A/N: This fic is the darkest I have ever written. It contains graphic depictions of violence, self-harm, and physical abuse, among other things. There is no happy ending to this AU fic, which will be a threeshot. Expect updates every two or three days.
Title taken from Katy Perry's "Wide Awake".
Life at Hatfield is, in some ways, not so different from life at Ludlow. Both are royal manors dedicated to the upbringing of the current heir presumptive, and staffed with the necessary maids, grooms, cooks, and supplies to accomplish that objective. True, at Hatfield, there is always a slight undercurrent of tension, that frisson of fear present beneath the surface. (As there well should be, Mary thinks smugly, for no matter how they deceive themselves, they know in their hearts that the cause they serve is but a farce.) But on the whole, the bustle at Hatfield House very much resembles the bustle Mary can recall from Ludlow Castle- the homage and respect paid to the heir to the throne, the flurry of ceremony at mealtimes and on state occasions, and the general to-ing and fro-ing of the household occupants to ensure the wellbeing of their charge. After all, such bustle once revolved around her, and she, better than anyone at Hatfield, would recognize it.
Which makes it all the more disorienting to find herself firmly on its fringes, rather than at the center. Jarringly familiar, and yet so jarringly alien. It is a dichotomy that she cannot quite accept, even after months of being forced to lead a servant's life. In her more whimsical moments, she fancies that she has been blown from the proverbially calm eye of the storm into the blustery outskirts. And even were she given the opportunity, she is not sure she could find find her way back to the center, where her rightful place is (was) (is?).
Being on the marge, when she can shut out the humiliation and fear, consists of utter boredom and isolation. No education, no music, no books, no letters, no visitors, no conversation, no activities other than what Lady Bryan decrees be her task for that day. She is no longer a princess, no longer is her time her own; now everything she is and everything she has is pledged to the service and command of another.
How do the other girls of Elizabeth's household find it an honor to serve? But then again, they are not prisoners; they, too, have demands upon them, but their hearts are not burdened with them as Mary's is. They are nobleborn and gentleborn, and for them, serving a King's illegitimate daughter is an excellent opportunity. But for a princess of the blood, it's an insult of the highest degree.
How, Mary wonders for the thousandth time, how does a king, a man of God, a father believe his daughter can passively accept being demoted to a bastard, after seventeen years of being legitimate? How does he send away my mother, treat her so abominably when all she ever did was be a true wife to him?
She wants her family to be together again, so desperately she can almost taste it.
An enormous banquet; she was six. Her father swung her up before his court and tugged her hood off so that her bare head was revealed to all. He hoisted her onto his shoulders, so that Mary towered above the crowds.
The sight of her mother striding over sent a quiver of worry through Mary, further heightened when the queen bent down and scooped up her discarded hood. Was Mama going to scold them for behaving like this in public?
But Mama merely helped undo the knot set at the top of Mary's head, so that her blonde hair tumbled down in waves- it would later darken to red, to match both of her parents'. Papa couldn't reach her hair, perched as she was on his shoulders, so Mama had helped. Mary shook her hair out of her face, her heart aglow with the murmuring approval of the court, her father's boisterous pride, and her mother's indulgent joy.
Mary's reverie shatters and a frowning Lady Bryan snaps into vision before her. The dull ache of Mary's cheek and the governess's raised hand are the only clues that she has been slapped across the face; her mind registers numb shock and not much else beyond.
She is too shaken by how desperate her longing was, how little control she has over her own mental faculties, to spare any anger for the blow she has just been dealt. She reverts to instinct, trying to remember what chore she was meant to be doing, and nearly breaks a vase in her haste.
Sniggers and whispers accompany this latest mishap. If (when) she escapes this hellhole, she will round up everyone who has ever scorned her and have their tongues severed, fried, and fed back to them on a platter garnished with sweetmeats. A thrilling fantasy that is only reinforced when she hears, "It's a wonder the King hasn't yet put her to death."
The shadow of fear whispers behind her shoulder, a susurrating presence Mary has long since expected but never accepted. She tries to console herself with the meager information she has gathered, scraps that she must make do with-
And indignation breaks onto the shores of her heart. She is like a beggar, subsisting on scraps: the scraps of rapidly fraying gowns that make up her wardrobe, the bits and pieces of information that happen to wind their way down from court to her ears, the crumbs of food that constitute her diet now that she is barred from the Great Hall at mealtimes, the tiny scraps of affection that she clings to like smoke clings to cloth.
And the one responsible for it all, the one who bewitched her father and turned her world upside down, reduced her from the Princess of Wales and the pearl of her parents' world to Lady Mary, the lowest wench at Hatfield, is Anne Boleyn.
Or more accurately, Elizabeth. That abomination, born of a bigamous marriage, who now commands Mary's old position and birthright, whose very existence contradicts Mary's own.
It scares Mary to know she is capable of such envy and fury, all-consuming ferocity like nothing she has ever known before. All her frantic prayers and attempts to read scripture do nothing to soothe her heart. Her mother always maintained (maintains) her grace and dignity; why can't Mary do the same?
There are times when she wants to give in to the madness, the anger, the fury. Sink into it and let it become her. She gazes at the abyss and wonders if she stares at it or it stares at her. It never leaves her, and when she lies awake on her uncomfortable pallet at night and tastes the bitter flavor of broken dreams and stolen lives, she feels herself falling, falling, falling.
A/N: The flashback is taken directly from history. This chapter on its own isn't really AU, but it lays the groundwork for what comes next. Second chapter should be up in a few days!