A/N: The Tudors are not mine; its characters are merely my toys. The idea of Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor is growing on me.

I'm mixing history and fiction here. Charles Brandon and Mary, the Dowager Queen of France had three children-Eleanor, Frances, and Henry-together. These are now the children of Charles and Princess Margaret. Margaret has, in my story, been dead for about a year and died giving birth to Henry in 1531. So little Henry Brandon is about a year old, Frances is two and a half, and Eleanor is four. Yes, they are Mary's cousins and will also be her stepchildren, but if you bear with me, I think you'll see that it works.

Title: A Better Future

August 1532

Charles Brandon had never intended to marry Princess Mary; she was sixteen and he was just past thirty. She was innocent and he was a widower with three children and a reputation as a womanizer. It wasn't exactly an ideal match. But when Henry told him that he was planning to marry his young daughter off to George Boleyn "to take care of her," Charles had to object.

"Henry, you cannot do that. George Boleyn would crush her. He will take away all of her freedom and he'll destroy her." Admittedly, Charles hadn't seen Princess Mary in several years but he remembered her from her childhood. When she was a little girl, he had played with her, chasing her around castles and spinning her around in the air. He remembered the little girl who had pushed the French Dauphin over for wiping off her kiss. Henry had laughed at her spirit then, but now he was willing to sell his daughter away to make sure that she wasn't a problem.

"What do you want to do then, Charles?" Henry asked snidely. "Will you marry my bastard daughter? You, Charles Brandon, would you marry her? Or do you know someone else who would marry a king's bastard?"

He knew what Margaret would tell him to do. She loved her niece and she decidedly did not approve of her brother's relationship with Anne Boleyn. And so he would do what his deceased wife would want. "I'll marry her-with your permission, of course."

Henry laughed. "Take her. Katherine wants to see Mary married and I hope that if I marry her off to someone, the mother will then consent to my demands."

Charles somehow doubted that this would occur, but he refused to see his former niece married off to someone like George Boleyn. "I will marry Your Majesty's daughter and take her to my home."

"And keep her there," Henry muttered darkly.

Charles chose to ignore that remark. He simply wanted to protect his deceased wife's beloved niece from her father's greed.

"You are going to marry my Mary," Queen Katherine said when Charles walked into her chambers the next day.

He nodded. "I will be leaving tomorrow for Ludlow and I will marry her there."

"Tell her that I love her and I wish you both the best," the queen told him. "And tell her that I wish I could be there for her wedding."

"As do I, Your Majesty," the Duke of Suffolk said softly. "I genuinely wish that you could be at our wedding and see your daughter happy. I only wish that I can make your daughter as happy as she deserves."

"Please keep her away from court, Charles. I do not trust Henry with our daughter anymore and I want to protect my Mary."

The duke started at the use of his first name, but nodded. "Of course, I intend to allow her to live a peaceful, private life at Suffolk Manor. My children are there." Eleanor, Frances, and Henry were all under the age of five and they would profit well from the influence of a mother figure.

"And will my Mary have children as well?"

"I hope so." Charles was not entirely sure how those children-particularly any sons they might have-would affect the succession of the Crown, but he did desire to have children with his promised wife. He loved the three children he already had and wanted more.

"Will you give her something from me, please?"

"If you wish, I will come here before I leave tomorrow. If you want to send your daughter a letter or a gift, I will gladly take them."

Katherine smiled. "You are a good man, Charles Brandon, and I trust you with my beloved daughter."

"I only pray that I will be worthy of Your Majesty's trust," he replied.

The queen rose from her seat and pressed her lips gently against Charles's cheek. "I have great faith in you."

But Charles was not entirely sure that he had faith in himself to be the sort of husband that the princess deserved. He knew that marriages between men of his age and women of hers were far from uncommon, but he was still unsettled. It wasn't that she was a princess; he had married a princess before. But that was different. He had married Margaret out of love. Now, he was marrying Mary to protect her. And he was a widower with three young children who needed a mother; in his opinion, even the most faithful of nursemaids was no replacement for a loving mother. Marrying Mary would provide him with a wife and his children with a mother-even if she was only twelve years older than Eleanor. His children needed a mother. He was rarely at home but if Mary was there, he might be able to be a better father to his children.

Charles kept expecting Henry to summon him to his chambers with a note or a token to be given to Princess Mary. But the hour of Charles's departure came without the slightest acknowledgement that he was leaving to marry the king's daughter; instead, Henry went hunting with Anne Boleyn. To be honest, it was an innocuous action, but it was not the typical action of a father on the eve of his only daughter's marriage. Henry's only acknowledgment of Charles's departure was a short note reminding Charles that he would still be expected to accompany the king on his voyage to France. The note made it clear that Charles would be expected to leave his wife at home. Charles would have six weeks at home with Mary and his children before leaving them for three months.

Queen Katherine, on the other hand, had given Charles a letter and a package to give to her daughter. She told the young duke that she wanted her daughter to be safe and happy. She again begged him to take care of her daughter. "I know that the king will not keep me here much longer, Charles," she said in a low voice. "I know that he intends to send me away from him and declare our marriage invalid. I do not know what he will do to Mary then, so I need you to protect her. Keep her safe."

Did she want to marry him? Mary was unsure if she really wanted to marry Charles Brandon. She knew that he had been kind to her when she was a child. She had a very clear memory of the visit to Calais during which she had been engaged to the Dauphin of France. She had kissed the prince's cheek and he had wiped it off, so she pushed him over. Everyone had laughed then although Lady Salisbury had reprimanded her for her unladylike conduct. Her parents had also made it clear to her that they disapproved of pushing boys.

But after she had spoken with her father about it, Charles, her friend and playmate, had picked her up and swung her around. "That's my girl," he told her, kissing her cheek. "Don't ever let any man push you around or wipe your kisses off his cheek. You deserve more than that." Then, he had put her down and told her that he bet she couldn't catch him.

Charles Brandon had been, until his marriage to her aunt, merely a sort of gentle giant. He was her father's friend and advisor. And as she grew older, she learned that he had a reputation of behaving immorally. But as a six-year-old, she had seen none of this. All she knew was that, unlike her father, he chased her around and played games with her; he never cared that she wasn't a boy.

Now, however, he had three children to whom she would be expected to be mother. She would be expected to be his wife. Lady Salisbury had spent the morning detailing the duties of a wife and while she had been kind, Mary was beginning to fear her marriage bed. What would she do if Charles demanded his rights on their wedding night? She knew that he would arrive that evening and they would marry the following morning. Then they would depart immediately for his estate. Would he want to consummate their marriage immediately or would he allow her time to adjust to the sudden changes in her life? The man who had been her playmate ten years earlier would be patient with his new wife but she was unsure of the man who was coming to marry her.

"His Grace is here, Your Majesty," Salisbury said as she bustled into the room. "You must come down and greet him."

Mary looked at her governess. "Will he be kind to me?"

"One can only hope so," the older woman replied.

"My mother would not want me to marry a cruel man."

"I only hope that your father would consider your mother's opinion in this matter."

Mary faltered. "I know that my father does not think much of me, but I would like to know that he would not throw me to the dogs."

"Well, His Grace is waiting for you. You mustn't keep your future husband waiting."

Mary nodded before hurrying down to the great hall where a tall man stood with his back to her. She faltered when she saw him pacing. Her heart was in her throat. She had to marry this man, live with him, and spend the rest of her life with him; but she didn't know him.

Then he coughed and turned around. He smiled, which Mary took as an encouraging sign. "Princess Mary, it is a pleasure to see you."

She smiled faintly. "Your Grace, welcome to Ludlow; I hope you had a pleasant journey."

He nodded. "The weather was fine and the roads were good. We made good time."

"Good," Mary said nodded. "I hope we have similar traveling conditions tomorrow."

Just then, Salisbury bustled into the room. "Your Grace, you are most welcome; I hope you had a good journey."

Charles turned his eyes to the older woman. "Yes, I did; thank you. Princess Mary was just inquiring after my journey and expressing her hopes that we have another good journey tomorrow."

"Are you really serious about leaving immediately after the wedding, Your Grace? You and the Princess ought to stay here at least for one night and allow the inhabitants of Ludlow to celebrate your marriage."

The duke shook his head. "King Henry told me that he wanted as little fanfare as possible for this wedding. He does not wish to spend money on any fuss."

"He wants to dispose of me, doesn't he?" Mary asked. "He wants me out of his way so that he can divorce my mother and marry that Boleyn girl with a clear conscience."

Charles looked down sadly. "His Majesty would not use those words precisely."

"But I have his general idea, do I not?"

"Princess, I swear to you that I will do everything within my power to care for you and protect you," he said firmly. Charles hesitantly reached out for Mary's hand; when he touched it, he found it cold and quivering. "Mary, I promised your mother that I would take care of you and keep you away from Court. I intend to keep my promise."

Mary nodded. "Thank you."

Charles and Mary were married the next day and left Ludlow Castle immediately after the wedding. "Am I still a princess or will I only be the Duchess of Suffolk now?" Mary asked her new husband as they sat in the carriage.

"I am not sure what your father has decided with that regard for the present. I know that he intends to have his marriage to your mother declared invalid, which means that you would lose your title as princess and you will simply be the Duchess of Suffolk. I think that the easiest way for us to handle this is for everyone to simply address you as the duchess from the beginning."

Mary nodded with tears in her eyes. "I understand. It will be easier for the children and servants that way."

"I know that most likely this will not make it hurt less when your father takes your title as princess away. But at least we might be able to keep others from finding out what your father has done."

"I do not understand all of this. Why does my father treat me like this? He, he, does he not love me anymore?"

Charles understood that the king wanted a son, but he did not understand the king's treatment of Mary. "I cannot explain your father. I have two daughters and I love them. I would not trade them for sons."

"But you have a son as well. That must make it easier to love the daughters."

"That may be. But I loved Eleanor and Frances before Henry was born. The fact that they are girls does not make me love them less than I love Henry. I love them because they are my children and I am their father."

Mary looked at her new husband. "And if we had children?"

"I would love them the same as I love Ellie, Frances, and Henry."

"Then why does my father not love me anymore?"

Charles bit his lip and shook his head. "I think that your father loves you, but things in your family are more complicated than things in my family. However, you are my wife and as such, you are the mother of my children, a part of our family. I want to give you a new start in our family, a fresh start where you don't worry."

"How am I supposed to simply stop worrying because I have a husband and three children now? Do you expect me to forget about my parents and the fact that I will probably be declared a bastard soon? My father is going to throw my mother and me away and marry someone else."

"I know. I want you to have a quiet, peaceful life. Maybe I will find a way for you to see your mother. There is nothing I can do about your father. I cannot change your past, but I can try to give you a better future."

She looked at him. "I am not sure that I understand what you are doing, but I think that you may be the only person who can truly protect me anymore. I have to trust you because you may be my only hope for a normal life."

Charles looked at his wife sadly. She deserved so much better than she had. She had been forced to marry a man of twice her age because her father did not want to deal with her. He knew this was the fate of many young women throughout the country, but Mary deserved more. She was a princess; she had been betrothed to the Holy Emperor and the Dauphin of France, but now she was married to the Duke of Suffolk. Margaret had once described him in spite as a man without noble blood; Mary was the daughter and granddaughter of kings. Theirs was not an equal marriage.

"Mary, Princess Mary, wake up." Mary felt hot breath against her ear and shook herself awake. She looked into the concerned face of her husband.

"Are we there?"

He nodded. "We are at Suffolk Manor and I am told that my children are waiting for us within."

"Then let us go inside."

Upon entering the house, Charles and Mary found all the servants of the house waiting for them in the Great Hall along with Charles's three children. Eleanor and Frances were standing while a nursemaid held young Henry whom Charles had told Mary was only twelve months old and not yet walking.

"Papa, Papa!" Eleanor cried, running to her father. Her light brown curls, which were reminiscent of her mother's hair, danced behind her.

The nursemaid holding young Henry grimaced, but Charles smiled. "Ellie, my darling girl, how are you? I've missed you," he said as he picked her up and kissed her cheek.

"We missed you too, Papa. And Henry still cannot walk."

"He will learn soon; I am sure. Now, Frances, come here. I have missed you. And I want my darling girls to meet their new Mama."

Frances had her father's brilliant blue eyes and dark brown hair but a more timid disposition. Nevertheless, she ran eagerly to her father and was picked up quickly. After kissing his younger daughter's cheek, Charles walked to his wife. "Mary, I want you to meet my darling daughters, Eleanor and Frances. Ellie and Frances, I want you to meet your new mama."

"You are pretty," Eleanor said. "I think I like you."

Frances smiled shyly at her new stepmother and then unexpectedly reached her little arms out towards Mary. Mary took the little girl into her arms and smiled as the little girl kissed her cheek and exclaimed, "Mama!" before snuggling her head against Mary's shoulder.

Charles smiled at the tender picture before him and adjusted Eleanor in his own arms. "Madam, I would also like you to meet my son, Henry," he said as they walked towards the nursemaid holding the blonde boy.

Mary smiled. "He is a dear little lad. I look forward to watching him grow."

This remark as well as Mary's behavior towards each of her new stepchildren pleased the entire household. It demonstrated a mistress who would love and care for the duke's children.

"Papa, now that you are home again, may Frances and I come see you and our new mama if we are scared at night?"

Charles swallowed slowly. In the past, his daughters had often found their way into his bed during the course of a night. He had shared a bed with Margaret during their marriage, but he did not think that Mary was ready to share his bed. As he contemplated a response, his new wife surprised him by answering, "Of course, Ellie; you are still welcome."

This remark, in the duke's opinion, merited a private conversation with his wife about their sleeping arrangements. He had intended to offer his bride her own bedroom until she was ready to share a bed. But he was not about to raise the issue in front of his children. In all likelihood, they believed that all parents always slept in the same bed because he had shared a bed with Margaret.

Charles looked at his children. "And that reminds me that I need to show the duchess her new home, starting with her bedroom. I am quite sure that she is tired after our journey and will want to rest."

"I'll take Lady Frances and Lady Eleanor to clean up before supper, if it pleases Your Grace," the nursemaid holding Henry said.

Charles nodded. "Ellie and Frances, go with Bessie please."

"We'll see you at supper," Frances said to her stepmother as she was set down.

"She talks to you," Charles said to his wife as they walked up the stairs. "Frances actually talked to you."

"She seems shy."

"She is extremely shy," he told her. "She has barely spoken to anyone other than Bessie and me since Margaret passed away. And then she meets you and speaks to you immediately. I am surprised."

"Maybe she knows that I mean well towards her," Mary replied with a faint smile.

"Perhaps, in any case, both of the girls seem to like you. But this is your room," he said opening a door and leading her inside. "I hope it meets with your liking."

Mary nodded. "It's lovely. Will you be sleeping in here as well?"

He smiled faintly. "You told Ellie that I would be. To be honest, I had not intended to immediately. Mary, you are only sixteen. I remember when you were Ellie's age. I do not; no, I will not force myself or anything else upon you."

"I appreciate that, but you are my husband and I think that your children will expect us to share a bed. If I am honest, some of the more practical aspects of marriage frighten me."

Charles nodded. "I suspected as much. Believe me, Mary; I will not force you to do anything you do not want to do and I will do everything in my power to keep you from being hurt."

A/N: Please review! Let me know what you think.