The only thing that gave me a worse vibe than these two was Gene’s taste in decorating. The ceilings were about 30 feet high and three walls held books up to about the first 15 feet, after which was a very large landing around three quarters of the room. The wall opposite the door was made up of five floor-to-ceiling arched windows. The bottom six feet of each had colonial muttons and were partially opened, allowing the outside winter cold to fight with the heat in the room. On the landings above the bookshelves were housed various artifacts of torture.
Gene saw me noticing, "These are from the collection of King Henry," he boasted.
There were guillotines and stretching racks and other devices all made of aged wood and black iron. Some had big weathered chain links hanging from them and leather straps. There were black iron turning wheels, the sight was gruesome.
Gene motioned to a large axe with a semicircular blade and an unusually long, thick handle.
"This is my prized piece of the entire collection - the axe used to behead Katherine, Henry’s youngest bride." Mounted next to the axe, on a polished cherry post, was a scrap of parchment. Next to it, carved in gold lettering over black onyx, was inscribed an onlooker. The parchment had faded to an almost illegible degree and was kept behind glass.
Gene said, "The onlooker’s account is sealed in helium, just like the Declaration of Independence, to preserve it. I’ve had it authenticated by historians, expert in the period." The words were transferred onto the stone.
The eerie account told of the misty morning when the helpless fair-haired teenager, a mere girl, forced to lay under the weight of the wealth of England, was led to her death.
I read the inscribed: Queen Katherine emerged just before nine in the morning. A rain the night before had turned the courtyard muddy to our ankles. The streets containing the foul smell of chicken scratch and horse urine slurried into the mix. Gawkers’ pushed for position and strained to see the delicate fawn-like Katherine as she walked barefoot, clothed only in a very plain and simple linen dress. The exposed skin of her upper chest was so pale I could see the ghostly blue vein patchwork just beneath. The last time I had seen the young queen she was amazing, the most beautiful woman in all England. Fancily dressed and bright, riding in an open coach smiling sweetly waving to her subjects, I fancied the thought our eyes might have met for a second.
"Spill her blood!" A spectator called out. I thought, what cowards this mob, content to stand by and watch. Greedily clinging to their own lives–any one of which could be wrenched from him in a second.
This bitter gray morning, the little Queen made her way slowly up to the old worn wooden steps, pausing briefly, turning sad doe eyes back to the crowd. A pitiful thin waif of a child so helpless and demure, Katherine continued up the stairs carefully gripping the railing as if it were her mothers hand, that somehow she might be swept away from all this.
Once upon the platform, facing the crowd full on, her tiny limbs were exposed and pale, a simple dress hanging over her nearly shapeless frame. She wore no jewelry. Her one remaining vanity, long hair, perfectly combed. The henchman placed her firmly against the block and with a blank and helpless stare Katherine moved her beautiful locks to one side exposing her slender neck.
I waited for her to jump to her feet and scream out in defiance, "What have I done that your precious King isn’t guilty of?"
Laying her head sideways on the block, she awaited her fate in silence.
The black-hooded killer appeared to us like a giant standing over her. A moment before, even the handle of the axe and the blade had been taller than the living little queen. He drew back.
I heard the neck cracking then a thud as the girl’s head crashed to the platform floor. Steam rose from the blood pouring in a warm pool from the lifeless body slumped behind the block.
Gene Hobbs had acquired the only known account of the gruesome event; one can imagine that onlookers must have rushed to write on whatever they could find to recount the scene. The metaphor of the rich over the poor and the machinery of torture in the room made me shudder. Reading the narrative, I felt sickened by the horror of the day, for lost innocence and the tyranny of the time. What a waste of a beautiful young life; what a disgrace for England.
Genre – Political Thriller
Rating – PG