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Through the valley of the shadow of Death

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May 1542.


Whitehall Palace was not lacking in private chapels, but somehow, Edward found it difficult to find one that wasn’t already occupied in the middle of the morning. He just wanted to pray in some cool, calm place, without risking being interrupted as he usually was during the day, but it was no small feat.

The atmosphere was heavy at court and no one wanted to risk the anger of the King by making him wait too long when he called upon his servants.

Cromwell’s absence was felt more heavily these days.

Finally, he thought he had found what he had been looking for – a small heaven where he could confront himself to his thoughts, under God’s eyes – but his hopes were soon crushed when he realized another silhouette was hiding in the shadows of the chapel.

Suffolk had a rosary in his hands.

Sighing, Edward made his presence known.

“Your Grace”, he murmured, slightly bowing his head.

Better not to get on his bad side – Katherine Howard’s fall was the latest he had survived, after all, though none of them had plotted for it to happen.

“My Lord”, Suffolk answered on the same tone, motioning him to come closer.

Curious, Edward moved swiftly.

Their relationship was cordial at best, but Suffolk had never tried to be more than that, especially when they weren’t in public. Stepping away from the shadows, he realized the chapel really was more crowded than he had expected: a small, red-haired silhouette was praying in front of the altar. She was far enough that she probably hadn’t heard their exchange, but still, it was better to keep quiet.

“She and her sister remind me of their aunt, sometimes.”

Suffolk looked thoughtful, and Edward suddenly remembered than May also marked the anniversary of his marriage with the late Queen of France. Princess Mary had been so beautiful during the celebrations at Greenwich Palace… he had been a boy during those days, but the feeling of magnificence had never left him. It had been a love match and anyone had been aware of the fact.

The doors of the chapel opened with a slight creak and soon enough the Lady Mary appeared, her dress ruffling on the cold stones.

“Elizabeth”, she hissed, and Edward was slightly startled when a strong hand forced him to go deeper in the shadows “You know you are not supposed to leave alone, with no one knowing where you are. Lady Brian was worried.”

The child looked at her, her face very solemn.

“I did not want to be with her for the morning”, she answered in a calm voice – beyond her years.

Edward could feel Suffolk shaking his head next to him. Lady Mary looked very sad all of a sudden, and sat down next to her sister.

“I know you did not want to, but I already told you, we have to be careful. You cannot be seen alone. Especially at this time of the year. Especially this year.”

Elizabeth kept looking at her for a moment or two, before her face crumbled.

Edward winced.

Suffolk sighed.

“I miss Queen Katherine”, the girl murmured, and it was quite a sight, watching the Lady Mary holding her sister, compassion written all over her attitude. “It is not fair…” she added after a moment.

“I know, sweetheart, I know… but we have to be careful. We cannot risk angering the King.”

It was a sad thing to hear. And to watch the two discarded princesses… bastards. No one had been looking after the Boleyn girl since her mother’s death but the Lady Mary. And God only knew what would happen to them in the future.

They conversed in ushered tones for a few minutes but didn’t stay in the chapel much longer, and Edward realized he had been holding his breath when the heavy doors closed on them.

“Difficult to believe it has been six years” Suffolk mumbled.

The rosary was gone.

Edward nodded.

“I did not expect… I thought Jane…”

Words were failing him, for once.

May 1536 had been a sorry business. He had thought that with his sister, the kingdom would find some much-needed peace, but she had died, and Anne of Cleves hadn’t been to the King’s liking, and then Katherine Howard…

Boleyn’s cousin…

And no one had been plotting for her downfall, this time.

February 1542 had been more than a sorry business.

Suffolk was shaking his head, again.

“Sometimes I see them at court and I am reminded of the late Duchess, when she was a child still.” Edward was surprised to hear him share something so personal. “It has been such a long time…” and Suffolk cut himself short.

“They all have the Tudor look”, Edward offered, unable to think of anything better.

Sometimes, he thought the Duke was holding with him the shadows of his defeated enemies, but now, Edward realized he had forgotten the French Queen. Her shadow was at court too, but more subdued – although probably no less painful.

And perhaps the King thought of her too. Perhaps the shadows of his late wives weren’t the only ones troubling him. It was hard to say now. Oh, he had been at court for a long time, but there were many events he hadn’t been privy to, especially in his early years.

“We should go back, my Lord”, Suffolk finally said, while the silence was growing stronger. “The King will be waiting for us.”

“Of course, Your Grace,” Edward answered, and they left the chapel one after another.

No one would think of them as friends – uneven allies, at best. Edward wasn’t so sure it was such a great idea to be so close to the King anymore.

Suffolk was the only one who hadn’t been burnt by the sun. Wolsey and Cromwell had reached too high, Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn had fought too hard, and Katherine Howard… well, she had fallen, too. And neither he nor the Duke had been responsible for it.

Now, they were all soaring high, circling over the King, but it had become dangerous – so dangerous. Too dangerous perhaps, even. Suffolk was not at risk – as much as someone could not be at risk. Everyone else… Katherine Howard had proved they were all fair game. Even the Lady Mary, tamed as she was now, knew how dangerous the court could prove to be. And she was looking for her sister’s interests, too, for the time being.

Maybe it would be best to let the King decide of his next marriage. No involvement at all. This way, it would be much safer, in the eventuality the King ended up disappointed…

And it was important not to ask for too much power for now, Edward pondered, walking through the corridors of the palace. Suffolk had reached his peak long ago and hadn’t made a move for more ever since. This was the attitude to follow. Suffolk’s children were all promised brilliant marriages and would not, if God willed it, have to face the same hardships than the King’s own daughters. And he did not want his children to be put in the same position as the Lady Mary, if he were to fall from favor.

Better be careful.

May could bring loving marriages or dreadful deaths, after all.