AN: So. Here it is at long last. The sequel to my Battle Between Two Sisters. It's the first time I've tried switching POVs, so let me know what you think. And yes, Catherine Carey's nickname is a tribute to my favourite Elizabeth ever – Cate Blanchett. Enjoy!
Elizabeth – the Boleyn Rose
"Bessie? Come here. I want to test your French." My mother Mary Boleyn beckoned me to her side, and I left my younger sister's side instantly to join her by the fireside, dropping down beside her heavily. She raised her eyebrows at me, but said nothing, remembering that I was only six years old, and not a Princess any longer – not since my real mother, my mother by blood, had been arrested and executed for treason almost four years earlier.
"Yes, Mama? What is it?"
"I'd like you to read Catherine's letter to me, please, and tell me what she says."
My mother held out my elder sister's letter, and I took it, flushing with pleasure at being chosen to do the important job of reading a letter to my mother – chosen above my five year old sister Anne, who was my closest friend, and yet keenest rival, especially in the schoolroom, where we had both just begun to learn foreign languages such as French and Latin. I settled myself comfortably in the crook of my mother's arm, and began to read, stumbling a little over the words, which had only just begun to take on a reassuring familiarity, even after several months solid study.
"She says, oh – Mama, she says she is to marry Sir Francis Knollys at the beginning of May!" I flashed a delighted smile up at my mother, for I adored my sister Catherine, and any good news from her sent me into seventh heaven. My mother squeezed me gently, and said "Oh, that is good news, Bessie. What else does she say?"
"She says – oh! She says she has spoken to the King, and he has agreed that I can come to Court to take part in her wedding, if you and Papa allow me to. Can I go, please? Please?" I jumped up and begged my mother, who laughed, and pulled me on to her lap fondly.
"Of course you can, Bessie. We'll all go. You, me, Papa, Henry and Annie. How would that be? Would you like that?"
"Oh very much, Mama!" I gasped.
Mama closed her eyes briefly and a shadow passed over her face before she replied; and she replied in a way that I didn't expect - as if she was tired, but she couldn't be tired. It was barely past suppertime. Even Annie wasn't tired yet. "All right. When's Cate's wedding again?"
I glanced down at the letter, scanning it again as fast as I could. "It's to be part of the May Day celebrations."
"All right. Then we'll have to leave for Court in three weeks time. Go and tell your governess. Quickly."
"Yes, Mama!" I jumped up and ran out of the room, shouting "Annie! We're going to Court! We're going to Court!"
The next few weeks were a whirl of excitement for Annie and myself, they really were. True, we still had to do our usual daily lessons -though we begged our governess to let us off, she said we had to do them so as not to shame our family when we went to Court – but on top of them, we had fittings for new gowns and Mama drilled us again and again in what we would have to do when we met the King; for she seemed to take it for granted that we would meet His Majesty, though I could not see why.
Normally I hated to have to do extra lessons and spend more time inside – especially when the weather was so nice and my pony was beckoning me in the yard, but this was different; this was something special. I was willing to do anything I was told to do, just as long as it hastened the days so that we could get to Court more quickly.
Mama, however, seemed to think differently. Countless times, I would catch her daydreaming with a sad look on her face, and creep up behind her, slide my hand into hers and just stand beside her until she realised I was there. I never got an answer if I ever asked her outright what was wrong though. She always forced a smile and said that nothing at all was the matter, that she was just busy thinking and then threw herself back into our preparations before I could press her.
It wasn't until I had a bad dream one night in the last week before we left for Court and crept downstairs to find her that I finally found out what was worrying her.
Slipping out of bed and crossing my bedroom floor, I reached out with a trembling hand to open the door. I crept along the landing and down the stairs, trying not to wake either Annie or our governess as I passed their rooms. The fire blazing through the open dining room told me Mama and Papa hadn't gone to bed yet, so I tiptoed down the hallway, only to stop outside our parlour. The door was ajar, and Mama and Papa were in there, but they were talking in serious voices. Something – perhaps it was my own sense of curiosity - told me I shouldn't disturb them, so I leaned against the wall behind the door and listened silently.
"You have to take her. She's been so looking forward to it, and besides, Cate will want her there." Papa's voice was steady, firm. It sounded like they'd been over this before. Mama heaved a sigh.
"Yes, but – does it have to be now?"
"If it wasn't now, Mary, it would be some other time. You can't keep Elizabeth away from Court forever. It's her destiny."
"I know, I know! It's just…I don't know what to do, William. Elizabeth's grown up thinking that she's our daughter. She doesn't even know she's a Princess. I mean, yes she knows that Anne was her mother, not me, but I never told her who her father was. It could be Henry Percy for all she knows! God, it could be you!" Mama sighed before she continued.
"And now she's going to Court and of course the King's going to want to see her, and she's going to notice that they look the same – that they have the same colouring. She's too clever not to. She's already wondering why she doesn't look like you or me or Cate or Henry or Annie -" Mama broke off with a groan, which luckily covered my gasp of shock.
Forgetting why I had wanted Mama in the first place, indeed, forgetting everything except for the fact that I had overheard something that I shouldn't have done, and would probably get into trouble for it, I turned and ran back upstairs, heart pounding. I didn't even try to be quiet. I just fled – fled back to the safety and warmth of my small room upstairs.
Suddenly the patter of feet broke into my concentration. In an instant, I had jumped towards the door and looked through it. I was almost too late, but I just managed to catch a glimpse of a body in a white nightshift and fiery copper curls bouncing about as their owner ran off out of sight. Elizabeth. Anne's daughter Elizabeth. Elizabeth Tudor, our Boleyn Princess.
She must have heard. I didn't know what she'd been doing out of bed at this time of night, but she must have heard. There was no way she couldn't have done. Groaning, I turned back into the room and shut the door. William, who'd been standing by the fireplace, lost in thought, looked up.
"Who was it?"
"She heard, I take it?"
"She must have done. There's no way she can't have done. She was right behind the door." I exhaled slowly, and guessing my thoughts, William, my beloved William, came forward and wrapped me in his arms. "That settles it. You'll have to tell her. You've no choice. You'll have to tell her."
I didn't say anything to Mama about what I had overheard the night before when we got up and had breakfast, and neither did she, but after breakfast, when our governess came to fetch Annie and I for our lessons, she said "No, Amy, don't take Elizabeth with you. I need to talk to her."
"Oh, but that's not fair!" Annie pouted. "How come I have do lessons, but she doesn't?"
"Because I need to tell her something special for when we go to Court, Annie. Don't worry; she's not missing out on lessons. She'll join you as soon as she can. Bessie, go and get a cloak. We'll take a walk in the gardens."
I nodded and ran out of the room, joining my mother a few minutes later by the great door leading out to the gardens and beyond them, the drawbridge.
Mama held out her hand wordlessly, and I took it, falling into step beside her easily. We walked along in silence for a while, until at last, the fallen cherry blossoms scattered everywhere captured my attention more than Mama did. Snatching up a handful, I tucked them into my copper curls and then twirled around to show Mama. She smiled vaguely and then took my hand to stop me there underneath the cherry trees.
"Bessie. I have to tell you something."
Now, with my eyes on her and knowing she had my undivided attention again, Mama took a breath to steady herself before starting again. "Look, I know you overheard Papa and I talking last night."
"I – I had a bad dream – I couldn't help it!" I protested, and Mama smiled, properly this time. "It's okay, Bessie. I'm not angry with you. It's just, well, that wasn't the way I'd intended you to find out."
"Find out what?" My blue eyes were wide as I gazed up at Mama innocently.
"Well -" Mama broke off again before she could finally find the words she needed. "You know your mama, your real mama, died a few years ago, don't you?"
I nodded. "Yes, and then you brought me here to Rochford to live with you and Papa and Cate and Annie and Henry."
"Well, do you know who your father was? Who married your mother and made her his wife?"
I shook my head. That was the one thing I had never been told, no matter how many times I asked.
"It was His Majesty. King Henry."
"The King? But then – wouldn't I be a Princess, like the Lady Mary used to be? Like Prince Edward? God Bless him." I added belatedly. Mama shook her head. "No. Well, you used to be, before you came to live with me, but when your mama died, your father decided you would be like the Lady Mary; that you'd be the Lady Elizabeth. But you are the Lady Elizabeth Tudor, Bessie. You're the King's daughter, and that's no small thing to be."
"But why are you telling me? Why now? Why didn't you tell me earlier?"
"Because – I'm not proud of it, Bessie, but it's because I wanted you to feel at home with us – to feel as though you belonged. I didn't want you to know that you had a higher status than us. I just wanted you to be a child, God help me."
"But then, why tell me at all? Why now?" I repeated.
Mama sighed and knelt down in front of me with both her hands on my shoulders. "Because we're going to Court. That changes everything, Bessie. The King will probably want to see you, to speak to you alone. You'll have to go of course, but you'll go with your head held high, as befits a Tudor. I want you to do me proud, or do your best to, at least. Will you promise?" Mama stared me in the eye, treating me like a big girl, like she treated Cate. I knew I could do nothing other than agree.
"Good girl." Mama looked relieved and she pulled me into her arms, holding me tight, breathing in my scent. I longed to be let go, but something told me she would not release me, not yet, so instead, I brought my arms up, wound them around her neck and hugged her back.
The wedding was over and Cate, resplendent in a gown of pale blue satin embroidered with dark green – Tudor green, to match my dress of green velvet trimmed with silver ribbon, was no longer Miss Catherine Carey, but rather Mistress Catherine Knollys. She was whirling on the dance floor now, spinning around under her smiling husband's careful hand and laughing merrily, her pealing laughter ringing out high above the recorders, spinets and lutes that were playing. I stood to one side with Mama and Annie, watching her eagerly.
Suddenly, a page appeared before me and bowed slightly before saying "Miss Elizabeth? The King would like to see you in his private chambers."
Surprised, I glanced up at Mama. She looked down at me and all of a sudden, the words that she had said to me before we left Rochford, flashed into my head. "You'll have to go of course, but you'll go with your head held high, as befits a Tudor."
The page looked up at her too. "You're welcome to come too if you want, Mistress Stafford."
Mama nodded and laid her hand on my shoulder. "Yes please."
We followed the page out of the Great Hall and down some corridors, taking countless confusing turns, until at last, the page ushered us in through a pair of grand gilt doors, saying "Mistress Mary Stafford and the Lady Elizabeth to see you, Your Majesty."
Mama went down into a deep curtsy and I copied her, saying in my high clear voice "Your Majesty."
An old man, with thin hair exactly the same colour as mine, and clear blue eyes, like mine, heaved himself to his feet and stomped down the steps of the dais, before stopping before me and, with some difficulty, kneeling down before me. "Good day, Lady Elizabeth. Do you know who I am?"
"You're the King." I whispered. The man smiled.
"Yes. That's true, but do you know who else I am?"
"Vous etes mon pere." I replied, somehow sensing that it would please him if I spoke to him in French. And indeed it did. He nodded and clapped. "She's a credit to you, Lady Stafford." He looked over my head at Mama as he spoke. Then he looked at me again. "So. Elizabeth. What does Lady Stafford teach you? Do you learn your lessons as a good girl should?"
"Yes, Your Majesty. I learn French and Latin as well as embroidery and dancing, but I especially love my riding lessons and my music lessons."
"Really? You like music?" My Father – I couldn't bring myself to call him Papa, not when I had hardly ever met him – well, not that I could remember at least – asked. I nodded. "Yes Sire. I can sing and I'm learning the lute too."
"Like me…" My Father mused aloud before asking "Will you sing for me now, Elizabeth?"
I curtsied. "If you wish it, Sire." I replied, before taking a deep breath and starting to sing, my voice shaking a little because of how nervous I was, but gaining in confidence as I lost myself in the words of the song.
" And she shall bring the birds in spring
And dance among the flowers.
In summer's heat her kisses sweet
They fall from leafy bowers.
She cuts the grain and harvests corn.
The kiss of fall surrounds her.
The days grow old and winter cold.
She draws her cloak around her."
As I finished, I sketched another curtsy to him and then looked up. He applauded and then put his hand to his belt. Unclasping a jewelled tablet that hung there and was engraved with a Tudor Rose, he handed it to me.
"Here. Take this, my daughter. I am honoured to have met you and I hope to see you back at Court soon. You too, Mistress Stafford."
"Thank you, Your Majesty. The honour is mine." I replied, curtsying yet again as Mama came up behind me and thanked the King on my behalf, and then led me out of the room. I craned my neck as we left, straining to catch one last glimpse of the King, but the doors swung shut, cutting off my view of the room, before I could manage it.
"Miss Elizabeth? The King would like to see you in his private chambers." The words had sent shivers of resignation and nervous pleasure down my spine when they were first spoken, but, leading Elizabeth out of the room and back to her older cousin's wedding feast, I realised I needn't have worried. Elizabeth had done as she promised. She had done me proud. She had been as haughty, regal and self confident as a girl twice her age, and yet still humble and submissive enough to please the King. She had been exactly like her mother, my older sister Anne, and yet unlike her. She hadn't been a Tudor Rose, but neither had she been a Boleyn Falcon. She had been herself. She had been Elizabeth; Elizabeth, a Boleyn Rose.
Okay, Okay! Before you all start hating me for changing Elizabeth's character, please remember that this time, Elizabeth hasn't grown up a Princess or even a King's daughter. She's grown up Mary Boleyn's daughter, and to quote Mary in the Other Boleyn Girl "My Children will be Children before they are wed." I figured she'd take the same view of Elizabeth, if Henry ignored his daughter and let Mary raise her as she wished. Hope nobody minds too much!