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A Monarchy of Roses

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He still, sometimes, talks to his cousin in the dark.

“You deserved it,” he says. “You were asking for it.”

Or, “There is no way I could have let you live.”

“They made me do it.”

“It was for the good of the people.”

Richard never answers him. Richard never did have much in the way of conversation. Richard was always full of vague threats and pompous slurs. He was tremendously popular with the peasants, of course. Still, it's not really an accomplishment, pleasing the unlettered masses; even in revolt they're not nearly as terrifying as the nobility.

The best thing about Richard was Anne. She was his one uncalculated move, his one failure at being entirely kingly. And she was kind, funny, and bright. He does not discuss Anne with Richard, because he has nothing to say, because he sometimes thinks that Anne was a saint, because he wishes that she had not died. Because if she had not died, things might have been different.

De Vere and de la Pole are different, of course. He likes to imitate De Vere's lisp, the affected way de la Pole held his sword, as if his wrist were too weak for the weight of steel. Which it probably was. Richard was a fool, he was always a fool. He never could see what men like that were like.

“Never,” he says to Richard, his words muffled by the bedclothes. “You trusted all the wrong ones. You pardoned all the wrong ones.”

For a moment he thinks he hears Richard argue. For a moment he thinks he hears Richard say, “But I pardoned you--.”

As if that didn't entirely prove the point. Richard had put his friends to death, and saved his murderer.

“All your fault,” he says. Sometimes, “You did this. You brought this on yourself, with your fine and fancy notions. It wasn't enough for you to inherit a throne. No, you had to hold it by the grace of God.”

“Tell me, Richard,” he says, there in the dark. “Tell me, where is your God now? Tell me, did you pray to Him to save you? His anointed, His most favorite son?”

Sacrilege upon sacrilege, and yet even a man who never was much bothered with God, even a man who never believed-- there is an hour before dawn when even heretics recant, when even heathens and Musselmen bend their knees.

Richard does not speak to answer, does not defend his reign, his favorites-- even De Vere who was said to be his lover-- does not defend the faith he sent men to die to keep.

Richard never did, though; even as a boy he always hated to be called to account. It was at the root of his quarrel with John of Gaunt, and with the Lords Appellant. A king should never be asked to apologize or explain. A king should never be put to the question. God makes kings, and God breaks them.

In the night it seems that he more often breaks them. This is the time when the dead walk, and the shadows move. This is the time for faith, and fear. At night all men are equal, and at night all men are nothing.

Night, darkness: this is when the questions must be asked, and this is when he and Richard re-fight all the old battles. Once again one of them is the son of the Black Prince, and one of them is the son of a man rumored to be a butcher's by-blow, and neither of them is chosen for the crown and scepter.

There is so much blood between them. The shared blood of kings; the spilled blood of nobles. So much blood would mark anyone's hands. And yet, “There was no order,” he says. “There never was.” Like Pilate, like other, better men, his hands are clean; he is a jouster, not a soldier.

Richard has no answer, had no answer for the Merciless Parliament. Oh, Anne begged, and prettily for traitors' heads; Anne put no stock in queenly dignity for all that her blood was the royalest in England. But Richard never bent, not his knee and not his neck.

“Pride,” he says. “It was always your greatest sin. If only you had been willing to listen.” It is not something he would admit in daylight, with the sun on his face: that any part of him wishes something had gone differently, that perhaps this was not the most desirable of all possible outcomes.

“Anger. That was always mine.” And if ever there were a time for Richard to say something, if ever there were going to be a voice in the night--. But ghosts never have any answers, no matter how interesting the things you have to confess to them might be. If he's honest with himself, it isn't answers he wants anyway.

It's his youth, before everything went so wrong. It's Richard on his throne, and Anne on hers; it's their hands outstretched him. It's a time when their greatest concern was the rebelling rabble, the invasion from France that even then they suspected would never come. What he remembers is that it always seemed to be summer, that the sun was always shining, and the banners blew in the wind when they rode out..

He was happy, then, when he was Henry of Bolingbroke: he was happy when he was too young and too foolish to realize that everything could go wrong, that everything was wrong already. “You weren't such a terrible king,” he says, and that too is a confession. “You weren't so wrong.”

“You weren't the only fool,” he says, because he knows Richard isn't really there to hear him.

There are a thousand things Henry says to Richard in the dark, and always he pauses between them, waiting for an answer that never comes. But the one thing that he will never bring himself to say is, “I'm sorry,” because, like Richard, he has never believed that he is wrong, and he does not intend to start believing it now.