Tuesday, September 20, 2011

To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn

To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn

Sandra Byrd

"...this stunning novel ...reexamines Boleyn's life from her beginnings to her rise and eventual fall in the Tudor court. Byrd's novel adds a depth to the character of Anne Boleyn that is often missing in other novels, and she brings the history to life in exquisite detail. Readers might indeed find themselves sympathizing with the young queen. Highly recommended for fans of Philippa Gregory. "

Library Journal,
Starred Review

To Die For, is the story of Meg Wyatt, pledged forever as the best friend to Anne Boleyn since their childhoods on neighboring manors in Kent. When Anne's star begins to ascend, of course she takes her best friend Meg along for the ride. Life in the court of Henry VIII is thrilling at first, but as Anne's favor rises and falls, so does Meg's. And though she's pledged her loyalty to Anne no matter what the test, Meg just might lose her greatest love—and her own life—because of it.


Year of Our Lord 1536

There are many ways to arrive at the Tower of London though there are few ways out. Kings and Queens ride in before a coronation, retinue trailing like a train of ermine. Prisoners, however, arrive on foot, shoved through one cavernous gate or another by the wardens who live, as all do, at the mercy of a merciless king. Some unfortunate few are delivered to the Tower by water.

The Thames lapped against our boat as it stopped to allow for the entry to be raised.

Chapter One

Year of Our Lord 1518

Allington Castle, Kent, England

"Come with me," I whispered to Anne. She turned to look at her older sister, Mary, busy flirting with my tutors – forbidden, and therefore enticing, conquests. After assessing the safety of our escape Anne turned back to me and nodded, yes. She was up for an adventure as I knew she would be. Rose Ogilvy sat in the corner, carefully plying her needle in and out of a stretch of muslin. She was seventeen years old, same as Anne and me, but I knew she would shy away from this particular exploit, any particular exploit, in fact. To save her embarrassment I didn't ask her along.

We slipped out the door, gathered the layers of skirts in our hands and then raced down the long stone hallway. Recently painted portraits of my Wyatt ancestors were awkwardly affixed to the walls. When he bought the castle, my father, Henry Wyatt, had placed them there to make our family seem more ancient and noble than it was. We were not exactly pretenders, but not exactly of Norman blood, either. They stared down at me, ill at ease, smiths and butchers and small time landowners now forced into velvets and ruffs within a span of time no broader than the width of my hand. And yet we were gentry now. My father expected me to act like the lady he'd suffered to make me be.

We slid out the main entrance, one or two servants catching my eye and warning me back inside with a stern look. "No, Mistress Meg," one urged me. I disregarded them. They knew what might lie ahead for me – they'd borne the same fate, maybe worse. But I refused to be intimidated.

Anne and I linked arms and strolled toward the rows of unattended garden. Just beyond, on the neatly clipped field, our brothers play-jousted with long branches though all were training for real jousts as well. As we strolled by my brother Thomas stopped, dipped into a bow and flourished his hat in our direction. "What a polite young man," Anne said. "Mayhap you'll notice, my brother George isn't tipping his hat toward me."

I grinned. "My brother isn't tipping his hat toward me, either. He'd as soon ignore me as do me good. It's you he's trying to impress, as well you know." A light flush of pleasure spread up Anne's long neck and a little cat-like mewl escaped her lips. She fully realized the affect she'd begun to have on men. Whilst she didn't court their praise, false modesty was not her besetting sin, either.

"I see another bow and this one is particularly in your direction," she said. I looked up and saw Will Ogilvy.

A year older than I, Will's brown hair was long and tousled, his face slightly reddened from the joust. I couldn't help but notice that his arms and chest had thickened over the summer as he grew from a gangly boy into an assured young man. Even from this distance I could see his eyes had the same merry twinkle for me that they'd always had. I nodded primly in his direction – after all, I was a lady, and we were in mixed company. He winked at me.

A wink! The audacity. Who else saw it?

"Mayhap Lord Ogilvy's son should come out of the field. He seems to have dust in his eye," Anne teased. I turned toward her and grinned, thankful for her faithful friendship. She never trained her charm on Will. She knew I planned to have him for myself.

Rewardingly, he seemed completely uninterested in Anne, too.

We sat in the gardens, enveloped in the haze of the exotic scent of my mother's jasmine plants, gossiping about overheard conversations between Anne's ambassador father and high-born mother; they had sent Anne and her sister Mary to apprentice at the French court when the Princess Mary married some years back and they were to return, shortly, after this visit home with their father. We talked about my sister, Alice who had borne yet another child. I would soon go to stay with her for a few months, if my father allowed it. But as Alice was an obedient girl, marrying young and bearing quickly my father favored nearly every request she made. Alas, the same could not be said for me.

"We've got new horses." I finally got the conversation around to its planned target. "My father's horse master brought them `round last week."

"Ooh," Anne said. "Are they fast?"

"I don't know…" I answered. We'd prided ourselves, unseemly, I suppose, on riding as fast and as well as any boy in our group.

"Should we see?" she asked me, as I knew she would. For me to suggest the idea would be disobedient, but for me to accommodate a friend would be hospitality indeed.

We ran to the stables and after petting old favorites we walked to the stalls where the new horses were housed. Our vanity guided our choices. Anne picked out her favorite, a raven mare, barely three years old with deep black eyes, like her own. I showed her the one I loved best, a tamed stallion with a thick auburn mane like my own. He glanced nervously about his stall till I gentled him with quiet words and touches.

"Should you have them saddled?"

My father shouldn't be home from court till tomorrow morning. Then I called over a stable boy. "Saddle these two for us, please."

"If'n you say so, miss," he said, unable to disobey me but nervous nonetheless. I smiled kindly at him, hoping to gentle him as I'd done the stallion.

"I do," I said. And then Anne and I raced and rode.

Please visit Sandra online at www.sandrabyrd.comwhere you can link to purchase her books at a variety of fine booksellers.

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