As I stood there, at a loss for words and sensing that I had somehow done a Bad Thing, the groom turned and stood, making me gasp. He was tall—well over six feet—and dazzlingly handsome, with hair of a rich brown. Small, sallow, and of middling appearance, I was none of those things, and I averted my eyes as if caught gazing into the sun. “Well, now. Who is this young lady?”
“Katherine, sir,” I managed.
“Kate,” the groom said as I thrilled from my head to my toes. How did this man know that I loved to be called “Kate,” only Mother insisted on the more dignified “Katherine”? He turned to my sister. “I’ve changed my mind, I’m afraid. This will be my new bride.”
“She’s a trifle young for you,” said my sister a little tensely.
“Oh, maybe a bit,” the man conceded. He smiled. “Some other lucky man will have little Kate, then. Lady Kate? Can you keep a great secret?”
“You had better,” my mother warned.
“I know Kate will,” the man said reassuringly. He looked down—a long way down--straight into my eyes. “Kate, I am getting ready to marry your sister. But it is a great secret. No one can know until I announce it personally.”
“Your family would not approve?” I ventured, as he was being so confiding.
“That is a pity.”
“But they will come to understand in time.” He cleared his throat and looked thoughtful for a moment, then appeared to make up his mind. “But there are other reasons why there are difficulties just now. I suppose you have not seen our King Edward yet, Kate?”
“Have you heard much of him?”
I was delighted by his question, for it gave me the opportunity to demonstrate what a good Yorkist I was, a great necessity in our family, since it was not so terribly long ago that Papa and my brothers Anthony and Richard had fought for the house of Lancaster. Having gone over to what now all agreed heartily to be the right side, Papa had sternly informed us children that we should always speak well of the House of York. As with all of my father’s advice, I had heeded it dutifully, but I seldom had the chance to put it into practice, for all of my brothers and sisters, being older and much wiser, were naturally much better Yorkists as well, and never made a mistake I could correct. “No,” I admitted. “But I hear he is very brave. And very handsome.”
The second man laughed, a sound that made the chapel echo. He was well over a decade older than the groom and less handsome, though his ruddy face was a good-humored one. “Ned, there’s a fine courtier for you! Shall I?”
The younger man nodded, and the older man reached in a purse and drew out a fine gold chain, then handed it to me. (Later, I was to learn that he always kept one or two on his person, in case of emergencies.) “There’s a reward for your loyalty, Lady Kate.”
“Thank you,” I said vacantly, staring at the chain. It was lovely, and even to my inexpert eyes looked frightfully expensive. Was my sister marrying a highwayman?
The younger man laughed at my expression. “You see, Kate, I am the king. And I have come here to marry your sister.”
There were any number of dignified and proper responses I could have made to this announcement. I, of course, made none of them. My mouth gaped open, most unattractively I fear. “You?” I asked. “Her?”
“Me. Her.” The king nodded. “She will make a lovely queen, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” I admitted feebly. Elizabeth was indeed lovely; indeed, I sometimes thought that she and my brother Anthony had taken so much beauty for themselves that was not enough left for the other ten of us children, especially me.
“But you must keep this a secret, Kate, as I have said. You will promise?”
“On my life!”
“Good girl,” the king said. He grinned. “Or I would be obliged to put you in my Tower as a lesson, you know.”
My previous promise was empty compared to the one I made now. “I swear and hope to die if I break my promise,” I vowed, kneeling and making the sign of the cross for good measure. I might have gone further and prostrated myself had Elizabeth not interrupted.
“Time passes. Ned, I know the child will not tell. Can we please resume the ceremony?"