18 February 1536
There is no word from court on her twentieth birthday.
Not that there had been any word on her last three birthdays.
Or that Mary had expected or even wanted any word.
There is a cool, knowing look in Lady Bryan's eyes when Mary pleads a headache, saying she cannot possibly carry out her duties today. Mary doubts she fools anyone at Hatfield anymore with her malingering, but the lady governess insinuates nothing, merely tells her that she may spend the day convalescing in her room.
Mary accepts the concession with muted gratitude, shutting herself in her room and giving herself up entirely to listlessness. She curls up in a chair, burying her head in her knees and wrapping her arms around herself, assuming a child's posture, in defiance of the occasion. Let her curl up into a ball, smaller and smaller, and perhaps the thoughts, buzzing in her mind like mayflies, will become smaller and smaller until they dissolve into nothing.
The door creaks open.
Mary stiffens. It's Elizabeth.
Elizabeth makes her way into Mary's room uninvited: whether because she is a princess or because she is two, Mary cannot say. She almost cannot look at Elizabeth, and when she allows Elizabeth to crawl into her lap, it is more out of duty than any sisterly fondness.
It is not that she hates Elizabeth (never hate, not hate), but there are times when she… resents her, perhaps? Resents the reminders that Elizabeth carries with her, the reminders that are no fault of hers but still an inextricable part of her heritage. And when the winds that blow Mary's way from court are particularly cold, it is as though withering vines of ivy wrap around her heart. They have been particularly tight as of late, meaning she has not played with Elizabeth in nearly two months, not since the news first came from the More that her mother was ill…
Her heart suddenly starts to pound, and Mary takes a shaky, shuddering breath. Forces herself to focus on the here and now: the softly crackling fire in the hearth, the slight stench of dust that never goes away no matter how hard she scrubs the room, the solid weight of her sister on her lap- she has gotten so much heavier now that she is two and a half years old…
Two and a half years, Mary muses, rocking back and forth in time with her thoughts. Two and a half years since Elizabeth was born, relegating Mary to bastardy. Two and a half years she has been a maid in her service, two and a half years Mary has been beleaguered to name herself a bastard, her mother a whore, and the pope a charlatan.
She remembers coming to Hatfield on a blisteringly cold December afternoon and standing in the antechamber of Hatfield, Anne's relations scattered around her and Elizabeth nestled in a cradle, swathed in the Tudor colors- she was scarcely bigger than a bread loaf then. Mary had reassured herself this torture would last only a few days, a week, a month. Two months at the most.
Two months stretched into two years, and here she is on her twentieth birthday, wondering how many more years there will be to come.
It is odd to think that she is now twenty: two whole decades of her life gone past. She is no longer a maidenly girl, cannot be called young by any stretch of the word. She is now truly a woman grown, whose future apparently holds nothing but bastardy and spinsterhood. A future that stretches out before her like a great barren field.
Elizabeth has abandoned her post on Mary's lap and is now fiddling with the trunk at the foot of her bed. Mary's first instinct is to scold her away, but then she has an impish thought. She takes out one of the furs her mother had bequeathed her and drapes it around Elizabeth's shoulders. The lass is immediately delighted, drawing the oversize cloak around herself carefully and rubbing her cheeks against the thick wool.
The daughter of Anne Boleyn wearing a fur that belonged to Katherine of Aragon: it's an obscene image, to say the least, but one that gives Mary a sadistic thrill. Is there anything wrong in having a sense of humor in such matters? God certainly seems to, in any case. On the same day that her mother was buried, her father had fallen from his horse and nearly died, and Anne had lost the son she was carrying. Three calamities, all on the same day. There is certainly something poetic about it-
Mary immediately crosses herself, startling Elizabeth.
Her thoughts are taking a treacherous turn, bordering on malignancy, even treason. It is not that she would ever wish death on her own kin, but when that child would have tied Anne forever to England, when her father had kept her from her mother even as she lay on her deathbed and then donned yellow the next day-
Mary stops those thoughts before they go any further. She takes Elizabeth into her arms, despite her protests, but even the weight of her younger sister on her lap reminds her of the brother she lost that she never met. The brother that would have been only her half-brother, whose life would have meant her death.
What does his demise mean for Anne, for Elizabeth? His death marks Anne's third failure- for Mary knows about the second pregnancy, the first miscarriage that they had tried to keep quiet, but she had discovered nonetheless- and certainly this third failure is a sign to her father that something is very wrong. A serious blow for the harlot's cause, yes, but with her rival buried, who can judge for sure where Anne resides in the King's favor?
What will happen as Elizabeth gets older? She is too clever now for pat excuses and simple explanations. Before long, she will be asking about why Mary is her sister but only a lady, while she, Elizabeth, is a princess. About the Great Matter. She will be learning heresy, be brought up in the Lutheran faith. If she should become heir-
But Elizabeth is a girl, and only a second girl at that, surely their father would never make her his heir…
But the Concubine has such a hold on him that who knows what the King could do to please her?
So many points in favor of one side, so many for the other. It all coalesces into one huge mess that makes Mary's head spin. She is only twenty; she is no warrior queen like her mother, or able, experienced king like her father, or even alluring, ambitious mistress like Anne. She is just a forgotten princess, with her status in perpetual limbo, with an infant bastard sister as her only earthly friend, with a callow judgment that cannot begin to weather this maelstrom.
Weather it she must, and weather it she will, but later. Not today, not here. That is an enterprise she can leave for tomorrow.
Right here, right now, on her twentieth birthday, this is perhaps the best gift she can hope for. To sit here, in her too-small chamber, with her little sister nestled in her lap: a weight almost too heavy, but a steady counterweight against the cross Mary bears. The cross that grows heavier each passing day, the cross whose framework she cannot even begin to examine.
A/N: Some of the few possessions Katherine of Aragon was able to leave Mary in her will included several furs, along with a single gold necklace she had brought with her from Spain. Whether or not Mary ever received them is doubtful.
I know that Katherine's funeral, Henry's fall, and Anne's miscarriage did not all happen on the same day, but Mary would have heard about everything secondhand or thirdhand, and the dates may well have been fudged for dramatic effect before it reached her ears.
A random fact I realized while researching this story: Henry died just one day short of the 11th anniversary of Anne's fateful miscarriage, on 28 January 1547. He also died on what would have been his father Henry VII's 90th birthday.
If anyone has any ideas or requests for any moments from Mary's life, seeing her interact with other Tudor figures, AU Mary-centric ideas, or even an entirely Mary-unrelated idea, leave me a comment!