Fire and water. Hair like molten gold, tinged with the red of flames from the forge. Eyes like the still, sweet waters of a summer lake.
"Brother Henry," she murmurs in prettily-accented Latin, and curtsies to him with the dignity of a Spanish Infanta. Her ladies, too, bob their shallow curtsies to him - clearly the Duke of York isn't worth as deep a curtsey as the Prince of Wales! - but they are as warm as ice sculptures, their faces frozen by the hard weather into permanent frowns. But Catalina - ah, how different she is!
"Harry," he mumbles, suddenly shy, shy for the first time in his life. His lady grandmother calls him a forward monkey (the church will whip that nonsense out of you, boy!) but in front of this breathtaking beauty, he can only stammer his way through his greetings. "Everyone calls me Harry."
"Well then I must call you Harry too," she says gaily and gives him her dainty little white hands to kiss.
She is as fair and fresh as a rose - no not a rose, she is lovelier by far than his sisters, who are the true Tudor Roses of England. An orange blossom, perhaps, such as those which bloom in the honey-sweet gardens of the Alhambra where she has been raised. Something rare and delicate and exotic - something not meant for this world, not meant for him.
Arthur, he thinks, with a pang of jealousy that stings. Resentment floods his soul. They'll bed her to that milksop who's not half the man I am, though I'm only ten and he's fifteen!
"Harry," she says, smiling and cups his face in her hands. She is as delicately proportioned as a doll. Petite, scarcely taller than him, their eyes nearly at the same level.
He flushes and tries to look away but she clucks and he has to meet her eyes... does she know how much it costs him? What those wide, clear, searching blue eyes, rimmed by long, dark lashes do to him? They hold the allurement of the forbidden - of the things that will never be his. The Spanish dowry for the next King of England, the beautiful virgin princess for the royal bed, the power and the glory and the long line of heirs... treasures to which he has no right.
(Yes, of course she does. He is only a boy, but he is the Duke of York, the next Cardinal, perhaps the next Pope and princesses can never have too many allies. Especially when they are so easily bought - a smile and a few sweet words, never was a Pope more easily bought).
"I hope we shall be good friends," she says lightly.
"Yes," he gasps out, his mind somersaulting and cartwheeling. "Yes, of course - I mean I hope so too!"
She laughs, her eyes crinkling up with amusement and he blurts out, "Your eyes are just like sapphires! I mean, not to be too forward but..." He trails off, blushing. Is this flirting? Father would think so. Arthur wouldn't like it at all. Would she tell Arthur?
But she only winks at him, as though she knows what he's thinking and presses a finger to her lips. Our little secret.
He has never seen eyes so alluring.
He favours his mistresses buxom and blue-eyed - wide-hipped Bessie Blount with her sunshiny blue eyes, voluptuous Mary Carey with her rain-blue eyes...
Anne Boleyn is slight and has sloe-black eyes.
He catches her looking at him, hot black eyes in a cold face. She does not tip her head and let her lashes veil her eyes as a good English maid ought. Instead she looks him squarely in the eyes, bold as brass, bold as a queen. This is no simpering girl-child, this is a woman who knows her mind.
"Might have this dance, Your Majsty?" she asks pertly. "So ravished was I by your fair and noble mien that I could not tear myself away but must needs hasten to your side."
He roars with laughter at her audacity, while her sister, Mary, grows red with anger.
"My, but we must flee, sweet my lord," Anne says. "Or Mary will push charges against me."
"What for?" he says, falling into the light step of the courtship dance once again.
"Larceny, of course! I shall steal Your Majesty away from my gentle sister."
"What, you?" he says amused. "You are the very glass of fashion, Mistress Boleyn, French to your bones - but I prefer our sweet little English maids." He kisses the tips of Mary's fingers and taps her growing belly with a gentle hand. Maybe it will be a boy this time, he thinks, hopeful as ever.
"Maids and mistresses," Anne says and he leads her to the dancing floor. "But then, you would never raise a sweet little English maid high."
"Whyever not?" he asks. If it is a boy... if it is a boy... What would he not do for a boy? What would he not do for his boy?
"I have been studying you most diligently," she says. "And you would call it a disruption 'gainst the very order of the world to raise one of your subjects above her place. Our gracious Queen is Spanish-born and by virtue of it, not Your Majesty's subject at all. An English Queen would never do!"
"I had thought that you would have hoped for your sister to wear a crown."
She shakes her head, black eyes dancing merrily. She is as light-footed as a fairy, but she has all the majesty of a queen.
"Then what would you want?" he asks teasingly.
"Many things," she says promptly. "But not for my sister."
He laughs. I would have said the same thing about my brother. "Ermine-trimmed gowns? Sparkling gems?"
She takes his head and presses it to her lips, the gesture strangely warm and intimate. Too private for such a public space. She is in his arms, as slender as a sword-blade, deadly and fragile, all at once. Her head tilted back so that her coal black eyes look straight into his with an intensity that takes his breath away.
So many unspoken promises.
He has never seen eyes so arresting.
She has a plain, sweet girlish face. It is the face of an angel.
She wears gable hoods like a virtuous maid ought, not Anne's immodest French hoods. She spends her time on quiet, womanly activities - stitching shirts for the poor, preparing sweetmeats, singing in her low voice which she never rises. He would like to hear her sing a lullaby one day - a lullaby for their son.
She does not raise brass-bold eyes to him and match him point to point on theology and affairs of state the way Catherine and Anne had done. He-women, both of them. Jane knows her place and walks a step behind him, head bowed and eyes downcast.
In bed, she pins her hair back in a hairnet. He lifts the hem of her nightgown and finishes the deed and then they lie side by side, like man and wife ought. She does not employ Anne's slatternly, whorish French tricks, she does not lie with her long hair tumbling down her naked back and breasts, arch and brazen.
"You have eyes like starlight," he tells her.
"Thank you, Your Majesty," she says. "I am well content if they please you."
"Mist and moonlight meshed together," he says.
"Your Majesty is too kind," she says. "Your Majesty is kind in all ways." She turns her face to him and lets him kiss her cheek.
"Good girl," he says. "Eating asparagus everyday?"
"Yes, Your Majesty. Your Majesty is kind to think of me."
Wide hips to bear sons, and a gentle tongue that does not rain chastisement - what more can a man ask for in a wife?
He smiles at her fondly. He has never seen eyes so appealing.
They send him a noble virgin from Cleves. They send him a young woman with a child's eyes.
Too honest eyes, wide and troubled as they meet his. Clear as a forest pool, shaded by dark oaks, innocent eyes in which he sees himself too clearly for the first time in years. He had never been afraid to meet Catherine's eyes - he had seen his reflection too clearly in them but he had found it pleasing. A golden prince, a royal Adonis who deserved the love of the loveliest princess in Christendom. Then he had met Anne's dark eyes and Jane's pale ones - self-servicing, both of them. Opaque mirrors in which he had seen only what they had let him see.
But Anne of Cleves...
He has never seen eyes so abominable.
"Will you dance for me, Mary?" he asks her gently. Mary, his pearl of the world, his banished daughter. "I have not seen you dance for so long."
"If it pleases you, my lord father," she says. Queen Anne snaps her fingers and one of her maids of honour comes foward.
"And who might you be, bold young mistress?" he asks the fourteen-year-old girl. Pretty little thing - pert-nosed and red-lipped with her hood tipped back far enough to reveal her golden hair. Idly, he wonders how those golden ringlets would like, wound about his fingers, curling down her bare shoulders.
She looks up at him and says, "Katherine Howard, Your Majesty but everyone calls me Kitty."
"It suits," he tells her and she grins. Grins. How very dear.
She dances like a little Haresfield whore, hips swaying alluringly to the beat of the music, skirts swinging like a bell. Arched back and breasts thrust forward and a secret smile for him when their eyes meet. When the dance is over, he turns to her before he does to his daughter.
"Very good, my pretty little Kitty," he says.
She curtsies low and at his feet she looks up to him, making him feel very grand. "Oh I would wish to give you every pleasure, Your Majesty!" she breathes, eyes smouldering with a young girl's lust. Lust. Lust for him. His heart swells with pride.
"Come my little girl, up with you," he says and she rises. She has green eyes, he notes, the green of unripe apples and vines in sunlight. Green for fertility, for youth. Emeralds would look well on her. A crown of emeralds would look even better.
He has never seen eyes so arousing.
Shapeshifter eyes. Catherine Parr transforms herself in a wink, every time, all the time.
She wears blue velvet, deep-cut and wide-shouldered, with flaring skirts, as she dances with handsome Thomas Seymour. She laughs, a rich, full-throated laugh with no art and artifice in it, at his jokes. Warm. Mature. Sweet. Her eyes seem blue in these lights, and he remembers another Catherine. There is not a touch of green in this Kate's eyes, though, and she never wears green. The whore had favoured green.
In some lights, her eyes are grey though. She is quite the bluestocking. Theology, astronomy, Greek, logic... her voice rises every evening as she speaks with enthusiasm on those matters, her large, white hands moving quickly as she illustrates her point. She has a lovely voice, clear and strong, and lovelier than that is the cleverness of her words, the truth of them hitting him squarely. Truly, she is a woman to be admired.
He stares at her, a little too intensely perhaps, and she looks up and then down, very quickly. No maidenly blush mantles her cheeks and that is as well - he is weary of young maidens who call themselves virgins. Yes, her eyes are grey by candlelight, brown like Jane's. Jane, his true queen.
Sometimes, though, he thinks them brown. Brown like his dear sister Anne's. Anne who loves his children so dearly, is so good with them, more mother than aunt to Edward and Elizabeth, a sister to Mary. Anne is very merry, very motherly and he counts himself blessed to have a sister like her.
Blue and grey and brown at once... changeable colours in changeable lights but all the court knows her for a good, staunch-hearted woman. As clever and pious as Catherine, as sweet and dutiful as Jane, as kind and merry-hearted as Anne.
He has never seen eyes so amiable.
A/N: Alluring, arresting, appealing, abominable, arousing, amiable... what did you think of this story? Remember, reviews are the only payment an author gets!