Dedicated to Reganx, both to thank her for the idea for this one-shot and to celebrate her return to this site! I hope everything stays all right and that you'll be around for ages yet. :)
Everything Has To Change
She was dressed in darkgrey damask with a wide white collar and a hood of grey-trimmed black velvet encrusted with tiny seed pearls. People clustered around her, reaching for her, calling out to her, blessing her. Her ladies walked behind her, sombre and shaken. One, her cousin Margaret Wyatt, was even weeping silently.
And then the crowd parted and she saw the scaffold. The scaffold with the cold hard executioner's block in the centre of it. Anne's heart missed a beat and she tried to stop. Surely that wasn't meant for her. Surely?
But her legs refused to obey her, carrying her up the steps and on to the scaffold without her consent.
"No! I am Lady Anne Rochford, Marquess of Pembroke! I am the King's most beloved! There must be some mistake!"
Inwardly, she was screaming, but though her mouth was open, no words were coming out. Instead, she was forgiving the headsman as he knelt before her; moving forward to make her speech; kneeling at the block.
"NO! No! NO!" She screamed one last time, trying to protest, but it was no good. Yet again, the words refused to come. And now the sword was swishing through the air behind her, she could feel it beginning to tickle her neck…
Anne sat bolt upright, screaming. Her hands, slick with sweat, went instinctively to her neck, clamping down on it, clutching it. Thank God. Her pulse still beat strong. Her skin was still warm. She was still alive.
"Madam! What is it?"
Nan, good faithful Nan, was at her side, candle burning brightly in her hand. Anne exhaled slowly, releasing a breath that she didn't even realise she'd taken in, much less been holding.
"It's fine, Nan. I'm fine. It was just a bad dream. Go back to bed."
"As you wish, Madam." Nan dipped a half-curtsy and turned to do as she was told, but Anne changed her mind almost as soon as the words had left her mouth.
"Actually, Nan, get my brother, would you?"
"Of course." Nan nodded and was gone within seconds, leaving Anne alone in the dark of her bedchamber.
Alone with nothing better to do than to replay those last horrible seconds before she woke in her mind, over and over again.
Thank God George answered her call swiftly.
"Sister. Nan woke me; said you wanted to see me?"
As she turned to him, George read the fear in her face and, dismissing Nan from the room with a quick motion with his hand, folded her into his arms.
"Hush, little sister. Hush. What's wrong?" he crooned, stroking her lustrous raven hair as Anne, finally able to let her emotions go in the warmth of his embrace, trembled and buried a damp face in his shoulder.
"I had the most terrible dream, George! Terrible!"
"Tell me. Shh. Tell me, Annie. You know what Mama used to say. A problem shared…"
"Is a problem halved," Anne finished, with a shaky smile.
"Exactly. So what is it?"
"I was walking in a crowd – up a scaffold – I was kneeling – sword was behind – I – it – I was going to die, George! I was going to die!"
Suddenly, the words came easily, fuelled by her terror. George held her, rocking her as he used to when they were just children in the nursery and she'd crept into his room after a nightmare, knowing that, unlike Mary, he would banish her demons once and for all.
In fact, he even used the same words he had used then.
"It was just a dream, Annie. Just a dream. It's all right. I've got you. I'm not going to let anything happen to you, I promise. It was just a dream."
"It wasn't." All of a sudden certain of something, Anne pushed herself away from her brother and looked him in the eye, shaking her head. "It wasn't just a dream, George."
"Of course it was!" George laughed, reckless in the face of danger, as always. Seeing her face, however, he softened again, reaching for her. "Listen to me. You're the Lady Marquess of Pembroke, Anne. Henry's taking you to France next week. He's going to present you to Francis as his future bride. He loves you. He loves you heart and soul, sister. He's not about to order your death. There's no way you're going to die. Not on the scaffold. I promise."
"No, George. You listen to me. I'm telling you, this wasn't a dream. It was too prophetic for that. I know it. You know as well as I do that there's a prophecy saying that a Queen of England will burn at the stake for a witch. What if it's wrong? What if people have remembered it wrong? What if the actual prophecy states that a Queen shall be beheaded, not burnt?"
"Why does it matter, anyway, Anne? You're not a Queen."
Stunned by George's careless confidence, Anne seized his arms and actually had to restrain herself from shaking him.
"Not yet, George, but I will be. Oh, use your head, brother! We Boleyns are not exactly popular at Court. People call us arrogant, too puffed up on our own pride. And they're right, in a way. We've made far too many enemies in our quest for my throne. Far too many."
"So what? When you're Queen and Mother to the Prince of Wales…"
"What if I'm not?" Anne cut her brother off sharply. "What if I don't get pregnant? What if I miscarry? Have a stillbirth, or, God Forbid, a girl? Then Henry will tire of me, brother, just like he tired of Katherine. And unlike Katherine, I don't have supporters who are willing to risk their lives for me. That has to change, George. We have to change. We have to start winning people to our side, not by pushing them aside and damaging their prospects so that they're too weak to hurt us anymore, but with kindness. Do you hear me?"
"Yes." George looked as though he wanted to protest, but Anne, suddenly exhausted, turned back to the bed, in no mood for further conversation or argument.
"Then go, brother. Go back to bed. But remember, from now on, everything has to change. Everything."