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and can you kneel before the king (and say I'm clean, I'm clean)

Chapter Text

March 1474

 

The most shocking occurrence at the feast celebrating Margaret of Anjou’s birthday is the young Princess of Wales asking King Henry for safe conduct for her cousin Lord Richard Plantagenet – the one-time Duke of Gloucester and most beloved brother of a beloved king, now the last son of York and an attainted traitor – to return to England from his exile in Flanders.

 

But Isabel is not shocked. Isabel was prepared for this; she knew what Anne meant to do.

 

For the king’s benefit, Anne touchingly recalls how they were “close as siblings” during Richard’s years at Middleham.

 

It is a lie anyone who knows them well could hardly credit without laughing, knowing that Anne’s feelings for Richard by the time he fled to Flanders were hardly sisterly, but King Henry does not know that and Anne makes sure that he does know that Richard’s mother is dying.

 

Likely of a broken heart, having outlived her husband and nearly all her children, including her favorite, Isabel's own husband. She does not know how her mother-in-law has borne it. Her children, Isabel thinks. Duchess Cecily had sons and daughters who needed her to carry on without their father. Isabel has not even that consolation in her grief.

 

She has only Anne, and Anne belongs to the Lancastrians now.  

 

---

 

Hoping to avoid wrathful Lancastrian eyes, Charles of Burgundy would not receive Richard and his nephew at Burgundian court after the decisive Lancastrian victory at Barnet despite what must have been insistent pleas from his duchess. So Richard, it is said, took the boy off to Louis de Gruthuse’s protection. De Gruthuse had sheltered Richard and Edward in their exile before their final defeat at Barnet.

 

But with Edward’s boy recently dead of a fever, Richard is said to be at loose ends in Flanders now that there is no York heir to battle for; inexplicably, despite Margaret of Anjou’s fears, he has not thought to try and seize the crown for himself though he is the last son of York.

 

There are, however, the York daughters to consider. The girls were orphaned when their father’s death at Barnet followed closely on the heels of their mother’s death in childbirth and have been left to the care of their maternal grandmother Jacquetta Woodville, once Margaret of Anjou’s closest friend. In the name of that old friendship, Margaret had promised Jacquetta that she and her granddaughters would be safe if they left sanctuary for house arrest at Grafton, to which Lady Rivers readily agreed.  

 

Upon Lady Rivers's death, nearly everyone expected they would be given into the guardianship of the dowager Duchess of Clarence, widow of their loving uncle George and sister to the Princess of Wales. Only because of her sister was Isabel allowed to keep some of her husband’s holdings, with their inheritance going to Anne in its entirety, and so Isabel is in thrall to Lancaster. She would have kept the girls from Yorkists who might wish to hold them up as inspiration for rebellion; they certainly could not be entrusted to their remaining Woodville relations. But Isabel did not want the witch’s daughters. She could never look at them without remembering her lost son.

 

Fortunately, it turned out that on the eve of her death at Grafton, Lady Rivers had written to Margaret of Anjou to extract a promise from her that the girls would not be put in Isabel’s care. Instead, Duchess Cecily, heavily guarded herself, has acted as guardian to Edward’s little girls. But now Isabel’s mother-in-law is fading fast at Baynard’s Castle.

 

---

 

Cecily was hardly the guardian Jacquetta Rivers or her daughter would have chosen for her granddaughters. Only knowing that she favored George and hated Elizabeth so that she was willing to falsely name her eldest son a bastard and herself an adulteress when Edward married Elizabeth to keep Elizabeth from the throne, they had no chance to know the truth of Cecily’s heart after everything went wrong for them all. She will always despise them for their common blood and for aiming too high above themselves; that much is true. But after being forced to live with the consequences of George’s actions, to see her firstborn son’s head on a pike, crowned in paper, and her youngest son forced into exile to keep Edward’s boy safe, she could only forgive George because he returned to his brothers in the end and fell at Edward’s side at Barnet.

 

Now, she clings to Edward’s girls because they are all that is left to her. She knows Richard no longer has any real reason to remain in Flanders with Edward’s boy dead and no wish to claim – or likelihood to succeed in claiming – the throne for himself, however much she might want him to avenge them all. Though she prays daily that the sun in splendor may rise again, she knows fighting the Lancastrians is futile at present and has herself conveyed to Westminster to press the advantage of the dying.

 

She pleads with her great-niece, the Princess of Wales, to intercede with the king, that he may allow her only remaining son to return to her for her blessing without forfeiting his life before she draws her final breath.

 

Anne simply nods before dismissing her ladies.

 

---

 

When they are left alone, Anne goes to her great-aunt’s side and asks, “What else?”

 

“What else?” Duchess Cecily echoes.

 

“You must want more than safe conduct for Richard.” She knows Duchess Cecily must worry for him constantly; Anne worries for him as well.

 

“Get them to let him stay.”

 

“And be a pauper?” Anne presses.

 

“He is a pauper in Flanders,” Duchess Cecily says with some asperity. “And my granddaughters have no one else.”

 

Isabel is not to be thought of and their Rivers uncles are all dead, but there remain their many Rivers aunts, of course: Anne, Jacquetta, Eleanor, Margaret, Martha, Mary, and Catherine.

 

Anne and Mary were widowed at Barnet. Margaret’s husband, the Earl of Arundel, obtained an annulment, claiming that his wife must be barren because they had no children. Catherine’s marriage to the young Duke of Buckingham was annulled because it was contracted when they were children and not yet consummated. Neither man wanted the burden of a Woodville wife with the House of Lancaster restored to power. The four sisters have been sent to separate convents and so cannot take the girls in.

 

Eleanor’s and Martha’s husbands the Lancastrians are not sure of and so Margaret has them watched, while Jacquetta’s husband is purportedly a loyal Lancastrian. Still, it is all dross, for none of the Woodvilles could ever be trusted with the York girls.

 

Anne also knows that Duchess Cecily believes she has succeeded in saving the girls from the taint of their mother’s common blood and will fight to her dying breath to keep them away from Elizabeth Woodville’s relations. “That is true. But he cannot continue so impoverished if he is to be their guardian, can he? They must be provided for. You want him allowed to remain here and you want his fortune restored to him, at least in part, don’t you?”

 

Duchess Cecily only raises an eyebrow. Can you see it done? ask her eyes.

 

“York or Gloucester?”

 

“I believe York is . . . cursed,” Duchess Cecily rasps. “Cursed.

 

It is the right answer. Anne knows the Lancastrians want to wipe the York name from the face of the earth and the Duke of Somerset, whose lands had once been given to Richard as Duke of Gloucester and were restored to him when Richard was attainted, is dead, his fortune in the Crown’s keeping. “I will do my best, lady aunt,” she promises.

 

Duchess Cecily covers Anne’s small hand with her claw-like one. “Thank you, Your Grace.”

Chapter Text

May 1474

 

Despite Queen Margaret’s protests, King Henry readily agrees to allow Richard to return and she will not gainsay him before the full court.

 

Anne makes her second appeal before the full court at the May Day festivities, as soon as she receives word of Duchess Cecily’s death from Baynard’s Castle, when gentle King Henry’s heart is most likely to be open and tender to the plight of her little granddaughters.

 

Word comes from Richard (Richard!), who had rushed straight to his mother’s deathbed upon receiving the pledge of safe conduct. It is not by his hand – not that tight, spidery hand she remembers so well from standing behind him at Middleham as he wrote to his eldest brother and, less frequently, to his mother – and his brief words are stiffer than any he would ever have spoken to her, the few lines of the letter smothered in courtesies. But she is the Princess of Wales now and he is an attainted traitor granted a reprieve only to say goodbye to his dying mother. 

 

Having once entrusted his own life to Edward, who did not harm him, a fact of which Anne sweetly reminds him in a whisper, King Henry is inclined to forgive Edward’s brother and lift the attainder, restoring him to Gloucester, if – and Henry’s queen bids him not forget this part – Richard swears fealty to Lancaster.

 

“So it will be done, Your Grace,” Anne vows. 

 

Her husband watches her with suspicious eyes, but she only tells him curtly, “This will bind our last enemy to us. No man will ever rise for Richard Plantagenet if he accepts the kiss of peace from his enemy and in so doing forswears himself, his house, and whatever claim they wrongly believe him to possess.”

 

She is relieved to see the effect her carefully chosen words have on Edward; he gives her a look of grudging admiration. 

 

---

 

Admiration soon turns to lust.

 

After she made her first appeal on Richard’s behalf, Edward was as violent with her as he had been on their wedding night – a violence to which she was unaccustomed after Margaret of Anjou realized their marriage must stand. The Crown’s coffers had been drained by Elizabeth Woodville when she fled to sanctuary, the lost funds never recovered, and Anne’s fortune would do much to replenish them; when her father lived, only the king had been richer than the Earl of Warwick. 

 

Her mother agreed to give everything that was her own, everything except Warwick Castle and her title, to Anne, too to see her remain Princess of Wales; Mother knew they – she, Anne, Isabel – would be lost if she did not. But she could not bear to remain at court after she signed her fortune away; to this day, she lives alone at Warwick Castle.

 

Upon realizing that Anne must be Edward’s queen when the time comes and mother to his sons, Margaret reminded him that women cannot immediately know if they are with child and so must always be treated gently for fear of disturbing a possible pregnancy. 

 

Anne only knows this because she listened at the door.

 

Though they have been married three and a half years with no sign of a child, Edward still heeds his mother, save for the night of Margaret’s birthday. 

 

Anne knows Edward takes mistresses, but she does not care, save to pity them and say the occasional prayer that he does not sate the violent urges he spares her upon them.

 

This night, however, Edward is not only not violent; he is almost considerate, and he almost gives her pleasure. His presence in her bed does not take the edge off her triumph or her joy because it has been years since she allowed herself to look at him moving above her and wish he were Richard instead.

 

---

 

Richard is less inclined to accept forgiveness than the king was to offer it and, even as she understands him, Anne wants to shake him.  

 

With the pretext that she wants to see to the little York girls, that she promised her great-aunt that she would look out for them, even as her mother-in-law watches her go with the greatest suspicion, she goes to Baynard’s Castle to persuade him that he must. 

 

---

 

She is breathless a moment when she first sees him. 

 

Anne had only been thirteen when she last laid eyes on Richard and so was certain that the intervening years must have wrought greater changes in her than in him, but she realizes now that, for all the responsibility Edward entrusted to him, Richard was still half a boy then; now, now he is truly a man grown. 

 

The realization takes her breath away and, for a moment, there is something heady spreading in her veins, something she has never felt before. But she returns to herself when she sees Richard kneel before her, dark curly head bowed, looking up only when a beat too long passes and she has yet to extend her hand for his kiss. 

 

Only after she does and he kisses it as is proper does Richard rise to his feet and look her in the eyes. His eyes are not the bright blue of her memory; they are deeper and darker, as dark as the witching hour. 

 

Dark with all the horror he’s seen and sorrow he’s borne, she fears. “It’s strange to see you take a knee before me, Richard,” she says quietly. 

 

“Is it, Your Grace?” he asks, voice somehow both rough and soft, deeper and smoother than she remembers. It’s stranger still to see you a pretender’s princess, he does not say. 

 

She cannot quite tell if the tremor down her spine is a flinch or a shiver. “I am Anne.” There was never any formality between them before and now that it is she in the more exalted position, she will not allow it to creep in. “You must still call me Anne,” she says more firmly.

 

“Anne,” he repeats. He sounds a touch uneasy, a touch distrustful – oh, how that hurts – but the way he says her name still sends an unmistakable shiver down her spine. It has never sounded so lovely on anyone else’s lips. 

 

“I am truly sorry about your mother.” 

 

“I thank you for –”

 

She does not give him time to finish the meaningless courtesy. “And I would do her a disservice if I did not get to the point, to keeping my promise to her.”

 

“What promise?” he asks, but his frown and the utter lack of surprise in his voice tells her that he knows exactly what Anne promised Duchess Cecily, that Duchess Cecily likely spoke of it on her deathbed.

 

“I know it goes against your every instinct of honor and loyalty to swear allegiance to Lancaster, but think of those girls in the schoolroom, of their father who loved you,” she tries, appealing to Richard’s sense of familial duty. “They have his eyes; did you remember? It’s been so many years since you saw them,” she adds cruelly. “With your mother dead, if you die, they –”

 

“They can go to Margaret. They’d probably be safer in Burgundy, in truth,” he says heartlessly. His other remaining sister, Elizabeth, the dowager Duchess of Suffolk, is recently dead and, as the widow of an attainted traitor, could have done little to protect her nieces anyway. 

 

Richard!” She takes a breath. “Do you really think they’ll be allowed out of the country so easily, even if she would receive them? There’s talk of a betrothal for Elizabeth –”

 

“To whom?” he demands sharply. His hand goes to his hair, impatiently ruffling the curls that are longer than she remembers, but glossy as ever. 

 

She’d been jealous of those curls as a girl before she was old enough to find them attractive, to – “The Tudor boy.” 

 

“Lizzie is a child of eight and Tudor is no boy; he is a man grown.”

 

“They wouldn't marry until she was of a proper age. And he’s next in line after my husband, you know.”

 

“I do know,” Richard says suspiciously.

 

“They mean to placate the York affinity. Surprisingly, Margaret listens to cooler heads from time to time. Your niece could be queen someday.”

 

The suspicion fades slightly and is replaced by something else entirely. “You’re young and – and surely you will have children.” Pain. That's what it is. Richard looks as if he’s in pain.

 

Though there is no hope whatever for them, she is oddly cheered by the possibility that Richard is not entirely indifferent to her, that the thought of her lying with her husband and bearing his children troubles him.

 

“You will – you will be a good mother,” he says softly. “I know it.”

 

She nods and forces herself to smile at the compliment. A good mother, perhaps – she hopes – but not a happy mother. I would have been a happy mother to your children

 

They would have had to name their first son for the king and their first daughter for the queen, but their second boy she would have named for his father and grandfathers and their next girl for Izzy. Then perhaps a girl named for her and her mother, so there would be another Isabel and Anne growing up at Middleham together, for surely they would live at Middleham –

 

They would have been so happy, but if Anne has learned anything since becoming Princess of Wales it is that it is no use to dwell on dreams. “Whether I give Lancaster a dozen heirs or none doesn’t signify. What signifies is those little girls.” She mentions them first because she knows, his casual words about Burgundy aside, that duty will stir him more than the thought of saving his own skin, but she cannot help herself. “And your life. You –” 

 

“I can’t.”

 

“Or do you want to try and take the crown for yourself? Is that it?” she demands. “Would you tear England asunder yet again for ambition?”

 

“No!”

 

“Then you must accept Henry’s pardon, Richard. If not for those girls or your mother or yourself . . . do it for me.”

 

“For you?”

 

“I have humbled myself twice, before the full court, on your behalf. Likely made an enemy of my mother-in-law and certainly angered my husband. Do not make it a wasted effort.”

 

“I do thank you for –”

 

“I don’t want you to thank me! I want you to live. Don’t you understand?” she snaps. “It would grieve me to see you dead.”

 

“It would grieve you?” he echoes.

 

“Yes.”

 

He frowns. “Why?” 

 

There are so many things she could say, so many things she should say, because they are true. Because you are my cousin. Because we were children together and I remember you fondly. Because I promised your mother and it would pain me not to fulfill my promise to a dying woman. Because I feel for those little girls no matter how much I hated their mother and you are all they have left. Because – Instead, she gives him a significant look. “Why do you think?”

 

“I – I don’t know,” he says ineffectually, lapsing into a frustrated silence.

 

You’re young and – and surely you will have children. You will – you will be a good mother. I know it.

 

The pain in his eyes as he said those things . . .

 

She tries another tack. “Do you love me, Richard?”

Chapter Text

“What?” She can see that now she’s truly managed to shock him – to shock Richard, imperturbable Richard!

 

“Do you love me?” she asks again before giving him a way to escape the too-probing question. “And the king?”

 

He takes a deep breath and nods his agreement on the exhale.

 

“Let’s hope that’s enough for them.”

 

---

 

June 1474

 

Of course it is not.

 

Anne’s birthday has never been made much of – unsurprising at a court dominated by her mother-in-law. But this year, her eighteenth year, Margaret orders it be made a glorious occasion and Anne is not fooled. Margaret means to gather as many people as possible at Westminster to hear the last son of York beg pardon and swear fealty on bended knee before the full assembled court.

 

Richard is commanded to bring his nieces with him so that all may hear them styled properly – for the benefit of the York affinity – as daughters of the late Edward Plantagenet, Duke of York, and that only because the Lancastrians generously did not take that from them, though their father was an attainted traitor: eight-year-old Lady Elizabeth, six-year-old Lady Mary, and five-year-old Lady Cecily.

 

Anne can see the tension in Richard’s body as he kneels before King Henry and Queen Margaret. It matches the tension in the faces of the little York girls. She is reminded of the young, hopeful girl who quailed before the bad queen, the she-wolf of Anjou, and learned how to fear, but also how to fight.

 

“Lord Richard,” Margaret begins, sounding the perfect queen of ice. “Do you know that the usurper Edward Plantagenet, your brother, had no right to the throne and that his cause had no merit?” Margaret demands.

 

She sees how Richard’s eyes leave Margaret’s, looking past Margaret to her and then to the right, where his nieces huddle just beyond his line of sight, before he nods, a single jerk of a nod.

 

That nod is not enough for her mother-in-law. Margaret wants Richard to denounce his brother openly and repeats the question. “My lord?”

 

“I know it now, Your Grace,” Richard responds in, she suspects, the most even tone he can muster. He clearly knows better than to bother with an exaggerated denouncement of Edward that neither Margaret nor anyone else present will believe.

 

King Henry, in a highly unusual display of decisiveness, speaks up then, though his voice is tremulous. “Then I forgive you, cousin, and I pardon you.” He gives Richard the kiss of peace and one of the royal councilors steps forward with the letters patent restoring Richard to his dukedom and some of his estates.

 

Richard makes to stand, but Margaret stops him. “There is more. You may remain where you are,” she commands.

 

Richard silently obeys.

 

Margaret waves a hand to her most trusted lady, who holds out a familiar box, one that causes Anne’s heart to freeze in her chest.

 

She has not seen this box since her father laid hands on its sacred contents and damned them all.

 

“This is a fragment of the True Cross,” Margaret explains. “It is stained with the blood and tears of our Lord Jesus Christ. Lay your hands on it and let us hear you swear fealty,” she demands. They are nearly the same words she said to Anne’s father years ago.

 

Hands on the fragment of the True Cross, Richard pledges himself to the House of Lancaster. “I, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, swear to be your loyal and faithful servant from this day until the day I die.”

 

“I – we,” Margaret amends grudgingly. “Accept your fealty, my lord of Gloucester.” She gestures for him to stand.

 

King Henry smiles, eyes vacant once more, as Richard finally rises to his feet.

 

---

 

February 1476

 

She does not see Richard again until he brings his nieces to court to finalize Elizabeth’s betrothal to Henry Tudor.

 

It is late afternoon when they arrive and so they will not be formally presented and received until the following day, but Anne watches them from the window and something within her breaks to see Richard with the York girls. Even from a distance, she can see the girls’ smiling affection as he helps them down from their litter, a dark-haired boy at his side who is rather too young to be a squire. Though Richard is young enough to be more of an older brother than a father to his orphaned nieces, the scene still reminds her, most painfully, of what could have been.

 

She notices then that there is another girl, perhaps about seven years old, one she does not recognize. While Elizabeth and Mary walk on one side of Richard, she and the little lad walk on the other, with Cecily settled on his hip. It’s improper, un-lordly behavior not befitting a duke at court, whose wards should be with their nursemaid or should have remained at home, and it is completely, utterly charming.

 

---

 

By the the time she goes to visit the York girls, she thinks she can feel no more pain from her earlier thoughts but, oh, how wrong she is.

 

“Give it back, Johnny! Give it here!” calls one voice she suspects must be Cecily. “Or I’ll tell Uncle Richard!”

 

Richard’s squire runs past her, a leather ball clutched tightly under one arm, Cecily hot on his heels.

 

The unfamiliar girl who had arrived with Richard and his nieces watches them, frowning slightly. “Father won’t like it if Cecily tells tales on John.”

 

Father? She is – she is – this girl is Richard’s child?

 

How could she not know such a thing? She knows Margaret has spies that report on his doings. Even after securing Richard’s oath of fealty on the True Cross, Margaret fears the specter of York sons. If he is anything like the father whose name he bears, he can never be trusted, not truly, Margaret often tells her. Still, she also knows that the reports are entirely mundane and would be utterly boring to anyone but her, who would care to know any little detail of Richard’s life. But she could never ask to see them without rousing Margaret’s suspicion.

 

Yet now that the notion has struck her, she cannot wave it away: the girl’s dark, curling hair and serious blue eyes are unmistakable.

 

She sees Elizabeth’s eyes go wide with horror the moment she notices Anne standing there, struck dumb. “Your – Your Grace,” she says in a voice barely above a whisper after she has swept a perfect curtsey. She is a beautiful girl of ten, graceful in every moment. Mary follows suit at once, as does . . . Richard’s daughter.

 

She gestures for the girls to rise and unsticks her tongue so as not to frighten them. If she does not speak, they will think she is displeased with them. “It is a pleasure to see you again, Lady Elizabeth, Lady Mary,” she says pleasantly.

 

“We are pleased to be here, Your Grace,” Elizabeth replies for both of them.

 

“But you I have not had the pleasure of meeting,” Anne says softly to the third girl.

 

“This is Katherine, Your Grace. She is our cousin,” Elizabeth says.

 

“You are the Duke of Gloucester’s daughter?”

 

Katherine answers quietly, “Yes, Your Grace.”

 

“Your father was my lord father’s ward and so we grew up together,” she finally says once she has gathered her composure. “I was very fond of him, but I always thought such fine curls were wasted on a boy,” she says conspiratorially. “So I am happy to see you have inherited them, for you are a very pretty girl, as lovely as your cousins.”

 

The girls all blush, murmuring, “Thank you, Your Grace.”

 

At just that moment, John and Cecily return, all but dragged in by a disapproving nurse, who curtseys deeply, followed by John’s bow and Cecily’s curtsey. “I apologize, Your Grace, and beg your forgiveness. I left only a moment and did not think –”

 

She gestures for them to rise. “They are only lively as children are; think nothing of it.” She turns again to the children. “I only wished to welcome you to court privately because we are kin, of course.”

 

“We are, Your Grace?” John asks, surprised.

 

Heart sinking, she looks from John to Katherine. The resemblance is startling. Is he also – he must be and, oh, how it wounds her.

 

“Yes,” Elizabeth says when Anne says nothing. “Princess Anne is our lady grandmother’s niece and our cousin.”

 

“That’s correct,” Anne says unnecessarily so that Elizabeth will cease looking so anxious, and soon enough everyone is smiling.

 

---

 

It is not the fact that Richard has bastards that bothers her; it is the fact that another woman has borne his child.

 

But she contains her feelings until she is alone that night, after her husband has taken her and risen from her bed to return to his own chamber and whichever mistress awaits him and she tells Isabel that she does not wish for company.

 

It is only then that she places a hand on her cursedly flat belly, filled only with bitterest envy of the unknown woman – perhaps women – who swelled with Richard’s babies and may warm his bed still, whilst she has a cold marriage to a husband who only tolerates her – and for that little bit she is grateful – and no children at all. She weeps so that in the morning Isabel shakes her head at the sight of her red, swollen eyes before calling for cold compresses.

Chapter Text

November 1481

 

At first, it was easy to blame her son’s childlessness on his wife. Anne was young and delicate and her mother bore only two useless girls. Whereas her boy . . . well, his true father sired nearly a dozen children.

 

But after ten long years have passed with no issue from her son’s marriage, nor even a single bastard despite a number of mistresses, Marguerite comes to accept that, no matter what happens, the heir to the throne is unlikely to be her blood. Yet the thought of the false king and queen’s daughter sitting on her throne is too much to bear. Edward of York and Elizabeth Woodville may be ten years dead, but Marguerite will always hate them and her hatred is stronger than ever now that the young Countess of Richmond has borne a honeymoon baby, a son who is named Henry.

 

“For the sainted king,” the Earl of Richmond assures her solemnly, triumph glittering in his eyes. Henry’s death earlier that year finally brought Margaret’s son to the throne in his own right in a most glorious coronation – and made Richmond, who has a son and heir while Edward remains childless, heir presumptive.

 

The Duke of Gloucester stands beside the proud new father, smile brittle, as if he can hardly bear the way his niece’s husband is salivating over the throne. Gloucester is lately arrived in London, having brought his nieces to visit their elder sister and her new son at Coldharbour.

 

Marguerite nearly laughs to think that for once she and Gloucester are perfectly aligned before her thoughts turn to more important things.

 

The birth of Henry Tudor’s son has forced her to see that she has no choice but to accept that the Warwick girl must take their destiny into her own hands, as Marguerite herself once did. A boy Marguerite can shape, even if not her blood, is a far better alternative than Richmond.

 

And yet how? What man would Anne Neville care for enough to risk welcoming him into her bed when a queen’s adultery is treason? There is not a man at court Anne seems to favor over any other and they cannot wait forever. At five and twenty, Anne is not yet an old crone, but neither is she very young.

 

---

 

But then Marguerite sees the way Anne’s queenly gaze softens whenever it lands on the Duke of Gloucester, who lingers in London rather than go north again. Perhaps he does not want to be alone on the lonely moors now that the Countess of Richmond has taken her sisters into her marital home.

 

And Marguerite knows how lonely a queen can be when her husband does not love her. How easy it is to fall in love with another, but how difficult it is to act on it. She remembers, too, that Anne interceded not once, but twice, for Gloucester before he was pardoned and Gloucester is handsome enough.

 

The Yorks are lusty stock and Gloucester has two bastards; there is no reason to think he could not get a child on Anne, so long as she is not barren. And it has always been said, much to her displeasure, that the Yorks are more Lancaster than the Lancasters themselves. Certainly more than Richmond, who is becoming too proud and self-important for Marguerite’s taste.

 

It is true that she will always hate Gloucester’s long-dead father, the Duke of York, but the elder Richard Plantagenet is just that: long-dead. Did she not once ally with Warwick to regain her son’s kingdom? She could do worse than ally with York’s son to keep it from another heir presumptive who is beginning to remind her, most uncomfortably, of her old enemy.

 

Her greatest concern is what a risk it would be, pushing Anne at a man who has a better claim, in truth, than Edward’s heir presumptive. But Marguerite has trapped Gloucester; she has never been more grateful that she thought to make him swear his fealty upon the True Cross. And the man has always been famed for his loyalty; it is what made her question the wisdom of allowing Richmond to marry Elizabeth of York, even though she knew they needed to quell the York affinity. If Richmond should ever bite the hand that feeds him, turn against them as Gloucester’s father once did, would Gloucester support him for Elizabeth’s sake despite his vow? Could he rally the northmen whose loyalty they have always assumed is to Anne as Warwick’s daughter to Richmond’s cause? It was Anne’s money and the Neville affinity that dissuaded Marguerite from ever attempting to have her daughter-in-law set aside.

 

But Gloucester could hardly rise against them knowing that Edward’s heir was his own flesh and blood; loyalty to his brother’s child would not trump loyalty to his own, would it?

 

When you can do anything – anything – to keep your throne and keep your crown and keep your husband where he should be, then you will know that you have learned from me. Then you will be my daughter indeed, she promised Anne years ago.

 

Anne is her daughter now and daughters must obey their mothers, but if Anne thinks herself in love with Gloucester, she may resist using him like a stud horse. Anne still has something of the squeamish, principled girl – a squeamishness that makes Marguerite question whether the girl is truly the Kingmaker’s daughter until she remembers her remarkably good counsel on the battlefield.

 

How can she ensure that cautious little Anne knows what she must do?

 

---

 

In the end, it is not so very hard. Marguerite has never minced words, though in this case she must choose her words with care. She calls Anne to her rooms with the pretext of asking after the Tudor child; Anne went with her sister Isabel to Coldharbour to see the boy. Marguerite has not been to see the child herself and she will not. It is enough royal favor that Edward and Anne will be his godparents.

 

“He is a strong baby,” Anne admits grudgingly. “A handsome boy.”

 

“You know I truly do not care about the child,” Marguerite says briskly. “My concern is for Richmond having an heir while my son does not. And for you – for how you must have felt to see that silly girl bear a son when your womb and your arms remain empty.”

 

“I was perfectly composed,” Anne assures her with a touch of asperity. “A queen of ice. Like you.”

 

“Queens of ice do not keep their crowns for long,” Marguerite warns. “Especially if they are queens to indifferent husbands.” She cannot say what she truly means: husbands unable to sire sons, or any children at all. “Unless they fight for them.”

 

“Are you threatening me?” Anne asks, a dangerous edge to her voice.

 

“Don’t be a fool.” She looks away from Anne, as if lost in thought. “Have I ever told you that Jacquetta Rivers was once my truest friend? Besides the Duke of Somerset, of course. Dear Edmund.” She smiles, genuinely, for a moment. “My name, you know, means daisy. When I carried my son, Jacquetta called him the son of Marguerite the Daisy and said he would be the flower that we rejoice to see in springtime, whose coming means spring.”

 

Anne sighs. “And a Prince of Wales would, of course, mean the coming of spring to England once again.”

 

“Precisely. And so Jacquetta told me that whatever I had done to conceive a child, it was worth it. That nothing would be a sin that gave England an heir.”

 

Brow furrowed, Anne looks bemused.

 

“You have to conceive, and if you make a son, it is all the better. You must not think badly of yourself, and I will think of nothing at all.” She cannot possibly lay this out more clearly without telling Anne outright that she is granting her permission – nay, encouraging her – to cuckold her son.

 

Now Anne seems to understand, but unable to truly believe it.

 

“When our heir finally arrives, though he be a rose of Lancaster, I won’t think of him as such.” Much to her servants’ surprise, she’d asked for white roses in her rooms that morning and now she plucks one from amongst the rest. “I will only look at him as a thing of beauty, a wildflower that comes from who knows where, nobody knowing how it was planted.” She hands Anne the rose. “Lovely, isn’t it? Like our prince will be.”

 

“God willing,” Anne says thoughtfully, twirling the rose between thumb and forefinger.

 

---

 

Marguerite makes a silent promise that night, hand on her priceless fragment of the True Cross. If Anne succeeds in bearing a son, I will ensure she is crowned at last.

Chapter Text

November 1481

 

She cannot help but wonder if Margaret means to trick her, if this is how Margaret will be rid of her.

 

But she also knows that Edward needs the Neville affinity and that Margaret would sooner die than see the Earl and Countess of Richmond follow Edward and Anne as king and queen. And to ensure that never comes to pass, Edward needs an heir.

 

If it hadn’t been for the rose – the white rose – Margaret handed her at the conclusion of their little talk, she could have convinced herself that Margaret only referred to the sorts of whore’s tricks Edward’s mistresses likely employ to keep him happy, although she could not imagine poor saintly King Henry being caught by such earthly delights.

 

For a woman as shrewd as Margaret could not suddenly turn so foolish as to lay her careful tricks and plans – secrets she has kept a lifetime – bare to Anne, could she? Otherwise . . . if Anne understood her properly, Edward is, in fact, not the rightful king, as her father claimed before he went over to Lancaster. 

 

Sinful though it is to contemplate widowhood, for it means wishing her husband and king dead, Anne has done it, and has imagined marrying Richard – who remains unmarried – when she casts off her widow’s weeds. But Edward, while not so hearty as the previous Edward who called himself king, is in good enough health and will likely live many years yet.

 

But if Edward is not the rightful king, then it is Henry Tudor.

 

No, it is Richard, says the Yorkist deep in her heart.

 

Richard.

 

Would Richard wrest the crown from her husband if she told him what Margaret has intimated to her? Could he win? Would Richmond side with Edward, who is childless, or with Richard, his wife’s uncle, who lacks legitimate heirs but could easily father them once he chooses a queen?

 

And who would that queen be?

 

Not you, she chides herself. Richmond and Jasper Tudor and their Welshmen would side with Edward, of course; they know which side their bread is buttered. And however deep Yorkist loyalties may run, no man will rise for Richard if he does not have a prayer of winning – and that, assuming, that they wish to rise for him and not for Elizabeth of York and her husband, who already have a healthy son in the cradle.

 

Again, is this all a trick of Margaret’s to test her or to be rid of her?

 

Or to drive her mad?

 

---

 

“I think Margaret means to be rid of me,” she confides to Isabel.

 

“After all this time? With their need for our affinity and my marriage? It wouldn’t be wise of her.”

 

Shortly after her son’s betrothal to Elizabeth of York had been agreed upon, Margaret Beaufort married the notoriously changeable Thomas Stanley, whose motto, most ironically, is sans changer. That marriage resulted in Edward and Margaret finally pressing Isabel to remarry; they had her wed Jasper Tudor to put someone loyal to Lancaster – her own sister being the Lancastrian queen – in the bosom of the House of Tudor.

 

Anne had nearly wept to think of her sister, who once briefly had handsome, charming George of Clarence as a most beloved husband – undeserving though Anne thought him of her devotion – being made to wed a man over twenty years her senior who likely had not been handsome even in his youth. He is certainly not handsome now. She even suspects he prefers his ugly, fanatical sister-in-law to her beautiful sister; there is no accounting for taste and it is pitiful besides, for likely Lady Margaret could have had him if she had not chosen Lord Stanley for ambition’s sake. It was a step down for Isabel, too, for she is Countess of Pembroke now rather than Dowager Duchess of Clarence.

 

“She implied that I ought to do something . . . outrageous. Unthinkable, really. Treasonous,” she adds in a whisper.

 

“What could you possibly do as queen that would be treasonous?”

 

She drops her voice even further and leans in so close that her mouth is nearly pressed against her sister’s ear. “Take a lover.”

 

Isabel turns her head to whisper into Anne’s hair. “So that you might conceive?”

 

She nods. “I could hardly believe it.”

 

“The king has not one bastard,” Isabel whispers. “And if he does not have an heir, the Tudors will follow.”

 

“Do you fancy being aunt to a king?”  

 

“I would rather remain sister to a queen and be aunt to a Prince of Wales,” Isabel replies very seriously.

 

If Anne obeys Margaret’s pointed hints, perhaps . . . She bends her head over her embroidery. “She implied someone in particular.”

 

“Who?”

 

“Richard.”

 

When Isabel says nothing, Anne looks up to see something like pity in her wide eyes. “Oh, Annie. Are you – are you sure –”

 

She smiles sadly. “That I didn’t just hear what I wanted to hear?”

 

Isabel bites her lip and nods. She heard enough of Anne’s affection for Richard in their girlhood and she knows that Anne’s marriage is an unhappy one.

 

“She gave me –” She drops her voice again, “A meandering talk about how nothing done to give England an heir could be a sin, that my son would be a rose of Lancaster, that she would think of him as a –” She pauses to remember the words. “A wildflower that comes from who knows where, nobody knowing how it was planted. She even spoke of Somerset. Then she handed me a white rose, telling me it was lovely, as our prince will be.”

 

“I think she did mean Richard. She’s mad,” Isabel breathes.

 

It is easy to be squeamish when you are a girl. It is easy to be principled when you have nothing. But when you are a woman and you have a son destined for the throne, after years of waiting, and when you are a queen and you want to keep your crown, you will be ready to do anything, anything.

 

“She hates the idea of losing her power, of the Tudors getting everything she fought so long and hard for,” Anne corrects with a sigh, understanding at last. “But what should I do? I didn’t agree to anything.” She expects Isabel to tell her to be sensible, as they have been all these years.

 

But what is sensible?

 

Instead, Isabel says lowly, “Grasp some happiness for yourself. You deserve that much.”

 

“As do you,” she counters regretfully.

 

“But you have an opportunity. Take it, for England, if not for yourself. But take care.”

 

Has Isabel gone mad? Has she? Are they both as mad as Isabel only just said Margaret is? For she is actually considering listening to her sister and taking Margaret at her word.

 

“If you do not, perhaps,” Isabel begins, when she says nothing. “Perhaps she will have you set aside, calling you barren, and find a more pliable daughter-in-law.”

 

Would that truly be so bad? She would be free of Edward, free of the weight of the crown on her brow –

 

Free of the throne her father died to put her on.

 

“Would it not be better, be just –” Isabel lowers her voice even further. “To put a York and Neville boy on the throne?”

 

As Isabel’s boy would have been, if he had lived. “But –”

 

“Do you envision yourself running to Richard with this information – with your speculations, really, for Margaret did not openly admit to anything, she wasn’t fool enough for that, was she? – and having him win the kingdom from your husband and make you his queen?”

 

She shakes her head.

 

But Isabel knows her too well. “That can never happen; the Lancastrians are too deeply rooted now, Anne. You know they are. There is no one like Father to be his –”

 

Interrupting Isabel’s grim predictions, she seals her fate. “Then will you help me, if I should need it?”

 

Slowly, Isabel nods.

 

Even if she never conceives – for she is her mother’s daughter and her mother had only two surviving girls – she deserves some happiness, does she not?

Chapter Text

December 1481

 

Amongst the many nobles who flock to court for the Christmas festivities is Richard, who brings with him thirteen-year-old Katherine and ten-year-old John.

 

She feels as though her face is on fire whenever she catches a glimpse of Richard now, half-convinced that anyone who looks at her must know what she is thinking. But her outward behavior is never anything other than perfectly correct, her greater warmth reserved for his children and his nieces; she has always treated them kindly as cousins since they first came to court together.

 

Henry Tudor escorts his young sisters-in-law whilst his wife remains in confinement; at fourteen, Mary is of marriageable age and Anne can see that her mother-in-law is considering which loyal Lancastrian may suit the middle York girl, whose first betrothed died unexpectedly two years ago, as she greets them. There is time yet for twelve-year-old Cecily, though her eldest sister was betrothed when she was only ten. She suspects Richard is as reluctant to make a match for her as for his own daughter – according to the Countess of Richmond – for Cecily is the youngest and darling of their patched-together family.

 

Lord Stanley arrives alone, for his wife has stayed with her daughter-in-law, likely delighting in being able to control her son’s household while young Elizabeth recuperates.

 

And Jasper Tudor returns from Wales with precious few words of greeting for Isabel and the news that he has established his bastard daughter in the empty nursery at Pembroke Castle.

 

Despite her near-constant presence at court, Isabel is – in private, when they are only Annie and Iz, not the queen and her chief lady-in-waiting – nearly apoplectic with rage at the news, perhaps most of all at the matter-of-fact and unapologetic manner in which her husband delivers it. While their bastard sister Margaret had been part of their parents'  household, she was the result of a liaison that predated the Earl and Countess of Warwick's marriage and their lady mother had consented to her presence and was fond of her, as they themselves are.

 

Unlike their late lord father, Jasper Tudor does not even bother to pretend that he cares about his wife’s opinion.

 

---

 

Despite the weather typical of the Christmas season, Anne must head out of doors from time to time. She is a true child of the North and finds the cold more bearable than being penned up inside day after day.

 

Though far less enamored of winter than Anne, Isabel always joins her on her walks in the gardens, night or day. It is a good time to be alone together and speak privately, for there are always ladies-in-waiting and maids of honor and many others surrounding a queen.

 

When, for the first time since the weather cooled, they encounter a courtier, it is none other than Richard.

 

“I suppose London seems nearly warm after a childhood in the frozen north,” he remarks with a faint smile.

 

“Oh, absolutely,” she replies.

 

“But it’s very chilly this morning,” Isabel says.

 

Anne frowns; it has been far colder other days. In fact, it is –

 

“I should like to fetch my gloves,” Isabel finishes. “And yours, too. You cannot spoil your hands.”

 

“Oh.” She nods. “All right.” Once Isabel departs, she confides, “I think London has made Izzy soft.”

 

Richard’s lips quirk slightly. “I wouldn’t dream of criticizing the queen’s sister –”

 

“But you must always agree with your queen,” she scolds, her lips rising to match his.

 

“A hundred pardons, Your Grace,” he murmurs, offering her his arm.

 

She is grateful she is not wearing gloves, for she can feel the warmth of his skin through his sleeve. “I suppose you may be forgiven this time.”

 

He fights a smile. “You are very gracious.”

 

She looks away so he won’t see the laughter in her eyes.

 

---

 

As ever, Edward opens the dancing with his mother the first night of feasting; it is a constant slight and one Anne has learned to overlook as she pastes on a smile to watch the first dance.

 

The smile momentarily turns genuine when she sees Isabel with Francis Lovell, for it is a reminder of happier times at Middleham, though their circumstances are so changed: Isabel is a widow now remarried into an enemy house; Francis has not remarried since his marriage to Anne’s cousin was annulled in favor of a more advantageous match for his wife. As a close friend of Richard’s, Francis could not be mistaken for anything but a Yorkist and in a Lancastrian England – especially in the years before Richard was pardoned – there was no less advantageous affiliation. 

                                                                                               

Though Anne takes her husband’s cold hand for the second dance and tries her best not to look at Richard, her eyes are drawn to him; she cannot help but notice that he, sweetly, dances first with his daughter and then his two nieces, who were each partnered by Henry in their turn for the first and second dances. Edward, of course, does not notice; he pays her little mind except to tighten his grip upon her midway through the set, as if to punish her for the fact that it is she and not one of his tarts in his arms.

 

For the third dance, she is twirled about – rather ineptly – by her brother-in-law, while his nephew leads Margaret and Edward partners Isabel. Jasper and Henry trade partners for the fourth dance, though Jasper has yet to dance with his wife, having sat out the first two dances, whilst Isabel pairs off with Richard and Edward occupies himself with one of his women.

 

When the music concludes and Henry releases her, she realizes Isabel and Richard are at her elbow.

 

“I’ve not yet had a chance to dance with my –” Isabel’s lips twitch slightly. “Nephew.” It amuses her to call Henry such, for he is only five years her junior. “So you will have to do me the favor of taking Richard off my hands.”

 

“You cannot say I trod upon your toes, as you always complained I did at Middleham,” Richard protests good-naturedly.

 

“I always complained because you always did,” Isabel retorts. “Though somewhere along the way you’ve learned some grace.”

 

“And grown into my ‘funny eyes?’”

 

Isabel startles a moment at having her old words thrown at her so many years later.

 

“My ears have always worked well enough,” Richard says, amusement dancing in the eyes Anne never found funny, but rather lovely. 

 

“It seems your memory does, too,” Anne adds when her sister says nothing, just barely managing to stifle a laugh.

 

A sardonic smile plays about Isabel’s lips, but she fights it valiantly. “Clearly,” she agrees, tilting her head thoughtfully. “And perhaps you have.”

 

From the corner of her eye, she can see how Henry’s brows draw together at Isabel and Richard’s banter; it approaches flirtation, but not quite.

 

Once Richard’s presence ceased to remind her only of George’s absence, Isabel drew some comfort from it, enough that Margaret briefly considered – much to Anne’s horror – having Isabel marry Richard instead before deciding it was better strategy to have her marry into the Tudor family itself. Besides, the dispensation that would be required for such a marriage would be far too costly.

 

“You lack only humility now, Dickon,” Isabel concludes haughtily.

 

Richard nods, smirking slightly at the barbed compliment. “I am not yet thirty; I have time to learn that too.”

 

“I suppose you do,” Isabel allows.

 

“Though I rather think I don’t wish to,” he continues seriously.

 

Both Anne and her sister finally give in to quiet laughter but say nothing further and Richard bows to Anne, holding out his hand as the new set begins. “Will you oblige me, Your Grace?”

 

“Anne,” she reminds him firmly.

 

He smiles then, a smile nearly as sweet as that of her memories, and repeats the invitation more softly, for her ears only. “Will you, Anne?”

 

Smiling herself, she accepts it, thanking God for her sister.

Chapter Text

It is the first of many dances throughout the nights of feasting.

 

It is all new, moving through the steps deliberately rather than going through the motions, savoring each touch, looking Richard full in the eyes without looking away because she does not want him to see her heart in hers, unmindful of everyone else swirling about them.

 

Now, she wants him to see and she prays that he understands.

 

---

 

January 1482

 

She thinks that Richard does understand, because when the music fades away as supper begins to be served on Twelfth Night, he follows her when she chooses to walk towards a side door rather than immediately join her husband and her mother-in-law at the high table.

 

Instinctively, he offers his arm, still grinning and flushed from the lively steps of the saltarello.

 

---

 

Once they come to a halt in the cooler corridor, she leans against Richard, her head against his shoulder, until she feels him stiffen ever so slightly.

 

“Oh – I –” She can feel herself flush and knows it is no longer from exertion. She raises her head at once. “Got carried away.” She is embarrassed, she is –

 

“Carried away how?” Richard asks lowly and there is something in his tone that freezes her humiliation in its tracks.

 

She turns her head to look at him. “With what might have been,” she says softly.

 

“And what is that?” he asks, moving so that he is standing directly in front of her.

 

Instinctively, she leans back against the wall. “That we –” She looks down, then looks up at him through lowered lashes. “Might have been like this always.”

 

He leans closer, but does not touch her. “How?”

 

She wraps her arms around his neck. “Like this.” Their faces are close, if only he would bend his head –

 

And then he does, and he is kissing her and she is kissing back, and it is unlike anything she has ever experienced before. She feels it all over and she wonders, in the back of her mind, if she has ever been kissed properly until this night. Edward does not particularly like to kiss her and, in the rare instances he has, it has never, never been like this. She thinks no more after that until she feels Richard pull back and attempts to chase his mouth, until she realizes he is only kissing down her jaw, then her neck –

 

And then he stops, breathing harshly, and her eyes slam open, her skin already feeling the absence of his lips. He stares at her with wide eyes. “We can’t – you are – this is wrong.”

 

Her heart sinks as he turns to leave her, but on pure instinct, she grabs at his hand. “Is it wrong to want to be happy?”

 

He turns back towards her and shakes his head sadly. “Of course not. But you are a married woman, and the queen.”

 

And queens rarely ever get to be happy.

 

“Since the day I married into Lancaster, I never have been. These moments with you are the first in a very long time that I could remember what it was like.” It is the most truthful thing she has said in years.

 

When they were children, Richard always liked to think himself a chivalrous knight in shining armor.

 

She hopes he will want to save her now, make her feel free when she is trapped by the throne her father died to place her upon.

 

The look in his eyes as he bows to her and walks away gives her reason to.

 

---

 

And so Jacquetta told me that whatever I had done to conceive a child, it was worth it. That nothing would be a sin that gave England an heir.

 

But the next morning, she prays as she has not in a very long time. She knows not what she does anymore. She is a married woman, even if she is a very unhappy one, and she is queen. She has a double duty of loyalty to her husband.

 

Even if she despises and fears him.

 

But is her greater duty to England, to ensuring the stability of the realm? 

 

And to her sister and herself, to ensuring they will not lose the places that have cost them so much, when they have nothing else?

 

God is silent, and her conscience is troubled.

 

---

 

She frowns so when she returns to her rooms that Isabel suggests a walk, to the horror of her other ladies; two of them go to the window to fearfully eye the snow that fell overnight.

 

“Don’t be ninnies; we know you are such delicate flowers that the queen will not invite you to walk with her till spring,” Isabel says impatiently, motioning for a maid to fetch their cloaks and gloves and help them with their boots. 

 

---

 

“Now why are you sullen?” Isabel demands once they are out of doors, arms linked together.

 

“You know why,” she says significantly.

 

“Has anything happened?”

 

“No. Not really,” she elaborates – a lie, because she is trying to forget the kiss that made her feel things she had never felt before. “Only that I am afraid it’s a terrible idea, Iz. That it would be an awful mistake.”

 

Isabel sighs. “It may be, but –”

 

She hears a shout of laughter and turns toward it, Isabel following. Her heart cracks, dissolves, and puts itself back together at the sight before her.

 

Richard and his children and Cecily, all pink-cheeked, are engaged in a very fierce snowball fight. Mary watches from a bench, looking very proper and grown up, but a little tired and rather disappointed to be missing out on the fun.

 

It seems the teams are Johnny and Katherine against Richard and Cecily, but when Richard notices their presence and stops to wave to them, calling “Good morning!”, the children take advantage of his distraction. Johnny tackles him into the snow, the element of surprise making up for Johnny’s disadvantage in size. Once Richard is down, the girls pelt him with snowballs.

 

“Oh my,” Isabel says, lips twitching, but she cannot stop herself from laughing.

 

Nor can Anne, and they laugh even harder and the children with them, when Richard finally gets to his feet, looking vaguely disoriented and utterly disgruntled.

 

“I think you’ve been rather hard on him,” Isabel manages to say to the children once they’ve calmed themselves. “For now my lord of Gloucester rather resembles a very cross drowned rat.”

 

Johnny laughs again and the girls – even Mary – smirk.

 

“Perhaps he’ll be less sullen after you’ve all warmed up. My maid will have a fire ready in my apartments and breakfast enough for us all, if you would like to join us,” Isabel offers.

 

---

 

It is a lovely morning and Anne only wishes Isabel’s apartments were at Warwick Castle, not Westminster, that Richard were her husband, the children her stepchildren and nieces, and Isabel their loving aunt.

 

But Anne never gets what she wishes for.

Chapter Text

February 1482

 

Even as she wrestles with her conscience, with whether what she means to do is the right thing, she is not sure how she will do it if she does do it.

 

Much to Isabel’s displeasure, who joins her whenever Edward does not share her bed – and he so rarely does these days, despite their urgent need for an heir – the swirl of her thoughts does not allow her to sleep easy. Eventually, once Isabel has finally managed to sleep, she rises carefully from her bed and puts on her warmest cloak and boots herself. She struggles with the boots and is quickly annoyed with how spoilt she has become, too used to having Isabel or her maids to help her dress; even as the Earl of Warwick’s daughter, she was not so very spoiled.

 

But finally she manages it and rises from her bed, grabbing a lighted lantern to guide her until she reaches the gardens and can find her way by moonlight.

 

---

 

It seems she is not the only one unable to sleep.

 

“Of all the places to run into you, Your Grace,” Richard says softly when he looks up and sees it is her.

 

“And you.”

 

“You should not be alone, so late.”

 

“I am not alone; you are here.”

 

“But you didn’t know I would be,” he says seriously.

 

“That is true,” she admits. “But I could not sleep and I do think Isabel might have smothered me if I continued to prevent her from sleeping, too.”

 

Looking bemused, Richard opens his mouth, but then closes it, as if thinking better of what he meant to say.

 

“And you?”

 

“Nor could I.”

 

“What troubles you?” His brow is creased so that she knows he must be as troubled as she is.

 

“As always seems to be the case whenever I return to court, there are matches to be considered.”

 

For the girls, of course. Of course, although he could yet marry – “For Mary?”

 

“And Kate. I suspect I’ll have little choice in the matter in Mary’s case; the dowager queen is pushing the Earl of Shrewsbury very hard.”

 

Shrewsbury is Buckingham’s cousin and Buckingham is rather closer to Margaret Beaufort than Margaret is comfortable with, from the days when she was married to Buckingham’s uncle Sir Henry Stafford. In giving Shrewsbury the sizable dowry Richard has settled on each of his nieces and his daughter, Margaret means to win the young earl’s loyalty as she’d once had his father’s.  

 

He sighs. “It’s strange to think that I was capable of commanding armies when I was still a boy and yet I feel completely out of my depth negotiating betrothals as a man.”

 

She is touched that he would share his doubts with her; Richard was never especially open with his thoughts when they were younger, being rather shy and wanting to live up to his golden older brothers. “They are a very serious business,” she says with what she hopes is an encouraging smile. “A battle lasts a day; a marriage lasts till death. But you cannot choose badly if you put Kate’s interests and happiness first.” Above your ambitions, whatever they may be. Unlike my father.

 

“I want to do better by Kate, and by Cecily when the time comes, than I did for Elizabeth. Sometimes I fear I made a poor choice for her,” he confesses, before stiffening as if realizing to whom he speaks. Tudor is her husband’s heir.

 

“I don’t particularly care for the Tudors,” she confides. “His uncle is not a good husband to Isabel. Nor does Margaret. If she didn’t fear you so, she would have had Isabel marry you instead.”

 

“Me? Marry Isabel?” Richard’s voice goes as high as when he was a boy, before the deepening of manhood, as though it were a most terrifying idea that could still come to pass.

 

Anne laughs. “It was a mad scheme. Luckily she saw reason.”

 

“Ah. Of course.” Richard clears his throat. “Well, there was only ever one Neville girl I saw myself marrying.”

 

“And there was only ever one Neville girl who saw herself marrying you,” she says softly. She shakes her head.

 

“I like to think we would have been very happy.” His heart is in his eyes, and she knows her own is in hers.  

 

“I like to think so, too. We would have lived at Middleham,” she adds, inexplicably moved to share her vision of the life they might have lived, the other life she imagines far too often.

 

“And filled it with siblings for Kate and Johnny.”

 

She bites her lip, suddenly feeling rather like crying, and surprises herself with a confession. “It seems ridiculous to me now, but when I first met them . . . I thought they were sweet children, but I – I was jealous.”

 

“Jealous?” Richard asks, looking bemused.

 

“I know it’s ridiculous that – that I am married and bound to another man till death and yet –” She flushes and looks away. “It broke my heart to see you loved others.”

 

“I did not.”

 

“Did not –?” she echoes uncomprehendingly.

 

“Love others. I certainly bedded others –” He breaks off, flushing. “But I . . .” He trails off and falls silent for so long that she thinks he will not finish the thought. “I have only ever loved you.”

 

Her heart beats faster in her chest as she lifts her head to look up at him. “You do? Truly?”

 

“I do. I think I always have,” he says softly, and she sees the truth in his eyes. “But I knew when I first learned you were to marry Lancaster.”

 

“I only ever wanted to marry you,” she reminds him in a whisper. “If only your brother had said yes when my father asked.”

 

“If only,” he echoes just as quietly.

 

How different their lives would be: Edward would still reign – perhaps with a new queen if it remained Elizabeth Woodville’s fate to perish in childbed – and his daughters would have stayed princesses; George would still live, as would Isabel’s baby boy if Father had never had a motive to rebel against Edward, and Isabel could have been happy; Anne herself would be the Duchess of Gloucester rather than Queen of England and the child she might have had would be heir to a dukedom and her share of the Neville fortune rather than the Prince of Wales and future king of England.

 

Perhaps she would be a terrible mother, but even knowing that the crown would never rest on the head of the son she so desperately needs should her desired fate with Richard have come to pass instead can stop her from wishing she could undo all the mistakes of others that led them to where they are now, for surely in that other life she would have been the happiest of women.

 

She sees that other life in Richard’s fathomless eyes and this time it is she who kisses him.

Chapter Text

February 1482

 

They are reckless, but not too reckless – they meet secretly at night in the gardens, trysts arranged in notes exchanged through Isabel. Sometimes Richard joins her for supper in her rooms when she is meant to be eating alone, hiding behind the door as the dishes are brought in; they polish the rich food off so thoroughly that the servants must all think their queen has grown greedy.

 

---

 

It takes some time, but she grows so comfortable that Richard’s embrace feels like home – only a home that is far better than she remembered or indeed dreamed it could be after years of a loveless marriage bed. She thinks that this is how it was meant to be, how it ought to have been, how it would have been all these years if Elizabeth Woodville had not turned the king against her father and he had not rebelled when he was shut out of the corridors of power by the rising Rivers.

 

---

 

August 1482

 

One day during the hot, sticky weeks of August, Margaret comes to her rooms, as she sometimes does, to ask simply, “Have you any news for me, daughter?”

 

She hates to be reminded of why has allowed herself to reach for the man she loves after so many years of unhappiness. “No,” she lies unhappily. Always that has been the truth, but this time . . .

 

This time, she wants to keep tucked close as long as she can the precious secret of which she is nearly certain – for she has not bled in two months, she spends miserable mornings hunched over her chamber pot with Isabel holding her hair and rubbing her back, and her breasts are so sensitive that she bats away even Richard’s gentlest touch.

 

You have all the signs, Isabel told her in a hushed whisper.

 

“But I assure you I am trying.” She will never say openly what Margaret has asked of her.

 

Nor will Margaret, with her knowing dark eyes. “Are you? Have you truly taken my words to heart?”

 

“I know them by heart,” Anne retorts with some annoyance. “That whatever I do to conceive a child, it is worth it, and nothing would be a sin that gave England an heir.”

 

“I will send an herbalist to see you,” Margaret says briskly.

 

“Another?” she groans. She cannot help herself.

 

“Another, and as many others after as it takes.” Margaret departs without another word.

 

When she gratefully closes the door behind Margaret, she nearly jumps to see Richard pressed back against the wall, paler than she has ever seen him.

 

“Richard,” she says faintly.

 

“Let me guess. The king cannot get you with child and you need a son to secure your place, so you seduced me,” Richard says accusingly, his beloved eyes blue ice.

 

“Richard –” Suddenly she cannot even say his name without crying; her emotions are so terribly, violently strong.

 

“No,” he interrupts coldly. “Don’t try to distract me with false tears.”

 

“They are not and I – I don’t seek to distract you. I didn’t mean to –”

 

“I’ll give you some credit; perhaps – perhaps you wouldn’t have done it if Margaret hadn’t put the idea in your head, told you to take a lover as she did – she must have done,” he says half-disbelievingly. “And to put a false heir on the throne as she did.”

 

“I only – It’s true that England needs an heir. But it’s also true that I love you. I –”

 

“You don’t know the meaning of the word, Your Grace.” He spits the honorific like a curse. “You don’t treat someone you love this way.”

 

“I cannot bear to lose you now,” she says desperately. Perhaps if she tells him – perhaps he won’t be so cold. Perhaps –

 

“Why not now?” he asks stiffly. “Because you have not got what you wanted yet? Because you need me to try a little harder to –”

 

She shakes her head desperately. “Because I have,” she breathes and reaches for his hand, hoping the gesture will speak for her everything else she cannot say.

 

But then his face twists and he wrenches his hand away, as though her touch has burned him, before she can guide it to her belly and she realizes it was exactly the wrong thing to say.

 

Richard!” she cries.

 

“You’re making a scene,” he says, too calmly. “You must be quiet or else everyone will know the truth and all your scheming will be for naught.”

 

She cannot bear the mocking tone in his voice, or the cold, ceremonious grace with which he bows and murmurs, “Your servant, Your Grace” before he leaves her, lips pressed into a flat, angry line. Once she is alone, she dissolves into the tears he accused her of trying to manipulate him with.

 

He leaves that very night and Isabel must guess enough of what has happened that she ushers Anne to her bed and summons Margaret’s army of physicians and herbalists to tend to her, who press all sorts of calming draughts and concoctions upon her.

 

---

 

November 1482

 

Anne weeps often because the man she loves hates her now, perhaps hates her even more than her husband ever has. Yet she cannot regret what she has done as the days and weeks pass and her belly grows. She thinks there has never been a woman in all the realm more pleased to grow heavier.

 

But it is not real until the first true kick, when she can reach for Isabel, who is closest, and press her hand tight against her belly. When it was just the small flutters only she could feel, she wondered whether she only felt what she wished to.

 

“Oh Annie. That’s – Annie,” Isabel laughs and smiles through tears, embracing her. Poor Isabel still has no child of her own.

 

And then Anne cries, because as much as she loves her sister, it is not Isabel she wished to have at her side and it is not the king she wishes to go to now to share this with.

 

---

 

March 1483

 

When her baby is about to make its way into the world, she grabs desperately at her sister. “If something should happen to me –”

 

“Nothing –”

 

“Isabel –”

 

Isabel bites her lip, holding back whatever she meant to say.

 

“If it is a boy . . .” She chokes back a sob. “They would ruin him,” she gasps with pain. “And a girl they would scorn. You must –”

 

Isabel nods frantically. “I would raise your baby as my own, love – But all will be well, you’ll see.”

 

From Isabel’s lips to God’s ear. Please. She screams.

Chapter Text

January 1482

 

Anne looks at Gloucester differently now, not looking away like a dreamy girl when he looks at her after feeling her gaze upon him, but staring boldly back like a woman who knows what she wants. Like a lover.

 

It is obvious, too, to Marguerite when things changed irrevocably. Anne and Gloucester can scarcely hide it from her knowing gaze. Yet rather than make her angry – it is what she wanted, what her house needs – it only makes her wistful for Edmund.

 

---

 

September 1482

 

In the months that have passed since she first put it into Anne’s head to take a lover, nothing has happened – nothing that pleases Marguerite, only things that anger her.

 

The worst of those is that Countess of Richmond is with child again. She says she expects the baby sometime before Christmas and Tudor and his mother cannot hide their self-satisfied glee at the stupid girl’s unnatural fecundity.

 

Marguerite, on the other hand . . . she knows not what passes between Gloucester and her daughter-in-law, but after eight months at court, eight long months during which Marguerite despaired to see Anne’s belly remain as flat as ever, the fool has fled to the comfort of his lonely northern moors and Marguerite fumes, cursing him unto eternity.

 

But it does not take long after the fool’s departure for Isabel Neville, who acts as her sister’s chief lady-in-waiting, to bring Marguerite most welcome news, news that has her, to her own amusement, thanking God for Gloucester on bended knee in chapel.

 

---

 

December 1482

 

If Marguerite had not already known the truth of Gloucester and her daughter-in-law’s hearts, he would have given himself away to her when he returns to court some time after Anne’s long-awaited pregnancy is announced and celebrated.

 

Officially, Gloucester is visiting at Coldharbour to stand as godfather to the Countess of Richmond’s daughter, named for her late sister Lady Mary. His eyes burn with something strange and hot as he bows and kisses Anne’s hands. “Your Grace, I pray your child is a son to follow my cousin on his throne,” he tells her with what seems utmost sincerity.

 

Henry had always called Gloucester cousin after he swore fealty and, however little Edward liked it – however little Gloucester liked it either – it was too ingrained a habit on both ends by the time Henry died to change it without raising eyebrows. And of course, Cousin Richard wishes for a York boy, his boy, to follow Edward on his throne, but Marguerite cares not. The boy may be York in flesh and blood, but she will make him Lancaster in heart and soul.

 

Flushing, Anne murmurs something meaningless before turning her attention to the next courtier, anxiously smoothing her dress over the prominent curve of her belly.

 

The very next morning, Gloucester returns to the more congenial company of his nieces at Coldharbour. While the Countess of Richmond has yet to be churched, Lady Cecily will undoubtedly cosset their bachelor uncle endlessly. His sulk will rival the one Henry Tudor must have indulged in when he learned that Anne was with child and again after his wife gave birth to a girl rather than another son.

 

Marguerite laughs to think of it, and laughs with happiness at Edward’s delight in the blessing so utterly unexpected after ten years of waiting. He does not, thank God, suspect anything amiss, has no reason to think they did anything wrong to get an heir for England.

 

Gloucester does not return to court for the duration of his stay in London. According to Isabel Neville, he departs for his estates after the New Year, and it is the greatest relief to Marguerite.

 

---

 

March 1483

 

When Anne gives birth to a strong, dark-haired boy that Marguerite names Edward, Marguerite is relieved to see that the little prince’s coloring is not dissimilar to her own son Edward’s and his blue eyes could easily be Anne’s.

 

Young Prince Edward – called Ned – has King Louis, the Duke of Buckingham, the Earl of Richmond, his grandmother the Dowager Queen, and his aunt the Countess of Pembroke as his godparents.

 

---

 

February 1484

 

Gloucester avoids London for over a year, returning with his niece Lady Cecily only to attend the christening of the thrice-damned Countess of Richmond’s second son, Edward.

 

“For the king and our prince,” Tudor tells her, but this time it is his smile that is brittle.

 

For Edward of York, Marguerite thinks maliciously.

 

Gloucester is silent and she finds herself remembering the first time she laid eyes upon him after her return to England, when he returned to bend the knee to Henry through Anne’s intercession.

 

That very first moment, she had blanched at the sight of the former Duke of Gloucester, assaulted by the sudden, foolish notion that York had risen from the grave seeking vengeance for himself and young Rutland, for Edward his heir and for Clarence. But then, when the foolish fancy cleared, then . . . oh, how she burned with rage at the sight of York’s youngest son – another Richard Plantagenet to plague her, to threaten the royal house with his very existence. Only this one possessed Cecily Neville’s unassailable composure, the grave, serious look belying his youth.

 

Now, he looks tired; in one year, he looks as if he has aged several. It has not been an easy one for him.

 

She keeps close enough eyes on the man to know of his bastard children’s sad ends: to know that John fell from his horse and broke his neck; to know that Katherine, wedded the month before her brother’s death, died only a handful of months later of a miscarriage after the bleeding would not cease.

 

But once he is in London, not even mournful Gloucester dares to miss the court celebrations for the first birthday of the heir to the throne, nor Ned’s investiture as Prince of Wales three days later. There is something tender in his eyes when he looks at Ned, a wistful hunger that Marguerite thought only existed in childless women until she saw it in her Edmund’s eyes, though at least Edmund had a slew of other children he could acknowledge as his own.

 

It is the first time she pities the last son of York.

 

---

 

January 1485

 

In keeping with her promise, Marguerite has finally organized a grand coronation for Anne, the uncrowned queen.

 

Among the scores of nobles in attendance is Gloucester and his eyes, like theirs, are only for the queen, but the look in his is hardly the same. His burning gaze could scorch the earth.

 

Anne, of course, is more discreet. But at the banquet and every day after, she looks at him, too, and they are the looks of old, lover’s looks.

 

Quite against her will, Marguerite is surprisingly fond of little Ned, but the queen militant she was for so many years knows that children are sadly fragile, that she is a very fortunate woman to have seen her only son survive to manhood and kingship.

 

Anne would do well to give Ned a brother, another prince for England.

Chapter Text

March 1483

 

“My boy,” she whispers. “My precious boy.

 

When you have a son, your father will have put a boy of Warwick – a Neville – on the throne of England. He is the kingmaker indeed, and you will be the mother of a king . . .

 

Her son, her father’s grandson, will be King of England.

 

Somewhere behind her, Isabel is weeping and laughing.

 

---

 

February 1484

 

She knows that her father is watching his grandson invested as Prince of Wales today, and that in heaven he knows that his struggle has ended, at last, in victory. The Kingmaker has made a prince of his grandson. There will be a Warwick boy on the throne of England.

 

A York boy, too.

 

At the feast after Ned’s investiture as Prince of Wales, Richard swears his fealty as every other great lord of the realm does that day. “Your Grace, I swear to be your loyal and faithful servant from this day until the day I die,” he vows to their little son on bended knee without batting an eye, without the faintest flicker of emotion.

 

---

 

December 1484

 

When Richard finally returns to court in the weeks before her coronation, Anne goes to his private rooms, as she used to during the happy months before she conceived, before he realized what she was doing, determined to wait for him in his solar as long as need be.

 

She has not seen Richard privately since they parted so terribly and he was so strange when they last spoke, so hot and cold when he told her he wished her child was a boy to follow Edward on his throne. Her last glimpse of him had been at the feast after Ned’s investiture as Prince of Wales.

 

Now, he will have to see her; she is the queen and will be crowned in a matter of days.

 

---

 

Seeing that she is alone, she wanders past the empty solar toward his bedchamber.

 

But Richard is there and he is not alone. Tears fill her eyes as she sees him with another, none other than one of her husband’s women, the lovely Mistress Shore, who is so unlike the sort of woman she believed Richard favored.

 

The look on the other woman’s face is blissful until her eyes fix upon Anne, just as Anne is about to depart in silence. “Your Grace!” she exclaims.

 

Richard looks up then, lifting his lips from Mistress Shore’s neck to turn his head toward her.

 

“I was not told you had company, my lord,” she says stiffly, directing her words at Richard. “’Tis a matter of state, but it can wait,” she adds, proud of herself for the lie. She does not want Mistress Shore to suspect anything. “I will go now, of course,” she adds after a moment of silence.

 

“No, Your Grace, I shall. I am sorry,” Mistress Shore says at once, as though she were intruding upon Anne’s privacy rather than Anne upon hers with Richard.

 

“Jane –” Richard begins.

 

“I will go,” she insists and Anne turns her head as she heads out into the solar, to spare the other woman her gaze as she gathers her clothes.

 

---

 

“It must be a very important matter of state for you to seek me out in my bedchamber,” Richard says sardonically, joining her in his solar when they are finally alone.

 

She could not very well leave without staying to speak with him after what she had told Mistress Shore.

 

“What could it be possibly be?”

 

In this moment, she hates him, viciously. It has been more than two years since she has had so much as a single private word with him and this is how he treats her, with such biting sarcasm?

 

Only half-dressed – the laces of his tunic still undone, offering a glimpse of his strong chest, Richard rubs thoughtfully at his chin. “Ah, I know! Have you decided it’s time to make another prince for England?” Before she even has an opportunity to answer, he lifts the tunic over his head, tossing it carelessly aside. “I am, as ever, your servant, Your Grace. Shall we return to my –”

 

“Do you love her?” she demands angrily, interrupting his taunting. “You lay with her like you loved her,” she adds accusingly when Richard says nothing. She knows she has no right to question him or make demands, for she is not his wife, or even his lover any longer; she has no claim to his loyalty. But she does not care.

 

“God help her, if I treat those I claim to love as you do,” he mutters. 

 

“So you do?”

 

He says nothing and it is so utterly maddening she half-wishes to strangle him.

 

“How is it that I –”

 

“You acted as though you wanted me, cared for me, all so –”

 

“I did, I do –

 

“Let me finish,” he says harshly. “You lay with me to get a child you knew I could never claim. You knew I must see him always call another man father, call the woman who tore my father apart grandmother, and you did it anyway.”

 

“Oh, love,” she says, voice scarcely above a whisper, for she loves him still; she cannot help it, even if he does love another now. With the loss of John and Kate so fresh, it must be unbearable. Ned is her only joy and solace and she will never regret him, but in that moment she hates herself again for hurting Richard. “I am sorry.”

 

He says nothing.

 

“You told me once that I would be a good mother and I thought to myself that I hoped I would be, but that I would not be a happy mother. That I would have been a happy mother to your children.”

 

He tenses.

 

“But in the years after, I despaired of having any child. And so I feel doubly fortunate to have Ned. He is the greatest blessing of my life and I love him with all my heart. And so I cannot regret what I did. But I never wished to hurt you and I deeply regret causing you pain. For that . . . for that, I am so very sorry.”

 

“I know,” Richard finally says, quite unwillingly.

 

It is a small step, but she dares to hope that his heart will not always be so hardened to her.

Chapter Text

The night before her coronation, Anne does not sleep alone. Isabel sleeps just outside her bedchamber, prepared to say that her sister is anxious and wished to be let alone, but that she did not wish to leave her should anyone question her.

 

Instead, it is Richard who joins her within. Their bodies find again the accord their hearts have not quite reached, but it is different between them now and it is not a bad thing. They were reckless and desperate before; now, they savor that which they have both missed.

 

But even the exquisite physical pleasure is unmatched by the warmth in her heart when, in the throes of passion, Richard uncharacteristically blurts out, “God, I love you.”

 

“And no other?” she asks, surprising herself. She does not like to show weakness to anyone, not even Richard when all was right between them.

 

“Only you. Always you,” he grunts.

 

She is so very close to her peak and those words take her over the edge.

 

When they have come down and they lie together in the afterglow of their lovemaking, tangled together in the rumpled sheets and furs, she sees something raw and vulnerable in Richard’s face and realizes that she did not echo his words, though her feelings remain the same. She lifts her head from his chest, tilting her chin up to look at him properly and reaching out to stroke his jaw. “Know that your words made me very happy,” she begins, voice trembling slightly. “Because there never has been and there will never be any man for me but you.”

 

She is rewarded with his rare, beautiful smile and she knows she has not been so happy since she first held their son in her arms, or so at peace since she was last held fast in the safe circle of his.  

 

---

 

“Do you want another?” Richard asks softly a long while later, when she awakens after dozing off, his hand sliding from her hip to spread over her belly. 

 

“Always,” she says with the faintest smirk, curving her body sinuously against his.

 

He swallows hard and it pleases her to see her effect upon him. “I mean another child.”

 

Tonight, he was careful not to spill within her, pulling away the critical moment. She’d balked during their first liaison when he tried to withdraw, saying that she did not wish to be treated like a whore when the truth was she justified her betrayal of her vows with England’s need for an heir and she could hardly get with child that way. But now there is Ned. Though deep down she would love to have another child, other children, now that she has borne a son for England and for herself, her boy to whom she gives all her mother’s love (love enough for a half-dozen children), she will not ask for more. She will not use Richard again; she will not wound him again.

 

She sits up, startled. “I – you were so angry with me about Ned –”

 

He sighs. “Yes, but he should not be alone. It is hard to be alone in this world,” he continues solemnly.

 

She knows he thinks of Edward then and Edmund who died so very young and George, of his dead sisters, and even of Duchess Margaret, who lives but is lost to him now that her husband has allied with Anne’s.

 

“And he gives you such joy, but he must rule in Wales someday and I wish always to see you happy.” He pushes back the strand of hair that has fallen into her eyes so that she cannot avoid his gaze. “Would that make you happy?”

 

“Yes,” she admits after a long moment. “The only thing that would make me happier is being free to be your wife and that –”

 

“That is not to be,” he finishes sadly, running a gentle hand along her cheek.

 

“You would truly give me another child, Richard?”

 

Besides how it pains him never to be able to call Ned his son, to see him call Margaret grandmother, she knew when he parted that it must have troubled him for honor’s sake that she used him to make an illegitimate heir for England. Richard is an honorable, chivalrous man whose faith is strong. Of course, he is also a man like any other, with a man’s needs, as his liaison with Mistress Shore and the existences of John and Kate plainly showed, but bedding a queen whose sons will be in the line of succession and whose daughters will be beloved as princesses knowing that she wished a child from their affair was perhaps too much.

 

But in so many ways it is not truly wrong; the York claim is stronger than the Lancaster claim, and so she has not done ill by putting a York-blooded boy next in line for the throne.

 

“Truly.”

 

She kisses him, and he takes her again, and recklessly she hopes for another child with his dark curls or his eyes, another child as sweet as Ned.

 

Oh, how she hopes.

 

---

 

October 1485

 

Naturally, Margaret of Anjou will be godmother to her namesake, a lovely baby with a thatch of dark hair and the purest blue eyes imaginable. Another Margaret – Lady Stanley – will stand as baby Meg’s second godmother and, at the suggestion of her namesake, Meg will have Richard for her godfather.

 

“It will look as though you trust him now after years of good behavior and are rewarding him, giving him this honor. We must keep our enemies close,” Margaret tells Edward when he frowns at the idea.

 

Edward’s sadistic streak sometimes flares up unexpectedly; he might say no simply because he thinks it will please Anne, even if the idea was his mother’s, because he remembers how she pleaded for Richard with King Henry years ago. Usually, he remains mostly indifferent to her, but he resents how long it took for there to be a child and that Meg is not another boy. He has never stopped to think the fault might be his own, as even his mother concluded – rightly, Anne is nearly certain, for not one of his mistresses has ever gotten with child – years ago.

 

But the petulant look – its childishness a sharp contrast to the circles under his eyes and the weary lines that bracket his mouth, produced by the cares of a grown man, of a king – fades from Edward’s face and he waves his hand indifferently. “She is only a girl, so I suppose it makes no difference. You would have done better to give me another son, Anne.”

 

She is just barely able to bite her tongue, but she has vowed to herself to do her best not to provoke her husband.

 

“Another prince would have been a very fine thing, but princesses are also useful; we secure alliances through our marriages,” Margaret, herself a French princess by birth, reminds her son, one protective hand on Meg’s cradle.

 

Edward, already on his feet, nods distractedly, pausing only to pull out a handkerchief on his way out the door. She can hear him cough in her empty antechamber; like his mother, he likes to pretend he is a man of ice and stone, not plagued by the little illnesses, the aches and pains – colds, headaches, toothaches – that trouble mere mortals.

 

Anne is not sure if it is kindness or cruelty that motivated her mother-in-law, but the honor will allow Richard to take an interest in Meg without raising overmuch suspicion.

Chapter Text

December 1485

 

A month after Anne’s churching and Meg’s christening, Edward falls ill.

 

Though Anne does not love her husband, she is horrified the day he cannot stifle a cough whilst they sit together on their thrones when she sees that his handkerchief is stained bright red with blood after he draws it away from his mouth and notices how feverishly bright his eyes are. 

 

The end comes so quickly that it is all over before any of them can truly understand what has happened. That very night, Edward burns with fever, half-delirious and wracked by a deep cough that nothing can calm; two days later he is dead of consumption, alone but for his mother, who ignored the physicians’ warnings that she must stay away to avoid infection.

 

Anne was not so dutiful as to risk death; she has two young children and their purported father was dying. Even if she had loved him, she could not afford to die with him. She feels only pity for Margaret and fear for herself and her children; Ned is not yet three, so very young to bear the weight of a crown. What shall become of them, of England?

 

And when my husband dies, my son Edward, the kingmaker’s grandson, will be king in his turn, and the House of Warwick will be the royal house of England . . .

 

---

 

With the singular purpose of her life lying cold in a coffin in Westminster Abbey, any other woman might have fallen apart. But Margaret of Anjou is no other woman and she draws strength from the contents of her son’s last will and testament, stating that she is to be regent during Ned’s minority.

 

But the council and Parliament will not have it. They do not want a woman as regent at all, but no one wants Jasper or Henry Tudor or even Buckingham as Lord Protector; Ned would never truly be safe from them, for all that Jasper is his great-uncle by “blood” and uncle by marriage. If it must needs be a woman, it will not be the she-wolf of Anjou when a good Englishwoman is available; the council and Parliament’s support is thrown behind Anne to override Edward’s will and name her regent instead.

 

---

 

Anne fought Edward and Margaret on their plan to marry her sister to Jasper Tudor and resented them for carrying on with it despite her objections. Even now, she considers using her power as Regent to press the Pope to annul the marriage once things have calmed.

 

But it may be Isabel’s presence amidst the Tudors that will save them and save Ned’s reign, for Isabel painstakingly copies out the most damning passage of her husband’s latest letter to Lady Stanley and sends it to Anne with one of Margaret’s spies in the Pembroke household, the one whose identity she knows, for Anne is certain there must be another. For once, the woman brings it directly to her, bypassing Margaret entirely.

 

By the time she is done reading Isabel’s letter, her hands shake so badly that she nearly drops the single sheet.

 

Even if Edward was truly my brother Henry’s son – and I was never easy in my mind on that score – our so-called king is certainly not his seed. My sweet sister the queen is as treacherous as her father, as un-womanly as the she-wolf of Anjou. God strike me down if her boy isn’t Gloucester’s get.

 

Seize this moment and I will do all I can to support you. For I will never give up. That I promise.

 

God bless you and keep you safe from harm.

 

At the end Isabel had, characteristically, appended Burn this.

 

---

 

“I am afraid,” she whispers that night as Richard reads Isabel’s letter, frown deepening.

 

With Isabel remaining at her husband’s side to learn all she can until she no longer can, there is no one she can trust at court save Richard and Richard may well be her – be Ned’s – downfall if anyone believes Jasper Tudor.

 

“What if Margaret sides with them against us?” she asks anxiously. “We will be lost.”

 

“Why would she?” Richard asks, sounding maddeningly reasonable. “She asked you to – this would tell her nothing new.”

 

“Yes, but she may not abide my taking power over her; you have seen yourself how angry she is!”

 

Think, Anne! Ned’s very life may depend on it. Margaret will have even less power if she turns against you. If Ned keeps the throne, she is grandmother to a king; if Henry Tudor takes it, she is nothing. They might have been allies once, when their goal was to wrest England from my family, but now the Tudors despise and distrust her as she does them, so she has nothing to gain from supporting them. I have no love for her and I never will, but you cannot turn on each other now, or the children will lose everything, and you and I quite probably our heads.”

 

“We’ll flee,” she says desperately, her first thought after hearing the children will lose everything and you and I quite probably our heads.

 

“It will not come to that,” he vows. “Go to her, speak of it as a threat to you both. Show her Isabel’s letter; she can see for herself how Jasper Tudor speaks of her, that the Tudors will be no friends of hers.”

 

She nods. “You’re right. Of course you’re right.”

 

---

 

January 1486

 

They learn that Henry Tudor began raising men in an attempt to wrest the throne from them before Edward even breathed his last, claiming to all who might listen that the Prince of Wales was illegitimate and no true Lancaster, but instead the queen’s bastard by a secret lover. It was perhaps in deference to his wife, who loves her uncle, that Tudor himself did not point openly to Richard, but enough others did that the accusation has spread far and wide by the time they learn of it.

 

Mercifully, in the end, Richard truly is right: Margaret will do anything to hold onto what power remains to her and she will have none from the Tudors, for Margaret Beaufort would lord over one and all as the king’s mother. Tudor’s rebellion is enough to make her cease her squabbling with Anne, the council, and Parliament at once and agree to support Anne as Regent. Her only other choice would be to throw in her lot with Tudor and that Margaret will not do.

 

---

 

“What if we should lose?” Anne asks, hating even to think it, the eve before Richard leaves court. He goes north to raise an army to stand against the Tudors; Francis Lovell, who trained with Richard under her father at Middleham, and some other men who have remained loyal to Richard personally rather than to York – though all outwardly loyal Lancastrians – have chosen to follow him into battle, thinking he will be in danger from the Tudors’ slander and treason otherwise, and to raise forces of their own for the fight.

 

“You will flee,” he says matter-of-factly. “If I should fall –”

 

Her heart squeezes in her chest. “Richard –”

 

“If I should fall,” he repeats. “And Francis live, he will help you. But even if he cannot, if all is lost, Margaret knows the arrangements. You will take Ned and Meg and you will either seek sanctuary with Margaret in France or you will go to Flanders, to my sister at Burgundian court or de Gruuthuse in Bruges.”

 

“Does your sister – does she know? Does he? Does Francis?”

 

He shakes his head. “Of course not. But they will understand well enough. My family has always sent its children to Flanders when we fear ourselves in danger. But do not do it unless you are sure all is lost, absolutely certain Ned will never regain his crown or are truly in fear for your lives.”

 

“For I would prove the rumors true by doing as your family has always done.”

 

He nods.

 

“I am sorry,” she says softly. “You would not have to do any of this, to raise an army against your niece –”

 

He takes her chin gently so that she will look at him, because she is not. “This is not Elizabeth’s fight, or her children’s. It is not your fault that Tudor has rebelled, or hers; it is his own and perhaps mine for ever agreeing that they should marry.”

 

“You did what you thought best for her and for your family,” Anne protests.

 

“I shackled her to a traitor,” he says, eyes full of self-reproach. But then he turns resolute. “This is his fault, his and his damned uncle and mother. It is them we are fighting.”

 

“Still, I put you in this position,” she insists regretfully.

 

“Do not regret it. I don’t.”

 

Any longer, she fills in silently. How?

 

“You are worth it all,” he continues, as if answering the unspoken question. He kisses her then, fiercely, and they speak no more.