Yes, I remember.
I remember that November ride through the freezing cold of an East Anglian winter, but little of what followed; except fragmented fevered dreams. And Will of course and his usual diligence and care, and then a gesture which I had thought to he one of tender friendship. But now I see I was wrong, and what Will did that day all those years ago meant so much more to him.
Sighing, I get to my feet and go to pour the rest of the wine into the cups. ‘Will, come over here and sit down’. I hold the cup out to him, and heaving himself to his feet, he comes and sits next to me on the bed.
‘Will, we do need to talk’, I say as he sips his wine while staring at the floor. ‘Please, Will, look at me’, and he reluctantly lifts his bent head, looks in m direction but still does not meet my eyes.
‘Talk about what, Ned? Perhaps you want to tell me how, by this time on Monday you will be past your pain and safe with God. Is that it?’ His voice is sullen, like a child’s but I ignore it and carry on. God knows how he will respond to what I must say to him but I need to ask, I need to know.
‘No, Will, that’s not what I want to talk about, but since you have mentioned it, yes, I do believe I will be’. Placing a pillow behind my back I make myself comfortable against the wall, ‘No, I want to talk about a time, a brief moment some years ago when I was sick and under house arrest at Linhill’.
The sudden change in the atmosphere is almost palpable and Will looks at me, eyes wary, a slight frown creasing the smoothness between his brows. I lean forward and touch his hand, ‘You see, Will, I was not asleep, nor fully awake. But I was aware of…of the kiss. But oh, Will I was glad of it. It gave me reason to live, recover and fight’.
I can see how his shoulders tense as I speak, and how he holds one hand up to his face as though to hide from me. It is a gesture a child might make when shamed or embarrassed and my heart goes out to him.
At last he speaks, his voice low, his hand still screening his face, ‘I see. How long have you known Ned?’
‘What is there to know?’
My heart is beating so hard that I fear he can hear it, and my breath catches in my throat as he turns to me, his soft brown eyes looking straight into mine.
‘That I love you’.
The silence which follows is total and complete, broken only by the sound of the storm as it gathers strength, and the rain as it begins to fall, pattering against the window as fat drops trickle and slide down the leaded panes.
I am not surprised, nor shocked by his words, but my heart breaks for knowing that Will has carried this secret for so long; and has suffered the pain of a love he thought he could not share.
‘Will’, I say at last when the silence has become almost deafening, ‘Why now, why tell me now?’, I sit forward so that I am next to him, ‘Oh, Will, what can we do, what is there to do?’
I cover my face with my hands. I feel helpless and adrift.
‘I’m sorry, Ned, so sorry. But you asked me and I cannot hide the truth any longer. And I’m tired Ned, tired of trying to hide what I feel for you, and now, now that…….’ but he breaks off. Still afraid to say what we are both thinking.
Lifting my face, I run my hands distractedly through my hair, ‘Sorry,Will, why should you be sorry?’
Yet again I feel tears threatening, but what good would that do for him or me.
‘Not for loving you Ned, I could never be sorry for that’, he smiles then, but his face is as white as virgin snow, ‘but oh, Ned, telling you now when we have so little time, that I am sorry for’.
I touch his cold hand where it lies, bunched into a tense fist beside him, ‘What would you have me do now?’ I ask him. But he does not answer me, instead he gets up from the bed and goes to the window where he stands looking out at the rain and the storm as it builds over London. And I watch him as he stands there, so familiar to me and so dear. Oh! Will, I think, why now? What remedy for us now, when time is so short and my day is all but finished.
He turns from the window then as a flash of lightning illuminates the chamber, and for a second he stands out in stark relief. ‘Ned, please answer me honestly’, he comes back to the bed and sits down next to me again, ‘do you believe that for one man to love another is sinful?’
I can see his eyes through the gloom cast by the storm; questioning, hopeful. Hoping that my answer will be the one he most wants to hear.
‘No, Will, I don’t think that loving anyone is sinful. How can it be when Christ himself taught us that we should love our fellow men’.
He shakes his head at that, ‘No Ned, no, I don’t mean the love of a friend or brother, or that which a parent feels for a child. My love for you is such that even my thoughts of it, I fear are sinful’.
I do not know how to answer him, and to collect my thoughts I go to light the candles, as darkness and the storm have cast the chamber into a stifling gloom. The darkness retreats to the furthest corners of the chamber where the thin light of the candles does not reach. And the flames flicker and dance in the draughts from the half open casement. I set one of the candles down on the table by the bed, placing it amongst other items which comfort me through the sleepless nights, for both my Rosary and well thumbed prayer book lie there. My fears are all to vivid during the long hours of darkness.
Will turns to face me, and I can see the unhappiness in his face, the shadows accentuating the hollows of his cheekbones where once there was a youthful roundness.
‘Ned, when they first brought you here, when they would not suffer me to see you or speak to you, I missed you more than you could ever imagine. I longed for you and thought of nothing else but how I wanted to see you. You were the first thing I thought of when I awoke and the last at night. And every waking second in between’.
Ah, Will, I missed you as well. Because I was as lonely and as isolated as they could possibly make me. I too longed for your company and it gladdened my heart to see you again after so long apart’.
I couldn’t tell him of the nights when, after being jolted from sleep by yet another nightmare, I had lain awake watching the dawn light creep slowly over the walls of this chamber; and longed for him, yes, and wept with my longing and my fears. How I had wanted to feel his arms about me, holding and reassuring me. A reassurance which we would both know to be false, both of us knowing that the state would have it’s way in the end, and that soon, very soon I would………
I put away those thoughts, and look at him and his eyes have filled with tears at my words, and he clasps my hand in his, ‘Christ Ned’, his voice is angry again, his face twisted with pain, ‘have you any idea of my suffering as I imagined yours? When I did not know what they were doing to you. I could only pray that you were not being hurt to make you say what they wanted’.
His grip tightens on my hand as he goes on, ‘And I felt such helpless bloody rage because I could not see for myself how things were with you. All I wanted was to keep you safe, protect you. That was my torture Ned, and it hurt, it hurt so much’. He pauses for a moment, staring at me in that way he has. So intense, eyes now huge and almost black, barely shifting, unwavering. Then, lifting his other hand, he takes a long draught from his wine cup while still holding my gaze with his, ‘Ah, Ned’, he slowly shakes his head, ‘I did not think there could ever be pain like it but now I know I was wrong’.
‘Will, please don’t’, I say to him, ‘don’t do this. I beg you do not’. But he doesn’t listen, and heedless of my plea he carries on, and every word he utters is like a sword thrust in my gut.
‘Because soon, Ned’, he says, his voice little above a whisper, ‘I know I will suffer pain the like of which I have never known before. And my heart will break, Ned. And nothing on Gods Earth will be able to mend it, and I can’t bear it, Ned, I can’t’.
‘Oh Will, I wish I’d known’, is all I can say to him, ‘wish I’d known how it was for you, but I do not know….I can’t…..oh Christ Will’. And I drop my head into my hands and allow the tears to flow at last. Weeping with the anguish of parting and the knowing that my world will soon end, and where for so short a time it has begun, and the pain tears me in two.
Will sits in silence as I weep, his arm held comfortingly across my bent shoulders, and for some minutes, the only sound is my dry, choking sobs as my body heaves out it’s torment. And finally when I have cried myself almost into a state of exhaustion and I begin to quieten, Will gently takes my chin between thumb and fingers, raising my face so I am looking directly into his eyes.
‘Ned, listen to me, please. My feelings for you will not change no matter how much time we have left. And if we have just this one night together, then I want to remember it, Ned. I want to carry the memory of it and you, here’, and he strikes his chest with his fist, ‘We’ll never have another chance, Ned, and I want you, I won’t deny it. Not now, not with your…your death so close. I love you and like it or not, nothing will change that’.
His voice is soft, his touch on my face softer, and yet his grip is firm, forcing me to look and see the pain in his eyes. Pain which I cannot help but feel responsible for. For was it not my refusal to bend with the times which brought us to this pass. And because of it, because of my unwillingness to comply I have ruined two lives. I must die and he will live on. But as he is speaking now, speaking of his love for me, I have condemned him as surly as I am condemned. Ah, Will my poor Will, God forgive me for what I’ve done to him for I cannot forgive myself.
And now, I cannot stop my self from asking, but I am afraid of the answer, ‘What are you saying, Will. That we should lie together. Is that it? Is that what you want?’
‘Oh,Ned, yes, God forgive me but yes, I do. But much more than that, I want to pleasure you in so many ways; to touch and feel and taste every part of you. I want to feel every muscle and sinew beneath my hands, feel your body taut and trembling as I do so. Then, when you lie exhausted in my arms at last, I want to see in your face and in your eyes the same love I have for you Ned’.
Barely have the words left his mouth when above us there is a deafening crack of thunder. And as it rolls across the sky, the heavens open with a furious torrent and beyond the open window, rain lashes the Tower and the city beyond as lightning rents the sky with a fierce blue intensity.
Ah, Will, I did not think to hear anything expressed so beautifully’. I lift my hand, placing it against his cheek, cold and soft as silk beneath my fingers, and moving his head slightly he kisses the palm in a tender lovers gesture; and his eyes are filled with longing and love for me.
‘Will, you are so very dear to me, you do know that’, I tell him, ‘but these things you say, and to lay with you, I don’t know if we could or should’.
Nor do I, but I can feel my body responding to his words and his touch, and I find the sensation both pleasing and confusing. And as I look into his eyes, I can see the candle flame reflected there, and I wonder what does he see in mine.
‘Your eyes’, he says almost as though he has read my thoughts, ‘They have become so very dark. I have ne’er known anyone with eyes as expressive as yours, Ned. They show every emotion and all your thoughts lie in their depths’. And he smiles. He plainly sees what I am trying, and failing to hide.
‘Will, don’t. It’s wrong, you know it is’. I tell him, but he is not listening.
‘Why is it so wrong, Ned? Why should we not bed together? If it is a sin, then God knows I shall repent for it for the rest of my life and it’ll be worth it. But I so not believe God would begrudge us a few hours of happiness’.
He leans forward, his hand still holding me prisoner, ‘Oh Ned, don’t deny it. I can see in your eyes you do feel the same for me’.
And Holy Christ, he is right. I cannot deny it any longer, God help me I can’t. ‘Yes’, the words emerge almost as a sigh of relief, ‘oh Will, yes I do’. And there at last it is said and there is no going back.
My eyes are closed but I sense when Will moves closer. Feeling a sigh of his breath on my face, and, in a poignant reminder of Linhill all those years ago, I feel his lips against mine, tracing the contours of my mouth with the lightest of kisses. But even now, I try to pull back from the precipice. ‘Will, we should not’.
‘Oh yes Ned, I think we should’. He whispers against my mouth, grazing my lips with his.
Oh, Jesu it is the sweetest sensation, and I begin to relax and respond at last. Melding my body to his, touching, caressing stroking; opening to him, groaning with pleasure as he pushes his tongue into my mouth. And as the kiss deepens, fierce desire overcomes the last of my inhibitions and I return the kiss with the intensity of feelings too long denied as he pushes me back onto the bed.
Top, lovers by Google Images
Centre, Candle & prayer book by Google Images
Above, Interior of Bowyer Tower by Google Images