Cicely's King Richard (Cicely Plantagenet Trilogy) (24 page)

Best course or not, when it came to the final moment, Bess would not leave, and because Cicely felt she must stay with her sister, John remained as well. Jack would have to set off in charge of only the three boys. His mounted men were waiting to depart as he came to his remaining cousins to say farewell.

He looked at Bess. ‘Why do you fail Richard? Mm? Simply to be in the same land as him?’

‘To breathe the same air? Yes, Jack, I do.’

‘Then I trust you mean to take poison if things do not go as we pray?’

She did not answer the comment. ‘Take care, Jack, God be with you.’

He turned to John. ‘I need your promise, John. If you receive any word at all that the day has gone against us—against
him
—you must get you and the ladies gone from here immediately. Immediately, do you hear? I should be forcing you now, but will not force Bess, who is well old enough now to know the gravity of what she does.’

The words could not have been more indicative of Jack’s bitterness, which extended to Cicely and John for permitting Bess to have her selfish way. He looked at Cicely in particular. ‘You cannot fall into Tudor’s hands, sweetheart.’ He took her hand and kissed it soundly, before leaning close to whisper, ‘I believe you have another secret, my lady.’

Her lips parted and she gasped. ‘I do not understand, my lord.’

‘I think you do. Be safe and well, Cicely Plantagenet. I pray that when it comes to names, you remember mine. But Jacqueline will do as well, I suppose.’ He smiled and spoke very softly. ‘Your eyes give you away, sweetheart. I can see your child in them.’

She caught his hand. ‘You be safe too, Jack. I will miss you.’

‘But not enough, dear lady, not enough.’

He kissed her on the lips, and then hurried away, out into the courtyard where the cavalcade awaited. Moments later Richard’s heir and three young nephews rode out of Sheriff Hutton and turned east for the coast. And the safety of Burgundy.

Cicely gazed after them. She knew how Richard would feel if he were to learn what had happened, and what he would say. She, more than anyone, knew his feelings.

Chapter Twenty-Six

It was the
twenty-sixth day of August 1485, and there had been no further word from Richard. Everything seemed so peaceful, as if nothing could possibly be happening—have happened—that would decide the fate of the throne.

Jack had sent word from the coast that their ship would sail on the next tide, and that was all those at Sheriff Hutton had heard. Whether he had accompanied the boys on the voyage, or merely sent them safely on their way, was not revealed. It could be that he was now with Richard, a fact that John found increasingly hard to bear.
He
should be with his father as well, no matter what Richard’s instructions had entailed.

Yet, no matter how great his frustration, John obeyed his father and his conscience. In that, he was truly Richard’s son. The king’s instructions had been to flee only if they received word of defeat, and while John agreed with Jack’s decision to leave before then, it was still not what Richard actually instructed. And so he did all he could within the bounds of his father’s wishes. Last-minute flight was fully prepared for. Saddled horses were always kept in readiness in the stables, and a small armed escort would respond in an instant were an order to be given. They could leave within minutes, but no word came. Time hung in a way it had never done before.

Today, the twenty-sixth, John could not pace around inside a moment more, but went out riding. He stayed within sight of the castle, always able to see if anyone came or went, but his attention was not on the castle when someone
did
arrive.

Bess had not left her apartment that day, but Cicely was as restless as John. She walked in the castle courtyard, where the wind blew through her hair and excited the rooks around the towers. She had just reached the rail by the steps to the main castle apartments when suddenly there came the sound of hurrying footsteps, and Mary came out to her.

‘My lady, Will is coming!’

‘Will? But why the alarm? Surely he comes to see you?’

‘I do not think so, my lady, because he rides at speed. I feel there is . . .’ Mary did not finish, but her unspoken words were there anyway. She thought there was urgent news.

Cicely’s hand crept to her throat. Make it good news. Please let it be so. But why would
Will
be the one to bring it?

Will urged his grey horse into the courtyard, shouting for the Earl of Lincoln, but he found only Cicely and Mary. His face was pale and his eyes filled with dismay as he slid down from the foam-flecked horse’s bare back. ‘Where is the earl, my lady?’

‘He is not here.’ A feeling of utter dread was beginning to seep through Cicely.
Richard. . .
‘Please tell me what you have come for,’ she managed to say.

Will went to his knee before her, tears pouring down his cheeks. ‘My lady, King Richard is dead and Henry Tudor ascends the throne of England! May God rest our dear duke’s soul.’ Will crossed himself.

The very air seemed to be sucked from her. She was in a vacuum, with no feeling, no sound. Richard? No, he could not be dead. Not her dear love, the father of her unborn child, the most cherished lord of her heart.

‘Lady Cicely?’

Will’s voice echoed from afar, but as he addressed her again, she knew the air was returning, and with it came the agony of what she had to face. No, she could not confront it. This was not happening. All was really as it always had been. Richard was on the throne and would soon come to her again.

‘Forgive me, my lady,’ Will continued, ‘but I came as soon as word began to spread. You still have time.’

‘Time?’ She could not think. She saw Richard everywhere, felt his touch, heard his voice. No, please, no, for he was the only reason she lived and breathed.

Mary came to steady her, and after a moment Cicely managed to look at Will again. ‘What more do you know? Anything?’

‘My lady, at this very moment a party of Henry Tudor’s men are at the White Boar. They come to seek King Richard’s heirs, but especially the Lady Elizabeth, your sister. They know you are here, and the Lord John, and also have word that the Earl of Lincoln and the Earl of Warwick are here as well. They are wild with victory.’

‘Do they know of my brothers?’

‘No, my lady.’

‘When did the king die?’ she whispered.

‘On the twenty-second day of this month, my lady, at a place called Bosworth, somewhere south of Leicester.’

‘There is no doubt? The battle was not a defeat from which he escaped?’

‘No, my lady. Henry Tudor has sent a party with all haste to secure your persons. They hope to take you completely unawares. I know this to be true for I overheard their two leaders, Sir Robert Willoughby and Sir John Welles, talking at the tavern. They did not know I was nearby or that I managed to steal away to warn you. I do not know how long it will be before they are here. They may even be close behind.’

Sir
John Welles? The same John Welles who had tried to abduct her brothers from the Tower? He had been knighted?

Will spoke urgently. ‘You
must
leave, my lady! They cannot find you.’

‘Do you know anything of how he died?’ Cicely tried to maintain her composure, but her voice trembled and some of the words did not sound as they should. Her head was spinning and she could hear the blood pounding in her ears. Richard was dead. The man she loved and treasured above all other treasures was dead.

Will’s voice was filled with anguish. ‘Our Duke of Gloucester, our King Richard, was slain in the battle, cut down in the very heart of the fight, as were the Duke of Norfolk and many others. He almost reached Henry Tudor before he was slain. They say he cried treason, for he knew he had been betrayed.’

She closed her eyes. ‘Oh, my beloved,’ she whispered, gripping the rail by the steps.

‘The Stanleys deserted him and threw in their forces with the Tudor. The Earl of Northumberland was there, but withheld himself from the battle altogether, so they say, and if that is discovered to be true then I do not give his life much value if he returns to the north. He will surely meet a violent death one dark night.’

‘So my dearest Richard
was
bought and sold.’ The words were uttered almost silently. That such a shining man should die because of false friends was almost too great an agony for her to bear. If ever there had been a good king, a just and fair one, a king who thought of the people, it was Richard. Henry Tudor was not worthy to even speak his name, let alone usurp his throne.

Will was confounded by her inaction. ‘My lady, you cannot delay.’

‘The Lady Elizabeth and I are alone here. Lord John has gone out riding, but promised to always have the castle in view.’ She turned to Mary. ‘Go, tell someone to ride to him without delay. Tell them that for pity’s sake they must find him and warn him to escape.’

‘My lady.’ The maid bobbed a curtsey and then ran towards the sergeant’s door.

Will was deeply cut by the tragedy of Bosworth Field, as would be all true Yorkshiremen. ‘They have commanded my father to take down the sign of the White Boar. They say he must rename the tavern, for they will not have King Richard’s badge shown anywhere.’

Cicely felt faint, and supported herself by gripping the rail even more tightly. Her other hand went to her belly, where Richard’s child was lying snug and warm.

Will looked helplessly at her. ‘You and your lady sister
must
go.
Now.
There is no time to wait for Lord John of Gloucester to return. You cannot become Henry Tudor’s prisoners, my lady. Please. If you feel anything for our dear lost king, you will not permit his murderer to gain the very reward he seeks. Henry Tudor will not be long on his bloodied throne if he does not have one or other of you as his wife.’

Cicely’s orders were already obeyed, and a horseman clattered out as fast as his mount could carry him to find John. But he did not know where to seek John, only that he said he would always be within sight of the castle.

She struggled to make herself think clearly, her fingers slipping inside her purse to touch Richard’s letter. ‘Will, return to your father, for I do not doubt he needs you.’

‘My lady—’

‘Go.’

He obeyed, and urged his lathered horse outside again, cutting immediately towards the trees in order to avoid encountering the Lancastrians. Or were they Tudors? All he knew was that they were the enemy.

Cicely suddenly thought of something both Jack and John had overlooked, something very important. The fact of her brothers having been here seemed not to be known, and so all trace of them had to be removed. She turned to Mary. ‘See to it that there is no evidence of my brothers. Burn or bury whatever you find. The same applies to anything left by the Earls of Warwick and Lincoln, and my lord John. If it is possible to convey the impression that my sister and I have been alone here, I will do it. Arouse as many servants as you can. Do not fail me in this. And . . . tell my sister.’ She hardly dared to imagine what effect such news would have upon Bess.

Mary ran off just as the sergeant presented himself, and Cicely turned her attention to him. ‘King Richard lost the day,’ she said, her voice choking because saying the words was so harrowing.

The sergeant was stricken. ‘No, my lady. . . !’

‘It is true. He . . . is dead, and we must do what we can to defy those who slaughtered him. Henry Tudor’s men are soon to arrive here. Display Richard’s banners from the turrets and battlements. I want
his
colours and standards to confront his murderers. Do you hear? This is the true king’s fortress.’

‘My lady.’

‘But there is not to be armed resistance, do you hear? I do not want any more of Richard’s loyal men to lose their lives. I will permit his enemies to enter peacefully.’

He hesitated. ‘But, my lady—’

‘You have your order, sir, or do you wish to challenge my authority?’

‘No, my lady.’

‘See that our mounts are still in readiness. If the Lord John should return in the coming minutes, there may yet be a chance of escape, in which case, you and your men are at liberty to do the same. Richard would not wish any more to die in his cause. He would wish us all to live to fight another day. So, whatever happens in the coming minutes, Henry Tudor’s men are to be allowed to take the castle.’

‘My lady.’

All she could see was Richard’s bloodied body, carved and stabbed on Bosworth Field. His body, his dear body. Her sweet Richard. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to keep control of herself.

The sergeant was shaken to the core, but he managed to bow to her. ‘You are truly the king’s niece, my lady.’

‘I am so much more than that,’ she whispered. ‘So very much more.’

He did not understand, but hastened away to carry out her orders.

Cicely remained where she was, leaning against the rail, and then holding her arms around herself to protect the child that would keep Richard with her forever. His colours flapped from the towers and against the curtain wall. Would she ever see them again after today? Would the white boar ever be displayed in all its brave pride?

To be without you is to fade a little within

To not hear your voice is to lose the sweetness of music

To forfeit your smile is to be plunged into darkness

To never feel your touch is to lose all sense of being

To know you have gone forever is to steal away all joy.

He had given the poem to her. To her. And oh, how poignant the words now. He was the one who had gone, and yes, all joy had been stolen away. She forced the tears back, determined
not
to weep before his enemies. She had her pride. And Richard’s. But it was so very hard to bear the pain, to know she would never see him again, kiss him again, be loved by him again.

Minutes passed, but then the breeze brought the sound of horses. Was it John? No, it was the rhythmic drumming of many horses. She and Bess were about to be captured by Henry Tudor. She drew herself up proudly, and clasped her hands in front of her to confront the oncoming sounds.

Somehow, from the depths of her heart, she found the courage to face whatever peril was about to enter Sheriff Hutton. The hooves were upon the drawbridge, echoing beneath the gatehouse, and then clattering in the courtyard, as Henry Tudor’s armed men entered Richard’s undefended stronghold. The red dragon of Cadwallader and red rose of Lancaster streamed above them, as did the prancing black lion of Welles and the ships’ rudders of Willoughby. But far overhead Richard’s banners fluttered the more proudly. She glanced up at them again and drew strength. His enemies would not learn
anything
from her. Anything. And she would delay them here for as long as she could, the better to allow John’s escape. Please, let him have already taken flight.

The first face she saw amid the enemy horsemen in the castle was Ralph Scrope’s, a sly, vengeful,
smirking
presence. To think that in her fourteen-year-old naivety she had once favoured his basilisk smiles. Now she abhorred him more than he could realize.

The two leaders, both several years older than Richard, she guessed, dismounted slowly, glancing warily at the battlements for any sign of a trap. They had gained entry so easily that it surely had to be trickery. The younger of the two approached her, bowing low, his lips set and unsmiling. He was grim-faced and inclined to stoutness, with an unfashionable beard sorely in need of washing as she noticed that flecks of food were caught in it. He had small brown eyes and full lips that he smacked every now and then, as if anticipating a long overdue meal. Or the sweetness of more punishment for the Yorkist nobility.

He swaggered in front of her, his arms akimbo. ‘By your bearing and the colour of your hair, I imagine you must be Lady Cicely Plantagenet?’

‘Who are you to so imagine?’ she demanded in a clear voice.

‘Sir Robert Willoughby, your servant.’

Servant he definitely was not, she thought, for arrogance almost dripped from him. She managed to nod with a calm she did not feel. Richard was dead, and she wished she had died with him. How could she live now? Except . . . Her hand crept to her belly, and stayed there. She carried him within her, and for
that
she would survive Armageddon itself.

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