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Excerpt from “Once and Never Queen,” a novelette

“I am not going to toy around with frivolous small talk,” he said, “but I will get right to the matters at hand. For one, Lord Cromwell is due to be executed at dawn on the last day of the month.”
My jaw dropped. “Why would you order such a thing?”
“It was he who forced me into this marriage with you. And now look at us- do we seem like a happy couple?”
There was only one right answer. “No, sir.”
“Exactly. We both knew we weren’t a match for one another, and yet he insisted on this alliance with Germany. His foolishness put the both of us in a terrible predicament, do you understand?”
“I understand, but how was Lord Cromwell to know that France and Spain would not join forces against us?”
He grew impatient with my questioning and his face flared almost as red as the hair of his beard. “He is my chief advisor! He should have some degree of insight!” Taking a breath, he calmed down. “But my queen, my dear, peaceful queen- I may have found a way for us to be set free from our bondage.”
I didn’t consider my marriage to be bondage. It wasn’t the most affectionate, but it certainly wasn’t all that bad. I felt resentment flicker in my heart. “What did you have in mind?”
“My men have procured these documents for me,” he said. “On them it is recorded that you were once betrothed to a duke named Francis. Is this true?”
“Yes, but we were never married.”
“That is immaterial. As long as you were engaged to someone else at the time of our wedding, neither were you and I married. As a bonus to us, what remnant we did have of a marriage was never consummated.”
“Of course it was,” I replied.
His eyes widened. “This is no time for jokes. Listen to me. All you need do is sign a submission paper and our marriage will be annulled. You will make one more public appearance as my queen on May Day- and then you will leave my halls. Provided you stay in England, however, I will do whatever I can to ensure that you have everything you need.”
He paused and looked me in the eye, daring me to object. And I almost did. Clearly, he and his men had thought this all out and my fate was sealed already. I knew what had happened to Katherine of Aragon when she fought her husband’s wish for an annulment. Separated from her daughter, she died abused and alone at the hands of the King. Even if I cooperated, I was taking a gamble- the King could easily go back on his word to take care of me.

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