My Lady Jane - Cynthia Hand
(In Which We Revise a Bit of History)
You may think you know the story. It goes like this: once upon a time, there was a sixteen-year-old girl named Jane Grey, who was forced to marry a complete stranger (Lord Guildford or Gilford or Gifford-something-or-other), and shortly thereafter found herself ruler of a country. She was queen for nine days. Then she quite literally lost her head.
Yes, it’s a tragedy, if you consider the disengagement of one’s head from one’s body tragic. (We are merely narrators, and would hate to make assumptions as to what the reader would find tragic.)
We have a different tale to tell.
Pay attention. We’ve tweaked minor details. We’ve completely rearranged major details. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent (or not-so-innocent, or simply because we thought a name was terrible and we liked another name better). And we’ve added a touch of magic to keep things interesting. So really anything could happen.
This is how we think Jane’s story should have gone.
It begins in England (or an alternate version of England, since we’re dealing with the manipulation of history), in the middle of the sixteenth century. It was an uneasy time, especially if you were an E∂ian (pronounced eth-ee-uhn for those of you unfamiliar with the term). The E∂ians were blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) with the ability to switch between a human form and an animal one. For instance, certain members of the general public could turn themselves into cats, which greatly increased the country’s tuna-fish consumption, but also cut down on England’s rat population. (Then again, other individuals could turn into rats, so nobody really noticed.)
There were those who thought that this animal magic was terrific, but others who saw it as an abomination that needed to be eradicated immediately. That second group (known as Verities) believed that human beings had no business being anything other than human beings. And because Verities were largely in charge of everything, E∂ians were persecuted and hunted until most of them died out or went deep into hiding.
Which brings us to one fateful afternoon in the royal court of England, when King Henry VIII, during a fit of rage, transformed into a great lion and devoured the court jester, much to the audience’s delight. They clapped enthusiastically, for no one really liked the jester. (Later, the courtiers discovered the incident was not a rehearsed act of artful deception, but indeed an actual lion masticating the jester. When the audience found out the truth they no longer clapped, but they did remark, “That clown had it coming.”)
That very night, King Henry, once he’d returned to his human form, decreed that E∂ians weren’t so bad after all, and henceforth should enjoy the same rights and privileges as Verities. The decision to sanction the ancient magic made waves across Europe. The head of the Verity Church was not pleased with King Henry’s decision, but every time Rome sent a missive denouncing the decree, the Lion King ate the messenger.
Hence the phrase, Don’t eat the messenger.
When Henry died, his only son, Edward, inherited the throne. Our story begins in the middle of tense times, with an increasing animosity brewing between E∂ians and Verities, a teenage king with a tenuous grasp on the throne of England, and a young lord and lady who have no idea their destinies are about to collide.
Totally against their will.
The king, it turned out, was dying.
“When?” he asked Master Boubou, the royal physician. “How long do I have?”
Boubou wiped his sweaty brow. He disliked giving bad news to royalty. In his line of business, sometimes it led to the stockades. Or worse.
“Six months, perhaps a year,” he croaked. “At best.”
Bollocks, thought Edward. Yes, he’d been sick for several months now, but he was sixteen years old. He couldn’t be dying. He had a cold, was all, a cough that had been hanging on longer than it should, perhaps, a tightness in his chest, a recurrent fever, some headaches, sure, frequent dizzy spells, a funny taste in his mouth sometimes, but dying?
“You’re certain?” he asked.
Boubou nodded. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty. It’s ‘the Affliction.’”
Edward suppressed a cough. He instantly felt worse than he had only moments before, like his lungs had overheard the bad news and were shutting down already. He’d known of others with “the Affliction,” always hacking into nasty blood-spotted handkerchiefs, acting all faint and trembly, then eventually excusing themselves from court to die a horrible, wheezy death out of view of the