Once there were Three. Not a Trinity, perhaps not quite a Triumvirate, not even a Trio – just Three.
"What think you, my Lord King, of yon fair maids assembled at this goodly masque? Who think you the fairest?"
"Ah, my bonny Kate, they are all well-favored and good and fresh-faced. I could never choose one over t'other."
"But if I pressed Your Majesty's humor so far as to require an answer?"
"Why then, Kate, your king would say to you that though all those virgins be of passing fine beauty and stately carriage, they are not all fair. That little dark one, la envoûteuse, pleases me the most. A very glass of fashion, would you not say?"
Anne Boleyn was the first. She was only the daughter of a country earl, but she would rise high in the world. A precipitate rise equaled only by the fall that would follow. La envoûteuse – the sorceress. Beautiful were her tempestuous black eyes, sparkling with life, and her long, swan-like neck, olive-hued against the somber blackness of her veil. Beautiful was her smile, and the flash of pearl-white teeth – so rare in a Court riddled with teeth of a sickly, mottled green-and-gold – as she laughed. She wasn't afraid to laugh, even in grave Queen Katharine's company.
"Is she a kinswoman of yours, Bessie, yon rose that sit so demurely by the side of our good queen? There is a touch of fire in those sedately-cast eyes that amuses us greatly."
"Good my liege, she is my young sister – Cecily."
Cecily Blount was the second. She was no beauty, not in the way of her sister, Elizabeth – Bessie to the Court and Bess to the country now, famous on account of the son, Henry, she'd borne the king. But there was a touch of fire in those June-blue eyes, and the roses on her cheeks were not the pallid ones acquired by Court Ladies with red paint. They had bloomed of their own accord, symbols of a healthy vigor, both scorned by the fragile butterflies that swarmed around Queen Katharine and admired immensely by the young noblemen whose opinion counted. She rode and shot as hard and broke bones as gallantly as the men at hunting parties, and she danced the galliards and courantes, if not with elegance, then certainly with spirit.
"A pearl of wisdom – my ladies, think you not that our Margaret, our English pearl, is well-named?"
"Well-named certainly, but not well-favored!"
Margaret Wyatt was the third. She was small and young and easily looked over at Queen Katharine's court. Not a beauty, not a wit. Plain, good little Greta the Wallflower as the other ladies said, always buried in her books, always timid and modest. Quite becoming for one in her position. Her father might be a Privy Councilor and her brother Dashing Thomas Wyatt – and he was dashing – but she was a homely bag of goods. A sheenless mass of auburn-red hair, tucked under her linen hood. A nose sharpened like an executioner's axe, a perfect hatchet of a face – no indeed, all her father's gold couldn't gilt her.
They were Three together, though there was no reason for them to be. Anne was a slender thing, slender and quite unconsciously stately as well – rather like the striped tulips that Margaret of Austria, her former mistress, was so fond of. Vivacious but polished, her tongue as sharp as Margaret's nose, her humor sometimes too dark for the English Court, and full of the sophistication and the joie de vivre she'd brought over from France. She had so many men swarming over her that she sometimes seemed to be at a loss at what to do with them.
So unlike Margaret.
Perhaps that was what drew them together. Margaret was so ready to fall into the position of worshipper and Anne so ready to be worshipped. The contrast between the two women – the high-spirited demoiselle and the shy little bluestocking – was magnificent.
"Cecily, don't be a mule – can't you see Her Majesty frowning at you? Bonny Queen Kate won't take too kindly if you refuse to sit down now – you've danced far too much, of an evening, as 'tis!"
Cecily could dance galliards until the silk-and-pearl slippers on her slim, dainty feet had been reduced to shreds and then still dance. She had no rival at Court and twirled reel after reel with the gallant, admiring rakes of the day until Anne arrived and, in lieu of inexhaustible spirit, offered grace and the charm of her pretty, vivacious face. In point of beauty there could be no comparison between them. Cecily would become nigh as tall and broad-shouldered as a man. She ran and she strode, she walked and she tripped, but she never, never swept down the Grand Staircases with the grace of Queen Katharine's other maids. Anne was petite – pronounced with a French flourish and a ring to it. A gliding, graceful creature, sometimes almost fragile.
One was as fair as snow, with eyes as wide as innocent as clear June skies in the country. The other was dusky as a pirate of purple waters, and her eyes were dark and hooded.
"Oh you needn't take any notice of that girl – Greta the Wallflower, we call her. She doesn't really dance at all."
Margaret sat in the dusty alcoves quietly, her hands neatly folded, while the gay maskings of the Court went on. She watched life and she watched the young ones play at it, but she never played with them. Cecily played. Perhaps only with the men – she couldn't understand women, she sometimes felt, their chatter over thread and needle nauseated her – but she never missed a game.
Cecily liked to talk as much as she liked to play. Seldom anything interesting or useful – she loved the sound of her voice – but Margaret listened. Margaret herself seldom liked to talk – she hated the sound of her voice, the squeakiness, the horrid croak in which her finest oratory and loveliest songs seemed always to be delivered in – but when she did, Cecily listened. It was pleasant to find a patient ear, a kind word in bleak castles where even the stone walls seemed to be full of malice. It was pleasant not to be overlooked.
"Won't you three sit down and play? Queen Kate's in the foulest humor, but it always pleases her when you lasses sing and play. Brighten the clouds for us, dearies."
They loved music.
Tall Cecily would sit, graceful for once, at the harp. Margaret, her fingers nimble from hours of embroidery, would sit at the virginals. Anne – lovely Anne of the golden, honey-sweet voice – would sing. When they sat together, the hems of their farthingale-widened silk-and-taffeta gowns lapping against eachother – Cecily at the virginals, Margaret at the harp, and Anne between both of them – the Three dissolved and became One.
And the whole Court would listen. They would do more than listen – they would applaud and sometimes there would be an old dowager or two, more easily touched than the other hard hearts, who would shed a quiet tear or two.
But that was only sometimes. Most of the time they would remain as Three. Not a Trinity. Anne would dance with the same flair at a spirited courante as at a stately minuet. Cecily's light feet would fall asleep as she trod the elaborate steps of the minuets but there was none so fleet as she in the matter of the Italian galliards. And Margaret, Greta the Wallflower – why she would not dance at all.
Not a Triumvirate. There was one King at Court and that was all. The queen was not The Queen, in the way that 'Good King Harry', to his people, was The King. As for the ladies… why they were all ornaments. There were no queens among His Majesty's choice whores – not yet at least.
Not a Trio – Margaret could only play gooseberry when Anne and Cecily took on the more salacious gossip, Anne was bored more often than not by Margaret and Cecily's secret confidences (so dull compared to her own adventures at Court) and Cecily felt rather stifled in the dovecote that Anne and Margaret made when they sat together.
They would grow closer and more distant as the moon waxed and waned, because how Three worked. Usually Two-and-One, seldom One, rarely Three as it was. Three. Apart. Away. No, that was rarely.
Cecily was the one who taught Margaret to dance, to leap high in the air during a galliard and descend in a swirl of rustling skirts. Anne was the one who taught Margaret everything she needed to know in the manner of wearing skirts.
"Lady Anne sets the fashions at our humble English Court."
Margaret was the one who taught Cecily how well decorum sat upon the rose-red cheek of a virgin. In the end it was not for the fine-eyed Amazon, Bessie Blount's sister, that Lord Staffray fell for – it was for her 'comely, modest presence and the chastity in which my Lady Cecily hath garbed her fair virgin self in'. Anne lent a ready ear – surprisingly – to Margaret's sermonizings. It would serve her well in the days the king's eyes wandered to her, from her sister, Mary.
"The greatest gift I would bring to any husband of mine would be my chastity."
"La envoûteuse, Cardinal – I have been ensnared by those devilish black eyes of her! A queen, she is, by breeding and beauty, and a queen she will be."
They would do well for themselves, those three women who were only girls when they met eachother in the chambers reserved for Queen Katharine's Maids of Honor. Anne the songstress, la envoûteuse, would sit in pomp under a canopy of cloth-of-gold and eat upon jeweled plates. She would bear a daughter with her allure and the swan-like curves of her slim, lovely neck. She would have her choice of executioner and be buried in scarlet silk and silver fur at the Tower, before her brilliant eyes had dimmed and her sharp tongue softened.
"The executioner is very skilled and my neck, I fear, is very slender."
Before she'd had a chance to hear her lovely little daughter sing for her.
"Remember me when you do pray,
That hope doth lead from day to day."
Margaret Wyatt, later a Peeress, Lady Lee, would open her prayer book afterwards and find those verses inscribed by the dead woman's hand in them. Greta the Wallflower would do better than Queen Anne. Even in her stately, somber mansion, resplendent in Rembrandts and Russian boarhounds, formal gardens and fuss, she would find happiness. An unmarked grave next to a crumbling castle would be hers, but it would be bud-fringed in spring and blossom-shaded in summer. Golden ferns and the rustling red-brown leaves of autumn would tangle over the stone of her tomb and mounds of snow whiten it in winter.
If she had lived, she would not have wished for more.
And Cecily, what of Cecily? In sun-kissed Italy where Lord Staffray journeyed under the orders of his lieges, she would find no hunting grounds. But there would be silken pavilions and mirrored ballrooms where Doges and dukes would gather, with their laughing, liltingly lovely ladies in cloth-of-silver and cloth-of-gold. There would be candles flickering in gilt candelabras and the minstrels would strum their lyres for the dancers.
"That Englishwoman – Lady Staffray. A perfect tempest, nay a whirlwind. Plays the harp like an angel."
Cecily could never give up a chance to dance.
They were Three or One or Two-and-One when the moon pleased, but the passage of years tarnished their love. Faded roses and letters clasped between the covers of Margaret's Bible. Perfumes from Milan, from Lady Staffray to Her Majesty, the Queen. Sinecure posts for the Lees, in honor of Lady Margaret's 'amiable companionship to Our Queen'. Anne was Queen, not queen, not like Katharine – for a short time at least.
Once there were Three.
I take my quill and pen this letter to you in the hope that it finds you in good health, dear Cecily, Cecily of my bosom. How long it seems since the days when we all three were merry, carefree damsels together at Bonny Queen Kate's Court!
Now? Now there are none.
A/N: Margaret Lee nee Wyatt and Elizabeth Blount are historical personages. Cecily however, is a figment of my imagination.