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Troth

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I.

Nobody ever told Anne and Richard they were supposed to marry one day; it was a kind of silent understanding amongst all the adults in their lives that they didn't even have to think about until the day it all turned sour, and started to vanish.

To Anne, it had been a certainty almost as great as the sky being blue, or God favouring the just, or that the cause of the just was, of course, the cause of York, since her father, the Earl of Warwick, was the mightiest of all Yorkist supporters. Anne had grown up with tales of how the House of Lancaster consisted of a witless King and an evil Queen whose son could not be the King's as much as she had with stories from the Bible. True, there had been fearful times in her early childhood after her uncle the Duke of York had been defeated by the Lancastrians and beheaded, along with her grandfather, another uncle and a cousin. But Anne had no memories of her grandfather and uncles, while fears for her father turned out to be unfounded: like an heroic knight of legend, he fought at cousin Ned's side, cousin Ned who won the day like Arthur and became King Edward IV, and so all was well. Her father being given the King's youngest brother to raise was just as self evident; they were kin, her father was the noblest lord of the land, and there was no better place for Richard to grow up. And of course they would marry one day. Her mother did not expect to have any more children, so her father would not have any sons. Her sister Isabel and Anne would be his only heirs, which effectively meant the men they'd marry would be, and her father could not choose higher, or better, than the King's younger brothers: George for Isabel, Richard for Anne. And Richard being raised by him meant he could teach him not just to be a knight, but how to be Lord of the North. Nobody ever explained this to Anne because nobody needed to, and she didn't talk with Richard about it because they both took it for granted that the other one knew. He was nearly four years older than she was, which meant he would be a man before she became a woman, and thus the day of marriage would not be that soon, but it would happen, that she never doubted, and she never thought about whether or not she wanted it to. You might as well have asked her whether she wanted to breathe.

It was an October day when the first of the cracks arrived to shake her certainty. She was eight, Richard had just turned twelve, and change was her father returning to Middleham Castle in a fury unequalled to any before in Anne's life. Change was her father shouting in the solar about how their cousin the King, Richard's brother Ned, had shamed him, had made a fool out of him.

"He's made me the laughing stock of England and all for a slut shrewd enough to keep her legs closed to him till he was hot enough to wed her!" Anne's father raged, who'd never spoken like this before in Anne's hearing. In Richard's hearing, too. She looked at her cousin and saw him white faced while her father would not stop. This was a nightmare, surely, all of it. No King of England, ever, had done what Edward had done, according to her father: married a woman not to make an alliance but for his own desire, then had kept it a secret for months while her father was negotiating on his behalf to make peace with France through a French princess, and only now when negotiations were finished had admitted to it.

And then Richard spoke up for his brother, and the nightmare got worse. "Tell me how your brother has served England with this accursed marriage!" her father shouted, and when Richard, miserably, replied: "I don't know. I know only that Ned would never act dishonourably," Anne knew she had to do something, for the fury on her father's face was such that it felt like he might actually hit Richard. He'd never done this before, either, but with the world turning upside down, anything seemed possible. There was a silver tray and wine flagon placed on the table, and she knocked them over, down to the floor. The crash was loud enough to make all people in the solar look at her, even Richard and her father. Anne burst into tears.

It worked. Her father calmed, spoke more softly, sounded more like himself again, put an arm on Richard's shoulder and gave him good words. But Anne could not forget the chasm that had opened; that sudden glimpse into a world where loyalty to her father and loyalty to their cousin the King was no longer one and the same.

She didn't sleep much that night. The next morning, she was up early and made her way across the covered wooden bridge that spanned the inner bailey and connected the keep with the west wall chambers, where the boys slept. Her dog Marion followed her; she'd say it wanted air and the opportunity to piss and shit, if someone asked. No one did. As she had hoped, Richard was up, too. He was older, he knew the King his brother better; she needed him to make sense of what had happened, and not in her father's earshot, so there wouldn't be another quarrel. She needed him to tell her something like this would not happen again.

Yet when she saw him, there was no sense of certainty about him, either. There was the same confusion in his eyes as there had been the previous evening.

"She must be truly beautiful," Anne offered, since with Richard there was no need to pretend she wanted to talk about something else first, and this was the one good thing she'd heard mentioned about the new Queen in all the angry words the previous evening. Everything else she'd heard made Edward's choice of Elizabeth Woodville sound even more incomprehensible: older than Edward, with two sons, one of whom was almost Richard's age, the widow of a knight who'd fought and died for Lancaster, daughter of a woman related to Marguerite d'Anjou, the Lancastrian Queen her father had always presented as evil incarnate to his household.

"Ned didn't marry for lust," Richard retorted, and that he'd heard her words as an accusation told her more than anything else how badly shaken he still was. "He wouldn't! He's never lacked for bedmates, and he didn't marry any of them."

This was true. Child or not, Anne was well aware of the King's reputation in this regard. She'd also seen him when he entered London victorious at her father's side, and only last year again when he'd visited York, and he truly was very handsome, looking as she'd imagined King Arthur would; all the women and girls around her had sighed, even her mother, who otherwise worshipped the ground Anne's father trod on. No, cousin Ned had never lacked for women eager to share his bed out of wedlock, no matter how much of a sin that was.

Arthur had married Guinevere for love and against Merlin's advice, and nothing good had come out of it.

"Why, then?" she asked.

Richard bit his lip, and she expected him to say what he'd told her father, that he didn't know. But instead, he said, very low: "I think....I think maybe he doesn't like it when people call your father the Kingmaker all the time, and him the King of the Nevilles' making. I think he wanted to do something to show he's his own King, and his own man."

It had been a golden October so far, the warmth lingering, and despite the early hour, the pale autumnal sun was on Anne's face. She blinked, and looked away. It felt odd, what Richard had said. On the one hand, it disturbed her further, because if the King had not just unthinkingly followed his heart, as her father had claimed, but had thought about it and deliberately had made a choice that would hurt her father, this made things even worse. On the other hand, Richard had not made up a pretty tale to calm her, but had replied as he would have to one of the boys, to Francis or Rob, her father's other wards. Anne had never lacked for fondness from her family, but as she was the youngest, she was usually treated as a petted toddler, indulged yet not taken seriously. This was probably the first conversation she'd had with Richard about something more important than what to name their dogs. Bad as the occasion was, she liked that change, and wanted it to last.

"If it was that, will there be an end to it now," she wondered, "now that he's shown it?"

Yet while she spoke, she doubted it. Her father liked being called the Kingmaker, laughed when the minstrels used that appellation in their songs and paid them well for it.

"I hope so," Richard replied, and sounded as doubtful as she felt. For the first time, it occurred to her that if something other than a short disagreement were to happen between her father and the King, Cousin Ned might not want Richard to stay with them any longer. As soon as she had thought it, she shook her head: this could not be.

"There'll be an end!" Anne said, determined to have it so. "Friends argue all the time. So do family. Just think of Francis and Rob. Or Bella and me," she added with a rueful smile, for her older sister Isabel had started to bleed this year and started to use the phrase "you wouldn't understand, Anne, you're such a child" a lot as a consequence. "And my father always said your brother isn't just cousin and friend to him but brother as well, after all those battles they survived together."

"That's true," Richard said, looking a bit cheerier. "Nothing can break such a bond."

Which meant, Anne thought, they'd never have to choose sides. It was an ugly enough feeling having to do so when Rob and Francis were quarrelling.

Gareth, her favourite Arthurian knight whom she'd named Richard's wolfhound after only yesterday, was slain by his friend and brother-in-arms Lancelot, who'd almost been a father to him. She'd always preferred not to think about that part of the tale. Why did she have to remember now?

"No, nothing can," Anne said quietly.