Excerpt from the Tudor Historical Romance UNDER THESE RESTLESS SKIES, Only 99 Cents on Amazon
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“So, Fermor, you have brought me a fool.” The king’s voice was low and gruff, and he didn’t sound much interested. The lady seated at his side wore a French hood and an initial pendant attached to her strand of pearls, the letters “AB” twined together. She was garbed in a dressing gown of brilliant scarlet, trimmed in ermine. It was casual raiment only the highest nobility was entitled to wear outside their own bedchamber, but Anne Boleyn was now royal in all but name. Just weeks ago, the king had created her Marquess of Pembroke, the highest noble title in the land. She patted the small dog in her lap.
“Aye, your majesty,” Fermor said. “If it pleases Your Grace.”
“Well, fool, what can you do?”
Will was startled. He hadn’t expected the king to speak to him. “I—I can juggle, Your Majesty,” he croaked. “I can make jests, tumble, and sing a little.”
“Let us see it, then.”
Will’s hands trembled as he withdrew the balls from his bag. “If it pleases Your Majesty,” he started. He straightened his shoulders as best he could, and said in his haughtiest tone, “I, Will Somers, am the best juggler in England.”
The king snorted and Will hoped it was from amusement. He fell into his act, bragging about his abilities while seeming to lose track of his juggling and keeping the balls in the air seemingly by accident alone. He was grateful he had performed this particular act so many times, because he thought he’d completely forgotten his lines, but they slipped from his mouth of their own accord, and his limbs seemed to move themselves. The king guffawed a couple of times, and he thought he heard Anne laugh at one point. Will ended with one of the balls balanced on the tip of his nose, before dropping it into his hands and sweeping low into a bow.
“Well done, Master Fool,” the king said, and he seemed a bit more jovial than he had when Will first entered the room. Or perhaps it was wishful thinking on Will’s part. “But tell me this: I have fools already who can juggle and make jests. Why would I wish to have you at my court? What have you to offer that they do not?”
The answer popped from Will’s mouth as though he had rehearsed it. “Because I will do something none of your council, lords and ladies, nor servants will do.”
The king lifted an eyebrow. “And what might that be?”
“I will tell you the truth, Your Majesty.”
Fermor gasped. Anne burst into laughter. “Oh, I do like him.”
The king cast an amused glance at her. “Is that so, Master Fool? Then perhaps you are worth it, after all.”
“But you must make an oath to me,” Will said.
The king’s eyes narrowed a bit, but he calmed when Anne giggled at Will’s audacity. “What?”
“You must swear it, as the word of a Christian king.” Will’s mouth was as dry as paper and his heart thudded in his chest, but he continued. “You must swear to me, on your honor, you will never hold it against me when I tell you the truth.”
The king stared at Will, his mouth agape, and then he burst into laughter. He slapped his knee and elbowed Anne, who gave him a sharp glance at being prodded by his arm, before she laughed along with him as a courtier trained to echo the king’s mirth.
“You have my word,” the king said, as he accepted a perfumed handkerchief from one of his serving lords to wipe away the tears seeping from his eyes. “Or must I write it out and put my royal seal to it?”
“Your word is sufficient for me,” Will replied.
“I am flattered at your trust, Master Fool,” the king said in solemn tones and burst into guffaws once again. “Go and have my steward find you rooms. Have you a wife?”
“I do.” Will’s mind whirled. He hadn’t expected this, and he didn’t want Emma to live at court, but there was nothing he could do. Refusing lodgings offered by the king would be a gross insult.
“Bring her tomorrow,” the king commanded. “I wish to see what the wife of a fool looks like.”
“Much like every other wife in England,” Will said, and that sent the king into laughter once more.
“Go, and come back on the morrow.” The king waved a hand at the steward. “Find him some decent garb, and some for Milady Fool as well.”
Will bowed deeply and followed the steward from the room. “And for you, Fermor,” he heard the king begin before the door was shut behind them. Will’s knees gave out and he collapsed to the floor.
His head swam in sick circles. He sat back on his heels and looked up at the steward. “Pray, pardon,” he rasped.
The steward gave a slight smile. “You are not the first to react in such a manner.” He held out a hand and Will stared at it in surprise. The steward was a lord, and here he was, offering a hand to a baseborn commoner. Will took it, and the steward helped him to his feet and drew him near.
“If ever a man needed to hear the truth,” the steward whispered, “ ’tis that man in there.” He drew away again, and his manner was once more brisk and officious. “Follow me.”