CHAPTER THREE

Steadying

She eases the heavy oak door shut, its gentle thud the only sound in the oppressive, still silence. She steps back. She still does not turn her back from the nursery. In the semi-darkness, Mary examines the magnificent insignia painted on the door. A Tudor rose, red and white in all its enormity, blooms upon the wood. The sight of it almost soothes her, until she notices the tiny falcon set above it, a dull gold fledgling set above the emblem of her house. Her family.

She scratches away at it, her nails breaking upon the wood. She gnaws at it when that fails, the paint bitter upon her tongue. Finally she walks away, gold grit under her fingernails and on the edges of her teeth.

Mary's movement through the corridors is unsteady. She zigzags here and there, bounces off the walls. Her father once told her when they were out hunting that clever prey flee in a meandering path rather than a straight line, the better to avoid the hunter. Looking back, it's an odd piece of knowledge for her father to have possessed; why would he ever need to worry about being hunted? He is a king. But then again, he always has been the consummate hunter, of course he would know.

Mary wonders if she is the prey or the hunter.

Or the bow.

It's quiet, so quiet. She wishes she could bottle up the silence, cork it up- no, she would not like that, to be able to drink it only once. Better to preserve it forever and have it always. Spin it like silk, into a fine cloak to wear about her shoulders. Her mother would know how to make such a cloak, and if she did not, she would gladly learn how, for she always wanted only the best for Mary.

Only the best for her only princess after all… and why should a shawl of night be denied to her?

Her mother always had (has) been a fine seamstress, to the extent that five years into the Great Matter, Father had permitted her to sew his shirts. It was only when the concubine threw one of her tantrums that he finally took action. He had ridden away from the palace with his lady-love, but not before banishing her mother to the More and Mary to Richmond; it was the last time any of them had seen each other since. Twenty years together, and her father had not even bothered to say a proper goodbye to her mother…

Oh Father, the heights- or rather, the depths of your temerity…

She bolts the door to her room, but the addition of a solid barrier between herself and the world does nothing to slow her pacing, her twitching. She scoops up her rosary, or at least what remains of its skeleton-

Skeleton skeletal skeletal fragments we all become dust at the end of the road

Mary runs it through her fingers, even as more bits splinter off, until finally the rosary is no longer a loop but a string. She wills it to glow, for God's light to emanate from it as it did before, before she flings aside the faithless ornament.

She splays her hands out in front of her. The skin crinkles and tears anew. A fresh drop of blood, cherry-red, beads up on the heel of her hand. She flicks her hand so that it trickles into her palm. Mary is fascinated, holding her wrist at eye level so that she might examine it.

A chink of light suddenly illuminates her raised hand. It renders the droplet transparent, so that it is no longer cherry-red but blinding white.

She clenches her fist, smearing the blood. The chink broadens into a beam, and then into a shaft of sunlight. The shaft strikes the latticed leads of the window at such an angle that it is refracted, and the chamber is besprinkled with tiny sparks of rainbow.


The nursery of Hatfield is in an uproar.

Maids keen, scream, cling to each other. When Lady Bryan closes her eyes, she sees the silhouette of an enormous cradle, the bed hangings curtaining- no, shrouding- the figure inside. She blinks it firmly away, and begins barking out orders to the guards who have just shown up on the scene. A cold hand seizes her heart, its pressure unremitting.

The guards haul forward the woman who should have been on the nightwatch. They shake the stricken maid, insensible as she is with tears and fear. In between her breathless weeping, she swears that she knows nothing. Over and over they fire questions at her, to no avail. Then suddenly-

"The Lady Mary! The King's daughter. She came well past midnight and bid me leave-"

The pressure of the cold hand snaps, and Lady Bryan is suddenly giddy, airy, intellect skittering away. Her vision turns black and red at the edges. The room is silent, an awful tension descending.

She turns suddenly and runs up the stairs to the attic with the agility of a much younger woman. A trail of guards follows her like a coterie. Comprehension drums a steady tattoo in her throat, in time to her footsteps, her palpitating heart.

She throws open the door to the Lady Mary's room with such force that it bounces off the paneling and slams back in her face. She hurls it open again and stumbles into the chamber.

The first thing she notices is that the room is awash in blinding sunlight. The neatly made bed is the second detail she notices.

The detritus of silver wood is scattered across the floor. Less than a handspan above the rubble is a pair of feet.

Mary hangs in the middle of the room, head bowed forward, slightly askew to the left. Her shoulders are hunched forward as though in penitence, her hair obscures her face. The bolt of fabric twisted around her neck is knotted to the rafters- it's an attic room, after all.

Her feet sway yet, but all pendulums eventually still, and already they are steadying, steadying, steadying.


A/N: *Releases breath I didn't realize I was holding.* This is the darkest fic I have ever written, and it took not a few tries to work up the courage to post it.

This fic was born out of my twisted musings on how Mary might have responded very differently to her isolation and abuse at Hatfield. I have also wondered if it was a good idea for Henry to instruct Mary to care for Elizabeth, considering he knew she would have no reason to love the child; then again, he was trying to send a message to England as much as to Mary and probably didn't care all that much.

I have no idea how this alternate course of events would have panned out in the long term; I was more interested in exploring Mary's descent into insanity and its devastating consequences. If anyone wants to share their thoughts, I'm all ears.