Weston pretends not to hear him. His eyes are on the king and his face wears an unguarded expression of distaste. Tom Seymour whispers, 'I think we should make a noise. To wake him naturally.'
'What sort of noise?' his brother Edward mouths.
Tom mimes holding his ribs.
Edward's eyebrows shoot up. 'You laugh if you dare. He'll think you're laughing at his drooling.'
The king begins to snore. He lurches to the left. He tilts dangerously over the arm of his chair.
Weston says, 'You do it, Cromwell. No man so great with him as you are.'
He shakes his head, smiling.
'God save His Majesty,' says Sir John, piously. 'He's not as young as he was.'
Jane rises. A stiff rustle from the carnation sprigs. She leans over the king's chair and taps the back of his hand: briskly, as if she were testing a cheese. Henry jumps and his eyes flick open. 'I wasn't asleep,' he says. 'Really. I was just resting my eyes.'
When the king has gone upstairs, Edward Seymour says, 'Master Secretary, time for my revenge.'
Leaning back, glass in hand: 'What I have done to you?'
'A game of chess. Calais. I know you remember.'
Late autumn, the year 1532: the night the king first went to bed with the queen that is now. Before she lay down for him Anne made him swear an oath on the Bible, that he would marry her as soon as they were back on English soil; but the storms trapped them in port, and the king made good use of the time, trying to get a son on her.
'You checkmated me, Master Cromwell,' Edward says. 'But only because you distracted me.'
'How did I?'
'You asked me about my sister Jane. Her age, and so on.'
'You thought I was interested in her.'
'And are you?' Edward smiles, to take the edge off the crude question. 'She is not spoken for yet, you know.'
'Set up the pieces,' he says. 'Would you like the board aligned as it was when you lost your train of thought?'
Edward looks at him, carefully expressionless. Incredible things are related of Cromwell's memory. He smiles to himself. He could set up the board, with only a little guesswork; he knows the type of game a man like Seymour plays. 'We should begin afresh,' he suggests. 'The world moves on. You are happy with Italian rules? I don't like these contests that drag out for a week.'
Their opening moves see some boldness on Edward's part. But then, a white pawn poised between his fingertips, Seymour leans back in his chair, frowning, and takes it into his head to talk about St Augustine; and from St Augustine moves to Martin Luther. 'It is a teaching that brings terror to the heart,' he says. 'That God would make us only to damn us. That his poor creatures, except some few of them, are born only for a struggle in this world and then eternal fire. Sometimes I fear it is true. But I find I hope it is not.'
'Fat Martin has modified his position. Or so I hear. And to our comfort.'
'What, more of us are saved? Or our good works are not entirely useless in God's sight?'
'I should not speak for him. You should read Philip Melanchthon. I will send you his new book. I hope he will visit us in England. We are talking to his people.'
Edward presses the pawn's little round head to his lips. He looks as if he might tap his teeth with it. 'Will the king allow that?'
'He would not let in Brother Martin himself. He does not like his name mentioned. But Philip is an easier man, and it would be good for us, it would be very good for us, if we were to come into some helpful alliance with the German princes who favour the gospel. It would give the Emperor a fright, if we had friends and allies in his own domains.'
Copyright © 2012 by Hilary Mantel
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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