Disclaimer: I own nothing of The Tudors, or the Tudors series, including characters, locations, etc. That all belongs to Showtime, the respective actors, the publishing company/author, and history. Hear that, world? I OWN NOTHING.
Author's note: This single one-shot has been a long-time coming, and has taken quite a bit of work. On the show, Henry and Elizabeth's relationship was shown as loving, then neglectful, then sweet-but-distant, and then rather clinical at the end. Through all of Henry's turbulent life, his interactions with Elizabeth seem to be the most...perhaps disconcerting. I offer merely a glimpse into what a singular night together could give to their father-daughter relationship. Read and enjoy...reviews would be nice, too...oh, and PS: I used an online Latin translator, since I obviously do not know the language myself. If I got the translation wrong, I'm deeply sorry. Ok, read on!
January 14th, 1559
The princess shuddered in her bed, drowsily wondering who was talking to her. Realizing that it was the middle of the night, when she was supposed to be alone, she flew up. Her heart galloped in her chest, as if her favorite hunter had gotten loose and was tearing across the greens, with her barely able to hold on.
Elizabeth was terrified…and slightly peeved. Her coronation as Queen of England was in the morning; it wouldn't do to look exhausted in front of her subjects. After fighting so hard and for so long to get the crown, could she not have one night's peaceful sleep? The dying fire in the hearth sparked suddenly as someone stirred the logs.
"Who called me?" she whispered, and instantly the room was ablaze in light. The rich furnishings of the Tower (now hers, since her half-sister Mary's passing) looked even grander in the firelight, the flames dancing away almost merrily. Pulling her fiery red hair out of her face, what she saw next to the fireplace froze her blood.
Or perhaps the correct term would be who she saw…
And it was indeed Henry VIII. But he was not the Henry Elizabeth remembered. At thirteen, the last image she had of her father was of an old man growing fat and world-weary. He had been balding, and limping heavily because of an old jousting injury on his leg. The ulcer caused him great pain and made him generally caustic.
But the Henry before her looked young, sleek, and was standing tall. There were no thick bandages around his leg, his hair was dark and cropped closely to his head. He was dressed in the older way, like in one of the portraits hanging in the other castles and palaces, and still looking magnificent. The blue in his eyes, which had been dulled by age and fatigue, was bright and reminded Elizabeth of the ocean on a clear day. Imperially he stood, arms behind his back and legs spread apart, looking so fine and young…and free. Elizabeth, in the few times she had with her father, never knew him to look so unburdened.
"Sweetheart," he crooned, and his heartwarming smile spread across his lips. As the unwanted princess, the bastard daughter of a witch, it was a smile that Elizabeth lived to see when she was younger. Even at twenty-five, and years after the king's death, it still delighted her to no end. Somehow, though, logic broke through and she jumped out of bed. She backed away as far she could, flattening herself against the wall and murmuring prayers. For his part, the deceased king frowned. "Whatever are you doing, daughter?"
"You are not here! You're dead! What are you: ghost, demon, my imagination? Begone!" she cried, waving her hands frantically at him. She sank to the floor, shrinking and almost turning back the hands of time herself. She appeared to be as a little girl once more, cowering and shaking in fear.
Two strong hands gripped her forearms, jerked her to her feet and rattled her.
"Calm yourself, daughter! I command you, stop this nonsense!" Henry said in a rush, ceasing the shaking immediately. Attempting to take a few breaths, Elizabeth looked up into the face of her father. How he had changed, and yet remained the same!
"Why…why are you here?" she wondered. "Come to torment me? What have I done wrong?"
"Nothing, Elizabeth, it's what you've done right that I have come," he reassured her, still holding her at arm's length.
"Aye, that is what makes you come running!" she spat under her breath, glaring at him. Though it was strange, it was almost freeing to see him here, to make him face the truth. "After the death of your precious son and eldest daughter, it seems a suitable time to remember me. What, are they too busy with their afterlives to spend any time with you?"
He opened his mouth to speak, but she kept on talking.
"Very well that they shouldn't want to! Edward finally has a childhood in Christ's loving heaven, Mary has her comeuppance and peace, it's only natural that you should come to me. Now, after years and years of following your shadow, of wanting your attention, now when I DON'T WANT YOU! How could you do it, Father? How could you hate me so, when all I did was be born? How could you convince yourself of such blatant lies? HOW COULD YOU KILL MOTHER?"
Elizabeth had shoved him back, pointing her finger directly in his face. She was Queen here, she would have power over something that wasn't even real! It was high time that she expel the demons of her past, the things that had crippled her future.
But if it wasn't real, then how come he didn't vanish the moment she finished upbraiding him? Why was Henry still there, taking her harsh words in deadly silence?
Heaving out a great cry, Elizabeth dropped to the floor, refusing to look at him.
Henry, kneeling beside her, brushed her hair away. He had never been so gentle with her since she was a mere four years old.
"Touch me not, I want answers, Henry," she croaked hoarsely. Shrugging, the king actually obeyed her request, choosing to lower himself fully into a seated position. The gravity of his expression showed that in death, and perhaps even in life, he'd given the matter quite a bit of thought.
"Elizabeth, daughter of mine, I cannot tell you truly whatever inhabited my mind. But I admit my role now; after twenty-some years I may as well be honest with you. It was nothing as simple as your mother giving me a son, or displeasing me. After all, I was king, I had my way with Katherine to get Anne, and those matters were not enough to make me want to…execute her," he spoke slowly, the words sticking in his throat. "It was that your mother was entirely…unable to be tamed. Not biddable as a wife, but rather enticing as a courtesan."
"Mother was no courtesan," Elizabeth denied vehemently. Despite the evilest rumors circulating at Hatfield even when she was three, she never believed Anne Boleyn was free with herself, certainly not with her own brother to be sure. Henry's eyes dropped guiltily.
"Indeed, she held herself aloft from all men. She courted me, though, and in that respect she did not hold back at all, save for her ultimate virtue," he admitted, continuing his story. "I tired of her grating words, her overwhelming hate of everyone who vied for my attention, her constant fear of Mary, and worst of all, the threat she posed to all of us."
"Threat? Of what do you speak, Father?"
"Anne Boleyn's ambition was a deadly force, pulling down anyone and anything in its path to serve her interests. She climbed up, higher and higher, in my favor, and I rewarded her and the family that pushed her onward lavishly. Too late I realized that we were creating a monster, that this monster itself had begun to eat away at me. I feared greatly that this evil force would come after you, Mary, and any sons we would've had. This absolute terror overrode any other sense I had of her. I was manipulated, easily I grant you, by my closest advisors and my best friends into arresting her. For the longest time I could not will myself to write the deed out, though, given what she was to me and I to her. But soon enough she…she had gone mad. I was the only who could do something about her."
Elizabeth gaped at him, glaring again. "So because she had ambition, more than a woman is supposed to have, she had to die?"
Henry shook his head. "Nay. It was that her ambition was murderous. She drove Cardinal Wolsey to madness, ordered her father to send Bishop Fisher poisoned soup, pushed Katherine off her throne and into destitution. You never saw it, my dear daughter, for she had the sense to control herself around you. But you never saw her leering eyes sweeping across the room, you never heard the evil tone she adopted when speaking of a rival. So many thought I was ignorant and blinded by her charms, for a time I was. But Anne herself showed me the truth."
"And so you ran to Jane Seymour and hid behind her skirts from the demon you yourself had fed and bred," Elizabeth exclaimed, quite unable to sympathize with him. He cast her a sharp look, a father reprimanding his daughter for her loose tongue.
"In that respect, I could've treaded more lightly, but by the time I'd begun courting Mistress Seymour, I had done with the ambition. I was just looking for a companion who was not queen nor mistress, nor councilor. Sweet Jane was just that. I was beyond reason," Henry excused himself. "I know now that…was not the wisest decision."
An ember popped, punctuating Elizabeth's point. Henry looked on her for a moment, admiring the young woman his child had become. Oh yes, no matter what had been said and done while he was alive, he learned in death how much of his daughter she was. The only thing upon her that belonged to her mother was her glowing eyes. Everything else, her stoic bearing, her stance, her ruddy hair had come from him. In his passing between worlds, he saw this girl rarely, save for a few years ago.
"I was there, you know, in the Tower. When Mary committed you."
Her eyes flared, but rather than turn to rage they pooled with more unshed tears. "What?"
"I was with you. Well, alternately with Mary as well. I stopped her hand every time she reached to execute you, and then would make sure no one came for you in the night," he whispered, taking her hands in his, idly running his thumb over the ring Mary had sent her upon expiring. "I could not let her kill the last of my line."
"Hardly sentimental, Father," came the redhead's ready response, but the glitter in her eyes told him he was not going to be pushed away now. "Y'know, I think I felt your presence there. Every time I felt ready to just give up and let them destroy me, I would feel…warm, on the crown of my head, and at once my resolve would return."
Henry smiled. "It was I, laying my blessings for courage upon you."
Lightly she returned the grin, only to straighten her back and don a business-like face.
"Father…Henry…why have you come?"
Taking what seemed to be a steadying breath (quite novel for a ghost, the young woman thought), the dead Tudor king rose up again, assuming his hands-on-hips stance.
"It is hard to explain the afterlife, my child. Indeed, after being in it for this long time, I still do not understand the half of it. I will tell you this; I am here to…" he paused, feeling the sourness of the truth rise up, "I am here as per my penance. For all my earthly sins, I must walk this Earth until the last of our line trickles out, watching over the King or Queen of England. I did it for your brother, I was there for Mary; for that nine days' time I was with Lady Jane, poor soul. And now, Elizabeth, I am here for you. I will be as a shadow for the most part, a guide through this dark world."
"So you will be my…otherworldly advisor?" she asked skeptically, getting back onto her feet as well. "Right now, Father, I am having a hard time believing you are even here."
"Even so, 'tis true," he replied, rubbing his hands together. "Dearest daughter, you will be queen in less than twelve hours. And although I will be about to ensure that no harm befall you per God's plan and Holy word, I cannot ensure that you will always be able to hear or see me. I have been granted the opportunity to speak but once to you in person; from here on out I must speak in your dreams, as this action is greatly discouraged amongst the dead."
The silence grew thick again as Elizabeth digested those words. Here was his only chance to really talk to his daughter, and he had been quite forthright when speaking of Anne. In that respect, Elizabeth was content, if not satisfied. But here was a king who had ruled mightily, governed this country and its people since he was eighteen years of age. Elizabeth could imagine the terror in her heart at assuming this great responsibility at twenty-five, and she was already blessed to have William Cecil as her advisor. And yet…he was no king.
She wanted a king's advice on being a sovereign.
"Speak on, your majesty," she commanded, laying his old title on thickly. Seating herself on the edge of her bed, she kept her eyes locked on Henry and her attention rapt. "As sunrise will be upon us soon, I ask you to say your piece. We have spoken of my mother, and that is something I've wanted for so long. Now we must speak of royal matters. I've only run my small estates, never an entire country. For now, they want the Bonny Queen Bess, but how can I keep their love? And on the subject of love, what of my future husband? Everyone tells me I must marry, and so for our kingdom I shall. But I don't want him to…put me aside on some pretext."
She glanced away, unable to look her father in the eyes when she said that. If she had looked at him, she would've only seen calm on his face (and the clenching of a single fist, but that ended quickly enough).
"And what of the Spanish, and the Scots Queen? There's also the reform of the church that must be done. So many questions-"
"Indeed, Elizabeth, you will have a lifetime of questions and answers, decisions to make and problems to overcome. I will do my very best to help you along, to save you from peril should it rear its head, but I cannot answer all your queries with certainty. I will tell you but three things for this morning, and then on the morrow, you will begin your life as head of state, and I will remain spectator," Henry breathed. "Shall I now go on?"
Mutely the young woman nodded, eager to hear her father's true council.
"First, in all manners of decisions warlike and pan-European, you must play the part of prince and of woman. You have a rare gift, Elizabeth, of charm and grace dwelling within a heart worthy of a king. Use your womanly wiles to deceive your enemies, but hold true and remain as stalwart a king as any man."
The eighth Henry strode across the room, looking out the window onto the greens below. How beautiful this world was, and how dangerous it would be if Elizabeth did not heed his council. He'd made the mistake of leaving her unprotected with Seymour, he would never allow any such thing to happen to her again.
"Second, daughter-mine, though you should play the woman, remember you are the daughter of kings. You are a Queen, and Queen of England besides. Men, at home and abroad, may not respect you for that simple fact. I have come to learn in the afterlife that women are much more than men give them credit for being. Demand the respect of your councilors; demand the respect of your subjects. Rule absolutely, and show them that a woman is capable of running a country such as this. Your subjects' love will follow accordingly."
"How can I demand respect, though? How can I make them listen?"
Henry smirked. "You are a Tudor, and no one can doubt that. We are a royal family for the people, and so you must show love and devotion to them as well as your gentry. You will find the way; you are a bright child, and I have every faith in your cleverness."
The darkness of night was beginning to slip away into the first touches of sun. The first blast of rays poured through the king's body, showing him to be every bit of the ghost he was.
"And now I must end this with one final piece: never, ever marry."
Elizabeth gasped. Truly, when she was younger and the veil of Katherine Howard's death still hung about the court she had sworn to God she would never marry, but she had been sharply contradicted by her elder half-sister and anyone else she had ever met. As a young woman, she was expected to marry; as a queen, it was an absolute duty. She must-MUST-be married, have children, further the Tudor line…give power over to a man.
She gritted her teeth in annoyance and fury. Surrendering her birthright to another man, to anyone else but herself, was something she could not, and would not, tolerate.
"Ah, you are of the same mind as I. This power has been ours for many years, the Tudors reign here. You cannot bear to part with something so long fought for. I, as a man, had the luxury of keeping my power no matter if I had a wife or not. But for you…you stand to lose your whole life to a man in the bonds of marriage," the king remarked with total clarity. "And you are right to worry about being put aside; who knows better than I what I have done to my own wives to get my way? I've broken hearts, led them to death in a case or two."
"What of the continuing of our line? What of us holding the country forever? What of…" she broke off, an unbidden thought flying through her mind, "…of children? A son?"
"Or a daughter," Henry supplemented. He winced as the sun rose higher and made him a little more see-through. He would vanish indeed shortly, he had to go on. "Elizabeth, the people will be your children, England shall be your husband. There may be someone who will honestly love you, and there will be political suitors to come for you as well. But know this: God wills you to have and hold this country, for better or for worse. He has a plan for all, and this kingdom will not fall prey to foreign forces. Man is fallible, but God is not. Be a mother to the people. You…you are meant for greater things beyond the normal ken of a woman. You are to be queen, and queen absolutely you shall be, my rose."
He reached out to her, and immediately she flew into his arms, hugging her father fiercely.
"I have not long now, and so I must away to the shadow world," Henry whispered.
A lone tear crawled down Elizabeth's face. She had precious little time with her father as a child, and to lose him again hurt more than she could express. "When shall I see you again, Father?"
His arms curled around her, his smile brilliant as he began to fade away.
"Soon, Bessie. Soon…"
"Wait!" she cried, realizing she was holding nothing but air, the risen sun's rays enfolding her. Her eyes closed against fresh tears, and when she opened them again she found herself laying in the royal bed of England. As Kat Ashley came bustling in to throw back the curtains and stoke up the dying fire, Elizabeth felt a slick slide of disgust course down her belly. Was she indeed going mad? Did she dream of it all? Was Henry ever really there?
Pushing the doubt from her mind, she rose from the bed and allowed her maids to dress her grandly for the coronation. Once her gown, jewels, and makeup were in place, she felt her mind ease, though her heart raced at the prospect of being in the cathedral, of the crown settling upon her head…
…The crowds screaming her name, praising her as Harry's bonny lass…
…A true Tudor, he called her…
"Tu veritas Tudoris rosa."
His voice echoed around her, with words sweet enough to make her melt.
The questions she'd never dared to ask was answered in that one split second. With a great deal of pride and courage surging through her core, Elizabeth Tudor spirited herself to her waiting horse to being the progress to the abbey.
Her father did love her, and now she knew. Now she could heed his advice assuredly, and she knew he would help her make her reign glorious and golden, as the last Tudor rose.