Alison was taken aback. Had Mary been beautiful? Perhaps she had, although Alison had never thought so. She was the one whom men had admired. She had been curves to Mary's angles, rose to her sallow. She looked at the portrait again, trying to be dispassionate and to ignore the stirrings of old jealousy. She had never liked Mary. In the beginning she had hated her with a child's simple hatred. That had grown into a more complicated set of emotions as she grew up, but they had never been friends. They had been too different and too far apart.
The woman in the picture had features that were neat rather than beautiful: a long nose but delicate and not disproportionately so, arched brows above eyes of an indeterminate dark colour, a slight smile on the pursed pink lips. There was only the faintest hint of the hair colour beneath her Tudor gable hood though Alison knew it to be red-brown, like her mother's. Mary's gown was of sumptuous gold and green velvet embroidered with pearls. She looked to be a woman of substance. There were pearls on the hood too, and a space where one was missing. That was typical of Mary. She would not have noticed.
She realised that the man was waiting patiently for the question she had not yet articulated.
"It's lovely," she agreed. "The artist must have been very talented."
She saw him smile and realised that she had not quite been able to repress the spite. Mary, grown up, or at least on the cusp of
womanhood, made her as jealous as Mary the child had once done.
She sighed. None of that mattered. What was important was that Mary had survived. Thrived, in fact, by the look of it. And that was good because Mary was the key. Mary had promised to leave word of Arthur for her, and Mary never broke her promises.
Alison felt it again then, the dizziness that was a mixture of hope and terror. She could not let herself believe that this time she
would find Arthur. The crash of despair that had followed each time she had failed had been almost too much to bear.
"...unidentified." She realised that the man had been speaking all the time that she had been lost in the turbulence of her thoughts.
"Sorry," she said. "Did you say that the artist has not been identified or the sitter has not been identified?"
Now he was looking at her with concern. She caught a glance of herself in the mirrored wall behind the sales desk, all wet rat's-
tails hair and pallid complexion. No wonder he was fidgeting with the display in front of him, fussily moving an ugly ceramic vase two inches to the left whilst he waited for her to take herself off. She could hardly fit the profile of a potential customer.
"The artist is unknown," he repeated patiently. "The sitter is Anne Boleyn."
"No," Alison said. She cleared her throat. "Sorry, but that isn't Anne Boleyn. It's Mary Seymour."
"It is Anne Boleyn." The man was still smiling in a rather determined fashion. He was charming. She didn't deserve such
tolerance. "Tudor portraits aren't my forte," he said, "but I do know that this is a newly discovered portrait of Anne, authenticated only recently." He pointed to the background of the painting. It was dark and the shapes drawn there were difficult to decipher. "Can you see the box?" he asked. "It has her initials on it." Then, as Alison frowned, leaning forward to peer into the depths of the picture: "AB. For Anne Boleyn."
The box. Her box.
Alison could see it, now that he had pointed it out. It sat on a ledge to the right of Mary's head, only the very faintest sheen on
its patina showing in the dark background. It would have been easy to miss, this clue, this promise.
'"See, Alison, I did not forget you. I have your workbox here, safe for you."'
She looked back at Mary's painted face, at the slight sideways glance that led the viewer's gaze to the wooden box and the bold initials. It had been made of walnut, she remembered, worn smooth over the years by the touch of her fingers. She had loved that box, storing any number of inconsequential items in it: her thimble, a length of ribbon, and a scrap of lace. She might have kept Edward's love notes in it had he written her any, but he had not.