Rain lashed against the castle walls like an army laying siege, the noise a constant, insistent drumming of water against stone, accompanied by the whistle and roar of the wind and the rumble of thunder as lightning flashed; momentary streaks of blinding light which split the seething skies in two and then vanished in to nothing. Aumerle strode in to the kitchens and set his candle on the corner of the large wooden table that stood in the room’s centre before hurrying to unlock the back door and pull it open. Two figures, their clothing sodden and their features indistinguishable in the shadows hurried in, one, who by his robes appeared to be a friar, half carrying, half dragging his companion. Aumerle shut the door behind them as soon as they were clear of it. The candle did little to dispel the gloom; Aumerle went back to it and picked it up, and lit some of the torches that hung on the wall before turning back to his visitors. “Your father’s men are lax,” Salisbury said as he passed his companion over to Aumerle. “We strolled right in.”
“Father is still at Court with Bolingbroke; I suggested that given the weather and the relative peace of the Kingdom they take the night off,” Aumerle took the shivering man in his arms and held him tight, pulling down his hood and tangling his fingers in to the man’s hair. It was coarser than Aumerle could remember it being, more tangled- and Aumerle felt anger tighten his chest, though of course, it was to be expected. Incarceration would not have allowed for vanity. “Your Majesty,” he whispered, trying not to choke at the stale, unwashed stench that hung about Richard as the deposed king wrapped his own arms around Aumerle.
“Cousin?” Richard murmured. “I’m not king…”
“You are God’s anointed, sire,” Salisbury broke in. “We will see you restored, I swear it by the Virgin Mary…now you are free the nobles will rally to our side and- “
Even in the flickering light Salisbury caught the Look Aumerle through him over Richard’s shoulder. Now was not the time nor the place: God’s anointed had laid his head on Aumerle’s shoulder and was clearly paying no attention, and Salisbury’s voice had grown to loud. He fell abruptly silent, and spoke again more quietly, this time to Aumerle.
“With luck the news of the King’s disappearance from Pomfret will not be discovered for some time,” he said, “I found a man, of similar height and build- some peasant, I promised I would pay his family a stipend each week he remained undiscovered. The usurper believes he has the King under lock and key, let us show our allies that he does not, that he is a fool- this was a sound idea, Ned, a sound one indeed- we have the advantage now.”
Aumerle hadn’t been concerned with giving themselves an advantage; he had worried that their plans would be discovered before they were ready to act upon them and that Henry would have Richard murdered in his dungeon before he could be saved. “Go cautiously,” he warned Salisbury. “Only speak of this to those you trust absolutely- Richard’s freedom is a secret that must be protected at all costs.” His cousin was too thin; Aumerle could feel it through his waterlogged clothes. “Can I offer you a bed for the night, Salisbury?” he asked. “You can’t ride in this weather; you must take shelter somewhere- “
“Somewhere, but not here,” Salisbury gave a roguish smile. “I don’t want my presence remarked on, as far as the rest of the world is concerned I am abed with a fever and have been the last two weeks. Will probably remain so for another two weeks at least, or so my doctors say, and will say, if any of the usurper’s men come asking. Not that they’re likely to, but as you say, it pays to be cautious.” He paused. “You are sure I can leave him with you?” he asked, a little anxious now. “I can take him to the coast, we can board a ship to France- “
“He’s staying here,” Aumerle said firmly, as Richard tightened his grip on the back of Aumerle’s shirt and swallowed. Aumerle resumed petting his hair. “I will take care of him until the time comes for us to join with an army, I owe him that. And you cannot disappear off to France, nothing would make Bolingbroke more suspicious.”
Salisbury nodded, sighing. “You’re right, of course. Well then, I will leave you. The best of luck, Aumerle- “
“-Rutland,” Aumerle corrected with a wry twist of his lips. “It’s Rutland, now. Bolingbroke seemed to think my loyalty dis-loyal.”
Salisbury scoffed. “Treacherous bastard. Still, it will make killing him all the more sweet. Your Majesty…” he bowed at Richard’s back, hesitated, then, as he remained unacknowledged, turned and opened the door, stepping out in to the storm and vanishing as the door closed before him with a resounding thud. Aumerle shivered, a sudden chill crawling over his flesh as he listened to the storm outside and the dead silence within the castle walls, holding the deposed king close. The last time he had been alone with Richard, the king was holding him as he wept, before Northumberland’s appearance and Richard…
Richard kissed me, the last time we were this close.
Aumerle gently moved back from Richard, disentangling himself from his cousin’s limbs. “I just need to lock the door, my lord, then I’ll take you upstairs,” Aumerle explained, going over to the door. “How did Salisbury get you out anyway?” he asked, twisting the key in the lock, mostly to himself.
“He told the guards he and the…the other me were priests, sent by the King to pray with me,” Richard’s voice was rusty, croaking with disuse- but still melodious. Still one of the most beautiful things Aumerle had heard in a long time. He turned back to see Richard swaying back and forth on the balls of his feet, arms wrapped tightly around himself. “The other me stayed and I left in his place, we weren’t stopped I…I thought…is this a dream?” He looked at Aumerle with such intensity Aumerle could only shake his head and step back to him.
“I’m real. I’m here. And you’re hear, your safe. C’mon, let’s, let’s get you upstairs and in to some dry things.
He took the candle in one hand and Richard’s hand with the other, leading him up a series of narrow corridors designed for the servants to use, out on to the corridor that led to his bedchamber. His heart pounded furiously and his mouth had been drained of any moisture as he listened for any sign of movement that might suggest someone else in the castle was awake when they ought not to have done. He ushered Richard inside his chamber and bolted the door shut behind them, directing the former king to take off his clothes as he hurried to stoke up the fire. Richard pulled the robes off and dropped them on to the floor in a sodden heap, stripping down to his small clothes and hugging himself again as he shivered. Aumerle cast around for a towel and couldn’t find one so he pulled the rug from his bed and wrapped it around Richard’s shoulders. Richard took it from him and pulled it tight across his chest. “I’ll get you a nightshirt,” Aumerle told him, heading for the linen chest and lifting the lid, rummaging around until he found one and brought it back to Richard, who slipped out a hand from beneath the sheet to take it from him. As Aumerle gathered up Richard’s discarded things and shoved them in to his wardrobe, Richard pulled on the nightshirt and picked the blanket up again, wrapping it back around himself and then waiting, looking at Aumerle without saying a word.
“Errrr,” Aumerle cleared his throat, looking towards the bed and then back at Richard. “Do you want to sleep? Or we can sit and…I can tell you what’s been going on since…”
“I’m tired,” Richard said softly, and Aumerle nodded, striding over to the bed and pulling the covers back, kneeling on the mattress as he leaned across to pull the curtains on the far side closed. Then he grabbed his own nightshirt from beneath the pillows. “
“I’ll just,” he brandished his nightshirt then swallowed, cheeks warming with embarrassment, “get changed. You get in to bed. My Lord.” Marry, this was impossible- how on earth was he meant to address Richard? To talk to him? After everything that had happened, everything that Richard had done and he had done and Bolingbroke had done and Aumerle’s father had done- how was this meant to work, the former, rightful King who was meant to be sleeping in a cell tonight instead sharing the bed of one of the men who had watched and done nothing as he was dragged to that cell, and then again, after their kiss-
Richard had got in to the bed, and burrowed beneath the covers, pulling them up to his chin. Aumerle sighed softly and tugged at the hem of his nightshirt, then kicked his clothes to the side and clambered in beside him, pulling the curtains closed and slipping beneath the sheets, staring up at the canopy. He flinched in surprise when an icy hand touched his, and turned his face to look at Richard, who lay ridged on his back, fingertips frozen in place on Aumerle’s knuckles.
Aumerle inhaled, and swiped his tongue between his lips, and turned the palm of his hand up to meet Richard’s so that the other man could hold his hand.