Disclaimer: Not mine.

Chapter 6 – Upward and Onward: "Francis wants to meet the two of us in his room," George told his sister. "He also said you could bring Ursula along – in fact, he'd prefer it."

"Of course he would," Anne said, rolling her eyes. "But I know she would like it as well, so that's fine. Speaking of little flirtations, I saw you and the Seymour girl at Prince Hal's wedding."

"Jane," George said. "Nothing will come of that – she'll be off to Wales soon with Princess Anna."

"Oh, I'm sorry, George."

"Don't be; Father wants me to nip that in the bud anyway. He's afraid of even a hint of scandal while you're trying to ensnare a prince." Anne scowled but said nothing. She had to admit, her own plans would be made easier if her father was enforcing that idea, so there really was little that she could say.

Anne, George, and Ursula went to Francis' room, finding him sitting at his table with four wine goblets already set out. He smirked at them as they entered, raising an eyebrow. "So, what are you lot planning now, and why aren't I already in on it?"

George chuckled. "Should have seen this one coming," he muttered. Anne rolled her eyes, and Ursula frowned.

"What makes you ask that?" she wanted to know.

"Simple, Mistress Ursula. I know my cousins, and they've got something planned. I just want to know what."

"Father and Uncle Norfolk want me to become mistress to the Duke of York, and I want more than that," Anne said simply.

Francis frowned. "So you want to marry him? Anne, are you sure you can do that?"

"I don't see why not, if I love him and he loves me," she shot back defiantly. Francis chuckled at her outburst, pleased to see that the spirited young cousin he remembered was still present in the polished young woman she'd become.

"Fair enough," he said, smirking once again. "But I want in. Things have been dull around here, and I could use a good scheme to spice things up."

Ursula glanced at the Boleyn siblings, who exchanged meaningful looks before nodding as one. "All right, Francis, you're in," George said. "Just like old times, isn't it?"

"We'll be leaving for Ludlow in a few days," Hal told his wife. "It's… it's not like here, not nearly so nice, but it's quiet, and we'll have more time together, when we're not studying." Anna had been given a proper English tutor to help her perfect her English and also to teach her Catholicism, while Hal would be continuing with his own instructors.

Anna smiled at him, liking the idea of having more time with him. But she didn't understand why he lived so far away from his family – she knew that Tom and Mary lived at Hatfield Palace when they were not at court, but that was much closer than Wales. "Why do you live there?" she asked, curious.

"I'm learning to rule," he explained. "I have permission to do as I wish – within reason – in Wales, it belongs to me. I'm learning how to be King – and you can learn how to be Queen."

Anna nodded, thinking that the system was actually quite sensible. This way, a Prince of Wales had more than just theory to work from when he ascended to the throne of England. He actually had real experience in governing. And she was, admittedly, quite unnerved at the prospect of one day, hopefully far distant, sitting in her mother-in-law's place. From what she'd already seen of Katherine, Anna had absolutely no idea how she could ever live up to the Queen's example. But at least she would get a chance to learn to be a royal consort, even if she would never match the woman who currently held that position.

"Do you like it there?" she said.

"Yes, I do, actually."

"Then I'm sure that I will as well."

Anne wasn't entirely sure she should accept the invitation to go riding, but when Tom agreed that George, Francis, and Ursula could accompany them, she was relieved. She wasn't entirely sure that she trusted herself alone with the Duke of York. It was always comforting to have support. In her childhood, she had gotten into all kinds of mischief, usually aided and abetted by her brother, sister, and cousin. Now, of course, they were playing for much higher stakes, and Ursula was here instead of Mary, but it was still comfortingly familiar.

George, Francis, and Ursula rode a little behind her and Tom, far enough to give them some privacy but still close enough to ward off any gossip. She had no idea what their conversation was about, and she really didn't care. She did care that Tom seemed a bit gloomy.

"Is something wrong?" she asked.

"What? Oh, no, not really. It's just… My brother and I were inseparable as children. I'm told most twins are like that. When he was sent to Ludlow… I may spend time in York now, but I'm still at court a lot. Hal doesn't come home nearly as often, because Wales is too far away. But while I know he'd rather let them stay, Father thinks it's best if Hal and Anna go back to Ludlow straight away, so that they can learn to live together in private. Mother agrees, though we were all hoping she'd try to talk him out of it. I'm going to miss my brother, though I suppose I should be used to not having him about at this point."

Anne shook her head. "I missed my brother terribly when my sister and I were sent abroad, and being at court without Mary is just as bad. She and I aren't twins – she's three years older than I am – but we grew very close in the Netherlands, and while we drifted apart a little in France, she was always there. So I can understand, and it's only to be expected."

"I'm glad you can understand – I wouldn't want to sound like a child."

"You don't," she assured him.

"Still, it may be time to change the subject. What would you like to talk about?"

"I'm not sure." She thought for a moment, and then said, "So what is it like in York?"

He grinned. "It's a bit chillier there, because it's further north, but I enjoy it. They're very different up there, you know. Very clannish, and not usually open to what they call 'southern silliness'. Very religious up there too. But if you're accepted as one of them, they're loyal to the bitter end. I do well enough up there. And it's beautiful, especially in the winter, when snow's on the ground and icicles on the trees sparkle in the sun. I'd like to show you that someday."

"That would be hard," Anne said, looking down at her saddle horn. "I am bound to your mother's service, and what would people say about your taking a simple knight's daughter off to York? You know it would not be considered seemly."

"It would not be unseemly if I came as the Duke of York, escorting the new Duchess."

She looked up, startled. "Did you just…?"

He nodded, his eyes sincere and warm. "I won't ask you now," he said. "Not when I can't make any definite promises, when I have not yet spoken to my parents or to your father. But if I could ask now… please tell me, what answer would you give?"

"I would say yes," she said, a little breathlessly, "and I always will. No matter what you ask of me."


"Because I love you," she said, finally admitting it aloud.

"And I love you," he said firmly. "So I shall work toward becoming able to truly ask that question of you."

"I look forward to the day when you will ask it."

Hal wished that Anna could ride beside him, but no one wanted to risk her falling from her horse if she might be with child. He didn't see how it could hurt the baby, if there was one, when it was so small yet no one could even detect its presence. But he would be the first to admit that he had very little understanding of such mysteries. So he had to content himself with riding back often to speak with her.

It was gratifying to see how the people reacted to her, how they saw the same beautiful princess that he did. It distracted him from his worries concerning his brother. Tom had said that he had told Mistress Boleyn of his intentions toward her, and that he would be speaking to their parents soon. Hal had no idea how that would turn out. It was possible that their parents would be sympathetic, and look to Mary to make another dynastic alliance. But they could also react furiously, banishing Mistress Boleyn from court until Tom was safely married. If they did that, Hal would try to get the young woman a place among Anna's ladies. She didn't deserve to be punished for loving someone with exile, or by having to watch him with someone else. If it came to that, in Ludlow she would at least be able to avoid it.

It was the best he could do for them both, though he would write to his parents and offer Tom his support if it seemed such a thing would help. He knew that Mary had already promised the same. Hal just prayed that it worked out, because he wanted to see his brother succeed. He was happy with his wife, happier than he had thought possible, and he only wanted the same for Tom.

A/N: Anyone who has this on alert also got a notice about chapter five. I did a little editing so that Anna's wedding attire matched her historical clothing. Sorry for any confusion.