April 28, 1603
"It's just so hard for me to believe that she's really gone now," Jane whispered as she stared dolefully at the effigy of Queen Elizabeth above the Queen's purple-velvet-draped coffin. Guilford, standing hand in hand with his wife, nodded curtly. Of course, they had both known of the Queen's passing since Robert Cecil had announced it at Whitehall Palace right after Elizabeth's death in the wee hours of the morning of March 24, but finally seeing her casket really brought it home for both of them.
"Thank God our new King belongs to the true faith, even though his mother didn't," Jane continued. Guilford nodded again, staring glassy-eyed at the effigy and coffin himself.
The succession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne had violated the will of Elizabeth's father, King Henry VIII, which had prohibited the descendants of the Scottish family line from inheriting the throne of England. However, James' succession had been what Elizabeth had wished, and Robert Cecil had smoothed the way for it to happen. Otherwise, the crown would have passed to Jane herself and then, of course, to her son Robert.
Jane, who at sixty-five had no desire whatsoever to take over the leadership of a country, had been overwhelmingly relieved that this time the crown had been passed on with no violence or bloodshed. She knew that the English people would accept even a Scottish King much more readily than they would have accepted Robert's wife Susanna, whom Jane had come to love as a daughter, as a consort. Jane knew that Susanna had been the primary reason Elizabeth had favored James over Robert, and that knowledge hurt worse than she was willing to admit.
Grace and her children stood near Guilford and Jane. Sadly, Henry Carey had never completely recovered from the head injury he had received at Glenmalure. His headaches had gotten progressively worse until he had finally sank into a coma from which he had never emerged. Grace had mourned her husband as any devoted wife, which she had been, would have.
On the outskirts of the mourners stood a slight, dark-complected man wearing a beret. His eyes met those of Grace, and Grace took Suzanne's hand and they walked together to join him.
"I think I met you once before, when I was very little," Suzanne said.
"You did indeed," Gaston replied with a smile. "I remember it very well."
"My father was still alive then," Suzanne continued.
Gaston's eyes met those of Grace. Suzanne noticed the unspoken exchange but had no idea what it meant.
"Much time has passed," agreed Gaston. Almost unconsciously, he began to walk away from the crowd, followed by Grace and Suzanne.
"Henry never fully recovered from the head injury he received in battle," Grace explained.
"I'm very sorry," Gaston replied.
Without a word, Grace's hand slipped into his. Suzanne looked on, puzzled.
"Your mother and I have been very good friends for a long time," Gaston told her. "We grew up together as children."
"I see." Suzanne still felt a bit confused.
"It was Gaston's parents who hid your grandparents when the ruling Catholics sought their death," Grace told her.
"Oh! Well, in that case, my family owes yours a great deal."
"They only did what God would expect of any good Christian," Gaston told her, smiling. "My mother's name was Suzanne, too."
"Was I named for her, then?" Suzanne asked her mother.
"Indeed you were," Grace told her.
Gaston and Grace were married a few days later, in the little chapel in Gaston's neighborhood. The small wedding was attended by Grace's entire family and Gaston's friends and neighbors. Once Jane recovered from the shock of learning for the first time of her daughter's true feelings for Gaston, she was thrilled about the match, not caring in the least what her friends at court thought about it.
Afterwards, Grace returned with Gaston to the home she had lived in with her children for many years.
"I think I could easily get lost in a house this large," Gaston laughed.
"I've waited ever so long for this day," Grace said in a throaty voice as she led him to the bedroom.
King James VI of Scotland entered London on May 7. Glancing over the huge crowd of spectators, he saw Robert and Susanna Dudley standing together, holding hands. He looked at their oldest son, taking in the youngster's coal black hair and eyes and prominent cheekbones. There was no way on earth he could envision the boy someday sitting on the throne of England.
Amongst the spectators Guilford and Jane stood quietly. They were both completely white-haired now, but their love for one another was just as strong as it had ever been.
High above, flocks of white seagulls soared over the Thames.
A/N: Many thanks to everyone who read and reviewed this story. :)