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Authors: Nancy Kress

Tags: #Science Fiction, #Short Stories

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BOOK: The Best of Nancy Kress
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“Do not call me Mistress Boleyn. Address me as Your Grace. I am the queen.”

The something that moved behind his eyes convinced her, finally, that he was a mortal man. She was used to reading men’s eyes. But why should this one look at her like that? With pity? With admiration?

She struggled to stand, rising off the low pallet. It was carved of good English oak. The room was paneled in dark wood and hung with tapestries of embroidered wool. Small-paned windows shed brilliant light over carved chairs, table, chest. On the table rested a writing desk and a lute. Reassured, Anne pushed down the heavy cloth of her nightshift and rose.

The man, seated on a low stool, rose, too. He was taller than Henry—she had never seen a man taller than Henry—and superbly muscled. A soldier? Fright fluttered again, and she put her hand to her throat. This man, watching her—watching her
throat
. Was he then an executioner? Was she under arrest, drugged and brought by some secret method into the Tower of London? Had someone brought evidence against her? Or was Henry that disappointed that she had not borne a son that he was eager to supplant her already?

As steadily as she could, Anne walked to the window.

The Tower Bridge did not lie beyond in the sunshine. Nor the river, nor the gabled roofs of Greenwich Palace. Instead there was a sort of yard, with huge beasts of metal growling softly. On the grass naked young men and women jumped up and down, waving their arms, running in place and smiling and sweating as if they did not know either that they were uncovered or crazed.

Anne took firm hold of the windowsill. It was slippery in her hands, and she saw that it was not wood at all but some material made to resemble wood. She closed her eyes, then opened them. She was a queen. She had fought hard to become a queen, defending a virtue nobody believed she still had, against a man who claimed that to destroy that virtue was love. She had won, making the crown the price of her virtue. She had conquered a king, brought down a chancellor of England, outfaced a pope. She would not show fear to this executioner in this place of the damned, whatever it was.

She turned from the window, her head high. “Please begin your explanation, Master…”

“Culhane.”

“Master Culhane. We are eager to hear what you have to say. And we do not like waiting.”

She swept aside her long nightdress as if it were court dress and seated herself in the not-wooden chair carved like a throne.

 

 

“I am a hostage,” Anne repeated. “In a time that has not yet happened.”

From beside the window, Lambert watched. She was fascinated. Anne Boleyn had, according to Culhane’s report, listened in silence to the entire explanation of the time rescue, that explanation so carefully crafted and revised a dozen times to fit what the sixteenth-century mind could understand of the twenty-second. Queen Anne had not become hysterical. She had not cried, nor fainted, nor professed disbelief. She had asked no questions. When Culhane had finished, she had requested, calmly and with staggering dignity, to see the ruler of this place, with his ministers. Toshio Brill, watching on monitor because the wisdom was that at first new hostages would find it easier to deal with one consistent researcher, had hastily summoned Lambert and two others. They had all dressed in the floor-length robes used for grand academic ceremonies and never else. And they had marched solemnly into the ersatz sixteenth-century room, bowing their heads.

Only their heads. No curtsies. Anne Boleyn was going to learn that no one curtsied anymore.

Covertly Lambert studied her, their fourth time hostage, so different from the other three. She had not risen from her chair, but even seated she was astonishingly tiny. Thin, delicate bones, great dark eyes, masses of silky black hair loose on her white nightdress. She was not pretty by the standards of this century; she had not even been counted pretty by the standards of her own. But she was compelling. Lambert had to give her that.

“And I am prisoner here,” Anne Boleyn said. Lambert turned up her translator; the words were just familiar, but the accent so strange she could not catch them without electronic help.

“Not prisoner,” the director said. “Hostage.”

“Lord Brill, if I cannot leave, then I am a prisoner. Let us not mince words. I cannot leave this castle?”

“You cannot.”

“Please address me as ‘Your Grace.’ Is there to be a ransom?”

“No, Your Grace. But because of your presence here thousands of men will live who would have otherwise died.”

With a shock, Lambert saw Anne shrug; the deaths of thousands of men evidently did not interest her. It was true, then. They really were moral barbarians, even the women. The students should see this. That small shrug said more than all the battles viewed in squares. Lambert felt her sympathy for the abducted woman lessen, a physical sensation like the emptying of a bladder, and was relieved to feel it. It meant she, Lambert, still had her own moral sense.

“How long must I stay here?”

“For life, Your Grace,” Brill said bluntly.

Anne made no reaction; her control was aweing.

“And how long will that be, Lord Brill?”

“No person knows the length of his or her life, Your Grace.”

“But if you can read the future, as you claim, you must know what the length of mine would have been.”

Lambert thought: We must not underestimate her. This hostage is not like the last one.

Brill said, with the same bluntness that honored Anne’s comprehension—did she realize that?—“If we had not brought you here, you would have died May 19, 1536.”

“How?”

“It does not matter. You are no longer part of that future, and so now events there will—”

“How?”

Brill didn’t answer.

Anne Boleyn rose and walked to the window, absurdly small, Lambert thought, in the trailing nightdress. Over her shoulder she said, “Is this castle in England?”

“No,” Brill said. Lambert saw him exchange glances with Culhane.

“In France?”

“It is not in any place on Earth,” Brill said, “although it can be entered from three places on Earth. It is outside of time.”

She could not possibly have understood, but she said nothing, only went on staring out the window. Over her shoulder Lambert saw the exercise court, empty now, and the antimatter power generators. Two technicians crawled over them with a robot monitor. What did Anne Boleyn make of them?

“God alone knows if I had merited death,” Anne said. Lambert saw Culhane start.

Brill stepped forward. “Your Grace—”

“Leave me now,” she said without turning.

They did. Of course, she would be monitored constantly—everything from brain scans to the output of her bowels. Although she would never know this. But if suicide was in that life-defying mind, it would not be possible. If Her Holiness ever learned of the suicide of a time hostage…Lambert’s last glimpse before the door closed was of Anne Boleyn’s back, still by the window, straight as a spear as she gazed out at antimatter power generators in a building in permanent stasis.

“Culhane, meeting in ten minutes,” Brill said. Lambert guessed the time lapse was to let the director change into working clothes. Toshio Brill had come away from the interview with Anne Boleyn somehow diminished. He even looked shorter, although shouldn’t her small stature have instead augmented his?

Culhane stood still in the corridor outside Anne’s locked room (would she try the door?). His face was turned away from Lambert’s. Lambert said, “Culhane…you jumped a moment in there. When she said God alone knew if she had merited death.”

“It was what she said at her trial,” Culhane said. “When the verdict was announced. Almost the exact words.”

He still had not moved so much as a muscle of that magnificent body. Lambert said, probing, “You found her impressive, then. Despite her scrawniness, and beyond the undeniable pathos of her situation.”

He looked at her then, his eyes blazing: Culhane, the research engine. “I found her magnificent.”

 

 

She never smiled. That was one of the things she knew they remarked upon among themselves: She had overheard them in the walled garden.
Anne Boleyn never smiles
. Alone, they did not call her Queen Anne, or Her Grace, or even the Marquis of Rochford, the title Henry had conferred upon her, the only female peeress in her own right in all of England. No, they called her Anne Boleyn, as if the marriage to Henry had never happened, as if she had never borne Elizabeth. And they said she never smiled.

What cause was there to smile, in this place that was neither life nor death?

Anne stitched deftly at a piece of amber velvet. She was not badly treated. They had given her a servant, cloth to make dresses—she had always been clever with a needle, and the skill had not deserted her when she could afford to order any dresses she chose. They had given her books, the writing Latin but the pictures curiously flat, with no raised ink or painting. They let her go into any unlocked room in the castle, out to the gardens, into the yards. She was a holy hostage.

When the amber velvet gown was finished, she put it on. They let her have a mirror. A lute. Writing paper and quills. Whatever she asked for, as generous as Henry had been in the early days of his passion, when he had divided her from her love Harry Percy and had kept her loving hostage to his own fancy.

Cages came in many sizes. Many shapes. And, if what Master Culhane and the Lady Mary Lambert said was true, in many times.

“I am not a lady,” Lady Lambert had protested. She needn’t have bothered. Of course she was not a lady—she was a commoner, like the others, and so perverted was this place that the woman sounded insulted to be called a lady. Lambert did not like her, Anne knew, although she had not yet found out why. The woman was unsexed, like all of them, working on her books and machines all day, exercising naked with men who thus no more looked at their bodies than they would those of fellow soldiers in the roughest camp. So it pleased Anne to call Lambert a lady when she did not want to be one, as Anne was now so many things she had never wanted to be. “Anne Boleyn.” Who never smiled.

“I will create you a Lady,” she said to Lambert. “I confer on you the rank of baroness. Who will gainsay me? I am the queen, and in this place there is no king.”

And Mary Lambert had stared at her with the unsexed bad manners of a common drab.

Anne knotted her thread and cut it with silver scissors. The gown was finished. She slipped it over her head and struggled with the buttons in the back, rather than call the stupid girl who was her servant. The girl could not even dress hair. Anne smoothed her hair herself, then looked critically at her reflection in the fine mirror they had brought her.

For a woman a month and a half from childbed, she looked strong. They had put medicines in her food, they said. Her complexion, that creamy dark skin that seldom varied in color, was well set off by the amber velvet. She had often worn amber, or tawny. Her hair, loose since she had no headdress and did not know how to make one, streamed over her shoulders. Her hands, long and slim despite the tiny extra finger, carried a rose brought to her by Master Culhane. She toyed with the rose to show off the beautiful hands, and lifted her head high.

She was going to have an audience with Her Holiness, a female pope. And she had a request to make.

 

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