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The Last Boleyn
Author:Karen Harper

The Last Boleyn by Karen Harper

Part One

Sweet is the rose, but grows upon a briar Sweet is the juniper, but sharp his bough; Sweet is the eglantine, but pricketh near; Sweet is the fir bloom, but his branch is rough; Sweet is the cypress but his rind is tough; Sweet is the nut, but bitter is his pill; Sweet is the broom flower, but yet sour enough, And sweet is moly, but his root is ill.

So every sweet with sour is tempered still, That maketh it be coveted the more:

For easy things that may be got at will, Most sorts of men do set but little store.

Why then should I account of little pain, That endless pleasure shall unto me gain!

—Edmund Spenser


July 16, 1512

Hever Castle, Kent

As she searched back over the span of years to where it all began, her mind always seized upon that golden day at Hever when she first knew there could be uncertainty, yes, and even fear and pain. They were all so young then—she but eight years, George a year older, so baby Anne was five years that summer. The July day spent itself in gold and green caresses for the tiny knot garden, and the yew-lined lanes, and grassy swards at Hever. But the reverie of that warmth and beauty always paled beneath the darker recesses of memory. Indeed, that was the first day she knew she was to be sent away and used, and that it would make her dear mother most unhappy.

The first thing she would recall were Anne’s squeals of delight and George’s high pitched tones of command mingled with the yelps of the reddish-coated spaniel pups which nearly drowned the drone of bees in the beds of roses and Sweet William. The pups were but a four month litter from their lady mother’s favorite lap dog Glinda, but George was determined to control them and train them to be his obedient pets.

“Stop that! Stop that! You shall bend to my will, you little whelps!” he shouted with a grown-up edge of impatience to his boyish voice as he swung smartly at them with a willow switch. They yelped sharply when the stings struck, but continued to cavort and roll about on each other, all silken floppy ears and clumsy paws.

“Cease, George! They are too young to be whipped or trained,” came Mary’s clear voice from the vine-woven gallery where she sat slightly apart from the scene. She felt growing annoyance from the raucous laughter and pitiful cries of the pups. “They are not hunt hounds, only lap dogs for ladies, so leave them be. Gentleness and love will train them well enough. Leave off, or I shall tell mother or Semmonet!”

The boy turned to face her, a look of disdain clouding his fine features. He put his fists on his hips and stood straight, his eyes squinting in the sun toward her shady bower.

“You shall not order me about, Mary. I am the elder, and I am the son, and I already own three hounds and two falcons. And I shall see service in the king’s court long before you. Father has promised!”

“Has he now?” Mary countered, for George did annoy her so of late when he acted as though he were a lord’s man or knight already and not some country lad whose father was always gone to court. “I warrant we all may stay here with mother at Hever, or maybe Blickling or Rochford, and never see the court at all,” she continued.

Usually that sort of taunt unsettled George enough to quiet him, but today she hit a different mark. He advanced several swift strides toward her and, as he came into the shade of the arbor, she was startled to see the flush of his cheek and the frown on his brow. Anne trailed in his angry wake, her face curious, her raven hair spilling from beneath her white-ribboned cap.

“The fair-haired Mistress Mary with Grandmother Howard’s beauty! Do not think to set yourself above Anne and me that we show the Butler blood for our dark locks and plainer faces. We are every bit as much a Howard too, and I shall be lord here at Hever someday and then you shall do my bidding, or—or I shall wed you to a poor landed gentry knight!”

The vehemence surprised the girl, for though she sometimes goaded George for his imperious ways or silently smarted beneath his overbearing attitude, he seldom responded this way. It almost frightened her and, except for Anne’s large, dark eyes peering earnestly at her, she would have responded haughtily.

“I meant nothing by it, brother, and never vowed I had more of the Howard blood than you. Our lord has often told us we are all to be proud of our heritage of Irish Butler and powerful Norfolk, for was not our grandfather the High Treasurer for our king’s father?”