It was not Anne Neville's fault that she resembled her father. Margaret tried her best to remember that, tried to suppress the hot words that bubbled up each time the girl looked at her through Warwick's eyes, dark and impossible to read. She was trying her best. That much Margaret could allow.
Margaret too had been fifteen when she married. Thirty-five years ago, an impossible span of time to contemplate, she had arrived in England for the first time on the arm of the man who later became her lover. Anne Neville had not even been a twinkle in her mother's eye, nor her elder sister, the Duchess of Clarence.
Edward had requested--he had not begged; her son would never beg, not if she could help it--that she be kind to his bride. And so Margaret would. For his sake. And, perhaps, in memoriam, for a young French princess who had crossed the sea to marry a man she had never met for an alliance she did not understand. Of course, for all he'd fathered him, Henry was nothing like her Edward. Warwick's daughter was far luckier.
"Maman, she's scared of you," Edward told her, laughing in the gardens at Amboise. "You forget, she's only ever known them. I don't doubt they tell stories of you to frighten children at night."
"I mean it, Maman. Tales of you in armour, battling your way through the Yorkist ranks..."
She swatted him on the arm. "Tais-toi! Foolish boy, to tease your mother so."
"Maman, will you please just speak to her?" He was practically pouting at her, the merry light in his eyes a far cry from Henry's.
Margaret sighed. "You're taken with her, aren't you?" She didn't need to hear his answer. "Edward, you know what this alliance means. You cannot allow yourself--"
"You yourself told me how important it was for me to win her. I know how little you trust Warwick even now, how much depends on winning Anne to our cause. The Earl may have few qualms, but even he would balk at betraying his own daughter."
She snorted. "Hardly! He married the other to George of Clarence. If that is not a fatherly betrayal, I cannot conceive of what is."
"Well, I can't argue that." Edward bit back his own laughter, having caught sight of his betrothed near the mews. "Maman, by your leave."
"Very well," she said, disentangling her arm from his with exaggerated gravity. "An I must lose you to a young lady, at least I have the comfort of knowing it is in service of the Crown."
"All we do, chère Maman, is in service of the Crown." Leaning over, he kissed her on the cheek. "This is also for me."
She had never been able to refuse Edward, not in all his years. And so Margaret, who had spoken to her future daughter-in-law only briefly at the betrothal ceremony, took it upon herself to invite the young girl to her chambers for a meal away from the court's prying eyes.
As Anne entered, Margaret idly wondered at the pension her cher cousin Louis had given Warwick. The girl wore a king's ransom of jewels over red velvet and cloth-of-gold, her dark hair tumbling across her back much as Margaret's had before years and cares had silvered it. Glittering skirts spread wide, she sank into a careful obeisance. "Your Grace."
"Lady Anne." Margaret nodded, and the girl rose. "Please, do sit down."
"You are very kind to invite me." Her eyes were guarded, her expression neutral, but she obeyed, seating herself at Margaret's left. "My family is honoured by your generosity and that of le roi."
Margaret's lips twitched. "Louis has indeed been very generous to your father." She bit back any remarks about men who sold themselves to the highest bidder. "I only hope...but that is not for me to say."
"I beg your pardon?" All exquisite politeness, Warwick's daughter studied her through lowered lashes. "You were speaking of my father, peut-être? I am not blind, Madame. I know you have never cared for him."
"No, indeed, demoiselle, but even a blind man would surely notice that," Margaret remarked with a bark of laughter. "And do not speak to me of his honour. It brings to mind a chimera: often invoked, but rarely in evidence."
"And yet you let him lead your armies."
"I have little choice." She shrugged and took a sip of wine. "Surely you of all people can understand that."
Anne echoed the paired gestures. "When does a daughter have any choice at all?"
"Am I then to assume that you find my son objectionable?"
"I am not so stupid as to answer that, Madame. Prince Edward has been very gracious and kind to me, and I shall do all within my power to make him happy."
Margaret could not decide if the utter lack of feeling in Anne's voice was to her advantage. This odd, quiet girl--who resembled neither her dazzling, deceiving father, nor her fragile mother; who saw far more than she would admit--remained a puzzle to her. She ought to be grateful. Edward was a perfect prince in every way--it wasn't simply a mother's illusion, for there were many who echoed her praises throughout the French court. Who else would she have married otherwise? Clarence? Gloucester, God forfend? Margaret narrowed her eyes. "You are a lucky girl, Lady Anne. You had best remember that."
Anne looked at her, and Margaret suddenly had the infuriating thought that, beneath that quiet veneer, the girl was laughing. "I would be hard pressed to forget, Your Grace."
Later, Margaret considered telling her son the truth: that his betrothed cared nothing for him, or, as far as she could see, for anyone at all. But, as happened more often than she cared to admit, the mother overruled the Queen. He needed all his confidence now. There would be time enough after they returned to England--time to rid themselves of Warwick and Clarence and all the lingering Yorkist parasites.
As the Christmas season drew near, however, she began to run out of excuses to delay the marriage. Warwick had triumphed over York and her husband was released from ignominious imprisonment in the Tower. And Edward himself was growing impatient, Anne's aloofness only spurring his interest. Margaret had tried more subtle stratagems, remarking upon Anne's reaction to the York brothers' undignified flight to Burgundy--her smile at that could only be described as one of indulgent amusement--or her utter indifference to any wedding plans. Nothing had worked. Even Louis was tiring of her attempts, caught up in his own diplomatic balancing act with Warwick, Margaret, and the Duke of Burgundy who now sheltered Edward of York.
"The Earl of Warwick, Madame, is not a man to be trifled with. Do not forget he has your husband in his power." As though Margaret could forget. Still, she bit her tongue as Louis continued. "If you do not cease these delays, I assure you it will not go well with you."
So it was, then, that the Lady Anne Neville and Prince Edward of Lancaster, apple of his mother's eye, were married before the Grand Vicar of Bayeux at Amboise. It was an odd match, to be certain, and greatly remarked upon. The exigencies of war led to strange bedfellows, as everyone knew, but few were stranger than the Earl of Warwick and Queen Margaret as was.
As for Anne, she kept her own counsel, having learnt at a very young age that it was the safest course. As she stood before the altar, she could all but feel the Frenchwoman's eyes boring into the back of her head--after nearly a lifetime of doing so, it was difficult to think of her as anything but the Frenchwoman, let alone Mother.
Of course, it could have been far worse. After all, Father had married Isabel to George of Clarence. At least Margaret's son hadn't dulled his wits from lack of use, and, truth be told, she had become rather fond of him these past few months. He treated her like a lady in a poem--indeed, Anne suspected those were the only ladies his mother had permitted near him, lest she lose her supreme place in his affections. Now, she had no choice. There was something oddly satisfying about that.
Anne had known all her life that she would marry for her father's benefit, though she had not expected quite so drastic a volte-face. All we have done, sweetheart, is exchange one Edward for another. Anne knew there was more to it, saw it reflected in the hostile faces of Margaret's supporters, but she also knew better than to contradict her father.
It had seemed to her that everybody knew better than to contradict her father, regardless of what they might have thought in private. Everyone, that is, except Edward of York. Edward, who in long-forgotten days would have followed him to the ends of the earth, and who, some four months after she was joined to that other Edward, returned to England and--if Margaret's generals spoke true--killed her father with his own hands.
Anne's mother fled to sanctuary in Beaulieu Abbey within hours of hearing the news. Isabel had crept away in the night some weeks before, when word of George of Clarence's return to the Yorkist fold arrived at Harfleur. Margaret's eyes no longer glinted threateningly at her; now they passed through her as though she had ceased to exist. Anne knew from the servants' gossip that she had written to Louis of France to seek the best route to an annulment for her marriage.
Edward, she was certain, did not know of his mother's plans. He still came to her chambers at night and did his duty, talking of heirs and the newly-minted dynasty of Lancaster. Indeed, she was equally certain that he kept this from his mother. Perhaps, Anne mused, Margaret's hold on her son was not as strong as she'd thought.
Her suspicions were confirmed when they arrived at Weymouth and began the long, panicked flight toward Tewkesbury. Edward and his mother had nearly come to blows over it as they crossed the Channel--he wanted to fight, to take back his crown with the blood of his enemies, while Margaret, armoured or not, begged him to delay, to retreat to Wales and wait for a more opportune time. Anne had never understood men's desire to throw themselves into the bloody fray, and found herself agreeing with Margaret, much to her shock.
However, with but one woman surrounded by men in search of vengeance, it was Edward who prevailed. Anne realised that, for the first time, she understood Margaret of Anjou.
It would be far longer before Margaret had a similar moment of realisation.
At Windsor, before the former, disgraced Queen was to depart for Wallingford, the herald announced the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. A bitter smile twitched at Margaret's lips--she had heard, of course, as all the kingdom had heard, about the scandalous remarriage of Lady Anne Neville to Edward the Usurper's youngest brother.
The Duchess regarded her much as she had before, behind a mask of careful indifference. "Madame."
"You are your father's daughter, indeed, my lady," Margaret said acidly. "Whores always go to the highest bidder."
There was a telltale stiffening of the girl's fingers on her husband's arm. As for the creature Gloucester, he narrowed his eyes. "You should not speak of whoredom, Madame la pute. Or do you forget fair Suffolk?"
"Do not dare speak his name, you vile, monstrous--"
"But you did not whore yourself for money, if I remember aright." Gloucester laughed, gesturing widely with his good arm. "Henry abandoned Anjou and Maine so Suffolk could spend himself in France."
"Richard!" Anne hissed. "Enough."
"But she insulted you, dearest," he replied, his face radiating childlike innocence that made Margaret shudder.
"She grieves, my lord. I would speak with her." For some moments, they looked at one another, the sort of unspoken conversation Margaret had never had with her husband in all their years of marriage. It was strange--she had felt closer to him when she had wandered France and Burgundy and he languished behind the Tower's walls. She even spoke to him now, as though the man who had hewed him to bloody pieces in his cell had also stripped away his infuriating ability to misunderstand everything she said.
It was not Henry, however, who demanded her attention now. Lady Anne of Gloucester was standing alone, the perfect white brow furrowed with what might even have been guilt. "Well?"
"I will not pretend to grieve as you did, Madame," the girl said, her eyes not leaving Margaret's. "He was a good man; I cannot deny that. But I did what was necessary."
"Whore." But the spat word, she felt, lacked its earlier conviction.
She shrugged. "We are all whores in these times. It is the only way to survive. You should know that as well as anybody, Madame. My father told me of Humphrey of Gloucester."
"An ill-luck dukedom. You should tell your husband," she added with a poisonous smile.
"Only if the queen wishes him ill, Madame. I may be a whore in your eyes, but I have no deaths to my name."
"Do you not?" Margaret advanced. "You should have stopped him. My Edward would not have died, but for you."
At that, Anne stifled surprised laughter behind one hand. "Me? Yours was the only advice he ever trusted. Even you were not strong enough to save him."
"--is none of your concern. Not all of us may lead armies, Madame." She dipped a slight curtsey. "We survive in whatever way we can."
"You are a coward."
"I have never denied it. You forget, Madame, that I lost everything at Tewkesbury, no less than you." Something had entered her voice now, harsh and trembling. "Before Tewkesbury, in fact. My father--"
"Your father cared nothing for you!"
"I know that," Anne said quietly. "I've always known it. But he was all I had. In the end, your son cared little for you, or your judgement."
"You're a fool if you think Gloucester will care for yours." Margaret caught sight of him over Anne's shoulder, laughing with Clarence. "Surely you know what he is."
"I do." Anne, too, was watching her husband, her expression unreadable. "I had as little choice in my second marriage, Madame, as I did in my first. I had no Suffolk, no Somerset to comfort me and do my bidding. I never expected you to understand me, although perhaps now, when you have nothing and nobody, you might think on it a little."
She turned, green skirts sweeping across the rushes, and joined her husband near his brother's throne, leaving Margaret watching in silence. A ghost wandering amongst the living, unheeded and unheard.
And she continued to watch as, one by one, with strokes methodical as clockwork, the men that had slaughtered her son were themselves cut down. First Clarence, then Edward, then Hastings, before the coup-de-grace, the two princes as the price paid for her own boy. She waited unseen in the royal apartments in the Tower as Anne stared blankly into a mirror on her final night as Duchess of Gloucester and her husband lay tangled in the bedsheets and lost in the nightmarish passages of his own mind.
I am myself, alone.
Margaret smiled, and slipped into the darkness. It seemed she finally understood.