I am amazed, methinks, and lose my way
Among the thorns and dangers of this world.
How easy dost thou take all England up!
From forth this morsel of dead royalty,
The life, the right and truth of all this realm
Is fled to heaven; and England now is left
To tug and scamble and to part by the teeth
The unowed interest of proud-swelling state.
King John 4.3.146-53
King Richard's coffin is far too light, for that it contains all of England.
In truth, of course, Edward of Aumerle knows far too well that Richard's body is no great burden, for he had tended to it himself. If this had been a romance, he might have washed it with tears, but Edward has never been much for weeping. He had pressed the crossbow bolts that pierced Richard's chest and shoulder through unresisting flesh and then he had lifted him up with bloody hands and placed him in the coffin himself and it had been scarcely more strenuous than lifting a child.
It seems wrong, though, that Edward can pull the coffin behind him and it barely tires his arms. It is not as though he's unfamiliar with Richard's body; it had never before seemed so insubstantial. Had Richard been starved, or had he refused food in prison? Or is it only that the burden of majesty, of life itself even, has been taken away?
As he drags the coffin over gravel and paving stones, Edward imagines Richard being painfully jostled against its sides, accustomed as he'd once been to fine linen and featherbeds and silken cushions. The rough-hewn box he lies in now is a poor fit, too short and too narrow even for Richard's slight frame.
But then, it's not as though he can feel it.
Edward can feel their eyes, though, the eyes of the people in the streets of London boring through him as he trudges toward Westminster, with blood on his clothes and his hands and face. Could they possibly know what he's carrying? He himself feels that the blood of the king must cry out from his very skin, like Abel's from the earth. It will never wash away – it is like the balm of an anointed king. Not all the water in the rough rude sea, Richard had said, and then, before Parliament, some of you, with Pilate, wash your hands. Edward has not washed his hands. He knows there is no point.
He is prepared to spill his own blood, for Richard's sake. Henry will never let him live. No matter how much he desired Richard's death, he can never acknowledge that desire to the world. Edward wonders if he will simply lose his head, as befits his station, or if he will die as a traitor. Is it treason to kill a deposed king? The last time an English king was murdered, his jailers had lived to repent their sins, but his murderer's bleeding corpse was thrown into the cesspit.
Edward would rather die on the scaffold than in the cesspit, would rather have his entrails and his privy parts and even his still-beating heart lifted up before the crowds as though his body, which had once been all at Richard's disposal, might proclaim its truth, that it is only mercy I brought you, Richard, and I want none for myself. He can almost feel the hangman's hands in his bowels. He prays that he may cling to life long enough to see his own heart cast into the flames. Afterwards his body will be torn apart, his head spiked on London Bridge along with his former compatriots, his limbs sent to the four corners of the realm, and wherever his soul may wake, he will feel no shame, for all of England will be his grave.
He wonders if his father will weep for him, in the end.
Henry Bolingbroke turns pale as soon as he lays eyes on Edward. It's visible even at the other end of the hall. Bolingbroke has no control over his face – you can read his feelings like the red lines in the calendar. You might not know what he's thinking, but it's always clear how he feels about it. It's not a very good quality for a king to have.
"…Richard of Bordeaux, by me hither brought," Edward announces, and when he releases his grip on the coffin it slams to the floor and echoes through the hall like the general doom has come. He almost expects to hear trumpets. He can't help but smile as he pronounces Richard's name. It will be over soon. Perhaps Christ will have mercy on him. He knows Henry never will.
Henry looks up from stroking Richard's hair at last and motions to Edward's father, who has been wringing his hands.
Some of you, with Pilate, wash your hands, showing an outward pity --
"Get him out of here," Henry says, and Edward's father grips his arm painfully and ushers him out of the hall. Edward can feel his hand shaking as he drags him by the elbow into a nearby chamber. He looks back toward Henry, but his view is blocked by the guards following them.
"You should be glad," Edward says. "He's going to kill me."
The look on his father's face is the same one Richard had had, when the crossbow bolts hit him.
"I have nothing more to say to you," he says, and then he leaves the room before his son can see him weep.
The sun has gone down before Henry has composed himself enough to confront Edward properly. Edward has been thinking that perhaps they will just leave him there to starve; when the door of the antechamber he has been escorted to, and seemingly abandoned in, finally opens, Edward's eyes have adjusted to the dimness, so that it's a shock when the light streams in.
"It's customary to stand up for the king, you know," Henry says, and in the light of the single candle he's carrying his face looks an utter horror – even in the dim light Edward can tell he's been crying, because he's all blotchy-faced and his nose is a very unkingly red. He has read that in the country of Prester John there are enormous serpents that devour men alive and then weep for them, and it is no great wonder, for there are many such men in England. Edward thinks he will never weep again, for he has killed the man he loves more than any in the world and shed no tears, so surely there are no more to be shed. At least he is no hypocrite.
"What are you going to do?" he says, with a shrug. "Execute me twice?"
Henry grabs Edward's arms and pulls him roughly to his feet, a gesture that would be more imposing if Edward weren't a hand's-breadth taller than he is so that once he's done it he wouldn't have to look up in order to glare at him imperiously.
"Christ, Edward," he says, finally. "You, of all people – "
"Isn't this what you wanted, Henry?" Edward smiles at him, sort of; probably the only thing it actually has in common with a smile is that Henry can see his teeth. "You ordered it – I heard you."
"I never meant – " Henry begins, and then he stops, squeezes his eyes closed, and straightens up. Edward half-expects that his eyes will be shining with tears, when he opens them, but they are as dry as Edward's own. "I don't need to justify myself to you."
"You couldn't," Edward says.
"I don't have to justify myself to you, either. Even if you are the King," he adds, before Henry can interrupt. He sits down heavily, without waiting for Henry's permission. "Are you going to execute me, or just have me privately stabbed and thrown on the dunghill?"
"Worse," Henry says, sitting beside Edward with every suggestion of companionability. "I'm going to let you live." His lips thin momentarily, an idle pen-scratch in a parchment that's been scraped off too many times. "And I hope you live for a long time, Edward. I hope you outlive all of us. I hope you see his face every time you close your eyes. I hope you go to your grave despairing of Christ's mercy. Because you're never going to be rid of him." He stands up, then, pulling his shreds of royal dignity about him.
"Neither will you," Edward says, and the blood drains from Henry's face, but he says nothing and leaves Edward alone.
It's only then that Edward remembers how to weep.