Disclaimer: It's not mine. Why would you think it was?
The son of Henry VIII, King of England, and his Queen Katherine of Aragon died after ten days of life. This is indisputable historical fact. But, as a poem by the American writer Robert Frost suggests, there's always another road, the one less traveled by. Sometimes, we get a chance to see where that journey would lead. In this case, not only did a child not die, but he did not come into the world alone, and the fates of three women, and of a country, were forever altered from the tragic course we all know so well…
Prologue – And So It Begins: Katherine of Aragon stared at her two beautiful sons, awe filling her at the sight of the infants. She had hoped to bear a son for England, especially after the travesty of her first confinement, brought on by doctors who had sworn she had miscarried one of two babies. And yet, this time, there had been no whisper of twins, and here they were. Two strong boys for England. She had done her duty for her husband, for the country that had welcomed her, and for her own homeland.
"What shall we call them, my love?" Henry asked, looking over her shoulder.
"Henry, for you, and… I think Thomas," Katherine suggested. Henry smiled.
"Henry, Prince of Wales, and Thomas, Duke of York. I like that."
"She's so small!" Prince Hal peered over the side of the cradle at his infant sister, his twin brother Tom at his side like always.
"You were that small once," Katherine said, smiling at her boy's reaction to that.
"I was not!" Hal said indignantly. Tom ignored his brother's outburst and reached into the cradle, touching his baby sister's closed hand.
"Hello, Mary," he whispered. The baby opened her eyes, and Tom was sure that she knew who he was. Hal, distracted, looked over, and Mary's blue eyes shifted to him, making him smile.
"She knows us," Tom said. "We're her big brothers and we have to keep her safe."
Henry, who had been watching from the door, laughed. "And I'm sure you will both do a wonderful job," he told his two sons as he entered. He kissed his wife, earning disgusted sounds from the boys.
"Someday you won't find it disgusting," he said teasingly. Hal and Tom frowned; they could not imagine ever wanting to kiss girls.
"You're not jealous?" ten year old Hal asked his brother uncertainly. "Because it's not that I want to be more important than you, I was just born first."
"No," Tom said with a laugh. "Why would I want to be Prince of Wales? That means I'd have to be King, and it looks like a lot of hard work. This way, I get to have all the fun."
"As long as you have some for me," Hal joked.
"Of course, my liege. Now get out there and let them declare you Prince of Wales!" Hal grinned and walked out for his official investment with the highest title a Prince of England could have.
"The Duke of Cleves has a sister who is of an age to marry Hal," Henry told his wife as they ate dinner.
"The Cleves family is Lutheran, is it not?" Katherine asked.
"No, not exactly. They have broken with the Pope, but they do not call themselves Lutheran. However, the lady in question is willing to be instructed in the true faith and to convert if that is what we desire."
Katherine nodded, thinking. It was certainly a better match than the French one she knew Henry had been considering. She hated the Valois line naturally – they were the sworn enemies of her own family. If this Cleves girl was willing to accept the true faith, then she saw no problem with Hal marrying her. "What do you think?"
"Wolsey does not like it, but my new Secretary – his name is Cromwell – has heard many good things of her."
"And what is her name?"
"Anne. Anne of Cleves."
"Sir Thomas!" Tom yelled, running to catch up with Thomas More, the man who had once taught not only his brother and himself, but their father as well.
"Yes, Your Highness?"
"Did you hear that Hal is to be married? A German princess. She's a heretic, apparently, but she's willing to convert."
More frowned. He had not thought Henry and Katherine would support the marriage of the Prince of Wales to a heretic bride, but if the girl was willing to learn the truth… It was not his place to judge what his monarchs did, in any case. They were within their rights to select any bride they wished, for either of their sons. "And what did Hal say?"
"He's glad to be married; he gets bored at Ludlow, and I have to spend some of my time in York, don't I? Now he'll have a wife. They say she doesn't speak English, so he's trying to find out if anyone speaks German. He wanted to know if he could borrow that painter of yours, Holbein, to teach him. He'd have asked himself, except Father has him working with Wolsey today."
"Tom, stop and breathe for a moment. You're excited enough that I would think you're the one getting married."
"Oh, I'm not going to get married, Sir Thomas! I'll leave that to Hal. It's going to be exciting, though, when she comes, and life's been so dull lately."
"Yes, I'm sure," More said with a faint smile.
"Besides which, there's all of the newcomer's ladies," Tom added with a roguish grin. "I'm going to have fun teaching them all about England." More opened his mouth to say something – he wasn't sure what – but Tom cut him off.
"Oh, yes, I know, I shouldn't treat women that way. I promise, I always respect the ladies. I just flirt with them, innocently. There's no harm in that."
More smiled. "If you say so, Your Highness. As to Holbein, I'm sure he'd be willing to help your brother with his German."
Hal studied the portrait of the young woman who was to become his wife, Princess of Wales, and one day Queen of England. She had a gentle face, and her eyes were kind. He hoped he would be able to love her, the way his father loved his mother.
He sighed, looking around his chambers. He liked being at Greenwich, it was a nice change from Ludlow, but whenever he was alone, his thoughts turned to his marriage, and his nerves. Tom was the bold, flirtatious Tudor prince; Hal had always been a little less confident. Oh, he put on a good show – he was the Prince of Wales, after all – but underneath that he was actually rather shy.
But he was determined to take the first step with his new wife when she came. After all, she would be a stranger, not speaking the language or knowing the customs, and she would have left her home behind forever. He couldn't be shy with her, not when she would need a friend. He was to be her husband; it made sense that he should be her friend as well.
"I'm going to do my best for you, Anne of Cleves," he told the portrait.
Tom wasn't clumsy, but he was careless, and therefore didn't always watch where he was going. That was why, on his way to visit his sister and his mother in the latter's chambers, he collided with a young woman. She wore the black and silver gown of a lady in his mother's service, her long, dark hair caught in a French hood knocked askew by her fall.
She looked up at him with irritated blue eyes that became wide with shock when she recognized him. She struggled to rise, and he offered her a hand up. It was his fault she'd fallen, after all.
She curtseyed to him, keeping her head bowed respectfully. "Your Highness."
He put his hand under her chin, lifting it up so she was looking him in the eye. "What is your name, Mistress?"
She smiled and he was sure his heart stopped for a moment. "Anne Boleyn."
A/N: On the timeline, this takes place in 1530. I've altered Anne's age, having her born in 1510. This makes her twenty, not quite a full year older than the Princes, who are 19 (born on New Year's Eve 1510). Anne of Cleves and Princess Mary keep their birthdates (1515 and 1516, making them fifteen and fourteen respectively). The idea that More was Holbein's initial patron is taken from a deleted scene and from the book Thomas More by John Guy – I don't recall if it ever came up in the actual episodes.