Tom Crowley, Thomas Culpeper — Gambler

Boys throw rocks, but I’m past pain.

The girl was eager, but for me risk’s joys exceeded even those from her body, Royal risks from that aging fool whose ulcerated leg’s suppurating sores stank, gagging God, Heaven, and her as he used her. Oh, we both bowed and scraped before him, but grand clothes couldn’t hide his body’s gross decay. And though I pleasured her much, for her too I think the risk’s pleasures exceeded the flesh’s, and her joy in risk fed mine.

Catherine met pleasuring early. Mannox, her music teacher, first plucked her string when she was but eleven, and he played that tune ’til she reached thirteen. A pitiably defiled child, she later told the Court, “At the flatterings and fair persuasions of Mannox, being but a young girl, I suffered him at sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body.”

At fifteen she changed households, lying next with Francis Dereham, then aged twenty-four. Soon, Catherine and Dereham privately called each other Husband and Wife, though Dereham could show the Court no marriage contract that might have saved his life.

After marrying her the King bedded her when able, but foolishly appointed Dereham as Private Secretary and Gentleman Usher of the Queen’s Chambers. In which of her chambers, visible or invisible, Dereham played the gentleman I cannot say.

But soon the young Queen invited me to her main bed, and there, we invented fire.

Alas, that fire’s now out. A fool has no enemy worse than himself, and drunken ass that he was, Dereham bragged of their couplings. He’s been hanged, drawn, and quartered.

The Court also found her written invitation to me. “I never longed so much for a thing as I do to see you and speak with you.” My last pains were the axe’s severing blow, and the ground that rose to strike my nose, and my head’s roll against a sharp stone. Lasting no longer than turds’ falls from birds, those pains, and all pain, ended then. Thereafter, another fire’s briny boil preserved my head for an impaling pike, and on London Bridge it’s now a target of stone-throwing boys.

Henry’s fifth wife and queen, Catherine née Howard, who’s now been Towered, surely knows her neck’s next.

But I laid the King’s wife. Five-hundred years from now when men write of Henry the Eighth, Lord High Admiral and Faith’s Defender, they will write too that I, Thomas Culpeper, gave stinking Henry his most-deserved title — The Cuckold King.

 

Tom Crowley, a retired professor of psychiatry, has published two short-fiction pieces in Bewildering Stories, as well as  180 scientific-journal articles and book chapters.  He lives near Denver, Colorado, USA, with his wife and Tabitha, The World’s Foremost Dog.

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