A/N: Sorry I haven't updated in a while. I had to take all of my final exams nad go through graduation and all that fun stuff! I am not done with College (yay!) and so I have lots of free time to devote to writing! I hope you all enjoy this chapter. Please Read and Review! ~Katie
Chapter 12-Winter 1504- Baynard's Castle, London
The summer of 1503 faded into the fall and winter. Arthur and Katherine spent a relatively quiet Yuletide at Ludlow, rather than travelling to Richmond because of the age of Prince Edward, whom everyone had affectionately begun to call, Little Prince Ned. He continued to grow healthy and strong.
Arthur had been right; the King had been so pleased with the birth of his grandson that he granted the request of his son and daughter-in-law to renovate Ludlow. One of the first additions that Katherine made was a shrine next to the round chapel to the Blessed Mother. She had made good on her promise to the Virgin Mary to build a shrine to her if she implored her son to save Arthur's life. Not only had Arthur's life been spared, but they had been doubly blessed with the birth of their son. Arthur had a tennis court designed and constructed inside the bailey of Ludlow that he and his group of companions played on daily, so long as the weather permitted.
A month before Prince Ned's first birthday Katherine suspected she was with child again and was able to confirm and share the news with her husband a month later on Easter Sunday. Arthur received the news with the greatest joy and the couple prepared to leave Ludlow with their son in October for the London residence of Baynard's Castle. The King and Queen had planned to spend Yuletide up the Thames at Greenwich. Arthur had decided to move his family to London early to avoid forcing Katherine to endure a risky winter journey so late into her pregnancy.
"We could have stayed here again," Katherine mused as she supervised the packing of her son's household.
"If you really want to stay, then we will stay, but I have not seen my mother in over a year and my father had never even seen our son," Arthur replied.
"I know that, and I love your mother, but we will not be able to leave until March, at the earliest."
"At least we will be staying at Baynard's and not Greenwich. You liked Baynard's didn't you?"
"Let me see what I can remember of Baynard's," Katherine said easing herself into a chair and folding her hands over her belly. "What part did I enjoy the most? Being constantly homesick or having a husband who virtually ignored me?"
"I think it is obvious that your husband no longer ignores you," Arthur affectionately replied as he laid his hand over Katherine's. "Now we have the opportunity to make good memories there. It will be the castle where our next son will be born."
"You are so sure it is another boy? Because Dona Elvira and Lady Margaret seem to think all of the signs point to a girl."
"Supposedly there are various ways to tell what a woman will have," Katherine explained. "If she carried the child low, it will be a girl. If her face gets rounder and if she craves sweet things, she will have a girl."
"Well, you have indeed been craving little cakes and such I suppose, but surely there are just old wives' tales."
"I don't know, it does feel different this time, I can't explain it. I just have a notion that it will be a girl. Would you still be happy?"
"Of course, especially if she is half as beautiful as her mother," Arthur replied as he bent down to kiss Katherine. Despite the way she thought or felt, Arthur still found himself wanting to be with her. He did not know why but his companions offered him a few solutions. Brandon, full of common sense, if nothing else, reasoned that Arthur was like a young child who wanting something more and more because he could not have it. Thomas More, a humanist lawyer who had been sent to Ludlow by the King to aid Arthur in legal matters, saw things differently, perhaps because of his age.
"It could be, my Lord, that you see the beauty in the fact that her highness is giving you gift, a precious gift that is from God," More said.
"I'm not sure I follow you Thomas."
"You may not know it, but you and the princess have given a gift to one another and through that gift you are bringing each other close to God, which is a beautiful thing. So, naturally, you would yearn for and desire that."
"I thought you were a lawyer, not a priest."
"I am a man, your highness. I dare not be anything more."
Arthur had quickly grown to like Thomas More and began to seek him out for advice outside of their scheduled lesson times. He was already wise beyond his years and sometimes Arthur enjoyed having a meaningful conversation with More rather than playing cards and talking nonsense with Brandon, Cole and William Willoughby, who had joined their court earlier that year.
"I believe I have finally convinced Mister More to accompany us to Baynard's," Arthur told Katherine as he stood up straight.
"Why would he want to remain here alone?" Katherine asked.
"More generally keeps to himself. He prefers to spend his time in prayer and study."
"Well, then I am glad he has decided to join us."
"I can honestly say that I am glad my father sent him here. It may have been the best thing he has ever done for me."
"You mean besides arranging our marriage with my parents, of course."
"Of course, sweetheart."
"I have not heard from my mother since she wrote in mid-summer and I have written her twice since then."
"Perhaps the letter was lost. Those things happen from time to time."
"You're probably right," Katherine conceded, yet in the back of her mind, something still did not feel quite right."
The air was cool and crisp and the full moon shone high in the sky as the two riders traced their way along the open field and through the shade of the forest until they came upon a small cottage. It looked old, like no one had lived there for a very long time. Vines had grown up all around it, save for around the door and windows. It was situated less than a stone's throw from the Teme.
"We're here," Charles Brandon said as he quickly descended his horse.
"Where are we?" his companion asked, hesitantly leaving the saddle.
"I told you, this is my favorite place."
"This is your favorite place in Wales?"
"This is a place that Arthur and I found when we were young. We would go fishing and swimming. It was an escape for us."
"Escape from what?"
"Anything. Lessons, meetings, anything we found especially boring."
"Do you bring all of the women who flock to you out here?"
"No, Maria, just you."
"I did not flock to you," Maria said adamantly.
"And yet, here you are," Brandon replied, his boyish grin flashing in the moonlight. "Shall we go inside?"
Despite its unkempt outwardly appearance, Maria was surprised to find the small cottage furnished and well kept on the inside. There was food and drink on the table and a fire in the hearth.
"Does someone live here?" Maria asked.
"No, not really."
"It seems like I was expected. You were so sure I would come with you tonight?"
"No, I thought you would say no, but I took a chance anyway. Why did you decide to come?"
Maria had hoped he would not ask her that. She did not know the answer herself. Why had she decided to come? Why did she feel herself being increasingly drawn to him? There was something about him as of late; he seemed different, more mature. What she had thought was just a fleeting interest in her proved to be something more. In over a year he had not given up on his persistent pursuit of her, while at the same time not putting inappropriate pressure on her. Then there were the small tokens beginning in the recent spring when she found a daffodil tucked inside of her cloak. Then over the summer he had asked to wear her favors in the joust and she had agreed.
"Tell me something about your life, about your childhood," Maria asked as they sat in the chairs next to the fire.
"Unfortunately, there is not much to tell. I'm sure you know that my father died in the service to the King at Bosworth when I was just a babe. I never knew him. The King brought me to court after Arthur was born to be his companion and here we are eighteen years later. I told you, not much to tell. What about you?"
"What about me?"
"Who was Maria de Salinas before she came to England?"
"I grew up with Katherine. My mother is one of Queen Isabella's ladies-in-waiting and my father served the King and Queen in the reconquest of Granada."
"What was it like?"
"I don't know. I was not there. Unlike the Queen's children, who were raised on the battlefields of Andalusia, I was raised in the north by my grandparents until Granada was recaptured and we lived in peace."
"That's a shame."
"Perhaps, but I don't find glamour on a battlefield. Ask the Princess, it is not everything your storybooks about knights and castles make it out to be. After Granada fell my mother brought me back to court and Katherine and I have been with one another since then."
"Don't you ever get tired of it?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Do you ever get tired of serving the princess?"
"Of course not," Maria said aghast. "It is an honor and a privilege."
"No doubt," Brandon replied looking her in the eye. "But don't you want a life of your own, a husband, and children of your own?"
Maria stared at him for a moment. Every word her said was true. She did long for a family, to be a mother.
"Yes," she conceded. "What woman does not want those things? Mister Brandon it is getting late. Don't you think we should be getting back?"
"I am sorry if I have said something to offend you that was not my intention."
"Then what was your intention?"
"To get to know you better," Brandon said honestly as he rose from his chair. "But if you wish to go back, I will take you back."
"I'm sorry, this was pleasant and very good of you to bring me here," Maria said softening a bit. "But it is getting late, suppose Katherine should realize I am gone."
"Tell me one thing," Brandon said drawing so close that she had to look up at him. "Do you ever do anything for yourself?"
"No," she said after a long pause. "Not until now."
Brandon helped Maria onto her horse and they departed through the forest. They were no more than half of the way through when there was a flicker of torchlight.
"Mister Brandon, do you see that ahead? What is someone has been hurt?"
Before he could stop her, Maria trotted forward towards the light and he had no choice but to follow. As they drew closer, Brandon saw three men on foot, one holding a torch for a light. They came into the middle of the road and stopped the horses.
"Well, well, gentlemen what have we here?" The torchbearer said. "A pair of secret lovers romping about in the forest?"
"I beg your pardon!" Maria exclaimed, deeply offended. "Do you know who we are? We are- "
"We are only two villagers passing through the forest," Brandon interjected quickly.
"That's a fine dress for a mere villager to be wearing," the second man said reaching out to touch the skirt of Maria's dress.
"Do not touch me," she said with a hard kick to the man's chest.
"Why you little bitch," the first man said running forward. He grabbed Maria's arm and pulled her screaming from the horse.
"Get your hands off of her," Brandon yelled as he virtually flew off of his own horse. The third man intercepted him and punched him in the face, causing Brandon to stagger but he did not fall. As soon as he composed himself, he dealt his attacker a blow and rendered him unconscious.
"Let her go!" he shouted once more to the first man who had removed Maria's cloak and handed it to the second robber despite the persistent jabs of her fists.
"Oh but we have to have a little fun first don't we?"
Brandon felt the rage build up and boil over inside of him and he lurched forward and tackled the man with the torch to the ground, hammering him with punch after punch until he ceased fighting back. Still filled with anger, he turned on the second man who let go of his firm grip on Maria's arm, jumped onto her horse with her cloak and rode off.
"Are you alright?" he asked Maria. She attempted to respond but instead collapsed in a wave of sobs onto his chest. Not knowing what to do he wrapped his arms around her and held her until she stopped shaking with sobs. Without a word, he removed his own cloak and wrapped it around her small frame then led her to his horse. He placed her on it and climbed on behind her, one hand around her waist while the other grabbed the reigns. Instinctively, Maria latched her arms around his body and they rode back to the castle.
He slipped the guards at the gate a few gold coins a piece, buying their silence, and led the still shaken Maria to his modest room, surprised that she did not protest. He settled her on a chair and knelt in front of her, the candles highlighted her tear stained face.
"Maria, are you alright? Did they hurt you?" he asked softly. She shook her head. "Are you certain?"
"Yes, I'm fine. Charles, your mouth," she said reaching out to touch his bruised jaw. Brandon felt the corner of his mouth and looked at his bloodstained fingertips.
"Damn it," he cursed under his breath and got a cloth from the nearby table to wipe it.
"Are you alright?" she asked.
"I'll be fine, just need to clean up a bit."
"But your jaw is bruised."
"Maria, I've need in fights before, it is nothing. So long as you are alright. It is my fault that all of this happened. I should have never taken you out there so late at night. I will take you back to your chambers now."
"Thank you," she said simply.
"You're welcome. You know I would never let any harm ever come to you. I care too much about you."
They slipped silently through the corridors to Katherine's chambers and Maria silently prayed that no one would be up to see her walking in so late. She slid the heavy cloak from her shoulders and handed it to Brandon.
"I think you'd better take this back. It would be scandalous if someone found it here."
"You'd better get some sleep," he said placing the cloak over his arm. "We leave for Baynard's in the morning."
"Yes, thank you again Charles." In one swift motion Maria reached up and kissed Brandon's cheek before passing through the doorway. For a moment he stood there dumbfounded, not sure if he believed what had just happened. Not only had she kissed him on the cheek, an act that could easily be dismissed, but for the first time she had called him Charles instead of the usual cold moniker of Mister Brandon. Maybe the night had not turned out as terrible as he thought it had.
The next morning Brandon joined the traveling company a bit late. He had fallen asleep in the early hours of the morning after tossing and turning for most of the night.
"Brandon, where have you been?" Arthur asked from atop his horse. "What happened to your face?"
"It always looks like that, my Lord," Willoughby chimed in.
"It's nothing, my Lord," Brandon replied mounting his horse.
"Really, because it looks like someone's fist landed on your face?" Arthur persisted.
"I got into a fight last night at one of the taverns in town," Brandon lied.
"Brandon what am I going to do to you?"
"You could put him in the stocks for a few days."
"Willoughby, if you would be so kind as to mind your own business it would be much appreciated," Charles seethed.
"That's enough from the both of you. We have a lot of ground to cover today so we had best be on our way. Brandon you ride up to the front of the party and tell them we are ready to depart. Willoughby, you bring up the rear. Cole, you and I will take the middle."
From her place inside of Katherine's litter, Maria smiled to herself when she heard Charles' friends giving him such a difficult time. For the first time, she saw him differently. He hadn't tried to impress her or win her over. He was just honest with her and he challenged her to be honest with herself. Then, there was the ordeal in the forest. The way he stood up to the robbers to protect her was endearing. The words he said ran through her head again and again. I would never let any harm ever come to you. I care too much about you. She had doubted his intentions before but she didn't, she couldn't now. He had said it himself. He care for and, if she was going to be honest with herself, she had begun to care for him as well.
Baynard's Castle- December 1504
Arthur was receiving members of court and his friends in chambers at Baynard's Castle. Christmas had passed just three days before and many men came bearing gifts. Because Dr. Farjad told Katherine that it was possible for her to give birth within the next week and was in her lying-in chambers, Arthur brought his youngest sister Mary to Baynard's to preside with him over court for Yuletide.
"One day," he had said to her as the rode a barge down the Thames from Greenwich. "You will be a queen in charge of your own court. You might as well start learning now."
Although she was only eight, Mary showed the promise of being a great beauty one day. She grown close with Katherine over the few times they had spent with one another and through the letters they wrote to one another. Katherine saw Mary as the younger sister she never had and cherished the moments they shared together. Mary presided over the little court with her brother with a grace and poise unusual for a girl of her age.
"My Lord, his Excellency the Spanish Ambassador," the groom said as Dr. de Puebla walking in. He was dressed in black from head to toe but this was not unusual for the somber man.
"Excellency, Happy Christmas! May I say that, by the grace of God, in a few days time you will be able to send word to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that they have a new grandchild."
"Alas, my Lord, I bring you the saddest news during this doubly joyous time for you. Her Grace, Queen Isabella of Spain, is dead."
"What did you say?" Arthur uttered in disbelief.
"I'm sorry to be the bearer of sad news," the ambassador stammered.
"Come, we will speak in private. Mary, you may return to your chambers. All of you, say nothing about what you have just heard, on pain of death."
Arthur and de Puebla moved from the receiving room to the Prince's Privy Chamber. "When did this happen?" Arthur asked.
"On the twenty-sixth of November, Your Highness. The word was rushed here with all speed but it was hindered by the winter weather. The Queen had been ailing for sometime but she did not wish anyone to know, save for those closest to her. She was a very proud woman."
"This will weigh very heavily on the princess," Arthur mused. "Thank you ambassador, you are dismissed." As soon as de Puebla left, Arthur called for a groom. "Give an order to the chamberlain in a half an hour's time for all of court to go into mourning and then send a messenger to Greenwich with the same message."
"Yes, my Lord," the groom said with a bow.
Arthur emerged from his Privy Chamber and asked Thomas More and Brandon to follow him to the Princess's chambers. He was in need of advice.
"Queen Isabella is dead," he said plainly.
"Are you going to tell her highness?" More asked.
"I have to, don't you think?"
"Aren't you worried that it could cause harm to the child?" Brandon added.
"I have thought of that, but I cannot keep it from her. She would be angry with me if I waited. The babe is due to come every day now in any case."
"You will do what you think is best, Your Highness," More said reassuringly. Arthur knew what he had to do as he walked into his wife's bedchamber and past all of the smiling faces of her ladies.
"Dona Elvira, I must speak with the princess in private," he said so seriously that the duena did not even question him.
"Arthur," Katherine said looking up from her embroidery. "I thought you were receiving guests all afternoon, this is a pleasant surprise." Katherine was pleased to see her husband but Maria sensed that something was amiss and left the room.
"I was receiving our guests," Arthur began. "I received Dr. de Puebla just a few moments ago."
"What did he say?" Katherine asked carefully, noticing Arthur's somberness.
"Katherine," he said sitting on the edge of the bed and taking her hand in his. "He said that your mother died last month. I'm so sorry. I didn't even know if I should tell you."
"I can't believe it," was the only think Katherine could utter for a long while. "Even though I haven't seen my mother in three years, I can't imagine the world without her."
Without warning Katherine squeezed Arthur's hand and began to cry. She did not sob, she did not curse God for taking her mother away from her. She simply cried and Arthur simply held her until her tears were spent and she fell asleep.