

Lavishly, they spit on their right palms before clasping each other’s hand. Still holding hands, they pause and look at one another. The darker boy clasps tighter his cousin’s hand.

“Friends forevermore.”

The other boy lays his free hand over those clasped. “Aye—friends forevermore, Thomas Wyatt.”

Hands released, they look back towards the castle.

“So what say you, Tom? How long before we hear the girls bay at the bottom of this tree?”

“I say but only a short time—when the sun reaches where we sit.”

“Coz, I say more. My sisters were in no hurry. Indeed, they were more intent to fill their baskets up with flowers to take back for Simonette than seek us amongst the oak grove.”

“No matter—we can occupy ourselves while we wait to see who outdoes the other with rhyme. Shall I begin?”

“Aye, Tom. Why not?”

*

In my fifth year my father made the decision to send me to my mother’s kinsman, Sir Thomas Boleyn, so I could begin my education alongside my cousin George. I find it surpassingly easy to recall my feeling at this time, my feeling of confusion as to why my nurse was not coming with me, and the emotion seemingly stifling the beating of my heart whenever I remembered my mother. Verily, I remember being confused and unhappy for so many, many different reasons. Only as I grew older did I understand that families of our status customarily sent their offspring to homes of relatives or friends to gain the beginnings of their education and strengthen attachments already formed. Yea, that knowledge came to me much later. When it happened that my life was altered for the first time, I was but a small lad, very, very wrenched from all that was loved and familiar.

I already knew my cousins well, for there always had been constant goings to and from one household to the other, as our family estates were situated close to one another and, thus, made us near neighbours in our county of Kent.

My cousin George and I were of similar ages. More importantly, we possessed similar interests and fast became good friends. Add that deep friendship to our kinship, and you have a strong tie, one enduring until savagely cut—cut by bloodthirsty events to befall us as grown men. Aye, George and I had, from the beginnings of our lives, a strong bond of companionship. Even more than that, this bond seemed like a stalwart thread of constant affinity running through the fabric of both our lives.

Like me, he had sisters. But where my sister Margaret seemed a necessary bane, a person I knew little but was committed to for duty sake, George was more fortunate. To be more truthful, fortunate with one sister at least. This sister was named Anne, the youngest of the Boleyn children. George’s other sister Mary being the eldest, while he, the only boy, born in the middle.

I felt fondness for my cousin Mary. She was a sweet girl, pretty with fair hair and deep blue eyes, interested in female pursuits and largely disinterested in anything too intellectual. Anne, even though possessing the most beautiful and expressive eyes I have ever beheld, seemed less pretty than her sister did. Yet, Anna’s body, with its fragile bones, promised enduring beauty. If that promise seemed not enough, Anne, even as an enfant, was already turned towards a world of learning. So much so I truly believe even Sir Thomas More—who educated so well his own daughters—would have been captivated with, and approving of, the girl child who was Anne Boleyn.

Aye—even when she was a very little girl I adored her. There is a clear memory of George, Anna, and myself as small children. George and I were wrestling, testing our boyish strengths against one another, while Anna—not quite three—sat close by, cross-legged, making flower chains from the assortment of wildflowers in her lap.

Soon the time came when George and I had enough of the rough and tumble of our game. We shook ourselves free of dirt and grass adhering to our persons, and walked, with our arms flung over each other’s shoulder, to be with Anne. Her face lit up as we came nearer to her and she held out to us the flower chains she had made. I found myself laughing at Anna’s obvious enjoyment of her innocent craft, and broke away from George to take the proffered chain of flowers from her smaller hands.

I went down on one knee, while George stood behind his sister— it seemed always so when we were children. George made the decision at Anne’s cradle he would seek to be where he could protect her. He simply regarded it as his right and privilege. Thus, as George stood behind her, I carefully placed the flowers upon her head, arranging them to be as if a crown. Then Anna shook her head, causing the flowers to become lopsided. She giggled, and some of her loose hair blew into her mouth, two fingers following after.

“My lady,” I said, in my best grown-up voice. I took her hand and hair away from her now smiling mouth, and smiled back at her.

“Anna, if you are to be my Queen, you must learn how to behave!”

Anna laughed at me, reaching out both her hands to hold my face.

“Funny Tommy! Give Anna a kiss!” She puckered up her lips to me, and I joined mine to hers in a childish kiss.

I see this scene unfold within my mind and I cannot but help wondering if the events of our past sometimes give us hints, even omens, of what would one day be. But, who is to say which is a brief glimpse to the time before us, and which is but another moment that soon passes into oblivion. If only we could see the omens for what they really are; if only we could see them and arm ourselves, so to protect those whom we love.

*

In our childhoods, George and I—with Anne forever tagging along after us—would find every excuse imaginable to enter my uncle’s library—a place none of us children were supposed to enter unless accompanied by our tutor, Father Stephen. It was a wonderful library, possessing one of the most extensive ranges of books in the whole of England. For us three, the library seemed as if some kind of Eden full with forbidden fruit. But, like Adam and Eve of time long passed, we could not resist the temptation of sampling the fruits held within the library’s four walls…

*

Three children—boys of ten and nine and a small girl of seven—sat huddled together on a bench, their three heads bent over a thick and open tome resting upon the middle child’s lap. All at once, the closed library door swung open, and a young girl of eleven rushed into room.

“George! Tom!”

The children looked up guiltily at the elder girl’s entrance. Then one boy stirred angrily on the bench where he and his companions were sitting.

“Mary!” he cried in a pained voice. A fair, tousled-haired lad, his face specked with freckles, he gazed at the girl as if just recovering from a major fright.

“Why can you never knock, or give some kind of warning, before barging in on us?”

The younger girl, her body gently leaning on the boy who had just spoken as if drawing her security from being thus close to him, gazed up at Mary with huge, dark eyes.

“Please, Mary, do not tell! I begged George and Tom to take down from the shelves father’s Tales of Canterbury. It was my idea truly,” the girl pleaded in a soft, melodic voice.

Mary, hands on hips, glanced at the book.

“Oh, that—as if I care whether you three desire to get into troublesent to the Continent. I am to go to the court of Brussels next month!”

She began dancing around the room in excitement.

“I can hardly believe it, but I am to be a Maid to Margaret, Duchess of Austria!” Mary stopped in front of the bench, giving a slight curtsy in the general direction of the other three children.

Anne and George stared long at Mary. Then they looked at each other, unaware that, beside them, the older boy gazed at them both. He knew, without questioning them, why they looked at each other with such fear. He feared the same thing: that Mary’s departure would soon be followed by other departures, the three of them separated too.

Mary, becoming aware of the silence and mistaking its meaning, stamped her foot.

“You two are just jealous! I am glad to be going. Glad, I tell you! By my troth, so very glad to be getting away from both of you!”

She spun around, her blonde, untidy loose hair twirling around her head as if wind-whipped by her anger, and was out the door as quickly as she had entered.

*

I had lived with the Boleyns for about five years when Mary was sent to the court of Brussels. Mary rarely appeared as cross as she was that day. In sooth, of all the Boleyn children, I would have said that Mary was the one to have the sweetest temper.

Nonetheless, it was extremely difficult for my cousins to grow up as children of my uncle. Uncle Boleyn was an uncommonly handsome man, with a well-shaped face bedecked by a glorious red beard and possessing piercing blue eyes that reminded you of an eagle surveying the world in which it lived. He was also an extremely ambitious man, a man who planned to step higher in the society in which he lived via the use of his three young children. And they were intelligent enough to realise, from an early age, what his purposes and ambitions were. His children also knew that they had to strive very hard indeed to be able to give to him his pound of flesh, and thus gain their father’s hard won approval.

I had not much liking for my uncle and felt very thankful his duties at court meant that he was rarely in residence at Hever Castle. In truth, we never welcomed his visits to Hever. Rather we knew when we heard his heavy step approaching the nursery that one of us was likely to be violently punished for some minor transgression. No, I did not much like my uncle. Even when I was a child, he struck me as a heartless and unrelenting man. A man who calculated every move he made. A man only interested in what best served the achievement of his own desires. Verily—I speak only but the truth—my uncle was a selfish man who heartlessly ignored his children’s need for a father’s love and approval.

I believe it was especially hard for Mary. My cousin never did have the inner strength needed to meet any of Uncle Boleyn’s hard demands. Nor was Mary—at least, not until a woman full-grown—able to stand up to her father in any way.

I felt grateful my own father was very much different. He too was a busy official of the Crown, so was also much away from our family estate at Allington. But when home, he would always ride his horse over to come visit me or send for me to return home for a short visit so to see my sister. My father is a godly man, wise, gentle and always even-tempered. His greatest desire, in contrast to my uncle, was to do good and be the loyal friend of all who sought for his friendship. Indeed, in the life ahead of me, never was I to meet a man more faithful to his friends. My father valued truth and honour above all things. Thus, I always looked forward to his visits, and to my visits to Allington.

My mother? What of her? Why do I remain so silent?

Yea, I remember her. Aye, how do I remember my sweet mother—she who I loved and then lost forever. Something in my life that once was a tangible substance, and then altogether too swiftly, like an arrow in flight finding its target, became a black vacuum. I remember, and yet do not want to remember… If I delve too deeply into myself in search of memories of her I begin to tremble and ache, as if inflicted with some unresolved torment. If I delve, I begin to bleed. Therefore, it is best to leave my feelings of dark despair locked inside of me forever. Aye, my loving and beloved mother died in childbirth before I left for Hever, which was one of the many reasons why this arrangement for my upbringing came to be.

As well as my sister, I also had a younger brother, Henry, the child my mother bore into the world as her own life was taken, whom I had left as but an infant when I departed from home. My infant brother died before I had a chance to grow to know or love him, thus being brought up with my cousin George seemed like gaining a brother in his stead. Perchance, even if Henry had lived, George would have taken his place in my heart. The friendship George and I shared comes only once in a fortunate lifetime.

Aye. My cousins became easily and quickly the objects of my boyhood affections. They were also the people I enjoyed squabbling with. And, being children, we had many, many squabbles, but they all ended as they began—in friendship.

Aye. ’Tis so easy to recall my cousins from those early years. Mary, all blonde and always pretty—even if often untidy. A gentle, sweet girl who seemed to never think deeply about anything too important, who grew into a woman easily persuaded and, just as easily, hurt and cast aside.

George. My very good and dear friend George. Tousled hair, lanky, very freckled George, with the brightest blue eyes I have ever seen, always so completely loyal to those he loved. My cousin George was such an important part of my life.

Then there was Anne. My sweet Anna. Anna, who sometimes seemed like a fairy child left in place of a mortal child. Forever darting here and there, as if a spell had been cast upon her; a spell that forbade her to stand still for more than a moment. Anne. Anna. My beloved. Reader, you must realise by now what I thought of her. For this present moment, I will speak no more of that.

My cousins Anne and George possessed a special brother and sister relationship. Forever together in childhood as if God had meant them to be cast out into the world as twins and then decided otherwise. Both George and Anne were musical. In sooth, poetry and melody flowed through their veins as well as the usual red blood.

Even when they were very small children, Anne would often write the lyrics to George’s musical compositions, while George would do the same for her creations. To me, it came as no surprise to learn that their last night upon this earth was spent composing sonnets for their much-loved lutes. From little children, I know they took to music, just like swans take to gliding upon lakes of crystal waters.

Yea, George and Anne were more to one another than ordinary siblings, but it was evil and vicious of the King and his ministers to suggest that their relationship was ever incestuous. Rather, I say they were like two separate pieces of the same soul.

We three—Anne, George, and I—always formed such a happy and contented trio. The three of us enjoyed playing with words and music, and would often have contests to see who could outdo the other two. Even as young children we were always completely honest with each other about our work. While we were growing up, Anne would constantly tell me, to my great delight, that she believed me to be a great poet.

I can still see her to this day: pixie face, chin upon fist, sitting cross-legged on the thick, green grass looking at me frankly with those big, darkly hazel and delectable eyes. Eyes, seemingly, often taking over her entire face.

“Tommy,” she would say in utter seriousness, “you do know how to write such lovely rhymes. Your poems are like keys opening doors inside of you. Some open the doors to your mind, while others are keys that open the secret doors to your heart.”

I would laugh at her when she said things to me like this. Here she was, such a little girl, always trying to perceive things in a way that was beyond the reasoning of childhood, but which often appeared even beyond the reasoning of most adults.

Like me, George and Anne loved poetry, and often tried their hand at composing verse. But music, as I have already mentioned, formed the major passion of their lives. George and Anne both seemed to live just to be able to sing and dance, especially so when the music and the dance were of their own invention and design.

Many an afternoon, when we were children, we would gain permission from Father Stephen to escape from our ordinary lessons so to take our lutes to a tiny chamber in the castle that we regarded as our private music room. Often our good Father, who came to be our attentive and appreciative audience, joined us there. In this room we would sing, dance and play our lutes until our fingers were red and sore, and our voices hoarse, thus could sing no more that day.

My sweet Anna possessed a lovely singing and speaking voice.

* * *

See more: Dear Heart, How Like You This?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *