He wondered if George and Mary knew.

Theirs had never been a particularly close family, though when they were children, he made an effort to visit Hever frequently, so that he didn't miss their childhoods entirely.

Knowing that, when they were adults, their fortunes would depend on how well they established themselves at court, he saw to it that they had the chance to obtain positions in royal households at a fairly young age, to give them the opportunity to learn all they could of life at court, but when they were very young, he tried to find time to play with them.

Their childhood would be short, and he wanted them to enjoy it.

Although he would have denied it if he was asked, Anne was his favourite of his children and the one who commanded most of his time and attention, but he still tried to spend time with the other two, and get to know them. He spoke to their governess and tutor about their progress and conduct, and he listened to the children when they told him of their lessons and games.

It wasn't until they were adults that he realised just how little he knew them.

Mary was banished from court almost two years before Anne's death, and he had forbidden her brother and sister to write to her, or to send her money or gifts. Mary made the choice to turn her back on her family, deciding that, instead of asking her father to find her a husband, instead of recognising that, as well as him being able to find a better husband for her than the one she found for herself, her marriage was also a potentially useful card that could be played to benefit their family, who were sorely in need of any cards they could possibly lay hands on to play, she decided to be selfish and please only herself. She didn't care that it humiliated her father to be presented with a common soldier as his son-in-law, or that such a man was completely unworthy to be the brother-in-law of the Queen of England, or how her unworthy marriage reflected on Anne.

It probably never even occurred to her to think how the King would feel when he learned of his lowly new brother-in-law, or if it had, she didn't care about the effect it would have on Anne.

For all Mary knew or cared, the King might have taken his anger over her marriage out on Anne, blaming her because she had the misfortune to have a sister who lacked the sense, and the pride in her status as a member of one of England's noble families, to choose a suitable husband, and feeling angry with her for exposing him to embarrassment.

Mary was selfish, and thought only of what she wanted, instead of what was best for the family.

She made the choice to turn her back on her family, so she no longer deserved to reap the benefits of all that her father and sister worked for. She didn't deserve to be paid an allowance from her father's income, and she didn't deserve to be allowed to live at court, and to have a place of honour in her sister's household as a lady-in-waiting. It would have been unthinkable for him to allow Mary and her husband to remain at court as living reminders of Mary's folly, providing Anne's enemies with an excuse to belittle her, now that her sister had degraded herself.

It was the duty of the husband she chose to support Mary, and any children they had, to the best of his ability.

If they all starved or froze to death for lack of food or fuel, it was no concern of his.

He owed her nothing.

The only reason he saw to it that she was invited to court to attend Anne's funeral was that he was half-afraid that, if he didn't, she would have appeared uninvited, and made such a fuss that she would either be allowed to enter in order to pacify her or that she would disgrace her family by drawing attention with her unseemly display, particularly on such a solemn occasion.

Rather than risk embarrassment by having his disowned daughter barge into the Chapel Royal for the service, perhaps even publicly castigating him for not sending for her, for not recognising that she too had a right to mourn Anne, as much a right as any member of the family, he decided that the best thing he could do was to be the one who issued the invitation, so that when Mary came to court, she came on his terms, not her own. As he was the one to issue the invitation, he could direct that Mary was not to bring that husband of hers with her, or any child she might have.

He had no interest in speaking to Mary's husband, or in meeting any children she might have borne since he last saw her.

Since she was heavily pregnant when he last saw her, there must be at least one child, unless it was stillborn, but he didn't want to know about it.

He would have been overjoyed if God chose to send him more grandchildren by Anne, especially if those grandchildren were boys, and he would have liked to know that George would one day give him a grandson, an heir to all the Boleyns had achieved, a boy who would ensure the continuation of their family name and ensure that they continued to be one of the great families in England after he was gone, when their cousin was Queen, but he had no use for a Stafford brat, and it pained him to think that his grandchildren could be born to the child who least needed them.

Thankfully, Mary had the sense to obey his instruction to leave her husband at home, rather than bringing him to a court where there was no place for him as a way of proving that her father could no longer command her, and although he was obliged to invite her to dine with him and George, as neglecting to do so would have led to unwelcome gossip, she knew better than to think that he would have any interest in hearing about her family and didn't speak of them.

Mary was polite but distant at dinner, barely speaking and, when she did speak, addressing her remarks to George rather than to him.

She enquired after little Elizabeth, expressing her sympathy for a child who was rendered motherless before her third birthday, but she did not ask to see the child, or suggest that she could take a place in Elizabeth's household, to watch over her sister's daughter, nor did she hint that her children by Stafford could be companions to the little princess.

He had already decided that, if she presumed to ask that of him, he would refuse.

When the time came for Elizabeth to have companions to share her lessons, she should have the daughters of loyal nobles in her household, not the unwanted products of her aunt's ill-chosen marriage. The families and future husbands of her childhood companions could one day become useful allies for her but she was better off without reminders of her Stafford cousins.

A couple of times during the meal, he caught his elder daughter watching him with cold, appraising eyes, a set, angry expression on her face, but he told himself that Mary was only angry with him for sticking to his word and cutting off her allowance, instead of relenting and sending her money to support her new husband and family, as she had probably expected him to, once enough time passed to cool his initial anger towards her over her marriage. She probably hadn't believed that he meant what he said when he told her that he was cutting her from his life.

That had to be the reason for her angry gaze.

She couldn't know the truth.

They exchanged only the briefest of farewells before Mary left court to return to her husband, and once she was gone, he put her out of his mind.

When word reached him that she had died, he saw no need to attend her funeral.

It wasn't until after Anne's death that he realised just how much his life and George's had revolved around her, since they first committed themselves to seeing to it that she became Queen.

All those years of planning with the Duke of Norfolk, of monitoring Anne's interactions with the King, and issuing occasional instructions, when they were warranted, of working to find allies who could help them to help the King to free himself from his union with that accursed Spanish woman, so she could no longer stand between Anne on the throne, of travelling on the King's business when delicate matters required their attention as they could be entrusted to nobody but Anne's kin, of rejoicing when the King showed them how much he favoured the Boleyn men for Anne's sake and for the sake of the work they did for him, all the time they spent watching out for Anne's interests during her marriage, and seeing to it that she didn't ruin everything with a show of temper that would anger the King... all that time they had spent together, for all those years, united by a common purpose, and now he found that his son was a virtual stranger to him.

He couldn't remember the last time he and George had had a proper conversation unconnected with Anne.

He couldn't name his son's friends at court, if George had any.

He didn't know if his son was living comfortably on his income from his various posts, or if he had amassed debts as he strove to live the life that a nobleman was expected to lead at court.

He had no idea how George was faring in his marriage, although the fact that there was no sign of a Boleyn grandchild must bode ill for either Jane's fertility or her relationship with her husband.

It was a shock to him to see that George was no longer young.

He was no longer the boy who had played in the gardens of Hever with his father and his younger sister, or the youth who was so full of promise and for whom his tutors had predicted a great future. He was no longer the young man who had come to court full of expectations about the career he would carve out, who saw his family's status rise as his younger sister found favour with the King, and who enjoyed the kind of advancement that other young courtiers envied, who was appointed to the Privy Council, and trusted with the role of ambassador at a young age, and who enjoyed the honour of being the King's brother-in-law and the Princess' uncle.

George wasn't an old man, not yet, but he still seemed years older than he should.

After Anne's death, he was more serious than before, diligently attending to his duties as a member of the Privy Council, making an effort to maintain a cordial relationship with his wife, and spending time with Elizabeth, playing with her and telling her about her mother, both stories about Anne as a child and stories about how much she had loved her beautiful daughter.

It seemed that George was determined to see to it that the little princess would never forget that she was as much of a Boleyn as she was a Tudor, and that she would be proud to be Anne's child.

They had little to do with one another, outside of shared duties, and when they spoke, they restricted their conversation to superficial issues.

He never took George to task for his childlessness, reminding him that he was growing older and that he and his wife should be raising their family by now. He had already had to lose Anne because she had no living son, and much as he would have liked a Boleyn grandson, he didn't want to push George away from him over the issue, knowing as he did that, if his son was unwilling to at least try to get a son on his wife, there was no way that he would be able to force him, and arguing with him would only serve to drive a wedge between them.

He had had to cast Mary out of his life and to bury Anne.

He couldn't lose George too.

He only had one child left.

If George ever wondered about the timing of Anne's murder, wondered why her killer would have chosen to strike at a moment when she was weak and near defeat, when it was all but guaranteed that the King would cast her aside without them needing to move against her, rather than when she was strong, and able to pose a credible threat to enemies like the Princess Dowager, the Lady Mary, the Imperial faction and the Seymour family, he never said so, nor did he ever remark on the irony that, though the Boleyns once thought that their fortunes would fall with Anne when she fell out of favour with the King, they were as secure in his favour after her death as at the height of the King's love for her, and continued to be the first family at court.

George had never shared Anne's steel.

He might be charming and bright but there were some things that he could never have the stomach for.

If the truth was too monstrous for him to bear, George would shut his eyes and do his best not to allow himself to believe that it could possibly be true.

Maybe George was the lucky one.

Although the King hoped and prayed for a son from his new Queen, his prayers went unanswered and their union remained childless.

Nobody would have dared to say so but there were few who blamed the Queen for the lack of a new Tudor heir. The King had had little luck siring healthy children when he was a young man, and thought himself Katherine's husband. Elizabeth was the only strong, healthy child he could boast, while Mary was a thin, sickly young woman, though sadly not sickly enough to die. Out of all the King's mistresses, only one of them ever presented him with a bastard, and who could be sure that Lady Blount had spoken truthfully when she claimed that her son was the King's child? Perhaps the boy was her husband's, or her son by a secret lover, and she hoped to secure a grand title and glorious future for the boy by allowing the King to believe that he was the father.

Had he been ten years younger, and as strong and healthy as he was in the days when he was hailed as the handsomest Prince in Christendom, the King would undoubtedly have blamed his wife for their empty nursery, ignoring the fact that his own history of siring healthy children was poor, and sought to set her aside so that he could marry another woman, one who could give him the fine, healthy sons that England needed. However, even a King was subject to the ravages of age, and he seemed to have accepted that he would have no better luck with another woman.

Now that his youth was a thing of the past, the King seemed to crave peace in his marriage and family life, so he enjoyed a very cordial relationship with the Queen rather than shunning her for her barrenness. They would never be passionately in love, but they could live as friends.

In some ways, this marriage was perhaps the happiest the King had enjoyed.

For himself, he was pleased to see that the King's second true marriage was childless.

Anne wanted so badly for Elizabeth to be Queen, and he would have liked her to know that he had seen to it that her child would sit on the throne. He had to believe that, when Elizabeth became Queen, Anne would know it, and would know that her sacrifice was worth it.

However, when there was no child born of his new marriage, the King didn't just shower Elizabeth with affection and cherish her all the more, he opened his heart to his other daughter too.

As much as it pleased him to see Anne's child cherished, as she ought to be, it infuriated him when he saw the King show favour to Mary, seeming to forget the long years the wretched girl spent defying him, and he was particularly apprehensive when he heard him say that she had gone too long without a husband, and that it was past time for her to be married.

It was common knowledge at court that the Lady Mary longed to marry and to have children of her own but he knew that this was something that could never be allowed.

If Katherine's bastard was permitted to marry, she could have children by her new husband, sons.

Much as the King loved and cherished Elizabeth, as defensive as he was of her claim to the title of Princess of England, and as proud as he was of her many accomplishments, that would not last if the Lady Mary presented him with a couple of plump, healthy grandsons, at least one of whom was bound to be named Henry, to curry favour with his grandfather. The King would surely dote on the brats, seeing in them the sons that he was denied, and loving them for it. The last thing he wanted was for the King to decide that he would rather see the Lady Mary's eldest boy as his successor instead of Elizabeth, thinking that a male heir – even a toddler born of his bastard daughter – was a better choice as England's next ruler than his lawful heiress.

If the King wished it done, an Act of Parliament could vest the succession in the Lady Mary's sons, depriving Elizabeth of her inheritance in favour of her nephews.

He made sure that the Lady Mary was never allowed to marry.

He had some support on the Privy Council now.

He and George might not enjoy a good relationship as father and son but they were united in their desire to protect Elizabeth's position and inheritance.

George knew as well as he did that there could be no question of the Lady Mary being allowed to marry, gaining herself an ally should she try to seize her sister's throne or becoming the mother of sons who might charm their grandfather into rearranging the succession for their benefit.

Sir Thomas Wyatt, who had loved Anne since the days of their childhood, when he and his sister were frequent visitors at Hever, would protect little Elizabeth out of reverence for Anne's memory, and could be counted on to employ his silver tongue to not only persuade the King that a match proposed for the Lady Mary was not in England's best interests, but also to persuade the King that he was the one who came up with the objections to the match rather than being persuaded to refuse it by the arguments of another man. In the end, the King was convinced that he was against the match from the beginning, and that Wyatt merely agreed with him.

Thomas Cromwell might not be loyal to the Boleyn family, despite their help in advancing his career, but he believed in the reformation of the Church and knew better than anybody that the interests of the reformed Church would not be served if the Lady Mary was ever allowed to wield power, either in her own right or as Regent for her sons. Lady Mary was as staunch a Catholic as ever lived, like her mother before her, and she would be zealous in returning England to submission to Rome. For her, it would not just be a matter of faith; the Bishop of Rome had bowed to the power of the Emperor and declared Katherine to be the King's true wife and the issue of their union legitimate. She was certain to want to repudiate her mother and to declare herself legitimate and, disloyal bastard that she was, she would be prepared to violate the Oath she swore and rob the little girl whose position she swore to uphold of her rightful title in order to do it.

Cromwell knew as well as he did that, even if there was no alternative but that the Lady Mary be received with court as the King's daughter, they must see to it that she remain a spinster.

As a wife and mother, she was a threat to Elizabeth and to the Reformation but, if she was left to live out her childbearing years without a husband or hope of one, the damage she could do would be limited. Even those who supported her and believed that she was wronged when she was stripped of her royal status and denied any place in the line of succession, would surely rather see a healthy young lady, ripe to marry and bear children, as their Queen than a sickly woman old before her time, an old woman who would never be able to give England an heir.

It was almost a pity that they had seen to the suppression of the religious houses, or the Lady Mary could have been sent to live out her days in a convent, where she could pose no threat.

Since that was not an option, they must condemn her to the life of a perpetual spinster, a lonely woman whose dreams of having a family of her own must go unfulfilled.

After all the trouble she had caused Anne, she deserved no better.

It was easy enough to accomplish.

However pleased the King might be to have his eldest daughter back in his life again, he was far too proud to ever pretend that he was wrong to say that she was illegitimate, no matter how fond of her he might be and no matter how much it would mean to her to be allowed to call herself a Princess once more, instead of accepting that she was fortunate to be acknowledged as a daughter of the King and permitted the title of Lady. There was no way that he would pretend that Katherine was his true wife or even that there might have been an alternative to exposing the Lady Mary as a bastard, some way that he could be free while the girl retained her royal titles.

When he had killed men – including such revered men as Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More – for refusing to swear the Oath that Elizabeth was the rightful heir, supplanting Mary, he could scarcely say that Mary could actually have claimed legitimacy and, as such, the right to be first in line for the throne ahead of her young half-sister, and that the executions need not have happened.

He would never love the Lady Mary enough to say that he was wrong, for her sake.

This made it easy to ensure that the King never agreed to any of the royal matches that the Emperor proposed for his cousin. The King knew as well as anybody that, if the Lady Mary was married to a husband of the Emperor's choosing, it was all but inevitable that, as soon as the King died, if not before, he would support them in a bid to claim the English throne, knowing that he would have lasting allies in a couple who owed their throne to him.

It was a little more difficult when the Queen brought her cousin to England, and supported a match between him and the Lady Mary. She arranged for them to meet, and she praised the young man to the King, assuring him that he was handsome, kind, clever and loyal.

Philip of Bavaria ruled a minor dukedom, albeit a prosperous one, and although he had royal blood in his veins, he would never rule a great kingdom. As he was of royal birth, the King was willing to consider allowing him to marry the Lady Mary, of whose hand he considered the noblemen of England unworthy, despite her bastard status, but Duke Philip would never be so powerful that he could possibly hope to muster an army to put Mary on the throne when the King died. Even if Mary bore Duke Philip sons, the King was unlikely to ever see them, so the threat they posed to Elizabeth would be greatly diminished, next to the threat than English-born boys might pose.

He might have encouraged the union, thinking that it would be worth it if the Lady Mary left the court and the country, leaving Elizabeth to reclaim all of the King's love, except for one thing.

He could see that the Lady Mary liked Duke Philip, and that she wanted to marry him.

In time, she might easily have grown to love the man, and enjoyed her life as his wife.

Why should the Lady Mary be allowed to be happy, when Anne was denied happiness?

Why should the King see his elder daughter married to a man she loved, when the man Anne loved proved to be so unworthy of the faith she placed in him?

They didn't deserve it.

It was more difficult to see to it that the King rejected this match than it was to dissuade him from agreeing to greater, and more threatening, matches. He couldn't gently nudge the King towards the belief that the Emperor was hoping to manipulate him into agreeing to the match, not when the Queen was the one to propose it and when the Emperor was likely to be none too pleased about the prospect of his cousin becoming the wife of a duke. He couldn't convince him that Duke Philip could one day pose a threat to him. The King was also a sentimental man, who was touched by the idea of a love match, and who was pleased to think that the Lady Mary would be happy.

He focused his attention on the marriage contract, doing his best to guide the King's decisions and to ensure that the dowry offered would be low, while the demands for Lady Mary's income and household during the marriage, and her jointure if she was widowed were unreasonably high, playing on the King's pride to ensure that he would be satisfied with nothing less for his daughter. He also made certain that there was no way that the King would consent to the marriage without Duke Philip's formal, written consent that Lady Mary was a bastard, and that, as the children of a bastard, any issue born of their union would never be eligible to claim the English throne.

Although Duke Philip was sincere in his wish to marry Mary, the long list of conditions he was presented with eventually led him to abandon his suit.

Maybe he thought that the King's harsh stance with regard to the marriage negotiations indicated that he had no intention of allowing the match.

Maybe he came to the conclusion that he could do better in a bride than a royal bastard with no claim to a throne, and a relatively small dowry.

Either way, it didn't matter.

What mattered was that Duke Philip left England as he had arrived, as a bachelor.

What mattered was that the Lady Mary saw another chance at marriage disappear before her eyes.

He heard that the Lady Mary claimed that she never expected or wished to marry Duke Philip, as he was a Lutheran while she was a Catholic, but whenever he saw her around the court in the weeks that followed Duke Philip's departure, he could see that she was lying. While she was careful to control her expression before others, doing her best not to allow anybody to see what she was thinking, she couldn't disguise the pain in her eyes, and they betrayed her heartbreak.

It pleased him to see it.

Although Masses were frequently said for the repose of her soul, every year, on the anniversary of Anne's death, a special service was held in her memory in the Chapel Royal and, while the court didn't go into formal mourning for her, it was always a solemn place around that time.

In the weeks leading up to the anniversary, and the weeks immediately following it, the King was always somber and distant, remembering the wife he had once loved with such a passion and who was snatched away from him so suddenly and so violently, and remembering that the murder was never caught, nor were those who had stood to benefit from Anne's death, any one of whom might have been the one who sent an assassin to invade her bedchamber, and break her neck while she slept, unaware of the danger. He was in no mood for the revels that he usually took pleasure in and, while he never said that he expected his courtiers to follow his lead, they knew that it was best to refrain from their usual sports and merriment, in deference to their sovereign's grief.

God help any man who might be thought to be rejoicing over Anne's death!

Every year at this time, the King was cold and distant towards those who were known not to have had any love for Anne, with the worst of his hostility reserved for those who were her enemies.

Such people were always wise to avoid bringing themselves to his attention at that time.

The Imperial ambassador usually had the sense to keep to his apartments, if he could not find some urgent errand that he must undertake on his master's behalf.

The King said little during those weeks but he could be seen watching the faces of Anne's enemies with keen eyes, scrutinising every aspect of their expression. It was as though he thought that the killer, or those who had set him his task, might betray their guilt with a word or a look, even after all these years, and that he would finally know who had taken Anne from him.

He wondered how much of the King's behaviour was due to his grief for Anne, and how much was due to his frustration and anger over the fact that, despite investigations into those with a motive to murder Anne, despite quizzing servants to find out if any of them saw a suspicious person loitering near the Queen's apartments or trying to slip away from the palace without being seen on the night of the murder, he was no nearer to learning the truth than he was on the terrible morning when he found her lying still and cold in the bed they once shared.

It had to make the King uneasy to know that somebody was able to slip into his palace, murder his Queen and escape without anybody being any the wiser.

Even the Lady Mary was treated coldly during the time of remembrance, as if the King had forgotten that she was now restored to his favour, forgotten that it was several years since the Lady Mary had abandoned her treasonous claim to the title of Princess, allowing him to welcome her into his life once more and grant her a place of honour at his court. There was never a trace of the man who prided himself on being a kind and generous father to his once estranged daughter.

The Lady Mary knew better than to refuse to attend the services dedicated to Anne, and could always be seen in the Chapel Royal, praying.

No doubt she considered Anne's soul to be in particular need of prayers for her salvation, although she might also have been praying for her mother. He could imagine that it grieved the Lady Mary that her mother had not lived just a month longer, so that she might have lived long enough to learn of Anne's death. Knowing the stubbornness of the Princess Dowager, and her unwillingness to believe that it was the King's wish to set her aside, she would probably have thought that Anne's death would mean her restoration as Queen.

Had the Spanish woman not chosen that time to die, Anne might still be alive.

The King couldn't make a move to rid himself of Anne while her predecessor lived, not unless he wanted to be bombarded with people urging him to take Katherine back and restore her daughter, something that he would never willingly consent to. Better for him to keep Anne, who was still young and healthy enough to be able to hope to give him a son, than to restore Katherine, who was not only long past her childbearing years but with whom he would never be able to feel at ease again, after all that had happened between them.

The extra time could have given Anne the chance to bear the Prince who would make her safe.

During the time of remembrance, the mystery of Anne's murder was a common subject of conversation at court.

Even though everybody knew that it was extremely unlikely that her killer would be caught at this late stage, as there could be no evidence linking anybody to Anne's death, people still speculated about it. Different courtiers had different theories about who could have been responsible, and how they might have managed to sneak into the palace, and into the Queen's apartment without being detected. Opinion was divided on the subject of which of Anne's enemies was responsible, whether she was killed by an agent of the Emperor or the Bishop of Rome, or if her life was snuffed out by somebody who had hoped that, with Anne out of the way, the King could be persuaded to restore the Lady Mary as his heiress.

The Lady Mary sometimes attracted speculative looks.

Nobody seriously imagined that the girl might have been the mastermind behind the plot to murder Anne but they were not about to dismiss the possibility that one of her supporters had killed Anne for her sake, or even that she might have been told in advance but chose to remain silent, in the hope that the plot would be successful.

It amused him to watch her reaction to the speculation she overheard, knowing that she probably considered it offensive that anybody should imagine that she would do such a thing - as though the granddaughter of Isabella and Ferdinand, not to mention Henry VII, would not resort to murder if that was the only way that she could claim a crown to which she felt herself entitled! - and that she might also be frightened by the rumours, afraid that her father might hear of them and think that there could be some truth to them, that the daughter he had graciously forgiven for her past defiance, and to whom he had shown more honour than she, as a bastard, had the right to expect from him, could be a murderess.

And then one evening, the Lady Mary met his gaze, and her reaction was no longer amusing.
Thomas Wyatt had composed a poem in Anne's honour, with Mark Smeaton setting it to music, and after a solemn meal, eaten mostly in silence, with those who spoke limiting themselves to the subject of Anne, her virtues and the tragedy of her early death, the song was played for the court, who listened to the haunting music in silence, more than a few of them thinking it prudent to be seen to dab dry eyes with handkerchiefs. Tears rolled down the King's cheeks, and the Queen took his hand in hers sympathetically, feeling no jealousy for a ghost's hold on her husband's heart.

As a rule, the Lady Mary had a place of honour on the table at the dais, as a member of the royal family, but during the period of mourning, she was relegated to a place at one of the lower tables, where the court sat, as though her father considered it a slight to Anne's memory that Mary, who had refused to accept her in life, should be treated with honour while Anne was mourned.

She was seated almost directly in front of him, allowing him to watch her reaction, and when she turned to look up at him, he would swear that he saw understanding dawn in her eyes.

The wretched girl was thinking back to the time of Anne's death, and remembering how matters had stood then.

She was remembering that, shortly after her mother's death, Anne had miscarried of the son who would have been her saviour, the son whose birth would have convinced the King that his decision to set the Spanish woman aside, and expose her daughter as the bastard she was, was the right choice for him and for England, the son who would have ensured that his mother remained a beloved wife and Queen for the rest of her days, never again having to worry that she would lose her husband's love to whatever worthless wench sought to steal him from her.

She was remembering the rumours that the King fancied himself in love with Mistress Seymour, that the creature wished to see her restored as a princess, and that, with the Spanish woman dead, it would be a relatively easy matter for the King to set Anne aside and raise the Seymour wench in her place.

She was remembering that Anne had died at a time when her position was so weak that those who sought to see her replaced or to see the Lady Mary restored could simply have waited for the King to set her aside, and remembering that, instead of benefiting her enemies, Anne's murder had protected her family and her friends. Because Anne did not live to be a threat to the King's wish to be rid of her so that he might remarry, her daughter did not suffer the loss of her title, and her family were allowed to retain the honours they enjoyed while she was in favour.

She was remembering who had truly stood to benefit from Anne's murder.

She knew who had killed Anne.

She would never be able to prove it, of course.

She would never even be able to voice the accusation.

She knew as well as he did that, if she tried to allege that, rather than being murdered by one of her many enemies, Anne had died at the hands of her father, the King would never believe her. The King would never willingly accept that, before Anne's death, he was waiting to be provided with an excuse to be rid of her, and that a member of her family might have seen the benefit of ensuring that Anne was disposed of in a way that did not expose her family and supporters to the risk of bding dragged down with her. The King would accept his denial as soon as he spoke the words, if he even bothered to insult him with the suggestion and, if anything, the Lady Mary would face his wrath for daring to suggest something so preposterous, for seeking to undermine Anne's father, the grandfather of the future Queen of England.

If she wasn't sent to the Tower for it, she would be banished from court in disgrace, left to rot in some crumbling country manor.

She knew that as well as he did, and would hold her peace on the subject rather than exposing herself to her father's anger, but she knew.

She knew, and he did not want her to have that knowledge.

When the suggestion of allowing the Lady Mary a place in the line of succession was first broached, he knew what he had to do.

He had been steeling himself for the moment when the suggestion was made, and the King did not immediately dismiss the idea with a sharply worded admonition to the speaker to remember that the Lady Mary was a bastard with no claim to the throne, since it became apparent that there was to be no child of the King's second lawful marriage, and he was prepared.

He knew better than to think that the King would be content to allow his nephew to be second in line to the throne after Elizabeth while any child of his blood was excluded from the succession.

The King would rather see the daughter he declared illegitimate, and who was bound to return the country to the Bishop of Rome, sitting on the throne than to allow his sister's line to rule England.

He was sure that there were quite a few members of the Privy Council who didn't know any better than to expect him to protest against the idea of Katherine's daughter being restored to the succession. They probably thought that he would have no more sense than to argue that the Lady Mary had no right to have a hope of succeeding to the throne, risking the King's anger if he took umbrage at the suggestion that he did not have the right to include his illegitimate daughter in the line of succession if it pleased him to do so, or that the fact that his blood flowed in Mary's veins was not reason enough to think her worthy to be Queen of England one day, or for her children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren to have the right to succeed to the throne, rather than the descendants of his sister, if Elizabeth's bloodline died out.

He was not such a fool that he would argue openly against the King's chosen course of action.

Instead, he surprised some of his fellow Council members by accepting the suggestion calmly, even expressing the opinion that it was wise to make further provision for the succession, as though he could have no qualms about the prospect of Katherine's daughter becoming Queen.

It did not surprise them when he cautioned them to ensure that the new Act of Succession was drafted in such a way that it would be made clear that Elizabeth was the true, legitimate Princess of England and the rightful heir to the throne, while Mary, as the King's illegitimate daughter, was only allowed a place in the succession after her half-sister. Even the King agreed that such measures were prudent; it was not his goal to undermine Elizabeth's position in favour of Mary, after all, only to provide himself with another heir of his blood, should another be needed.

Outwardly, he appeared to be content with the arrangement, deeming it no threat to his granddaughter's interests, or those of the rest of his family.

Inwardly, he knew that permitting the Lady Mary a place in the line of succession exposed Elizabeth and the Boleyns to grave risks.

He would be a fool to expect the Lady Mary, who was certain to persist in her belief that she was the Princess of Wales and true heir to the throne, unjustly deprived of her place, to be content with the remote possibility that she might one day sit on the throne if Elizabeth, a perfectly healthy child who was so much younger than she was, died childless before Mary did. The wretched girl would refuse to see that she was being already honoured beyond her desserts, and would aim for more, even if it meant turning a blind eye while her supporters plotted Elizabeth's murder.

He would never allow that to happen.

It was a perfect poison, or so he was assured by the man who created it, and sold it to him at a high price.

It was odourless, tasteless, and left no signs of its use on the body. Even if an autopsy was performed, none of the organs would be discoloured to indicate poison.

It would take at least a day, possibly two, for the Lady Mary to begin to feel unwell, and her symptoms would mimic those of a pestilence, ensuring that her servants would be reluctant to com too close to her, just as any physicians the King sent to tend his daughter would be reluctant to perform an autopsy, for fear of releasing the contagion, even if they did not accept the evidence of their eyes at face value, and conclude that she was the victim of a sudden, virulent illness.

She would have to be buried quickly, without ceremony, so the disease was not given the chance to spread and claim more victims.

Prayers would be said in thanksgiving that the sickness confined itself to one place.

The King's fear of illness was strong enough to ensure that he would not risk his health by travelling to the girl's bedside to see her once last time, allowing her the opportunity to poison his mind against the Boleyn family, to make him regret disinheriting her in favour of Elizabeth or to make him regret setting her mother aside to marry Anne. He might be fond of his elder daughter, and of a sentimental nature, but he knew better than to risk his own health.

If anything, he would ride in the opposite direction, as far and as fast as he could.

The Lady Mary would simply die of her illness, and be all but forgotten in time, while Elizabeth went on to be the great Queen that her mother would have wanted her be.

A kitchen servant in Mary's household was glad of the heavy purse of money he was provided with in exchange for adding the poison both to Mary's food and to some of the food parcels that she distributed to poor families on her estates, and to some of the food served to the members of her household. No true pestilence would confine itself to a single victim, after all.

When the man came to claim the second instalment of his reward from the stranger who had hired him, he learned that the other half of his reward was a dagger to the heart.

He made sure that he was nowhere near Hunsdon when it happened.

Even if somebody suspected him of involvement, they would never be able to prove that he was to blame for the Lady Mary's death, or even that her death was unnatural.

He asked for, and received permission to pay a visit to Hatfield, where Elizabeth was staying for the summer months, leaving it to one of the few men in his service who had his full trust to arrange matters, and he was with his young granddaughter when she was brought the news.

Elizabeth wept in his arms when she learned of her half-sister's death, her grief palpable.

It was only with difficulty that he managed to stay patient while he consoled her, saying all the appropriate things about how it was God's will, and how the Lady Mary was now at peace, when he wanted to tell Elizabeth that Mary's death was a blessing for her, one that would make her hold on the throne much more secure, when her time came. Had Mary been allowed to live, she would have been Elizabeth's bane, and he was sure that a time would have come when Elizabeth was left with no choice but to send her to the scaffold.

By acting now, he had spared her the need to send the Spanish woman's bastard to the scaffold herself, and protected from the anger some of her subjects would feel when she did.

He couldn't understand why Elizabeth couldn't see what he had done for her.

The next time he saw the King, he offered his condolences on the death of the Lady Mary, gently reminding him that he too knew what it was like to lose a daughter.

Priam had lost his daughter too, as was only fitting.

With the Lady Mary dead, Elizabeth's succession was assured, especially when her Brandon cousin died, leaving only a pair of toddling daughters to inherit his claim to the throne.

In his heart, the King knew that he would not live to see Elizabeth reach her majority, and he made his arrangements accordingly, choosing a Regency Council to rule during her minority, and making arrangements for a smooth succession. George was to be Lord Protector, as the King felt that his daughter's uncle, a man of younger years, would be a better choice to rule on her behalf than her grandfather, though he saw to it that he also had a place on the Council.

At one time, he would have been angry to be passed over, even in favour of his son.

Now, he could accept it, even though the King was likely to further ennoble the man ho would govern his country and guard his daughter until the day came when she was ready to take power for herself. He knew that George would do his best for Elizabeth, and that the Regency Council was made up of men who could be trusted to support Elizabeth, and who would work with the Boleyns rather than trying to oust them so that they might control the young Queen and her country.

In a way, it was almost a relief to think that his life might be more peaceful, while George shouldered the burdens of state.

It had been such a long road to bring their family this far, to carry out Anne's wishes and see to it that Elizabeth became Queen, that he could look forward to a time when he might rest.

Elizabeth was a girl of thirteen when her father died but it was already apparent that God had seen to it that she was bestowed with the gifts she would need to be a great monarch, perhaps the greatest monarch that England, if not Christendom, had ever known, eclipsing her ancestors.

When he saw Elizabeth's coronation, when he saw St. Edward's crown gently placed on her head, as it was placed on her mother's head fourteen years earlier, and the sceptres of the sovereign placed in her outstretched hands, he knew that all he and Anne had done, and all they had sacrificed, was worth it.

Once Elizabeth was Queen, he knew in his heart that Anne was now at peace.

He knew that he had kept his promise to her.

Anne's apartment was silent, dimly lit by candles and by the fire that was burning low in her bedchamber. Shadows danced on the walls as the candle flames flickered.

None of her ladies had stayed to attend her, in case she needed them, despite the fact that she was still weak and sick after her miscarriage and might need their help, or for one of them to run to fetch a physician to aid her if her condition worsened, even though swift medical assistance could mean the difference between her life and her death if she began to bleed again, or if an infection set in and her body began to burn with a fever. She was abandoned to her fate.

They had all deserted her, like rats fleeing from a sinking ship, forgetting all she had done for them now that it was in their best interests to curry favour with the creature who looked certain to be England's new Queen before any of them were much older.

Even the corridors around her apartment were deserted when he walked there, without a groom or sentry in sight.

She was dozing lightly when he entered her bedchamber but she stirred at his approach, pushing herself into a sitting position, albeit with some difficulty. He reached out to steady her, helping to position her more comfortably. She had to be in pain after her miscarriage, especially if it was true that she had fought it, making a Herculean effort to keep the child rooted in her womb.

"I lost the baby, Father." Her voice was soft as she made her confession, her eyes full of apprehension, as though she expected that he would scold her for it.

"I know, sweetheart. It's not your fault." Or, at the very least, not entirely her fault.

Whatever about her first miscarriage, which might have been the result of carelessness on her part, she did not deserve to shoulder all of the blame for this tragedy. Had the King not been such a fool as to take Mistress Seymour on his knee when they were in an unlocked room, and had Mistress Seymour not accepted the advances of a married man when she knew that his wife might enter the room at any moment, this miscarriage would never have happened. Anne didn't help matters by flying into a passion instead of ignoring Mistress Seymour, as he had counselled her to, but the loss of her child was more than enough of a punishment for her mistake without him needing to chastise her any further for it.

"He's going to get rid of me," Anne told him bleakly. "He said that he could see that God would not grant us male children. He has given up on me, and on our marriage. He wants Mistress Seymour now, and I'm in their way. What are we going to do?"

He reached out and stroked her cheek with a gentle finger but her pain could no longer be soothed by her father's caress, as it could when she was a little girl.

"I have a plan." Even in the near darkness of the room, he could see her eyes light up at his words. "There may be a way that we can save the family. What would you do to protect Elizabeth?"

She didn't hesitate before answering. "Anything. What do you need me to do?"

Did she remember the story of Iphigenia, and the discussion they had had when she was a little girl?

Did she understand that, while the rest of the family could be protected, there was no saving her?

Did she understand what he was asking of her?

He had to believe that she did.

He didn't doubt that she would willingly lay down her life for her child.

Despite the troubles that resulted from a daughter being born in place of the son she needed, he knew that Anne loved Elizabeth with all her heart, and would do anything to protect her.

"I need you to leave this in my hands." Suicide was a mortal sin, and he wouldn't ask that of her., just as he wouldn't ask her to voice her consent aloud. "Do you trust me?" She nodded slowly, and he leaned forward to kiss her forehead, then her hand, grateful for her courage.

Anne truly was the bravest and strongest of his children.

Her daughter would one day be a force to be reckoned with.

His gaze fell on the bottle beside her bed, next to a glass goblet, and he picked it up. A quick examination of the label confirmed what it was: poppy syrup. Doctor Linacre must have left it with her, in case the pain became too much and she needed to take a dose to allow her to sleep, though the physician had undoubtedly expected that one of her ladies would be the one to measure the dose for her, instead of leaving her to manage it by herself. The bottle was a large one, and although the dose he tipped into the goblet must have been at least twice, if not three times as strong as a woman Anne's size required, it would not be noticeably depleted.

"You must be in pain, sweetheart. You need to rest. Drink this." He told her, smiling despite himself when she pulled a face before obeying him, accepting the dose as the lesser evil next to the physical and emotional pain she was enduring. She was no better about taking medicine as an adult than she was as a small child. "Now lie down, and go to sleep. It will be better in the morning, I promise. I won't let anybody steal the throne from Elizabeth without a fight."

Anne smiled but her smile did not reach her eyes. Maybe she didn't believe that he would be able to protect Elizabeth, and ensure that, if it was possible, she would be Queen one day. Maybe she though that she would have to content herself with knowing that Elizabeth would stay a princess.

"Thank you, Papa." Her voice was sluggish with sleep, and she could barely keep her eyes open as the poppy syrup lulled her into a deep, dreamless sleep.

He waited, watching her, until he knew that the medicine had taken full effect.

Anne didn't stir when he grasped her head in his hand and, after taking a deep breath to fortify himself for what he must do, twisted her head as quickly and as forcefully as he could, until he felt her neck snap.

Anne's part in her family's struggle was over.

She would never have to bear the shame and pain of being set aside while another woman took her place, and she would never have to see her child disinherited and shamed because her mother had failed to give the King what he wanted most from her.

Anne was free.