Disclaimer: No. It's not mine. You know this.
A/N: OK, so... Here it is. We've reached the end of Handmaid, and... Well. I'm not entirely sure what to say. I can only thank those of you who have come this far with me. Special thanks to anyone who helped with questions or plot points on the forums, and to ReganX for all the brainstorming she did with me along the way. There are two spin-offs to this story, Snapshots of a Royal Family and Spanish Pride, English Prejudice. Both should be up on my profile, along with my new, unrelated fic, Standing Outside the Fire. As in this one I tackled Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, turning an epic rivalry into a strong alliance, now I'm playing with Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour – but the reason for their tie is very different. I hope you guys will check them out, and that you like them as much as so many of you have liked this. Handmaid is the most popular story I've ever written, and that's down to you guys.
Sorry for the extra-long note, but here's the epilogue. One final thing about the story itself, I've aged up Mary Stewart, so that she was born in 1535.
Epilogue – "You Think You Know a Story...": The palace had not run so mad since Edmund's coronation two years ago. Not that Owen Tudor was surprised. The teenage Duke of York understood that this marriage to Mary of Scotland would not only secure the succession, but would also unite England and Scotland. So perhaps his brother's nerves were understandable. But still... "Edmund, stop pacing, will you? You're going to wear a hole in the floor!"
"I'm getting married, Owen, I've a right to be nervous."
"It's hardly the first time you've bedded a woman," Owen pointed out bluntly.
"Somehow," a calm voice cut in, "I don't think that's what has him so worried." Edward Fitzroy had been an outcast from the Tudor family until he was twelve, when a meeting with his father at the St. Peter ad Vincula chapel had slowly begun his reconciliation with his father's family. He'd ended up in the schoolroom with Edmund and all three brothers were close now, over a decade later. Edward had even been made Earl of Richmond a few months before, when he had married Anne Stafford, Edmund and Owen's cousin. He tended to be the voice of cool reason among the young men who surrounded the King, a trait no one could figure out the origin of. His foster brother Nathaniel was as hotheaded as the rest of them, so it was really anyone's guess.
But he was right, and Edmund shot him a grateful smile. "Thank you, Edward," he said, shooting Owen an annoyed look. "Whether I've had women before or not isn't the point, Owen. What if I hate her, or she hates me? I mean, no matter what, we're stuck together."
Owen had to admit that, put like that, his brother's fears made more sense. Their father had been lucky; he'd loved both of the women who had been his consorts. Most kings and princes did not have that luxury. They were fortunate if they grew to care for the wives, and the wives for them.
"Oh, you'll be fine," he said bracingly. It was the best he could do now.
"I certainly hope so," Edmund said ruefully.
"It might be best to stop worrying," Edward advised, his voice mild. "It can't help you, and Owen's right about the hole. That would be inconvenient."
Edmund and Owen shot their half-brother identical looks of exasperation. Edward's sense of humor had always been strange. Shaking his head, Owen grinned at Edmund. "It'll all work out. I'm sure of it."
"After the celebrations for Edmund's wedding are over, he'll look to my marriage."
"Maybe if I talk to him? We've been friends all our lives; maybe he'll listen to me," Robert Dudley suggested.
Elizabeth shook her head, giving Robert a rueful look from across the table. She started to pick up her pawn to start their chess game, then sighed. "I can't concentrate. It's not worth playing. As for you talking to Edmund, I don't know if friendship will be enough. He knows how useful princesses are in terms of diplomacy. There's talk of sending me to France again to balance out Cecily's Spanish match. I'm not sure who they'd marry me to now – Charles of Valois died within two months of our marriage, but there must be someone since it's a possibility. And it makes sense – I went to France once already, why not a second time?"
"Is that certain yet? Can't he just use Owen and marry him off to a French princess?"
"No, it's not certain, and you may have a point. I'm just not sure my brother will see it that way." Truthfully, she thought that he wouldn't.
Elizabeth had loved Robert for what seemed like all her life. They'd been friends since they were small children, as he'd been one of her brother's schoolroom companions. Their shared birthday, September seventh, had felt like a sign, but their respective positions...
Robert was the King's master of horse, one of his most trusted friends. Elizabeth was the King's sister, dreading a political marriage. One would have to be a fool not to see the parallels between their situation and that of Elizabeth's Aunt Margaret and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. That romance had worked out; as for her and Robert, Elizabeth feared that they may not be so fortunate.
Was it worth risking everything to be with Robert? She didn't know, but she believed it would be. Still, maybe it wouldn't come to that. There was a chance that she and Robert could talk Edmund around, especially if they got Cecily on their side. Owen was only a teenager; even though he was the current heir, he had little influence on Edmund when it came to matters of state. But all three of the younger Tudors had grown up listening to Cecily; even though Mary was the oldest Tudor princess, she'd left when the twins were three and before Owen was even born. And Cecily was coming back from Spain for the wedding.
So Elizabeth's plan was to talk to Cecily. If she could get her sister's support, chances were the thing was in the bag. If she couldn't get Cecily to help... Then she didn't know what would happen.
It had been almost twenty years since Mary Tudor had seen her homeland, and she wasn't alone. Philip and their two children had accompanied her back for her brother's wedding, which made it even better for her. She would see Cecily and the twins again; she would get to meet Owen, and her son and daughter would get to know their aunts and uncles.
Almost immediately after reaching Greenwich, after dealing with the pomp surrounded by a foreign arrival, the quartet from Cleves were treated to their first genuine greeting. The blonde noblewoman swept them a deep curtsey, a bright smile on her face. "Your Highness, Your Grace, welcome back," she said, her voice light and holding a hint of humor in it. Mary recognized the dancing blue-green eyes immediately.
"Kate, get up! You know I don't like you standing on ceremony with me!" Mary said, pulling the older woman upright.
"I know that, but your husband wasn't part of that. I couldn't know that he would agree," Kate explained.
"He is agreeing now," Philip cut in, while their children watched the scene unfold with bewildered amusement, "provided someone introduces me."
Mary laughed. "Surely you met Katherine Parr – er, Howard, the Countess of Surrey, Philip?"
Kate smiled. "I'm actually the Duchess of Norfolk now," she commented. "Elizabeth is of the opinion that her great-uncle Howard was spinning in his coffin before he was even in the ground."
"He never accepted you then?" Mary asked, frowning.
"No, and honestly I never expected or needed it."
Unsure of what else to say, Mary changed topics. "Has Cecily arrived yet?"
"No, but she should get here today or tomorrow – the ship was a day or two late setting out, apparently."
"The wedding is in a week, correct?" Philip wanted to know.
"Right, so she has time." Kate smiled and looked at the children. "Hello. I don't think we've been introduced."
"These are our children, Katherine and Philip," Mary said, putting a hand on each child's shoulder. Kate's smile widened as she curtsied to them. Katherine responded in kind while Philip bowed.
"We wanted them to meet their family," Philip explained.
"I'm sure the King and the others will be thrilled. Which reminds me, I'm to take you to see King Edmund now."
Mary wasn't the only one who brought children back to England with her. When the Princess of Asturias arrived in London the next day, she was accompanied by her eldest daughter, the Infanta Maria.
"It's cold here, Mama," Maria said in the slightly accented English her sometimes-homesick mother had taught her.
Cecily smiled down at her young daughter, remembering how she had initially found Spain to be unbearably hot. She'd grown accustomed now, but she was still glad to be home again.
Their escort through the city was a tall, fair-haired young man that Cecily had been thrilled to see again. Edward Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was still one of Cecily's favorite cousins. "Hello, Ned," she said when he came up to her, using the name she'd called him when they were children.
"Your Highnesses," he said, sweeping them a courtly bow.
Cecily glared at him. "Must you do that? I'm still your little cousin, you know."
"I was simply following procedure," he said brightly. "It's good to see you again, Cecily. Hello, Infanta Maria."
"Hello," Maria said. "Who are you?"
"Maria!" Cecily exclaimed, but there was amusement in her voice.
Edward laughed outright. "I'm your Mama's cousin," he said, dropping to his knees so that he was at eye level with the young girl. "And it's very good to meet you. You look very like your mother."
"Thank you," the princess said with a sunny smile.
"So, am I the last to arrive?" Cecily asked as Edward offered a hand to help her back into the litter she'd been sharing with her daughter.
"Yes, but Mary only arrived yesterday."
"How is she, and how are my other siblings?"
"Mary is well. She came with her husband and their two children. Edmund is fretting about his upcoming wedding, which amuses Owen to no end. As for Elizabeth... I'm starting to suspect that she and Robert Dudley may be thinking of following my parents' example."
"Really. Well, if that's true, Bess will have a plan. She always does. And you? Are you still a committed bachelor?"
"For the moment, though I imagine that could change. There's a new young woman at court, Amelia Knivert; I like her, but I can't say that anything more will happen. Her father was a friend of your father and mine, that might help my case with him. I would like to marry eventually; be a father."
Cecily thought of her own children; not just Maria who was sitting next to her, but also her little boy, Carlos, and the newest child, Anna. Smiling softly, she said, "Children are a blessing, so I hope it works out for you."
"So do I. At any rate, we'd best head off."
It had been nice to see her siblings again – including Edward Fitzroy. Cecily remembered her half-brother as someone never sure what place he had in the family, if any, but he seemed much more secure now. And he and Annie were clearly besotted with each other. It was nice to see. Edmund's nerves had calmed some, but she still spent some time talking to him about it, and what it was like to be in an arranged marriage in the early days. "Look at it like this," she'd said. "You're not starting out hating Mary." She and Owen had spent a good hour catching up. Her conversation with Elizabeth was the opposite; her younger sister simply said said they needed to talk later before the redhead hurried off to do... something.
But she had another place she needed to go, besides her siblings' chambers to talk to them. So she left Maria playing with Mary and Philip's children before going to Westminster Abbey. Her parents and stepmother were buried there, and she needed to pay her last respects. She hadn't been there for any of the funerals, and this was probably her last chance to say a proper goodbye.
Somehow she wasn't surprised to see Mary here as well. After all, her sister had missed the funerals too. Silently, Cecily moved up to her sister's side, slipping an arm around Mary's waist. Mary turned her head and smiled sadly.
"I wish I could have been here," Mary said quietly. "But no one even knew..."
Cecily knew what she meant. Both Katherine and Henry had died rather suddenly. It hadn't been a surprise, really, but... It had come so quickly, both times. And her own mother, not even dead a year, that had been a shock to most people. But Cecily thought it made sense, looking at their final resting place. Maybe her mother just hadn't wanted to be left alone.
"They knew we loved them, and that we would have been here given the choice," she told her older sister. "And you know, we were lucky. Our family was not exactly traditional, but we were happy, weren't we?"
Mary's laugh was a little shaky, but it was a true laugh. "We were, weren't we?"
Cecily nodded. "I don't think they'd want us to be sad, not now. Our brother is getting married, we're all together again – likely for the last time – so we should be happy."
She was rewarded by the smile that spread over Mary's face. "I've finally met our little brother," the eldest Tudor princess said. "Owen is a fine young man, from what I've seen."
"He used to be my little shadow," Cecily confided. "Like I was with you. Edmund and Elizabeth were always so close, and I think that's why he wanted to spend most of his time with me."
"You're probably right," Mary agreed. "So, how is Missy? I thought she would be with you."
"She's pregnant, she couldn't come, but I'm to give her greetings to everyone and her congratulations to Edmund. Cathy?"
"Her daughter was ill, and even though she's on the mend, Cathy wanted to stay with her."
"Of course she would, what mother wouldn't? So, how are things in Cleves? You live there permanently now, don't you?"
It was so easy for the both of them, as they left the Abbey, to slip into easy, familiar conversation. It was as though days had passed since their last meeting, rather than years. Cecily rather thought their parents would approve.
When she was a little girl, Mary Stewart's mother had talked of nothing except how she was to be Queen of France one day. The young Mary hadn't understood why it mattered; she was Queen of Scotland already, after all. But Maman was French, and she wanted her daughter to be as well, so Mary had just smiled and nodded about it all.
Then, when she was twelve, starting to hate the fact that even though she was Queen, other people ruled her country for her, her betrothal to the Dauphin was broken, and she was instead promised to England's heir, Edmund Tudor. Now, at seventeen, she was marrying the King of England. She would be Queen Regnant in Scotland and Queen Consort in England. Edmund was not going to be awarded the Crown Matrimonial in her country; the fractious Scottish nobles she knew so well would not allow it. The Earl of Arran had been her Regent when the English marriage had been agreed on, and he had known it too.
Arran was here with her, as her senior advisor. Last year, at sixteen, she had been declared of age, as her father's will had ordered, and she'd spent the year trying to secure her power base before coming to England. She didn't know yet exactly how she and Edmund would handle combining two courts, two Privy Councils, and all the other details that had to be taken care of when two reigning monarchs married, but she was sure they'd be able to settle it.
Besides, today was her wedding day, and she wasn't going to let worries spoil it. Her best friends and most trusted ladies, her four Marys, were the only ones she was allowing to help her get ready. She didn't want anyone else around, because only among the other Marys could she relax and be herself. She needed that, because she knew that this entire wedding and the following feast would have her on constant display.
When she was ready, she studied her reflection. She was dressed in cloth of silver, a coronet of silver on her head. Her blonde hair was brushed out loose around her shoulders, falling in waves almost to her waist. She flashed her brightest smile at her reflection, and then, pleased with the result, turned to walk out to her fate. She was Queen already of one nation; she knew that the people wanted to be dazzled by their royalty, and that was exactly what she would do.
For Elizabeth, the wedding ceremony was a very clever form of torture. The Mass seemed to go on forever, and the banquet was even worse. She was sitting next to Owen, on Edmund's right, while Cecily was with Mary and Philip, sitting to their new sister-in-law's left. So she couldn't even get a chance to speak to her sister at all.
However, she was very proud of how well she managed to hide her agitation; not even Edmund, who knew her better than anyone, seemed to notice. Of course, her twin brother was a bit occupied with his new wife, so that might not mean much in this instance. But no one else said anything to her, so she was sure she'd managed to disguise her true feelings. Still, once the dancing had begun, she went over to speak with Cecily.
"You know, Elizabeth, a crowded ballroom is probably not the best place for this," Cecily said dryly.
"Actually, it's the best place; hiding in plain sight."
The older woman sighed. "Elizabeth..."
"I need you to talk to Edmund," Elizabeth said quickly.
The raised eyebrow she got in response was expected, as was the question that followed. "And why can't you talk to him? You're closest to him."
"I want to marry Robin," Elizabeth said bluntly, "and I need you to convince Edmund that it's something he should allow."
"Bess... You and Robert... Are you sure this is a good idea?"
Elizabeth glared at her. "I love him, I've loved him for most of my life. I married once for dynastic reasons, and I did not do what our aunt Margaret did when she was widowed, though I could have, and I wanted to. I've thought about it, I've taken a lot of time to decide if I really want to marry him. And I do. I'm sure of it."
Cecily was impressed. Sometime in the years since she'd seen her sister, Bess had grown up. The fire-haired girl she remembered rushed into everything without thinking, but apparently this grown Elizabeth was a lot more reasonable. It made her more confident that what she said now was a good idea.
"All right. I'll speak to him, but I don't know if it will do you any good."
Elizabeth smiled. "We all listened to you when we were small, I'm sure he'll fall right back into that old habit."
Cecily couldn't help but giggle a little at that one, remembering how she had taken full advantage of being the oldest child in the nursery when she was small. "Well, we'll see, little sister," she said with a grin. "Now, we've not had a chance to catch up yet, and I'd like to hear about what you've been doing."
It had been a month, and the Spanish party was leaving that day. Cecily was standing in one of the courtyards, saying good-bye yet again to her homeland. She knew she wouldn't be back; this second chance to visit had been an unlooked-for blessing. She had talked to Edmund that morning, and he had agreed, Elizabeth could marry Robert. So she was happy for her sister, even as she was sad to be leaving.
Footsteps behind her made her turn; Kate was approaching her, a book in her hands.
When the blonde reached the young woman, she held the book out. Cecily frowned as she took it. "Kate, what is this?" Whatever it was, it was a fairly slim volume, the cover made of gold-tooled red leather.
"It was your mother's," Kate explained. "When she... I don't know how, but I think she knew she wasn't going to live much longer, she gave it to me and asked me to make sure it got to you somehow. I wasn't sure how, that's why it's been all this time and I've not kept my promise, but now I can just hand it to you."
"What's inside it?"
"I don't know, though I remember seeing her write in it a few times, after the twins were born. I didn't read it, it wasn't my place to do that."
"You could have, though. I don't think she would have minded. Mama always trusted you."
"And that's why I couldn't read it, because she trusted me to give that to you. You're the only one who she thought ought to see it, Cecily, how could I read it?" Though Kate suspected some of what was in there. There had been... moments, over the years, little hints of things that had never quite added up. But she had never let herself look too deeply, because it really wasn't something she needed to know.
So she handed Cecily that book, the book which would have answered every question part of her was dying to have answered, but she didn't regret it. Because it really didn't matter if she knew or not.
For her part, Cecily didn't protest, simply took the journal – for that, she assumed, was what it was – and waited until she was back on the ship to read it. She and Maria had a cabin, but her daughter was busy reading a book of her own. So Cecily knew there would be no questions from her curious little girl, and finally judged it a good time to open the journal.
The sight of her mother's familiar handwriting, bold and graceful, stark black ink against creamy vellum, was enough to catch her breath in her throat. She hadn't let herself really admit just how much she missed her mother until now, when she was looking at this piece of the woman who had given birth to her, a piece that was, as yet, unfamiliar.
Blinking away the sudden blurriness in her eyes, she focused on the words, and not the look of the letters. She could almost hear her mother's voice saying the words aloud, and that was actually comforting.
You think you know a story, but you only see what's on the surface. To get to the heart of the story, you have to look deeper. Much deeper...