Cicely's King Richard (Cicely Plantagenet Trilogy) (12 page)

He put his hands over hers. ‘Oh, Cicely . . .’ he said softly, and released himself from the contact.

‘You mean so much to me. I have never felt as I do about you. Not even my father.’

He smiled at that. ‘Indeed. Well, I am sure you feel much more towards my son.’

She paused. ‘John? But that is different.’ Was it not? In truth she did not know how she felt right now, because it was Richard who engrossed her.

‘It is rather to be
hoped
your feelings for John are different.’

‘Different, yes, but not less.’

‘Oh, Cicely, you will run rings around him. As you do around me.’

‘I do not run rings around you,’ she answered. ‘You just allow me to do it, which is rather different.’

His glance swept over her. ‘Little escapes you.’

‘Because we are alike.’

‘Yes.’ He met her eyes.

‘You do know that I love you?’

‘Yes, Cicely.’ Then he added, ‘As I love you.’

She embraced him again, her cheek once more pressed to his. ‘Do not give up, for I will
never
forgive you if you do.’

‘Oh, a fate to be avoided at all costs.’

‘Indeed so.’

‘Then I will not give up.’

She looked into his eyes again. ‘Promise me.’

‘I promise.’

‘If
ever
you need me . . .’

He smiled. ‘I might rather dominate your company, and I do not think John would appreciate that.’ The sunset shone in his eyes again, and upon his hair, finding its dark copper glints. Then he glanced towards the fading sun as if noticing it for the first time. ‘Come, it grows cold up here.’

She took the hand he extended, but did not immediately move. He turned to look quizzically at her.

‘Never be sad on your own again,’ she said. ‘Always send for me. While I live I will
never
let you down.’

‘Perhaps that is one reason I followed you up here, or had you not thought of that?’

She gazed at him. ‘I am honoured.’

‘I am not a paragon, Cicely.’

‘Yes, you are.’

He pulled her hand. ‘Come.’

Chapter Fourteen

With the passing
of the long summer it became apparent that Henry Tudor would make no attempt to invade that year, and there came the prospect of trouble-free winter months ahead. Richard’s tension lessened, for he knew that his realm was safe for the time being from the awful bloodshed that must follow any determined invasion.

But nothing could hold back the relentless progress of his queen’s illness. Anne’s brief rally was over and once again she began to sink. Her dry, feeble cough was often heard in the Castle of Care, but at least she now knew that Richard was fully aware of what was happening to her. Cicely’s advice to him had now been bolstered by his advisers, who strongly urged him not to go to his wife. He could not bring himself to obey completely, and still went to see Anne every day, but he was never alone with her and certainly no longer shared her bed.

One good thing for Cicely was that Ralph Scrope had been sent away to Yorkshire, for which she was entirely thankful. He had been a spectre at a feast, and his constant stealthy stalking had begun to frighten her. How had she ever looked upon him with favour? On learning of it all from John, including that there were suspicions about Ralph’s loyalty, Richard decided it would be a wise precaution to send him away from all chance of discovering anything that might be considered helpful to Henry Tudor. Richard had been loath to do it, because of Ralph’s father, but it had become ever harder to know who supported the crown and who did not.

Cicely had not escaped a rebuke from Richard, who thought she should have gone to him immediately, not only about her mother’s passing suspicion regarding Ralph, but because Cicely herself might have been in danger. ‘I could have helped you in this long since, had you but trusted me enough to confide what was going on.’

‘It was not that I did not trust you, Uncle. Please do not think such a thing. I simply did not think.’

He raised an eyebrow.
‘You?
Not think? Well, I suppose there has to be a first time for everything.’

She met his gaze and then looked away again.

‘Cicely, you are not to let anything like this happen again. Is that clear? I will not tolerate your being intimidated in any way while at my court. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Do I have your word?’

‘Yes, Uncle.’

‘Sweet Cicely, your wellbeing is of the utmost importance to me. Always remember that.’ He smiled. ‘I know you can read me like a book, which is not a comfortable feeling, believe me, although I do manage to keep some important pages to myself, as no doubt you do from me. But between us there must always be trust, complete and inviolate. I cannot settle for anything less.’

‘There
is
that trust, Uncle.’

He seemed about to say something else, but then dismissed her.

The court remained at Nottingham until the final days of the autumn, when Richard at last decided to return to London. All through the summer Bess had hovered near him, like a moth to a flame, but he did not even seem aware of her presence. He was alone in this, because it had become plain enough to everyone in the queen’s household. She was not liked as a consequence.

On a frosty autumn day before the court finally departed for the south, the ladies were gathered in Anne’s apartments to look at a newly arrived consignment of rich cloths. They stood in small groups, as near as possible to the flickering log fire, chattering and laughing as they examined the fine fabrics intended for the queen herself. It was one of Anne’s better days, and she was able to sit in a chair by the flames, inspecting the beautiful silks, velvets and brocades as they were displayed before her.

Cicely was among the ladies and discovered a soft blush-rose satin that she held against herself, imagining the gown it would make for the Christmas season. Anne saw and sent a page to bring her. The queen was so frail she could barely speak above a whisper. ‘Do you like that pretty satin, Cicely?’

‘Oh, yes, Your Grace, I do.’

‘Then it is yours.’

Cicely’s eyes shone. ‘Thank you!’

‘No doubt you imagine yourself wearing a wondrous gown as you dance with your John?’

‘Yes, and I hope it will be
every
dance, for I do not want him to partner anyone else.’

Anne smiled. ‘Oh, how well I understand. I felt the very same when I first fell in love with . . . Richard. If I could, I would
still
dance every dance with him. I will never dance again now, but must be present at Christmas.’

Cicely could not help but notice that moment of hesitation before Anne said Richard’s name, nor could she help wondering if, after all, the name the queen wished to say was that of Edward of Lancaster, her first husband, the then Prince of Wales. It was a dismaying thought.

‘So, Cicely, which of these do you think will suit me best?’ Anne indicated two bales of brocade that had been placed before her. ‘Yes, I know they are both very alike, and that cherry is perhaps not my best colour, but I believe I will stand out. Do you think so?’

‘Yes, Your Grace, I do.’ Cicely looked at the cherry bales. The only real difference between them was that one was embroidered with gold, the other with silver. There was no doubt in her mind that the gold would better suit the queen. ‘This one, Your Grace,’ she said, running her fingertips over the rich surface.

‘Then it is settled.’ Anne nodded at some waiting pages, who took the unwanted bale back to the table with all the others. Then she smiled at the ladies, who had fallen silent expectantly. ‘You shall
all
have a gown for Christmas, ladies. Please make your choice.’

With cries of delight they fell upon the cluttered table, but no one went near the cherry bale, for to choose that would be to draw a comparison with the queen, and there was not one among them who would wish to risk that. Anne began to cough a little, and Cicely brought her a draft of the herbal brew the physician had made for her. It was soothing, but made no difference to the advance of her illness.

Just then the king was announced, and everyone curtseyed low as Richard entered. He wore a doublet the colour of walnuts, and wine-red hose, with a sleeveless dark-brown coat trimmed with black fur. The coat swung as he paused to look around. ‘Ladies, your cackle is audible throughout the castle,’ he said, inclining his head to include them all.

Anne smiled. ‘You exaggerate, my lord,’ she said, trying to speak above a whisper but failing.

He came to her. ‘How are you today?’ His eyes were warm with feeling.

‘See?’ Anne replied, taking the hand he held out to her. ‘We are all choosing our gowns for Christmas. I have this excellent brocade and Cicely has that blush satin.’

‘And very desirable you will both look.’ His glance moved to Bess’s solitary figure. ‘What of you, Bess? Do you not wish to choose a gown?’

The question was so sudden and unexpected that many of ladies gasped. Bess started as well. ‘I—I was going to wait until everyone else had chosen, Uncle,’ she managed to say, but the look in her eyes almost stripped him naked.

There was an immediate stir, and his gaze moved curiously around everyone, before returning to Anne’s suddenly set face. The queen was angry that Bess made so little effort to conceal such inappropriate desire, and today could not conceal her own resentment.

Richard’s glance turned to Cicely, who avoided meeting it, a fact that to him spoke volumes. He knew something was wrong, and that it concerned Bess, but felt obliged to continue. ‘Come, Bess, choose now, before the gannets have taken everything.’ He went to the table and beckoned.

Bess rose slowly, aware of the hostility in the room as she went towards him. The ladies drew back from the table as she passed.

Richard was clearly bemused as he gestured at the bales. ‘Which do you like, Bess?’

‘I . . . do not know,’ she said haltingly.

‘What of this?’ Of all the bales, he indicated the cherry and silver brocade.

Bess hesitated, but then nodded miserably. ‘Yes, Your Grace, I like it well enough.’

‘It is settled then.’ The continuing silence made him clear his throat. ‘Ladies, I know I have committed some crime, but for the very life of me I do not know what it is. I may be king, but I am not fey.’

Anne could not leave him floundering. ‘Come, my dear lord, let us talk a while,’ she said in her pathetic whisper.

He went to his wife with some relief, and Cicely felt so sorry for him. He had no idea that he had unwittingly chosen the very cloth that was bound to foment more whispers. Anne and Bess would be alike, but opposites as well, and it would be Bess who shone. Nor would Anne tell him, because Cicely heard him ask, and the queen replied that he had imagined it. As always, he did not press further.

The other ladies began to talk together again, resuming their choosing of the cloths but a little more decorously this time. They turned their backs on Bess, who tried to gather her bale. She fumbled and it spilled, unrolling its way across the rush-matted floor. No one went to her aid, except Cicely. Whatever else lay between them, she and Bess were still sisters.

Bess was grateful. ‘Why did he choose this cloth, Cissy?’ she whispered. ‘There were so many there, but he chose this one.’

‘And you should have had the wit to decide on something else.’

‘I know now, but did not think in that sudden moment.’

Cicely paused, the collected brocade spilling over her arms. She kept her voice as soft as possible, so that no one could overhear. ‘Bess, you will
have
to be more alert to it all. You still persist in making plain your feelings for him, and the ladies will not forgive you. Nor will the queen. Perhaps especially the queen.’

Bess stole a glance towards him as he leaned over Anne’s shoulder to whisper in her ear. ‘I am enchanted, Cissy, in his thrall so completely that I will never escape.’

‘Do you wish to?’

‘No, for to say that would be to deny what is in my heart. Even though his great love for Anne is so very obvious to all, and I am destroyed by this white-hot desire, I look at him, and my body exults. And when I lie in bed at night, he becomes mine.’

Cicely gazed at her. ‘You
have
to control it. You almost
raped
him with your eyes.’ She handed the bale to the pages, and as they bore it away to the rooms she shared with Bess, she continued, ‘If Anne should complain to him, you will be removed from court and sent somewhere that not only keeps you from him, but places you beyond Henry Tudor’s reach as well. You do know that? It might be a doorless turret in the middle of an Irish lake, for all I know.’

Bess smiled wanly. ‘If you ever wish to know what it is like to be cursed, just ask me, for I can describe every torment.’

After a few minutes, Richard took his leave of his wife, acknowledging the ladies again, and when he had gone, Anne looked at them all. ‘The king fears that I am tired, and with the long journey to London tomorrow he insists that I rest. You may all leave now. I will send for you if I require anything. Cicely, I wish you to assist me to the bed.’

Cicely curtseyed, and waited until she and the queen were alone. ‘Will you wish to disrobe, Your Grace?’

‘No, for I am determined to be with Richard when he dines, but I
will
be free of this unwieldy headdress.’

Cicely hastened to remove it, slipping it from its pins and then easing it from Anne’s head. Then she brought a hairbrush and smoothed the lank rosy hair. Anne closed her eyes. ‘That is very soothing. Can you imagine that I was once as beautiful as your sister?’

‘Oh, yes, Your Grace, I know it well. I think perhaps you were much
more
beautiful than my sister. The king could not help but fall in love with you.’

Anne looked away. ‘Those were different days, Cicely. I was married before him, did you know?’

‘I . . . I had heard, Your Grace.’

‘Richard and I were betrothed, but then the turn of political events saw me married to Henry VI’s son, Edward of Lancaster, Prince of Wales. We were husband and wife for six months, or thereabouts, before he died at the Battle of Tewkesbury.’

‘But now you have a much finer husband, Your Grace.’

‘Yes, the king.’

‘Not just the king. You have Richard Plantagenet, the man himself, and I know of no greater heart.’

‘Cicely. I . . . carry guilt.’

Cicely gazed at her. ‘Please do not tell me more,’ she whispered. ‘Please, for I could not bear to know. The king means everything to me, and . . . you mean everything to him. I cannot learn something I know would pierce him. Please, Your Grace, do not hand me that burden.’

Anne’s thin hand gripped hers. ‘Forgive me, Cicely, but I think I already have.’

‘Not in words I cannot pretend to have misunderstood.’

Anne smiled. ‘I see well why you are so high in his regard. You are not afraid to speak your mind to a king or queen.’

‘Only
this
king and queen,’ Cicely answered

‘Richard always deserved better than me.’

Cicely looked away in tacit agreement. She was distraught for him. The gossip was right: Anne had always loved her first husband more than her second.

‘I am sorry, Cicely, but I feel the burden too. I know I have failed him through our marriage. When we were first betrothed I thought I loved him so much, and I did. Truly. But then I was snatched away and given to Edward of Lancaster. I have tried to do right since Richard and I married, to love him as he should be loved, but we cannot always overcome our hearts. No woman can forget the first man she lay with, and that was Edward.’ Anne smiled regretfully. ‘And he was not worth it. Do you know that? He was not worth it, because he had no heart, but still I feel this way towards him. Still feel that if he had lived, I could have changed him. Is that not what all women think? We are all fools. I am perverse and selfish, for I have the love of a man who is all I know you believe him to be. This illness is my sentence. As was the loss of my son. I am a living wraith because I am a lie.’

Cicely’s eyes filled with tears. Anne saw her child’s death as
her
punishment? It was
Richard
who paid the real price. He was a king without an heir, with a wife who could not give him another and who had always loved someone else.

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