I was once a princess of the finest country on the Continent, then Queen of the finest country in the world. I married the bravest king his country had ever known, expecting a lifetime of ruling together. I expected to hold his hands in my own, many years from now, as he passed from this life into God's kingdom. Perhaps by then I would have loved him.
Perhaps, should God deign to grant me a portion of His Infinite Grace, and allow me into His kingdom, I could ask my first husband for forgiveness. God only knows forgiveness has been granted to others less deserving than I.
A sharp pain slices through my dreamy consciousness, bringing me back to the harsh reality of the confinement chamber.
I have been brought to childbed many times within these past five-and-thirty years, but something strikes me as different, this time; there is a sense of urgency present that I had not felt in previous births, and my dreamy, thoughtful state is unusual, as well. I hear the murmur of other's voices, hushed, like the buzzing of insects on a summer's night, though every so often I can just make out a phrase or two:
"-Surely we should try-"
"-Another bastard child-"
"-Leeching cannot be-"
"-warming the Cardinal's-"
Another, deeper pain cuts through me at that, though I am not sure if it was the babe or my heart. The king, my son, my poor Henry. My oldest child is barely more than a babe himself, and I was always terrified of the influences he had to face at court - his uncles of Gloucester and Bedford, along with their uncle the Cardinal. None of them trusted me, terrified of women's wiles though they were the most powerful men in the hemisphere, and my association with a Welsh beast did naught but harden their hearts against me. They hate any time I spent with my son, and I hate the poison I was sure they dripped in his ear about myself and my husband.
Another pain. Closer together. The baby is coming. Owain, another Owain after his father and dead brother, or perhaps Ysbail, for my sister. My husband hates reminders that I was once his queen, though, so who knew what he would say?
Owain, you Fool. I was always a match too high for you, but you seemed a safer bet than any other. I didn't want a man who would raise me onto a pedestal and try to claim regency through me; I just wanted a quiet sort who would give me babies I could raise myself, without every dirty clout being a matter of state. I wanted babes I could punish when they were rotten little chits, without fear that I'd end up locked away - or headless. The red hair and stubborn natures they each had inherited were but a small price to pay for the ability to be in their lives, as their mother.
I smile through another contraction. The murmurs become more frantic. I don't care anymore, I just have to let my body take its course. Seven children, all live births (though it pleased God to call away three of them), make me feel secure in the knowledge that all would be well.
My first son, Henry, was a sickly boy; I hoped he lived long enough to have an heir, however possible. Poor boy had nothing of his father in him, no fight; how could he, cooped up as he was? England needed a fighting king, not a scholarly one!
The next wave of pain sets in, and I'm torn between crying out and gritting my teeth so hard they ache. Real fear finally sets in, as I remember that I am no longer a child of twenty, or even a woman of twenty-eight as I was with Thomas, I can only pray, and think.
Thomas, my precious rose, dead before I was churched. I still believe that Owain was certain that the boy was a bastard son of Edmund Beaufort, though I was uncertain. All I knew was that, instead of a churching banquet, we attended a funeral.
The pain dulls, and I am left with a dizzying, throbbing headache in its place.
Owain, named for his father. Caught a chill the week before his first birthday. Gray skin and red hair still haunt my dreams. I couldn't save him. I couldn't save myself.
Katherine, my pretty little namesake. O Katherine, my Katherine. Toddled her way to a flight of stairs and fell, supposedly. I still think Owain couldn't forgive me my final dalliance with Beaufort, and my poor daughter paid the price.
The children God took from me in my womb...
God's teeth, will this pain never cease?! I feel as though my very bones are cracking with every new cascade. Even over the drumming in my ears, I hear the one phrase no woman ever wants to hear in childbirth.
"The child is stuck." The color must have drained from my face, for I hear a woman yell for wine for the lady.
A stuck child means one of three things will happen:
First, they may try to turn the baby, depending on how far along labor is. This is excruciating pain for the mother, and may cause the child to be born dead.
Second, they may try to just pull the baby out. This can severely hurt mother and child because... Well, have you ever tried to pull two fighting animals apart? Same concept, really.
Finally, and most terrifyingly to any mother, is the fact that they may cut the mother open. Church canon says to save the child, for it is an innocent life, and we women are butchered much like cattle in the field. This is usually last resort, as it is all but a death sentence for the mother.
Such is the unfortunate plight of women.
One of the women presses a cup to my lips, and I drink greedily, thirsty from pain and exhaustion. A moment passes, wherein I notice that the whole room has ceased activity to watch me drink, and the horrifying reality sets in.
They are not even going to try to save me.
My mouth, quickly heavy with drink and drugged sleep, tries to form the words which will change their minds. The useless flesh will not cooperate, but instead the words thrash around my head, unknown to all but me.
I am Katherine of Valois, Princess of France, Dowager Queen of England, and the mother of your King! I am no hedge-whore! I refuse to die in such a Common way! I am-
The silver of the scalpel glints in the candlelight, and I don't know if the drug finally takes me, or if I have fainted from fear. Either way, my final thoughts are cursing my husband for letting them do this to me.
"Milord, a daughter."
Owain Tudor stared down at the child, a small smile on his face. His two surviving sons, Edmund and Jasper, clung anxiously to his legs. The woman tries to pass him the child, but he stands stock-still, hands on his sons' ginger mops.
"She is beautiful. Margaret Rose. And her mother?"
"The babe was stuck, milord. Her Grace..."
A shadow passes across his face, as his boys look up, confused. He gathers them to him, more from anger than grief. She left him, alone, with two sons and a useless girl. Owain waves the midwife away, his features stained with emotion - which one, she did not know.
" 'Tis a sad time to be you, little one," she cooed at the bawling, pinkish child. Meanwhile, the bells of London began their slow peal of mourning for the King's Mother, dead of childbirth during the most festive time of the year.