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Towards the End

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Anne sat near the window through which she could see the royal party leave the castle, her husband at the front of it. It was supposed to be a hunting party in order to lift the King’s spirits after the death of Catherine of Aragorn. Though why on earth Henry would be that grieve-stricken over the death of the Dowager Princess was beyond Anne, after all he had done to get rid of his illegitimate wife. It didn’t matter either, as she knew it not to be the reason behind the trip anyway. No, the reason was far prettier than Catherine and went by the name of Jane Seymour.

A tiny voice told Anne that it was all her own fault. That she shouldn’t have made promises she couldn’t keep, though admittedly she hadn’t known then. She really had thought she could give the King a son. A living one. In that detail she had failed. Subconsciously, she moved her hand to cover her now empty belly, sharp pains of grief coming back to her and drawing tears from her eyes.

No. She composed herself. Took her hand from her belly and forced the tears back. She sat up a bit straighter. She was a Queen, for God’s sake. She would not let one… failure get her down. They would try again once he came back and this time she would succeed. A son would chase all thoughts of stupid Jane Seymour from Henry’s mind, Anne was sure of it. Then he would love her again as he once did and all would be well. She was sure of it.

She just needed to get one.

~~~

It had taken all but five minutes for Henry to get enamoured with Jane Seymour, this much was clear to Charles. How enamoured remained to be seen of course, considering Henry’s rather fickle mind. Secretly, Charles hoped Jane would proof to have permanently caught the King’s attention. If only because so far Jane Seymour appeared to Charles as a far better person than Anne Boleyn. Of course, the bar wasn’t set high. Now all he had to do was hope that Jane could jump.

~~~~

It wasn’t until a few days after Henry had left London that Anne finally managed to swallow her pride. Or rather, her mind had driven her to the brink with scenarios about her husband with Jane Seymour. She needed to engage it in some other way. Of course, she wouldn’t phrase it as such, but fact remained that no amount of chess games with Madge had proven useful. Given her many enemies and few friends at court, Anne didn’t have a lot of options left to her.

Which is how Anne found herself walking into the Secretary’s office. All the clerks rose to greet her with the appropriate courtesies and the Secretary himself was no exception.

“Your Majesty,” Thomas Cromwell greeted her as he always did, though he did not seem happy in the slightest to see her. The piercing look in his eyes told her as much, remembering her of the argument they had had a few days ago regarding the closing of the monasteries. Of course, if it had been a mere argument, she wouldn’t have threatened to shorten him by a head.

“Mr. Cromwell,” she began, suddenly realising maybe she should have thought of a reason to come here. Something less humiliating than her husband having yet another affair. “Have you heard any news from the King?”

“No, Your Majesty, not since His Majesty arrived at Wulfhall two days ago,” Cromwell answered, which also informed her that Henry was still there. Of course he was. At least Cromwell had the decency to look slightly apologetic.

Anne let out an almost inaudible sigh and set down on the chair in front of Cromwell’s desk, allowing everyone to sit down and the clerks to continue with their work. “The Lord of Suffolk’s idea, I presume?”

“His Grace is part of the hunting party.” It was as good a confirmation as any.

Anne nodded to herself. It was to be expected. Suffolk had never really seemed to like her. No wonder he would step into any small crack that existed in her marriage in order to widen it even further. And there were a lot of cracks.

“Could I bother you for a game of chess, Mr. Cromwell?” She looked up at her once-friend. At least, that’s how she supposed it to be after their falling out. She certainly would have thought so had the situation not been what it was.

To her surprise, she saw the flicker of Cromwell’s rare smile. “Of course, Your Majesty.” It was as if he had reached out her hand to help her up from the ground so she could walk again.

Chapter Text

When Henry returned a week later, he felt completely refreshed. He would say it was the country air that had done him good, but he knew full well it had nothing to do with that and all with his sweet Jane. Oh, how he longed to see her already. Though at this moment, he was quite enjoying the conversation he was having with Charles about the boar they had caught the other day. So much so that he hadn’t realised how loud they were. Loud conversations tended to attract attention and before they had properly entered the courtyard, it was filled with courtiers greeting their King.

They entered the great hall, greeted by more courtiers. But it was the sight of the dais at the end that made Henry stop in his track. Standing on it was Anne. His wife, who he had almost forgotten about. And if he was honest, the sight of her only filled him with disappointment and regret. Nevertheless, he made his way to he and bowed. “My lady.”

“Your majesty,” she greeted him in return, accompanied by her own courtesy. “I am so happy to see you returned.” She smiled the smile that once upon a time would have made his head spin. Now it did nothing. With a small nod of his head, he dismissed her and turned back to his hunting company.

~~~~

Francis Bryan had spend an entire five minutes in the presence of the Queen and King and it was clear that there was something wrong. Of course, he had heard plenty of rumours, but sometimes rumours were just that. With things such as these, he liked to check for himself. Especially since as of now he was associated with the Boleyns. Which was all good and well, unless they were about to fall to their doom. He was not willing to fall with them.

He detached himself from the wall he had been leaning against and made his way to the Duke of Norfolk. “Trouble in paradise?” The Duke didn’t answer in words, but he made the look he tended to make when he was admitting to a regrettable fact. Well, at least they would be able to retract themselves from the Boleyns.

But, to be honest, Francis wasn’t sure he would be satisfied to just retract himself. Pulling back tended to still leave no stains. Nothing would ever be as effective as turning against the Boleyns.

~~~

Making excuses about feeling a bit faint, Anne left the party earlier than she usually would. She just couldn’t stand it anymore. The way Henry ignored her as much as he could. The way people looked at her and talked about her when they thought she couldn’t hear it. It was humiliating at best. It was absolutely frightening at worst.

What was to stop Henry from discarding her like he did Catherine? If she was lucky, he still loved her which would stop him from doing such a thing. If not, all she could hope for was a son. Once upon a time she had thought that wouldn’t be too hard a thing to accomplish. But now that she was looking at the facts with a straight mind, she realised it wasn’t as simple as that. Catherine’s miscarriages and her own proved as much. Only, there was nothing she could do about it. She hit her pillow in frustration, pounded at her mattress.

It was all she could do, wasn’t it?

If anyone would have asked, she would fiercely deny crumpling up and crying. She would deny the worried looks of her ladies-in-waiting. That didn’t change the facts though.

~~~

The next evening Anne walked through the halls of the palace as if nothing had happened. Back straight, shoulders back, every bit the Queen she was supposed to be. She was making her way to the Secretary’s office, where the absence of her husband had driven her to a lot this past week. Funny how it was now his presence that drove her to it. Admittedly, ‘presence’ was a big of an exaggeration, seeing that Henry had seemed to avoid her all day. She told himself he was merely busy. After all, that is what she had been told when she had asked after her husband.

“Master Cromwell,” she greeted the only person inside, as everyone else had been sensible enough to go home.

Cromwell put down his quill to stand up and bow to her. “Your Majesty. My apologies, I didn’t expect you this evening.” She looked around and noticed he was surrounded by more pieces of paper than usually, even though her arrival was never announced. Then she supposed the return of the King would increase the amount of paperwork.

“I hope I’m not inconveniencing you.” She hadn’t even finished the sentence and he was already clearing up papers and shaking his head.

“Of course not, Your Majesty.” A part of her wondered if he would tell her if she was inconveniencing him. On one hand, she was the Queen. On the other, he had the favour of the King and she… well, she had very little left of it.

“Has the King said anything about me?” Anne asked, before she could stop herself. Cromwell stopped moving his papers, but he didn’t look at her. She quickly tried to backtrack. “Forget that I asked. I know you wouldn’t be able to tell me what he had said anyway.”

There were a few seconds of silence before Cromwell resumed his movements and said: “His Majesty has asked after Your Majesty’s wellbeing, but that was all as far as I’m aware.”

“He wanted to know if I was pregnant yet.” It wasn’t a question. Anne had no disillusions about her husband anymore and knew that his primary concern about her well-being was whether there was something growing in her womb or not.

Suddenly a wave of despair washed over her. The realisation that everything she had worked for, maybe even her life depended entirely on getting a son. A son she wasn’t quite sure Henry could give her. She tried to gather herself, tried not to show any of the emotions racing to her. Apparently, she had failed, as she suddenly found herself seated on a chair, Cromwell’s hand supporting her elbow.

“I am doomed,” Anne breathed out, stopping Cromwell from whatever he was about to do. Probably get help.

“What?” It was possibly the least formal thing she had ever heard him say. Also the least composed.

She looked up at him, though he looked blurred through the tears that had apparently gathered in her eyes. “If I don’t get a son, he will replace me. And he can’t give me a son.” She had no idea what compelled her to pour out her fears to the King’s first minister, but she found she wasn’t able to stop now that she had started. “I should have known. I thought it would be different with me. How could I have been so stupid?”

“You were in love, Your Majesty,” Cromwell answered after a small silence. They both knew there was another reason, her ambition, but he was too polite to point it out.

“Much good that will do me now.”

Anne couldn’t help but notice that Cromwell hadn’t argued against her statement of Henry being unable to give her a son. With that, her last hope that maybe she was wrong, left her. She looked down at her hands, furiously trying to blink the tears away.

There really was only one hope left then, wasn’t there? She had to get pregnant from someone else. It was ridiculously dangerous, she knew, but she had to do something. Besides, she had nothing left to lose that the lack of a son wouldn’t lose her anyway. And maybe if she found someone trustworthy, someone who didn’t have any features that would stand out on a baby, maybe this would work. Henry would never have to find out. But therein lay another problem. How many people at court could she trust that weren’t her family? And if she were honest, she didn’t think she could trust her family with this either.

“Please help me,” she said, before she could think twice of it, for she knew the dangers in asking this. She also knew she couldn’t possibly sink lower and her pride protested against it, but she kept reminding herself of the alternatives.

“I am afraid I can’t help you, Your Majesty,” Cromwell answered and she wondered if he really didn’t know what she wanted from him or if he was feigning not knowing. Considering his intellect, she had no doubts he had at least his suspicions.

“I need to get pregnant and I need to get a son. The King can’t give me one, so I need to get one in other ways.”

She looked at his face, trying to decipher what might be going on in that head, but he betrayed nothing. Indeed, his voice was as formal and calm as always when he said: “That is treason, Your Majesty.” At least he didn’t sound in any way accusing. So there was hope.

“I know, but I have no choice, Master Cromwell. The king can’t just divorce me, we both know it. Not after he turned the world upside down to get me.” She grabbed his arm, willing him to understand. She looked up at him with the most pleading look she could conjure up. “Please. There is no one else I can turn to.”

The silence that followed her plea seemed to stretch on forever, but eventually Cromwell sighed and nodded. “Alright.”

Chapter Text

After the first time, Thomas had felt like he had made a huge mistake. Admittedly, there had been no rational grounds to go along with the Queen’s suggestion. He told himself it was because he was irrevocably tied to the Boleyns, which made it better for her if the Queen didn’t fall from the King’s grace. He knew it was a lousy excuse, as the connection had weakened quite a bit lately. Still, he didn’t like to admit to himself that he had felt pity at her desperation and that he had genuinely wanted to help the bright and intelligent woman. If only because such sentiments could very well mean the end of lives at court.

At least there hadn’t been more threats to get rid of his head. That was an improvement of sorts. Though of course, if anyone found out, it wouldn’t matter anymore whether the Queen wanted his head or not.

But after a week or two, he found himself to be more at ease with the situation. His friendship with the Queen had strengthened as well, to the point that it comfortably could be called a friendship. Indeed, he found himself almost looking forward to their games of chess and discussions. Dangerous sentiments though they were, there was no denying them. And, he supposed, if their plan succeeded, how dangerous could it really be?

~~~

“I need to get rid of her.”

The King was pacing in his privy chamber, clearly agitated. Thomas had expected this to happen sooner rather than later, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. It had been four weeks since Anne’s suggestion and so far, it didn’t seem to have paid off. He had known they were running out of time, that Anne was running out of time. That didn’t make the realisation that it had run out any more pleasant.

“Your Majesty.” was all he said, his voice as even as if he barely knew the Queen.

It seemed as if the King wanted to say more and though he did mutter under his breath, he didn’t actually add anything. All he eventually said was an order to gather the privy council. After that he dismissed Thomas, all the while never stopping his pacing.

~~~

“So, how are we going to do this?” Rich asked as he tried to keep up with Thomas’ long strides. In Rich’s defence, Thomas was not entirely pleased with the situation, which didn’t make him a very considerate person. “He can’t just divorce her.”

“No, he can’t,” Thomas confirmed, much to his own dismay. They entered the office and only after they had sent everyone else away, did they resume their conversation. “The Queen doesn’t have the reputation of a virtuous woman. It should be easy to find something that would suggest adultery. We only need to question the right people. She would be charged with treason and that’s the end of that.” He had given this more thought than he would like to admit, but he had had to. Simply because adultery was the logical choice, but there could be potential risks in charging the Queen with it, considering he was an accomplish.  However, he had come to the conclusion that it was unlikely that anyone was aware of the situation and if they were, they were unlikely to accuse him to his face. If the Queen were to accuse him, everyone would no doubt think she was just lashing out.

Of course, he purposely neglected to actually think of the Queen in all of this. Such thoughts would do him no good. It wasn’t like he could change anything about the situation anyway. He had tried to help and it had failed. Things like that happened, no need to dwell on it.

“We should start with Her Majesty’s ladies-in-waiting, as they are closest to her and could therefor give us a lead of who else to look for,” Thomas continued.

Rich let out a low whistle, as if he were impressed. A show, no doubt. “You have thought this through, haven’t you? Well, all for the better.” He sat down, looking a bit too smug for Thomas’ liking. Luckily, he was under no requirement to like Rich. “We should start as soon as possible. His Majesty seems quite impatient.”

~~~

There was definitely something inherently wrong with Thomas’ relationship with Anne, he was well aware of it. One couldn’t play chess and bed a woman during the evening and orchestrate her downfall during the day and not feel that it was wrong. If he were a rational person like he should be, he would seize all contact with Anne. His excuse for not doing so was that she would suspect something. Were he a more irrational and perhaps a better person, he would warn her or try to resist the proceedings. He had no excuse for that. Or at least none that didn’t make him sound incredibly selfish.

Yet, when Francis Bryan came to offer his aid, Thomas felt more than a little hesitant. The services of someone like Bryan would speed up the process, that was for sure. However, Thomas didn’t feel comfortable letting the vicar of hell get himself involved in this. If Thomas was made of ice, like people said he was, he wasn’t sure he wanted to know what Bryan was made of.

So he declined Bryan’s offer with an excuse of the King having given strict orders. Bryan had looked less than pleased at it, even if he could do nothing about it. To soften the blow somewhat, Thomas told Bryan he would ask his assistance once it became necessary. After all, if the necessity arose, the Queen was doomed anyway so there wouldn’t matter anymore whether Bryan was involved or not.

~~~

“You are distracted, Master Cromwell,” Anne remarked once she had won her third game of chess within an hour. Their games had never lasted so shortly nor had she won so many in a row. Either he was distracted or he was feeling generous and letting her win, but she highly doubted the second.

“My apologies, Your Majesty,” Cromwell said, with a slight inclination of his head. “I’m afraid it has been rather busy as of late.” Now that she looked closer, she noticed he did look tired. There were the hints of shadows under his eyes and she even thought she noticed more lines in his face. How had she noticed this before?

“No, it is me who should apologize. I’ve been keeping you up,” she said, shaking her head. She stood up from the chair she had been occupying. “And maybe it is not such a bad idea to get a good night’s sleep myself, considering the circumstances.” She shot him a small smile.

For a moment she thought he would say something. She noticed a small hesitation in his movements that she only recognised because she had seen it during their games. However, it was gone before she could take proper note of it and he didn’t say anything. Maybe she had imagined it. So she didn’t say anything about it and merely shot him another smile before taking her leave. “Goodnight, Mr. Cromwell.”

Surely, she had imagined it. She had been tired herself, playing the perfect Queen during the day and bedding either Henry or Cromwell at night, though the first had become more tiring and difficult than the latter. So, it only made sense. Besides, she didn’t want to think on what the hesitation might have been had it indeed been there. Both the best and the worst options frightened her, albeit in different ways. She had enough to fear as it was.

Chapter Text

Anne had waited a bit longer than absolutely necessary to be sure, but now that she was, she wasted no time in finding her husband. For a second, as she was waiting outside of his privy chambers, she was afraid she wouldn’t be allowed in. What if Henry had tired of her to the extent that he didn’t even want to see her anymore? Then things would be much worse than she already thought them to be. But her worrying proved unnecessary as she was eventually let in.

“What is it, sweetheart?” Henry, who was seated at the table, asked. Despite the term of endearment, he didn’t really sound pleased to see her. She felt a flicker of disappointment and hurt. There was a time when he would have been delighted to be in her company. Well, it didn’t matter, she was going to turn it around.

“I’m pregnant,” she told him with a smile, putting her hand on her stomach to emphasize it.

Contrary to what she had expected, Henry did not look pleased. He didn’t look displeased or annoyed either, but it was not the reaction Anne had been hoping for. A tinge of fear came back, together with the disappointment, but she forced it back down. Part of her wanted to tell him this time it would be a son, if only to get an enthusiastic reaction. But she had learned and knew now she couldn’t promise things like that. So, she didn’t say anything, but knew her smile had disappeared.

Eventually the King said: “That’s wonderful.” The lack of enthusiasm shattered her heart. She swallowed against the dryness in her throat and with the necessary difficulty did she put the smile back on her face. With a small courtesy, she left the room again.

She tried to not let Henry’s reaction dampen her spirits. There was hope. She was pregnant. By the timing she was fairly sure it wasn’t Henry’s. She knew she should want it to be her husband’s of course, but the fact that it wasn’t, gave her more hope. At least now she had a chance. She put her hand on her still-flat belly again and looked down at it with a small smile. This time a genuine one. It was strange that, despite the situation and the stakes, she was excited to be pregnant again. She was excited to feel her baby kick and hold him in her arms once he was born. It was stranger still to imagine what he might look like, because it was so easy to do. She had no problems whatsoever envisioning a little boy with curly black hair or blue eyes.

Best not to think of it. It would be easiest if the baby looked more like her anyway. Of course, any of Cromwell’s features could easily enough be explained away, but still.

~~~

Henry twirled a goblet around on the table as he thought about the news Anne had just brought him. Part of him was genuinely happy. He might get a son this time. But therein lay the disappointment. He no longer believed Anne could give him a son. She had failed him. However, one thing was clear. He couldn’t get rid of her now, no matter how much he wanted to be with Jane.

“Send for Mr. Cromwell and Mr. Rich,” Henry told the steward, who left with a bow and not long after that returned with the two men following him.

“The Queen is pregnant,” Henry announced. Neither of the men gave much of a reaction, which was just as well, as he wasn’t sure he wanted congratulations. “I wish the investigation to be stopped. For now, at least. If the Queen gives me a son, then surely that is sign enough.” The following silence stretched on for a bit as Henry was thinking about the situation. Eventually he said: “Keep any evidence you have collected so far. Who knows what might happen? It would be a waste of time to start from scratch if the investigation were to continue.”

~~~

By the time evening had come, everyone was aware of the situation, Anne was sure of it. She could see it in the slightly more respecting manners people handled towards her. Suddenly everyone was kinder than they had been in a while. It was only now that they were that Anne noticed how stark the contrast really had been. It made her painfully aware of what she had to lose were she to get a girl. No time for that. Worrying could only hurt the baby anyway.

Anne made her way through the stone corridors to Cromwell’s office. As was usual at this time of day, he was the only one there. She began to wonder if he ever left the office.

“Your Majesty,” Thomas greeted her with a bow as she entered the office. She took place on the chair that in her mind was already hers. “In hear you are to be congratulated.” Despite the fact that they were alone, he let on no hint that he knew anything about the pregnancy other than its existence. She had to compliment him on his acting.

“Thank you, Mr. Cromwell,” she said, “for everything.” She reached over to shortly press his hand in order to properly show her gratitude, which she couldn’t possibly convey with those words.

“Don’t thank me yet, Your Majesty,” Thomas said with a look that was almost apologetic. “The King is quite… impatient.” There was the hesitance again, though this time it wasn’t followed by silence. “I’m afraid all I have given you is more time.”

“It’s a chance,” Anne said quietly, trying to will away another wave of despair. But she had been pushing back so much that day, from the King’s disappointed reaction to the contrast in behaviour of the courtiers. He was right, all she had was more time. It was a chance, sure, but that was also all it was. If she got a daughter or a stillborn, nothing will have changed. It was a chance, but she had no control over the success of it. She started to feel light headed. Her breathing had increased, yet she felt as if she were suffocating. What if this failed? What if this was just a delay of the inevitable? What would happen to her? To her baby? To her Elizabeth? What if all she had done was give another girl an unloving father?

“Anne, Anne, breathe.” Thomas’ voice somehow managed to break through her panicked thoughts.

She hadn’t realised he had moved at all, let alone that he was now kneeling in front of her, holding her up by her arms. His face expressed more genuine concern than she had expected to see from anyone, let alone from him.

Part of her wanted to lash out. To reprimand him for his informality. To prove that she still had some power left. But she didn’t. Instead she let him calm her down, which surprisingly enough seemed to work.

“The King is impatient now, but you have almost 9 months to change his mind,” Thomas said and she found herself nodding in agreement. “He stopped the investigations against you. That is a start, my Lady.”

For some reason Anne wasn’t entirely surprised that apparently there had been investigations at all. She was even less surprised that Thomas was involved in it. Of course he would be. She didn’t really care about it, nor did she care that he hadn’t told her until now. After all, who could blame him?

“You are right, of course,” Anne said, nodding. She took a deep breath and gathered herself. She wiped away the fly hairs that had fallen in her face and straightened her skirts. Thomas stood up from the floor. She added: “Besides, worrying can only harm the baby. I’m sorry I lost control like this.”

“Don’t apologize,” Thomas said with the hint of a reassuring smile. “Anyone would worry in your circumstances, Queen or not. Indeed, I doubt the title makes it easier.”

Anne let out a watery laugh. “You’re right, it doesn’t.” She stood up from the chair and shot him a smile of her own. “Thank you, Thomas.”

Chapter Text

“Jane! Jane!” Edward Seymour called for his younger sister, whom he hadn’t been able to find in her rooms that morning. In his hand was a letter addressed to her, which he had opened in her absence. After the news of the pregnancy of the Queen, Edward had thought they had lost their chance with the King. For a while it had indeed seemed that way, as there had been no more news. However, this letter changed all of that.

Eventually he found Jane in the gardens, reading a book with their brother Thomas at her side. They both looked up as Edward approached them. He gave the letter to Jane, but didn’t give her a chance to open it before he said: “We are invited to Court and you, Jane, are to be a lady-in-waiting to the Queen.” Contrary to what he had expected, both Jane and Thomas seemed rather hesitant. Though honestly, he shouldn’t be surprised, as neither seemed to have grasped the concept of ambition yet.

“To the Queen?” Jane repeated, not even having looked at the letter. She looked more than a little uncomfortable at the prospect.

“On His Majesty’s own insistence,” Edward added. This managed to make Jane smile. She looked down at the letter in her hands and a pink blush crept up her cheeks.

Thomas still didn’t quite look pleased, though at least he didn’t seem hesitant anymore. Either way, Edward didn’t care an awful lot about his brother’s opinion in all of this. As long as Thomas wouldn’t voice any protests, which he didn’t, Edward was satisfied.

“Do you think this means the King still cares about me?” Jane asked softly.

Edward offered her his most genuine smile. “I’m sure he does, sister. Of course, due to the Queen’s pregnancy he has to honour his duties as a husband, but even so, His Majesty has been tiring of the woman for a while now. Everybody knows it. And when they were here, it was clear the King was utterly taken by you. He couldn’t take his eyes off of you.” The blush on Jane’s cheeks deepened, but her smile widened as well. Good. A bit of confidence would prevent her from hiding so the King could forget all about her. And well, it wasn’t as if Edward had said anything that wasn’t true.

“Don’t worry about the Queen,” Edward added to Jane, before addressing both his siblings. “We leave next Thursday morning.” After that he turned around and left the gardens in order to prepare the things that needed preparing.

~~~

Now that Anne began to show, even if it was nothing more than a small swelling, she found it nearly impossible to shake off her ladies and spend some time alone. Or well, to spend time with Thomas. To her own surprise, she found she missed their evenings together. Now she was obliged to watch him from across a room and restrict any conversation to small talk. Without the discussions and chess games, her life started to fall in a boring monotone rhythm. Reading, walking, painting, it all started to blur together.

Until one day, Thomas approached her in the corridor when she was coming back from a walk in the gardens with Lady Margaret Shelton and Lady Jane Rochford.

“Your Majesty, I have the book you asked for,” he said, holding out a book to her. A little confused, she took it from him. Upon closer inspection she saw it wasn’t in English or even French, but instead in Italian. She had mentioned she wanted to learn another foreign language, but she had never told him which one, much less asked for a book. However, she had no doubt he was well aware, so she decided to play along and hope it would make sense at some point.

“Thank you, Master Cromwell,” she said, looking back up at him with a smile. “I hope it won’t be too difficult for me.”

“I’m sure you can handle it,” Thomas assured her, after which he bowed and continued on his way.

“I didn’t know you were learning Italian, Your Majesty,” Madge, who had been walking next to Anne, said. Due to Madge’s closeness to Anne, it was nothing out of the ordinary for her to ask such a thing. Luckily Anne had mentioned to her friend that she had been wanting to learn another language.

“I settled on it about a week ago,” Anne told her as they continued their walk back to her chambers. “Mr. Cromwell seemed an obvious choice to ask for reading recommendations. It will give me something to do for the coming months.”

Once they had returned to her chambers, Anne seated herself on her favourite chair and asked Madge to fetch her a dictionary. She figured she might just as well read the book she had been given. However, when she opened the book, she found a note in between the first pages that read: ‘Jane Seymour has been appointed by the King as your new lady-in-waiting’. It was a small note. Small enough for Anne to slip it away from the pages and put it in her sleeve to burn later. Part of her wished there had been more, but she saw the practicality of the short nature of the note and she did appreciate the warning. Even if there was nothing she could do about it.

She sighed and put her hand on her belly, once again silently hoping for a boy. Then she looked again at the book in her hands and the dictionary that Madge had put on the side table. Well, there really wasn’t much else to do, was there? So she took the dictionary and started to make her first decent attempt at reading Italian.

~~~

Anne tried to not feel hate or disgust when Jane Seymour was eventually presented to her. She tried, if only because she considered herself to be above such things, but she didn’t quite succeed. At least she managed to conceal it. She even managed to conjure up a smile and say: “You are most welcome, Lady Jane.” It couldn’t possibly be any further from the truth. It was also all that she managed to give, so she dismissed Jane more quickly than she had dismissed any new lady-in-waiting.

What Anne didn’t expect to feel, was a deep distrust for Jane. She didn’t want to be alone with Jane and in all honesty preferred to forget about the girl entirely. Yet at the same time, Anne didn’t want to lose sight of Jane. But above all, she wouldn’t let Jane anywhere near her food. It was completely absurd, Anne was well aware, but this pregnancy was her last chance. What was to stop Jane from putting something in Anne’s food that would harm the baby? Admittedly, Anne didn’t necessarily think Jane was the kind of person to do such a thing, but her brother was another matter entirely.

Anne had only seen Edward Seymour a couple of times, but immediately she had recognised in him a ruthless ambition. One that meant he undoubtedly wanted nothing more than for Anne to fall and for Jane to take her place. It also hadn’t helped that Seymour had quickly made friends with Suffolk. Undoubtedly a friendship based on shared interests.

It wasn’t exactly reassuring to see how her enemies surrounded themselves with more friends and connections while she herself was limited to one, perhaps two friends. Three if she was generous and counted George. But the only real friend of those she wasn’t even able to see. How strong was that friendship even? Who was to say Thomas wouldn’t continue the investigations he had mentioned if he was asked to? Anne had little doubt he would do it without a sound of protest. For whatever reason, that thought hurt. On top of that, it made the entire situation more difficult than it already was.

So, instead of thinking about it and doubting, she decided to ask him. By the end of the week, she had finished the book, albeit with the necessary difficulty. When there was no one watching too closely, she wrote a short note asking: ‘Would you continue the investigation on me if you were asked to?’. She hid the note in the book. Asking Madge to accompany her, she went to Thomas’ office to return the book to him and ask him if he could give her another one whenever he had time.

He seemed surprised at the implication that she had actually read the book. Of course, the surprise was well hidden and Anne sincerely doubted Madge had noticed it. He didn’t comment on it however and instead promised to find her a new book as soon as possible.

All she could do after that was hope that he would do so and hope that he would answer honestly. He had no real reason to lie. It wasn’t as if Anne could stop any future investigations from happening. But more than that, she hoped they were at least on such terms that he wouldn’t lie to her about something so important.

When she received another book from Thomas a few days later, she was disappointed to find there was no note in it. Had it fallen out? Did he not want to answer the question? At least he hadn’t lied, but she still thought it was a fair question that deserved an answer. That was until she started to actually look through the book. In chapter 2, she found a piece of dialogue that was carefully underlined with ink. She reached over for the dictionary that now permanently rested on her side table and started to translate the text.

I wish I could tell you I would not do such a thing, that I was more honourable than that. But, princess, circumstances make the man. I am not now in such a position. All I can offer you is my hope that if the time comes, I will resist it with all my might. But for now, please believe that it is not my wish to betray you thus.

Anne couldn’t help but smile. It was more honesty than she had expected, more than she could have asked for. She recognised in it a certain vulnerability that expressed the kind of trust she hadn’t thought Thomas had in her. As far as she was aware, she had given no ground for it. Nonetheless, she was touched. She let her fingers glide over the letters as if they were more than ink on paper, which in a way they were.

Later Anne would learn that the bit of dialogue meant something entirely different in context and was a lot less honourable than it had sounded out of context. It didn’t matter, for Anne knew their intended context and nothing could pull those words out of it.

Chapter Text

For a couple of weeks, Anne and Thomas kept communicating using notes in books. During those weeks, Anne read more books than she would usually read in a month. Because of that her Italian had also improved considerably and she didn’t need the dictionary as often anymore. It also helped that, after Thomas had underlined his message, Anne had started writing her notes in Italian. It felt a bit safer that way, even though anyone could grab a dictionary to translate a note if they found it.

It was the first real spring day when Anne decided to put down her books and instead make a long walk in the gardens with Madge and Lady Rochford. The air was still a bit cold, but the sun was warm on Anne’s skin. The bushes seemed greener than they usually did and some flowers started to pop up and add colour to the world.

They rounded a corner that led them to an open field. There were a few trees dotting the field, but none of those could grab Anne’s attention, for her eye had already settled on something else. Or rather, someone else. On the field stood Thomas, a bow in his hands, an arrow flying away from him and burrowing itself in the target.

“You may wait here,” Anne told her ladies, after which she made her way towards the secretary. She only dared to do so because she trusted Madge and Lady Rochford enough not to start unnecessary rumours and she longed for a conversation that didn’t require finishing a book to have. “Good morning, Master Cromwell.”

“Good morning, Your Majesty,” he greeted her with a small bow. She saw his eyes flicker to her ladies behind her, probably to assess their distance. He must have judged the distance as safe enough, because his tone was significantly less formal when he said: “You look tired.”

“I am tired,” Anne admitted, “it’s the Seymour girl. I can’t properly rest with her around.” Just thinking about it conjured up a headache. She only just stopped herself from massaging her temples and instead gestured to the bow. “May I?”

“Of course.” He handed her the bow and an arrow from the quiver. “She’s unlikely to do anything. Seymour and Suffolk appear to be waiting to see what’s going to happen before making a move. Jane Seymour is not someone to act on her own accord.” She had expected him to tell her not to worry, but she appreciated that he didn’t. It would have been useless anyway.

“They’re waiting for me to get a daughter,” Anne rephrased as she nocked the arrow and drew back the string. Thomas’ silence was enough of a confirmation. She felt his hand on her elbow, lightly pushing it up, correcting her posture. Part of her wanted to look at him and forget all about archery. However, she knew she couldn’t so she kept her gaze fixed on the target as she let go of the arrow.

“You don’t have to wait for the child to be born,” Thomas said as he handed her another arrow.

“There isn’t much else I can do. I sincerely doubt my husband would appreciate the sudden death of either Suffolk or Seymour. At least I won’t need poison, being a witch and all.” Anne was surprised to hear a chuckle from Thomas at her dry comment. She was fairly sure she could count on one hand the amount of times he had done more than smile and she’d probably have fingers to spare. She couldn’t help but look up at him with a smile of her own.

“I’m afraid you’re right, however much a waste of talent that would be,” Thomas said and Anne could swear she could hear a teasing undertone in his voice. She looked back at the bow and arrow again as she nocked the latter. “But you could strengthen your position. As of now, the common folk wouldn’t mind seeing you replaced by Jane Seymour, which doesn’t help your case. However, it is something that can be changed if you show them you care about them.”

Anne considered his words as she drew the string back, this time minding the position of her elbow. She let go and watched as the arrow bore itself in the target, but still not in the centre. Eventually she said: “The common folk hold no power in court.”

“They don’t,” Thomas agreed, handing her another arrow without being asked to, “but don’t underestimate them. They’re still the majority. Besides, seeing you care about people considered beneath you may just win over some courtiers. Of course, there’s no chance of persuading the stubborn Catholics to change their opinion about you, but there are plenty at court who are less insistent in letting their Faith colour their opinions about people. Even now people are starting to adjust their opinions of you. I’ve more than once heard praise about your recent lack of flirting and your increased interest in literature. Getting rid of you will be a lot harder if people like you”

Of course, Anne had known Thomas had a strategical and brilliant mind. She had seen glimpses of it. It was general knowledge. It shouldn’t surprise her. However, she had never actually seen it work on such a scale as that and she couldn’t help but be amazed and honoured. Honoured, because he would bother to put his mind to help her.

“What do you suggest?” Anne asked while nocking yet another arrow. In all honesty, she didn’t care much for it anymore, but she had to keep up the pretence.

“There’s an alms-house close by that mainly houses elderly. They have recently suffered a great infection that decreased the number of inhabitants by half. It has cleared now, so there are no risks for you. The inhabitants as well as the families involved are still in mourning. His Majesty hasn’t taken notice so far and I doubt he will.”

Of course Henry hadn’t taken notice. Once upon a time, Anne wouldn’t have either, but now she realised the strength in stepping into the hole created by the King’s lack of interest for the less fortunate. She thought over his suggestion while she let go of the arrow, which this time did burrow itself in the centre of the target.

“I will try to persuade the King to let me go,” Anne said as she handed back the bow.

“It might help if you include which ladies you will and won’t be taking with you,” Thomas suggested and Anne realised that would probably be all the persuasion Henry needed.

She nodded. “Mille Grazie, Thomas.” She shot him a smile and then turned to return to her ladies. Together they left the gardens, after which Anne went to find her husband, who she had hardly seen lately. She didn’t mind as much as she would have thought.

~~~

Thomas had been right. Henry had very little objections to Anne visiting the alms-house after she had made it clear that Jane wouldn’t be coming with her. His only objections were about the baby’s health, but since there were no sick people involved and there was a guard accompanying her, those objections didn’t stop her either.

Which is how Anne found herself stepping into the alms-house a few days later. She was well aware that she had never given much attention to the living conditions of those less fortunate than her. It was wrong, she knew that now. So, she tried to hide her surprise at the small and barely clean living quarters, which housed 6 beds in every room. Though she for the most part ignored it for now, she made a mental note to remember it. To try and do something about it but also to never forget it. However, there was no use in focusing on it now. Her energy would be better spend on the people.

She made sure to take the time to talk to every one of them, the inhabitants, families and people working there. They told her about their families, their daily activities and such. During the conversation, Anne found that her image of the common folk started to become more and more human. It was absolutely horrible really that it had never occurred to her as such, but there it was.

There was an old woman whose granddaughter had just married and whose youngest son had just gotten his first son. The woman herself had come all the way from Ireland and clearly had many an interesting story to tell. Anne secretly thought it a shame the woman was illiterate, for surely she’d be capable of writing wonderous books.

A young woman who had recently lost her mother to the infection, which happened shortly after the woman had given birth to her first child. The little girl was wrapped in brown sheets, her hands gripping at her mother’s dress. Her husband sold fabrics on the market for his employer, to provide for the both of them.

When it was time to leave, Anne made sure to distribute the coins she had brought and thank everyone several times. It was all she could do to come close to showing her gratitude.

~~~

Charles Brandon had no idea what had possessed the Boleyn girl to visit an alms-house. Maybe she had finally grasped the concept of humanity, but Charles sincerely doubted it was something as selfless as that. He also didn’t think it had been her own idea. Whose suggestion it had been, he was equally unaware of, but he suspected Cranmer.

Regardless of either of those things, the whore was gone and hadn’t brought Jane Seymour. Which was why Charles was waiting in the gardens for Edward and Jane Seymour. He had convinced Henry to take his bow and do some archery outside, which was exactly what the King was doing when the Seymours entered the garden.

As soon as Henry had seen Jane, he called for her. Charles watched as the girl left her brother’s side and made a courtesy for Henry. They were too far away for Charles to hear what they were saying, but he could see the both of them laughing at something Henry had said. Henry picked up the bow again and took aim with more precision and care than Charles had seem him do it in a long time. Clearly Henry was showing off. Judging by Jane’s love-struck expression it both worked and was completely unnecessary.

“She doesn’t stand a chance,” Edward Seymour said once he was standing next to Charles. There was no explanation needed for Charles to know Seymour was talking about Anne Boleyn.

“She may still get a son.”

“She may, but she won’t,” Seymour said and he sounded very sure of himself. “She has had her chance and she has failed. It is clear God does not look upon her with favour.” Charles had to admit Seymour was probably right. There was plenty of evidence and Charles’ common sense told him the same.

“Even if she were to get a son, her marriage is broken beyond repair,” he added, to which Seymour nodded his agreement. Usually Charles wouldn’t be in favour of a broken marriage, but after everything the wretched woman had done to ruin Catherine of Aragon, he felt it was only right. There was no one who deserved his compassion less.

And, looking at Henry and Jane, Charles genuinely believed Jane was far better for his friend than Anne could ever be. Jane was the picture of an obedient wife, her hands clasped together, smiling as she watched Henry practice his archery. The way a woman ought to be. She would stabilize Henry with her calm and grace. On top of that, she was of the true Faith, which was a good thing in many ways. For starters, her presence may make Henry see how these reformations and Cromwell are poisoning the country. She also had more of a chance to be favoured by God with a son than the Boleyn whore. Of course, the latter would only be of real importance if Anne did not get a son herself, but all in all, Charles was sure Jane would be an improvement. One that was badly needed.

Chapter Text

For as long as possible, Anne kept going to different institutions in London. It did seem to work. She was now greeted with cheers whenever she left the palace and the courtiers appeared more genuinely kind to her. Moreover, Thomas told her the talk behind her back had grown much more favourable of her than it had been. So in that aspect it had been a success. However, there was the small matter of Henry. To be able to go to the various institutions, Anne had had to leave Jane Seymour behind. Meanwhile she herself hardly ever saw her husband when she was at the palace. She knew that while she and Henry were growing further apart every day, Jane and Henry were growing closer.

At first, Anne hadn’t cared much. Henry had already shattered her heart and couldn’t do anything that would further break it. On top of that, she had found someone who took much better care of it.

But as Anne became more and more confined to her chambers, she began to realise that it might be a dangerous thing. If she got a daughter, would it really matter all that much what the people and the court thought of her if Henry didn’t care for her? Her father at least had made it more than clear that he did not approve of these new developments. Thomas Boleyn had protested every outing Anne had made once he had found out about them. He also kept reminding her that she shouldn’t lose the King’s love. Apparently, he was unaware there was nothing left to lose. All in all, his presence did nothing to calm Anne’s fears.

Those fears only became more prominent when Anne was nearing the end of her pregnancy. She was unable to leave her chambers. With very little to do, she couldn’t prevent her mind from wandering. Which really just meant she kept going over everything that could possibly go wrong a thousand times.

As time passed by, Anne began to dread the end of her pregnancy. She remembered her first pregnancy when she had been excited to meet her child. All she now felt was apprehension. The fact that her fate would be decided in weeks or even days, was terrifying. Even more so now that she knew she had no say in it. There was nothing she could do to save herself if she got a daughter. All she could hope for was that she had done enough not to lose her life if it came to that. Of course, Anne wanted to remain Queen, but it wasn’t a priority anymore. She would be lucky to walk out with her head still attached to her shoulders and she knew it.

All these things were repeating themselves as Anne tried to finish her book. Thoughts running wild and reading a foreign language proved to not be the best combination. Eventually she just got frustrated with it and closed the book in annoyance. The sound seemed incredibly loud. Lady Margery Shelton and Lady Jane Rochford, the only Ladies currently waiting on Anne, both looked up in alarm at the sound. No doubt they were apprehensive of Anne’s recent impatience and agitation.

Anne looked at her two Ladies in thought. She trusted them both, even if she did not really like Jane. She was desperate for a conversation, something to distract herself. And if she was honest, she missed Thomas. She had only seen him a couple of times in the last two months. So, without giving herself a chance to think twice about it, she asked: “Lady Rochford, would you mind to see if Mr. Cromwell has the time to visit me? I would like to discuss something with him.”

She did not miss the look her Ladies exchanged, but Jane simply nodded and with a “Yes, Your Majesty” and a courtesy, she left the room.

It didn’t take long for Jane to return, this time followed by Thomas. The latter looked every bit the indifferent but polite politician who would rather be somewhere else. He could have fooled Anne if she didn’t know better.

“Leave us,” Anne told her Ladies, who wasted no time in doing so. Once they were gone, she got up from her chair, though she couldn’t help but notice Thomas had not moved an inch. Maybe it was less an act than she had thought. It hurt a bit. “I’m sorry, I know it’s dangerous, but…” She hesitated over her words, but then decided to simply admit the most honest truth, “I missed you.”

For a few seconds Thomas didn’t say anything. He simply looked at her with that calculating look she had seen a million times from across a room, though rarely directed at her. Eventually she saw his shoulders relax. He unclasped his hands from behind his back and said: “I missed you too.” She couldn’t help a small smile, any notion of hurt gone and forgotten. “Though I do think you should watch out. If your Ladies can figure it out, so can someone else.”

“No one else is as close to me as Lady Rochford and Lady Shelton,” Anne said, trying to ignore the cold claws that dug themselves in her back at his words. “What makes you think they know anyway?”

“Because Lady Rochford had told me it was her husband who wanted to see me,” Thomas said. “If she didn’t know, she wouldn’t have thought such discretion necessary.” He was right, of course. At least Anne was glad that she had made a right judgement concerning her Ladies. She felt the cold leave her body. Thomas was right, she should watch out, but at least there was no imminent theat.

“Thomas, I’m scared,” she heard herself say. Words she would never have dared to speak out loud, yet here they were. And they opened up the gate she had tried to keep shut for too long. “Henry loves Jane now, there is nothing I can do about it. He hasn’t come to see me once. If I get a girl, I- He can’t divorce me, he can’t, he-” She wanted to be strong. She wished she could stop the words coming out of her mouth or the tears that were gathering in her eyes.

But all those wishes crumbled with her resolve when she felt Thomas’ arms around her. She grabbed onto him and hid her face in his shoulder. Months of held back tears came pouring out and she didn’t even try to stop them. She didn’t really want to anymore. All she wanted to do was hide in the safety of Thomas’ arms. Revel in the feeling of protecting her baby, their baby in between them.

At some point her legs gave out underneath her and they sagged to the ground. At least she started to calm down, helped by Thomas stroking through her hair and his soft murmuring, both of which she hadn’t noticed until then. Even after she had stopped crying, she didn’t move away from him. She just sat there, listening to his heartbeat, looking at the skin of his neck that emerged from his collar.

“Do you ever want to go back?” Anne asked after a while, not sure where the question had come from.

“Hmm?”

“To Italy,” she clarified. There was a silence. She could almost hear Thomas contemplating his answer. It didn’t appear he had ever thought about it, so perhaps that meant no.

“Do you want to go back to France?” he asked, which wasn’t an answer. Nevertheless, Anne thought about it. Did she? She loved France. France, in her opinion, was much more elegant and refined than England could ever hope to be. On the other hand, England was far more honest. France had always made it feel like her whole life was a masquerade. Everyone wore masks and no one said what they meant. The English court was similar of course, but there was still a stark contrast she couldn’t deny, even if she couldn’t exactly pinpoint it. Besides, England felt like home. Despite the precarious position she was in, Anne didn’t think she would willingly leave her home. Not if she could help it.

“No,” she answered, “I don’t think so.”

Thomas hummed, as if to say ‘there you go’. She smiled in his fur. It was strange how he could anticipate her thought process like that. However, there was also something comforting about the fact that someone knew her well enough to do so. Even Henry had never gotten close. But then, Henry had never really cared for anyone’s thoughts but his own. Not for long anyway.

“You could visit though. Take me with you, I’ve never been,” Anne said, uncaring about the fact that it was incredibly unrealistic.

Thomas let out a low chuckle, which she heard vibrate through his chest. “For some reason that doesn’t seem like a very practical thing to do.” It was a very diplomatic way of saying it was impossible.

“I don’t care. Take me with you now. Tell me what it’s like there and we won’t even have to leave this room.” If it was a ridiculous request, she would assign that to her near confinement.

For a little while, he didn’t say anything. He was thinking again, Anne knew. She patiently waited for him to be done. After a few seconds, she her reward came and he started talking. No one would ever claim Thomas Cromwell to be a great story-teller, but clearly that was a mistake. His descriptions were as colourful as any painting she had seen. His voice was soothing and soon enough she was lost in Italy with no notion of the present or the time passing.

Of course, such things could not last. Time was violently brought back into motion when Anne suddenly felt a sharp pain spread over her abdomen. She gasped and let go of Thomas in order to grab at her belly. With a shock she realised this was it. She had gone into labour.

Chapter Text

The labour had been a long one and by the time it was done, Anne was beyond exhausted. She could barely register the baby’s cries. In fact, she had trouble staying conscious. None of that could stop her from asking the one question she needed to know the answer to: “What is it? What is it?”

There were people walking around, people asking each other to fetch things. Anne heard the sound of water, the sound of the tearing of fabric. No one appeared to hear her questions and she couldn’t move her limbs enough to grab someone and force them to answer it.

Finally, Madge appeared in her vision and told her: “It’s a beautiful baby boy, Your Majesty.” Anne laughed. She couldn’t help it, now that she knew she was saved. It also meant she no longer had the motivation she needed to stay conscious. But she was saved and so she didn’t struggle against the black that enveloped her.

~~~

It was easy enough for Jane to leave the Queen’s chambers, as it appeared none of the other Ladies wanted her there. Which was just as well, as Jane didn’t want to be there either.  Everyone had continuously told her the Queen would not get a son, that it was impossible. Of course, Jane knew she should be happy. There was a male heir. The kingdom was secured. There was no reason she should not be happy. Except there was the King, who she loved with all her heart.

Jane had believed they were going to be together, once the Queen had failed. She would be sent to a nunnery or something like that and Henry would be free to marry Jane. It was going to be perfect. Now it was all ruined.

All of that would have been more or less manageable, if it weren’t for the S. Jane could not shake the imprint she had seen on the Queen’s cheek. No one else had seen it, of that she was pretty sure. And since the Queen’s face had turned red rather quickly, the imprint had faded quickly as well. Still. Jane knew what she had seen. The clear imprint of an S, the same that adorned Mr. Cromwell’s Collar of Esses.

~~~

Once Anne had woken up again, all she wanted was to see her son. She asked for him several times, but instead was washed and dressed. All her Ladies told her was that her son was beautiful and healthy. So, Anne tried to endure it all. The combing of her hair seemed to last forever, but eventually she was back in her bed and the governess walked in with her boy.

Anne finally felt at rest when she took her son in her arms. A wide smile worked itself on her face when she looked down at him. He was perfect. His big grey eyes curiously looked up at her. He had freed one hand from his wrappings and was grasping with it at the air.

“Hey,” she whispered, choking up despite herself. She took the reaching hand between her fingers. Silently, she thanked God for giving her this miracle. Part of her couldn’t quite believe she was holding him in her arms. Her son. Finally. She kissed his head, the black tuft of hair on top of it. Her precious little miracle.

The sound of footsteps came from her privy chamber, accompanied with her Ladies muttering ‘Your Majesty’. It was all the warning Anne got before her husband was standing in the room. It was strange to see him, after hardly having done so for several months. At least this time he looked pleased. Happy, even. And this time Anne did not have to force her smile. Henry crossed the room to stand at her side. He looked down at the baby with a look Anne could only describe as awe.

“Would you like to hold him?” she asked, despite not wanting to let go of her son. Even so, she was surprised at the reluctance with which she handed him over to Henry when he nodded. With a shock she realised she didn’t trust Henry with her baby. As if he would take the child away from her, or even hurt him. To prevent her hands from hovering around her baby, Anne clasped her hands together in her lap.

“My little Edward,” Henry whispered. Anne wasn’t in the least surprised he had already settled on a name and hadn’t discussed it with her. Part of her wanted to tell him that it wasn’t his child, that he didn’t deserve this beautiful miracle and that he most certainly didn’t get to name him. Of course she didn’t say any of those things and just kept smiling, waiting for Henry to give Edward back to her. Eventually, he did so and finally considered it worth to address her. “There will be a feast held in his honour. I expect you to attend the banquet tomorrow evening.”

Nothing about her well-being. Nothing but orders. She wasn’t sure anymore why she had expected anything else, really. It didn’t matter. She doubted anything could crush her happiness right now. Especially since Henry’s footsteps left her chambers again. At least she wouldn’t have to see him until the next day. She knew they couldn’t keep living like this, but it wasn’t something she wanted to figure out right now.

~~~

Somehow it took over a week before Anne felt it was safe enough to dismiss her Ladies and ask Lady Rochford to fetch Thomas for her. It was something she had wanted to do from day one, but back then no one would have let her alone with Edward. At least now that excitement had died down a bit. Which Anne was grateful for not only because she wanted to see Thomas, but also because she hadn’t fully recovered from the labour yet. She tired quickly, which was why she was already seated in her bed, despite it not being properly evening yet. Edward was equally unaware of the time, as he was fast asleep.

There were footsteps in her privy chamber, followed by the sound of the door closing. There was a short silence, but soon enough there were more footsteps and Thomas entered her bedchamber. She didn’t wait for him to say anything, but instead reached out her hand for him. There was a light hesitation, which she was surprised to see, but he took her hand so she could pull him to her bedside and make him sit down there.

“He fell asleep a little while ago,” Anne whispered, as not to wake Edward. She looked back up at Thomas, to see him looking down at Edward with a look of pure wonder and gentle awe. It was a look she had never expected to see on his face. It filled her with a comfortable warmth.

“He’s beautiful,” Thomas said in a low voice.

“Do you want to hold him?” This time she wanted nothing more than to give the baby to the man at her bedside. There was no verbal reply, just a nod. She handed Edward over to Thomas, who held him with the skill of experience, which suddenly reminded her Thomas already was a father. It was strange that something that had to be so important to him, had never entered their conversations. Though then of course there hadn’t been a lot of them.

“You have a son, don’t you?” Anne asked, only just stopping herself from saying ‘another son’. However right it felt, she had to remember that Thomas wasn’t really Edward’s father. Not in the ways that mattered.

“Yes, Gregory,” Thomas answered, his gaze still fixated on Edward. “I had two daughters too, but…” His brows knitted together. “they died of the Sweat several years ago.”

“I’m sorry,” Anne said, placing her hand over Thomas’ hand, which was curled around Edward’s head. Thomas still didn’t look at her, but she could see his pained expression. She could also see his shoulders relaxing again at her touch. “What were their names?”

“Anne and Grace. Anne was the older of the two, though she was still only seven. Grace was five.” Anne knew there was nothing she could say that could ease his pain in any way. So she put her head against his, rubbing her thumb over the back of his hand. Of course, she didn’t comment on it either when his breaths became a bit shaky. She doubted he would appreciate it. All she did was kiss his temple and put her head back against his.

~~~

Jane had snuck into the Queen’s privy chamber without announcing herself in any way, as she knew she should have done. But the Queen hadn’t tolerated her presence at all since the Prince had been born. Jane doubted that the explanation that she came to retrieve the King’s locket, which she had accidentally left there that morning, would help her at all.

However, when she entered the chamber, she froze at the sound of voices. They were unmistakably the Queen’s and Mr. Cromwell’s. Jane was frozen in the middle of the room. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but their voices definitely weren’t formal. She quickly turned around and left the room, the locket entirely forgotten.

Chapter Text

Jane Seymour entered her brother’s apartments a little less sure than she had left the Queen’s. However, she knew that she needed to tell someone about what she had seen and heard. Only she wasn’t quite sure who, but surely her brother would know.

“Edward, can I talk to you?” she asked, glancing at her brother’s wife. Jane didn’t have anything against Anne Stanhope, but she didn’t quite trust Anne with something as delicate as this. Edward looked at Jane with justified curiosity, but did dismiss his wife.

“What is it, sister?” he asked once Anne had left the room.

“It’s the Queen,” Jane began while she sat down at the table Edward was sitting at. His raised eyebrow urged her to continue. “She… I think she may be having intimate relationships with Mr. Cromwell. I heard them talking in the Queen’s bedchamber. It sounded far too familiar, Edward. And before she went into labour, the Queen had an imprint of Mr. Cromwell’s chain on her cheek.”

“Are you sure?”

Jane nodded without hesitation. There was no mistaking the situation, she was sure of that. Edward looked at her with a thoughtful expression, though he did look as if he believed what she had said. Eventually he asked: “Do you think they have carnal relations?”

“No,” Jane said immediately, though in truth she had never even considered the possibility. To betray one’s husband by being intimate with another man is one thing, but what Edward was suggesting… Surely the Queen wouldn’t betray the King in such a manner. “The Queen would never…” She stopped talking, because the truth was, Jane wasn’t sure the Queen wouldn’t do such a thing. After all, wasn’t she known to have lose morals? So, Jane had to rethink her answer and could only say: “I don’t know. I have not seen evidence of it.”

Edward nodded, still clearly lost in thought, but eventually he smiled at her and said: “I’ll make sure the King is made aware of these transgressions. Don’t worry about it anymore, Jane.”

~~~

Whatever Edward had told his sister, he wasn’t quite sure he should tell the King. Not because he didn’t think Jane was lying, but the evidence was a bit too weak for his liking. Besides, whatever intimate relations the Queen may have, she still gave the King a son. It didn’t make her untouchable, of course, but simply being intimate wouldn’t jeopardize her position as Queen. In other words, it wouldn’t advance the Seymours in a significant way.

However, it was important information and definitely something to keep an eye out for. Especially in case the Queen did have carnal relations with the Lord Chancellor. Which is why Edward had sought out Charles Brandon. In a private room, he had told the Duke what Jane had told him.

“Why are you telling me?” Suffolk asked, though Edward suspected he already knew.

“For starters, I don’t think the King would take my word for it and it wouldn’t project well on Jane either. Moreover, it wouldn’t have a real effect if we informed the King right now,” Edward explained.

“You say that as if the King wouldn’t care. Don’t underestimate his jealousy, we’d have Cromwell,” Suffolk pointed out, where he did have a point. Personally, Edward didn’t mind Cromwell as much as he knew Suffolk did, but he also knew that wasn’t going to last long. Might just as well get rid of the man early.

“But what if this is only the beginning?” Edward said. “If we remove Cromwell we may never find out if there is more going on that just intimacy.” No number of sons would protect the Queen if she had had carnal relations with another man.

Suffolk took his time considering it, but eventually nodded. “Very well, but I shall make sure the King is made aware of rumours. If nothing else, that way he’s more likely to believe us when we do tell him.”

Edward nodded. “It may be wise to inform Bryan of the situation and ask him to keep an eye out. He’s good at things like that.” Admittedly, Edward hadn’t known Francis Bryan very long nor did he know him very well, but some things didn’t need much to make themselves clear.

~~~

Henry wasn’t quite sure how to feel after Charles had informed him of the rumours surrounding his wife. To be completely honest, he first and foremost thought that they were ridiculous. Not because he thought Anne to be above such things, but because she had better taste than Mr. Cromwell. Henry also sincerely doubted Cromwell would engage in such activities, considering the man’s intellect and apparent celibacy. And well, wouldn’t Anne be incredibly stupid to endanger herself after just being saved? She was a lot of things, and Henry had come to despise most of them, but she wasn’t stupid.

And of course, there was Edward. Henry’s perfect beautiful Prince. Edward was a gift from God, a sign. A sign that Henry’s marriage to Anne was right, however much he now resented his wife. Admittedly, it probably didn’t help that he hardly saw her anymore. It was hard to remind himself why he ever loved her when he couldn’t see any of those traits in her because he didn’t see her at all.

So, all in all, it was unlikely to be true.

Even so, there was a small part of Henry that wanted it to be true. It would be a shame of Cromwell of course, but secretaries and Lord chancellors were plenty to go around. But if it were true, Henry could rid himself of Anne and fully devote himself to his beautiful and sweet Jane. For the sake of Edward, Anne would have to be treated respectfully of course. Maybe sent to a nunnery. Only, Henry realised that wouldn’t paint a decent image of him, would it?

No, it had better not be true and therefore surely it wasn’t. This was the conclusion Henry came to even as he was already on his way to Cromwell’s office at a rather late hour. Merely with the intention of asking the secretary for a possible explanation of these rumours. If he had heard of them, of course. Because they weren’t true, an explanation would be easily given. That would end the whole business.

Henry also decided to start spending more time with Anne. She was, after all, his Queen and the mother of his son and she should be treated as such. He’d have to forget Jane and remind himself of why he loved Anne in the first place. This was for the best. Well, maybe not forget Jane, for he didn’t think he could do that, but surely he could focus on her less.

All in all, Henry was optimistic and happy, as he had been since the birth of Edward. However, that changed entirely when he stepped into Cromwell’s office. What he saw there drove all the optimism away and replaced it with a hot red fury.

Chapter Text

Anne wasn’t quite sure how they had ended up kissing against the bookshelf. She remembered how she had lain in bed, unable to sleep despite the late hour. Eventually she had given up, put on her dressing gown and slippers and snuck out of her chambers. To the guards at her door she had said she needed fresh air or something like that, she didn’t exactly remember anymore. Either way, she hadn’t gone outside but instead gone to Thomas’ office. Of course, Thomas had still been there, despite the fact that every sensible person had long since left their work for the next morning. She had commented on it, he had laughed. They had talked while he attempted to finish his work. Somehow, they had ended up next to the bookshelves, presumably because Thomas needed something from them. Whatever it had been, he had instead asked to kiss her. Of course she had said yes.

The kiss was soft and tender, almost chaste. Anne was leaning against the bookshelves, with one of Thomas’ hands on her waist, the other holding her hand. Suddenly she realised they had never kissed before, despite anything else they had done. Stupid. They should have. She wanted to chase this comforting warmth forever.

This is probably why Anne didn’t entirely register it when the door to the office opened. Much less did she realise that was a bad thing. She had pulled away from Thomas, but it wasn’t until she heard Henry’s angry voice shout for guards that she fully broke away from Thomas.

Henry was standing in the door opening. He looked absolutely furious. Anne wasn’t sure she had ever seen him this angry before. She would hate to admit that she was terrified, but that didn’t change the fact that she was. All she could do was hope it didn’t show. It didn’t help much when Henry actually walked into the room, followed by the guards he had called for.

Did Thomas show it? Since Anne was standing slightly behind him, she couldn’t actually see his expression. It was most likely as passive as ever. He had always been good at that. Even so, she could see the tension in his shoulders despite his overgown.

No one said anything as Henry made his way towards them. Anne knew he was going to explode, it was just a matter of when, which was the worst part. The sound of his footsteps and the beating of her heart seemed unbearably loud. Eventually he stopped in front of them and his eyes met hers. She wanted to look away. She wanted to lower her eyes. Hell, she even wanted to ask for mercy. But she was afraid that doing any of those things would make everything infinitely worse. So she endured his gaze, as painful as it was, and waited. Waited for him to make his move.

Henry lashed out and Anne could hear the breaking of bone. But it wasn’t hers. He hadn’t swung his fist at her. It was Thomas’ head who was forcefully turned to the side. Anne found herself unable to move, unable to do anything but watch with wide eyes. Watch as drips of blood fell on the wooden floor. Watch Henry, who now looked triumphant as well as angry. Watch him turn his eyes back to her.

She didn’t hear him give the guards any orders, she wasn’t even sure he had moved his mouth. Nonetheless, the guards appeared at her side and started escorting her outside. For a second she had enough control over her body to turn her head as she was walking out of the office. There was blood running out of Thomas’ nose, but that was the only indication anything had happened, because he otherwise looked entirely impassive. Even though Henry looked far from.

Then they were outside. Anne wanted to ask where they were going, but she couldn’t open her mouth. She could only hope it wasn’t the Tower.

The couple of people they passed looked puzzled at her escort. They forgot to bow, or thought it unnecessary now. No doubt news of what had happened would be known to everyone at court by morning. Anne would feel ashamed or embarrassed, if only she had still been able to feel anything. She didn’t even feel fear anymore, no matter how prominent it had been earlier. She felt completely detached from herself.

Even when they stopped in front of the doors which led to her chambers, she did not feel relieve. She simply walked inside. The sound of the doors closing behind her seemed to echo through her entire being, shaking her back to life.

Oh God, what had she done?

How had she been so stupid to think this would all work out? What was to happen to Thomas now? Would they try him? Yes, they would. Anne knew that of course they would. He had been caught kissing the Queen, after all. That was no small crime. He would be tried and he would be found guilty and then what? Anne didn’t know. She didn’t think she’d want to know, even though she would undoubtedly find out sooner rather than later.

She was a Queen. She should be able to stop this. To minimize any punishment that might be given. Of course, she wasn’t as powerful as she had once been, but now that she had Edward…

Suddenly she realised why she couldn’t do anything. Edward. Anything she might say in Thomas’ favour would just prove her own guilt. As of now she wasn’t charged with anything yet. At least, she didn’t think so. She had to do everything in her power to keep it that way, for Edward’s sake. She had to make herself appear blameless.

The realisation of what she had to do made her heart heavy. It made her want to throw up. There was no air left in her lungs. No. There had to be another way. There was no other way. She had to play the victim. She had to blame Thomas for everything she might be accused with. Claim he had forced her. Claim he had raped her, if it came to that. At least she hadn’t said anything that might oppose such a thing. Even her presence in Thomas’ office could be explained away.

She couldn’t do this, but she had to do it regardless. For Edward. She had to save herself and push Thomas into the fires for her son. There was no other way. However desperately she sought for one, there was none.

Anne walked over to the window. The world outside was dark, unrevealing about anything that had happened there that night. Uncaring about her pain. Unwilling to listen to her reasoning. Merciless. For whatever her reasoning may be, the end result wouldn’t change. She had to kill Thomas and no amount of reasons could ever justify that. So she did all she could do. Whisper a thousand apologies into the night and ignore her silent tears and broken heart.

Chapter Text

It would be a major understatement to say Thomas Boleyn was displeased with the situation. It was a right mess. Just when everything was going so well, his daughter had to go and ruin it. If Boleyn had had the chance to talk to her, he would have scolded her until all air had left his lungs. Alas, he had not had such a chance, for Anne was confined to her chambers and was not allowed to receive anyone.

The same could not be said for Cromwell, who had been a prisoner in the Tower for almost two weeks now. Boleyn now deeply regretted ever endorsing the ungrateful gutter rat. It had seemed a good move at the time, but then Boleyn had never expected anything like this to happen. He had been to visit Cromwell, to tell him this and other things. Boleyn had hoped it would be satisfying, but there was nothing satisfying about talking to someone who never moved a muscle no matter what was being said to him.

Moreover, it didn’t fix anything. All it did was prove that Boleyn no longer supported Cromwell in any way, but that would only mean something if Anne got out of this mess unscathed. At least Boleyn had some sort of solution to that. He had talked it over with the Duke of Norfolk, who had arranged an audience with the King. An audience which Norfolk himself wouldn’t attend. Something which Boleyn in all honesty was irked by, but he couldn’t afford to be irked by his strongest ally and thus he ignored it.

Still, while Boleyn was waiting outside the King’s reception chamber, he wished Norfolk had chosen to attend. If only because he was a far more persuasive person than Boleyn, however much he hated to admit it.

“Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, the King will receive you now,” a steward who had just emerged from the room, informed Boleyn.

Boleyn nodded and entered the reception chamber, where the King was seated. Boleyn bowed before him with a “Your Majesty”, after which he straightened up to look his Sovereign in the eye. The King did not seem remotely pleased to see him.

“What do you want, Boleyn?” the King asked, his impatience prominent in his voice. Boleyn knew he would have to abandon diplomacy and get to the point if he wanted the King to hear it.

“I would like to request an audience with the Queen,” Boleyn said. The King looked angered at the request, so Boleyn quickly continued talking in an attempt to lessen the anger. “I cannot believe she would betray you in the manner she appears to have. For she loves Your Majesty with all her heart and wishes to serve you above all else. Indeed, she was overcome with joy when she gave you the son you so ardently wished for.” Boleyn knew it was a bit of a risk to mention Edward, but it seemed to have the desired effect as the King looked a bit less angry. “Moreover, I have taught her better than to give any attention to baseborn men such as Mr. Cromwell. I cannot fathom that she would sink to such levels. Therefore I can only come to the conclusion that Mr. Cromwell has assaulted the Queen and the grievous deed which Your Majesty witnessed, was done against her will.”

The King rubbed at his chin with his fingers, seeming to consider Boleyn’ words. The silence stretched on and with every passing second, Boleyn feared his request would be denied or the King would lose his temper. Eventually the King said: “That is what she claims happened.”

Boleyn almost sighed, relieved that for all her recent stupidity, his daughter had been smart enough to make such claims. However, he wasn’t granted anything yet, so he saved his relief for when it would be appropriate.

“This is why I would like to see Her Majesty,” Boleyn continued. “To lay the matter before her and hear what she has to say about it as a daughter to a father.”

“Very well,” the King said, suddenly seeming of much better cheer, though he still didn’t look too pleased. “You may visit her tomorrow, accompanied by the Duke of Norfolk.” The condition was clear proof that the King didn’t trust Boleyn anymore, but Boleyn wasn’t too bothered by it. Norfolk was after all his ally. In all honesty, Boleyn was just glad the King hadn’t demanded the Duke of Suffolk to accompany Boleyn. Suffolk had been looking far too smug since the scandal had started.

~~~

The next morning, Thomas Boleyn and Thomas Howard were admitted to the Queen’s chambers. Only Anne and Lady Rochford were present, both seated at a table. As soon as the men entered, Lady Rochford was dismissed and left the room. Neither Boleyn nor Norfolk bothered to bow before Anne, regardless of her royal status. Likewise, she didn’t bother to address them formerly before asking: “What news do you have?”

“Nothing notable,” Boleyn answered, “we’re here to speak with you.” He might just as well have told the wall, for it didn’t seem that Anne had heard him. She was merely gazing into the distance for a while before looking back up at him. Now that he took the time to look, he saw that she looked thin and tired. Something else that would need to be fixed, though it was much less of a priority. And any pity or compassion her looks might have stirred in him, it all vanished when she asked her next question.

“What is going to happen to Thomas?” she asked, seemingly completely unaware of the inappropriate nature of the question.

“Mr. Cromwell,” Boleyn said with such force that he almost spit out the name, “has been found guilty of high treason and is therefore sentenced to death.” Boleyn pretended not to see the look of hurt that flashed across Anne’s face for a second before her face was once again neutral. Even so, he could feel the anger in him rise.

“His Majesty has been gracious enough to convert the sentence to decapitation,” Norfolk informed Anne with a tone far calmer and more formal than Boleyn’s had been. “The execution shall take place next Wednesday at nine on Tower Hill.” Why Anne would want to know such things, Boleyn couldn’t fathom, much less why Norfolk would feel inclined to tell her. Possibly to gain Anne’s trust. Maybe for formality’s sake. In all honesty, Boleyn didn’t care too much about Norfolk’s reasons, as long as they weren’t hostile.

“Cromwell’s sentence is of no importance now,” Boleyn said. “No, we must make the arrangements to convince the King of your innocence.”

“I have already informed His Majesty that I was assaulted by Mr. Cromwell,” Anne said. Some of her temperament seemed to have returned to her, for she looked almost insulted that he dared to assume she hadn’t, which only served to annoy Boleyn further. “I have even apologized, but it makes no difference. He won’t even let me see Edward.”

“That will soon be over once the traitor has been executed and this has all blown over. The King’s anger simply needs time to lay down,” Boleyn said, only just aware of the impatience in his voice.

“The important thing is,” Norfolk said, still as calm as though they were discussing the weather, “are there people who can contradict your story? Or have you done things to contradict it?” It appeared that, though neither had said it out loud, Norfolk like Boleyn did not actually believe Anne had been assaulted.

“Lady Rochford,” Anne said, “but she wouldn’t tell a soul as it would only cause harm to herself. I myself have done nothing to contradict it.”

“Good,” Boleyn said, while in his head he was already thinking of what he would tell the King to convince him of Anne’s innocence. However, he was interrupted by Norfolk asking another question.

“Did he ‘rape’ you?”

Boleyn looked at Norfolk in surprise, for the very idea of it hadn’t crossed his mind yet. Then he looked at his daughter, who seemingly refused to answer, and he felt his blood boil. Norfolk continued: “It is essential to know. Not to admit to such a thing now, but for it to be discovered later would only cause harm.” Still Anne remained silent. Angered, Boleyn walked over to his daughter and hauled her upright by her arm.

“Did you lay with him?” he hissed, his face barely removed from hers.

“Yes.”

That one word made Boleyn more furious than he had ever been. He let go of Anne in favour of striking her across the cheek. The force of it caused her to fall back in her chair, her cheek already a bright red.

“You stupid girl,” Boleyn said, only just managing not to shout so the entire court could hear it. His voice shook with the effort. “You are a Queen, what were you thinking sleeping around? And with a baseborn rat at that?”

“I did what I had to do,” Anne said, looking up at him with a defiance that made him want to lash out again. “I couldn’t afford another daughter or stillborn.”

The meaning of what she said slowly entered Boleyn’s mind and turned his blood to ice.

“What are you saying?” Norfolk asked, though Boleyn was fairly sure the Duke knew just as well as he did. A confirmation wouldn’t hurt, because a part of Boleyn sincerely hoped this was a misunderstanding.

“Edward is his,” Anne said quietly, quiet enough so no one outside would be able to hear, no matter how hard they were trying. For a few seconds, Boleyn could only look at his daughter in astonishment. After that, he struck her again.

“Stupid, insolent girl.” He pulled her close, to make sure she heard every word he hissed at her. “You won’t tell a soul about this, do you hear me? We will tell the King you were assaulted and raped and beg for his forgiveness and you better pray that will be the end of it. And I will never have you ask after or speak about Cromwell again. Understood?” He gave her a little shake for extra measure, ignoring the fact that tears were gathering in her eyes. It was her own stupid fault anyway. Only after she nodded, did he let go of her. Without another word he left the room, followed by Norfolk.

Time to save what can be saved.

~~~

That evening found Thomas Howard in his apartments, sipping some wine as he thought over the events that had transpired that day. The main issue was how on earth Boleyn had allowed his daughter to make such fatal mistakes. Had Norfolk’s own children even considered such a transgression, he surely would have nipped it in the bud.

Nothing to be done about it now. Boleyn was optimistic, but Norfolk was more cautious to share that optimism. After all, at court secrets had the tendency to be discovered sooner or later. Whatever Boleyn may fancy, it was a fact. Norfolk was rather unwilling to wait around for Hell to unleash once the King was informed of the paternity of ‘his’ son.

He was interrupted in his musings by the door opening and a man entering. Norfolk gestured for the man to take a seat. “Sir Francis, good afternoon. We need to talk.”

Chapter Text

“What?!”

Charles Brandon had known Henry for a long time, yet he had never seen Henry as angry as now. He was flushed, his hands balled into fist. Frankly, he looked like he could lash out to them at any moment.

Part of Charles wondered what the people outside the King’s privy chambers thought was happening inside, for surely they had heard Henry’s outburst. Charles sincerely doubted any of them would be able to guess the reason. Indeed, he himself had been surprised, for all his bad opinions about the Boleyn girl.

He was not the only one, judging by the look on Edward Seymour’s face. Francis Bryan looked entirely unfazed, but then he had heard the news before the rest of them had. Charles glanced over at Norfolk, who looked far too calm for someone who had just betrayed his niece and was being shouted at by the King. Though to be fair, his niece had pretended her bastard son was legitimate, so perhaps it was understandable after all.

“The confession came from her own mouth, Your Majesty,” Norfolk said. “I didn’t want to believe it myself of course, but it appears the evidence does suggest that Edward is a bastard.”

“And Boleyn,” Henry said, pacing back and forth, “Boleyn knew?” It sounded like a rhetorical question, but when no answer came, he turned to Norfolk and shouted: “Did he know?”

Norfolk to his credit didn’t even flinch and calmly answered: “Yes, Your Majesty. Indeed, it was him who Her Majesty confessed this hideous crime to.”

“He lied to me,” Henry murmured, “him and that whore.” The term was quite literally spat out. “I want them arrested, now. Now!” Without another word, Seymour took it upon himself to see that the order was carried out and left the room. The remaining three men were left with the still pacing King, who seemed to have half-forgotten they were there. Eventually he looked up at them and shouted: “Out! All of you!”

Once outside Henry’s chambers, Charles found that many courtiers were indeed very interested about what had transpired behind the closed doors. Admittedly, they pretended to be preoccupied, but it was a weak façade.

“Well, I think I have an axeman to talk to,” Bryan said before walking away from them. Charles wasn’t sure he wanted to know what Bryan had meant by that.

~~~

When she had been arrested, Anne had pleaded. Had begged for mercy. Had told them it wasn’t true. It hadn’t made a difference, of course. She had still been taken to the Tower. Once there she had been informed that her father had been arrested as well, on the charge of conspiring with her. She couldn’t find it in her to feel guilty for him. Her heart was already so full of guilt for the people who did deserve it. Thomas and his son. Her children. What was to happen to Edward? Elizabeth had the advantage of being Henry’s daughter, she would probably be fine. Edward didn’t have that protection.

If only it had been herself who she had condemned with her actions. No, she had ripped her sweet Elizabeth of a safe and stable future. She had endangered her dear Edward’s very life. She had robbed Gregory Cromwell of a father.

She could only imagine what Thomas felt about it all. To know he left his son without so much as a penny for inheritance, considering all Thomas’ possessions were forfeited to the crown. She could only imagine how terrible that knowledge had to be.

Anne hadn’t seen Thomas since his arrest two weeks prior, nor heard anything about him since her own arrest three days ago. All she knew is that the following morning would bring his execution. It felt wrong that the next time she should see him was when he was to ascend the scaffold. Even more so considering the fact he wouldn’t be able to see her and there would be no opportunity to talk. To apologize. She didn’t want it to end like that. She was suddenly determined not to let them. After all, would it really be that hard to convince Master Kingston to let her visit Thomas or the other way around? They were locked in the same building with nowhere to go.

However, when she put the request to Master Kingston, he didn’t seem very inclined to give in. Though she had hoped for immediate acceptance, she hadn’t really expected it and had prepared to have to persuade him.

“Please,” she said, taking one of his hands and looking up at him with the most pleading look she could muster, “my soul is heavy with the wrongs I have committed. I fear not even my last confession would ease it as this visit might. I know in my heart that I can’t fully atone for my sins without speaking to the man who enticed me to commit them. Not only that, but the thought that I may have burdened his immortal soul, weighs on my conscience. Please, Master Kingston, I only have this opportunity to do what I believe I must do.”

He looked at her, contemplating her request. She knew he was a kind man. He had proved it on several occasions, but perhaps she had asked for too much. He looked like he would refuse or at least ask the King for permission first, which came down the same thing. Henry would never grant her such a request. Luckily, Master Kingston once again proved his kindness and did neither but instead said: “Very well, if it will ease your soul, but you will have no more than ten minutes.”

Anne couldn’t help a little gasp of relieve at his answer. Ten minutes wasn’t a lot. It certainly wasn’t enough, but it was infinitely better than nothing. She would have smiled at him to show her gratitude, but she didn’t feel capable of smiling anymore and all she could do, was say: “Thank you.”

Escorted by three guards and Master Kingston himself, Anne made her way through the halls of the Tower. After rounding two corners, she vaguely wondered how anyone would think escaping was an option, for she had already lost her sense of directions. The halls all looked the same. They were lined with more doors than she could ever hope to count. She had tried to count them in order to distract herself, but she had soon given up and instead turned her gaze to the stones beneath her feet as they walked. Until they stopped in front of one of the many doors.

“Ten minutes,” Master Kingston reminded her. She nodded and watched as he opened the door. Her heart was beating in her throat, so loud she was sure it would signal her arrival. As soon as she walked in the cell, she heard the door close behind her and the turning of the heavy lock.

Inside was Thomas, who had been seated at a small desk, but who had gotten up when she had entered. He looked confused and surprised, but both of those were hidden by his bow. It suddenly made her wonder if he knew. If anyone had bothered to tell him about what had transpired outside of these walls. She feared she already knew the answer.

“You look awful,” Anne said, her voice barely above her whisper. ‘Awful’ felt too kind a term. Not only did he look thin and tired, there were dark red spots on his shirt. Blood, most likely. There were harsh red lines on his hands. He was lightly shaking, despite it not being cold enough to warrant shivering. It was clear that captivity hadn’t been kind to him. Captivity and Edward Seymour, Anne though bitterly, for she had no doubt he had been involved.

“What are you doing here?” Thomas asked, clearly intend to ignore her comment. His voice was as soft as hers, though she wasn’t sure if it was intentional. “It’s not safe.” This time it was intentionally whispered, which proved that he didn’t know. She hated to have to tell him.

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” she said anyway, somehow managing to talk past the tears in her throat. “They found out. Henry knows.” She could only describe the look on his face as shattered. She couldn’t blame him. Whatever he might have told himself, now there was undeniable proof that all of this had been for nothing. It had only made things worse. Maybe she shouldn’t have come. It only seemed selfish and cruel now.

She looked down, meaning to leave before she could do more damage, however much she wanted to stay. But then she felt his fingers touch his cheek. They were cold as ice. His touch was tentative, almost as if he were afraid his hand would be struck off for touching her. Anne had never considered he could be afraid, for he had never shown such emotions. Now, however, she could see he was terrified and her heart broke for him.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, despite how empty those words felt, “for everything.” There were tears gathering in her eyes, blurring her vision, but despite that she could still see him frown. She didn’t realise any tears had fallen, until she felt Thomas’ thumb wipe them away before dropping his hand. She immediately regretted the loss of his touch.

“You did what you could,” Thomas said in a low voice, “you didn’t force me to do anything. It would have worked too…” He trailed off, frowning again. The ‘if we hadn’t made a mess of it’ was left unspoken, but it hung in the air all the same.

“It’s unfair,” Anne said, not caring that it made her sound childish. It was true. They were here, hurt and afraid, awaiting their execution. Meanwhile Henry was in his palace, undoubtedly making the necessary arrangements to marry Jane.

“It’s reality.” He sounded defeated. She hated to hear him say it. Not because he was wrong, but because he sounded like he had accepted it. For all his flaws and ambition, he had never been one to accept the ugliness of the world and the people in it. She believed he had seen the worst of it. He had used it to his advantage. But above all he had tried to change it in his own way. It didn’t matter anymore if she agreed with it, because she couldn’t help but admire it. And now it was gone.

She looked at the man in front of her, past the results of his imprisonment and she remembered the almost feverish look he would get when he talked about something he was passionate about. She remembered his small smirks when he beat her at chess. The look of concentration when he was working. His laugh.

“Did you love me?” The question had left her mouth before she had a chance to stop herself. Maybe that was for the best, for if she had had the chance, she certainly would have. But this was her last chance to ask it.

Thomas looked at her in silence. His typical calculating look was back on his face, as if they were back at court and his answer would have consequences. Part of Anne wondered if he would ever stop calculating his every move or if the axe would have to stop him. It was an awful thought, which echoed in her mind as the silence stretched on. It only stopped when Thomas finally sighed. The sigh reminded her of the one he had let out so long ago, when they had started all of this.

Without looking at her, he nodded, as if he were giving like he had done then. “Yes. I do.” She looked at him in surprise, for she hadn’t really expected an affirmation. Much less had she dared to hope that if he had ever loved her, he still would do so, considering the circumstances.

There was a knock on the door, signalling their time was up. Anne made a split-second decision and she reached out for Thomas and kissed him, despite the door opening. His hand softly cupped her cheek and for just a moment, Anne could lose herself in the kiss. It was sad. Full of regrets neither of them could voice. But there was also love. Bittersweet and warm.

Then there were hands on her arms. They pulled her away, though she grabbed onto Thomas’ arms in an attempt to resist it. It was no use. She tried to look at him as she was being pulled out of the cell, but all she saw were his eyes gleaming with held back tears.

She was back in the stone, cold hall. She turned around, but found the door was already closed behind her. Maybe that was for the best. She wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

~~~

Anne had stacked up a chest and a chair under the window in her cell, so that she could look out of it. It gave her a clear view of the scaffold. She had looked at it since early morning, after she had woken up from an uneasy sleep. Since then she had watched the sun rise. She had watched preparations being made. Slowly but surely, people had started gathering. The waiting was horrible, as every minute seemed to stretch out into an hour.

However, she preferred it to the church bells announcing the ninth hour. By then, there was a sizeable crowd and though she couldn’t see all the way to the walls, she could see how they were spreading apart. Making way for Thomas.

Anne’s heart stopped beating. She couldn’t move. She could only watch.

Someone broke free from the crowd. She didn’t recognise him, but the way he reached out for Thomas and the way Thomas took his hand told her all she needed to know. This was Gregory Cromwell. From her angle she couldn’t see Gregory’s face, but she could see Thomas’. It was filled with pain. She even thought she saw tears, though perhaps that was her imagination. Either way, there was nothing imagined in how the guards had to forcefully pull Thomas away from Gregory.

She held her breath as she watched Thomas ascend the scaffold. Of course, she couldn’t hear what he said. Only watch him shiver in the morning sun. He said something to the axeman and knelt down in front of the block. This was it. This was the end.

But that’s when Anne actually took notice of the axeman. Of his unsteady grip on the axe, the way he seemed to have trouble standing upright. No. No, this couldn’t be.

There was a halt in Thomas’ movements as he looked at the axeman. He had noticed it too. For a while the world was frozen, but then he laid his head down.

She bolted back into motion and started pounding on the window, screaming at the top of her lungs. No one could hear her, but she couldn’t stop. Someone had to prevent this from happening. Someone else had to see. Someone else had to care. They couldn’t let this happen.

No one did a thing as the axe was brought up in the air and came down swiftly, but wrongly.

Anne watched in frozen shock as the axeman pulled his axe out of Thomas’ shoulders and raised it high again, only to bring it down wrong again.

Tears gathered in her eyes. Her hands were still on the window. She didn’t want to watch, but she couldn’t stop. She couldn’t stop watching Thomas’ spasms. Part of her was screaming in pain, hiding in the corner of the room. But no sound left her lips and she still couldn’t move. Only watch as the axe came down a third time. There was so much blood, but Thomas’ head was still attached. From the shocked expressions of the onlookers she knew he was still alive. How could he still be alive?

A fourth attempt. More spasms. More blood.

The axeman raised his axe again. No, no more. Not again. Anne pleaded to God in every way she knew to stop this cruelty. Please.

Finally, someone pushed away the axeman and took the axe. With one last clean blow, Thomas Cromwell was dead.

Anne’s cries of anguish carried far through the building, haunting everyone who could hear it.