Her annoying betrothed had sent yet another letter. Cecily would not let herself be fooled by the polite words, though. She was certain that Philip of Spain was as arrogant a boy as he had been when they'd met years earlier, when she was only four years old.
She had been very lucky back then that none of the adults present when she and Philip had shouted at each other had told her parents. That would not have gone over well. In front of the adults, both of them had acted properly polite, even though it had made Cecily's stomach turn. She would not shame her family, not if she could help it. In any case, she had been determined to show the prince that she knew how to behave, that she was every bit as royal as he was. How dare he act as though he was better than she was? Her stepmother had the same Spanish blood in her veins, as did Cecily's beloved older sister, Mary, and neither of them acted that way.
Speaking of Mary… she'd gotten a letter from her sister that day, but had not yet had a chance to read it, as she'd been forced to read that boy's missive first. Now she jumped up excitedly, hurrying to her desk and opening the letter.
Things are just fine here, and I have wonderful news – I am with child. Philip has agreed that if the baby is a girl, I can call her Katherine, and if it is a boy, we will name him for his father. You are the only one who knows – except for my mother – so don't tell anyone. I will write to Papa later to tell him, Anne, and our siblings, but I wanted to share my news with you first. And on the subject of children, I hope you tell me more about little Edmund when you write back – it is so sad to have a brother I've never even seen.
Currently we have guests, the Duke of Lorraine and his wife Anne, who is a cousin of Philip's and the daughter of the former Duke of Cleves. I don't think much of the Duke, but his wife is a wonderfully kind woman. Anne has already borne one child for the Duke, their son William, and she has promised to stay for several months in order to help me through my first pregnancy. She is only a few years older than I am, and it's nice to have a slightly older friend to talk to – which reminds me, please give Kate my greetings when you see her next. I'll be writing to her as well, but I don't have much time these days. I am spending most of my time with Anne, who is very curious about England; indeed, she is curious about much of Europe, because she has never been anywhere but Lorraine and Cleves. I've told her all about England, as well as all I can remember of the stories of Spain and France we heard from my mother and yours.
Speaking of stories of Spain, it would be a good idea for you to talk to my mother about your marriage. I'm sure she would be happy to tell you more about Spain, and help you practice your Spanish. You know I would like to help as well, and I can do so by writing my letters in Spanish and asking you to do the same, but you'd have better luck working with my mother. Trust me, it's not easy coming to a country and not speaking the language of the people – although my German is very nearly perfect by now, something I am quite pleased about – so since you have the chance to avoid it, you should do so. Trust me.
I must close now, or else I shall run out of ink. I love you, little sister, and I wish you could come and visit me here, or that I could come back to see everyone. Perhaps one of us will get a chance someday.
Cecily set the letter down, smiling even though her eyes were stinging with tears. She missed Mary, but it was always nice to get letters from her. And her news was wonderful! Pregnant! Cecily was thrilled for her sister, and she knew that her unborn niece or nephew would have a wonderful mother. Mary had been the best elder sister a girl could have wanted, and so surely that was a good sign for her talents at motherhood.
She winced at the reference to her Spanish. Mary had taught her to speak it, but after her sister had left, Cecily found that it made her miss Mary even more to speak it, so she had stopped. She thought she could still understand it fairly well, but her speaking skills were not what they had once been. Though as her sister said, she could remedy that…
Cecily had always gotten on better with Katherine than her other siblings. It wasn't that Bess and Nick didn't get on with their stepmother, it was simply that Bess idolized their mother, and Edmund was the same way with their father. Owen was too young to have a preference, though everyone said the way he often acted as Cecily's little shadow was exactly how she had once behaved with Mary. Cecily loved her older sister more than anyone, even a little more than her parents – though she would never admit that aloud. Since Mary was so close to her mother, Cecily had also spent much of her early years around Katherine. But like speaking Spanish, being around Katherine only reminded Cecily that Mary was no longer there. And she didn't even know if Katherine wanted her there without Mary.
It occurred to her that maybe she had been wrong to just assume. After all, Katherine had to miss Mary even more than she did – had Cecily accidentally made things worse by pulling away as well? She hadn't meant to, and she hoped that her new theory was wrong. But either way, she decided it was time to change things.
So she left her room and went to the Queen's rooms, where Lady Lisle opened the door and smiled down at her. "Hello, Your Highness. It's been a long time since you've visited."
Cecily looked down, and Lady Lisle frowned. "Your Highness? Is something wrong?"
"That's, well, it's sort of why I'm here, Lady Lisle," she said, speaking to her toes.
The noblewoman looked at the shamefaced young girl and felt a flash of sympathy. She was one of the few who noticed that, while her mistress had taken her daughter's departure hard, the sudden absence of her eldest stepdaughter, who was also her goddaughter, had taken its own toll. But Cecily couldn't have known that would happen. Perhaps she had thought Katherine wouldn't want her there?
But she didn't say anything – she had children of her own, which gave her a little insight, but she could not imagine navigating the tangles of the royal family – and instead stood aside so that the girl could enter. "Your Majesty, Princess Cecily is here to see you," she said, before leaving the room, glancing at the other women there meaningfully. Sure enough, all of them found excuses to leave.
Katherine gave Cecily a curious look, and smiled slightly. "You're here about Philip, I suppose? Or to ask about Spain?"
"Um… No, not exactly," Cecily mumbled, still looking at her feet. "I, well…"
Cecily looked almost ridiculously like her mother when she was nervous, and Katherine bit back a laugh, reaching out and tipping the girl's head up. "Yes?"
"I got a letter from Mary."
"Ah. So did I."
"She said I should be asking you about Spain and things, but… Is it all right, me coming without Mary?"
Katherine blinked, honestly surprised. "Of course. Why wouldn't it be?"
"I just… I didn't…" Cecily shrugged. "I knew you had to deal with me, because no one could ever get me away from Mary, but – "
"But that is quite enough, Cecily. I never 'dealt with' you at all; I'm quite fond of you, you know."
Cecily looked up at last, a small smile on her face. "Really?"
Katherine nodded, suddenly remembering a similar expression on another Boleyn girl's face, years ago. But those circumstances had been very different, and were not the sort of thing anyone else needed to know about. So she pointed to the chair next to her own and said, "Sit down, Cecily. I imagine there's a lot you want to know now that you are going to marry my nephew's son."
Cecily sat down, and they began talking about Spain, and what it was like. Katherine admitted that she didn't know how much of what she remembered was still at all accurate, but Cecily said she didn't care. She was more worried about what it would be like, leaving her home and sailing so far away. Katherine had made the same journey, albeit in reverse, many years ago, and it was this that had really sent the young princess to her stepmother. "I don't know if I can do it, I really don't. At least Mary was in love when she left, and that had to help. But me… How did you do it?"
"Well, I didn't have much choice, and you learn to adapt. It will be fine, Cecily, I promise. Yes, you'll be homesick, and yes, there will be times when you'll hate everything about your new country just because it's not what you grew up with, but that doesn't last forever. You'll learn to be happy in Spain, and you may well come to love it as much as England. And I can tell you this. I was lucky, because the English people took me to their hearts from the very beginning, but I suspect the Spanish will react to you in the same way."
In the doorway, Anne smiled, amused by what she was seeing. Katherine met her eyes over Cecily's head, and while she did nothing obvious to acknowledge Anne, so as to avoid Cecily noticing, Anne could see it in the other woman's eyes. She tilted her head and shot Katherine a wry smile before slipping out again. It was nice to see her daughter so close to the woman she'd loved for years. It reminded her that they were all a family, albeit an odd one where some of the bonds were not visible. And it was a relief to know that someone was able to help Cecily – and Elizabeth if she ever thought to ask – with the things about being a princess that Anne simply couldn't understand. It was odd how things had worked out, and she knew that. But they had worked out in a way that made everyone happy, and Anne, for one, was still counting her blessings.