Another very long overdue update. I'd like to apologise, and to thank those who have kept reviewing my stories. I've loved reading them, and it's wonderful to know that people still enjoy my writing. I hope you enjoy the updates.

Chapter Forty-One

19th December 1545

Anne's chambers were a hive of activity as she and her ladies made ready for Christmas.

Tables were piled high with ornate gold, silver and gilt bowls, plates, goblets and other ornaments, each labelled with the name of the intended recipient. The steward of her household would be responsible for arranging for them to be presented in order, as each courtier approached to present their gifts to the King and receive a gift in return. Carefully tucked away in Anne's writing desk, there was an itemised list of the garments she and her ladies had stitched, ready to be distributed to the poor after services, along with small purses of coins, loaves of bread and parcels of meat. A steady stream of cloth merchants, dressmakers and jewellers arrived bearing their wares so that the Queen and her ladies, together with the Princess and her companions, would be ready to dazzle the court and the common people who would be permitted to watch the festivities from a distance.

Master Cornish had visited so that he could discuss his proposed revels and masques, and so the ladies who were to take part could be selected and given instructions for their costumes and dance. Elizabeth was to take the leading role, and Annie and Mary Dudley were also to take part. George had written to her to let her know that Harry, Nell and the boys had prepared a little masque of their own, with the help of Master Smeaton. The subject of their masque was to be a surprise but George assured Anne that she, the King and the court would be suitably impressed. When Elizabeth heard this, she insisted that she and the ladies must redouble their efforts in rehearsing their own performance, lest they be outdone. Many of Anne's ladies, particularly the younger ones, were happy to leave their duties in her chambers to enjoy an afternoon of music and dance. If the many hours they were devoting to rehearsal were any indication, their performance would be faultless.

It was fortunate that the Privy Council was not to meet that week, or Anne was certain that she would not have time to make her preparations for the festive season.

If not for the able assistance of Nan Saville, who had been at her side for each of the twelve Christmases she had presided over as Queen, as well as the Christmas following Katherine's banishment from court, when Anne sat by Henry's side to receive his guests as if they were married already, and who was undaunted by the prospect of aiding with the thirteenth, she might never have been able to get everything organised.

Henry was in bed, battling a winter chill, though he made it clear that he was determined to be fully recovered in time for Christmas, playfully warning her that it would disappoint him greatly if the revels were any less splendid that they had been in previous years.

Doctor Linacre assured her that the ailment was a trifling one but he could not hope that it would escape Anne's notice that her husband fell prey to such ailments more often than he had ten years ago, or that it was taking him longer and longer to recover from each of them. It was impossible for her to forget that Henry's father had had a weak chest, or that, despite the care he had taken not to overindulge, he had not outlived his fiftieth birthday by more than a couple of years.

Henry had not raised the subject of Mary since Anne confessed her mistake and he refused to engage in discussion if she tried to broach the matter with him. Even news of Mary's second pregnancy, and the prospect of the birth of his first legitimate grandchild, failed to soften his resolve to ignore her. His only response to her urging that he should invite his daughter and her family to visit him had been a chilly command not to speak of Mary in his presence.

It was hard to believe that he was the same man she saw doting on his little daughter when she first came to court as a lady-in-waiting to Katherine, the man whose love for Mary was so strong that there was a time that she had feared that it would lead him to set little Elizabeth aside in favour of her half-sister if she failed to give their daughter a brother. She was sure that she had not been alone in that belief, sure that most of the courtiers must expect that, if their King only had daughters, he would surely prefer the elder. Her own father had warned her more than once that, should she fail to give her husband the son be longed for, it would be a simple matter for the King to vest the succession in his elder daughter, who would have every reason to look unfavourably on her, her child, and all of her kin. His advice was that she should do all in her power to keep little Elizabeth in the King's favour, to ensure that he was never given cause to regret Mary's absence.

Remembering how much he had once loved his daughter, Anne was sure that even Mary's years of defiance over the matter of his union with her mother and her fall from grace with Charles would not have turned Henry so far against her had she not made him believe that his daughter tried to have her and Harry killed, a crime and sin that he could never truly forgive. Their estrangement was at least partly of her making but Henry refused to hear of any proposal to bridge a reconciliation.

Elizabeth knew better than to speak of the matter before her father, knowing that he would not welcome it, even from her, but she made it known to her mother that, if there was anything she could do to help restore Mary to their father's good graces, she was willing to play her part. Like Anne, she could not bring herself to openly allude to the fact that, if Henry did not soon reach out to his daughter, it would be too late for him.

As pleased as she was by her daughter's willingness to reconcile with Mary and to help her in any way she could, Anne had no intention of including her in her plans. If it did not go well, the last thing she wanted was to share Henry's anger with Elizabeth.

Anne sat at her desk, her quill poised over the parchment in front of her for several minutes before she began to write. Even after she penned the short letter, she kept it with her, reading it over again, debating whether she ought to change it, or if it would be a mistake to send it in the first place. If Henry knew what she was planning, he would forbid it, in no uncertain terms, probably tearing the letter from her hand and casting it in the fire rather than allowing her to send it.

So be it, Anne decided, folding the letter carefully, and writing the name and address of the intended recipient on the outside fold. She poured a small measure of crimson wax and sealed the letter with her emblem. Once it was done, she beckoned to Nan Saville.

"Please see to it that this is sent by the fastest courier you can find," she commanded, passing the letter into the hand of her longest-serving and most faithful attendant.

If Nan was surprised by the name on the letter, she gave no sign of it. "Yes, Your Majesty." She dipped a graceful curtsey and swept out of the apartment to carry out her errand. Anne did not need to ask her to be discreet; in all the years Nan spent in her service, she had never once betrayed a confidence or gossiped about her mistress' activities.

Anne watched her leave, stamping down her misgivings, refusing to give in to the part of her that urged her to call the messenger back, tear up the letter, and find another way. She had no time to waste second guessing her decisions.

In any case, it would be easier to obtain Henry's forgiveness than his permission.

24th December 1545

Prince Geoffrey, Duke of York, was a cheerful child as a rule but when, not two hours after they arrived at court, he learned that he and his twin were expected to sleep for several hours while the other children were to be allowed to stay up, he was quick to make his feelings known.

"I'm not tired!" he protested to his Mama, clutching the arm of her chair tightly so that Lady Bryan could not pry him away from her side. He had long since accepted that, if his governess was ever a child, it was so very, very long ago that she must have forgotten what it was like to be young and therefore could not know what it was like for him. He was counting on his Mama to be more sympathetic to his wishes. "I want to stay up like Lilibet and Harry. So does Rose!"

"And Dolly too," Rose piped up. Although she was initially willing to allow Lady Latimer to lead her to the nursery for her nap, especially as their early start and long journey had tired her, she changed her mind when Geoff began to protest. They were twins and, if they did not support one another, who else would stand up for them? She joined Geoff by their Mama's side, resting one hand on her silken skirts, fingering the flowers embroidered in silver thread and inwardly resolving to ask for a gown just like it, once the question of their nap was settled satisfactorily. She clutched Dolly to her with her free hand, so that Mama could see how sad they both were at the prospect of being banished to bed as if they were babies when everybody else was allowed to stay up.

"You will be staying up very late tonight, my darlings," Anne told them gently. "Much later than usual. You will be far too tired to enjoy it if you don't get some sleep now."

"No we won't!" Geoff protested, dismayed that even his Mama could not see reason.

"Yes, you will," Elizabeth cut in, knowing that both of her youngest siblings would be quite capable of throwing a tearful tantrum if they took it into their heads to do so. That was not how she wished to begin the Christmas revels. "When I was three…"

"We're nearly four!" Geoff cut in.

"And we're nearly eight put together," Rose seconded him.

"…and when I was four," Elizabeth continued, as though they had not interrupted, deciding not to dignify Rose's silly argument by acknowledging it. "I needed to take a nap on Christmas Eve. If I didn't, I would have fallen asleep during the revels. Would you rather stay up now, for the dull part of the day, and then be so tired that you have to go to bed at your usual time and miss the very best of the revels, or would you rather take a nap now and stay up to join in the fun?"

"The Prince of Wales also needed to rest before the revels when he was your age," Lady Bryan cut in, before her young charge could try to argue that it was all very well for a mere girl to have to take a nap but that a boy like him had no need of it. The Duke of York was all too inclined to cite his sex as a reason why he should be allowed to do things that were forbidden to him because of his tender years and she would not put it past him to abandon any protest against Princess Rose being sent to take a nap if, by doing so, he could hope to escape the same fate. She gave Elizabeth a grateful look, glad of her support. "What shall it be, Your Highnesses? Shall you stay up now and go to bed early, or rest now and stay up late?"

Rose was the first to make up her mind. This was the first year that she and Geoff were to be allowed to watch the Christmas revels and she had no desire to miss any of the real fun.

"Dolly is sleepy," she informed her Mama gravely, smoothing Dolly's hair and rocking her a little. "I need to put her to bed or she will be cross later on. I will rest with her." Lady Latimer seized the opportunity to scoop up her little charge and carry her away before she could change her mind.

Deprived of his ally, and with his Mama and Lilibet siding with his governess on the subject of a nap, Geoff knew that this was a battle he could not win. He refused to give Lady Bryan the satisfaction of admitting that he was sleepy, much less that he was not quite capable of staying up for the whole night if he had a mind to. It was shameful that he, a Prince of England and a great boy of almost four, should have to accept this treatment. Instead, he loosed his grip on his Mama's chair, stood on tiptoe to kiss her cheek, as if to say 'goodnight' and, when Lady Bryan took him by the hand to lead him to the nursery, he made no protest, though he frowned at her.

Rose was already in her bedchamber when he and Lady Bryan reached the nursery. His governess gave him no opportunity to stop in the day nursery to play with any of his toys or to demand that he be brought something to eat before he took his nap. She guided him firmly in the direction of his own bedchamber and, once he was there, took off his clothes and dressed him in a night shirt.

"I'm not really sleepy, you know," he told her sternly as she lifted him into the great oak bed, not wanting her to get any ideas. He was determined to put an end to these naps before he was much older so he could enjoy a full afternoon of play. "I will go to bed because Mama wishes me to, and a prince should obey his Queen. Not because I need to rest. I may not sleep at all."

"As you wish, Your Highness," Lady Bryan told him, tucking the velvet counterpane around him and signing the Cross over his head.

Although it was still afternoon, the winter sky was growing dark, with only a little greyish sunlight streaming through the windows. She extinguished most of the candles, apart from the one set on the little table by her fireside chair. Ignoring Geoff's occasional huff as he rolled over in his bed and his indignant muttering that the Duke of York should not be put to bed for a nap like a little baby, she opened her book and began to read, trusting in the quiet, the rapidly dimming light, the heat of the fire and his long day to send her charge to sleep.

Her patience was rewarded when Geoff's huffs gave way to soft, even breathing, punctuated with an occasional gentle snore, and he slept the afternoon away.

His cheeks were slightly flushed and his golden hair was rumpled when she roused him for supper. For all his earlier protests about not wanting to take a nap, he was very reluctant to leave his bed and had to be coaxed into rising and allowing her to wash him and dress him in his finest clothes. He was not yet old enough to be breeched so the Queen had ordered a long skirted doublet in the Tudor colours of green and white for him, which would look well with his fair colouring.

Lady Latimer and Rose were already in the shared day nursery, the latter bright-eyed and twirling around in her new green silk gown and emerald necklace, her dark curls bound by green and gold ribbons, by the time Lady Bryan had Geoff ready.

Shaking her head in amused despair at the little girl's vanity, Lady Bryan refrained from reprimanding her for it. She and Lady Latimer were both aware of the fact that, if a nursery household with two lady governesses was to remain peaceful, it was for the best that each of them should focus on her own charge and not criticise the other's. It was for Lady Latimer to curb the child's vanity, or not, as she saw fit. In any case, it was perhaps to be expected that a princess should delight in fine gowns and jewels rather than protest at wearing them because they were hot and cumbersome, and this little princess was rapidly growing into a beauty. One day, she would make a lovely bride for some fortunate prince or king.

To the best of Lady Bryan's knowledge, no match was planned for the youngest of the royal children but, thankfully, most now accepted the King's union with the Queen and the legitimacy of their issue, especially after the way the Lady Mary had disgraced herself. When the time came to choose a husband for Princess Rose, it was likely that she would be a sought after bride. One day, she might even become a Queen herself, wife to a powerful King.

"I'm hungry," Geoff announced, rubbing sleep sand from his eyes. He frowned when liveried attendants set their plates in front of them. "Is that our supper?"

Surely not! His Papa had hundreds of people working in his kitchens, people whose job it was to see to it that the most delicious dishes were served to the court. On the rare occasions that he and his twin were permitted to dine with their parents, before the court, they were served so many dishes that he could not count them all, though he was very clever with his numbers, so many that he was full before he had had more than a tiny taste of each of the dishes. He had learned the hard way that it was a grave mistake to stuff his belly with the first course served, no matter how tasty it was, leaving him to sit quietly, unable to eat another bite, while many other tasty dishes were presented. Even when they ate in the nursery, Lady Bryan could not keep the cooks from sending rich dishes up to them and he loved the novelty of it. He had no quarrel with the simpler food they were served at Hatfield but the food at court was a very nice change.

This evening, his plate had a few slices of bread, an apple cut into quarters, and some fish on it. No meat, no cheese, no pie, not even the little golden honey cakes that the cooks often slipped onto his plate to please him. Their goblets were filled with water, not milk or fruit juice.

"I don't want to eat fish!" Rose wailed in protest, scowling at her plate. To her mind, there should be a rule that forbade governesses from trying to make royal children eat nasty boiled fish.

"We must all eat plain fare tonight, Your Highness," Lady Latimer told her gently. "On Christmas Eve, we fast before we feast tomorrow."

With the promise of a feast tomorrow, Geoff could reconcile himself to a fasting supper today. He finished his fish and his bread, swapping most of his apple for his sister's fish, as she refused to touch it, as did Dolly. Rose pouted through the meal, nibbling on a slice of bread before setting it aside, grudgingly contenting herself with eating her apple and the rest of Geoff's.

After supper, Lady Bryan and Lady Latimer took their charges by the hand, leading them down to the corridor outside the Chapel Royal, where they joined the rest of the royal family, falling into step behind the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Orleans. The great lords and ladies of the court took their places behind the royal family, in strict order of precedence, all splendidly attired, and then the procession made its way into the Chapel Royal, where Archbishop Cranmer was waiting on the altar.

Young as they were, the twins were well schooled in the behaviour expected of them in chapel.

They sat side by side at the end of the front pew, Dolly perched on the pew next to Rose and their governesses directly behind them, sitting and kneeling quietly, as the order of the service demanded, their chubby hands folded in prayer, their little faces solemn as they listened to Archbishop Cranmer and recited the prayers they were taught. If they ever forgot what they were supposed to be doing, a quick glance in the direction of their older sister, who never made a mistake in church or anywhere else, soon let them know what they ought to do. The service was long and dull but they were very quiet and didn't fidget, neither of them wanting to have their governess step in to whisk them away from the chapel and back to the nursery as if they were a pair of babies.

The Christmas Eve service ended with a candlelit procession by the choir, whose singing was so beautiful that the congregation were enraptured by it.

After the service, their Papa and Mama led the way out of the Chapel Royal towards the torch-lit courtyard. A great many people were crowded into the courtyard, not just the lords, ladies and gentlemen of the court but common people as well. They all cheered loudly when they saw the royal family. Geoff and Rose waved in polite acknowledgement of the acclaim, as they had been taught, but they were far too excited over the revels and over the tables laden with good things to eat now that it was past midnight and the Christmas Eve fast was over.

Even Lady Bryan did not try to stop them from enjoying their share of the treats and the twins gleefully glutted themselves with hot cider, candied fruit, marchpane, and slices of spiced cake.

By torchlight, they watched a company of players perform a play about Saint George slaying a dragon. It was one of Geoff's favourite stories and he watched with wide eyes, jumping up and down in his excitement and shouting his encouragement to the valiant Saint, much to the amusement of those close enough to see and hear his antics. Lady Bryan, her cheeks a little flushed from the cold night air and perhaps also from the cider she had drunk, smiled indulgently at him, unwilling to deprive him of his fun on such a special night.

Rose enjoyed the play at first but she was badly startled when the dragon let out a particularly loud and realistic roar, its huge jaws, easily big enough to allow it to eat a little princess, opening wide to reveal a mouth full of burning coals. She squeaked in fright, tugging her hand out of Lady Latimer's and, clutching Dolly tightly to her so the dragon couldn't eat her, ran to her Mama. Mama picked her up and cuddled her in her arms but Rose refused to listen to her reassurances that there was no danger, preferring to keep her face buried in her mother's shoulder until a roar of approval told her that Saint George was victorious and the dragon was safely dispatched.

After the play, there was a performance by a group of jugglers, and then the musicians played lively tunes. Some of the common people danced but the lords and ladies would not do so before them.

After the entertainments were over, the royal children and a small number of favoured courtiers, including their Uncle George and several of their Mama's ladies, were allowed to join the King and Queen for a little party in the King's Privy chamber, where they were served more sweetmeats, little honey cakes and spiced wine. Master Smeaton played his violin to entertain them.

It did not take half an hour before Geoff and Rose, stuffed with treats and worn out from the excitement of the revels, were so tired that they could make no protest when Lady Bryan and Lady Latimer swooped down to bear them back to the nursery, and they were both fast asleep before their heads touched their pillows.

25th December 1545

The spacious, sumptuously furnished suite of rooms set apart for the Prince of Wales had been off-limits to all but those who had accompanied him to court from Ludlow Castle since their arrival. It was there that they held their final rehearsals for their masque, and there that the final adjustments were made to their costumes, which were carefully hung on a rail, ready for their performance tonight. At the Prince's command, grooms of his chamber were stationed outside the door, ready to turn away anybody who might try to sneak in to peek at their rehearsals. Master Smeaton, who had composed the music to which their masque was to be set, took the precaution of playing very softly, to ensure that none of the inhabitants of the nearby apartments could hear, and the boys all spoke their lines in low voices, some scarcely above a whisper.

However clever his sister was, however skilled a musician and dancer she might be, Harry was confident that, this time, he would be able to best her.

When the door to his Privy chamber opened, admitting his cousin Nell, Harry hastened to her side.

"Did you see Lilibet and the ladies? Did you see what they will be doing? Did they tell you anything?" Harry demanded of her as soon as he saw her. As the only girl among children who shared his household, Nell was the only one who could hope to get away with slipping into Lilibet's apartment, which was why he had charged her with paying a visit to see what she might learn.

Nell shook her head, her long, dark curls bouncing. "They stopped talking about their masque when I visited. I couldn't see their costumes. I think that Mistress Ashley must have hidden them."

"Lilibet knows that you would tell me if you learned what they were doing." Harry was too fair-minded to fault his sister for that. If he wanted his masque to be a surprise for everybody, from his Papa and Mama to the courtiers and the common people, he could not fault her for doing the same. He too had taken the precaution of having their costumes and props hidden, knowing that anybody who caught sight of them would have no trouble guessing the subject of their masque. They did not even wear them for rehearsals, for fear that they would be soiled or torn.

"You are to perform first, nephew," Uncle George told him, "and I do not doubt that you will do us all proud."

Harry beamed up at his uncle, whose assistance in putting together this masque had been invaluable.

Uncle George had persuaded the tutors to allow them to use some of the long hours that were usually devoted to lessons to rehearse, soothing their grumbles at what they deemed to be a frivolous use of the Prince of Wales' time, given that he still had much to learn about being King. He had helped to find just the right theme for their masque, one that would please the King greatly, and that all of the boys had agreed was a wonderful idea. He had also enlisted Master Smeaton's help to compose the music, vowing that, though he was now engaged as Nell's music master, he was once the greatest musician at court, and had been instrumental in the staging of many successful masques. He had even managed to resolve the disputes that broke out among some of the boys over the roles they were assigned, persuading each of the merits of the part he was to play, and why he was the right choice for the role.

He even managed to calm the quarrels that broke out after their final rehearsal, which did not go as well as they would have hoped and left several of the boys arguing about who was to blame for the blunders, and who would shoulder the blame if their performance was a failure.

"It is always best to get the mistakes out of the way on your last rehearsal," he told them, catching Robert Dudley by the arm and drawing him away from Hal Brandon before the two could come to blows over which of them was to blame for their collision. "Then you will have none left to make when the time comes for you to perform."

Robert looked sceptical about this but did not argue. As the oldest boy in Harry's household, he often tried to push himself forward to take the lead but even he was overawed by Uncle George, who was one of the highest lords in the kingdom. Hal just nodded quickly, looking rather relieved that a fight had been averted, as Robert was taller and broader than he was, and would not hesitate to take advantage of his superior strength.

"In any case," Uncle George continued, "it is time for you all to prepare for the revels. Hurry now. You have an hour to wash and dress."

Thus dismissed, the boys hastened to their chambers to make ready, while Harry made his way through his lavishly appointed bedchamber to the dressing room adjoining it. The grooms of his chamber had already prepared a tub of water for him, steaming and scented with herbs.

He did not tarry over his bathing, as tempting as it was to luxuriate in the hot water on a cold winter day. Once his attendants had patted him with linen towels warmed by the fire, and brushed his dark hair, he allowed them to help him into the fine new garments that his Mama had had made for him. He would not don his costume until later, just before the masque, but his Christmas finery was just as grand. His doublet and hose were of cloth of gold, which gleamed in the firelight. The silk sash draped over his shoulder and tied at the waist was deep green, embroidered with Tudor roses in gold thread. A heavy collar with gold medallions, each with an emerald at its centre, was carefully lowered over his head. He stood straight, stretching himself to his full height for fear of slumping under the weight of the collar. Finally, his coronet was carefully set upon his head, ensuring that none present for the revels could be in any doubt about which of the boys was Prince of Wales.

Although he had wasted no time in preparing, he was still the last to return to his presence chamber, where Uncle George was arranging the boys in a line, in order of precedence, ready to make their way downstairs.

Though he never voiced a complaint, Robert was never pleased that, as the sons of a viscount, he and his brother Guilford were always placed at the back of the procession. There was nothing he could do about it but to draw himself to his full height, in the hope of drawing attention to the fact that he was the oldest and tallest of their group, even if he was not the highest-ranking. Like the other boys, the Dudley brothers wore their best court finery in honour of the occasion.

Harry headed the procession, of course, offering his arm to Nell, the only lady present, to escort her. She looked very pretty in her blue and silver gown, a circlet of pearls in her hair.

Tommy, who was attending the Christmas revels at court for the first time, wore a doublet and hose of dark blue, with the emblem of the Boleyn family embroidered on the front of his doublet, the hem of which he was tugging at, frowning in displeasure at the stiffness of the heavy velvet. He and Hal, both the sons and heirs of dukes, stood behind Harry and Nell.

When they were younger, it seemed as though nobody could be quite certain which position Edward should occupy, whether he should be positioned immediately behind Harry, as befitted the son of a King, or if his illegitimacy merited a place at the tail end of their procession, where as little attention as possible would be drawn to him. Since the twins were born, it was easier, as he now had a title of his own and could be given the position that was his by rights as Viscount Beauchamp of Hache.

Lilibet was already waiting outside the door to the Great Hall when Harry and the boys approached, flanked by their cousin Annie, Mary Dudley, and her governess.

Hal stood on his tip toes behind Harry, craning his neck to get a better look at them before exhaling in disappointment. "I thought that Cathy would be here."

"Maybe she is already in the Great Hall," Harry suggested, thinking that Lord and Lady Suffolk might have decided that she should stay with them rather than join the procession of the children.

"Maybe," Hal echoed, though he sounded doubtful.

Lilibet was taller than when they parted company in the autumn, and she looked older, as if being married had made her a grown lady rather than a girl. She wore her hair up, the diamonds on her tiara sparkling amid her coils of copper hair, and her green gown was as elaborate and beautiful as any that their Mama wore. She inclined her head graciously in response to the greetings of the other boys, and smiled warmly at Harry. Nell dipped a curtsey to her and withdrew her arm from Harry's, accepting the arm that Hal offered her and leaving Harry free to escort his older sister.

Geoff and Rose were the last to arrive, with Lady Bryan and Lady Latimer leading them by the hand and keeping a firm hold of them.

Geoff bounced on the balls of his feet when he saw Harry, waving to him with his free hand, even as Lady Bryan reproved him in hushed words, reminding him that his royal parents would expect to see him behaving as a prince ought to, and guiding him to his place in the procession behind Harry. His spirits were not noticeably dampened by her reproaches, or even by her heavy hints that he would not be able to stay up to enjoy the masques or the sweetmeats if he could not behave, and he danced from one foot to the other, eager to begin the festivities.

In contrast, Rose was making a determined effort to behave as a princess ought to, walking sedately by Lady Latimer's side, the train of her ruby-red gown flowing smoothly behind her, as they took their places. She stood very straight, holding her head high, and aside from craning her head slightly to study Lilibet's posture so that she could emulate her, she remained very still. She had even been persuaded not to bring Dolly to the evening revels, which could not have been easily accomplished by Lady Latimer. Harry idly wondered what his little sister's governess had had to promise her to convince her that it would be best to leave her beloved doll in the nursery.

When they had taken their places in the line, Uncle George nodded to the liveried grooms standing on either side of the doors leading into the Great Hall, and they opened them to admit them.

The Garter king at arms banged his staff on the floor three times, and a hush fell over the throng of courtiers as he announced their entrance. "His Highness the Prince of Wales, Her Highness the Duchess of Orleans, His Highness the Duke of York, Her Highness the Princess Anne, His Grace the Duke of Wiltshire, the Earl of Ormonde, Lady Eleanor Boleyn, Lord Henry Brandon..."

The courtiers parted, clearing their path to the dais, on which Papa and Mama sat on their thrones. Harry kept his gaze fixed on his Mama, whose smile of welcome warmed his heart and banished any nervousness he might otherwise have felt as he led the procession, conscious that every eye in the Great Hall was fixed on him, and that before the night was out, the courtiers and the common people alike would be speaking of him, his health, his looks, and how he had acquitted himself.

His Papa beamed down at them as they approached. They had scarcely begun to make their bows and curtseys to their parents before he moved from his throne to the front of the dais, raised Harry and Lilibet from their obeisances, and smiled and nodded at the twins to indicate that they too should rise. He enfolded Harry in his embrace first, his beard scratching his skin as he kissed him on both cheeks before laying his hand, heavy with jewelled rings, on his head in blessing.

Once his Papa had released him and turned his attention to Lilibet, Harry moved to his Mama. He kissed her hand before she embraced him, holding him close to her. "Welcome, my darling."

After their family exchanged embraces, they took their places on the dais. Mama and Papa had their great thrones in the centre, with two smaller, lower thrones on either side. Harry sat in the place of honour at his father's left side, with Lilibet next to him. Geoff and Rose sat on the other side, by their mother, with their governesses standing off to the side.

Liveried servants approached, bowing low as they offered the royal children goblets of spiced wine, comfits and sweetmeats. Harry accepted a goblet, and Lilibet did the same. The wine was hot and fragrant with the spices that flavoured it. The twins gleefully accepted a fistful of sugary treats apiece, and they were thankfully enough to keep them happily occupied as the King and Queen received the many guests who had come to share Christmas with them.

Uncle George was the first to be greeted after the royal children, along with Harry and Nell. Harry's companions, then Elizabeth's, were next, followed by a long procession of noble lords and ladies. Harry hoped to see Cathy, for Hal's sake, but the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk were alone.

By the time the nobles had all come forward to pay their respects to the royal family, Geoff was squirming in his place, with even sweetmeats failing to keep him from demanding to know when the masques would begin, and Rose, despite her efforts to behave, was beginning to grow restless.

Even Harry was growing restless, though he was careful not to show it, by the time the line of courtiers dwindled, and he was eager to begin his masque.

His Papa signalled for silence after the final courtiers made their bows and curtsies and withdrew He rose to his feet to address the court in a loud, jovial voice. "It is our very great pleasure to spend this Christmastide surrounded by our most beloved family, and our loyal and loving subjects," he began, but before he could continue, Mama laid a hand on his arm, drawing his attention.

"There is another to be presented to Your Majesty this Christmastide."

Papa was plainly surprised by her interruption but he made no objection, sitting back down on his throne. His expression was one of amused curiousity at first, but it darkened when the Garter king at arms announced the name of the last visitor to the court.

"The Lady Katherine Fitzhoward!"


Christmas 1545 to be continued next chapter.