At long last, the chapter is done!

I honestly don't know what's worse; full-fledged writer's block or the kind of writer's block where you know exactly what you want to do with a chapter but can't make it come out right.

Thank you all so much for your patience, and for your wonderful reviews.

I'd like to say a special thank you to the reviewers who started reviewing last month, AmethystSiri, Soul93, Passing-Glance and Princess Electra for helping to light a fire under me. I knew that there was no way I could allow this story to reach a thousand reviews before a new chapter was posted, and you were bringing it pretty close. Thank you.

Chapter Thirty-Nine

16th August 1545

"Are you afraid?"

Elizabeth's head turned sharply at her cousin's words, the silk of her half-finished gown rustling with the movement. The seamstress kneeling at her feet exhaled impatiently as she resettled the fabric but she didn't dare to scold her. "No." She stated firmly, in response to Annie's question, her tone determined. "There's nothing for me to be afraid of."

"But you're getting married!" Annie objected, her eyes wide at the thought.

She knew that, one day, she would be married but her mother and father both told her that it would be a long time before she had to find a husband and that, when the time came, she would be able to meet different gentlemen and decide which one of them she wanted to marry.

Her parents got married because they loved one another, not because their parents decided the matter amongst themselves and then told their son and daughter that they had to be married, whether they wished to wed one another or not – though she knew that her mother was married to a different man before, a wealthy knight that Grandfather had chosen for her after she returned from France, and that he died before Aunt Anne became Queen, and before her mother met her father – and they wanted her to be able to marry a man she loved.

Annie had already decided that her husband would be very handsome, very kind, and very fond of horses and masques. She had yet to decide if his hair would be fair or dark.

She didn't think that it was fair that Elizabeth had to marry somebody she had never met, especially when he was so much older than she was, and when she would have to leave England to be with him, which would that she wouldn't see much of her family once she went to France, but her mother told her that this was the way it was for a princess.

Ordinary ladies might sometimes be lucky enough to be allowed to choose their own husbands, if they were very fortunate and their parents agreed that the gentleman they wished to wed was a suitable choice, but the marriage of a princess was a matter of state. Elizabeth was to marry a French prince so that England and France would be close allies, and so France would support Harry when he became King, if another country tried to go to war against England.

"Only by proxy," Elizabeth countered. "That's different."

She didn't like to admit when she was scared, or she might have told Annie that, when her Mama came to her to tell her that she was to be married to the Duke of Orleans on the day of her twelfth birthday, she was scared at first, thinking that it meant that she would have to leave England to be his wife on the day of her wedding, but Mama explained to her that she was only to be married by proxy. The Duke of Orleans wouldn't be present, so she would say her vows with an envoy from the French court, while an English envoy would take her place for the ceremony that was held in France for the Duke. She wouldn't have to leave England until she was at least fourteen, so she could have time to grow up so that she would be ready to be a wife to the Duke in truth.

Over the next two years, she would have time to prepare for her journey to France, and her Mama had promised that if Annie and Mary Dudley wanted to go with her, she could bring them.

She would have a retinue of ladies with her when the time came but she wanted to have her friends with her, instead of having to go with only strangers for company.

She knew that Annie would want to go with her, since she loved to listen to the stories that Mama and Aunt Mary told about what the French court was like when they lived there as girls and wished to see it for herself someday, to see if it was truly as wonderful as they said it was. Mary Dudley always said that she never wanted to leave Elizabeth, even to get married, and she swore that she wouldn't mind leaving England if it meant that she could stay with her, so she would want to come too. Cathy Brandon was too young to leave England to live at the French court and, even though she was supposed to be Elizabeth's companion, she spent more time with Harry, just as Robert Dudley spent more time with Elizabeth.

Elizabeth wouldn't be sorry not to have Cathy with her, as she was just a child, not even nine yet, but she would be sorry when she had to say 'goodbye' to Robert.

"I'm glad." Rose piped up from the floor, where she was sitting next to a basket of scraps of rich cloth that the seamstresses left for her to play with. Her governess had advised the seamstresses to bring the basket of scraps with them when they came to attend Elizabeth, in the hope that she would be content with them and wouldn't try to meddle with the bolts of fabric laid out for Elizabeth's new gowns, marring the fine cloth with grubby little fingers, as she had the last time the seamstresses were sent to Eltham to make new gowns for the princesses and their companions. She selected a piece of violet silk and wrapped it around her doll for a skirt, studying the effect for a few minutes before discarding the silk in favour of a piece of silver satin. "Mama said that I can have a new gown for the feast. I want a pink one. And a gold necklace."

Elizabeth rolled her eyes, wondering if she was ever as young and silly as Rose was now.

She was certain that she was always wiser and more sensible than her baby sister.

Rose was too little to be allowed to attend the celebrations for more than a few minutes before returning to the nursery with Geoff and their governesses to be put to bed, since everybody at Eltham knew that they would be very cross the next day if they were permitted to stay up too late, no matter how much they wheedled. If Rose wanted new gowns, Mama would give her as many as she wanted and would even let her help pick out the fabric if she didn't choose something that wouldn't look nice on her, without it needing to be a special occasion.

Mama was always sending them beautiful presents, or bringing them herself when she came to visit, and she visited especially often now that they were preparing for the wedding.

If Rose wanted a new pink gown, she could have it, whether Elizabeth was going to be married or not... not that she needed it, when she had so many beautiful gowns that she would scarcely have a chance to wear them before she outgrew them. Elizabeth loved to wear fine gowns and jewels, as befitted a princess, and she was happy that Mama made sure that she always had as many as she could wish for, but even though Rose was only three, she loved finery even more than she did.

Rose even opted to stay indoors while Elizabeth had her new gowns fitted, instead of wanting to go outside to play with her governess, Lady Latimer, and with Geoff and his governess, Lady Bryan, who joined the twins' retinue of attendants the day Harry turned six and passed from the care of the women who had tended to him since he was a little baby to the care of the tutors who would oversee his education, as befitted the Prince of Wales. Not even the promise of feeding the ducks or seeing the horses could tempt her, so Lady Latimer stayed indoors with her.

A governess would never complain in front of the royal children but Elizabeth wondered if Lady Latimer was disappointed not to go outside, or if she was pleased to stay indoors, where she could read her book while she kept an eye on Rose, instead of having to watch her like a hawk in case she tried to hide from her, and to chase her if she and Geoff ran off. Lady Latimer was a very learned lady. She already knew more than Lady Bryan did, and Elizabeth had heard Kat say that she was studying languages and reading history in her leisure time, with the help of Doctor Cox.

Most of the other children thought that it was very strange for Lady Latimer to wish to return to the schoolroom when she was too old to have to do lessons if she didn't want to but Elizabeth knew that most ladies had not enjoyed the same broad education that she and her companions did, especially if their fathers didn't think that a girl needed to learn as much as a boy.

She thought that, if she wasn't allowed to do the same lessons as any prince, she would like to continue her studies alone, to prove that she could do it.

She was just as clever as any boy could be and she saw no reason to pretend otherwise.

Elizabeth would have liked to be outdoors in the sun today instead of stuck indoors being measured and fitted but she knew that a princess must not grumble, especially in front of the common people, to whom she was supposed to set a good example.

Rose was happy to grumble if she wanted something their guardians were disinclined to let her have. Lady Latimer let her have her way today because she knew that if she was allowed to stay to watch the fitting, Rose would behave like a little angel for the rest of the day and even go to bed when she was told without a fuss instead of getting cross because she and Geoff had to go to sleep much earlier than the older children, but if she refused permission, Rose would throw tantrums and make everybody at Eltham sorry that her wishes had been thwarted.

It was astonishing to see how much noise somebody so small could make, when she wanted to.

Uncle George thought it was funny, and said that Rose was just like Mama was at that age, but Elizabeth couldn't imagine her mother behaving like that, even as a little girl.

"Will we be coming back to Eltham after the wedding?" Annie asked.

Although Kat and Lady Bryan had yet to tell the children what plans were made for their future, they - or at least the older ones - all knew that a change was coming.

Within a few weeks, Elizabeth would be a wife in the eyes of God, so the older girls all thought that it was silly to think of her returning to the nursery after her wedding.

The nursery was for children, not young ladies who were almost grown-ups.

Harry was nine now, and they had overheard his tutors talking about how, one day soon, the King was likely to send him to Ludlow Castle, which was a very long way away, in Wales, because that was where the Prince of Wales was supposed to have his household when he was big enough to preside over his principality. It was meant to be practice for him, so he could get used to ruling before the time came for him to be King, since he would have a much bigger country to rule over then, and many more subjects to govern. Some lords would accompany him as his Council, and they would take care of most of the work at first but, once Harry was a few years older, it would be his job to make the decisions, although his Council would stay with him to advise him.

If Harry and the boys left for Wales, would the girls leave too or would they have to stay in the nursery at Eltham with Geoff and Rose?

"I'm sure that Their Majesties will tell you what they have planned for you when the time comes," Lady Latimer interjected. The note of reproach in her tone was a mild one but Annie knew that Rose's governess didn't think that it was proper for them to be speculating about what was to happen, especially in front of Rose and the seamstresses, so she subsided. "They will know what is best for everybody, and make arrangements. We will hear their plans for us in due course."

Although she would not say anything to the children until she could give them definite answers to the questions they were sure to have, she, Lady Bryan, Mistress Champernowne and Doctor Cox, had discussed the question of what the King and Queen would decide they wanted to do about their children, now that the Prince of Wales and Princess Elizabeth were growing older.

The Prince of Wales was to travel to Wales before the end of the next month, as his parents wished for him to have the opportunity to settle there before he returned to court for Christmas but, as yet, they had had no word about whether or not Princess Elizabeth would remain at court after the proxy wedding, so the Queen could help the new Duchess of Orleans learn what would one day be expected of her as a royal lady, and if she did, whether the twins would continue to reside at Eltham or if their household would move to one of the smaller royal residences, like Hatfield or Hunsdon, now that there were fewer children to be accommodated.

Given the size of Eltham Palace, and the cost of maintaining the royal children's establishment there, it would certainly be more economical if they moved.

Lady Latimer, born Catherine Parr and known as Kate to her family and friends, had been appointed as Lady Governess to Princess Rose before her charge completed her second month of life. After the death of her second husband, she had no wish to marry again and no children of her own to care for so, when her younger sister, who had a place in the Queen's household, recommended her to the Queen as a potential governess for the youngest of the royal children, knowing that she was anxious to find an educated lady, she was glad to accept the position.

Rose was a sweet child, like her twin, although she could be stubborn when she wanted to be, and difficult to dissuade once she decided she wanted something.

Given who her parents were, the child had acquired her stubbornness honestly.

"Dolly needs a new gown, Lady Latimer." Rose announced, holding out her doll to her governess for her inspection. Although Lady Latimer thought that, when she was older, the little girl might develop an artist's eye for colours and styles, Rose was not creative when it came to names. When the Queen brought her the doll on one of her visits, the older children were eager to propose names for her, some pretty and others so ludicrous that Rose howled in protest at the thought of her new plaything being inflicted with such a name, but Rose was unable to come up with a name she liked, and eventually decided to content herself with calling her doll Dolly. Dolly's lower body was swathed in silver satin, with blue silk wrapped around her torso for a bodice, and Rose had taken off her own small pearl bracelet to serve as Dolly's necklace. "Doesn't she look pretty?"

"Very pretty, Your Highness." Lady Latimer agreed, rescuing the bracelet to return it to the exquisitely carved casket that housed Rose's jewel collection – already growing rapidly, despite her tender years – before her little charge could lose it. It wouldn't be the first time that one of the child's pieces of jewellery was lost when she used it to adorn a plaything, and forgot about it. The last time it happened, the Queen had her goldsmiths craft a replacement but Lady Latimer was able to feel her cheeks grow warm when Rose, scorning ceremony, greeted her mother with news of her missing treasure and calmly announced that she would need a new one.

"May she have one?" Rose asked coaxingly, leaning against her governess' knee and looking up at her with wide, appealing blue eyes.

"That depends, Your Highness," Lady Latimer said gravely, accepting Dolly from her charge. "Do you think that Dolly will be a good girl, and eat all of her supper?"

"Even the fish?"

Seeing the expression on Rose's face as she asked her question, Elizabeth and Annie did their best to smother a giggle.

Now that they were young ladies of eleven - almost twelve, in Elizabeth's case - they dined in the Great Hall every day. The cooks at Eltham always prepared wonderful food for them, and if there was a dish that they badly wanted to eat, Kat could usually be coaxed into sending a message to the kitchens asking that it be prepared, if Lady Bryan didn't hear of it and countermand the order. Because Geoff and Rose were still very young, they ate almost all of their meals in the nursery, and nursery fare was plain because too much rich food was bad for little children. Geoff ate whatever he was given with relish but Rose disliked boiled fish, and tried her best to avoid it, usually putting it on Dolly's plate and insisting that Dolly was the one who wouldn't eat her supper, while Rose was a good girl and never left even a scrap of food on her plate.

Elizabeth and Annie could both remember the plain fare of their earlier years so they sympathised with Rose and were amused by her efforts to avoid her least liked foods but they could imagine that persuading her to eat the wholesome fare Lady Bryan advocated for small children was a trial for Lady Latimer, who could not bend the rules for Rose even if she wanted to, not when Geoff dined with her and would be indignant if he thought that he was being cheated.

"Even the fish," Lady Latimer confirmed, hiding a smile.

Rose took a few moments to consider whether or not the bargain was worth striking.

She and Dolly shared a loathing of boiled fish and tried to avoid it if they could, so she knew that it would be an ordeal for them to have to eat it, but Dolly would look so pretty in a new gown, especially if Rose could persuade Lady Latimer to allow her to have a hood to match. It would be weeks before she could see Mama and Papa, and have one of them instruct the seamstresses to sew a gown for Dolly, without asking for anything from Rose or Dolly in return.

Theywould never try to make her eat fish in exchange for a gift.

Finally, she nodded her agreement, but added a condition. "But only a very little bit." Dolly was very small, much smaller than Geoff. It would be very unfair of Lady Latimer to expect her to eat as much fish as he did.

"Very well, Your Highness," Lady Latimer agreed, knowing Rose well enough to count it as a victory. She met the gaze of the head seamstress, who nodded acknowledgement with a smile.

It was hardly the first time that she and her assistants were called upon to craft gowns for Dolly, nor would it be the last. They would be generously recompensed for their time, and charmed by Rose, so Dolly would soon be dressed in a new gown as fine as that of any court lady.

"Thank you!" Rose beamed, delighted to have her way. "We have to look at Dolly's other gowns so I can see what she needs," she announced, running out of the room in the direction of her bedchamber, where Dolly's small chest of gowns, hoods and tiny slippers was kept.

Lady Latimer followed, telling Elizabeth and Annie that she would send Kat to sit with them.

Once Rose and Lady Latimer were gone, Annie giggled.

"Whoever marries Rose is going to have to be the richest Prince in Christendom if he's going to buy all the gowns and jewels she wants for her and for Dolly!"

Although the seamstresses chuckled warmly at her joke, she was disappointed to see that Elizabeth didn't laugh or even smile, but sensed that she shouldn't remark on her cousin's silence.

Elizabeth was silent, gazing at the window but seeing nothing.

Annie had meant no harm or offence with her jest about Rose but Elizabeth couldn't find it funny.

Rose was only three years old, little more than a baby. She had at least nine years of freedom and childhood left to enjoy before she had to worry about being married, even by proxy. To the best of Elizabeth's knowledge, her parents had not yet chosen a husband for Rose, although she knew that Papa wanted Geoff to marry the little Queen of Scotland, Mary, when they were old enough. Harry was going to marry the Emperor Charles' youngest daughter, if it could be arranged, but not for at least five years. Elizabeth would be married soon, and within a few years, she would go to France to join her new husband and to learn to live in a new court with a new family, while Rose was allowed to stay at home, where she could be with Geoff and see Mama, Papa and Harry often.

It wasn't that she was frightened.

She had known since she was very small that part of her duty as a Princess of England to marry a prince or a king who would be able to be an ally for her Papa and, one day, for Harry. She wanted to do whatever she could to help her little brother when the time came for him to rule England and, even though she would rather stay with him and help him, as they had planned when they were little children and didn't understand that they wouldn't be living in the same country when they were adults, she accepted that a princess helped her family by marrying a suitable prince.

She would never dream of shirking her duty to her Papa, to Harry or to England.

She just wished that it didn't have to happen so soon.

4th September 1545

Old age had caught up with Henry suddenly, but once it had him in its grasp, it did not let go.

Two years ago, it was difficult to think of Henry as a grandfather, and he seemed rather young to have a daughter as old as the Lady Mary. He seemed to be of an age to be the father of a young family, for Elizabeth to be his firstborn, not to be the father of a woman grown who had been of age for marriage years before she finally became a mother and a wife.

Two years ago, he was healthy and, aside from the injury to his leg that had never fully healed, his body was sound and he enjoyed riding and archery and dancing as much as he had in his youth, though his jousting days were past. When the children visited the court, or when they paid a visit to Eltham, he joined in their games with as much delight and enthusiasm as any child, playing the roles of hero and villain with equal gusto, and relishing every moment of their games, usually ending up with at least one of the children up in his arms as he ran around.

Anne didn't think that there was a child at Eltham who didn't adore Henry.

Even the children who were not connected to the family by blood, and who were instructed to be on their best behaviour during visits, were never shy for long before joining in the game.

Now, his hair had faded from dark brown to steely grey and his face was lined with fine wrinkles, particularly around his eyes and mouth. The pain in his leg had increased, and he had to rely on a cane to walk. His body had thickened, he tired much more easily, he was ill more frequently and, for the first time since she knew him, she could easily believe that he was ten years her senior.

For the first time since she knew him, she could easily believe that she would be a widow before she was many years older.

Few would dare to say so aloud, as it was treason to predict the death of the King, but her Uncle Norfolk confirmed that it was generally accepted that Henry would not live long enough to see Harry reach his majority, and that she would have to assume the role of Regent until her son was a man grown and could rule England in his own right.

Even if Norfolk had not told her, Anne would have known that her Regency was viewed as a near certainty rather than a remote possibility because of the way the members of the Privy Council and other noblemen at court behaved towards her, showing her more respect and friendship than they ever had before, if they could avoid it. They all knew that the choosing of the Regency Council would be left entirely in her hands and that they could not hope to have a seat on it if they did not ensure that she knew that they could be relied on to support her.

Nobody would be allowed to hold a position of power if she could not trust them.

She could take no chances on that score.

Even if there was no risk of a party forming in support of the Lady Mary and her child, since no man in England would wish to see them on the throne due to their illegitimacy - even the Emperor and the Bishop of Rome had ceased to speak of Mary as Henry's heir after little Katherine was born and, while they were not prepared to go so far as to formally retract their claim that Anne was not truly Henry's wife and that her children were illegitimate, they had accepted the prospect of Harry's succession without further protest - or of the little girls that Henry's nephew, Lord Edward Brandon, Earl of Lincoln, had fathered before his death, she would still be unable to afford to allow her authority to be undermined if she was to hold the country for her son.

Her father's death last year left George as Duke of Wiltshire, and as head of the Boleyn family, also succeeding their father in his role as Lord Privy Seal.

Of all the members of the Privy Council, her brother was the one she trusted most, and he and Norfolk kept their ears to the ground, ensuring that they kept abreast of which of their fellow Council members should be counted as Anne's allies and which of them would be terrible choices for the Regency Council, men who would either try to manipulate her to serve their own ends, against the interests of their King and country, or who would betray her and her son in a heartbeat if they believed that it would benefit them to do so.

The thought of a Regency was a chilling one but, while it was painful to imagine a world without Henry in it, she knew that it was sometimes necessary, as she had to be prepared.

A day would come when Henry was gone and she had to carry on without him.

Today, however, he was here with her, and looking more animated than he had in months.

Their children never failed to bring a smile to his face, no matter how unwell he might be feeling in the weeks leading up to their visit. Whether they were travelling to Eltham or their children were coming to court to see them, their presence cheered him as nothing else could.

This visit was especially welcome, given the reason for it.

The idea of Elizabeth being of an age to marry was almost unbelievable to her parents, for whom it seemed so short a time since her birth, and the idea of her leaving England was painful but, at the same time, this marriage was a triumph for their family, and should be celebrated as one.

Anne was not told of the bull sent by the Bishop of Rome, declaring in Katherine's favour and pronouncing Mary her father's legitimate heir, until after she was safely delivered. For her sake, Henry treated it as a trifling matter, beneath their attention, mocking the Bishop of Rome for thinking that he could presume to command the King of England to abandon his wife and his trueborn heir so that he could live in sin with the Emperor's aunt and see his throne pass to his illegitimate daughter but they both knew that, while the verdict made little difference to them, as Cranmer had already delivered the one that truly mattered, it would have made matters easier for them if the Bishop of Rome had not allowed the Emperor to bully him into siding with Katherine.

From the moment of Elizabeth's birth, her legitimacy was denied by those who supported Katherine and Mary, despite the efforts made to secure her position.

She was sent to Hatfield as a tiny baby, so that she might preside over her household, as befitted the Princess of England and the then-heiress to the throne, but while Henry could see to it that their daughter enjoyed the honours due to her rank, while he could give her a household of nobly-born young ladies to attend her, and while he could have Parliament pass laws protecting the positions and rights of his wife and daughter, he could not ensure that she was accepted as legitimate by other monarchs, or make them accept Elizabeth as a bride for one of their sons.

Even King Francis, who once pledged his support to their union and who was far from displeased to see the Emperor's aunt and cousin set aside, was reluctant to formally commit himself to a betrothal between Elizabeth and his son when the match was first proposed. Had he consented, it would have been tantamount to a declaration on his part that he viewed Elizabeth as the rightful Princess of England and her mother as the rightful Queen, a declaration that the Emperor would take umbrage at and that would also go against the verdict of the Bishop of Rome.

He initially expressed his pleasure at the idea of the match, and gave every indication that he would accept it, but yielded to pressure to change his mind, even going so far as to suggest a match between the Dauphin and the Lady Mary, as though it was an acceptable compromise. He must have known that his change of heart would cause Anne difficulty, especially when he cited the fact that the Emperor and the Bishop of Rome did not accept Elizabeth's legitimacy as a reason why he could not accept her as his future daughter-in-law, but although she did not believe that he harboured ill will towards her, he would compromise her interests and those of her daughter in a heartbeat if he thought it necessary.

After Katherine's death and Harry's birth, King Francis could know that his decision to marry his youngest son to Elizabeth was a prudent one, as she would one day be the sister of the King of England, and he never again tried to back out of the arrangement.

Today, Elizabeth would become the bride of a French prince, her marriage proving to all of Christendom that the King of France believed in her legitimacy.

That was something worth celebrating.

They heard their children before they saw them.

The sound of running footsteps, childish giggles and Lady Bryan's hissed reminders that royal children should behave themselves, particularly at court, brought a smile to Anne's lips, one mirrored by Henry, and they barely managed to compose themselves before the doors were opened and Geoff ran into the room, his cheeks pinkened by the exercise, his blond hair falling into his eyes and his green velvet suit crumpled. He beamed at them, sunny as ever.

Lady Bryan followed her charge into the room a moment later, looking decidedly flustered. She curtsied deeply. "I apologise, Your Majesties, I was holding His Highness by the hand but..."

"It's alright, Lady Bryan." Anne waved away the apology, giving the governess an understanding smile. She could picture the scene all too easily. Geoff was not a boy who liked to walk when he could run, and he would never allow ceremony to keep him from running to greet his parents.

She found his enthusiasm charming, and she knew that Henry was also amused by it rather than offended by the lack of ceremony on the part of their younger son, but it wouldn't do to say this to Lady Bryan, who worked hard to instil good manners and courtly etiquette in her charges. She had served all of their children well, and Anne would never have wanted to upset or offend her by saying anything that might suggest that her efforts were not appreciated.

Lady Bryan was mollified somewhat by the apology but she still reached out to grasp Geoff firmly by the hand, drawing him back a couple of paces while the rest of the little procession entered.

Harry led the way, escorting Elizabeth, and they were followed by Doctor Cox and Mistress Champernowne. Geoff and Lady Bryan fell into step behind them. Rose and Lady Latimer brought up the rear, the former clearly put out that her twin managed to slip away from his governess while hers was more vigilant, keeping her from joining Geoff in running ahead.

The other children at Eltham, including Edward Fitzroy, would be presented later but Henry liked to greet their own children first.

Harry released Elizabeth's arm once he came within a few yards of his parents, making the courtly bow that Lady Bryan, and then Doctor Cox, had coached him in, while his sister curtsied. Behind them, Geoff and Rose followed their example, with a jerky bow and a slightly wobbly curtsy.

"Your Majesties," Harry greeted them formally, his head held high, as a prince's should be.

It was only a few months since his last visit to court but he had grown at least a couple of inches taller in that time. Even his features had changed slightly, as he lost the last of his childish chubbiness. He was going to be a tall man, perhaps taller than Henry. Anne estimated that, within another two or three years, he would be taller than Elizabeth.

"You are very welcome at court, Your Highnesses," Henry returned the greeting with equal formality, motioning for them to rise. "I thank you for escorting the future Duchess of Orleans, my son," he told Harry gravely, unable to keep from smiling at the look of pride on the boy's face. Harry nodded acknowledgement of his words, then moved to embrace his mother. Henry reached out a hand to Elizabeth, to draw her towards him, taking her slender hand in his and kissing it lightly. "The Duke of Orleans is a prince to be envied by every man in Christendom," he told her, stroking her cheek with his free hand. "Three days from now, he will be the husband of one of the loveliest and most gracious princesses God ever blessed a realm with. His gain is England's loss."

Elizabeth, for perhaps the first time in her young life, was unable to say anything in response.

"What about us?" Geoff demanded, unwilling to allow himself or his twin to be overlooked, even for a moment. "We've come to see you too!"

"So you have!" Henry agreed jovially, releasing Elizabeth's hand so that he could turn his attention to his youngest children. "And we are greatly honoured by your presence."

He never liked to think of Mary and her child.

He knew that Anne had taken it upon herself to see to it that they were well-provided for, and that she visited them from time to time – if what little he had overheard on the subject from the gossip of Anne's ladies was true, little Katherine adored Anne, an irony that amused him as much as he was sure it would horrify the child's grandmother and namesake, if she could know of it – but she never volunteered information about the visits, and he never asked her about them, or about how his eldest daughter and her family fared. Given the circumstances, he was sure that no man could blame him for wanting to keep his distance, or for being reluctant to think of himself as a grandfather when his only grandchild was a bastard but, whether he liked it or not, he was a grandfather, and he was of an age to be a grandfather at least several times over.

At his age, and after all the years he had spent praying to God to bless him with a thriving family of princes and princesses, he knew that it was a near-miracle that he was blessed with Geoff and Rose, conceived at a time when he thought that his family was already complete.

Every moment with them was to be cherished, as he could not know how much of their childhoods God would spare him to see.

He leaned back in his chair, a mischievous smile creeping to his lips as he patted the pockets of his doublet, well-stuffed in preparation for the visit. "I don't suppose that you two still enjoy sweetmeats, do you? Of course not," he answered his own question, "you're far too old for them, almost grown." He sighed regretfully, looking up to meet Anne's eyes. "I shall have to throw them away, my dear, if there is nobody here who will eat them..."

"We will!" Geoff all but bellowed, evading Lady Bryan's restraining hand and charging forward with Rose hard on his heels.

Henry caught Geoff around the waist before the little boy could collide with him, setting him on one of his knees before lifting Rose onto his other knee, positioning her carefully so that she was not sitting on his old injury. Experience had taught him that sitting Geoff on that leg was an invitation for excruciating pain, as he could not remain still for longer than half a minute. Once both children were settled securely on his knee, he put his arms around them. They were quick to empty his pockets of the sweetmeats he hid there for them, as he always did when they visited.

While Geoff and Rose glutted themselves on the sweet treats, and their governesses looked on in a mixture of amusement at their antics and dismay at the thought of how excitable and restless they were certain to be after so much sugar and rich food, Anne uncovered the plate of treats set aside for Elizabeth and Harry, who might consider themselves too old to climb onto their father's lap and search his pockets for sweetmeats, but certainly not too old to accept and enjoy a treat if it was offered.

"We didn't forget you," Anne told them, setting the plate on the table. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Geoff stop eating for a moment while he inspected the contents of the plate but, once he was satisfied that the treats offered to his older siblings were no better or more plentiful than the ones for himself and Rose, he resumed eating, becoming joyously sticky.

Harry was happy to help himself to the sweetmeats, pausing only to offer them to his tutor and his siblings' governesses, with all bar Lady Bryan accepting one before they withdrew to allow the royal family some privacy, but Elizabeth had no appetite for the treats, and left Harry to eat them all if he cared to. He was more than capable of finishing her share as well as his own.

"Is everything alright, sweetheart?" Anne asked softly, putting one arm around her daughter's shoulders and drawing her away from the rest of the family so they could have a little privacy. Henry and the other children were happily occupied, and didn't notice.

"Everything is fine, Mama... Mother," Elizabeth said her voice cool but resolute. Somehow, it felt more appropriate to use 'Mother' rather than 'Mama', as she had since she first learned to say the word as a baby. Little girls called their mothers 'Mama' but she was no longer a little girl. Before the week was out, she would be married. She would be the Duchess of Orleans and the Duchess of Clarence instead of being simply Princess Elizabeth, as she had been all her life.

"Is there anything you'd like to talk about? We could go to my privy chamber, and speak alone, if you like." Anne offered, suppressing her dismay at hearing her daughter exchange the childhood name for a more formal one, and wanting to ease the anxieties she was sure Elizabeth must be feeling. Even if it was a marriage by proxy, and even if it would be at least another two years before there was any question of Elizabeth leaving England to join her husband at his father's court, it was still a big step and it must be unnerving for her.

"No thank you, Mother." Elizabeth slipped out of her mother's grasp, moving back to rejoin the rest of the family, not wanting to accept her offer.

She was sure that her mother meant well but what could she say to her?

Her mother was not born royal.

Even if Grandfather had considered potential matches for her when she was a young girl, he would have been looking to find an English lord to marry her so, even if she had to leave her home after her wedding, she wouldn't be travelling very far. She would still be able to visit her father, brother and sister, and she would still see them often when they were all at court. When she had children, they would still be able to know her family, instead of being strangers to them.

In the end, she was not only able to stay in England, she became its Queen.

In the end, her mother was able to marry the man she loved and who loved her, the man she chose to marry, something Elizabeth was not to be allowed the chance to do.

Her mother would never be able to understand how Elizabeth felt so there was nothing that she could say that Elizabeth wanted to hear.

7th September 1545

No effort or expense was spared for the wedding festivities.

Every lord and lady at court wore their finest clothes, many of them buying new garments in honour of the occasion, and the Great Hall glittered with fine fabrics and jewels. The Hall was festooned with garlands and adornments designed by Master Holbein for the occasion, and the tables were laid ready for the feast which would be brought up by the servers as soon as the ceremony was concluded. A rich, ruby-red carpet, embellished with gold thread, stretched down the length of the Hall, with the courtiers ranged on either side, waiting for Elizabeth's entry.

Usually, when she entered the Great Hall to be formally received by her parents, Harry acted as her escort but today he would be waiting at the dais. She knew that Geoff and Rose would probably be nearby, in the care of their governesses, who would be ready to remove them from the Hall if it looked like they were going to make a fuss and disrupt the ceremony.

She was to walk in without an escort, with Annie and Mary Dudley following immediately behind her, then Kat and the maids of honour who attended her.

Her gown was made of blue-green satin almost exactly the colour of the sea she would have to cross to join her future husband. It was heavy, with stiff skirts and a tight bodice. Her mother had hung a necklace she vaguely remembered as one she had worn as a very little girl, barely older than Rose was now, when she was first promised in marriage to the Duke of Orleans, then the Duke of Angouleme, and her coronet glittered with diamonds and sapphires.

She kept her gaze fixed directly ahead as she was announced, ignoring the admiring murmurs of the courtiers and even the proud faces of her parents, and training her eyes on the richly canopy over the dais. She walked slowly, taking care to keep her back straight, her head high and her steps even. The last thing she wanted was to disgrace herself by tripping and falling.

She curtsied gracefully to her parents when she reached the foot of the dais.

She could hear the pride in her father's voice as he presented her to the French dignitary who was to act as the Duke of Orleans' proxy for the ceremony, and introduced the man as Jean de Bellay, Bishop of Bayenne. Bellay bowed low before her, smiling kindly as he told her and her parents that it was his great honour and pleasure to be presented to so lovely a princess.

She felt thankful that no more was expected from her than a small, demure smile in response to his greeting, as she did not know if she would be able to manage a more joyous expression.

Archbishop Cranmer, her godfather, presided over the ceremony, beginning by asking first her father and then her mother if they knew of any impediment that would prevent the union.

Elizabeth had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from grimacing at this. After all the negotiations necessary to organise a royal marriage, it would be astounding if an impediment could go unnoticed for so long, and even if there was an impediment, who would dare to say so at this stage in the proceedings, when she and the Duke of Orleans were almost man and wife?

Perhaps somebody had known of an impediment to her father's union with the Lady Mary's mother, but had not dared to say so for fear of exciting royal anger.

Once her parents confirmed that there was no impediment, Archbishop Cranmer asked her.

"I know of none," she answered, as she was taught to. She listened with only half an ear as the Bishop of Bayenne and his entourage were asked to confirm that there was no impediment, waiting for the next question that she was to be asked.

"Are you content of your own free will and without compulsion, to marry the Duke of Orleans?"

"If it pleases my lord and father the King, and my lady and mother the Queen, I am content." Elizabeth's response was clear, her voice carrying in the silence of the Hall. Inwardly, she wondered if there had ever been a princess who took the opportunity to declare that it was not her wish to be married to the bridegroom chosen for her. If there was, Kat wouldn't tell her.

"It is our will and pleasure." Her father pronounced.

Archbishop Cranmer lifted Elizabeth's hand and laid it in that of the Bishop of Bayenne, nodding to the man to signal that he should begin reciting the vows on behalf of the Duke of Orleans.

"I, Jean de Bellay, Bishop of Bayenne, procurator of the right high, right excellent and noble, Prince Charles, Duke of Orleans, son of His Most Christian Majesty King Francis, by the Grace of God King of France, having sufficient power to contract marriage per verba de presenti with thee, Elizabeth, daughter to Henry, by the Grace of God King of England, and Anne Queen of the same, do hereby contract matrimony with thee, Elizabeth..."

The rest of his words swam over her as she watched Archbishop Cranmer, waiting for the nod that would indicate that it was her turn to make her marriage vows.

She was very clever, and had an excellent memory so she had no trouble learning her vows. She was word perfect within an hour of Kat bringing them to her to commit to memory and, despite her feelings of unease, when the time came for her to speak, she was able to recite them perfectly, without so much as a hint of hesitation.

"I, Elizabeth, first daughter of the right excellent, right high and mighty Prince and Princess Henry, by the grace of God King of England, and Anne, Queen of the same, wittingly and of deliberate mind, having twelve years complete in age this day, contract marriage with the right high, right excellent and noble, Prince Charles, Duke of Orleans, son of His Most Christian Majesty King Francis, by the Grace of God King of France, for the person of whom Jean de Bellay, Bishop of Bayenne is procurator; and I take the said Prince Charles, Duke of Orleans, unto and for my husband and spouse, and all others for him forsake during his and my lives natural; and therefore I plight and give to him in your person, as procurator aforesaid, my faith and troth."

No sooner had she completed her speech than there was a burst of music from trumpeters.

Fortunately, Kat had warned her about this, and she was not startled by the sound.

The Bishop of Bayenne bowed low over her hand, kissing it. "Madame la Duchesse d'Orleans," he spoke her new title solemnly, prompting a swell of applause from the watching courtiers.

It sounded strange to her ears.

Elizabeth knew that, in a few days time, her father intended to have a second ceremony, investing the Duke of Orleans – who would, once more, be represented by the Bishop of Bayenne – with the title of Duke of Clarence but, while they lived at the French court, they would be known by their French title. They would own English estates but would visit them infrequently at best.

She would have at least two more years in England before she had to travel to France, two years that she knew would fly by more quickly than she would have believed possible when she was younger, but from now on, she would be known primarily by her new title rather than her old.

For twelve years, she was Elizabeth, Princess of England.

From now on, she was Madame la Duchesse d'Orleans.

She hoped that two years would be long enough to grow accustomed to it.