Prologue

Tower Green, the Tower of London

London, England

The wind whipped her sun-kissed curls out of her watering eyes, just enough to make visible the tear drops caressing her soft cheeks. Mary Boleyn stood beside the scaffold on the tower green—the only force allowing her to remain upright being the strong embrace her loving husband had enveloped her in. It was times like this she thanked God for sending her a husband like Will. She needed him now more than ever.

He had tried his best to convince her to go to the Inn with the children, but Mary had fiercely refused to leave her sister. "She was there for me when I needed her if you recall, now I must be here for her." She had insisted. She meant every word of it, even if that meant she had to watch her sister—her little sister, whom she was supposed to have protected from the terrible sins of their world that had led her to the scaffold upon which she was to be executed.

Will stared at her. Why did she always have to be so stubborn? He exclaimed to himself. She never took his advice into consideration when it concerned Anne… he looked up at the platform where his sister in law was to die. He had only pity for the girl—that was what she truly was underneath all the pomp and pride she paraded in front of the crowds for her husband's benefit. Yet Will knew the true child hidden beneath the ceremonial garb. He had seen the look on her face as her husband coldly turned his back on her; those round, brilliant brown eyes of hers had been stricken with a look of such fear and hurt he had barely been able to believe it was really Anne. Yet in a flash, the expression had flooded away into the rising tide of her fury. It was a constant battle between Anne's real emotions and those of the stubborn rampaging maniac her and Mary's father had molded her into for his own ambitious whims.

The thought of Thomas Boleyn sent blood flaring through his veins. His muscles grew tense as hatred flooded his heart. He had not wanted to despise the father of his beloved wife, but Thomas had earned it. He had forced his eldest daughter Mary to become the mistress of not one but two kings who didn't care about anything but her beauty, and obligated his youngest daughter to ruin her reputation in the eyes of every man in England forever by having her taunt and parade herself about not one of them, but both those same kings he had previously thrown upon Mary. Will's disgust for that man was so intense he had refused to even look at him when Mary had seen him last at court before she and Will had been banished by the king.

For some unfathomable reason Mary still craved that one sentence from her father: Mary im proud of you and appreciate all the sacrifices you made for me. That was one thing he respected highly in Anne—though she had once had exactly the same core need as her sister, she had long ago realized the pointlessness of such a cause and given up all hope of ever living to see it happen. But Mary was not so lucky to have the same down to earth view of the world as her husband and sister had. She was a head-in-the-clouds optimistic and still yearned for her father to be proud of her. Then of course, after she and Will had eloped in secret and she had become large with child she had never seen him so furious with her. He had slapped her with his ringed hand that had sent her staggering backwards. And yet she still loved him. Later that night, will travelling to the country in their banishment from court and her families good graces was when she finally told Will what her father had done to her. Tears had run down her cheeks then too as they did now.

Will of course, a war seasoned man, had wished nothing more than to turn around and ride the full day's gallop back to where Thomas still remained at court and beat the living hell out of him for laying a finger on his wife. But Mary had become so distraught when relaying the story to him that she had nearly miscarried the babe she carried so gently. It took three days for her to recover enough to ride again, even at an agonizingly slow walk. By then Will had nearly forgotten the cause of his wife's pain and the possible death of their first babe together, and his only concern was his wife and child's safety.

Yet now, reflecting upon all these events of the months before that had led up to this heinous act against a loyal subject the king had in Anne Boleyn, Will felt his pulse quicken with fury once again. That babe Mary had nearly lost was now their strong, healthy little three year old Edward. After that her belly soon swelled with child yet again. On a beautiful summer day last year she had given birth to a beautiful baby girl who, upon the letter received by the Staffords from the queen explaining her fear that her husband would soon detain her in the tower, was named after her Aunt Anne. Thus the couple now sported proudly a small brood of children. There was Henry and Catherine Carey from Mary's first marriage, and then these two darlings from this match.

Will thought of his own son now whom he loved so much yet could have lost as easily as it is to breathe. It would have been Thomas's fault above all else that would have cost Edward his life, and for that and the never-ending parade of insults he threw at his daughters, Will would never forgive him. In fact he was quite sure that if he were ever alone with the man in private he would likely murder him. Not that that wouldn't give him great pleasure, but he wouldn't be able to stand the unfortunate pain it would cause Mary or the possible contempt she would henceforth carry for him for taking away her "beloeved father". And those were two of the few things that could stop him from doing such a thing. So to avoid those feelings raging through his body he avoided the devil of a man. Whenever these festering emotions were stirred within him there were only two things that could remove him back to tranquility: Mary, and their children. And since the former was standing right beside him and could tell exactly where his thoughts had strayed to by the tenseness in his entire body, he forced himself to calm down once again. As the tension eased away bit by bit, so did his anger. That was Mary's effect on him, he thought with a smile. She was the one with the power to return his good sense to him whenever it chose to get up and take a walk far, far away from him.

He pulled his beloved wife into an even tighter embrace from behind and rocked her gently, sweetly kissing the part in her hair then nuzzling his soft cheeks on her indulgent shoulder. Her own anxiety and pain slowly melted away as they swayed together. Yet the tear drops continued to roll down her smooth cheeks; even in the warm and loving embrace of her one and only, she could not shake the inevitable knowledge that in just a few moments, she would have to watch a French swordsman swipe his cool blade through the neck of her baby sister. Her eyes were raw from all the weeping she had done in the days previous… they were so tired she felt as if they could shed no more tears for there was not enough water within her anymore. She closed eyes trying to push the image from her tormented mind as a final tear fell from her left eye…

. . .

Twelve year old Catherine Carey walked beside her Aunt, the Queen of England, as she exited the royal quarters they had lived in the for the last fortnight. Catherine had volunteered to stay with her mother's sister in her imprisonment after being told the fate she was to be met with. Catherine had respected Anne's courage and strength throughout her marriage to her cruel and abusive husband. Once Catherine—as a maid of honor to the queen—had glimpsed what looked to be an enormous bluish purple bruise engulfing the entire right half of her aunt's body as she dressed one morning. Anne had just recently refused to allow her attendants to dress her just previous to this, likely in an attempt to keep the monstrous stamp on her olive skin hidden from view.

Catherine knew that her King Henry had once loved his wife, for why else would he have married her at all. Yet she also knew that in the many miscarriages and still births following the birth of their only surviving child, a daughter Elizabeth, Henry's love had quickly diminished as he began to realize his wife might not be able to provide him with the son he so desperately needed. And when she ranted on him for bedding other women, Catherine had overheard him screaming at the top of his lungs at her and even heard the loud, "smack!" of him striking her viscously across her face. For the next three weeks she refused to leave her privy chamber and only allowing Catherine and a few other trusted maids and ladies in to see her. She had a great green blotch on the left side of her face that entire time, and she only exited her rooms when it was thoroughly covered with a tinted lotion to mask its coloring and after it had dimmed away to only brown coloring.

Throughout this abuse Henry threw at her, Catherine never saw her queen show it. She tried her very best to hide any evidence of his abuse from the world. Whether this was a gesture of her never-ending love for him still, fear of what he do to her if she ever let it show, or that she honestly willing to take his beatings because she thought it showed him loyalty and might help her cause if he ever did come to the feeling to execute her it might convince him to be lenient with her was not something Catherine dreamed to ever know. All she did know was that she was escorting her strong, braver-than-any-man aunt to her execution today. She would have to look in the crowd at her mother's tears and feel her own as they both had to witness the sure murder of their friend and kin, for surely she was innocent of the chargers upon which she was to be executed.

They had been concocted by a panel of Henry's most loyal supporters who figured anything they said would be believed by the country and king. And that's exactly what happened. They dared to accuse the queen of England a whore who committed adultery with tens, if not hundreds of men whilst married to the king. One of them was even said to be Anne's own brother! They argued that that was why God had refused to send her and the king a living son but instead they were sent at least one malformed child straight from the devil. They said the sixth finger featured on Anne's left hand was prove enough that she was in cohorts with the devil and that she had fixed a spell on the king to ensnare him into her little web. And that the malformed child she had birthed was the result of her lying with the devil himself.

These charges were the most absurd, unsubstantiated accusations she had ever heard in her life time. Yet the king ate up the words of his friends and advisors and used them to get Anne convicted of treason, witchcraft and incest. And it was these charges she was to die for today…

Catherine and two other attendants appointed by the king followed behind Queen Anne as they strode through the hallway leading to the scaffold erected on tower green. There were two things running through her mind at the time. The first was—and had been for the fast week—her beautiful daughter the Princess Elizabeth. She was already three and babbling in an uncontrollable way. She would steal books from her mother's collection and run childishly behind the book case and try to read them. She was such a witty, full-of-life little girl. Anne looked at her little princess and thought that other than the bright red curls adorning her soft babe's head, she was so similar to her mother as a child. Anne remembered a time when she had done nearly the exact same thing with the books from her sister's collection.

Anne smiled at the thought of her sister. Mary… she was there in the crowd, her niece Catherine had told her with Will. She was the one other thing that had been present on her mind as of late. Mary had so selflessly given herself to the man she loved that they had married in secret, against the wishes of Anne and Henry. Anne had wished to see her milk and honey sister retired from the court she so dreaded in a comfortable mansion living with a duke or baron or earl. As the sister of the queen of England, Mary had high positions in the marriage game. Yet instead she had chosen to listen to her heart for once and eloped with William Stafford, a soldier far beneath her.

Anne had upset and even a little angry with her sister when she discovered the marriage due to her sister being with child once again. Why was she being blessed with not one, not two, but three children to succeed her when Anne had but one living daughter? But her temper had quickly ebbed away when Henry ranted on about the deception and terrible betrayal the couple had committed and banished them from court. Anne was still hurt that her sister had felt the need to go behind her back, but she understood the decision enough to forgive her. And she had needed Mary then just as she needed her big sister now.

At that time she had just suffered another miscarriage and the king was quite furious with her. Hearing that Mary was still as fertile as ever irked him even further. Anne wanted nothing more than her sister to be at court with her, to soothe her fears of the future and the pains from his beatings and the miscarriages. Yet when she pleaded in the case of her sister, Henry turned rampant on her once again. He raged on about how if her sister could provide him a son out of marriage, why couldn't Anne provide him with one inside it? This stung her more than ever. It reminded her yet again that he had once loved her sister Mary, once bedded her as he did her, and once hurt her as he was hurting her. Yet there was one thing that comforted her in the time where she felt so desolate: ever since the birth of her child, Henry, Mary had insisted furiously that he was her late husband's son and not the product of an affair with the king. He was named only in honor of his king, not of a father. He was christened Henry Carey, and that was his true lineage.

But Anne had never dared to say such a thing to her husband. He simply liked to insist himself that he had already sired three sons who lived after birth so the issue was not his seed. He had had one son by a mistress years earlier, Henry Fitzroy, one by his first wife, another Henry, who had died when a few months old, and, so he said, Henry Carey.

Anne stared at the green grass beneath her slipper-covered feet blindly. Her legs were trembling slightly as the realization hit her. Never again would she see her husband, her daughter, or her family. One of her feet slipped out from beneath her and she was thrown off balance. Her foot crashed against the harsh stone beneath her, giving her an excuse for the tears filling her eyes. Only someone inches from her could see them through the veil shielding her face for the time being and she was thankful for it. She adjusted the slipper with a trembling hand and continued walking. She turned her head slightly to look back at her niece Catherine and summoned her to her side as they ascended the short staircase on the right of the platform…

Catherine was now walking side by side with her aunt, the Queen of England. As Anne climbed the steps leading to the scaffold, Catherine noticed something strange. Through her own quite sobs and trembling she saw her strong, confident queen shudder at the sight of her executioner and noticed the slight quivering of her legs and hands. Catherine gaped at her through her own tears as she noticed her aunt's veil was stained from the tears of its wearer. She had never seen her mother's sister cry in her entire life and had never thought to witness such a thing, yet here she was publically weeping. But as they walked to the center of the platform, and Catherine began to untie her queen's cloak, she realized that Anne had forced herself to control her tears and had ceased crying. That was Anne, Catherine thought to herself with a sad smile.

She pulled her queen's veil off slowly, surreptitiously wiping the remaining water from Anne's smooth cheeks. Anne smiled at her in thanks as Catherine looked at her. She saw the acceptance of her fate in her aunt's eyes. She had known this was coming for a long time and had acknowledged it as her destiny. Catherine handed the veil to one of the other ladies and went around to Anne's neck to untie her infamous "B" necklace. As she pulled it away from Anne's neck, the queen turned from the crowd and back to face her niece. She stared at her with much intensity and whispered to her, "I beg of you one favor. Give this to my daughter when she is old enough to shoulder the fate I am to meet as I have come to. Please, Catherine." Catherine nodded jerkily, tears still falling from her eyes but a reassuring smile crossing her face at the same time. And with that, she stepped away from her aunt the queen as she turned to face the crowd who had assembled to see her die.

. . .

Mary looked up at her baby sister, who stood staring at her from the scaffold. She couldn't believe this was really to happen right now. How could the king do such a thing to his own wife? Even as she thought this, she heard the crowd around her shouting curses at their queen and calling her a whore and adultress. Yet Anne held her head high and returned their gaze. In a strong, booming voice Anne gave her last words.

"Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die," An old crone of a woman somewhere in the crowd interrupted her by yelling up at her that everyone damn well knew she was guilty and should hand for it. But Anne pressed on, ignoring the cruel woman's comment. "…but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord." Her voice nearly trembled as she said this, and a surge of anger flooded her eyes. Yet she restrained that part of her and continued. "And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul."

She was now shaking from her head to her feet as she knelt to the ground by the block. The priest was saying a final prayer beside her as the executioner tied a blindfold over her eyes. Will, Mary and Catherine could all hear her whispering repeatedly, "To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesu receive my soul." Mary felt new sobs burst forth as silently began to weep as she watched the French executioner grab his handcrafted sword, and raise it above his head. He stepped back a two feet, adjusted his stance and grip on the hilt of his sword, and after receiving a look of accolade from the priest, swung the blade downward in one clean swipe…