As it Pleases the King
By Sara Harris
The first book of the King’s Pleasure series, published by WordCrafts Press
February 1542, London. Catherine Howard, Queen Consort of England, faces the executioner’s axe. King Henry VIII needs a new wife. Lady Bridget Denny and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth, have fallen into favor with His Majesty’s groomsmen. They are taken to Court to be judged for the position of the next queen, but Bridget fears the title of Queen of England is little more than a royal death sentence. The woods surrounding the castle are deep and dark and hold many secrets – perhaps there is room for one more. Bridget is determined to escape the lusty king. But can she survive his royal executioner?
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Read an excerpt from As it Pleases the King:
Like an ocean wave, silence crashed down upon the monstrous crowd as it parted on some unspoken cue, making way for a solitary man. Behind him trailed two women. The first, cloaked in a dark velvet cape that trailed the icy ground behind her. The second, clad in only a simple white robe, which billowed a bit as she walked. The woman in white hugged her arms across her chest and glanced about, like a mad dog, through empty eyes.
“They are executing Lady Rochford first,” I breathed as the figure in white, the doomed Jane Boleyn, stepped toward the chopping block. Forgetting the odd emotions that moments before had overtaken my body, I dropped my voice low so only my cousin could hear. “Do you believe what they say, that Lady Jane gave information to Master Cromwell, which in turn led to her husband George’s beheading?”
“Surely she did,” Elizabeth whispered back. “I know her sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn, was a light young woman, but I don’t believe she was involved in an incestuous relationship with her own brother.” She glanced at me and pulled her cloak tighter against the chill. “Do you?”
I opened my mouth, but so did Lady Jane. I closed mine to listen.
“Good Christian people, I come hither to die. But I do so with complete and utter faith and trust in God, whom I have committed many sins against from my youth upwards.” With a jump, she paused and glanced back as though someone had tapped her shoulder. However, nobody had. Visibly shaken, Lady Rochford continued. “I have offended the king’s royal Majesty very dangerously, so my punishment today is just and deserved. I am justly condemned by the laws of this realm and by Parliament.”
Elizabeth leaned close. “Will she cry?”
I ignored her.
The tremble in the voice of the condemned grew louder. “All of you who watch me die should learn from my example and change your own lives. You must gladly obey the king in all things, for he is a just and godly prince. I pray for his preservation and beseech you all to do the same. I now entrust my soul to God and pray for his mercy.”
She paused once more and scanned the audience. “Do pray for me.”
With a gauzy cap covering her hair, she wore the look of a cornered fox. And the bloodhounds were coming. The knotted ends of string flipped about her thin shoulders as her dark eyes continued to search the crowd, from face to face. Elizabeth nudged me. “It’s as though she’s looking for someone familiar.”
I glanced at Elizabeth. “Wouldn’t you?”
Elizabeth shrugged thoughtfully as we turned our attention back to the scaffold. Lady Rochford’s gaze darted along the front row. Chills shook my spine when her eyes met mine. She smiled broadly. A light seemed to turn on in her once-empty eyes, and she wrung her hands at her middle. Elizabeth’s gasp was almost as loud as mine. Lady Rochford arched her eyebrows and raised her voice. “Shall I say more?”
Is she asking me?
I shook my head gently and returned her smile. Mine wasn’t as bright.
The chills that had shaken my spine coursed over my flesh and turned my blood to ice as Lady Rochford dropped to her knees. Still, she held my stare. Perhaps it was her familiar smile that bothered me most. Tears sprang to my eyes. “She’s gone mad,” Elizabeth confirmed in my ear. “I believe it. I do, truly.”
Jane’s head sank onto the stained block. Hues of dark magenta, left by those unfortunates who met their eternity upon that very block, colored the wood. Lady Rochford adjusted herself, fidgeting about like a child, until her eyes found mine. Her mouth spread into a wide grin, once again bringing with it icy fingers of fear that tickled my throat.
The headsman, cloaked in a dirt brown cape, stepped forward. A gleaming double-edged axe lay against his shoulder. From behind a hooded leather mask, his icy gaze followed that of the condemned until it met mine. “It’s him,” I managed through clenched teeth. My palms dampened once again.
Elizabeth’s voice was a whisper. “Hey, is that not the man who spoke to you a moment ago?”
My hand found hers, and I gave it a squeeze.