Evening's end.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

July 1536, young Mary Tudor dreams of her mother on the night after taking the oath, declaring herself to be illegitimate.

Submitted: July 07, 2018

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Submitted: July 07, 2018



The voice makes Mary turn. It is a voice she remembers, both with pain and with boundless optimism.

“My darling daughter,” the voice whispers,  horse tones ringing through the silence.

The sickness ravaged sound of that sweet voice, complete with its slight Spanish lilt makes the tears start in Mary’s eyes as she turns to face the person she can only see when she closes her eyes.

Looking up, Mary can no longer prevent the hot tears that spill relentlessly down her smooth cheeks as she takes in the face of her mother. Though the features of queen Catherine of Aragon are distinctly care warn and gaunt as Mary looks at her, she cannot mistake that face. Who else could stand before her with such regality, even after the humiliation  of her disgrace and her banishment from king Henry’s court? Mary can see at first glance that though her mother has lost her father’s favour, King Henry has not managed to quench Catherine’s spirit. This cheers her momentarily.

Mary takes a clumsy step forward, her own poise forgotten. She knows  that  she will never be  rejected by the very woman who  gave her birth, but regardless, she feels as if she is walking towards the gallows as she takes a second shakey step forward.

Katherine of Aragon stands mute, allowing her young daughter to approach, wearing that smile that she reserved for Mary only. Though her  dearest  mother has been reduced to a shadow of her former self,  Mary can still feel the pride welling up inside her like a vat of warm mulled wine. She has never seaced in her pride,  despite all that the king of England had done to her. Her mind  drags up  a most unwelcome image of that infamous whore, Anne Boleyn. Shoving the distasteful picture from her head, Mary tries to force her thoughts away from the woman who had single handedly caused her ruination. She is glad that Anne too has been cast aside.

Approaching the tall and angelically beautiful figure of Katherine of Aragon, Mary stands before her, head lifted high and eyes drinking in the visage in front of her.

When at last Queen Katherine speaks again, her voice is ful of a gut wrenching pain that Mary has never before heard from her lips. “Mary, sweet Mary,” she whispers, hands cupping her daughter’s face as she does so, “oh, my child.”

Mary isn’t entirely sure what to say, but feels that she must say something. “Mother,” she finally says, voice pitifully small as their eyes meet, “oh mother, I have missed you.”

Katherine responds not to her child’s delight at their reunion, but instead says, “do you know what the worst type of pain is, Mary my dear?” 

Mary cannot speak. She merely stands before the ghostly figure of the late queen Katherine, wondering why she has come to her.

Katherine is looking terrifyingly frail, very much as if she is still on her death bed rather than in heaven with the lord. Mary cannot fail to notice that though pain of a thousand kinds is written across every line on the queen’s face, her eyes shine and her smile is wide and agonisingly genuen. The sight of this once courtly figure plucks at a chord of shame and guilt in Mary’s heart. This woman is her own mother, her idal, her protector and the person for whom she would have done anything without remorse or reservation. Mary’s declaration, scrawled in filthy black ink, rests on the ground  netween them, shining as if from a heavenly light, casting no doubt over what Mary has done.  

For a moment, Mary knows only fear. She knows that her declaration of iligitimacy has upset Katherine  grately, but she knows in another moment that the old queen understands. She confirms this hopeful belief in a single glance and Mary’s worry lessons slightly. Mary again feels that twinge of guilt. She  is well aware that she pails in comparison to her  mother, that saintly figure whom God himself must favour. That saintly figure whom she could never hope to emulate.

The two women stand in silence, the queen’s hands still cupped gently around Mary’s face. Mary has no desire to pull herself away from that maternal grasp.

It is as if the years have fallen away. Though it has been years since Mary has  last seen her mother alive, it is as ifyesterday has just passed. Mary tries to forget the weary lines that criss cross Katherine’s face and remembers the time they spent together in sunny days gone bye, as they took tea in the gardens back when the king still adored them both. Back when times  were easier and full of promise.

But those sun filled days have long since deserted, and Mary  Tudor is left cold and alone. Sheremembers Queen Katherine’s question of a few minutes prior and ventures  an answer. What is the worst kind of pain, the queen had asked.  “Living without God’s comfort?” she  asks.

Katherine of Aragon nods wisely. “That is indeed one kind of pain,” she says with a small nod, “but, sweet Mary, that is not quite the pain that I  am thinking of.”

“Losing a child?” Mary asks, fearing that she has overstepped the mark somewhat in asking such a question.

Queen Katherine considers this hesitant question for a moment, then shakes her  head in dismissal. “Almost right,” she tells her daughter, stepping away and dropping her hands, letting go of Mary as she does so. “The worst pain isn’t losing a child, but it is losing someone you love, because that person has abandoned you.” That softly spoken voice is  hollow  and distant as it had never been in life. Mary feels the fresh flow of tears in knowing that to her mother, she has been a disappointment.

Her mother’s dead eyes swivel downwards to catch a glimpse of her stricken daughter’s face and she softens. “Oh Mary,” she says gently, smoothing down her hair and wiping her tears away, “I understand, even if I do not like  such a notion. When the body and the  soul are threatened to be torn apart, one must do everything one can do to hold them toether. There is no need to cry, dearest Mary. There is no need to scold yourself. The pope and the lord have both forgiven you, and so have I. Remember this, no one in this world is beneath forgiveness.”

Mary leans into the gentle caress of her mother’s fingers, glad to bereceiving this small jesture of affection – the affection that was denied her at her own father’s behest.

Choking back a sob, Mary finds her own voice again. “I’m sorry, mother,” she says, defeated.

Katherine can only smile. “Worry not, dear  child. I could not have asked  for a more loving or loyal daughter. God saw fit to take away all of my  other children,  but the one he spared is more than enough.”

Those reassurences aren’t enough. Mary stands for a moment on the brink of confusion, her guilt a brand upon her face and a vice wrapped tightly  around herneck. How can she show honesty before this sacred lady, a lady who’s kindness, honour  and chastity she  more than  willingly impuned so that  she might breathe, this saint of a woman  who had layn down her own life so that  her only child could throw that sacrifice away in the name of selfishness?

But she is her father’s daughter, as well as her mother’s, so the strength quickly comes to the surface. “You know I had no choice in the matter,” she says, “my father the king would have had me killed.” She secretly admonishes  her impudence,  telling herself that queen Katherine was strong enough to die for what she believed in, even if  Mary wasn’t.

Her weakness has touched a nerve in Katherine’s heart. She seems to stand a little taller  as she glares down at Mary. “Oh, my child,” she says with obvious  disappointment, “I chose to die rather than  yield to King and council.  Iindured  suffering and  torment at the hands of my  husband the king. I kept my silence rather than give any credence to  the lies that swept England at the time, even though one simple word from me would have  brought you freedom beyond  your dreams.”

“I suffered too,” Mary whispers, her insides curdling with shame as of milk left  to rot in the sun. “I ate only a pot of oatmeal in the mornings and during the day I was only permitted to eat the scraps that the servants  slipped me.” She knows that  now she has started speaking, Mary cannot turn back. She takes a deep breath and continues. “And I did that  willingly, mother. I  ate sparingly so that I would not have to sit in the  banquit hall and cowtow to her child, and call her  queen, and therefore insult you.”

The old queen is softened not a bit. “And yet, when the final test was placed upon you by the holy father himself, you proved  faithless and weak.”

Mary dug her nales into the palms of  her own hands. “I tried, mother,” she pleads, knowing that she sounds  pathetic but unable to stop herself. “I tried, and yet I still feel that because of me, England suffers. I sacrificed too, but it wasn’t enough.”

“So you did.” The queen’s voice is pure and true, rising above the ringing in Mary’s ears. “There really is no need to fear any longer. That  woman is dead, and a woman of our faith has taken her place. Jane Seymour will bring England back from predition. Do not worry, child. God hears you and soon your sacrifice in the name of  country will pay off. You have  learned the awful truth, and now that you know it, you will defend it to the core. I trust  that you  will do this, Mary.”

Mary can say no more. She knows that Catherine’s words are more of a command than a display of reassurance. Her mother’s confusing  fluidity of emotion baffles her. She seems to  switch between  gentleness and anger, and Mary cannot  understand it.

Mary wishes she  could turn  from the  queen and run. She does not deserve to stand here in  front of this woman who loved her more than God himself. She closes her eyes in order to prevent the warm salty flow from spilling once again, gladdened beyond words  for her mother’s reassurance, despite the angry words heaped upon her head. She deserves those angry words in any case. She more than deserves them.  She knows this.  It is  the bleak truth, and Mary will not dance around it any longer.

“Do you truly believe that I can put things right for England?” she asks hopelessly, wishing she could hold the faith that Katherine wields. She shakes her head. “I somehow do not know that to be true.”

Katherine smiles. “Mary, you  will one day cure England of its troubles. I KNOWWHAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE my death. Your father has done a lot of damage to our great kingdom. He beheads anyone who does not conform to his rules and his standards, and he prevented  me from seeing you, my own daughter, even in my final days of life. I watched England crumble while the king saught only women and  pleasure.  King HHENRY CAST HIS OWN CHILDREN OUT AND RAISED THAT HERETIC HUSSY TO QUEEN STATUS. She held the entirety of England in the palm of her  faithless hand and now he has cast her into the flames as wel.  If you continue to proclame the Catholic faith as the one true faith, England will come to accept you,  even  though you were  forced tosign the  proclamation, declaring yourself to be a bastard. The people of England know the truth, Mary. They know that you are the rightful queen.   I know it to be true, Mary. God always has a plan, and he has one for you too. All you have to do is accept it and let his  hand guide you.”

“I do not know that I can,” Mary  whispers. All  vestages of self control leave her as she steps into the  warm embrace of queen Katherine. Though she has reached her twentieth year, she is still a child at heart – a child who was torn  out of the comforting arms of her mother too soon. She longs to return to them, but  knows she cannot. Mary desperately wants to be strong. Her tudor blood has given her considerable strength, and her mother  had taught her all she needed to know  about life. But Mary is not strong. She does not have stoicism intrenched within her soul as queen Katherine does. “Do you think I can do it, mother?”

“Let the good lord guide you,” Katherine told her kindly, “trust in the plans that he has for you. You will be queen some day. God wills it. This is merely a stepping stone on a journey of ten thousand miles. Hold the hand of God and keep faith in both him  andyourself and then, at the end of it, your hands will be clenzed of sin.”

The two women, the old and the young, touched forheads and smiled at each other,  neither wishing to leave the other behind to face the truth alone. But leave each other behind, they must.

Mary pulls herself away with great difficulty and offers the queen a tight lipped smile, hoping to appear convincing. She  steps away a few paces and drops into a  graceful bow, lowering her head  before the  spirit of her mother, wishing and praying with all her heart that what Katherine  has predicted will indeed come to pass. To hope for the best is all that Mary can do. She must indeed leave her  future  in the hands of God, and in her mother too. Only then, will Mary be able to endure.

© Copyright 2018 Murron Cain. All rights reserved.

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