Christmas at the Tudor Court: a short excerpt from The Light in the Labyrinth.
Holly, ivy, and winter flowers garlanded the doorways and walls at Greenwich. Verdant green contrasted vividly with bright red—red holly berries, red flowers, red glass, red ribbons—used to tie up the Christmas trappings and hang them in every possible place, even around the window-seats overlooking the Thames. The trappings became arches then, partially hiding the people who sat there taking rest from the many games, or those who dallied in games of love.
On the fourth day of Christmas, Kate rested in one of these window-seats. Christmas at court was a busy time, even if normal duties were on hold for the while. Days and nights of merriment took their toll.
Her brother played Blind Man Bluff. Kate grinned. The melee of young people darted in and out all around him. His laughter was carefree, so unlike the increasingly circumspect boy who considered his every move with caution.
Only a little time before, she, too, had been blindfolded, her hands outstretched, forced to search for her fellows by hearing and touch, going one way and another. A little scared by her blindness, it didn’t stop her laughing until her stomach hurt. For a short time, she even forgot the absence of her best friend at court. Almost a week ago, Catherine, the Duchess of Suffolk, had left the court to go home to attend her ailing son.
Her cheek against the cold stone of the embrasure, Kate tried to ignore the icy fingers that seeped through her gown, draughts let in by the badly sealed window behind her. She struggled to keep her eyelids open—the desire to sleep began to steal upon her.
With a shake, she sat straighter and gave herself a shake. You are young,a maid, not a grey-head crone! Had she fasted overmuch on the days leading up to Christmas, wanting her aunt to be proud of her? How she suffered for it now. Even her aunt did not wilt like this despite her daily struggle to keep down her food. Since the start of the festivities, she had made merry with the King, partnering him in dances, singing with him, talking long with him. Her happiness was contagious and spread to the court. Kate sighed. Aunt Nan had a steel will; she was not likely to seek out her bed as Kate wished to do.
Giving in to her tiredness, she leaned against the stone again, and drifted into a daydream about the Christmas masses four days before. That night she had held a taper in her hand, adding to the light of many borne likewise. The candles lit blue lights in Aunt Nan’s unbound hair and glittered her jewels, casting upon her the gauze of beauty. Side by side, hand clasped in hand, the King and Queen had taken their places to hear the three masses. As the priest told the lineage of Christ, the King bent to whisper something to Aunt Nan, his hand going to her belly. She met his eyes and smiled. Putting her hand over his, she lowered her head to pray. Joy seemed theirs that night, as on the first Christmas when the Son of God came to live among men. The joy of the first Christmas too, concerned a child. As from the beginning, a child is always hope.
Kate had started then, knowing her thoughts influenced by her mother. She had been so angry the day of her mother’s churching. The first moment she found herself alone with her mother, she had snarled, “Why have more children? Why bring us in the world when it is only pain?” Her mother’s smile had maddened her, but her answer made her cry. “Not only pain, Kate, not when a child’s loved like all my children are loved. All my children have been born in faith. Hope and faith in life.” That Christmas, Kate had no doubt her aunt believed the same.