1492: Marriage, Age Eight
Being married wasn’t so bad, Princess Leia of Hungary thought. Edmund did tell such nice bedtime stories. He did seem rather more interested in the two men he was always with, Lord Percy and the other one, but he did call her dear, and they called her ‘my Lady,’ and that was nice. And she had a much better seat at the dinner table now. She couldn’t understand anything King Richard said, but it seemed like no one else could, either, and she learned to nod along.
When Edmund was busy plotting with his two friends, which was most of the time, the Queen welcomed Princess Leia’s company and taught her to read and write. But even though the Queen smiled at her, Leia thought she seemed sad. One day, she asked, ‘Why are you so sad, Your Majesty?’
The Queen was surprised by the question, Leia could tell. ‘Sad?’ she repeated, in her funny voice. ‘I don’t think that I am sad, really.’ Leia always wondered why the Queen had a funny voice. She was a foreign girl, of course, but Leia was a foreign girl too. She was from Hungary, wherever that was. She didn’t remember much about it. She didn’t have a funny voice like the Queen’s, which was too bad, really. She liked the Queen’s voice.
‘Well, I’m not sad,’ Leia declared. ‘I’m very happy today. Edmund has promised me my own room, which will be very nice. He says that he will still come in and read to me, but this way we will both have more space, as befits a prince and princess.’
‘If only the King would be so thoughtful,’ the Queen mused. ‘Have you finished your lesson yet, darling?’
‘Oh yes,’ said Leia sweetly. ‘Should I do another one, or can I go play with Bubbles now?’
‘Go on, dear,’ said the Queen. She was smiling, but Leia still thought she looked sad.
‘You can come too, Your Majesty,’ Leia suggested. ‘You might not be so sad, if you played with Bubbles. He’s very nice when he isn’t scratching.’
‘No thank you, darling,’ said the Queen. ‘You go on and have your fun.’
‘All right then,’ said Leia, before scampering off in search of the cat. He had taken to hiding under Edmund’s bed, but she could always find him. Looking was almost as much fun as playing. She was very glad Edmund had agreed to get him for her. Maybe she could have a dog, too, if she asked nicely.
1495: Childhood, Age Eleven
‘Please, can’t I ride Black Satin?’
‘No, you may not,’ said Edmund, his voice starting to sound more like it usually did when he spoke to Lord Percy and Baldrick than when he spoke to Leia. ‘Enough of this nonsense! Go up to your room and get someone to read you a story. We’re very busy in here, you know!’
‘I don’t want a story,’ Leia said patiently. ‘I want to ride Black Satin.’
‘It’s absolutely out of the question. You’ll fall off, and he’ll trample you to death, and I’ll be held responsible and forced to marry some other loathsome little maggot. No, no, absolutely not!’
‘Now, that’s not a very nice thing to say,’ said Leia reprovingly. Three years ago, it might have hurt her feelings, but she knew by now that Edmund was always saying things like that, and he didn’t really mean them. It was just how he was. She raised her eyes to his and folded her arms, challenging him.
Edmund swallowed and stepped back, just like he always did. ‘No, no, I suppose it wasn’t. I’m sorry, my dear.’
‘Do you take it back, then?’ she asked, keeping her gaze firmly on him.
‘Yes, yes, of course, I take it all back. Run along now.’
‘All right, then. I’ll just go ride Black Satin.’ Leia smiled and skipped out of the room before Edmund could stop her.
‘Women!’ she heard him shout after her. ‘I tell you, women are poison, every one. Baldrick, if any woman wishes to speak to me, tell her that the Black Adder is—’
‘—a venomous reptile, and women are his prey,’ Baldrick finished for him. ‘Yes, we know, my Lord.’
Leia hurried to the stables. Edmund didn’t seem to be following her, but she was determined to ride Black Satin, and she had to mount before he could change his mind. ‘I’d like to ride Black Satin,’ she said to the stable boy.
‘Very well, my Lady,’ he replied, moving to saddle the horse up for her. ‘Have you ridden him before?’
‘No,’ Leia admitted, ‘but I have ridden other horses, all the time.’
‘Very good, my Lady,’ replied the boy. ‘You’ll be jumping by the end of the day.’
‘Yes, I expect I will,’ said Leia. ‘Help me up, then.’
1498: Widowhood, Age Fourteen
Shortly after the departure of Prince Edmund, Warden of the Royal Privies, one year prior, on a quest for no one knew exactly what, it was decided that his young bride Princess Leia ought to spend some time visiting her homeland, to further strengthen the Hungarian alliance. On her return to the castle Leia instantly knew something was wrong; she had not expected a grand homecoming banquet, but she had expected, at the very least, something more than Lord Percy and Baldrick standing in the entrance hall looking stricken.
‘My Lady!’ gasped Lord Percy. ‘You’re alive!’ Then, turning to Baldrick, his arms flailing wildly: ‘The Princess lives! Someone lives!’
‘Of course I’m alive,’ said Leia calmly. ‘I’ve only just got here. What has happened?’ She was careful to address this question to Baldrick, having observed the two of them and Edmund together enough times to know which one had the lion’s share of brain cells.
‘They are all dead, my Lady,’ Baldrick answered solemnly, his head bowed. ‘Prince Edmund and the entire royal family. The wine had been poisoned, you see.’
Leia swallowed. ‘Edmund is dead?’ she asked, her voice coming out smaller and weaker than it had in years. She had not loved Edmund, but she had cared for him somewhat. She hadn’t quite understood what was happening when she had been arbitrarily married to him as a young girl, but she had now seen enough of the royal courts of the world to know that if she had to be wed so young, she could have done a lot worse than Edmund’s weary indifference.
‘Yes, my Lady,’ Baldrick confirmed sadly.
‘When—’ she started to ask, but she was interrupted.
‘My Lady, I bring a message.’ Leia turned around none too gracefully, not having heard the messenger’s approach. ‘At this very moment, the pretender, Henry Tudor, is amassing an army. He has learned of the massacre of the royal family and intends to march upon the castle and seize the throne by right of conquest.’
‘How long before he arrives?’ Leia asked, trying to remember in the fog of shock just who Henry Tudor was. She had heard King Richard mention his name before, though he did not so much mention it as snarl it.
‘Mere hours, my Lady. It seems he has made a lot of friends since going into hiding after Bosworth Field.’
Bosworth Field was another name she had heard before, but never heard explained. Leia opened her mouth to ask another question, but then closed it, not knowing what to ask.
‘My Lady,’ said Baldrick, ‘you should go away, now, while you still can. Henry Tudor and his men shall surely arrest and imprison you, maybe even have you executed.’
Leia shook her head. She did not have space in her head to be afraid of Henry Tudor. ‘I should go away,’ she said, ‘to mourn for Edmund. Will you and Lord Percy accompany me on the road?’
‘Of course, my Lady,’ said Baldrick. Lord Percy began to answer at length as to what an honour it was, until Baldrick considerately stomped on his foot.
‘We shall go to York,’ Leia declared. ‘Come now.’
Within minutes the three of them sat in her carriage, the horses galloping at top speed away from the castle. After a moment, Leia said, ‘Tell me how he died. You said that the wine was poisoned. How did that happen?’
At this Lord Percy broke into sudden sobs, and Baldrick said gravely, ‘It was an accident. The castle had been attacked by the Seven Most Evil Men in the Land, also known as the Black Seal. I told Percy to poison their goblets, but he misunderstood and poisoned the whole vat.’
At that, Leia did not know what to say, whether she ought to comfort Percy or toss him out on his head. ‘I see,’ she said, her voice hardly above a whisper. ‘And who is Henry Tudor? Has he got something to do with the Black Seal?’
‘No, my Lady,’ Baldrick answered. ‘It’s a very long story.’
‘I’ve got time,’ said Leia fiercely. ‘Start at the beginning.’
1499: Adulthood, Age Fifteen
For a while, she had considered returning to Hungary. She had liked Hungary, during her recent visit. It hadn’t felt like home, but she had family who loved her, inasmuch they could love her, not really knowing her. But as her months in hiding passed, it became clear that no one was seeking her. King Henry VII didn’t seem interested in imprisoning or executing her; in fact, he did not seem interested in her at all. In her heart, Leia knew that she wanted to remain in England, even if everything she had known at court was gone.
‘Baldrick,’ she said to him, ‘I wish you to go back to court and put your ear to the ground. Blend in with the other servants and find out how the King would receive me if I were to return to court. As the widow of a prince, there must be some title I can have. If it is safe for me to claim it, that is what I wish to do.’
‘As you wish, my Lady,’ said Baldrick. He bowed to her, then set off at once.
‘How’s the ground going to tell him?’ asked Lord Percy, as oblivious as ever.
Baldrick returned one week later. ‘My Lady, I bring some very strange news. You might not believe it, but every source I’ve ever had from the chambermaids to the dung gatherers confirms it.’
Leia nodded. ‘I’m listening.’
Baldrick drew a deep breath. ‘The reason the King’s not after you is that he thinks you’re dead, like the others, and he won’t be happy to find out you’re alive. You see, it’s not enough for him, taking the throne now. He means to erase the entire reign of King Richard IV from history itself. He’s started claiming he won the Battle of Bosworth Field. Ever since he and the Queen got to the castle the night we left, they’ve been proceeding as if they’d always been there!’
Leia pursed her lips. ‘You’re right, Baldrick. I do find that very hard to believe. How does the King expect everyone to just go along with it? And why is he doing it? How is being King not enough for him?’
‘Well, it’s all a bit muddled really,’ said Baldrick, ‘but from what I can tell, he seems to think that dead men tell no tales. The entire royal family dies of poisoned wine, leaving no one around to contradict him. As for why he’s doing it, it seems to have been the Queen’s idea, or her mother’s, rather. They’ve hated King Richard ever since he killed his brother and the other King Richard, the one before him, let him get away with it.’
Leia blinked. ‘I don’t understand. King Richard killed his brother?’
‘A long time ago, they say, when they were just boys in the Tower of London. His brother was a king, Edward V, but too young to rule, so their Uncle Richard sent them both into the Tower for their own protection. But Richard—the boy that is, Edmund’s father—killed Edward during some dangerous entertainment. As the Queen’s servants tell it, he didn’t really mean to, but he also wasn’t exactly sorry, and instead of punishing him, his uncle took him in as his ward and got himself crowned as Richard III. So his mother, the Queen Mother now, went and arranged for her eldest daughter to marry Henry Tudor after he won the Battle of Bosworth Field and killed Richard III.’
‘Except he didn’t,’ said Leia, beginning to understand. ‘Because our King Richard, Edmund’s father, won the Battle of Bosworth Field, and he became king after Edmund accidentally killed Richard III, and Henry Tudor only survived at all because Lord Percy mistook him a wealthy man who would reward him.’
‘That’s right, my Lady,’ Baldrick replied. ‘What nobody knows is that Henry Tudor went and married Elizabeth of York anyway, in secret. They marched on the castle with four children in tow. King Richard was so busy with foreign wars, he never even noticed that he had an enemy at home on the rise.’
‘And what about those foreign wars?’ asked Leia. ‘How has the King convinced the whole of Europe to play along with him?’
‘Ah,’ said Baldrick, ‘now that is the cunning part of it. He’s allied himself with other pretenders all over Europe, and they’re telling their own lies that he supports. The Spanish Escalosa family are out too, and Ferdinand and Isabella are claiming they united the country and drove the Moors out. King Henry won’t blow the whistle on them if they don’t blow it on him. Rinse and repeat throughout Europe and you’ve got the most cunning plan anybody’s ever had. And since King Richard spent so much of his time starting wars in Europe anyway, it’s not like any of them care to remember him.’
‘Except in Hungary,’ said Leia. ‘My marriage to Edmund kept Hungary firmly allied with King Richard IV. What has King Henry tried to tell them?’
‘Nothing yet, it looks like, my Lady,’ answered Baldrick.
‘Well then,’ said Leia, a mischievous smile breaking out across her face, ‘King Henry has got a problem. Dead men tell no tales, but a living princess might.’
‘What do you mean, my Lady?’
Leia’s smile widened. ‘I wish to return to court.’
‘But my Lady, he’ll send you to the Tower!’
‘He shan’t,’ said Leia serenely. ‘I have a cunning plan.’
And with that, she slipped out the door and into her carriage. When she arrived at the castle, she announced herself boldly, and without a second thought, as Princess Leia of Hungary, widow of Prince Edmund, Duke of Edinburgh, son of King Richard IV, requesting an audience with the King. The alarmed guards escorted her to King Henry at once.
‘Your Majesty,’ said Leia calmly, ‘it has come to my attention that you have decided to erase the reign of King Richard IV from world history, and that you are aided in this conspiracy by both the complicity of half the monarchs of Europe and by the convenient deaths of everyone who knew King Richard. Everyone, that is, except for me and my people. King Richard was a friend to Hungary, Your Majesty, and the people of Hungary will rally in defense of his honour. It is my intention to set off for my homeland tonight, to ensure that they do so.’
King Henry shook his head in a patronising manner that made Leia’s blood boil. ‘And how do you intend to set off for Hungary, Princess Leia, when you are imprisoned in the Tower of London?’
‘You can send me to the Tower,’ said Leia nonchalantly, ‘but I’m afraid it shan’t help you. I have already sent out my letters, you see.’
‘Aha,’ said King Henry, and Leia was pleased to see that he looked very uncomfortable indeed. ‘Perhaps you would prefer some other accommodation. Your own suite here at court, reserved for the bearer of the title of, shall we say, the King’s Niece?’
Leia smiled. ‘Yes, I think that shall do very well. Thank you, Your Majesty.’
1501: Legacy, Age Seventeen
Her biography suitably fictionalised, Princess Leia had swiftly returned to her carefree life in the English royal court. She employed Lord Percy as her private secretary, largely because she did not really need a private secretary, so his incompetence could do little damage. Baldrick had become squire to the young Prince Henry, and they rarely spoke to each other now, both well-aware of the need to maintain the illusion that all of their history had never happened. But one early morning, Baldrick approached her chamber, looking very agitated.
‘My Lady,’ he said hurriedly, ‘a woman from the village sought me out yesterday. She said that she has a son, and that the late Prince Edmund, Duke of Edinburgh is his father! And she took me to meet the boy, and it’s true, he’s eight years old, a rather nasty sort and the spitting image of Edmund!’
Leia considered. ‘He shall need to be protected,’ she said at last. ‘King Henry spared us, but a son, even a bastard son, might not be so fortunate. He shall need a new name, and a new title.’
‘The Black Adder,’ Baldrick murmured, almost inaudibly.
‘What was that?’ asked Leia.
‘Sorry, my Lady,’ said Baldrick, ‘I was just remembering. After Bosworth Field, when Edmund found out he was a prince of the realm, he gave himself the title of the Black Adder. Well, actually he was going to call himself the Black Vegetable, but I convinced him to change it.’
‘The Black Adder,’ Leia repeated. ‘That’s what we’ll call the boy. I shall petition someone to petition someone to create him Lord Edmund Blackadder.’
‘A fitting memorial, my Lady,’ said Baldrick, an irrepressible smile breaking out across his face.
Leia returned his smile. ‘Yes, I think so.’