VIII

London, Summer 1522.

Anne's return in February of 1522 had been to finalise the arrangements of the marriage Thomas was negotiating for her with her cousin, James Butler, the 9th Earl of Ormond and she made it clear to us from day one she did not like the match. The daughter I had seen leave England had been young, skinny, with sallow skin, and features that seemed too big for her body. The Anne that returned, however, was a grown woman. She was slim, lacking her sister's curves but padding in her skirts gave some semblance of curves, her sallow skin was now a porcelain colour, her black eyes- the crows eyes I had thought of at her birth- now brimmed with passion and intelligence and her dark hair was long, thick and shiny. She was not beautiful in the way the English court saw things but there was a unique look to her, an exotic look. She had only just arrived at Hever Castle and had been received by us in the parlour where she spoke with joy about her time in France and how she had been sad to leave France before she bought up the possible marriage.

"You would send me to the wilds or Ireland? To those…savages? Just because you so desperately wished to be the Earl of Ormond? Just because you thought that as my Lady Grandmother's eldest son you deserved the seat? Despite the 7th Earl leaving his daughters as co-heiresses and Mr Piers Butler contesting the will and taking possession of the castle?" She had demanded of us.

Her father had glowered at her. "I'd send you to the end of the earth were I so inclined, if it were so politic." He had replied. "Also do not forget this: the King himself has been consulted about this marriage and so too has my Lord Cardinal, Cardinal Wolsey. They actually took an interest in our family matter. Would you defy their will too?"

Anne had raised her chin and glared at him defiantly. "Of course, because heaven forbid women have any usage other than that of what men want for them. Women like Margaret of Austria and Marguerite, King Francois's sister, are great women in their own right-"She had begun.

"You forget yourself daughter." Thomas had interrupted her. "You are in England now. Not Europe. Do not make me regret having sent you abroad for your education. I am told you were one of the favourites at the French court but this is England. Do not forget it."

"How could I?" Anne had muttered. Then, louder, she had asked, "But think about it Father. All that time spent learning not just academically but also dancing, embroidery, good manners," here her father snorted but she ignored it and went on, warming to her cause with the passion we would soon see Anne put into everything she did, "household management, music, needlework, singing, games, cards, chess, dice, archery, falconry, horseback riding, hunting, the languages of France and Austria, the games of courtly love and of being a court woman that was invested in me and you would squander it to send me to Ireland?"

I thought Thomas was going to lecture her about talking back but, to my surprise, he merely nodded and said, "I shall take it into consideration Anne. Now you should go and get yourself settled back in. Mrs. Orchard has been dying for your return." He spoke of Anne's nursemaid.

Anne had curtsied to us both and then left the room.

Thomas stared after her. "That one may well prove a problem if we don't get her married off soon. Perhaps spending so long with such learned women who encouraged such free thought was not the best thing for her despite us thinking it such an honour at the time that Margaret of Austria wished Anne to be one of her maids-of-honour even though she was younger than usual." He'd mused.

"Queen Claude should have tempered some of that wilfulness though. I hear she keeps a strict household. And often keeps away from court at some of her preferred homes." I'd said.

Thomas had snorted. "Wife do you think anyone could temper that child's wilfulness? And where do you think she got it from I wonder…." He had said.

To Anne's delight in the intervening months the marriage negotiations broke down. Cardinal Wolsey, for heaven only knew what reason, decided against the marriage. Anne did not even pretend to be disappointed when told of the change in plans. I later overheard her say to George that she thought it more likely that it was her father's idea, not because of what she wanted but because he thought he could secure her a far grander match, or perhaps because he had designs on the title again. And when, not a few weeks later, she was appointed to a position at court as maid-of-honour to Queen Catherine, she did a dance around me. "I shall shake things up at court, Lady Mother. Just you wait and see." She had told me laughing.

The day Anne arrived at court I met her, along with her brother and some servants to carry her belonging up to the maiden's dormer, at the jetty of Greenwich Palace. Before returning to the Queen's side- and my beloved Remi's- I had made sure that Anne would have plenty of gowns and all the things she needed for her life at court. Thomas had grumbled some at the cost but when I pointed out he would not like his daughter to look like a poor relation he agreed to part with extra money. I'd left instructions for the dressmakers and tailors and five weeks later Anne arrived, impatient to begin her new life. As the barge pulled up and the oarsman secured it George jumped nimbly aboard and held out his hand to help his sister alight. She took it but barely needed it, her balance and poise were evident. Once on dry land she bowed her head to me. "Lady Mother, I am delighted to be here. Hever was so dull compared to the French court." She said.

"And the English court shall prove dull compared to the French court." George put in.

I surveyed Anne carefully. She was dressed in a red velvet travelling cloak over her yellow damask gown with her sleeves hanging down to carefully hide that embarrassing extra nail but also slashed to show the red undersleeves. The neckline was in the French fashion, as was her hood and her shiny long dark hair hung down her back. I found myself shivering suddenly; I had a feeling that having Anne here at court was not the best idea.

"Mother, are you cold? There is a bit of a wind coming off the river." George said, noticing my shivering.

Anne still held his hand and she glanced around. "I see my dear sister has not deigned to come and meet me and say how glad she is to see me after our absence. I have not seen her since the Field of the Cloth of Gold." She said, her dark black eyes narrowed.

"Mary is too busy." George told her, laughing.

"Attending upon her mistress no doubt." I interjected sharply.

George turned wide, innocent eyes upon me. "Of course Mother, whatever else would I have meant?" He asked. But we all knew exactly what he meant.

We began to walk up the water steps towards the palace, servants behind us carrying Anne's trunks.

"We did not get the chance to speak much at the Field." Anne said. "And my sister is notoriously bad for writing. Is she happy with Sir William? And what is he like?"

"She is very happy," I said quickly before George could speak. "And Will Carey is a lovely man. You will like him Anne. He adores your sister, he can refuse her nothing."

"Yet they have not yet had children?" Anne asked. "I do hope there is no…medical reason for that. I know how much my dear sister longs to be a mother."

"For heaven's sake Anne, they have not been married overlong. Children come when they are ready to come." I said.

"And the Queen…She has not had another child since the Princess Mary who must be, what, six now?" Anne asked.

I stopped and my children stopped with me. "Anne, the Queen has been with child a number of times and carried the child to term a few times too but God has not pleased us to let us have another little Princess or, most importantly, a Prince. It eats at her daily and you will not ever on pain of my telling your father and having you banished back to Hever let her feel as though she is a disappointment." I said.

Anne laughed. "Mother, there is no big deal. People talk about it in France all the time-"

I reached over and grabbed hold of her face, turning it so her eyes looked directly in mine. "You will not gossip here. I admire and love the Queen and you shall come to feel the same way as you serve her. She is a good woman, a Godly woman, and the best Queen England could ever hope to have. Aye it is true that we have yet to see a Prince in the cradle to secure the succession but there is time. The Queen and King still believe that God will bless England with a healthy baby boy. And if I get so much as a hint that you have been gossiping about her, about her lack of children, about the King's…indiscretions so help me God I will see you directly back to Hever indefinitely. Do you understand me Anne?" I demanded, my voice cold. I knew my fingers were biting into the flesh around her face as I held her face in place but she gave no sign of it.

"Even when your own daughter is one of those "indiscretions" Mother?" Anne asked.

I let go of her so abruptly she would have stumbled had it not been for George's hand still firmly holding hers.

"No. Especially not then." I said, sighing heavily. "I would do anything to change things so that Mary was not forced into the position she is. But my brother, your Uncle Norfolk, and your father have become ambitious and Mary being the King's mistress has gained the family some advantage. I rather think they would whore out any of us for gain…"

"You did not see your beloved golden child in France Mother," Anne commented as we reached the top of the steps and stepped onto the pathway. "I very much doubt she is forced to do anything which she does not enjoy doing. She is used to pleasing important men and Kings."

George snorted. I turned to him. "I shall take your sister to make introductions. You may see that Anne's things are deposited in the right place." I told him.

"But Mother I was going to introduce her to the boys-"George began.

"You can do that later. Make sure her girl keeps all the gowns neat." I replied.

With a slight frown George nodded, gave his sister a kiss on the lips that lingered slightly longer than was totally proper and gave me a quick peck on the cheek before leading the servants with the baggage away.

"Anne, it is very important that you do not do or say anything about Mary and the King. Especially in front of the Queen. She knows, of course, but she does not need to be reminded anymore. To tell you the truth I did not think she would want another Boleyn girl in her service after Mary. It is perhaps a stroke of luck that you look so different to Mary. Mayhap she won't look at you and see your sister and imagine her underneath the King." I told her firmly. "Do not let George or his friends goad you into any kind of gossip either. The King may love them now but he can be quite changeable."

It was the one torment in my life that my own daughter was the cause of the unhappiness in the Queen. She never treated Mary any differently than she did any of her other ladies but sometimes I saw her covertly watching Mary as she danced or joked around with the male courtiers. And the nights after dinner when there was dancing and Mary was claimed by the King as his first dance if the Queen was not dancing she sat in her chair, a smile plastered onto her face so tightly it must ache, as her sad eyes followed her husband and his mistress around the dance floor.

"It is lucky then that I am the ugly duckling sister, is it not Mother?" Anne asked, her eyes directly challenging me.

"You are not ugly. You just do not look like your sister." I said.

"Isn't it lucky that I have the brains and the education?" Anne asked and I knew she had not forgotten words said in her childhood where I had raved over the looks of Mary and not of Anne and said how lucky it was that Anne had such brains.

"Indeed." I said. I was not going to get into this with her. "Now the King and Queen shall be expecting us. Did you see the King at all when he was in France?"

We entered the castle, the guards uncrossing their halberds to allow us in and bowing their heads to me. "Lady Elizabeth." One said in greeting.

"Not really. At the banquets but not closely. To be honest Mother I did not understand why they call him the most handsome prince in Christendom. He was more like a spoiled child." Anne answered.

"Aye," I said lowering my voice. "He is indeed like a spoiled child. Only now that spoiled child is a King. And without his mother or even his former nanny, Lady Margaret who is in charge of the Princess Mary now, to keep him in check it can be dangerous. It is lucky he listens so much to Queen Catherine."

We found the Queen in her presence chamber where she was sewing along with her ladies. These days much of her time was taken up in sombre pursuits such as sewing and in prayer. She spent many hours on her knees at the alter in her chambers or in the chapel praying that she would bear the King's much needed son. My daughter, Mary, was not amongst them but that was not uncommon. The chances were she was with the King, something that bothered me greatly but every time I raised my concerns about being the mother of the King's mistress Thomas would snap at me to let it be and to remind me of the advancements he had made in the short time since Mary had become the King's mistress, replacing Elizabeth Blount, despite her bearing the King an illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, the Duke of Richmond.

We stood for a few minutes before the Queen noticed and then she quickly put aside her sewing. "Lady Elizabeth, you should have spoken up. I was so engrossed in this tester." She said in her Spanish accent that had only faded somewhat despite being in England for so many years now.

"Your Grace, may I present my daughter Anne? As you know she is here to be a maid-in-waiting to your good self." I said.

Anne curtsied dutifully.

"Ah yes, another Boleyn girl." The Queen said, slightly bitter. "Mistress Anne, welcome to court."

Anne stood back up. "Thank you Your Grace, I am very pleased to be here and I thank you greatly for giving me a position. It shall be nice to be at the English court after so long in the French court."

"You shall find our court much different than the French one." The Queen cautioned. "Perhaps even dull. Though I do think Queen Claude and I run a similar ship. I expect all my maids-in-waiting to follow strict Christian guidelines and to be of upmost morals…something which some of my ladies seem to forget."

"I look forward to serving you your Grace." Anne replied though no doubt she was thinking how boring life would be.

"Actually we are having a celebration in two weeks for the Imperial ambassadors. There will be a banquet and pageant. Mistress Carew, Lady Dormer, do we need another woman to play a part?" The Queen asked.

Elizabeth Carew- who also had been one of the King's former mistresses before he had hastily married her off to one of his favoured gentlemen Nicholas Carew in an effort to get rid of her so he could move on to the next, her own friend Mistress Jane, and sometimes also Lady Anne Stafford, and then onto another of Elizbeth's friends, Bessie Blount- nodded. "I do believe we have a spot free your Grace, but were you not going to join in?"

The Queen shook her head. "No, I would rather watch. Perhaps you could take Mistress Anne under your wing and make sure she meets the master of the revels and is ready for the pageant?"

"I should be honoured, your Grace." Mistress Carew replied though her tone suggested she would be anything but. I had heard her make caustic comments on my daughter Mary on more than one occasion as it appeared she still had some feelings towards her former royal lover and the last thing she would want would be to have to help Mary's sister.

Later, when we were alone in Anne's room, Anne turned to me. "I had expected the Queen to be younger and prettier. After all did not everyone praise her great beauty when she first came to marry the King's brother?" She said.

"Aye but mayhap a hard life has taken its toll." I replied. The Queen had begun to thicken around the middle from her pregnancies, unsuccessful though they had been, and her once bright hair had begun to dull and there were threads of grey making their way through.

"I am, however, excited to see the King. They still say he is the most handsome man despite his childish whims. And from the little I saw at the Field of the Cloth of Gold he was very handsome indeed. However did plump Mary catch his eye? Perhaps it was the whore's tricks she learnt at the French court." Anne said, throwing herself down onto her bed.

Recounting this conversation to Remi a few hours later, lying in bed after what had been a frenzied lovemaking with me feeling the need to truly connect to someone, I said, "I'm beginning to think perhaps bringing Anne to court was not a good idea."

"Why not my love?" Remi asked, propping himself up on one elbow to look at me.

"I cannot say. I cannot put my finger on it. I just feel as though something bad is going to happen." I said.

He reached over to stroke my hair. "You worry too much my love. Hopefully Anne will make an impression upon the men of court and you can find her a husband soon. Then she shall be his problem rather than yours." He said.