May 19, 1536
Simon Laveque awoke early, the pitcher of water he had consumed the night before sloshing urgently in his guts. He stood and quickly moved to the window, shoving the shutter aside with one hand while the other plucked unsteadily at his trews. He relieved himself out the second story window with a soft sigh of release. It was early yet, an hour before the dawn, so no one below was the recipient of his foul-smelling piss, though it would not have stopped him even if there were anyone on the street. In Cheapside, the inns were not equipped with chamber pots.
After doing his business, he tied his trews closed and collected himself. The girl in his bed snored and farted in a most unladylike manner, but that more or less described her from top to bottom. She was fourteen, not beautiful and suffered from the early stages of the great pox. That hardly made a difference to him. She had been drunk and cheap and willing. Such things were all that mattered, at least to him. He could have stayed at the Tower of course, he had been invited to by the king himself but the Tower made him uncomfortable. Too many ghosts haunted those bloody halls. He gathered his clothes in silence, not wishing to awaken the slumbering whore. She had been unused to private chambers and had earned her money well the night before: She deserved some peace before she returned to what would undoubtedly be a very short life.
He dressed quickly and simply, in the fashion of his French forebears; tunic and hose; broad belt and tall boots; all of them varying shades of black and gray. He pulled on a midnight blue cloak against the morning chill. The cloak had been a gift from the king and, while Simon thought it was quite hideous, it would do to keep up appearances on this most auspicious occasion. Lastly, he strapped on the broad-bladed sword that had mostly fallen out of fashion in both the English and French courts.
He descended the stairs softly and made his way to the stables. The sore-encrusted stable-boy snored loudly in the doorway but Simon simply stepped over him and prepared his huge gray himself. The boy was useless anyway. He pulled the double doors open and rode his gray into the pre-dawn morning, not bothering to close the stables again. The boy would catch Hell for it when the stable-master arrived but Simon did not give it a second thought.
He rode through Cheapside in the relative quiet. The road was deeply scarred and pitted from the mass of humanity that had trod this way before and would do again this day, and the next, and the next into perpetuity. However Simon spared them the same consideration he gave the boy. It was early and while he was by no means the only traveler this morning, his huge horse and chivalric bearing—not to mention the broad-blade on his belt—kept him apart from the common throng. Such were the gifts of his forebears. He hardly noticed.
The soft hoof beats gave way to louder clatter as he approached the Tower. The flagstone road was a luxury and had been pointed out specifically by the king to Simon, and Simon had marveled at the extravagance and expense of it. It was his duty as the guest of the king, but he did not much care. He was descended from wealthy sires but he himself was not a wealthy man. He had little use for money, and cared less for extravagance. He did, however, know his duty. The king had wanted him to be impressed therefore he was impressed. He barely spared the interaction a thought as he guided his steed with expert skill into the Tower yard. A boy, this one marginally more healthy-looking than the boy he had left behind in the stables, came out and took the reins of his horse as he dismounted. He spared the child not a glance but handed him a small silver coin, blank of any minting, and met the eyes of the Captain of the Guard.
The man was slim and pale-looking with deep circles under his eyes. It had been a very long week and he was newly appointed in his role. The Captain watched the exchange with mild curiosity: Simon supposed few would have tipped the young page but then Simon had been raised by common-folk and elevated himself to the attention of royalty through the merits of his skill with the broad-blade and the patronage of nobility.
The Captain led him to the scaffold immediately, and Simon mounted with only the faintest twinge of his bad knee. He had a thousand scars crisscrossing his body and the knee was the oldest yet. He was used to it. Atop the scaffold, the Captain offered him a black hood to mask his features but Simon refused it with a wave of his hand. He had been asked by the king to perform this duty and a black mask could not blind the eyes of God or the king.
Kneeling on the ground in the center of the scaffold was a woman. Simon supposed she was beautiful, if you looked past the grime and bruises and the recently broken nose. He guessed her age to be somewhere on the low end of her thirties but he truly supposed it did not matter. From today, she would get no older. A man stood by, holding a Bible and murmuring words in English. Simon balked only momentarily at this. He recognized the words well enough, but he was used to hearing them in Latin: Last rites. The heathen king had at least given this to her. He waited respectfully until the man finished his catechism and then drew the blade.
She looked up at him tearfully. “Please,” she whispered. “Please… make it quick.”
He nodded. He moved behind her and pointed the broad blade at her neck, the flat vertically in line with her spinal column. With little ceremony, he drove the point into the back of her neck, severing the spinal cord from the head in a swift, precise blow. She died instantly, her final breath whispering out of her in grateful thanksgiving. Before she could fall, Simon withdrew the blade and in a calculated spin, swept her head from her shoulders as was required by the king.
Simon Laveque drew out a silk cloth and cleaned her blood from his blade, folding it carefully into his tunic when he was finished. It was the blood of a queen, after all. The Captain, on seeing her fall to the scaffold, signaled a man on the tower wall. The soldier nodded, took a torch burning with pitch from a squire and ignited the wick of a large cannon. The blast was deafening but Simon paid it no mind. He turned to climb down the scaffold, sparing the corpse not a glance. He did not give her another thought. She was dead and his duty concerned him only with the living and ushering their passage from one state to the other. That was all, and that, at least to him, was enough.
He silently added her ghost to the grisly host that hovered in his wake, translucent and weeping and, as ever, dead, dead, dead.