Bronwyn wills her body to relax, but she is doing it all wrong - her frowning concentration is what has made her so tense in the first place. It’s hard for her back to bend when all she’s been told her whole life was to sit up straight. It’s difficult for the puppet to move once the strings have been cut, and it feels much more natural to her to freeze in the uncomfortable position of a stone statue, instead of crumbling to the ground like a pile of kindle. She’s never been a being of fire, for all her red hair.
She cannot help but think she hates it, she hates it so much. She knows it’s wrong, she knows good Christians don’t hate, but her whole skin is crawling with it and she knows such a strong reaction must only be hate, even if it makes her wicked. She hates laying down next to someone else, she hates having someone see her monumental struggle to fall asleep, to keep her mask, and be a proper lady - a proper queen - even when she’s unconscious.
She hates having an audience, even when it’s her husband, especially since it’s her husband. He wouldn’t understand it, wouldn’t understand her, wouldn’t know how much it costs her, how much his kindness scares her, how utterly foreign he is. It isn’t just his skin, his thick dark hair, his impossible eyes, like wells. It’s his entire being, his attitude, the way the talks to her and not at her, wanting to know what she thinks, and asking her about her childhood and never telling her what to do, what she should do.
And Bronwyn cannot speak when they’re alone, too tense and scared to open her mouth because she’s so often been told she said the wrong thing. She’s afraid to move when he comes to her, because she’s so often been told she shouldn’t fidget, and can no longer tell the difference. Willing your muscles not to move is harder than one might think, but once they’ve been locked in place, it’s even harder to coax them into starting again. It’s not a problem anyone here at this outrageous English court seems to have encountered. She’s terrifyingly alone, and missing a home she hasn’t really loved to begin with, and being silent is the only defense she could think of. Not that it protects her against her husband. She turns to him, ever so slowly, and lifts herself up on one elbow to look at him.
His eyes are closed, his breathing deep and regular, but she cannot tell for sure he’s really asleep. Perhaps, he’s only pretending to, to avoid the tiresome task of trying to talk to her. Her eyes trail away from his face and fix on his chest. He’s shirtless, he hardly ever cares about propriety - as if someone would dare chastise the king - and her hand brushes across his skin lightly, like a pale ghost. His skin is darker than her freckles, and she feels a little thrill, a shiver that runs down her spine, as her fingers dance across the surface, breaths away from actually touching him. She knows there are people in the world with skin as dark as night, but none that she saw, and his is the darkest complexion she laid eyes upon.
She had assumed she ought to be terrified of people like that, of their strange habits, and their heathen ways out in the desert land they come from, but then her parents betrothed her to one of them, and although she’s never been given the impression they care much for her, surely they wouldn’t have done it if it endangered her soul. The marriage ceremony had taken place in a church, as was proper, and he had known to go through all the steps without hesitation. He was a Christian king, and she his queen, and they had married under God’s careful watch, and he wasn’t heathen, even if his ancestors might have been, and where she ought to have been scared, the thrill she was feeling was something else entirely.
Her fingers moved towards his shoulders, down the length of his arm, the way the muscles bulged under the skin, how smooth all of it looked, a truly wondrous thing. She wondered if he was supposed to belong to her, like she had been taught she will belong to her husband. Was his body hers, just like hers was his? Was it sinful to think that she owned that man in the eyes of God, like she was told he owned her? Why would he be considered an independent being when she wouldn’t have the privilege Why should she be thought of as less than him?
Winnie had never had these many questions before. She was taught never to ask, and if she absolutely must, then go to a priest, but she knew those weren’t the sort of things one confided to thinking in a church, and she knew that if she couldn’t confess them, then they surely must weigh like stones on her soul. "Don’t stop,“ the voice, although having grown familiar in the past weeks, startles her and she looks at his face, guilty and ashamed. Henry’s eyes are still closed, and his breathing hasn’t changed, but she’s certain she heard him speak, and just as she begins to worry about her sanity, his lips curl into a lazy smile.
She smiles back, uncertain, even though he cannot see her. "I was enjoying that,” she glances at her hand, resting on his skin and for a second, she freezes, horrified. “Please,” he offers, and her fingers are shaking a little, as they dust up and down the length of his arm. His breathing deepens, he seems to sink deeper into the mattress, expand somewhat, and she’s jealous of him, jealous of the way he can slouch, and sprawl, and stretch, of the mobility of his body, the flexibility of his movements. She feels even clumsier beside him.
His hand moves to cover hers as she moves it towards his chest, and for a moment she’s worried she did something wrong, but he stops it just above his heart, and if she increases the pressure ever so slightly, she could feel it beating against the tips of her fingers. When she looks up, she sees him watch her looking at him, and glances away, cowed. He squeezes her fingers lightly. “Tell me something about you.” the surprise of the request moves her to glance up again. “Something I don’t know,” Henry continues, his eyes fluttering closed. She has no idea how he can breathe so easily, as though he’s actually asleep, and for a moment she’s too distracted to start worrying about giving an answer.
But then she does, of course, because there’s quite a few things he doesn’t know about her - they don’t know about each other. They’re near strangers, really, and suddenly sharing a bed with this half naked man sends her heart fluttering against her ribcage like a trapped bird. She isn’t accustomed to familiarity, and she almost resists Henry’s gently pulling her down to rest against his chest. Her head replaces their hands over his heart, and she sighs, eyes closing, trying not to tense up when he starts stroking her hair.
“They used to call me Winnie,” she blurts out, and for a split second she’s certain it was the worst thing to say, and he’d send her back home in disgrace. Henry surprises her by laughing. “Really?” she can hear the smile in his voice. “By whom?” her eyes close again, and she dares to snuggle closer, imagining she’s breathing him in every time she inhales. “My nurse started it,” she’s mumbling, and the part of her brain that always chides against that is barely a whisper.
“My ladies then picked it up.” everyone had called her that, except her Lady Mother and her Father, of course. His hands tugs at her chin and she looks up at him. “Princess Winnie?” he’s teasing, but she can tell he doesn’t mean to poke fun at her, so she dares to smile back. “If I was being good,” he laughs again, a short-lived bark of amusement. “I’m having trouble imaging you being anything less than good,” he says, but that’s meant to be a positive thing, isn’t it? She cannot quite tell, and she doesn’t want to dwell too much on it, so she lays her head back down, and spends the next few minutes trying to match her breathing to his, and then counts each one as she falls asleep.