It was months later, and Mary was still at Hatfield.
But it was summer now, finally summer. It was summer, and the flowers were blooming and the sun was shining, and dear God, it wasn't even raining.
Mary's drawn face, so pale and so fragile, was actually smiling.
She stood on the balcony in his sister's rooms, the balcony where she had watched her father walk away, and she tipped back her head to feel the sun on her face. It's warm, soothing rays gladdened her heart, highlighted her pretty features, illuminated the joy in her face.
In her shaking, trembling hand, she held a letter. She felt like laughing, like screaming with joy. This normally serious Princess felt like dancing. She had only read the first lines before throwing her head back in joy, in unabashed triumph, but now, she forcibly calmed her shaking limbs and once again, raised the scribbled writing to her eyes.
She was too distracted; distracted by the joy in her heart and by the quiet. Hatfield House was utterly deserted; nothing like the bustling hub of activity that Anne and Henry had visited. Mary could not hide her smile. Cooks, servants, even ladies-in-waiting had abandoned Hatfield like they would a sinking ship. You should always follow the rats, Mary had heard it said, they know the way to dry ground. And these rats, the ladies Anne had so carefully chosen, had abandoned Elizabeth to a murky, quickly sinking, future.
She leaned on the cool black railings, desperately trying not to imagine the scene that had taken place there so many months before. Instead, as she so often did, she thought about her mother, her joy instantly fading, her smile disappearing. Instead, sadness filled her.
Her mother's battle, was, at last, over. She had died the previous January, on a cold day that spoke of the frigid winter yet ahead.
Mary had not been allowed to see her; had not been allowed to close her eyes and hold her hands and whisper reassuring things to her. The witch had thought that Katherine and Mary would be plotting, even from the old woman's deathbed. And yet, even as she took her last breaths, Katherine was still constant. She wrote Henry a letter, a letter of heartache and devotion and love, that Mary was sure Henry had not even bothered to read. She had written Mary a farewell also, secretly smuggedly out to her. In it, her mother praised her, told her how much she loved her and how proud she was of her. She begged her to keep her faith in the Church, to keep her faith in God and in herself. She promised her that one day she would be Queen; Katherine had died, alone and abandoned, so that one day, Mary could be Queen.
Her fingers unconsciously tightened around the cool railing, crumbling the letter in the process. She had yet to come to terms with her mother's death; she had been kept away from her for so long that it was simply as if she were going another day without seeing her, without hearing from her. But now, there was that emptiness, that heartache because she knew she would never see her, never hear from her again. Unshed tears burned the back of her throat and she shook her head, willing them away. She would not cry, not on this day of her absolute victory. She would not.
She had been told that, on the day of Katherine's death, Anne had thrown a ball and the court had spent the afternoon dancing their pretty little feet away. Both Anne and Henry had worn yellow, which was the color of mourning in Spain. What a joke on Spain, what a joke on the dead Spanish Queen. How clever they were.
Mary took deep, measured breaths. Behind her, she heard Elizabeth squeal with delight as someone picked her up. Elizabeth, daughter to a rapidly desperate Queen, was not such the favorite anymore and though she used to be so well served by woman who were paid to love the child and to humble and humiliate Mary, she was not so well served anymore.
There were birds singing and a warm breeze caressed her face; Mary closed her eyes, reveling in it. No more unhappy thoughts.
She turned her attention to the letter once more. It was from Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador to England and her mother's dearest friend. He was Mary's only friend and ally at court, as her Uncle the Emperor of Spain was her only ally and friend in the world. He had been with her mother when she died, had brought Mary's case before the King and constantly worked to better her situation. Without Chapuys, Mary might have sunk even lower. He truly was her only friend.
He had written to tell her that it was over; Anne had lost and Mary had won.
The King had thrown Anne in the tower, on charges so heinous and disgusting, not even Mary thought them true. They were clearly trumped up, fabricated so the King could find a way out of his god-forsaken marriage. He would most likely send Anne to a convent, conveniently out of the way, after their divorce. It didn't matter where he sent her, really. She was broken, lost. There was nothing Anne could do, now. She was finished.
Tears finally broke from Mary's eyes. The witch was done with, her reign finally over and despite everything, she, Mary, had survived. Despite the rumors of poison, despite the humiliation, despite everything -- she had survived for England, for her mother, for herself. Just by the sheer fact that she was still drawing breath, she had won.
Later that evening, Mary sat in Elizabeth's room. The curtains were drawn and the room was light by only a few candles, casting flickering lights over Mary's drawn face. She stood up, then sat back down, unsure of how to present herself. Eventually, she stood, smoothing out the wrinkles in her old, gray gown. Her hair was pulled back, away from her face, it's smooth brown strands peeking out from beneath her headdress. She kept her hands folded at her waist, struggling not to fidget. There was a flush in her cheeks, a glow that had appeared ever since news of Anne's imprisonment had reached her. The knowledge that she had won, that she would soon be reunited with her undoubtedly repentant Father, caused her no end of joy. She had no word from court yet, but the matter with Anne had not yet been settled, she was still in the tower. Mary had no doubt that as soon as Anne was exiled, her father would send for her.
The door opened with a slight creek, and Mary raised her chin ever so slightly. The silence in the room was overwhelming; she could see that the woman was afraid. Mary nodded, graciously and the woman stepped inside. Mary had no idea what this interview was about; she received a message, that a woman come from London had desperate need to speak with her, and had accepted. But she knew not who this woman was, or what it was about.
The woman had dark, heavy bags under her eyes and tear stains all down her cheeks. She curtsied, clumsily, as if she had ridden a long way and was weary. She inhaled raggedly, as if she had just finished crying and was struggling not to start again. She was dressed as a lady of the court; even in her tiredness, and her seeming misery, the richness of her cloak, the vibrant blue of her dress, outshone Mary's dowdy and old attire.
No one spoke for a moment. Then, Mary looked straight into this woman's blue eyes. "You asked to speak with me?"
The woman looked directly back at her. "I am a companion of Queen Anne. I have a message for you, if you will consent to receive it."
Mary hesitated. What could this woman possibly have to say to her now, after it was all over?
"If you have come here with empty threats—" Mary began warningly, her hand's clutching at her gown, but the woman shook her head. "No, my lady. I have come here with an apology."
Mary's eyebrows raised and she had to remind herself not to let her mouth drop. A look of pure confusion took over her features and her clutch on her gown slowly loosened.
To Mary's utter bafflement, the woman kneeled down before her, her head bowed.
"Lady Mary, Princess Mary—"
The words 'Princess Mary' caused Mary's eyes to widen in disbelief. She could scarcely believe this was happening. The flickering of the candlelight caused their shadows to dance on the floor; Mary's head was aching. She could hear the woman drawing her breath, and her heartbeat was roaring in her ears. However, on the outside, she remained composed; she regarded the woman calmly as she reminded herself to remain in control.
"Princess Mary, I come directly to you from Queen Anne in the tower. She asked me to come to you and kneel before you, and ask forgiveness for the unpardonable things she has done to you. She is truly, and deeply sorry and knows that much of it is unforgivable. But she prays, as you are a better woman then she, and a better Christian, that you can find it in your heart to forgive her, and grant her peace in her execution."
"Execution?" Mary whispered. "What do you mean?"
The women raised her head, her eyes brimming with tears. "Have you not heard? I thought you'd be celebrating," she said bitterly, though she was working to keep the resentment out of her voice. "Anne is to be executed before noon tomorrow."
Mary stared at her, dumbly, and then the world went reeling. She stumbled slightly, and she reached out, resting a hand on Elizabeth's crib to steady herself, her hand flying to the crucifix she wore around her neck.
"How have I not heard this?" she wondered aloud, her voice high with shock.
The woman shook her head. "I thought you knew. The King is to marry Lady Jane Seymour. I believe Jane is to pick out her wedding trousseau tomorrow, the day of Anne's execution." The woman's voice reeked of sarcasm and bitterness, and it was clear how highly she thought of the King and Jane Seymour.
But Mary couldn't focus; the consequences of Anne's death were unimaginable. Would her father reunite with Rome? Would she be recognized as Princess, again?
She was unsure of her own reaction. She was certainly not sorry to hear of it. She would obviously not miss her. And yes, she did believe it was justice, justice to her dead mother. It was surely God's vengance for all the pain and sin Anne had created.
But she could still scarcely believe it. Mary had not been at court to see Anne and Henry's deteriorating relationship; she had last seen her father and his mistress when they had been enamored with each other. How did one go from being so fiercly infatuated with someone, to ordering their execution?
Mary saw a side of her father that all the long while, through her pain and suffering and her mother's abandonment, she had never truly seen. He could be ruthless, he could be determined, she knew all that. But she did not know that he could be a murderer.
"I thought for sure he would just send her away, as they sent my mother away. A nunnery, perhaps…exile…but execution…what are the charges?" she asked suddenly.
"Treason," the women whispered, her voice low with shame, dropping her head once more. "Adultery. Incest."
Mary's hand flew to her heart. "Incest? I had heard adultery, but incest? Sweet Jesu.."
"Princess, I have come to ask your forgiveness," the woman persisted determinedly, raising her voice slightly, her knees aching from kneeling so long. "Do you grant her it? She begs you to keep care of Elizabeth, and to forgive her for any pain she might have caused you. She is a woman keeping her death vigil, tonight, Princess. I pray, have mercy on her."
Mary's eyes narrowed as she remembered all the hurt and pain of the last seven years. She inhaled slowly. Looking up, she caught her reflection in the gleam of the firelight off of one of the paintings that adorned Elizabeth's chambers. In the turn of her head and the gleam in her eyes, she looked like her mother. Her mother.
"Only God can forgive absolutely," Mary said coldly, and the woman stiffened.
Mary exhaled slowly, and thought of Elizabeth. She too, would no longer be Princess. She would be Lady Elizabeth, she would be motherless daughter to a heartless father. They were the same, now. But Mary was older, she was wiser, she would have to protect the young girl. Elizabeth was hers to protect; Henry certainly would not care what happened to her, if his treatment of Mary and of Anne was any indication. Her eyes went to the crucifix that hung in the corner of the room. God would want her to forgive. There was even a bible passage about it;
"Lord, how many times shall I forgive someone who sins against me? Up to seven times?"
"I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."
The words from the Bible passage echoed in her ears, and she knew God was speaking to her. God had carried her this far. When everyone else had abandoned her, God was still on her side. And now, because God asked it of her, she would grant this witch, this whore, her forgiveness, and try to mean it in her heart.
"But I shall try," Mary added, her voice softening. "You may tell Lady Anne that I forgive her for her all misdeeds and horror, but I will never forget. I forgive her, and wish her a peaceful death, and may I be a better person for it."
The woman leaned forward, and Mary held out her hand. The woman kissed it, and with Mary's nod, stood. The darkness was causing a strain on Mary's eyes and intensifying her headache; she wanted nothing more for this woman to go so she could be alone with her thoughts.
"I shall send a message to Queen Anne and tell her. She will be most grateful, my lady."
Mary swallowed the lump in her throat. "You may tell her.." she wavered, then proceed onward. "You may tell her she can apologize to my mother in heaven."
The woman's eyes widened, and her face flushed. But she nodded all the same.
"Do you know if the Princess Elizabeth awake yet? I was told to go and see her –"
Mary shook her head. "She is still awake. You may go."
As the woman went to take her leave of the dark room, Mary's voice stopped her.
"You may go to the Lady Elizabeth," Mary said evenly. "We are now neither of us Princesses."