Cicely's King Richard (Cicely Plantagenet Trilogy) (5 page)

Chapter Five

A mere two
weeks after the coronation, Richard and his queen set off on a royal progress around the realm, to be greeted everywhere with joy by the ordinary people who loved him. The Duke of Buckingham, still riding high in Richard’s favour, lingered in London a while and then returned to his estates in Wales, specifically his castle at Brecon.

There, as Richard continued north through England, the duplicitous duke plotted, with the connivance of his Lancastrian prisoner, the sly Bishop Morton of Ely. Buckingham planned to rise against the king and either take the throne for himself, or assist the claim of the so-called Lancastrian heir, one Henry Tudor, exiled in Brittany, who called himself the Earl of Richmond, although that title was now in Richard’s possession. Tudor’s claim was tenuous, and descended through his mother’s illegitimate Beaufort line, which had been specifically barred from the throne. But he and his supporters could not have cared less about flying in the face of such weighty legal considerations. It was never to be proved which aim was in Buckingham’s mind. The only certain thing was that he wanted to remove his cousin Richard from the throne, even though the new king had treated him well and rewarded him lavishly.

Unrest began the moment Richard set out on his ill-fated progress, and included an unsuccessful attempt to ‘free’ Cicely’s brothers from the royal apartments in the Tower. Hurt and embittered, Richard struck back immediately and crushed the revolt. Buckingham was captured and executed at Salisbury. He begged to see Richard, to explain, but Richard refused.

Henry Tudor’s formidable mother, Margaret Beaufort, had boundless ambition for her precious son. She was descended from John of Gaunt, and was now married to her fourth husband, the influential Lord Stanley, whose allegiance could change with the wind. Margaret was a pious schemer, a plotter, a woman prepared to commit high treason to get what she wanted . . . and what she wanted was to see her unworthy Tudor son upon Richard’s throne.

Before Buckingham showed his true colours and rebellion raised its ugly head, Margaret paid a visit to Dame Grey in the abbey. She glided silently into Elizabeth’s presence, her small eyes bright and sharp, her mouth tight and cold. She wore a white wimple, and her sombre black garb made hardly a sound on the rushes. ‘Your Grace,’ she murmured, making low obeisance to the startled Elizabeth.

‘Lady Stanley, you forget I am no longer queen, merely the widow Dame Grey.’

‘I forget nothing, Your Grace, I merely address you as you should be addressed. In the eyes of the realm you are still the queen of Edward IV and the mother of Edward V.’

Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. Margaret had aspirations for her own son, not for Edward V.

Margaret continued, ‘My visit, alas, has an unhappy purpose, for I bring you grievous news indeed. Richard has had your sons murdered.’

Elizabeth clutched the table, her heart beating wildly. Her mouth ran dry and her body turned icy with fear. She, so often shrewd and quick, was suddenly foolish and gullible. For these few seconds it escaped her that Margaret almost certainly had an ulterior motive. ‘How . . . how do you know this?’

‘I know because their bodies have been seen. By, amongst others, my half-brother, who conspired to enter the Tower in order to free them.’

‘Your half-brother? Oh, yes. John Welles. From your mother’s second marriage, I believe. No, her third.’ In her anguish, Elizabeth did not think of asking the clever Margaret who the other witnesses were; she thought only of her children. Her dead sons.

Lady Stanley continued: ‘The foul deed was done before Richard left on his progress.’

‘But why? I know they might one day have attracted the disaffected, but they were only boys, and illegitimate.’

Margaret was consolatory. ‘Their murderer sits upon the throne but he is not secure — there are many who would rejoice to see him dead, as no doubt you would yourself.’ She looked sideways at the stricken woman.

Elizabeth’s head was reeling and she sat down, clasping her shaking hands in her lap. The news had shaken her so much that she hardly knew what she was saying. ‘But if Richard dies . . . who takes the throne? Buckingham?’

‘That strutting boaster?’ Margaret almost spat.

Elizabeth’s eyes flickered. ‘He was your stepson, I believe, Lady Stanley? By your . . . second husband? You have had so many I have quite lost count.’

‘He may
think
the throne to be his ultimate destiny, and since he too is descended from Edward III, his lineage is indeed grand. But he is gravely mistaken if he imagines Richard’s enemies will flock to
his
banners.’

Elizabeth was startled. ‘Banners? Buckingham really does intend to
rebel
against Richard? I do not believe it.’

‘Nevertheless, it is true, and he is bound to fail. He is no match for the crick-bodied Plantagenet when it comes to military matters. But he
will
keep the usurper occupied long enough for
us
to strike.’

‘Us? My lady, I fail to see why on earth you have come here. To tell me my sons are dead, yes, but not to what you now refer. You are only interested in your son, Henry Tudor, whose claim to the throne is
much
smaller than Buckingham’s, and
infinitely
smaller than Richard’s. None of this is of any consequence to me. My sons are dead, and I certainly have no stomach to see Henry Tudor on the throne.’

Margaret’s thin lips curled, for what she had to say next galled her to the very bone. Forcing aside her distaste for Elizabeth, the loathed Woodvilles and the House of York, she seemed all sincerity. ‘But surely you have the stomach to see the true blood of Edward IV—
your
blood—upon the throne? Your Grace, I have a proposition of the utmost gravity and import.’

Elizabeth waited with deep suspicion.

The sweet, flat voice continued: ‘My son, Henry, will invade to overthrow the usurper and avenge your husband’s great memory. He will reverse the declaration of illegitimacy placed upon your children, and restore Edward IV’s blood to the throne by marrying your eldest daughter.’

Elizabeth was more herself now, and not fooled by any supposed desire to restore Edward IV’s blood to the throne. Henry Tudor needed Yorkist support to gain the throne, and a promise of marriage to Bess would bring him just that. His own claim was questionable, but with Bess by his side. . . . She stood and was face to face with the Tudor’s mother. ‘Lady Stanley, you have given me no
evidence
of anything, and it is a fantasy to believe that your son will attract such huge support that he will overcome Richard.’

The dark Margaret was inwardly enraged, but smiled. She sought written proof of Elizabeth’s consent to the proposal. ‘I cannot give you proof, you must know this.’

‘It is hard to believe Richard has acquired so many enemies in so short a time.’

Margaret gave a short laugh. ‘Oh, behind his attractive face there is an evil soul, as is evidenced by his contorted body. He has
always
had many of these detractors, my lady, for his is not an easy nature, and now he has acquired many more who hate him by virtue of his usurpation of your son’s throne. The names of
my
son’s supporters have amongst them the highest in the land, but I may not divulge them to you without first having your agreement to the marriage.’

Elizabeth was cold and regal. ‘You do not trust me, Lady Stanley? Surely you do not believe that I would support my sons’ murderer? If that is indeed what Richard III is.’

The reply came hastily. ‘You must understand that many lives are at stake and even to such a great personage as yourself I must safeguard them to my utmost. However, there is one whom I shall name. Your eldest son, the Marquess of Dorset, is now back in England, awaiting word to act.’

‘Thomas?’ Elizabeth felt her heaviness lift. Her resolve was strengthened, and suddenly, illogically, she accepted all that Margaret said. ‘And what form must my consent take? Written, I presume, since you must have evidence of agreement, must you not?’ She uttered these last words to force the Tudor’s mother to admit that her son’s claim rested almost entirely on Bess.

The thin lips parted as Lady Stanley gave the ghost of a smile. ‘Naturally, Your Grace, there must be a signed document that you will agree to support my son’s claim, provided he swears to make your daughter his queen, thus restoring your husband’s blood to the crown. York and Lancaster will be reconciled, and England will look forward to peaceful prosperity.’

By now Elizabeth began to see the advantage of such a marriage, for she would again be the mother of a monarch with all the wealth and power she craved. On such a surge of renewed ambition, it was only too easy to be convinced that the country as a whole would, after all, rise against Richard. As she penned her letter of consent she wept for her lost sons, feeling special remorse about the little Duke of York, for if she had not wanted to create an impression in front of the Council, he would still be here with her.

Lady Stanley hastily sanded the letter, and the moment Elizabeth had appended her seal, departed with almost indecent haste, lest Elizabeth demand the names of the other conspirators and so-called witnesses.

When October came, Buckingham’s revolt was quashed, not only by Richard but by the weather, which put the rivers Severn and Wye in flood and prevented the duke and his army from crossing into England. Buckingham was captured and beheaded. The speed with which Richard disposed of this second attack upon his authority unnerved those others who plotted against him. But he was again too lenient. John Welles, Margaret’s half-brother, was arrested, deprived of his lands, and then freed. Henry Tudor himself did not even disembark from his ship. He came within shouting distance of the shore, where Richard’s soldiers shouted they were friends come to conduct him to London in triumph. But the wary Henry, suitor to Bess’s hand and seeker of Richard’s throne, sensed the trap as surely as does a wild animal, and remained safely aboard his ship. He sailed back to Brittany to wait once again.

Richard returned in triumph to his capital, supreme and safe upon his throne. It was to be February 1484, just before Cicely’s fifteenth birthday, that he at last came to the abbey in person.

Chapter Six

Cicely’s nightmare of
being trampled by a horse awakened her with a start. She sat up and pushed her hair back from her forehead. Jesu, what a horrible dream. She was hot, her skin was damp, and she felt as if something momentous was about to happen. Something that would change her life forever. It was an astonishing feeling, almost shattering, and it made her heart pound.

Bess sighed in her sleep and turned over, but Cicely’s attention was suddenly drawn to the window because she heard the sound of flesh-and-blood horses in the courtyard. Curious, she slipped from the bed, pulled on her warm robe and carried a small table to the window. Standing on it, she was able to ease herself on to the ledge and then open the glass to lean out to the cold air of the February night. Men were talking and stamping their feet and now she could hear the horses more clearly. She could smell them too, that warm, sweet animal scent she had always loved—even though horses did not love her, and she was a barely adequate rider.

It was snowing, and there was already a blanket of white on the ground. Edging forward a little more, to see into the courtyard, she saw the horses and men. Two lanterns swayed and guttered, and apart from the dozen or so men on foot, she saw two more huddled figures on mounts, well wrapped against the cold. As the men slapped their arms around themselves and cursed the season, she noticed a large dappled stallion by a small door into the abbey. Then the banners caught her attention—the white boar cognizance of the king himself!

Gasping, she wriggled back into the room. Fearful thoughts chased through her panic-stricken mind. He had come to take them, to force them out under the cover of darkness and snow, to imprison them in the depths of the Tower as he had imprisoned and then killed her brothers! Forgetting Bess, she fled across the room in her bare feet and out into the torch-lit passage. Her flying feet were taking her to her mother’s apartment when she saw her uncle.

He was coming up the stone staircase that led to their refuge. His tread was light and swift, and he was alone. His fur-lined cloak was wet with snow, some of which still clung to his thigh boots. At the top of the steps he removed his gauntlets and his hat, which was pinned with a costly emerald and pearl brooch. There was no table, so he dropped both gauntlets and hat on the floor. She saw how thickly his wavy, very dark chestnut hair fell to his shoulders. It would tangle, she thought, for its texture was like her own.

He was about to take off the heavy cloak, his precious rings shining in the smoking light of the torches, when he realized she was there. She sank down on the floor, against the wall, unable to move or speak. His face grew serious, and he let his cloak fall carelessly with his other things, before coming towards her.

He was clad in a green velvet doublet and black hose; the doublet’s arms were slashed to reveal heavy gold embroidery, and he had a presence that was far removed from the monster her mother accused him of being. Around his lean waist was an emerald-studded belt from which hung a sheathed dagger, and across his shoulders rested the magnificent livery collar of York that her father had worn so often, although the pendant that swung from it now was not the lion or sun in splendour, but the white boar.

She flinched and closed her eyes tightly as he put out his hand. There seemed a desperately long pause before he spoke. ‘My poor Cicely, what
have
they been telling you about me?’

His voice was gentle, not fierce or angry, and she opened her eyes to look at him. At last he was before her, clearly, and she gazed up at his handsome, aristocratic face. Jane Shore was right, he was beautiful, but in a very masculine way, and he reached out to something deep inside his second niece. She had been a child when last she saw him, but she was older now and could see more surely because of it, and in that single moment she knew exactly why her sister was in love with him. And why Jane Shore would not have hesitated to lie with him.

He was not a muscular man by any means, but of slender build and slightly less than middle height, and would have been taller but for the affliction to his back. She knew he had been straight enough as a boy, for so her father had told her. The sideways curve of his spine had come when he was only ten or so. But it did not matter that his body was not perfect, for his rich clothes hid the fact anyway. All she saw was him. He was spellbinding, and everything about him passed into her soul.

‘Why do you fear me, Cicely? I would not harm you. I am your uncle, not your enemy.’

At last she found her tongue. ‘My brothers . . .’

‘Ah, yes. You believe it all, do you?’ As he bent to take her hands and pull her to her feet, she could smell the costmary on his clothes. With unexpected attention, he pushed her untidy hair away from her face, and then stepped back to look at her from head to toe. ‘You have grown somewhat since I last saw you, and I am glad to see you do not shave your forehead.’

‘You are?’

He nodded. ‘You look very well as you are.’ Then he smiled. ‘So, you are growing up, but believe me, your troubles are only just beginning.’

‘Troubles?’

‘It does not matter, I meant nothing.’

‘Yes, you did.’

His grey eyes swung back to her in surprise. ‘You would argue with me?’

‘Would you mind if I did?’

He hesitated, but then shook his head. ‘I do not believe so.’

‘What did you mean that my troubles are only just beginning?’

‘That the course of life does not always go as we hope.’

She gazed at him. ‘Has yours?’

‘Jesu, lady, you ask a lot of questions. No, my life has not gone as I hoped, but there is little I can do about it.’

‘Maybe it would have done if you had chopped off the heads of all your enemies. Every last one.’

He was amused. ‘Possibly, and I have reaped the consequences of the oversight.’

‘Do not be so merciful again, Your Grace.’

He gazed at her for a long moment. ‘You have changed more than I imagined. Perhaps I should have you sit on my Council?’

She smiled, drawn to him more and more. Not even her father had allowed her to speak with such latitude. ‘I will do so if you wish it, Your Grace.’

He laughed suddenly. ‘I do believe you would.’ He studied her again. ‘What do you think, Cicely? Was I right to ascend to the throne? After all, it did you no favour.’

‘I know my father’s pre-contract was real, Your Grace, so yes, you were right.’

‘You bear me no grudge?’

She shook her head. ‘No grudge, Your Grace. Because you were right,’ she said again. She could hardly believe she was so forthright with him, but he invited it and she admired him for it.

‘Well, since you are evidently now a lady, I must tell you I have been given to understand that your father consented to your marriage to Ralph Scrope.’

‘Oh.’ She felt her cheeks go crimson. Was there anyone who did
not
know of her passing interest in Ralph?

‘Is it true? Because if it is, I will see that it comes about.’

She gazed at him in dismay, unable to speak.

He gave a slight laugh. ‘You are not speechless with delight. You do like Scrope, do you not?’

‘Well . . .’

He searched her eyes in the torchlight. ‘But not enough for marriage?’

‘No. Something Bess said made me realize—’ She broke off, her face suffusing even more as she remembered what the conversation with Bess had entailed.

He looked curiously at her. ‘I hardly dare enquire exactly what Bess said.’

‘Please do not.’ She noticed he played with the fine ruby ring on his right thumb. He wore other rings, but the ruby was truly magnificent.

He smiled. ‘Then the matter is over and done with. I had gone so far as to have a contract drawn up, for believe me, Scrope is eager for the alliance. He is the son of one of my northern supporters, a man I like and respect, and . . . well, Ralph is waiting down in the courtyard, hoping to speak with you.’

She drew back. ‘He is? But . . . I have barely spoken to him, Your Grace, and certainly have not intimated any wish to marry him.’

‘So he presumes?’

‘Unless my father really gave him permission, yes, he does.’

‘Do not worry, Cicely, for you have heard the last of such a match. I will not coerce you into Scrope’s bed.’

‘I want to marry for love,’ she found herself saying.

‘An ambition I can only respect. We all wish to marry for love, I think.’ He touched her hair again. ‘If you change your mind, or if there is ever a man to whom you give your heart, you have only to tell me. I may be many things, but I will
never
stand in the way of true love. Unless, of course, you tell me you want a hound like Henry Tudor.’

‘Never.’

‘Good.’

He was an odd, rather exciting mixture of composure and unease. ‘You . . . are not at all what I expected,’ she said.

‘Expected? Did you not remember me?’

‘Not really. Oh, I did in a way, but not as clearly as Bess does.’ She lowered her eyes, wishing her sister’s name had not slipped from her lips again.

‘It has not pleased me to see you frightened of me. It was the same with your brother when I met him at Stony Stratford. It did not please me either that he is such an officious little prig, but we have the Woodvilles to thank for that as well.’ He pursed his lips. ‘I should not have said that about your brother.’

‘Why not? It is the truth. Dickon is far better.’

‘Oh, he is.’

She had spoken of her brothers in the present tense, and so had he.

‘So, do I take it that you are no longer afraid of me? Or do you still imagine that because my body is not straight, my soul must be crooked? That I eat small children when I break my fast? That the only reason I would come here would be to seize you all and imprison you in a deep dungeon?’ He waved an arm to mock the shadows.

‘Why
have
you come?’

He leaned back against the wall in a less than regal slouch. His grey glance moved over her again, sweeping from her bare feet to her hair and then to her earnest face. ‘To attempt sweet reason with your lady mother—if such be indeed possible.’

The sarcasm was not lost upon Cicely. ‘She hates and fears you, so perhaps you waste your time.’

He gave a dry laugh. ‘Your mother has good reason to fear me, given her most recent treachery. But Cicely, if I wanted to do away with you all, and if I am a godforsaken monster, do you honestly believe I would not have flouted sanctuary before now and had it all over and done with? Your father did that after Tewkesbury, so there is a precedent. Then I could be at ease to enjoy my next platter of spitted child.’

‘Do not say things like that.’

‘Forgive me, I only meant to tease.’ He put his fingertips to her cheek.

He was tactile, approachable. Disarming. She gazed at him as he lounged against the wall, his jewels flashing in the moving light.

His voice became more serious and authoritative. ‘I wish to speak with your mother. Please tell her I am here and will speak to her now, not at
her
convenience.’

Cicely was aghast. ‘Tell my mother
that
?’

He straightened. ‘Yes, now. I trust there is a warmer place than this landing?’

She indicated the arched doorway near where they stood. Inside was the large room where they all sat together during the day, and the fire was struggling to survive. She left the King of England bending to put another log on the feeble embers and then press it down with his heel.

But as she hurried to arouse her mother’s ladies, she found Bess next to the clothes he had left on the floor. ‘He is here, Cissy?’ Bess’s voice shook with the force of emotion that coursed through her just because he was only a few yards away.

‘Hush, Bess, for he may hear! You cannot go . . . well, you know.’

‘No, I do not. What do you mean, Cissy? Do you think I am about to rush to him and rape him with my eyes and words? Maybe I will even fling myself carnally upon him in front of you?’

Cicely drew back. ‘Do not say that, Bess. I do understand your feelings, truly I do. Perhaps now more than ever before.’

Bess’s eyes softened. ‘He is everything I say, is he not?’

Cicely nodded, for it was true.

‘I
must
see him, Cissy.’

‘If you do, you had better know that he has sent me to bring Mother to him. Given the way she feels about him now, do you honestly believe she will hold her tongue out of respect for you? Bess, she will accuse him of all manner of vice, all manner of disgusting intentions towards you, and in so doing she will ensure that he looks upon you with aversion. Is that what you want?’

Bess hesitated, torn, and then gave a reluctant sigh. ‘I hate you when you are so logical, Cicely Plantagenet. Now
you
have been alone with him, whereas I, who love him so very much, must stay away.’

Leaving Bess where she was, Cicely hurried on to her mother’s apartments. There was soon a great deal of panic and commotion as Elizabeth’s ladies rushed from their beds to prepare their mistress. Bess had gone when Cicely returned to the king. He was forcing a second log on the fire, and was unaware of her presence until she closed the door. He whipped around warily, but then saw who it was. ‘Cicely! Dear God above, I thought—well, it does not matter what I thought. Never be a monarch with enemies, for it is a truly unhappy state.’

‘Is there ever a monarch
without
enemies, Your Grace?’ she asked, going to his side.

‘Uncle. I am your
uncle,
Cicely, not some unreachable figure upon a throne. And you are right, there will probably never be a king free of enemies.’

‘I—I have awakened my mother’s ladies.’

He nodded. ‘I know. I appear to be a true fox among the hens.’ As she laughed, he smiled too. ‘I am glad you are now at ease with me.’

‘You remind me of happier days, when my father . . .’ Her voice died away, for her father seemed a very awkward subject.

‘Do not shrink from speaking of him to me, Cicely. I loved him dearly, and if he were still here, I would still serve him.’

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