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To Work And After, Holiday (High Hereford Mix)

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They didn’t die well. It’s a thing that Richard of all people must know. The coffin is bound with muddy rope and bands of lead, a late addition, but they’ve kept nothing in; the soggy wood has split, and the paltry collection of cloth and bones is held together in the shape of men mostly by habit. Of course, they’d scarcely been men while they lived.

The smell isn’t surprising, nor the state of decay. He’s trodden over corpses in worse states, stinking and unshriven, and there’s few things more definite than the weight of a man’s severed head to convince one that the unlucky bastard in question is dead. Removed from the context of their last parting, these corpses are strangely anonymous, with the memory of their last minutes lingering around their vacant remains like a pleasant dream. But his blood runs cooler now than it did in Bristol, and he could almost say he feels sorry for the parasites Bushy and Green. He’s a soldier, he’s seen worse sights than this, and done worse — and still a hunger flickers in his belly, the desire to see his foe’s face fall. He’s saved these scraps from the gibbet, or the bottom of the Thames, shouldn’t that be enough? He’s cut him free from such poor company as these; perhaps his deserts don’t include immediate gratitude, but surely they compass some degree of recognition for the effort.

Henry doubts the sincerity of Richard’s tears, for whosoever they should be shed — his cousin has devoted himself to show. He’d weep for a horse or a hound. Richard has never mourned a child, he’d shed no tears for his own kin, and Anne didn’t count. Even the most wicked man imaginable would have felt the loss of a woman like Anne. He fully expects him to throw himself on the coffin and spill tears, to curse him soundly, to damn him and his posterity. Part of him actively desires that it will come to blows, that he’ll rattle some sort of response out of Richard that will knock all the hateful words from his mouth. Henry can pretend that he hasn’t marked down every curse and malediction, that they don’t make the back of his neck prickle with an instinctual fear of something much bigger than his luxurious cousin. At any rate, such outbursts will win him nothing, and Henry wants to demonstrate this.

Richard’s response is no more than he should have expected. He should have brought him before them in chains and saved himself the injury. His face aches for days afterward, whether from the angry red runnels drawn by Richard’s fingernails (had he scratched him? how? he doesn’t recall an injury, even though he’d recoiled roaring as surely as if Richard had burned him) or the vigorous scrubbing to which he subjects himself, once out of his hated spouse’s view. He scrubs his cheek into a weal trying to lift the stain. The battlefield stench lifts, but the sensation remains, a track of foul grease that troubles him even when he’s trying not to think about it. He catches himself tracing the site of the stain when he can’t sleep, worrying at it with the pad of a thumb.

What he gets is a curse, written on the skin.