Prologue: 1553 October

"Oh praise the good lord child!" a dirty hand clasped mine in a binding embrace. Oblivious drunken joy shone through the murky depths of the commoner's eyes. "We are saved!"

I ignored the words. They meant little to me. All I knew was that if this man didn't release me I would be promised the sound thrashing of Sara's wicker rod.

"Long live Queen Mary! Long live the Queen," he bellowed into the streets at the drunkards meandering their way home from the local pub.

"Please sir, I must get home," my efforts were futile, the man would sooner have let go of my hands at that time than thrown himself upon the mercy of the constables.

"Girl, you've got to live! How 'bout a round at Schmeckle's? That'll warm your rosy arse up," he roared at his lascivious joke, oblivious to my growing concern. "What's your name lass?"

"Miss Blythe! Girl, where did you wander to?" A steadying hand latched on to my stooped shoulders. "And who the bloody Hell are you?"

"Oh Miss Blythe is it? Well, well Miss Blythe. My lady," he doffed an imaginary cap in what he apparently thought was a mocking salute. "And who would you be my lovely?"

Sara Trothen disgustedly spat on the man's boots. "None of your ugly business filth."

His attention had already been drawn away, down towards the end of the lane, fixed attentively on the swaying bustle of a fine lady. "I must bid ya adieu misses. I'm afraid I have just found myself unable to return your eager affections. But alas lass! You being but a wee child, it would never have worked out," he consoled me with a fond pat on the head. And before Sara could even blink in astonishment at his audacity, he was strolling down Mercy Lane without even a backward glance. The man was truly and utterly foxed.

Sara was tugging at my braids by the time the drunkard had rounded the corner. Rather painfully I might add. "What the 'ell are you thinking Avis? Mixing with swill like that? Why, you could have been ravished!" My hair felt like it was being pulled out of my head by the tufts. "Stupid gal! Can't even leave you alone one measly second without you wandering off…"

I neglected to mention that I had in fact not wandered off, she had. The mere question of who had indeed committed that atrocious wrong paled in comparison with the question that stood between me and my raging curiosity. "Sara, who's Mary?"

Sara crossed herself as if she had just seen the devil himself. "Queen Mary you'll be callin' her now lass," she nodded her head in assent as if she was convincing herself.

"The bastard? What about Edward?"

I ducked my head for the swing that narrowly missed cuffing my head. It was almost instinctual, as if I knew that with questions came the necessity of a blow.

"Queen Mary girl! Don't you be callin' the blest Queen of England a bastard if you favor you're neck!" Sara stooped down to my level to peer fiercely into my own wide eyes. "You don't understand now Avis, but to be calling that great lady anything but where respect is due is called treasonous. You don't live very long if you're accused of that my dear. You like your house?"

I nodded my vigorous assent.

"And your dolls, you like 'em too?"

Once again I felt my head bobbing as if on its own accord.

"What about your mum and pa lovey? Do ya like 'em too?"

This time I tentatively gave the affirmative.

"Well, I'd be leavin' off disrespecting Queen Mary if I was you. Cause that great lady ain't got a lot of patience, and to the Tower you go if you but utter a squeak against her high and mightiness," with that last sage piece of advice, Sara picked herself up and dusted her skirts out with a long suffering sigh. With the single mindedness of the young, I had immediately taken a dislike to Mary. As I imparted my opinion upon Sara, I was only granted a scoff of amusement.

"Oh, to be young and dull like you." With one last lingering glance around her, she gathered my limp hand up and I was gratefully carted home.

That was the first time I had realized that there was a world outside of my cozy manor life. For the next seven years I was often prone to eavesdropping by the scullery maid's chamber, in the hope that a morsel of news from the court would drift my way. But alas, nothing of import ever did. That is, until the day a golden age of England was finally permissible to dare to believe in.