The Secret Bride

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Book: Read The Secret Bride for Free Online
Authors: Diane Haeger
which she was being taken was in her own honor. She could not think of a better surprise. England needed to maintain the delicate balance of power amid the dangerous rivalry between the Holy Roman Empire, Spain and France. So sheltered had she been that it was the first time in her life she felt the importance of her role in maintaining that . . . and the reality hit her then. Mary had an opportunity to shape history—not only her own but, as the sister to Henry VIII, England’s history as well.

    Mary sat perched on the edge of her bed strumming the strings of her lute with studied intensity, yet she was not really playing a tune. Jane, Lady Oxford, Elizabeth Denton and Lady Guildford moved about the chamber gathering up her things in preparation for the journey to Richmond. A collection of trunks lay open around the room all smelling of the lavender sprigs her mother once fancied. In them were a brocaded velvet petticoat, robes, bonnets, and her best gown of blue and gold silk. There were several pairs of velvet winter gloves and a jeweled girdle chain that had once belonged to her mother, as well as jewel chests and two pairs of soft leather shoes. They were gathering only the things that would be good enough for court. . . . At last, the royal court. But Mary’s mind was a million miles away from all of it. She was anxious to leave Eltham, yet she was frightened at such a change as well. As uneventful as her life here had been, she was still young and this existence had been safe. Henry had warned her that court life would change her forever.
    As Jane arranged one of the open chests already stuffed with coverings for cupboards and carpets, Mary glanced around the royal house she had called home. The rooms were always slightly drafty, even with a fire blazing, the upholstery on her chairs was faded, the wall tapestry near her bed slightly fraying, and the paint on one of her plaster walls was peeling.
    Still, there was the warmth of reassurance here. At Eltham, she knew what was expected.
    Jane came and sat beside her suddenly as Lady Guildford, Mistress Denton and Lady Oxford left the room. It was a moment before she spoke as a late winter wind battered the bare branches of a tree against her windows.
    “ ’Twill be all right, you know,” Jane said, her French words soft and reassuringly lyrical. “Your brother will be right there with you to show you what to do.”
    “Life at court will change me. It will change us both, Jane. It has already changed Harry.”
    She smiled gently. “But he is being taught to be a king—and now he looks the part. So some changes really are for the best.”
    Mary looked at her for a moment. Jane was a pretty girl, coming into her full beauty now. “Do you fancy him then?”
    “Who wouldn’t?” Jane giggled in surprise at the question. “Every girl here fancies the Prince of Wales. I do believe he is the handsomest man in the world.”
    “And I do believe you are a silly chit.” Mary laughed with her. “It is only Harry, after all.”
    In spite of what Mary knew, she could not imagine her brother in the way Jane saw him, and it made her laugh even trying to consider the boy with whom she had grown up as the object of any girl’s fantasies. She expected him to do his duty to marry and settle into his role getting his queen with an heir. But politics had changed things, and would likely change them again so that just who his queen would one day be—Katherine of Aragon, or someone else—was still the subject of much speculation and debate across England and the world.

    The Brandon family estate in Southwark across the Thames, just beyond London Bridge, was suitably grand. His uncle having inherited it, Charles was nothing more than a visitor there. Charles felt his stomach seized by a familiar knot of envy as his horse cantered past the brick-pillared gateway adorned by the family crest, then came to the end of the long gravel pathway. Wearing a costly riding coat of brown

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