Meeting the King of England
Called to Serve
I was greeted by a hand clasped over my eyes. Everything went dark. "Lady Catherine," whispered a male voice. I laughed. I knew the voice only too well. "Mister Dereham? Is that you?!" I called out.
A knock at the door startled me awake. Who could be knocking at the door at this hour? I wondered.
I opened the door and was greeted by my Uncle. "My Lord," I murmured, bowing. Still in my nightdress. I must have looked such a fright. I hadn't even had time to properly brush out my hair, which hung down my back like a red patch of wool.
He bowed deeply. "Lady Catherine, a word," he said, in his somber voice. I nodded. "The king would like to formally make your acquaintance," he declared. "I have set up a meeting. Style yourself appropriately, and make haste."
Flustered, I stepped into my closet. So many dresses, and none of them would do. None at all.
"Lady Catherine, what are you doing? Today is your day of rest from your duties."
"Not today, madam. I am to meet the King," I announced, holding up one of my dresses as I studied myself in the mirror.
She sighed before closing the door behind her.
Decisions to be Made
I held each dress up, one after the other. I sighed. None would do. They were all too frilly, or too old-fashioned, or too soft. I needed something...sophisticated.
I peered again in the closet. A pile of discarded dresses lay at the base, like a container of old rags. There was one dress remaining.
It was green, with thick satin sleeves. I'd not worn it in years. Would it still fit my body?
I rang the bell, an announcement to one of the servants that I needed assistance. In no time at all, Mistress Agatha showed up at my door. She curtsied deeply.
"I need assistance," I announced. I held my arms out like chicken wings as she tightened the small corset around my waist. "Breathe in," she commanded. As I inhaled, I felt the garment cinch my waste uncomfortably. Then, I exhaled just as quickly. It hurt, but at least I looked the part.
"Which...dress?" she asked, eyeing the large mess I had made just moments before.
"That one," I said, pointing to the lone survivor in a sea of fabrics.
As she secured the dress to the person, I admired my new and grown-up appearance in the mirror. Everything looked perfect. Well, almost everything.
"Mistress Agatha, hand me that brush!" I shrieked.
I studied myself again one last time before departing. My beautiful red hair was soft as a horse's fur and tucked back. I found some brocade shoes in my closet that matched the color of my gown.
I was ready to do this. Shaking, I grasped the door knob. I took a quick breath before shutting the door behind me.
The Long Journey
My legs felt as short and shaky as a chicken's. I couldn't believe I was doing this. I had seen the king on several occasions, as lady-in-waiting for her majesty Queen Anne. However, I'd never interacted with him alone. I wasn't sure what I was really supposed to do.
It was still early. Someone had just lit the torches in the hall passages, which glowed softly. Hardly a soul was around.
And this fact only heightened my anxieties further. I tried to remember the path to the throne room, but the fear was clouding my mind like a storm. I ducked under a low stone ceiling.
"Ow! My neck!" I cried out. A sharp pain rattled through my bones. I reached out and touched the wound. It was then that I saw it: blood.
The Hand that Guides Me
I felt a hand grasp my shoulder. I cried out.
When I turned around, I saw it was simply Mistress Agatha, my chambermaid.
"Madam, do you need assistance?" she asked, concern lining her youthful face.
I sighed. "Yes; how did you know?"
She laughed in her merry way and extended her hand. "Follow me," she said, smiling.
All Eyes on Me
I stepped through the familiar rounded archways of the court.
"Thank you, Mistress Agatha," I murmured, relieved. "I fear it's much more difficult to navigate these passageways when I am alone and in the dark."
"Madam," she said, curtsying once again. If she knew my secrets, she sure wasn't telling.
Of how terrified I truly felt.
Once I passed through the entrance way, I felt the stares of the men and women at court. I knew them only too well. The men all favored the ladies-in-waiting; it was no secret. The noble ladies, in contrast, were envious of our station. I lifted my chin up to portray that veneer of stone, but I knew there was no way I could hide what I was feeling.
Picked apart, scrutinized, gnawed at like a vulture's meal.
As soon as I went past, I exhaled and the tears rolled down my face. I just couldn't contain them anymore.
As I went around the corner, I noticed my tall, serious uncle staring at me like I had stolen a sheep. "Lady Catherine, for what reason do you have to wallow? You are about to meet the king!" His grey eyebrows furrowed as he glared down at me.
"I-I'm sorry, uncle," I stammered, wiping my face.
"Don't spoil this! Embarrass yourself, and you make a mockery of your whole family!" he whispered.
I curtsied, not wanting to look him in the eye.
He sighed, knocking on the wooden double doors with lion's heads staring at us ominously.
"Enter," roared the king's familiar voice. "Come, lady," urged my uncle.
The Lion's Den
I followed my uncle cautiously. I stared at the ornately-carved stones on the ground, not daring to look the king in the eye. The king was God, after all.
I curtsied three times, my eyes still hanging onto the floor.
"Your Grace, may I present my niece, Lady Catherine Howard. She is a lady-in-waiting to Her Majesty," he declared proudly.
His heavy steps walked into my direction. "My Lady, welcome," said the king joyfully. "You may rise."
I tentatively arose, and observed the robust figure standing in front of me. Heavy furs draped his shoulders, and a gold-trim decorated his silk stockings. In every way, he looked like a true prince of England, glowing with presence like the large wooden lions that stood outside.
"Your Majesty," I whispered, in awe.
He extended his jeweled hand in my direction, as I kissed its ring. He wrapped his arm around my shoulders before glancing backwards with a nod. The door shut discreetly, and I was alone with the king.
Alone in the Company of Men
My legs began to shake again, as they had before. I reached out with my arm, trying to still them.
He guided me to the window, where I peered out at the vast wintry landscape. All of England was blanketed in snow.
"It's magical," I admired.
"Indeed," agreed the king. We sat there in silence for a moment. My stomach tossed and turned like a ship. I held my breath, waiting.
"How old are you, Lady Catherine?" he asked me.
"15," I answered him.
"Such a lovely young lady you are. How do you enjoy the court?"
I smiled. "I enjoy it very much, Your Grace. Queen Anne is such a merry and gracious queen. It pleases me to be in her service."
He exhaled deeply. There was something that wasn't being said.
Perhaps he didn't love her as he once had. No! Nay, I shall not think such a thought again.
"What do you do for your own amusement?" he pondered.
"I love to dance, and wear jewels, and eat sweet foods," I admitted, grinning.
The King erupted into a deep roar of a laugh that took me aback. "My lady," he addressed me, bowing. "May I have this dance?"
I laughed. I put his hand in mine, as we moved about the room. He picked me up like I was weightless, and flew me across the room like a bird. It was the most fun I'd had in such a long while. By the end, we were both out of breath and in merry spirits.
"Lady Catherine, I shall like to make your acquaintance again soon. Until we meet again," he said, bowing.
And then, he was gone.