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The Tudor Goblet

by Carole Bellacera

Published in The Village Idiot  

She found the tarnished silver goblet in a tiny hamlet called Rosebriar. It was at a jumble sale outside a convent and the price was hand-written on the sticker at five pounds. Miriam could hardly believe her eyes. The tarnish was so thick that the engraved designs were indecipherable, but the weight alone assured her the goblet was, indeed, silver. She gave the withered old nun a five-pound note and climbed back into her rusted Austin. It was growing late, and tomorrow was a school day. The young ladies didn't know it yet, but Miriam was planning to surprise them with a test upon the Tudor era. As head-mistress of the British History Department at Chichester, Miriam Littlejohn was a fair but firm teacher. It was obvious to all of her students that she loved the history of her country. When she lectured on Mary, Queen of Scots, or Sir Thomas More, her blue eyes flashed with excitement, and suddenly, she was almost pretty. Many times, the students wondered why she was a spinster, living alone in a little cottage on the outskirts of Arundel Hove with only an Irish setter named Sir Ronald to keep her company.

If Miriam knew about their curiosity, she never gave notice. At all times, she was reticent about her personal life, what little there was. There had never been any men in her life. Since childhood, she'd battled a weight problem, and although she wasn't fat, she knew she could never be the svelte type that graced the fashion magazines. Yet, the lack of male companionship had never really bothered her. Especially since she'd discovered in her mid-teens that she'd never bear children. A genetic abnormality had made that impossible. After a traumatic period of adjustment, she'd come to terms with the fact that she'd be childless forever, and somehow, after that, finding a man to share her life hadn't been so important.

She spent her time tending the roses that embroidered her cottage and on weekends, she gave in to a temptation to explore the countryside, sometimes coming home with odds and ends from the many jumble sales she encountered during her treks. An avid reader, she spent her evenings curled up in front of a cozy fire, devouring one historical novel after another. Oddly enough, she was contented with this simple life, and asked nor wanted nothing more than what she had.

As soon as she got home with the silver goblet, she put it into a solution to soak and then forgot about it for several hours. When she remembered, she put down her novel and stood up abruptly. Sir Ronald glanced up from his spot by the fire. His soft brown eyes followed her as she hurried out to the kitchen. After she drew the goblet out of the solution, she went to work on it with a soft cloth, and it wasn't long before the delicate engraving began to appear. With a trembling hand, Miriam put it down on the counter and stood back for a moment, her eyes shining with excitement. Slowly, she exhaled a long shaky breath. Could it be possible?

She hurried to the small library off the parlor and quickly drew out a heavy textbook. Back in the kitchen, she flipped it open and paged through it until she came to what she was looking for. The only sound in the cottage was her sharp intake of breath.

There it was. The goblet. And engraved upon it in curlicue letters of the 16th century were the initials H & A. Carefully, Miriam picked up the goblet and turned it over. In barely discernible numbers, a date was engraved. 1533.

H & A. It could be none other than Henry and Anne, because on the other side of the goblet there was an etching that was even more exciting. It was a royal badge depicting a white falcon rising from a bed of Tudor roses, the symbol of Anne Boleyn, the ill-fated second Queen of Henry VIII.

***

Miriam was beside herself with excitement from her discovery. Yet, she knew what she must do. The temptation to keep the goblet was great, but her conscience would never allow it. It belonged to England. And tomorrow she would get in touch with the National Trust and turn it in.

Her eyes strayed to the decanter of sherry on the table nearby. It was the only liquor she ever touched, just a spot of it each night before bed. She looked again at the silver goblet in her hand. It had been almost impossible to put down. Was it her imagination that it felt warm, as if heated by an internal fire? She went to the sherry decanter. Perhaps one small drink would be just the thing. And she'd have it in the royal goblet. After all, how many people could say they drank sherry out of the same cup as Anne Boleyn?

Slowly, she poured the ruby-colored liquid into the silver chalice. Her hand was trembling as she lifted it to her lips.

***

The fire burned in the grate with a hypnotic intensity. Its heat, combined with the warmth of the sherry, reached out and enclosed Miriam in a comforting cocoon. She thought at first that it was a trick of her eyes when the room around her began to darken and the fire leapt up with a sudden roar as if an extra log had been thrown upon it.

With a strange reluctance, Miriam pulled her eyes from the blaze. Her instincts told her something was wrong. When she saw the burning sconces on the wall, she was shocked, but not frightened. The rest of the room was different, too. Gone was the simple but sturdy furniture that had filled her little parlor. In its place was a huge ornate bed surrounded by heavy velvet curtains and rich colorful tapestries with elaborate designs of hunting scenes covered the walls. Slowly, Miriam stood up and went over to one, running her hand down the fine silk threads.

"What a vivid dream," she murmured. It was as if she were actually touching the tapestry.

Then she heard the music. It sounded like Handel, yet the melody was unfamiliar. Before she could reflect upon it further, there was a rap at the heavy oak door. Miriam shook her head, hoping to clear it of lingering cobwebs, and went to see who was there.

A petite young woman dropped to the floor in a deep curtsey. "Milady," she spoke in a voice that was just above a whisper. "I've been sent to help your ladyship prepare for the night's ball."

Stunned, Miriam stood back and at once, the girl straightened and bustled into the room. She was wearing a long gown of gray, a maidservant's dress. Without another word, she went directly to an ornately-carved wardrobe and began to draw out several rich gowns. Miriam watched, a thousand questions running through her mind, but she couldn't move her lips to form even one.

The young girl grew bolder as she gazed in admiration at the gowns. "Ah, what lovely gowns you have, milady." She touched one, a royal blue satin decked in pearls and silver trim. "And in the fashion that Our Majesty so esteems. Which one will you wear for the night's entertainment?"

A wave of dizziness swept over Miriam. She dropped to an embroidered chaise at the foot of the bed, clutching at its arm for support. Something was thrust under her nose, something foul. She jerked away, her vision clearing, and found herself staring into the girl's compassionate blue eyes.

"I daresay your trip from the country was tiresome, Lady Sutton. 'Tis a dreadful time of the year for such a journey. You've come from Devonshire, have you not?"

"What is the date?" Miriam's voice was hoarse. It sounded as if it belonged to someone else.

"'Tis the twenty-ninth day of January."

"And the year?"

The maidservant gave her an odd look. "Why, the year has just turned. Tis the Year of Our Lord fifteen hundred and thirty-six. My stars! You've had quite an attack of the vapours, have you not?"

Abruptly, Miriam stood up. "Where am I?"

"Now, milady, I dareswear you should sit down for a moment longer until you're once again yourself. You're here at Kensington Palace. Your father, Lord Alberton, desired for you a place at court as one of Her Majesty's ladies. Do you not remember arriving several hours ago? And now, soon, you must prepare for the ball tonight. It

is in celebration of His Majesty's happy recovery from the mishap yesterday." The girl moved back over to the wardrobe. "Shall you wear the elegant blue gown? Or mayhap the yellow brocade?"

Miriam was trembling. She turned to look at the vivacious maidservant. "Might I have some refreshment before I dress? Some hot tea, perhaps?" Listen to yourself, she thought. You're talking like her! "What is your name?"

"Katherine, milady. After..." A guarded look crossed her young face. She curtsied. "I'll see to the tea, milady." And quickly, she left the apartment.

Slowly, Miriam walked to the window and drew back the heavy velvet curtain. Snow was falling onto a torch-lit courtyard. January, the girl had said. 1536. Was it possible? Had she really been transported back in time? Or was this a crazy dream brought on by some bad sherry? The maidservant had mentioned Kensington Palace, and she'd talked of a king and queen. Mary-Marie searched her memory. 1536. Her face whitened. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. She sat down abruptly, her stomach churning. If it were true, if this was really the year 1536, then Queen Anne Boleyn had less than four months to live.

Four months until she was beheaded...at the order of her husband.

***

"Milady! You art most comely in the blue gown. I daresay you made the proper choice."

Miriam gave the girl a distracted smile and turned away. Although she'd forced herself to drink several cups of tea, her nerves still hadn't quite settled down. And now, soon she was about to make her entrance into the world of 16th Century England.

There was a sharp rap at the door. "'Tis the other ladies of the court, milady. You must go with them now."

A burst of laughter floated in from the corridor outside. Miriam took a deep breath and lifting her full skirt, moved forward to join the waiting women. Her heart was pounding furiously. Would she be able to pass in their world? Yet, how could she not? They would never believe she was from the future. She was greatly relieved when the women did little more than give her a cursory glance. Perhaps it was not uncommon for new faces to appear at court frequently.

In the ballroom, Miriam had to stifle a gasp. No history books or even modern-day films had prepared her for the opulence of King Henry's court. Even the men were dressed in cloths of shimmering gold encrusted with precious jewels. In the middle of the room, a circle of dancers, both men and women were engaged in an intricate pattern of moves. Miriam knew if she were in a better frame of mind, she could probably remember the name of the dance from her reading of the Tudor era. She just hoped she wouldn't be expected to participate.

Suddenly, the blare of trumpets heralded the entrance of the king and queen. Her heart in her throat, Miriam turned to watch.

King Henry VIII overshadowed everyone else, including his queen, with his bulk made even more enormous by his padded clothing embellished with glittering jewels. Yet, he was not obese, as he would be in later years when his reckless debauchery and gluttonous behavior finally caught up with him. Now, he was just past the prime of his manhood, and his golden-red hair gleamed with vibrancy under his elaborate headdress and his pudgy cheeks glowed with seemingly good health. Still, as he strode into the room his limp was obvious and it was Miriam's guess that he was in quite a lot of pain from the jousting accident of the day before.

Miriam suddenly realized that the maidservant hadn't mentioned the cause of his accident. Yet, she knew without a doubt it had been during a jousting contest. There had been so much written about it in the history books, especially because of the events it would trigger in bringing about the destruction of his wife. A wry smile came to Miriam's lips. Why, if she'd arrived yesterday, she might have been able to change history.

The thought came and went. Then her eyes settled upon Anne Boleyn. The paintings and sketches in the history books hadn't done her justice. For the first time, Mary-Marie understood why Henry had found himself so beguiled by her. She was tall by 16th Century standards and willowy, yet small-boned and ethereal. Dressed in a white satin gown edged with gold and trimmed in pearls, she walked with a queenly grace as if she'd been born into royalty. Unlike the

other women, she wore no headdress; her long dark hair was left to flow loosely down her back, held away from her face with a strand of pearls. Her only other jewelry was a velvet choker with one tear-dropped shaped pearl that encircled her long slender neck. She was smiling as she gazed around at her subjects, but as they grew closer, Mary-Marie saw that the smile seemed forced and there was a look of anxiety in her flashing brown eyes.

Following the lead of others, Miriam dropped to a curtsey as the royal couple passed and made their way to a dais where they took their thrones. Henry clapped his hands and the music began again. Miriam felt a nudge at her side. It was one of the court ladies. She was older than most of the others and her face was scarred with unattractive pock marks. She grinned and Miriam flinched from her sour breath and yellow teeth.

"I dareswear that our good queen has an unhealthful pallor upon her flesh. Methinks that the child she carries will be aborted, as were the others. Poor Hal! Shall a wife of his ever bear a manchild?" Her voice dropped to a lower pitch. "Mind you, I'm not one who supported Queen Katherine, though I wept at the news of her death. Still, there are those around us who would rejoice at the fall of the Boleyn faction. And I shouldn't think that one more miscarriage would help her situation. Did you not hear how Norfolk burst in upon the queen yesterday with the news of His Majesty's misfortune?" Her eyes sparkled with glee. "Methinks he was hoping to give her a shock."

Miriam looked away, anxious to escape from the malicious old bat. A footman was passing with a tray of wine goblets. "Excuse me," she said. "I have a need to quench my thirst." Miriam grabbed a goblet from the footman and began to move toward a secluded corner of the room. Her mind was racing. Katherine of Aragon, Henry's first wife whom he'd divorced to marry Anne, had died recently. Much of England's population had thought of her as the true queen. But now that she was dead, it was more crucial than ever for Anne to give birth to a son. Henry was growing bored with her, and there would be no more divorces. A son was the only thing that stood between Anne and the executioner's sword. Of course, it wasn't to be. According to Miriam's near-perfect memory, the queen would have a miscarriage in a matter of days.

Unless she, Miriam, could prevent it.

***

At first, it wasn't a conscious plan to change history. After all, she did realize the consequences involved. Should Anne Boleyn go full-term and deliver a healthy boy, chances were that she'd live out her life as the rightful queen of England. Her heir would become king when Henry died, thereby changing the entire line of British royalty. There would be no Queen Elizabeth, I or II, or a Queen Victoria. No Prince Charles or Princess Di. What would that mean to the future of the United Kingdom?

Miriam had no idea. But as she gazed at Anne Boleyn, she knew she had to try to prevent the miscarriage. There was something so pitiful about her. Even though she was laughing at a comment made by the courtier at her side, she looked as if she were a doe in a hunter's sights.

Miriam thought back to all the books she'd read about the ill-fated queen. Some historians believed she lost the child because of the shock she suffered at the news of Henry's jousting accident. Still others thought it was brought about by the jolt of discovering Henry during a romantic tryst with his latest paramour, Jane Seymour. Miriam believed it was a combination of the two incidents that brought about the premature labor. One had already occurred. And it was up to her to prevent the other.

***

Two days passed. As one of the queen's ladies, Miriam was never far from Anne Boleyn's circle. She was reasonably certain that there had been no contact between the queen and her husband.

On the morning of the third day after the ball, Miriam was passing through the Privy Chamber to join the queen when she noticed a black and white ball of fluff curled up in front of the fireplace. It was Duchy, the new spaniel pup that had been given to the queen as a replacement for Little Purkoy, the dog that had died while the royal court was on progress. Miriam couldn't resist kneeling

down to stroke the animal. She felt a pang in her heart as she wondered how Sir Ronald was faring back in Arundel Hove. She hoped someone had discovered her missing so that the poor dog wouldn't starve to death.

Reluctantly, she pulled herself away from the friendly pup and continued on to the queen's chamber. When she entered, she saw that Lady Rochford, Anne's sister-in-law and one of her greatest enemies, was standing before the queen. Even at a distance, Miriam could see the malicious glitter in her eyes and some instinct told her that she was up to no good. She edged close enough to hear their conversation.

"Anne, I am most concerned about Duchy. I was just with him in the rose garden and he was acting most peculiarly." Lady Rochford looked around slyly and then leaned in closer to the queen. "With all the rumours about poisoning, I do hope..."

Miriam didn't wait to hear more. She whirled around and hurried out into the corridor. A moment later, she scooped the dog into her arms and walked out of the Privy Chamber just as the queen came out of her apartments, a worried look on her face.

"Oh, Your Majesty." Miriam curtseyed.

"Why, here is Duchy." Anne Boleyn turned to look at her sister-in-law. "Did you not say he was in the garden?"

Lady Rochford's face reddened. "But he was!" She glared at Miriam. "What pray, are you doing with the Queen's dog?"

Miriam looked at the Queen. "Please forgive me, Your Majesty. It's just that I am so taken with animals. And Duchy is

such a sweet little thing. I was just about to bring him to your chamber."

Anne Boleyn smiled gently. "He is irresistible, is he not?" She looked closely at Miriam. "I believe you are Lady Sutton, yes? Pray, what is your given name?"

"Miriam, Your Highness."

Anne reached out with a white slender hand and touched her shoulder. "Come, Miriam. You shall listen to me play the lute. And you may hold Duchy. Methinks he is fond of you."

Miriam curtseyed again as the Queen turned back to her chamber. As she rose, she felt hostile eyes upon her and looked up to see the black scowl on Lady Rochford's face. What menace had she planned for the Queen?

A moment later, she found out. As the Queen settled herself on a chaise with her lute, Miriam happened to glance out the window that overlooked the rose garden. And there, sitting on an ornate stone bench, was Henry VIII, and Jane Seymour was on his knee.

***

While Anne Boleyn entertained her ladies with her lute, Miriam was breathless with anxiety, hoping the Queen wouldn't look out the window to see her husband dallying with his paramour. But finally, as if realizing that he was in plain view, the King and Jane Seymour stood up and strolled out of the garden. An audible sigh of relief escaped from Miriam's lips.

Had she done it? Or was there yet, another moment ahead where Anne would discover them together? But as the days sped by and became weeks, Miriam knew she'd won.

March arrived, and the time of Anne Boleyn's confinement grew near. Miriam was nervous. What would be the consequences of her meddling?

Anne's labour began one night during an unusual spring snowstorm. Miriam waited outside the lying-in chamber with the others who weren't part of the Queen's "inner circle." Anne's screams echoed eerily through the dark corridors, bouncing off the cold stone walls of the palace, unearthly and shrill. Miriam shivered. She didn't feel the way she thought she would at the knowledge that soon Anne Boleyn would give birth to the son all of England was awaiting. There was no triumph in her. Only fear.

It was almost dawn when Anne's screams stopped. An odd silence fell. Miriam held her breath and waited for the sound of a squalling infant. Finally, it came. Loud and strong. Miriam looked around her and saw the relief on most of the faces. Only the Seymours and their factor wore masks of disappointment.

Suddenly, through the doors of the birthing room came the unmistakable sound of rending sobs. Anne's. The doors crashed open and King Henry swept through, his tiny blue eyes glittering with rage and the veins on his neck standing out like snaking rivers. Miriam held her breath as she dropped to the floor in a deep curtsey with those around her. Dear God, had Anne given birth to another daughter, after all?

The King raised his arms up toward the sky, threw his head back and roared like an enraged lion. "A monster!" he cried out. "My God! What hath I done to deserve such a fate? To begat such a...demon?" He stopped suddenly, as if God had actually answered him. Then, his face whitened and with giant angry steps, he strode away to his chambers.

It was then that the midwife came through the doors, clutching a tiny swaddled infant in her arms. One of Anne's ladies clutched at her sleeve. "What is wrong with the child? Mayhap the Queen hath given birth to another daughter?"

The midwife shook her head, her lips set in a grim straight line. "Not a daughter, milady. Nor a malechild. The fruit of Queen Anne's womb is but a sexless demon. The result of witchery, no doubt."

***

On May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn was beheaded on Tower Green. She went to her death charged with the crime of treason, but many believed she was executed not for that, but for witchcraft. The deformed child she bore was taken away and was never seen again. Henry forbade anyone to speak about the tragedy. The days passed, and Miriam knew she'd done nothing to change history. In spite of her sorrow for Anne, she felt a sense of relief. Life would go on as it was supposed to be. There would be a Queen Elizabeth I and II, a Prince Charles and Princess Di.

And then, there was her fate to consider. It appeared that she was stuck in the past. As Miriam strolled in the rose garden near the palace, she faced the fact that she would never return to Arundel Hove. There was nothing else to do but to go about her life in the best way she knew how. Strangely enough, 16th Century life quite appealed to her. Maybe this was where she was meant to be.

Yes, now she could accept that, for something extraordinary had happened to her. She'd fallen in love. Miriam reached out to touch the soft petals of a rose. Wildly, passionately, with all her heart, she'd fallen in love. His name was Lord Asherly, and he was a dashing young courtier who, incredibly, appeared to be infatuated with her.

"Perhaps this was all meant to be..." she whispered to herself, stroking the velvet texture of the rose.

"Ah, but to be that rose so that I may feel the touch of your caress."

Miriam whirled around and her face grew pale. Henry VIII stood before her, his cold little eyes glittering with pent-up desire, his tiny mouth pursed and reddened. He held out a bejeweled hand.

"Come, milady. Join us for a walk through the garden. Tell me, how is it that my eye was never caught by you before this?"

 


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