18th May 1536
"No! I won't wear it! You can't make me!" Elizabeth struggled as her attendant tried to dress her in her cloak and hat, ignoring the woman's attempts to coax her into complying, knowing what the outfit they were trying to get her into signified. This was what she had to wear when she was travelling and she did not want to leave court and go back to Hatfield, not yet.
Normally, visits to the court were fun.
Her Papa would lift her in his arms and swing her around and around until she was dizzy, telling her that she was the prettiest princess in the world and the most perfect daughter any man was ever blessed with, his precious, special girl and the jewel of all England, and he would play games with her and sometimes let her sit in front of him when he rode on his horse. He held her securely, so she wouldn't fall, but Elizabeth was never frightened, even when Papa made his horse ride so fast that her hair flew in the breeze. She knew that she was always safe with her Papa. When he showed her off to the lords and ladies of the court, they would all tell him that he had a lovely, clever daughter and that she was a true Tudor rose. Her Mama would cuddle her and play with her and give her beautiful gifts, wonderful toys and lovely new clothes, fit for a princess, and she always told Elizabeth that she loved her more than she loved anybody else in the whole world.
Normally, visits to court meant feeling safe, happy and loved.
This time, however, it was very different.
When she arrived, she was brought straight to her Mama, who was behaving very strangely, as though she was frightened by something, although Elizabeth did not know what.
Her Mama cuddled her close when she arrived, as she always did, kissing her many times and telling her, over and over, that she loved her very much and wouldn't ever want to change her in any way, not even to make her a boy. Mama begged her not to forget that, no matter what happened, no matter what anybody told her when she was older, but while she was usually very happy to see Elizabeth, looking as excited and pleased about the visit as Elizabeth was, she was different this time. She tried to smile but she still looked unhappy and Elizabeth could see that she had been crying and that it looked as though she might cry again.
She wanted to be able to comfort her Mama and make her happy again but she didn't know how.
She didn't know what it was that had upset her Mama, and if she didn't know what was wrong, she couldn't help her put it right.
Instead of staying to play with her in the nursery, so Elizabeth could show her her doll's new gown and let her see how well she rode the new hobby horse that Papa sent her last month - a gift that came with the promise of a real pony when she was a little older - her Mama picked her up in her arms, carrying her outside into the gardens, where her Papa was walking. He tried to leave when he saw them coming but Mama hurried after him, still carrying Elizabeth, calling for him to stop and to listen to her and to give her one last chance, for Elizabeth.
He didn't listen.
He shouted at her Mama, saying horrible things and making her even more frightened and unhappy, and Elizabeth was angry with him for it.
She wanted to tell him to stop shouting, to stop being so unkind to her Mama and to make him say that he was sorry and promise that he would be nice to her from now on so she wouldn't be sad and afraid anymore but even though he was her Papa, he was the King too and the King could not be scolded, not by anybody in the country, even the Princess. As well as that, he was so angry that Elizabeth was afraid to say anything, afraid of what he might do if she did. He walked away after that, leaving them behind.
Her Mama put her down, kneeling in front of her and hugging her tightly for a long time before she brought her back to her nursery and to Lady Bryan.
There were tears running down her Mama's face when she asked Lady Bryan to always take care of Elizabeth, no matter what happened. Even though she kept wiping her tears away, because a Queen should not cry in front of other people, especially servants, new tears streamed down her cheeks as soon as she wiped the old ones away and Elizabeth could hear her quiet sobs.
It made her feel very scared when she saw how sad her Mama was.
Lady Bryan promised that she would do as Mama asked and Elizabeth was surprised and a little frightened to see that her governess, who never wept, who was always so composed and who told Elizabeth that a lady should always be in control of her emotions, especially around other people, looked as though she would like to cry too.
Elizabeth hadn't seen either of her parents since then, even though she had been here for days.
Lady Bryan hadn't brought her out among the lords and ladies of the court since Mama brought her back to the nursery either, even though she usually did that, saying that they should see their Princess and pay their respects to her. They stayed in Elizabeth's own apartment, not going down to the Great Hall for dinner even once, although Elizabeth had hoped for that treat and asked Lady Bryan if she might dine with her Mama and Papa, and nobody had come to visit them.
It was as though the lords and ladies didn't even know that their Princess was at court!
Now it was time to leave but she wasn't going to go back to Hatfield until she got to see her parents, not until she could see for herself that her Mama was alright.
Lady Bryan heard her shouting and hurried over to her, kneeling down in front of her and straightening her cloak. "Princess Elizabeth, you must do as you are told." She said firmly, indicating the other ladies, who were busy packing away her belongings, getting ready to return to Hatfield. "We are all very busy and we need you to help us by behaving yourself."
"I want to see my Mama!" Elizabeth insisted.
She would do as she was told and let them get her ready to travel, and even though she wanted to stay at court, she would even go back to Hatfield without complaining if they would bring her to her Mama first so that she could see her and say goodbye, so she could know that Mama was safe and that she and Papa had mended their quarrel and were happy together again.
She didn't want to leave until she knew that her Mama was no longer frightened or sad.
Lady Bryan looked a little bit sad for a moment, touching Elizabeth's cheek but then she looked serious again, like she always did. "That's not possible, child." She said, standing and getting back to work supervising the packing before Elizabeth could ask why and demand to know when she would be able to see her Mama again.
When she was very little, Elizabeth had learned that if she stayed very still and very quiet, her attendants would speak freely in front of her, as though they thought that she was too much of a baby to be able to pay any attention to them, much less to understand what they were saying. She was sure that she overheard a lot of things that Lady Bryan wouldn't want her to hear. She stood silently and motionlessly now, listening while Lady Bryan and Mistress Catherine Champernowne – whom Elizabeth was allowed to call Mistress Kat because her real name was so long and very difficult to say properly – her favourite of all her ladies because she was the sweetest and played the best games and told the most exciting stories, spoke.
Lady Bryan looked harried and worried as she made sure that they had packed everything, afraid that they had forgotten something important, something they would need back at Hatfield.
"If we have forgotten something, it may be a long time before we are able to retrieve it." She said grimly, checking through the trunks where Elizabeth's gowns and petticoats and shifts were held one more time before moving to help Mistress Kat pack up the gold plate. "We are ordered to remove the child from court immediately and get her out of the King's sight. Who knows when she will be allowed to return – or if she will be welcome here again? Mistress Seymour may not wish to have her predecessor's child at court, after what happened to Queen Anne for her sake, especially when she seems so fond of the Lady Mary. She'll want to encourage His Majesty to welcome her back, you mark my words, and Her Highness could stand in the way of that."
"Poor little princess." Mistress Kat's voice was soft with sympathy.
"She is very fortunate that she is still a princess." Lady Bryan said, lowering her voice a little but not so much that Elizabeth couldn't still hear what she was saying. "When I heard about the Queen, I was sure that Her Highness would be named a bastard, as the Lady Mary was. At least Princess Elizabeth is safe from that, and we should all thank God for it." She said fervently, finding it all too easy to imagine how bleak their lot would be if their small charge was bastardised and they were left to care for her as best they could, with a modest allowance and few servants.
The Lady Mary's household at Ludlow Castle was dissolved when her parents' marriage was declared invalid, as was only fitting, as a bastard had no need of a grand royal establishment, and no right to expect that one should be provided for her, no matter how much she complained about its loss, but it was still a hardship for those who had served her loyally for many years, devoting their lives to the girl they thought was a princess and trusting that they would have a position in her household as long as they needed and wanted one, to lose their positions and be turned out.
Elizabeth knew better than to alert them to the fact that she was listening by asking a question but she was very confused.
Why would Lady Bryan have been afraid that Elizabeth would not be a princess anymore?
She was a princess because her Papa was the King of England and her Mama was the Queen, which meant that she was a very, very important lady, the Princess of England, and that, if she didn't have a baby brother, she would be Queen of England one day and in charge of everything.
How could she lose that place?
What was a bastard and what did it have to do with the Lady Mary?
The Lady Mary was the King's daughter but not the Queen's, and Lady Bryan explained that this was why she was sent to be one of Elizabeth's ladies instead of having ladies of her own. Even if that was what being a bastard meant, she couldn't understand why her governess would fear that she would share that fate. Elizabeth was the Princess and princesses didn't have to wait on others.
She was even more concerned about the mention of her Mama, and judging by Lady Bryan's tone, if something had happened to her, it was something nasty. Remembering how angry her Papa was and how horrible he had been to her Mama when she last saw her parents together, Elizabeth felt afraid for her, worried that she might be in trouble or hurt. What was happening?
"What of the Queen?" Mistress Kat asked softly. "Will the King really agree to let her… is there no chance that she might be allowed to go to a nunnery?"
Lady Bryan shook her head. "None, not now that the others have gone to the block. The King has ordered that she be beheaded, as soon as the French executioner arrives, poor lady."
Despite her resolve to remain silent and to listen, Elizabeth let out a cry of protest at that, devastated.
She was very young but she was old enough to know what being beheaded meant, she had heard her attendants speak of it once or twice. Beheaded meant that the person's head would be cut off and they would die and be gone forever. She couldn't bear the thought of her Mama dying, especially in such a horrible way. Elizabeth had cut her hand once and it bled a lot and hurt her very much. She was sure that it would hurt much, much more to have her head cut off and that was what was to happen to her Mama and it was her Papa who had ordered it.
"Princess Elizabeth!" Mistress Kat looked horrified when she realized that Elizabeth was listening and she hurried to pick her up, rocking her in her arms and trying to comfort her but Elizabeth refused to be pacified by her assurances that everything was going to be alright.
If her Mama was to be killed then nothing would be alright, not ever again.
"I want my Mama!" She wailed, struggling against Mistress Kat's comforting embrace. She didn't want Mistress Kat to hold her; she wanted to be in her Mama's arms and have her hugs and kisses and hear her soft words of comfort, she wanted her Mama to tell her that this was all a silly mistake and that she was fine and that nobody was ever going to hurt her, not ever, because they knew that, if they tried, Papa would give them a very, very horrible punishment. "Where is she? Bring her to me! Where's my Papa?" If she could go to her Papa, she could tell him that he had to leave her Mama alone and not let anybody hurt her or kill her. "He has to stop them!"
"Your mother was convicted of treason, Your Highness," Lady Bryan tried to calm her down. "All traitors must be made to pay the price for their crimes, my child, even the Queen. She betrayed the King, your father, and she must be punished for that…"
"No!" Elizabeth swatted away the hand that Lady Bryan reached out towards her, not wanting to be consoled and not believing that her Mama could ever have done anything wicked and betrayed her father. Her Mama was the sweetest, kindest, most beautiful woman in the world and she would never have done something so bad. Her Mama loved her Papa too much to ever even think about doing something that would hurt him. "My Mama wouldn't do that! She didn't! She didn't! She didn't!" She screamed the last words at the top of her lungs. "Papa's wicked to say she did!"
"Your Highness!" Lady Bryan was appalled and tried to hush her. Regardless of her personal feelings on the matter, she knew that she could not so much as hint at the possibility that Queen Anne might be innocent, not even in front of the little princess. Especially in front of the little princess. She had to tell Elizabeth that her mother was guilty, and to ensure that the child never said otherwise. "You must never, ever say something like that again, do you understand me? His Majesty is a good man, and he would not have allowed the Queen to be condemned unjustly. I know that this is difficult for you, child," she added, in a more gentle tone, "but you must accept it and be thankful for your blessings; you are still a princess, after all, and His Majesty will see to it that you are provided for, as a princess should be… and perhaps one day soon you will have a new mother." She added in a coaxing tone, knowing that the King was likely to remarry in the near future, to father a son and to secure the succession, and wanting to prepare her charge for that eventuality, which was certain to come as a shock to her when the time came.
Elizabeth was in no position to be able to afford to offend her father and his new wife by being sullen and resentful towards them, should be ever be invited to court to be presented to them. She would be fortunate if an invitation was made within the next few years and, if she showed herself to be in any way hostile towards her father or stepmother, the invitation would not be repeated.
"I don't want a new mother!" Elizabeth shrieked the words as loudly as she could, dismayed by the very thought that somebody might try to fill her adored Mama's place. Nobody could ever do that! No other lady could be as beautiful or as loving as her mother. No other lady could ever take her place and she would hate any lady who tried. "I want my Mama!"
"You can't have her." Lady Bryan said bluntly. "She's gone and no amount of crying or shouting is going to bring her back. You must understand that and you must never speak of her again, especially in front of the King." She sighed deeply, surveying the miserable child for a few moments before speaking again, more gently this time. "When you are older, child, you will understand. The world is a slippery place." She met Mistress Kat's eyes. "The Lady Anne would have been better off if she had never been Queen at all; she should have married a rich man who was too stupid to know anything about politics, then she might have been happy. It is dangerous to love a King, something that Mistress Seymour may learn before she is much older."
Elizabeth sniffed, biting her lower lip to keep the tears from flowing as she listened, thinking that Lady Bryan was right. It would be safer not to love a man when she was grown up. Her Mama had loved her Papa very much, she knew that, but he had still been nasty to her and killed her.
She would never love a man and let him do that to her.
Anne hadn't expected him to, not really, not when he was determined to excise her from his life, but it still hurt that, after all of their years together, all they had shared, he couldn't even go to the minor effort of sending her a message of farewell, a promise that he would ensure that their child was well cared for and that she need have no fears for Elizabeth's future… anything.
She gently twisted the wedding ring on her finger, surveying it contemplatively. Compared to the other jewels in her possession, it was simple and plain, a slender, unadorned band of gold but it was the one that she would never have consented to part with, under any circumstances.
If Henry wanted to take this from her, he would have to cut off her finger to do so... and, given what happened when he tried to have her head cut off, that might be easier said than done!
At one point, she had been tempted to take it off, to throw it away or to toss it into the fire like a piece of rubbish but she couldn't bring herself to be rid of it.
She eased it off her finger, reading the inscription written in letters so tiny that she could barely make them out, remembering the gleeful expression on Henry's face when he first obtained them, just before they went to the deserted room at Whitehall, where a cleric was waiting to perform the ceremony that would unite them as man and wife, whether Katherine and the Emperor and the Bishop of Rome and everybody else who sought to prevent their union liked it or not.
It had been a very necessary ceremony, given that she already carried his child in her belly, one that could not be delayed any longer, even though they had hoped that Cranmer would have been installed as Archbishop of Canterbury in time to solemnize their union, and to declare that Henry's union with Katherine was null and void before he did so, instead of having a humble priest perform the wedding ceremony in exchange for a generous bribe, with all those present sworn to secrecy until the time came to reveal their marriage to the country as an accomplished fact.
Henry was utterly convinced that his son awaited birth and he would never have dreamed of taking the chance that his long hoped-for heir would be born a bastard. He had already suffered a similar fate with little Henry Fitzroy, knowing that he was the father of a fine son, a boy any father could be proud of, but that he was very unlikely to be able to make that son his heir.
The last thing he wanted was to have a repeat of that situation.
Their son's position as Prince of Wales was to be protected, no matter what it took.
He would do everything in his power to ensure that their child was born in lawful matrimony, and although they had both hoped that they would be able to have a splendid public wedding in Westminster Abbey, with wine flowing freely in the streets and the people sharing in their delight to be married at last, her pregnancy did not allow them the luxury of waiting and they were obliged to make do with what they could manage in secret and on short notice.
He had refused her repeated requests to be shown the rings before the ceremony, thwarting her playful attempts to snatch them from him, albeit gently as she was carrying his child, and insisting that she had to wait and see. It wasn't until after the ceremony, when they were alone, that he finally showed her the twin inscriptions, explaining the significance of the admittedly unusual choices; 'diamond' on her ring and 'ship' on his, recalling one of the first gifts she ever sent him.
She was still the diamond, still loved him steadfastly, despite everything, but even though Henry had failed to fulfil the ship's promise of protection, she wasn't going to discard the ring.
It was a reminder of the fact that she was still Henry's wife.
Against the odds, against Henry's own intentions, she had managed to keep this title and, by doing so, she had ensured that Elizabeth would continue to keep hers.
It was a reminder that Henry was not the only one walking away from their marriage with a victory.
There was no doubt in her mind that Henry would get rid of his own ring, ordering that a new one should be made for his pretended marriage to Jane. She was reasonably certain that the ring he commissioned for Jane would be particularly finely wrought and bejewelled, as though a splendid wing could allow him to forget that no matter how much it cost, it held no true value as, unlike the ring on Anne's finger, Jane's ring would never be anything more than an empty symbol.
Henry wouldn't want to remember that they had been married, much less acknowledge, even to himself, that they were still married, even if he pretended to the rest of the world that he was Mistress Seymour's husband, pretended that he had the wife he loved and wanted at long last and that theirs was a lawful marriage blessed by God, but he would have no choice in the matter.
If he thought that getting rid of the physical reminders of her presence would enable him to forget her, Anne knew that he was mistaken.
He couldn't forget her any more than she could forget him.
Their lives were entwined, forever.
Marion's execution was to take place at nine o'clock.
By then, they were to have set off on their journey.
The three maids who were to accompany her into exile had woken Anne before dawn, helping her to wash and dress before arranging her hair in a simple twist. Her gown was of white damask, almost hidden by a black velvet cloak with the hood up to cover her face, in case anybody should glance in her direction. All of the personal belongings she had been allowed to have with her during her time in the Tower had been packed and the trunk brought down, so that it could be stored on top of one of the carriages, ready for them to set off. Her other belongings, everything that was still in her apartment at Whitehall or in her rooms in another palace, would follow, as soon as they could be sent on to her without attracting undue attention.
The maids were to attend Marion on the scaffold, for the sake of appearances before making their way to the far courtyard, where the carriages awaited them. They had already returned to their homes to pack up their belongings, telling any relatives or friends that they had been engaged to work in a country house – which was true enough – and to sort out any details that needed sorting before they said their goodbyes. For now, Anne was alone with Brandon and Archbishop Cranmer, waiting, the former pacing back and forth and the latter praying silently.
Brandon glanced at the clock on the wall, estimating the time that they would need to make their way down so that they could get away unnoticed.
"If you want to say goodbye to your father, we should leave now." He told her curtly, not meeting her eyes. He offered her his arm but there was nothing friendly, or even courteous about the gesture, and the determined look in his eyes made it clear that he would not accept it if she declined to take his arm, preferring to walk alone than to have him touch her. He wanted to make certain that he had a firm grip on her, just in case she decided to try to run outside and declare her identity to the people who were being admitted to witness the execution.
Anne put her arm through his, allowing him to lead her out of her chamber and down the corridors towards the place where her father was imprisoned.
Although Anne had been housed in relative comfort, waited on by several attendants, a privilege allowed to her by virtue of her status as Queen, those who were arrested with her had not enjoyed such luxuries. With the exception of Mark Smeaton, the only accused man of low birth, they were spared the indignity of the dungeons and the horrific torture that a common prisoner could be subjected to at the whim of a jailer, but they were housed in damp, cramped, bare cells, even Anne's father who, as an earl twice over, was the highest-ranking of them. None of them were permitted to have a servant with them to tend to their needs and they were allowed to send for only the minimum by way of clothes, bedding, books and writing materials.
Not even Henry had professed to believe that Boleyn had ever been his daughter's lover, that he had encouraged her in her alleged infidelities or that he might even have been aware of them and committed treason by holding his tongue on the subject instead of warning the King but he had still wanted the man to be safely locked away, for fear that he would speak out for Anne if he was given the opportunity to do so, and rally people to her cause, encouraging them to rise up in defence of their innocent Queen and to reject the woman the King had chosen as her replacement.
Brandon had not disputed Henry's reasoning – his friend's temper was so volatile when the investigation into Anne's conduct began that even the slightest suggestion that he should reconsider any of the arrests he had ordered could have brought the speaker to the Tower as a suspected accomplice or sympathiser – but he believed it to be an utterly unnecessary precaution.
Now that his daughter had fallen from grace, Boleyn was going to do everything in his power to see to it that he did not fall with her. Instead, he would focus his energies on salvaging whatever he could from the wreckage of his family's ambition. He would never have spoken for Anne, not even to save her life or her brother's, and Brandon suspected that if he had been a free man while Anne was on trial, his would have been the loudest voice decrying her crimes against the King. He would watch his children lose their heads without flinching if it his own head was safe on his shoulders.
When he reached the door of Boleyn's cell, Brandon released his hold on Anne's arm, motioning to Cranmer, who placed a supportive hand on her shoulder.
"Wait here. I have a message from His Majesty for the earl, you can see him afterwards." He instructed Anne quietly, keeping his voice low so that he would not be overheard by any of the prisoners, before looking at Cranmer. "Do not let her out of your sight." He ordered firmly, waiting for the other man to nod obediently in response before he left them and entered the cell.
Boleyn looked as though he had aged years in the weeks he had spent in captivity.
He had not been a young man before but now he looked truly old, aged by fear and disappointment and resentment over all he had lost over the course of the past few weeks. His finery was gone and he was clad only in a plain linen shirt and simple breeches but he had not lost his arrogance – perhaps there was nothing in the world that could ever knock that out of him – and there was an expression of contempt in his eyes when Brandon entered, as though he considered the other man to be an insect who ought to be crushed beneath his boots by rights.
Although etiquette demanded that he stand in the presence of the Duke of Suffolk, one of the highest-ranking peers in the realm, he remained seated, a calculated gesture of defiance.
Despite his show of bravado, however, he was clearly ill at ease, unsurprisingly so.
Over a matter of weeks, he had gone from being one of the most powerful and influential lords at court, high in favour with the King to a prisoner in the Tower, from father to the Queen of England to the father of a disgraced adulteress. His son and daughter were both convicted of treason, his son was dead and, as far as he knew, his daughter would shortly follow him.
Boleyn was afraid that he would join them.
Any sane man in his position would fear that.
"Am I... am I to be tried?" He asked quietly, dreading the answer, knowing as he did that, if he was brought to trial, he could not hope for acquittal. Once Anne and her alleged lovers were convicted, to be put on trial as their accomplice was tantamount to a sentence of death.
Brandon would have dearly liked to be able to say 'yes', to tell the man who had spent the last decade amassing power, mostly through his younger daughter, with no regard for the price that others would have to pay for his ambition, even if that price was their lives, that he was to follow in the footsteps of More, Fisher and countless others who had paid the price for standing against him and his daughter, that he was to pay for his years of scheming with his life, but that was not the message that Henry had charged him to deliver. He remained silent for a moment, leaving the other man to worry about what he was going to say and to imagine the very worst possible outcome, to dwell on the idea that he might be tried and executed, before he finally answered.
"No. You are to be released." Boleyn grinned widely, covering his mouth with one hand to hide his relief and joy at this unexpected reprieve. Disgusted, Brandon continued, tempering the good news with bad, part of him wishing that he could be delivering worse tidings to a man he had always hated, even when were working for a common cause. "But His Majesty commands that since you no longer enjoy his trust or affection, you are to be stripped forthwith of all your official posts and titles." If the look on Boleyn's face was any indication, this came as no surprise to him but his eyes still betrayed his dismay and his resentment over the news Brandon was giving him, as though he believed that, despite everything, he should be allowed to enjoy the benefit of all he had gained through Anne. "You will no longer serve on the Privy Council, you will relinquish the role of Lord Privy Seal and all its privileges. His Majesty also desires that you leave court, and that you never show yourself in his presence again, on pain of death."
Another man would be broken by what he had heard, coming as it did on top of the loss of his son and daughter but Boleyn looked thoughtful as he rubbed his chin absently, looking up at Brandon with a speculative expression on his face, immediately seizing on a vital omission.
"So I am to keep my earldom?" A smile slowly spread across his face as he looked up at the other man for confirmation, his pleasure at the thought that he would be able to retain some of what he had gained unconcealed, and outweighing the grief over his losses.
Brandon thought that even if he hadn't known that Anne was outside, a silent, unseen witness to her father's callousness and greed, he would still have reacted the same way, disgusted by what he was hearing.
It was known that the family of Sir Henry Norris had offered the King a substantial bribe in exchange for his life, willing to sell all they had and to beggar themselves if it could persuade Henry to pardon him, deeming no price to be too high if they could only secure his safety and freedom, or even persuade the King to commute his sentence to imprisonment but Boleyn had washed his hands of both of his children, caring only for what he himself might salvage from the wreckage of his hopes and ambitions and Brandon was revolted by it.
If it had been Edward who had been convicted of treason and who now faced death for that crime, he would have offered up every treasure, every penny, every acre of land and every stick of furniture he possessed if he could save his son's life and, if that did not suffice, he would have begged Henry to take his own life instead and spare his son's.
Seizing the other man by the front of his shirt, he slammed him against the damp, whitewashed walls of the cell, his face inches away.
"Did you watch your son die?" He demanded furiously. "What about your daughter? Will you watch her suffer? Will you watch her die?" He found himself regretting the fact that Anne had insisted that she should be allowed to see her father one last time before she left the Tower to begin her life in seclusion, in order to show him that she was still alive and that he did not need to have any fears for her safety or her future. Boleyn did not deserve the reassurance, much less the satisfaction of knowing that his daughter was still Queen, and that his granddaughter would be the King's only legitimate child while Jane Seymour would be a mistress and her children would be nothing but bastards. "Tell me, Boleyn; was it all worth it?" The other man did not answer and, disgusted, Brandon released him, shoving him away and stalking out of the cell.
Anne's face was ghost pale when Brandon stepped into the corridor, and he noticed that Cranmer had put his arm around her in a protective gesture, as though he wanted to be able to shield her from the pain that the words she had overheard must have caused her.
"Would you like to go in now?" Brandon asked gently, unable to keep himself from feeling some pity for her after what she had just heard her father say. He couldn't imagine what it must be like to hear that her father cared so little about her, valuing his earldom above his children's lives, and he no longer felt surprised by Anne's inability to recognise how much Henry loved Mary, despite his decision to declare her illegitimate and her defiance of his command that she should accept his new marriage, and to understand that she was still precious to him.
Anne considered for a few moments, before shaking her head decisively. "No." She said quietly, but firmly enough to let them know that they wouldn't be able to change her mind. "I wouldn't."
Brandon merely nodded in response, accepting her wish and taking her arm again to lead her away, outside. As they walked past open windows letting in fresh air from the courtyard, he could hear snatches of speech and he glanced out to see Marion – a far more convincing 'Anne' than even he had hoped they would be able to find when he suggested a substitution – delivering her 'last words'. He honestly couldn't decide whether he was more amused or appalled by the fact that Anne had coached her substitute so that she could make the last speech she wanted her to.
It was perfect; the words were respectful, and 'Anne' said nothing that could be faulted in any way, submitting herself to death, as the King willed it so, and praising him as one of the best Princes on the face of the Earth but despite the praise for Henry, it was the woman standing in front of them with whom the people who were allowed to watch the execution would sympathise.
He could see some of the women watching dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs while the men removed their caps in a gesture of respect and many of them knelt before her, as those who witnessed her ill-fated execution two days ago had. It was as though they had never hated Anne for supplanting Queen Katherine, or objected to the idea of having her as their Queen.
None of the people who stood in the courtyard now would have a bad word to say about Anne from now on, nor would the people who heard their account of her execution.
Chances were, however, that they would have plenty to say about both Henry and Jane Seymour and that none of it would be pleasant.
In a strange way, Anne had won and Marion had helped to hand her another victory.
Knowing that the moment of the sword blow was drawing near, Brandon hurried away from the windows, down the corridor to a set of stone steps leading into a second, smaller courtyard where the carriages were awaiting them.
"You'd better get in." He told Anne, motioning to the front carriage, deeming it better to have her safely out of sight before anyone could see her and undo the work of their charade in an instant.
The coachman was a member of Brandon's own household, a man who had worked for him for years, a man to whom he had given a job when he was searching desperately for work to support himself and his family, and one whom he trusted implicitly, enough to involve him in the conspiracy and to be confident that he would not breathe a word to anybody about the bizarre situation he was privy to. The men who would drive the second coach were also handpicked for their trustworthiness, their silence guaranteed by a combination of threats and bribes.
Before she climbed in, Anne reached for Cranmer's hand, clutching it tightly.
"You'll take care of Elizabeth, won't you?" She asked urgently, needing to know that there would be somebody who would be willing to speak for her child, who would need friends even with if her legitimacy and her rank as a princess were assured. Now that Anne was out of the way, with even her father banished from court and her relatives in disfavour and unable to speak up for the child, and with the Seymours in the ascendancy and with Cromwell cultivating the Imperial ambassador, there would be many who would speak for the Lady Mary, urging a reconciliation between her and her father and promoting her interests, but Elizabeth would have very few people who would be brave enough to try to coax Henry into thinking more fondly of her. It was more likely that he would have people urging him to disinherit their child in favour of her older half-sister, and to make Elizabeth's banishment from court a permanent one, so that her presence would not be a barrier to a reconciliation between Henry and Mary, or to Mary's full restoration to the status she had once enjoyed. "If you can get Henry to bring her back to court…"
If Elizabeth was allowed back to court soon, after all of this had died down somewhat, then Anne was confident that his love for their child would win Elizabeth a place in his heart and in his good graces once more, ensuring that he would have a care for their child's interests and see to it that she was cared for and protected but he would not be prepared to take the step of seeing her again, not without encouragement. She knew him well enough to be sure of that.
"Your Majesty, I will do everything I can for her, you have my word." Cranmer promised fervently, impulsively bowing low over her hand and kissing it. He felt a surge of envy towards Matthew Parker, who was to accompany Anne as her chaplain, wishing for a moment that he could take his place in the household of this saintly lady, despite the fact that he was well aware that he needed to stay at court in order that he could continue to God's work in guiding the reformation of the English church, a task that could be neither neglected nor left to another man. "God has preserved your life, Your Majesty," he said quietly, his tone awed at the thought.
"Why?" Anne couldn't understand why, if God chose to spare her from execution, He had not also intervened to spare the men who were accused with her, men who were equally guiltless but who had still paid for the lies of others with their lives. It made no sense to her that He would protect her and yet be willing to allow them to become victims of her enemies' lies.
Why would He keep her alive and not them?
Had her execution been the first one scheduled instead of the last, might they still be alive?
"I don't know." Cranmer answered honestly. "But you must believe that He has His reasons for saving you. He has a plan for you, He must."
"I hope so." Anne said quietly, leaning forward to brush a kiss against his cheek. "Thank you."
"God bless you, Your Majesty." He said fervently, kissing her hand once more before he released her.
"It's time to go." Brandon prompted, extending his hand to help her climb into the carriage.
Anne nodded, laying her hand on his. "I'm ready."
At Henry's express command, they were to journey directly to Pembroke Hall, without stopping overnight, despite the fact that, even in a carriage with fast horses and even with good weather and dry roads, the journey would take almost three days.
Henry was afraid that, if they stopped overnight at an inn, there might be a risk that somebody would recognise Anne and, although that risk was a very slight one, given that it was highly unlikely that anybody living in the countryside would know Anne on sight, much less believe that she was herself when they believed her to be dead and buried within the Tower grounds, he was not prepared to take that chance or to allow Brandon to do so. Now that Marion Perry had been executed in Anne's place, the stakes were even higher than they were before. His people would be outraged if they ever learned about the deception that was wrought on them regarding Anne's "execution" so it was imperative that he ensured that they never learned that Anne was still alive.
He couldn't be too careful.
Brandon was prepared for a long, difficult journey.
He had known even before Henry set out his conditions for the trip that the task of conducting Anne to her new home would be an unenviable one. He didn't like Anne and the idea of being cooped up in carriage with her for days on end, forced to share such close quarters, with no other company save servants and grooms, was an unpleasant one, to say the least, but the other restrictions would make things much worse, even though they were well-supplied with provisions for the journey, including enough food and drink to feed them for ten days, let alone three.
It was his responsibility to see to it that Anne was conducted safely to Pembroke Hall, to be turned over to the care of her chamberlain, who would be responsible for keeping an eye on her from now on and who would be held accountable if Anne was able to evade his vigilance and do anything that compromised the secrecy of her identity, and he had to ensure that she was given no opportunity to escape or to communicate with anybody outside their travelling party. He didn't feel safe taking his eyes from her for more than a moment, unwilling to trust that she would not seek to escape and, as difficult and unpleasant as that made his task early in the day, when they first set out and he was feeling fresh and rested, it was worse still now, as the day dragged into evening.
Brandon was hungry and thirsty and the motion of the carriage was making him feel rather tired, which made him wonder how he was supposed to sleep tonight if he had to watch Anne.
Anne didn't seem troubled by the same difficulties. She had a book in her hand and was absorbed by it, so much so that she had scarcely glanced up from its pages since they set off. She hadn't spoken a word to him all day and she had made no demands or requests.
Brandon didn't know whether he was merely being courteous to a lady by waiting for her to indicate when she wished to eat or to break off their journey for a few minutes instead of being the one to decide such things for her, or if curiosity had kept him from suggesting that they should have their meal unpacked so that they might dine, so that he could see for himself how long it would take for her to experience discomfort and speak up.
He hadn't expected that it would take her long and was certain that she would break long before his need became pressing.
He was accustomed to spending a day in the saddle, sometimes setting off before dawn, after breaking his fast with nothing more than a bite of bread and a mug of ale, and not returning until suppertime. Anne would never have been brought up to test her endurance the same way and, from what Henry had said, she was not a woman who suffered in silence. If she was unhappy about something, she would let him know, and in no uncertain terms. He had expected her to insist that they stop for dinner by noon at the latest, and that he would be plagued by demands to stop the carriage at frequent intervals so she could take a break, or that she might wish the carriage to maintain a slow pace so she could walk for a time, but she had remained silent.
The carriage behind them, carrying the maids, had already stopped a couple of times, having to catch up with them afterwards and now, with the sky growing dark, Brandon was growing more and more impatient. He felt so hungry that it was as though he had not eaten in a week, and so thirsty that he could have traded his estate in Suffolk for a pitcher of water. He also had a rather pressing need to order that the carriage should be stopped so that he could find a bush to hide behind while he relieved himself. If Anne noticed his discomfort, she did not remark on it and, despite his resolve to wait for her to be the one to speak, his desire not to be the first one to demonstrate weakness, Brandon soon found that he had to speak up.
"Aren't you hungry?" He asked impatiently, prompting Anne to look up from her book in astonishment, surprised by his interruption. "We've been travelling all day," he reminded her sharply. "Don't you want to stop for a break? Or to get something to eat or drink?" He felt a chill run down his spine when he saw from Anne's expression that she was not hungry. In fact, it didn't seem to have occurred to her that she should be hungry by now.
Had he been a more superstitious man, he might have crossed himself but instead he merely stared at her, unable to believe what he was seeing.
He was already having trouble wrapping his mind around the fact that Anne had been able to survive when the executioner tried to behead her, just about. He did not want to believe, as Cranmer did, that Anne's survival was a miracle but, at the same time, he couldn't come up with a more realistic explanation for why she still lived. However, as astonished and awed as he was to see the sword pass through Anne's neck without harming her, or to see her hand forced into a brazier of hot coals but remain unscathed, it was more unsettling to see that hunger, thirst and tiredness seemed to have no more power over her than fire and steel did.
Was she even human any more or had she become something else, something more, something that was not subject to the same human limitations that he was?
Part of him wanted to quiz her about whether she felt even the slightest twinge of hunger or thirst after their hours of travelling, or if she even could eat or drink now, to find out the extent of her ability to conquer such weaknesses but, instead, another question came from his lips, a question he had not intended to ask, one he did not want to hear answered but that he needed answered.
"What did it feel like?"
"Your Grace?" Brandon couldn't tell whether Anne's innocent surprise and puzzlement at his question was feigned or if she truly did not understand what he wanted to know.
"The execution… the beheading… when the executioner tried… you know what I mean." When Henry had forced her hand into the brazier, Brandon could see that she had not been harmed by it in any way, and he could assume from the way that she did not cry out that she had not felt pain when she first touched it but the beheading was different. He had seen the sword pass through her neck and that there was blood on it and he was curious about how that must have felt for her.
Anne was silent for a few moments, mulling over the question and trying to come up with an honest response to it. "It felt sharp." She said at last, framing her thoughts as best she could.
"Sharp?" Brandon repeated the word dubiously.
Anne shrugged. "Sharp." She confirmed, instinctively touching her neck, ringing it with slender fingers. The sword blow had not left her with even the faintest of scars… at least not physically. "There wasn't any pain," she continued quietly, speaking to herself rather than to Brandon, trying to gather her thoughts and to remember what had happened, every sensation of the bizarre incident. "It was sharp and I could feel the sword going through my neck. It was cold. I thought the sword would be the last thing I would ever see." She remarked wryly. "But I was wrong."
"So you're telling me that it didn't hurt?" Brandon pressed her, feeling more relieved than he would ever have thought possible at the thought that at least she had not endured any pain.
"No," Anne contradicted him at once. "It hurt."
"But you just said…"
"There was no pain from the sword, that's not what hurt." Anne met his gaze squarely, noticing that Brandon shifted uneasily in the carriage when she did so. "You love your wife, don't you, Your Grace?" She was not close to Brandon and never had been, even though he was Henry's closest friend and had allied with her father and uncle before he turned on them, but she had seen him interacting with his Duchess before, and she had heard their relationship spoken of at court, with more than a few people marvelling over the fact that, since marrying Catherine Brooke, Brandon had been transformed from a man who was known to be susceptible to a pretty face and who had never allowed marriage vows to come between him and his pleasures, into a loving, devoted and, by all accounts, faithful husband. His marriage to Catherine was one of the happy ones.
Brandon stiffened at the question and, after a moment's pause, he answered her, although he disliked the idea of speaking of Catherine before Anne. "Yes, I love my wife very much. She's a good woman – and she's been a very loving mother to my young son." He added pointedly, frowning at the thought of how Anne had never been a mother, or even a friend to Princess Mary. Her concern had always been for her own daughter and her interests, even at the expense of her stepchild's welfare and interests. It was one of the things that he disliked most about her.
He thought that if she had been willing to treat Mary kindly, doing what she could to ease the poor girl's situation instead of making matters worse for her, he would not have disliked her as much.
Even if Anne had been unable to bring herself to plead with Henry to find a way to restore Mary as Princess – and he had to acknowledge that there would be few women in her position who would take such a step when they had a daughter of their own, especially when their child's legitimacy was questioned by people who supported their stepchild's place as her father's legitimate child, as both girls could not have been born in wedlock – the least she could have done was encourage him to be kind to Mary at least, instead of allowing Mary to be forced to act as a maid-in-waiting to the infant Elizabeth, turned into a virtual prisoner at Hatfield. Mary deserved far better than the treatment she endured over the past few years, and he hated Anne for refusing to help her.
Anne nodded acknowledgement of his words. "How do you think you'd feel if you found out that she was willing to have you killed?" Her question, though softly spoken, stunned Brandon into silence. He gaped at her, unable to keep himself from imagining how he might feel if he was in her place with Catherine playing Henry's role, and it was plain that the mere thought of such a thing was horrifying for him. She smiled sadly at him, knowing that she had made her point and that he understood her meaning. "It hurt more than I ever imagined anything could hurt me."