Can't believe how long it took to get this updated again. It's amazing how quickly time flies when life is happening. To those still reading, Thank you so much for your patience and encouragement. I hope to have another update soon.
Hampton Court, England
A Week Later
George made a sighing noise in resignation and leaned back in his chair. He had already lost, and his opponent knew it. Mary wore a sly grin on her face, rubbing in her victory. He moved his bishop, leaving room for Mary's queen to finish the job. He didn't even know why he bothered, Mary always beat him at chess.
"I only let you win in hopes you will change your mind," said George. He was only half-joking. When Tom told him of Mary's plans to go stay with their sister, Mary Stafford, he didn't quite believe it. Hearing her confirm it only told him one thing: Mary had given up on her husband.
"Nothing will change my mind, dearest George" she replied with a small elegant shrug. It was late evening and they were in her outer chamber like they usually were sometimes during the week. If they weren't playing games, they were reading, always talking, or just sitting in silence doing their own thing. They were both aware many found their relationship odd, but they did not care. George knew Tom had made his peace with it, though Jane was a different case. George knew his love for Mary had developed into something purer, one could say. He loved her like a sister, his best friend, confidant. Being her best friend was much more important to him than anything else and he knew Mary felt the same way too. They never did talk about it, instead, there was a mutual calm and silent understanding between them that developed over the last few months.
"Mary, I know it is hard to understand my brother at times but running away is not going to solve anything."
"George, I am tired of forcing and pushing people to pay attention to me, to care about me, to listen to me. Be it my father, or my cousin, or you, now my husband, even God sometimes!" She lowered her voice. "I just want you to say you will write often and that you will come to visit Maryanne and me soon."
He stared at her as if any second now he will be able to will the thoughts out of her head. Mary did not look away and finally, he sighed again indicating to Mary that she had won once again.
Mary grinned broadly. "Thank you, George." she began to organize the pieces on the board. "Shall we play again?"
"I do listen, Mary."
"Men don't always listen, but you try" She smiled softly and continued to reorganize the chess pieces.
At that point, one of Mary's new ladies' maids walked to their table to replenish their cups of ale. George had never paid any of them any mind before, but for reasons unknown to him, his eyes lifted to catch the eye of the girl that stood before them. For the life of him, he did not know where he had seen her before, but his brain told him he had. She had large, rich brown eyes that filled his chest with warmth. She was not very tall, but she was shapely with high cheekbones, and what looked like dark hair hidden under her headdress. George could have sworn his heart stopped and had to chastise himself for thinking such nonsense when abruptly, sudden wetness shocked him, and he stood to find ale soaking his breeches.
"Oh, Aubrey!" Mary said both shocked and slightly annoyed "My sincere apologies, George. Aubrey is quite new and is still getting used to things."
The girl in question was pink-cheeked, curtsying, and stuttering apologies.
"I… my…my lord. I'll bring a cloth"
George waved his hand to dismiss her apologies. When he finally found his voice, he said "No harm done. It is a dark cloth. No worries" He smiled at her and she returned the gesture weakly before hurrying away. It was when he looked back at Mary that he realized why she seemed so familiar to him.
"She looks just like- "
"One of my father's bastards." Mary sighed "Her mother was a laundress at Westminster and father was able to pay his tailor to claim her as his illegitimate daughter. I have known of her since I was a child and when Tom wanted me to pick only people I could trust as my new ladies maids, I thought, why not my sister. After all, I am a bastard too in the eyes of my father."
"No matter. I will make a fine lady out of Aubrey soon enough"
George smiled lightly as he settled back down. Brushing his hands on the wet spot on his thigh, he looked up once more to find Aubrey hiding in the shadows, waiting to be called on again. He glanced back at the table, a weird feeling at the pit of his stomach and cleared his throat.
"Alright, I'll let you beat me once more then I'm off to bed."
Mary got her wish and a new Prince of England was born on an April night wracked with thunder, rain, and strong winds. Many feared it was a bad omen, but the babe came out of his mother's womb with lusty lungs and plump cheeks. His mother too was in fine health. On the day of the christening, his half-sister, carried him ahead of the retinue of distinguished lords, ladies, and representatives of kings, as his god-mother. Mary could not help smiling at her little brother as he stared at her with clear blue eyes that reminded her so much of his uncle, her husband. Arthur Tudor did not know it yet, but he had saved them all just as the legends prophesied. Her father was so happy, Thomas Boleyn looked like he had aged twenty years backward, Anne was relieved and could not take her hands off her child whenever she got the chance to hold him (which was not often).
As Bishop Cranmer poured holy water onto Arthur's head, Mary made eye contact with her husband. He too was happy. She saw Tom genuinely laugh for the first time in a while the night Arthur was born. It made her wonder if he had changed his mind about having future children and he said nothing to make her think he had. He still did not know he too would be a father again soon. Mary held on to Arthur a little more securely as she glanced at his face again. He did not cry when the water touched his head and he made no fuss when prayers were said. He was already acting like a king, she thought as she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and whispered, "Welcome to the world, sweet brother. As the King you are named for, I know you will do great things"
Tom felt his doublet was being pulled and looked down to find his niece staring up at him.
The reception after the christening had been in full swing for at least two hours now and it did not look like would be rounding up any time soon. Mary sat beside him conversing with her old friend the ambassador of Spain, Eustace Chapuys, whom Tom could not stand, but had to tolerate because in the old days he had been the only one to stand up for Mary.
She was leaving for Essex tomorrow and more so now than ever he felt like an idiot for giving his consent, not that she asked it of him. He wanted her to go so she would be safe, but nothing felt right about it. Many people did not marry for love, God knows they did not marry for love, but by some weird twist of fate, they had fallen hard, they had made a connection. He felt for her what he did not know he was capable of feeling for any woman and yet, he could not bring himself to show it. He was stubborn, and he was foolish, and he was a coward. He had always been a coward. Thinking about his past and all the things he did for his father to advance in court, for himself to build a reputation. Bullying Catherine of Aragon, his cruelness to Mary, allowing his Matilda to work in the kitchens as a child… it was too easy to lay all of the blame on his father.
"My lord uncle" Elizabeth spoke, "Won't you dance with me?... please."
She grinned at him knowingly. It was almost time for her to leave the great hall and she wanted to delay it. A true Boleyn. He decided he will indulge her.
"Just one dance and you are back in Lady Bryan's charge." she agreed to this.
"She has you wrapped around her little finger," Mary said lightly pinching Elizabeth's cheek. She looked radiant today in her cloth of gold and pearls. Her headdress pushing her hair back, highlighting her soft cheekbones, her lips rosy, her eyes…inquisitive as always. Either trying to tell him something or get something out of him.
Taking Elizabeth's hand in his, he looked Mary in the eye and perhaps in the most honest he had been with her these last few months, said," She is not the only one."
"Again, it is not too late to stay," George said as he gave her one final hug. Mary just laughed.
"I would have thought you'd use this time to improve your chess skills. I won't go easy on you when you come to visit Maryanne and me." She told him.
"I won't expect you to." He stepped aside to reveal his wife, Jane, who had been standing silently to the side and looked as though she was being forced to be here. She was actually. The King was making a big deal of Mary's departure. He had men accompanying her along with some of Tom's men. He made a point of walking her to the carriage and happily speaking to all who wished to say farewell. It was like having Arthur in the cradle had made the king find some of his old chivalric ways. Anne was still yet to be churched, so she could not be here, of course. Thomas Boleyn had thankfully not made an appearance.
Mary and Jane gave each other the briefest of curtsey's and then she was facing her husband, who smiled kindly at her.
Her stomach was still in knots about what he had said to her last night. 'She's not the only one.'
What did that even mean? She wanted to speak with him after that, but he had not returned to their chambers last night and she spent the night alone again. She refused to go looking for him, especially if he didn't want to seek her out.
"I shall write to you," He said, "Take care of yourself and send my love to Mary and her family."
She nodded, void of words to say to him. He looked almost happy to see her go, but she refused to think too much into it, she was just convinced she had made the right choice to leave. he kissed her on both cheeks before quickly stepping aside for the king to give Mary another hug.
"Thank you, Papa. I shall miss you so" Mary said to him and meaning it. She could dwell on the fact that her father had not been happy and content when she was his only heir. She could choose to be angry and bitter towards him, but after all, Mary had been through with her father, she chose to not be angry. To no be resentful. She would take a loving father over having no one at all.
"I shall see you at Christmastide, my pearl."
And off she went on her way to Essex, away from court, away from London, away from Tom.
An hour into her journey, Mary's mind was still at Hampton court. If she were to be completely honest with herself, she knew that she and Tom were acting like children and they were not going to better their situation by avoiding each other and being apart. Mary wondered when she became so scared of everything, perhaps it was the rejection yet again from another person she loved. She decided when she got to Essex, she would write to Tom and tell him her news. The rest would have to be up to him.