viernes, 18 de noviembre de 2016

I KNEW MY WEAKNESS

I knew my weakness

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But oh, my heart was flawed
I knew my weakness
So hold my hand
Consign me not to darkness.

(Mumford & Sons, “Broken Crown”)



Henry is mostly the sum of his rages these days, but there are the quiet moments. Too few and far between to be worth much, but they do happen.

She wakes one morning to find him sitting at the foot of her bed, still dressed in his sleeping clothes.

Her heart stops for a moment; being afraid of him has become as natural and needed as breathing is. But when he looks at her, his eyes are earnest and almost childlike. Guileless.

One of his gentler moods, then. Catherine wonders wearily how long this one will last.

“Henry.” She keeps her voice soft and kind. She is so tired, so damnably tired. Having Francis away in battle makes each day more exhausting than the last. Anything she can do to spare herself Henry’s ravings about England and Mary and God is worth the effort. And so she plays the gentle wife. “What are you doing here?”

“I couldn’t sleep. It amazes me that you can, frankly.” He shrugs, that strange new gleam in his eyes. “Then again, women are fragile creatures. Prone to being weak and weary.”

“Certainly,” she says dryly. “What’s kept you awake?”

“Francis.” His eyes wide and excited, he scrambles up the bed to rest beside her. She makes sure not to flinch as he draws nearer. “I can’t stop thinking about him.”

“Francis?” She is careful. She knows her husband well enough to suspect where his mind will wander, now that he is so concerned with God. He hasn’t forgotten one of his earliest sins. Catherine is sure of that.

He never told her the cause of his brother’s death, but it was obvious. Henry had come to her with a sudden insatiable curiosity about poisons mere days before that tennis match. In those days, she was glad to answer his questions. Once upon a time, they had quite cherished each other’s company.

“Our son,” Henry continues. Catherine sighs to herself, relieved. Henry rests his head upon the pillow beside her, free and loose as a child. “Can you believe it, Catherine? Our son. Do you remember the day he was born?”

She laughs shortly. “I’m not likely to forget it.”

“So small—but I knew. I knew he had the potential to be great even then. God, how proud I was of him. And you,” he adds fairly, brushing his fingers across her cheek. “All of those years, and nothing. The waiting. And then, at last a child—and not just that. A son. I loved you on that day.”

She bites her tongue. Sarcasm won’t do.

Henry waxes on. “And now he’s a leader, a conqueror, chosen by God—just like his father. What a legacy he shall inherit.” He grins to himself, his eyes still bright, his thoughts on fire. “Yes, England will be mine. And then ...”

He goes quiet.

“And then what?” Catherine prompts.

“And then,” he says, the blaze gone from him, “I think I’ll rest at last.”

Hope flits through her. Maybe, at last, he’ll acknowledge how unwell he is. “Oh?” she says carefully.

“It isn’t easy. With the headaches.” He inhales, a sharp breath that makes her wonder for a moment if he might cry. “Some days I think I would rather smash in my own skull than endure it a second longer. But I endure.” He meets her eyes again, forcing strength into the words. “I endure, Catherine, because I must. Do you understand?”

She smiles wistfully. “Better than most.”

Henry frowns, thoughtful. She has come to recognize that look—his mind is wandering— and sure enough: “What about the little ones?”

“The children?”

“Yes. Do you know, I almost never see them. Are they any good?”

“I have no complaints.”

“Yes, but you always think the world of them. What I require is an objective opinion, not this mewling womanly nonsense.”

She reminds herself for perhaps the ten thousandth time in her life that striking him would solve nothing in the long run.

“Though in truth, that is the one good thing about you,” he adds fairly. “You do love your children fiercely. You’d do anything for them, wouldn’t you?”

“I’d be a fool not to, after all it took to get them.” After what it cost us, she does not add. They don’t admit what they’ve lost to each other. There are certain rules to this marriage, and that’s the first.

Henry makes a small, pensive noise. “I suppose they shall serve their purpose, the little ones. And I’d like to see them. I think they would appreciate a visit from their father. From their king.”

“Yes,” Catherine says dimly, and vows to die before letting that happen. Her little ones have been through enough, with Clarissa all those months ago. They don’t deserve to suffer the company all of their family’s monsters. “Of course.”

“But Francis—oh, it comforts me to think of what he will accomplish after I am gone.”

“Many years from now.” Catherine takes his hand.

She means it as a polite gesture—God forbid anyone ever suggest a king isn’t immortal—but it isn’t taken that way. At once she can feel in the air that she’s made a mistake.

Henry’s grip tightens around her fingers, his face angry. “Don’t.”

She wonders idly if he will snap her bones. Calmly as she can, she asks, “What?”

“Don’t lie to me. Do you think me a fool? Do you think I don’t know what’s happening?” He flings her hand away and clasps his own together, as if he’s begging for mercy from some cruel entity, some heartless and unreachable thing.

“Henry—”

“It worsens each day. My thoughts—they overtake me, and there is clarity sometimes, such brilliant clarity, but it never stays, never lasts. And always this pain—how can a man think, or breathe?” He is all but gasping now. His hands have gone from being clutched in prayer to gripping his skull, as if he means to tear the headache out himself.

The sight is so pathetic it makes even her heart hurt; worry gets the best of her. “Henry, if you would just see the physician—”

“This cannot be fixed by a physician! The hand of God is in this.”

She knows better than to argue with that.

After a moment, she places a hand on his shoulder very lightly. The touch seems to take the ire out of him.

He leans back against the bed frame, his torment plain on his face. “And—and that demon girl Penelope leading me astray, casting me out of His light. Leading me away from you. Kenna, Diane, a hundred others. They are always, always there to lead me away from you.” Staring at her fixedly, almost hungrily, he asks, “Was that my sin? Catherine, have I failed you so utterly?”

There aren’t enough yeses in the world to answer that question to her liking.

Still, Catherine takes his hands firmly in hers. She knows that he isn’t strong enough to stand the truth from her. Not anymore. So she tells the lie slowly and carefully, looking right into his eyes. “Of course not.”

He stares desperately at her for a moment longer.

Then the fear goes out of him; it seems he must have found the answer he was seeking in her gaze. He relaxes, resting against her shoulder.

“Very well,” he says.

She waits for him to go. Surely he must have some other castle inhabitants to terrorize. But he remains steadfastly at her side.

“I’ll only close my eyes for a moment, my dear,” he murmurs after a time. “Just a moment. My head—”

Catherine lifts a hand to stroke his short hair. Just because she is out of practice at wifely affection doesn’t mean she’s entirely lost her knack for the art. “Rest now,” she orders gently.

“Yes,” he agrees, the words heavy with sleep. “Yes. That’s better.”

She closes her eyes too, and listens to his breathing grow even and deep. She hopes for a moment, foolishly, that his breathing might stop out of sheer good luck—here, on this quiet still morning, in the bed that they ought to have shared—and save her from what she must do. There are measures she knows she will have to take if his sickness does not beat her to it.

But his heart beats obstinately on, his breath on her collarbone, and really it’s very typical. Her husband has never made things easy for her.

She opens her eyes and looks at him. Not at all a king in this moment—just a tired man, getting older. Her Henry. She’s grown so used to hating him, and yet the thought of a life without him brings her surprisingly little joy.

Then again, joy has never been one of her foremost priorities, and now is certainly no exception. Everything they have built will crumble if she isn’t careful. There is no place in this court, in this country, for a mad king.

She presses a kiss to the top of his head, then considers the pillow beside her for a moment before dismissing the idea. (She is stronger than she looks but not strong enough to win in a tussle against him, and he would surely wake and struggle.)

A moment’s peace has given itself to her. She might as well take it.

Henry burrows his head deeper against her shoulder and murmurs something she can’t quite make out.

“Shh,” she soothes. She wraps an arm around him and draws him a little closer, and for once he does not fight her.

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