Bow down to Baron Munchausen - he's cleaned this chapter up nicely as ever!

Chapter 14

Mary awoke on the day of her wedding, filled with nerves. Normally, she was not one for going in for such an emotion... nor would she ever be if she had her way.

Yet, in the most peculiar way, she enjoyed the sensation that day. It was not just simply anxiety which she felt. It was excitement about what was to come her way... and what was going to follow it. That night she was going to go to bed as Matthew's wife and the two of them were going to lay down side by side.

And then the two of them would...

"Anna," she called as she swung her legs out of bed.

"You're up, my lady!" she had clearly thought the Princess was going to sleep in for a while longer. She had almost hoped she was going to - Mary had a long day ahead of her and she was going to need some strength and rest to face it.

"Of course, I am up. I have a wedding to get ready for!"

The two girls who had grown up together smiled at one another...

"Today has to be utterly perfect."

Robert knew this day began an end and a beginning of an era. He had known that before he had so much as got up that day. It was the last time Mary was going to be his daughter before she was a wife. But more than that, it was the very last day that Cora was going to be his own wife, publically. The date of the end of their marriage could now be counted in days rather than weeks.

Twenty years of the two of them being side by side... The two of them trying to do what they had been for twenty years... to have a son. It should have been the simplest of tasks. But it wasn't.

And now... it was all over and it was a hard thing to let go of. It was not easy to admit the two of them had not succeeded, even if he had no choice but to do so...

"Bates," He called as he got out of bed with considerable effort, a little earlier than normal. He sat on the edge and sighed.

"Yes, milord?" he said as he came into the privy chamber.

"Bring me my breakfast," he ordered.

Just like the Princess, he had a wedding to get ready for her - but unlike her, the overwhelming emotion he felt was not excitement.

He was not even sure what he should call it. There had been a time once when he had been young and noble and he had made so many plans. And when he had been young it had been so easy to believe that they were all going to come true, just because he willed it so.

That day it felt as if none of them ever had... and now he found himself on the edge of the last chance... if he and Jane did not conceive, a son of his would never take the throne...

And that was something he did not wish to think about and deep down, he knew he should not be thinking about. For that day at least, he had to focus on Mary.

X x x

"Oh my darling, you do look so very handsome," said the mother of the groom, smiling at her only child. Yes. He had done her very proud indeed.

Matthew had known his mother was going to be a little emotional on the day of his wedding. He had known they all were... but he had not known just how emotional he himself would feel.

This day had been a long time in the coming. He recalled how against it he had been in the very beginning - when he had been told there was a chance he was going to marry the princess... how he had been utterly unable to imagine being with Mary and forever separated from his gentle Lavinia.

He still felt a degree of guilt when he recalled the girl, who come what may, was always at least going to be his sweetheart... the two of them had had such a wonderful time together... and it had been she who had taught him how to love.

Yet, the passion and the strength of the feelings he had for Mary were an utterly new world for him. They had been through a lot together in quite a short space of time, he mused silently, as his man helped him with his doublet.

Matthew remembered those first few days when the two of them had been so far apart. It seemed ridiculous to him now that they had both been so against the marriage. He had been sure she was never going to find a way to come round to the idea of the two of them being together... and then the night when there had at last been a thawing between them and he had learnt he was going to take baby steps with his baby bird. When she had found him reading...

And then, that night - when he had caught Pamuk trying to do what he ... still, even though the man was dead, Matthew could not recall the incident without a fury spreading throughout his entire body.

He did not think he had ever felt like that before... as if he would literally kill to keep someone safe... and yet in the aftermath...

It had changed everything. First, he had done the important thing and he had won over her trust. It was only a matter of time after that, that he had gained her love, something which he was grateful for every day.

Matthew turned from the mirror to face his mother.

"Come - I do not think it is quite done for the man who is to be the King of England to cry with his mother on the morning of his wedding."

But for, perhaps the first time, since the two of them had arrived in London; Isobel found that was the last thing on her mind.

He was her son. Her only child.

And he was about to marry the most amazing woman.

The Dowager Duchess of Manchester could not help but think what a good match they were... the two of them would be happy.

"Blast that, my darling boy!" she said as she crossed to his side and took him into her arms.

It struck her that this was the last time he was going to be her son before he was a member of the Royal Family. And that thought made her hold him just a little tighter.

X x x

"My Lady, you do look so very lovely," said Lady O'Brian as she placed the crown Cora had chosen for the day's events on her head.

If this was to be her last, then it was going to be a magnificent last... of that she was sure.

"Dear O'Brian, you have always been so sweet to me," said Cora as she turned and looked at her, taking the hand of her good and faithful lady. "You have always been so loyal and true to me."

"And I am going to be no matter where the two of us go after today," she said with a perfect clarity of the situation the two of them found themselves in. "I am going to stay with you. I refuse to leave you."

"I do not think I can ask that of you, my dear," Cora shook her head.

"Sir Richard Carlisle is not going to take me away from you - he will not..."

"No, he will not! As kind as dear Sir Richard has been to me, he is not going to have that much power if I have my way. No... I... I have to make this clear - you have to think through your own next move. If you do follow me, then you are going to be going out into the wilderness... for after today, that is going to be the only place there is room for me."

"If that is where you are then that is where I belong as well," said Sarah with surety.

There was no trace of doubt in her voice and for the lady; Cora knew this matter was very much settled. She was going to go with her and serve her, come hell or high water. She had tried to succeed in saving her from Jane, but she had failed. Thus, when the next great threat came to her mistress, she was going to make sure she was there to protect her.

She would not fail again.

"I do not know where I would be without you. You are going to stay with me today, aren't you?" she said as she caressed her cheek.

"You know you do not have to ask me to do that."

Twenty minutes later, the Queen found herself at the bottom of the stairs which led to her chambers, with O'Brian and some of her other ladies. Sybil was also there.

Cora smiled on sight of her youngest daughter - and yet the poor child was also a reminder of the member of their family who could not be there. The mother found herself longing for Edith once more.

"Darling, you look so very pretty," she said as she noted her daughter was in another new gown, similar to the one she had worn the night they had celebrated the arrival of Pamuk.

"Thank you mama - and so do you," she said as she curtsied.

Cora knew the two of them were going out on parade that day - the whole Royal Family, save the absent members, were.

But for now the two of them were behind closed doors. Thus, she went to the side of her daughter and she took her into her arms. She was so young and she was so precious. If Cora could grant her one wish for all her life long, it would be her innocence. The two drew back, but not for some time. Sybil loved the Lady Hughes for all she had done for her since she had come under her jurisdiction. But she was never going to be her mother. She was never going to make her feel safe the way her mother did.

"Lets us go," said the Queen at last, touching her daughter's cheek for just a moment.

X x x

Robert held his tongue when he saw his Mary on her wedding day for the very first time. He had no idea when she had grown up into such a beauty. The last time he had looked she had been a little girl.

The Princess was dressed in a sweeping gown of gold, upon her head sat one of her mother's tiaras... a gift from a proud mother to her darling first born, who for that day alone would be a disappointment to no one... least of all her husband to be.

She felt her stomach flip at the mere thought of his name.

Maybe it was because Edith had always been there to out shine her, or maybe it was just the fact she was a very blushing bride... But the King did not think he had ever seen Mary so beautiful. And it scared him.

Robert was King and he knew his will was the will of God. It was always going to be until the day he died a very natural death. But in his heart of hearts, he knew what he had in mind was not going to be the will of the population. There would be disruption.

And here, before his very eyes, stood one even he could call Queen. Here was a woman his people could call Queen.

Suddenly, this marriage did not make him feel safe at all. It did the opposite.

In his mind, as suspicious as he was, his daughter and her husband to be were suddenly rivals to his crown, not help mates. And he was no fool. He saw how young and golden the two of them were going to be.

Potentially, they could take all he had worked for from him.

It was her voice which brought him back to his senses. "How do I look papa?" she asked with a smile upon her lips and in spite of all the dark thoughts which were circling his mind, he found his lips turning upwards.

Fear remained however.

"You look every inch a queen."

To her mind, it was a compliment but to his own, it was a threat...

Robert knew there was nothing more to be done about it then though - he did not know from where he managed to raise a smile for Mary once more but he did.

"Let us go," he said to her gently as he offered her his arm... the two of them set off down the corridor with Anna in their wake.

X x x

It seemed to Mary that the widespread excitement that had taken place on the ride to the Chapel Royal with her father was in direct contrast to the wedding itself. Whereas on the way to the Chapel, she had seen so many faces alight with excitement over what was to come for her, there were few inside.

Only those who were needed - and for her, that was enough.

Later in the day, she and Matthew were going to be able to celebrate their nuptials with the rest of the court. But the ceremony was to be simple and intimate, with those she and Matthew loved the most there.

It was the back of his head she saw first that day.

And as soon as she did, she felt her heart soar and her stomach flutter. Because that day he was not the Duke. He was not the man who had come to steal her crown.

He was just her groom. And in no time at all he was going to be her husband.

The man she was to wed and spend the rest of her life with... and who she was going to make a very happy man.

The walk to his side seemed to take a lifetime. The face of the King was set. The face the public were going to see that day was not his true emotions, yet there were some days she doubted he had any true emotions anymore after what he was doing to her mother.

It was in the end Matthew's hands which brought her back from her thoughts.

She looked to her side and drank in his face for the first time - and the joy of knowing the two of them had so much ahead of them and there was so much they were still to enjoy was more thrilling for her than she was ever going to be able to put into words. They had so many firsts and so many new experiences to look forward to.

To living as man and wife, to having children and to making the land that they loved absolutely safe.

X x x

If the feasts to welcome the Duke and the Ottoman attaché to court had been grand events, the Royal Wedding was on another scale altogether. The court was decorated in spring colours, as benefitted the occasion, though summer was fast arriving in all its glory. The flowers matched the gown of the bride and as she sat beneath an archway of gold with her husband, she was nothing short of a goddess that day. There was a sense that the bride and groom were untouchable ... as if nothing and no one could interrupt what the two of them felt for one another...

"They look so happy," said Anna as she smiled by John's side. As ever when the court was together the two of them had almost unconsciously sought one another out...

Matthew laughed at something his wife had said to him softly before he raised her hand to his lips to kiss it.

"Yes."

"I do believe he loves her."

"Who could doubt it? It is in his every action - the way he looks at her and what he says..." it was only then that she was able to feel the weight of his eyes looking at her... daringly, Anna returned the gaze.

There was so much she did not know about John Bates...

And she did not know how good she was at reading him... but not long after she first looked at him his gaze became too heavy for her to withstand without blushing.

"In spite of your leg, can you dance, sir?"

"I only wish that I could," he admitted to her.

"Why should that be the case? Is there some pretty young maiden you would spin about the floor today?" she dared.

His face only softened further once she looked back to him. She saw him look about the court for a moment before he drew closer to her and said into her ear: "you know there is."

X x x

"It is a proud day for you, Lord Carson," said the Lady Hughes as she arrived at his side.

Ever since he had come only so close to revealing his heart to her... she had had a care for him. And that went for that day, almost more than any of the others. The fact that the Lady Jane had not been among her majesty's ladies and the fact that a perceptive eye could see there was something a little melancholy about these nuptials signalled an end to the lady.

She had a feeling she knew what end it was going to be.

But the Lord Chancellor was clearly happy, for the Princess Mary, if for no one else.

"Yes - yes, it is. I do not deny that she could have done better than a common duke, but I do think he is going to make her rather happy."

"Yes," the lady agreed as she turned to see the two of them laughing and dancing. She was not sure if she would refer to a grandson of a king as a common duke, but she'd let it slide. "I do think that he is."

That was when his lordship turned his eyes to look at the lady governess. Really look at her. She knew. Of course she knew. The two of them had a care for one another and somewhere in his heart he had a feeling he was going to be able to make her happy.

But only if he had the courage to speak out.

"Lady Hughes, may I speak with you?"

With an almost - almost - flirtatious confidence, she nodded. "Is that not what the two of us have just done?"

But one look in his eye told her that this was no laughing matter.

He had a question for her... or something. More sincerely, she nodded and took the arm he offered. "Let the two of us go out to the gardens."

Let us go somewhere the two of us are not going to be interrupted.

She nodded. "It was all very well done today - in the most difficult of circumstances. I do not think there is a person in the world who could doubt that was in a large part up to you."

"As long as the Princess got the day she deserved I do not suppose anything else mattered," he said as he rubbed his forehead. A sure sign of nerves.

"My lord, whatever it is..."

"Lady Hughes, I don't suppose I need to tell you what high regard I hold you in - nor how much I enjoy your company."

"Lord Carson -"

"I intend to leave court."

Her eyes went wide. For a moment she was unable to comprehend what he had said and why he was telling her this... her initial thought had been that he was going to ask her to...

And then her original idea married his words and the picture became only too clear to her.

Her eyes cast upon his face with sympathy.

"I will go to my house in Wiltshire and there I will retire. The princess is a woman grown and though court is a dangerous place, I find myself in a peculiar position of being able to trust the man she married to protect her. Now allow me to protect you."

She let her eyes fall on the ground before she shut them, He was such a good man. He was so trying...

"I need to be here for Princess Sybil."

"There is going to be someone else who can take care of her."

But there was no one else. Not who knew her like she did. There was no one who understood the Princess's religious leanings as she did, who was going to continue to raise her in the new faith instead of the old.

And then there were the other problems she had been having of late. She knew about them. And so she was the one who was going to be able to help her past them. Besides, for all the fact she had no child of her own, she was amaternal woman.

And if she did have a child of her heart then it was her own little princess. She was sure that was something she should hold true to and loyal.

As much as her heart, for the first time really, was pulling her in a very different direction to the one she was going in, she shook her head. "There is no one," she said it quietly, regretfully.

For just a moment she allowed herself to indulge in what their life could look like if they were to go another way. If she was to become the mistress of his house.

She was going to be able to do her own books and keep her own records and he was going to be able to relax into a well-earned retirement. Then at night he would read to her by the fire before the two of them went to bed together.

And then not even the winter months would seem so cold.

It made her sad to think of... all that they could have was denied to them when the two of them had given their lives in service of others.

"But I do not think there is anyone who can do that quite as well as I can."

"My lady, I beg of you, court is not safe any longer."

"I can defend myself."

She had grown good at doing that. She had known she was going to have to if she was to survive this life...

"It will be a lot harder to do if information about your reading material falls into the wrong hands."

A breath caught in her throat. No matter what she had thought he was going to say if she refused him, she had not thought he was going to say that. Though it gave her no comfort at that moment, there was shame in his eyes as soon as the words left his lips.

"So because I will not do your bidding you would sell my soul to the highest bidder?"

"I will say or do whatever I have to do to keep you safe."

"Well, forgive me, you are the last person I feel safe with now," and with those words, the governess turned from the man who she had thought was her best friend in the world. It was not long before she felt that tears were pooling in her eyes.

If there was one thing he knew it was that he had no one but himself to blame for that remark. It was entirely his own fault... but it did not stop it hurting when the two of them had been moving... closer.

In order that she did not have to look into the face of the man she had once trusted above all others, the governess fled back into the Great Hall where the wedding party was feasting and dancing and happy...

X x x

"Your majesty, would you like to dance?"

"Thank you, Sir Richard. I would love to," Cora said to him as she took his hand and left the side of the King.

She had been surprised by the dynamic between herself and her husband that day. The two had seen so little of one another of late... she had gone to his side to plead for her daughter...

But she had not pleaded for herself and in order to make sure that she never did, she had been careful to stay away from him. He could send her away from himself and the castle if he wanted to.

She did not think she had a choice about that... but she was able to take her pride with her... and that was what she was going to do.

Since he had arrived at court, Cora had learnt Sir Richard was a very hard man to characterise... in fact, as far as she was concerned, he was much more of an enigma than many of the lords and ladies who had come to court to surround her husband... and just because he was a self-made man did not mean he was not intelligent.

He had not only made his own money but he had been sure to make up for his lack of education along the way...

As a result, she had to say, she could well see why Mary was so fond of him. This was a man who could talk about a wide range of subjects, who hunted and danced, if a little stiffly.

Yes... her life with him was going to be nothing if not interesting. And she could accept that.

Bring in the same room for the afternoon as the Lady Moorsum made that so very easy...

Throughout the course of the day Cora had made it her mission not to look at the woman who had come to court to serve her... to be her lady. Whenever the viper came into her eye line, she stared right through her as if she was not even there... everyone and anyone else was received warmly but she was not going to welcome her into her life.

Nor was she going to give anyone the idea she was compliant with what the King was doing. If it had not been for Edith's folly then she would have fought a lot harder than she had for her position.

Indeed, if only he had known how weak she had made her then the King would likely write to thank his second eldest daughter for her service to the crown.

As Cora and Sir Richard danced and laughed with one another, the King sat with the woman who was to be his Queen and, all but ignoring the presence of the lady at his side, he chose to stop lying to himself in that moment.

Because as he watched the two of them dancing, he was jealous. Jane was a good woman and if God was good then he was going to grant the two of them, what he had never given to himself and Cora... but she did not... she was not...

And he did not feel as if the woman next to him, stroking his hand as she held it, belonged to him as the Queen did.

X x x

As Anna helped the Princess get ready for bed that night, the only thing Mary was able to think about was how warm she had felt when she had been dancing with Matthew... how right it had felt whenever he had turned his gaze on her...

A blush rose in her cheeks.

"I am so glad you had a good day, my lady," said Anna as she looked at her.

"I must admit I am going to look back on today with joy - always." It was so perfect in so many ways...

The only blight had been the presence of the Lady Moorsum... her father had commanded she be there with the rest of the court - but if she had had her way...

Mary shook her head. She was not going to allow that vile woman to wreck her day.

Dressed in just a chemise and a robe, she had to say she felt quite exposed as she sat in the unfamiliar chambers which she was from that day to call her own.

With her husband. Their chambers...

"Did you manage to speak with the Queen today, my lady?"

"My mother gave me some advice, yes... but I have no doubt that the Duke and I are going to figure it out," she said to her softly.

"We'll figure out what?" a voice asked from behind the two of them.

The two of them turned and immediately curtseyed. Anna felt a smile tug on her lips as the Princess rose to meet Matthew first.

"Husband," she greeted him smoothly.

"Wife," he replied as the two of them kissed and he wrapped his arms about her...

The priest who had blessed the bed looked to the two of them and the Duke and his new Duchess broke apart and knelt to be blessed.

Please... give the two of us a son, oh lord, I beg that of you...

The prayer was on Mary's lips as she knelt with her palms together. She was her mother's child but she did not want to be in every way...

She and Matthew were going to have a very different reign to her mother's and father's, of that she was determined.

As the two of them rose to their feet once more, Matthew nodded to his wife's ladies as well as to the priest.

"I do not think the two of us need to continue in public."

Anna caught the eye of the Princess and then withdrew with the others in the rooms, leaving Matthew and Mary utterly alone.

There was a silence for a moment as the two of them looked at one another.

"What a day it has been," Matthew sighed as he approached her once more, cupping her face. "I shall never forget it my darling," he told her, brushing his lips to her forehead.

"I should hope not..." she smiled as she settled in his arms, blushing a little as she did so.

"If you are too tired tonight then the two of us can wait if that is what you want," he told her... however, he was betrayed by other body parts which indicated that he was very much looking forward to what the two of them were going to do.

But she shook her head.

She did not want to wait. The two of them had done so much waiting. They had had to wait to meet after her father had sent the letter. They had had to wait to like one another when they had both been so suspicious... but more than anything else; the two of them had had to wait to love one another.

And now that they had found one another and were willing to do that she was not going to allow them to wait any more time. That was a thought she just could not stand. All that waiting meant the two of them had wasted time...

X x x

John Bates did not like palace life and now he found he did not always like his majesty. The life he was living then was what had saved him from poverty and certain ruin. But now he knew it came at a price... and he did not know if it had been worth paying it.

As he walked down the corridor, he kept his eyes forward and tried not to think about what he was doing.

He was following an order, that was all, he said as he knocked on the door when they came to it.

It took not ten seconds for the door to creep open, and the Lady O'Brien appeared.

Their eyes met and the two of them knew what was going on. The difference was that the lady wanted to kill the King for what he was about to do. However, years of being at court allowed her to mask her emotions as she turned to the Queen, who had until the door was knocked upon, been attending to her devotions.

"Madam, the King is here."

Cora nodded, the shock not quite as well hidden on her own face as it was on Sarah's...

"Your Majesty," Cora sighed as Robert came into the room in his evening attire.

"My lady."

There was a silence in the room for a moment... complete.

"Ladies, retire," ordered Cora giving a stern looking to Sarah - she was to go too.

The room emptied quickly, shock still reverberating around it as John shut the door behind himself, leaving Cora and Robert alone.

"Is there a reason you have come?" breathed Cora quietly.

"I have come to... to show you my devotion..."

"One last time..." she finished for him. When she had been at the wedding feast she had been able to feel his eyes upon her... she had wondered...

One last shot... if this is to be our last, then she would make it a glorious last...

Turning, she removed her night gown, let it drop to the floor and climbed onto the bed in nothing but her chemise - he followed her, but paused before getting into bed.

"How like you this?" challenged Cora.

How like you the fact you have me on borrowed time? How like you Lady Moorsum, in your heart of hearts? How like you the fact that you are setting asunder what God joined together in holy matrimony?

Robert's eyes glazed over for a moment as he became a prisoner of the past...

"My lord... husband?" The Queen called him back to her...

"I ever loved you."

"Then show me," the Queen asked as she throw back the cover.

The King nodded and climbed in beside the Queen. It wasn't long until one of his hands rested upon the small of her back, the other hand was full of her hair and his lips were all over her body.

Silently, Cora prayed - this was her last throw of the dice. This could put her back in the game.

This could change everything.

Please review!

Author Note - I am so sorry about the delay in getting this out. There are multiple reasons for the delay, but lets just say I really didn't think it would take this long. Thanks for reading : )