Author's Note: Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed this story, all your comments have been most welcome. The usual disclaimers apply, and I own none of this. Please read and review, thank you!
Chapter 26: The Power And The Passion (Epilogue).
The carriage bearing the new Duke and Duchess of Somerset drew level with the entrance to their new home. Somewhere, deep in the mists of time, this ducal seat had been held by the new Duchess's great-great-grandfather, or thereabouts. His name was John Beaufort; he had a daughter called Margaret, who's son became England's unlikeliest King. The unlikeliest King had a son; the son who is now the strongest King, and who has a daughter. A daughter called Mary.
Mary smiled brightly at her husband, Edmund. In her belly was the first in line of a new generation of these great people. The growing babe embodied them all. It was, all at once, unlikely, strong (if the kicks were anything to go by), and a blessing from God that healed the wounds in the lives of both of its parents.
Edmund looked turned from their palatial new home, and back at his wife. His gaze came to rest on her swollen belly. The first year of their marriage had been a fruitful one.
"Are you all right?" he asked, his voice full concern that was only for her.
"So long as I have you," she replied.
She looked back at Bletsoe Castle, and thought of her grandmother's grandmother. They were all born within those walls, and it was only right that her daughter, and her instincts told her that that is what it was, should be born there, too. A daughter, she thought to herself again, and turned to kiss Edmund's cheek.
"You're not disappointed, are you?" she asked him, referring to their child's gender.
"I will be if you catch a chill out here," he quipped in return.
As though a command had been bellowed out; there were suddenly surrounded by a swarm of footmen, servants, maids, and grooms. A whole new household to attend their every whim, desire, and need. It would take time to get to know them all, but Mary and Edmund felt at home already. As he led her inside, he grinned broadly.
"You forget," he said. "I have seen you English girls in action. What better son could a man hope for?"
Mary leaned against him, laughing. Laughter that died away as they came to a halt in the great hall of their home. The ceiling was high, and beamed. The walls newly panelled with varnished oak, and the stone floor had been reset. Her father, King Henry, had ordered a complete refurbishment as a gift for them. It was breathtaking. Mary, however, didn't have long to enjoy it. Her confinement was due to begin that evening.
The thought of their imminent separation weighted heavily on Edmund's mind. Since their marriage, they had not spent so much as a day away from each other's side. But, as he looked at his home, and his wife, it was only then that the reality of fatherhood hit him. Any day now, and he would be cradling a tiny baby in his arms, and that baby would be his own flesh and blood.
Edmund and Mary looked into each other's eyes. After everything they had been through, and everything that had happened to them, they were lucky just to have each other. Their baby, no matter what the gender, was an added divine bonus.
"Are you ready?" he asked nervously.
"No," she laughed.
She had yearned for a child of her own. She had done so for many a year, and she had prepared herself for the fact that it would never happen. The yearning and brooding had been so all consuming, that she had neglected to wonder what parenting would actually be like. Now that her dreams were real; they suddenly seemed incredibly daunting. But with Edmund at her side, she knew that they would make it together. Just like they made it together when fighting against rebels and traitors. They said nothing about that; they didn't need to.
"Come on," said Edmund as he grabbed her wrist and started to run through the galleries of Palace. "Let's explore!"
The Court returned to Greenwich. The King's health was failing now, and Anne thought the clean country air would do him good. Arthur was back at Ludlow, William and Elizabeth were with their Tutors, and the country was back in the safe hands of the Privy Council. That left them free to spend their days together.
Often, they walked the gardens. Their pace steady and slow to allow for the King. But Anne did not mind. When she looked at him, she still saw the amorous lover who pursued her across the country for just one backwards glance of her coal black eyes. All that power, and all that passion was still theirs for the taking, even if no one else saw it.
"Are you all right, my darling?" asked Anne as Henry had begun to nod off at the bench they were sitting on.
Henry jolted awake. "Fine, fine!" he repeated. The celebrations for the birth of their granddaughter, little Catherine, had left him exhausted.
Anne smiled as she gazed into his eyes. Those glittering sapphire eyes that even age and infirmity could not dull. Henry looked at her, and thought the exact same thing. Her allure, her excitement, was still there. They leaned in and kissed one another. Sometimes, they did not speak much. But their silences were the companionable sort, now. But as Anne rested her head on Henry's shoulder, he suddenly spoke.
"Perhaps my best years are gone," he said. "But I wouldn't want them back. Not with the fire that burns in me now."
All around them, another year drew to a close. The trees were a riot of colours; of bronze and gold, and burning hues of the death of the season. But the skies were still wide, open and blue. The world was big, and beautiful again. Anne looked up at it all in wonder, and listened to her dying husband's words. She closed her eyes, and relished the breeze that buffeted her face.
"Amen," she concluded.
Thank you, once again, to everyone who has read and reviewed this story. You're input is greatly appreciated, and it made writing this story a joy. Thank you!