"Matthew and I are to be married this week's end," she heard a voice say, from within her chambers.
"Ach, I remember that excitement. It'll fade. Old Tom and I've been married thirty years, and I've just managed not to strangle him since year fifteen."
"Thirty years!" the serving girl inside Mary's chambers cried in some surprise, and Mary paused from where she stood outside the door, about to come in after her morning lessons. "How've you managed it?"
The servants, she could see through the crack in the doors, were making her bed, and, after the one time she had attempted to help in this regard, she was always sent away on some new mission whenever she caught them doing so. She was tired from her latin lessons, and certainly did not want to be minded by anyone now that she'd finally spared herself a few moments of freedom.
"A good wife can keep her husband's belly full and satisfied," the older servant was saying. "My cooking's better than the damn royal cooks."
"I...I'm not very good at cooking," the younger girl admitted.
The old woman tutted, fluffing Mary's pillows. "Then you'd best learn, girl. An unhappy husband is a terrible one."
Mary's face flushed with shame as she listened to the words, watched the two maids retreat back to their work. And then, she bolted, not entirely sure where she was going, only that she needed to get away before someone happened upon her and her tears.
One day, years from now, she knew,but, as Catherine often said, far nearer than she thought, she and Francis would have to get married, much as they both found it rather disgusting to contemplate. She had known this all of her life, as it had been determined before she was even born, but somehow, it had not seemed real until his moment.
She was going to have to marry Francis one day, and she wanted him to be happy, even if he was always sick and had tried to pull on her hair during their lessons today.
Mary did not know how to cook. She had never thought it a skill that she needed to learn, as all of her meals were always made for her, and it was not the sort of lesson that Catherine had given her. Perhaps that was why Catherine and Henry didn't seem to be very happy.
She swallowed hard, gulping in another breath when she realized, with horror, that she was standing right outside Francis' rooms, as if her thoughts had led her here without her knowledge.
And, before she could run away, the door opened.
Francis blinked up at her, eyes widening. "Mary? Are you...all right?"
She gulped in another breath. "I..."
"Should I call for Mother?" Francis asked, rather helplessly, she thought.
"I heard...them talking..." Mary sucked in, suddenly unable to meet Francis' eyes.
"Who?" Francis asked, rising immediately to her defense, and even picking up the nearest twig as though he meant to use it as a sword against whomever had upset her.
Mary shrugged. "Just...some women in the palace. And...they said that if I didn't know how to do it, you'd hate me forever," she whimpered, suddenly embarrassingly close to tears.
Francis' face turned an angry crimson. "Tell me who they were and I'll see them put in the stocks," he snapped angrily, and then, noticing that this wasn't really helping, "I mean...I'd never hate you, Mary. You're my...friend."
She let out a gasping sob at that, turning her back on him. "I'm not supposed to be your friend," she blurted out finally. "I'm supposed to be the woman you love one day. Oh, God, they're right..."
"No, they're not," Francis insisted, sounding a bit desperate then. And it was all fine and good for him; he'd never seen her cry before, not like this, but then, he hadn't spent all of this time being coached about how they would one day be wed. King Henry had simply told him that they would be wed when they were older and, as Mary remembered it, "For the love of God, try to get along." "They're wrong, Mary. And stupid. And you'll prove them wrong, because you'll be a great...w-wife, some day," he said, stumbling over the last few words.
She blinked then, something about his sudden nervousness boosting her own confidence. She bobbed her head as a sudden inspiration came to her. "You're right," she said then, grinning at him.
He blinked owlishly at her. "I am?" he asked, and, she admitted to herself, it was not something she told him often.
"Yes," she took his hand, dragging him out of the gardens. "You're right. We just have to prove them wrong."
"How?" he called out loudly behind her, but she ignored him, already intent on the first phase of her plan.
"You need my help," Bash said, glancing between the two of them suspiciously. "No way. I'm not helping you sneak into the village again and getting my hide tanned for my trouble."
"Oh, come on, Bash, it's nothing like that," Francis wheedled, even as Mary blushed over the word 'hide.' "And we promise you won't get into trouble for it."
Bash raised a brow. "That's what you said when you talked me into sneaking you out to that village."
"It isn't like that, Bash," Mary agreed. "It's just...not something bad, but something that we can't tell anyone about."
"Well, you're going to have to tell me, or I'm not helping you."
Mary and Francis exchanged glances, and then Francis sighed, and the story came spilling out of Mary rather quickly, after that.
When she was done, Bash was staring at them both incredulously.
"You want me to...watch you cook," Bash repeated dubiously.
Mary and Francis nodded in unison.
"Well, watch her cook," Francis amended, only for Mary to elbow him none-too-gently in the ribs.
"Watch us cook," she corrected him, and then, at his surprised look, "You really think I'm going to be the only one doing all of the hard work in this relationship? You have to actually know how to do something in case I'm terrible at it."
Bash, she thought, when she turned back to him, just might have been hiding a smile. Poorly.
"And where did you come up with this idea?" he asked, sounding even more amused.
Mary shot Francis a look, and then smiled at Bash. "We just...thought it might be important. For...you know...secret things."
Bash's other eyebrow shot up. "Oh," he said, voice lightly mocking. "I see."
Mary rolled her eyes. "So? Are you going to help us, or not?"
Bash gave a long-suffering sigh. "I don't suppose either of you have given thought to what the Queen will say, if she discovers us in the kitchens, or worse, burning the kitchens up."
Francis shrugged. "Nope, not really. But she's been busy all week trying to outdo Lady Diane in all of the decorations for the King and Queen of Navarre's arrival. She won't notice."
"And besides," Mary went on, "It's important. She'd understand," though, by the end of those words, Mary wasn't quite so certain that the Queen would, even if she did know that the Queen would appreciate Mary trying to make herself a good wife for Francis.
"Well then," Bash grinned infectiously, "I suppose we'd better figure out a way to get the scullery maids out of the kitchens, or they won't let either of you within a foot of one of the ovens."
Getting the servants out of the kitchens turned out to be far easier than Mary had thought.
She was a Queen, after all, even if she was only nine.
Though, that wasn't how they got rid of them.
"Your Majesty, Your Highnesses," the head cook said, giving them a wide smile. "What can I do for you today?"
Francis was staring rather longingly at the plate of cookies that she had apparently just set out to be sent up to the castle, but Mary nudged him, clearly expecting him to make the right excuses.
"The King's Mistress, Lady Diane, wants to throw a feast," Bash said loudly. "She wants all of you to attend to her. Immediately."
The servants were gone in an instant, scrambling out the door and up to the castle without a backward glance.
The children exchanged wide grins.
"All right," Bash said, clapping his hands together. "How are you going to do this?"
Mary and Francis exchanged looks, and then Mary turned suddenly on Bash. "What did you have for breakfast today? Breakfasts can't be that hard."
Bash blinked at her. "Quiche Lorraine," he said slowly, and, after a moment's hesitation, during which he felt sure Mary was going to say that was not a breakfast food, Mary nodded.
"That shouldn't be so hard."
"Do you have any idea how to make it?" Bash asked dubiously.
Mary rolled her eyes. "That's why we're here. And besides, the cooks usually seem to make it rather quickly, when we want it. It can't be that bad."
Bash let out a long-suffering sigh, at those words, but did not protest as Mary and Francis got to work gathering pots and pans. And he didn't protest when they started a fire in the fireplace, so that they could cook their food. And he didn't protest when all three of them ended up a mess.
He did, however, protest when Mary's sleeve got a bit too close to said fire, but, by then, he was too late.
By the time the guards had dragged them out of the flaming kitchen and into the courtyard, covered in soot and powder and dough, Catherine de Medici was more livid than Bash had ever seen her. He was rather happy that Henry was not around to reprimand them, but her tongue-lashing, after she'd checked them all over for injuries and burns, even Bash, was quite enough of a substitute.
Evidently, she'd been able to see the smoke from her own chambers.
"What in God's name was going on here?" Catherine demanded, and the three children exchanged glances.
"Well..." Mary began, drawing out the word. "We were trying to...uh..."
Francis didn't think that he had ever seen Mary at a loss for words before. Seeing it now was rather startling.
"We were just trying to get Mary ready to be my queen," he interjected, and Bash made a sound rather suspiciously like a snort as he coughed into his sleeve. Mary shot him a look.
Catherine raised an eyebrow. "Were you?" she asked, eyes surveying the damage coolly. "Well, perhaps Queen Mary can teach you how to roll up your sleeves and get the job done," she went on, and Francis stared at her in confusion. "Of cleaning this mess up. Once the servants have decided there's no danger in it, of course."
Francis and Bash cast a look at Mary's burned, ruined sleeves, and Catherine's eyes rolled heavenward.