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Watch the Throne

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Stolen Gold

Book: The White Princess
Pairing: Henry Tudor (Henry VII) x Princess Cecily of York

Son of one or not, Henry Tudor was born to be king. His birthright was a throne, a crown, a country, from the moment he took his first breath. It was a throne he had scarcely touched, true, just as it was a crown he’d only seen on one or two occasions, and it was a country he had fled as a boy. But he was born to a king’s destiny, and therefore his road was chosen for him; as unrelenting and unceasing as his blood.

Henry Tudor was born to steal a title in order to own his rightful kingdom, and therefore Henry Tudor, born of the house of Lancaster, was almost certainly born to marry Elizabeth of York as well, and to carry her off with his destiny whether either of them wished him to or not.

On sight, he supposed he could have done worse, though he might have hoped (in surprising ways) to do better. ‘Beautiful’ was not a keen word for what Princess Elizabeth was. She was beautiful, yes, but far worse than that, she looked like royalty incarnate. Henry hated her and loved her on sight, if only because she looked, unquestionably, like she belonged on the throne; not like him. He was tired, ragged, ill-cared for, constantly looking over his shoulder, feeling his enemies at his back. Elizabeth, like all the Yorks, was golden as the sun itself; like the crown and all its jewels had been spirited to life.

She also looked like a woman who had already belonged to another man. To Edward, her father, firstly; she bore the famous York coloring, with her father’s golden hair and her mother’s bewitching grey gaze. Then to Richard, and that was far worse. Elizabeth looked like a woman who had sworn the most intimate of fealties to someone who’d borne Henry’s crown before him, and she also looked at Henry like she wished he had died; perhaps she still wished it.

If something were to happen to Elizabeth—if she's barren, which is just about all that matters at this point—Henry must still wed one of the Yorks. This is as undeniable and formulaic as his betrothal to Elizabeth, and so he thinks little to nothing of it when the others are brought before him as well. First Elizabeth bows, scarcely concealing her hatred, and then her mother, Edward’s queen, steps back, revealing her numerous progeny in the doorway.

“My other daughters,” the dowager queen Elizabeth says, and for a moment, everything for Henry stops.

The many daughters of York are not born equal; that much is obvious on sight. They are all golden and grey-eyed and lovely, yes, but they are not some droning meadow of pretty flowers as far as the eye can see. One stands straighter than the others. One rose has fewer thorns, or perhaps sharper ones. At first glance, it’s impossible to tell.

Henry was born for an alliance, not for love, which is why when he sees Cecily of York, he knows instantly lightning has struck; he sees the devolution of himself in the strike of an instant. Still, he determines it best to say nothing; to ignore it. He’s felt fanciful, fleeting imitations of love before; he’s been with women. He’s nearly thirty, after all, and hardly inexperienced. He holds his composure, meeting each of the York daughters, until he arrives at Cecily’s hand.

“Something wrong, Your Majesty?” Cecily murmurs to him, inaudible to her sisters or her mother, and Henry, who has done nothing his entire life but claw for the very thing he has finally stolen from the Yorks, is perilously close to coming undone by the one standing before him.

Nothing is wrong, he thinks, and yet everything is wrong.

He half-mumbles it to his mother later, the words spilling out like a dream.

“I have to have her,” he says, and it has been the only thing pulsing in his chest since the moment he took the crown from Richard of York. Henry has found the acquisition of a lifelong desire to be something of a mixed blessing; he has been highly purposeless since achieving his only goal.

Until Cecily, that is.

“Then have her,” Margaret says disinterestedly, “but do not think yourself fool enough to marry her. She’s been touched as surely as Elizabeth has been touched,” she adds with disapproval, referencing the marriages arranged to lessen the York princesses under Richard’s seizure of the throne, “and worse, she is third-born. A less valuable prize.”

Henry cannot think how this is possible. Elizabeth is proud and stubborn and hateful. Cecily is bright-eyed, clever, strong. You’re staring, Your Grace, she murmurs to him one night when he greets her, and it takes everything he possesses not to fall at her feet.

“You’ll have to marry Elizabeth,” Margaret tells him again.

Henry closes his eyes.

Perhaps they will look the same in the dark.

They don’t. Even with his eyes closed, Elizabeth is still Elizabeth, and Cecily is somewhere out of reach. He can hardly finish when he’s inside Elizabeth; her loathing of him is palpable. Tactile. Henry knows he’s virile—has born a son once before, in fact—but something about his mother’s certainty that the York girls are witches makes him doubt himself. Fucking Elizabeth is a chore. She hates him; so be it. He hates her, too.

He leaves after the first time, which feels wretched and twisted and wrong, even to him. They should be married, but Margaret insists on proof of a son, first. She wants certainty, as she always has. She is a ruthless warlord. Henry is often grateful his mother was born without a cock, even if it means she rules the use of his.

He runs into Cecily as he is escaping Elizabeth’s chambers and immediately panics; he can’t bear to look at her.

“How was the merchandise, Your Grace?” Cecily asks him coolly.

Is she angry for her sister’s virtue? Impossible. Elizabeth fucked her own uncle, for Christ’s sake. Perhaps it’s concern for her sister’s comfort, which is certainly valid. Even Henry would have preferred a more willing partner, but that was never going to happen; not under Margaret Beaufort’s watch.

Henry wonders, though, if he imagines a brief tone of envy in the younger York princess’ voice. Is it possible she wishes that he had—?

No. No, that can’t be it.

“Princess Cecily,” he says, voice dry, and bows to her, hoping to escape. It’s only when she smiles slowly that he realizes what a fucking idiotic thing he’s done.

He is king. She is meant to bow to him.

“Call me Cecily, Your Grace,” she offers, sounding amused.

A thousand expletives lounge against his tongue.

“As you wish,” he says, and swallows, “Cecily.”

When Elizabeth is with child Henry begins to relax. He can’t fully, of course, because he has enemies from all sides to contend with, and to his dismay, Cecily isn’t growing any less beautiful, nor any less present. He sees her at court constantly. She’s the sister of his queen, so this is no surprising revelation, but still. He wishes he were less acutely aware of where she stands at any given moment.

During Elizabeth’s coronation as his consort, he forces himself not to look at Cecily at all. He begs himself not to turn and glance in her direction. He pleads for his gaze not to falter, and stares only at his pregnant wife. His queen.

But Jesus God Almighty, women like Cecily are made for staring; for devouring like works of art; and as surely as he’s known before it even happens, once Henry accidentally looks at Cecily of York, he cannot look away.

He tries to escape when the festivities are dying down. He has no interest in seeing his wife; his work there is done, anyway. He won’t be bedding her again until after the baby is born. There are also other women. Other blonde women, even if their hair isn’t quite so golden. Other grey-eyed beauties do exist, he reminds himself. He is king. He can have any one of them.

Still—“Cecily,” he says, catching her arm as she moves to pass him, exiting her sister’s chambers.

“Henry,” she replies, which is something he should not permit. He is king. He is king, damnit, and—

“Please,” he whispers, “please, I am… Cecily. I am desperate.”

He has already promised her to a Lancastrian, Viscount John Welles. Cecily isn’t Henry’s, not in any way, nor is he hers, nor should he be. Henry hasn’t touched her, not yet, but somehow, they both know how badly he wants to. He knows he wants to, and she looks like she can read his every thought. He dies quietly as he waits for her expression to change; to indicate he’s said it out loud.

He waits for deliverance, but she only strikes. “Desperate for what, Your Grace?”

“Please.” He forces his eyes shut, shuddering. “My God, Cecily, please.”

For a moment, he waits in silence, expecting yet another axe of cruelty to fall. A blade would be more merciful.

“What will you give me, then, Henry?” He can hear the smile in her voice as she murmurs it to him. Is this better or worse than feigning ignorance? Hearing her entertain the matter of his wanting, guileless or not, numbs him from his shoulders to his toes. “I can’t have your body,” Cecily points out. “Not exclusively. That belongs to my sister. I can’t have your crown; that, too, is hers. So what will you give me?”

“I—” He cradles his head in his hands. “What do you want?” he asks her, so quietly he can’t believe she hears it.

He feels her step closer. She brushes her fingers across his lips, carefully. Her touch is feather-light and delicate. He shudders so savagely he half-expects to break.

“Your soul,” she decides after a moment.

That, he hopes, is not for sale; still, it seems inevitable that anything he possesses, he would give to her.

“Take it, then,” he breathes, and she removes his hands from his face, holding them in hers as his eyes slowly open, fixing gradually on hers.

She is watching him curiously, her lips parted slightly, taking him in.

Then she leans up on her toes, his hands still in hers, and brushes a kiss impossibly softly against the side of his mouth, nearer to his cheek than to his lips. Still, he can taste her. He can taste the spices of the mead they’ve both drunk, only mixed with something sweeter. He imagines the taste of her to be like sugared plums and licks it, slowly, from his lips.

She releases his hands and lets her fingertips trace down his thigh, once along the outside and then across and up and oh until her palm closes around the undeniable stiffness of his cock.

“Interesting,” she says, and looks down. She strokes her thumb over his tip, the shape of it visible through the fabric of his trousers, twice. It’s terribly ironic she thinks his body belongs to Elizabeth when really, only Cecily does this to him. She’s barely touched him, and still he’s got a cockstand he could very well use to break down a door. He could win a joust with the effect she has on him. “And what do you suppose I feel for you, Henry?”

He feels his eyes widen; then, unable to stand the wait, he takes hold of her and spins her, shoving her back against the wall. They are both breathing unsteadily, hard but not-quite-panting, and neither blinks. He wants to fuck her, wants it more than anything, but knows that one time will never be enough, and something in her eyes tells him she won’t let him touch her again if he forces himself on her now. Instead, he eases his grip, gently guiding one of her legs up over his hip, and carefully slides a hand under her gown.

Her legs are long and slender, soft to the touch. He shifts her in his arms, adjusting his weight, and carefully strokes his thumb between her legs.

She’s so wet for him he thinks it more than likely he’ll fucking burst.

“Don’t,” she says, and he blinks, looking up at him. “You can’t have me yet.”

“Then when?” he asks.

“When I let you,” she says easily, without strain or effort, and gives him a shove. He releases her unwillingly, and she walks away, not looking over her shoulder. She leaves him.

She leaves him, and he lifts his hand to his mouth, feeling the slickness of her at his fingertips.

He presses his hand to his lips, breathing her in.

He hopes he dies with her on his tongue.

The night of her wedding to John Welles, Henry can no longer bear it. He watches his wife with her and keeps his distance, but when he realizes someone else is going to touch Cecily that evening, Henry is suddenly feverish with desperation. He paces his chambers for nearly an hour, half-listening to his mother drone on.

“You’re not even listening,” Margaret snaps. “If Edward’s son still lives and Elizabeth is permitted to continue raising his supporters, what do you suppose is going to happen to you?”

He should be listening. He should really be paying attention. He should not be thinking about the motion of Cecily’s breath, or her grey eyes gazing up at him. He can no longer stand the distraction, nor the weight. He is king.

He is king, so he doesn’t need to threaten the guards or bribe them when he appears in her chambers, but he does anyway. Cecily doesn’t seem surprised.

“Henry,” she says, languishing idly on the bed she’ll soon share with her new husband, who’s probably downstairs somewhere drinking his fill and not even knowing what a valuable thing he’s just bought.

Henry knows, though. Henry knows, and he settles himself on his knees beside her bed, as he did when he was a child praying to God for the English crown.

“Cecily,” he says just as reverently, “please, let me have you.”

She sighs, as if she finds the whole thing relatively tiresome.

“Are you king or not?” she says. “If you want me, Henry, take me.”

He looks up, surprised. “But—”

“I should be at least as hard-fought as that crown of yours,” she says, and leans over, flicking a finger against it. He forgot he was even wearing it, and he immediately forgets about it now, catching sight of the swell of her breast as she leans towards him.

He instantly rises to his feet, stripping his tunic and about to remove his crown when she shifts to her knees, holding his hand still.

“Leave it on,” she says, half-smiling, and he convulses with want.

He takes her in his arms and shoves her back, uncertain what he wants to touch first. What does he want to taste? Her mouth, her breasts, her cunt? He opts to lean back and shove her shift up over her hips, probably bruising her waist with the pressure of his fingers. She has such fragile, delicate skin, and he lowers his mouth to it, apologizing for his brutality with a kiss. She shoves her foot against his chest, pressing the arch of it hard until he realizes she’s kicking him away, and he straightens with a jolt, dizzied and stung.

“I’m not my sister,” she says, her foot firmly pressed into his chest, “so this had better not be a chore.”

He gapes at her.

Then, without warning, she rolls him onto his back. Him, the man who stole the crown of England; plucked it from Richard’s bloodied head. He lands on his back with a startled grunt and she slides her shift from her shoulders, starkly bare before him. Elizabeth’s breasts are inviting and full, her waist curved and idyllic, but Cecily’s angles are sharper, the slopes of her more harsh, more striking. Henry looks and looks and looks and Cecily takes his chin in her hand, fixing his gaze on hers.

“Henry,” she says impatiently, “you’re the King of England. Don’t gawk.”

He swallows, and she lifts a brow, waiting.

Then he slides one arm around her waist and settles her on his chest, tugging her leg with his free hand and shifting on the bed until she’s straddling his jaw, bracing herself against the post of her marriage bed.

He licks her, feels her shiver, and feels an instant sensation; a cooling sense of relief that cascades over him, and he slides his tongue into her, burying it in the taste of her, until he feels her tighten her grip in his hair. He sucks at her, licks, buries his nails in the skin of her thighs, until he feels her start to tremble above him; the pillar of undeniability that she is finally brought to quaking blows. She comes as his crown digs into his scalp and he cannot even feel the pain, caught up in the knowledge that he has tasted both the heights of glory and the depths of desperation between the shaking thighs of Cecily of York.

He rolls her onto her back and yanks one leg up, hooking his arm beneath her thigh.

“Cecily,” he says hoarsely, “you will ruin me.”

She reaches down, curling her palm around his shaft, and tightens her fingers around him.

“It will be my very great pleasure, Henry Tudor,” she whispers, “to make a wreckage of you.”

He slides into her and moans into her neck, praying this will satisfy him.

But even before her nails sink into his back, he knows it will never be enough.

Henry is king, anointed by God (and better yet, his mother) and yet he is held captive by the duties of childbearing. His son Arthur is a fine, handsome baby boy, and yes, he has an heir—a son, and one son is more than enough for a legacy; look at Henry, the only son of Edmund Tudor—but there is no joy in bedding Elizabeth. There is not even something close to joy, like lust. It’s business between them, her head turned to the side while he closes his eyes and thinks of Cecily.

God, he thinks, Cecily is no woman. She’s a woman-shaped trap. He’s fucked her twice now, once on her wedding bed and once, hurriedly, in her sister’s chambers—when he could not help but take her up against the wall—just before going into confinement with her sister. Since she’s returned, she has been painfully disinterested in him. He frequently entertains nightmares in which she comes at the hands of someone else. 

Elizabeth is hopeless. He pulls out of her and turns her on her back, eyeing the line of her neck. This, he thinks, is where Elizabeth is most like Cecily. The York girls have spines like towers. They never bend.

He closes a hand around the back of Elizabeth’s neck, holding her steady, and pushes into her again. She seems to prefer not looking at him, and he looks at the golden hair he holds in fistfuls and his brain screams Cecily, Cecily, Cecily.

The next day, he passes Cecily as she’s walking back from chapel. She has a serenely placid look on her face and he takes her hand, pulling her into his privy council chambers and barring the door.

“Just what do you think is going to happen, Henry?” she asks, unmoved.

He bends his head and kisses her. She bites his lip with a laugh.

“I want you for a whole night,” Henry says. “One night, from sunset to sunrise.”

“Well, if the King himself cannot have what he wants,” she says drily, “it must be a highly impossible task.”

He wants to tear open her bodice. Wants to plunge one of the damned writing implements on his desk directly into his neck and bleed out at her feet.

“If I arrange it, will you come?” he asks, and already, his hands tremble on her waist.

“I suppose if I have no other engagements,” is her only reply before she slips out of reach, letting herself out of his chambers.

He sends her husband away on an errand to the crown and feigns ill. He writes her a note, telling her the secret ways into his chambers from the castle battlements, begs her to come. He tells her he will do anything she asks.

Still, he’s surprised when she comes to him, her cloak pulled over her golden York hair.

“Henry,” she says, nodding to him as she enters his chambers and lets the cloak fall. She is wearing her shift underneath, but nothing else. He reaches for her without hesitation, and for once she seems satisfied by this. Perhaps pretense would have struck her as mundane. He holds her, breathing in the petal-softness of her hair, and she permits it, saying nothing. He touches his lips to her cheek, to her jaw, to her shoulder.

He wants to tell her he longs for her. He wants to tell her loves her, actually, but he’s certain she’ll laugh in his face. Elizabeth is cold, but Cecily is cruel, and she owns him. Elizabeth is as undeniable as Henry’s right hand, as his crown. Cecily is the dream he clings to with every stolen breath.

When Henry lays Cecily back on the bed, he thinks maybe she can feel his reverence. He is softer with her this time, more devoted. He lets his lips and tongue and teeth linger each time he places them to her body, letting them make a home in the parapets of her skin. He will not say the words, but he plans to make love to her tonight. He plans to love her tonight, all night, whether she knows it or not—though she probably will. She knows him as much as she owns him.

She tightens her legs around his hips as he enters her, and when he curls his tongue around the bead of her nipple, she lets out a quiet sigh, her hand rising to slide through his hair. Translation: she enjoys it when he fucks her. She likes the feel of him inside her, and he, Henry Tudor, will make Cecily of York come until the both of them are numb.

A piece of his heart breaks off and buries itself inside her.

“Henry,” she murmurs in his ear, her breath rising steadily in the way he knows means she’s going to come, “you killed my brothers, imprisoned my cousins, married me to a Lancastrian fool, and stole my father’s crown, and for all those things, I will never forgive you.”

He freezes for a moment, pausing to look at her. She isn’t angry. She says it like it’s fact. She drills her heels into the backs of his thighs, digging them hard into the base of his arse.

“Harder,” she says simply, and laughs, letting his head fall against her. They’re both sweating and panting, breathing hard and struggling in the midst of tangled sheets, and he is helpless for love of her. He kisses her and she laughs, her sharp tongue dancing luxuriantly along his.

“I used to think you’d be a giant, you know. That you’d taste like carnage and blood and death—but really you taste so sweet,” she whispers to him, and he thinks, deliriously, that maybe she could love him. Maybe one day she’ll love him.

The next morning, when he wakes, she’s already gone.

 It only occurs to him after he and Elizabeth have shouted at each other behind closed doors that of course his wife has not been visiting her traitorous mother. She is watched so very closely by his own mother, after all, and Margaret has a discerning eye. Of course it isn’t Elizabeth who’s been feeding information to Bermondsey Abbey.

“Are you helping your mother?” he demands from Cecily. Her husband is away again. Henry’s made sure of it. Similarly, his visits to Elizabeth’s bed are as sparing as he can make them. Cecily, on the other hand, is a fixture in his chambers whenever he can arrange for such things to happen.

She gives him a withering look. “I’m a fucking York, Henry,” she says, and he feels an icy chill in his soul. All his life he has feared those who would stand against him, and now the woman in his bed professes her loyalties without shame. He feels lost, and lonely, and uncertain.

“I thought you were mine,” he says quietly, and she shrugs.

“I said I would have you,” she says. “I didn’t say you would have me.”

He hopes this is a lie. By now he has seen her come a thousand times, a thousand ways; has heard his name on her lips in countless different voices, but none of them have been empty. He is not nothing to her. Surely he is not nothing to her. Surely he has some right to her heart.

“Cecily,” he says, and pulls her close, looking into her grey eyes and compelling them to tenderness. “Cecily, do you really hate me so much? Would you rather I were dead?”

Because I would die without you, he doesn’t say.

She strokes the tips of her fingers along his jaw.

“I don’t hate you, Henry,” she says, “but I don’t belong to you, nor you to me.”

“I’m yours,” he tells her, because from the moment he saw her, he has been. “I’m yours, Cecily. I’m yours.”

He will make love to her at least once more this night. He can already feel himself growing hard again, and the way her hips lean into his is an invitation he physically cannot deny. He would fuck her with his dying breath and not regret it for an instant. He would love her with it, too.

“How sad for you, Henry,” Cecily whispers, and then she kisses him again, drawing him between her legs.

For a while after his daughter is born, Henry’s reign is doing better. It’s much more secure, or so he thinks, and feeling confident in his rule, he tries to keep away from Cecily’s side. He and Elizabeth are softer to each other now, more kind. Sometimes she even welcomes his touch, and he comes to her more frequently. For a time, he is something like happy.

But then The Boy comes to court.

Henry calls him Perkin Warbeck, the least English and least royal name he can produce of the names that can be attributed to him. It is the furthest name from Prince Richard of York, anyway, and that’s what matters. Henry, in his concern, warns Elizabeth not to show any recognition, in case he truly is Richard.

But actually, in the moment, it is Henry himself who knows for certain The Boy is a York. He knows it from the coloring, from that stately golden York blond. He knows it from the build, which is so like Edward’s, to the point that even Henry’s mother Margaret cannot deny the resemblance. But Henry knows most of all, more than he has ever known anything, that this Boy is Cecily’s brother. He is her blood.

He has her precise eyes.

Elizabeth is tentative, claiming loyalty to him, but Henry cannot stand to see the Boy’s face. He makes sure the Boy is broken, his beautiful York face bloodied, his eyes too swollen to see through when Henry faces him, determining he should be gone. Henry even pays special attention to the Boy’s pretty young wife, wanting him to be as crushed to nothing as humanly possible. It’s a cruelty that feels familiar to Henry.

It’s a cruelty he knows comes from Cecily, and when he finally seeks her out, she doesn’t bother to look surprised.

“It’s monstrous what you’re doing to him,” she says dully.

He looks in her grey eyes and loves her so intently he wonders if it’s hate.

Her husband, John Welles, died earlier that year. Now Cecily is widowed, and yet still, she isn’t his.

“You’re going to kill Edward, aren’t you?” she asks, speaking of her cousin, the young Duke of Warwick.

Henry doesn’t reply, and she levels her gaze at him with malice.

“This time, when you fuck me,” Cecily says, “don’t tell me you love me.”

He kisses her as roughly as he can manage and she kisses him back with spite, and as terrible as it is, he feels better. He feels the madness ebb, if only for a moment, when Cecily is in his arms. He cannot have her, not ever, and this moment, like his crown, is stolen.

With Cecily pressed against him, Henry can fully profess his sins as a thief, and he absolves himself inside her until they collapse together, hatefully locked in one another’s arms.

“You’re what?” he asks, dumbstruck.

“My sister is dead,” Cecily tells him, “and you’ve taken all of my family from me. You took my cousin Edward. You locked my mother away until she died. Now my sister is gone.”

“I—” Henry falters. “But—why would you—”

“I married Thomas Kymbe,” she says. “He’s kind. He’s a good man. He will—” She pauses, curling her tongue around whatever she’s about to say. She eventually settles on, “He will permit me to do as I wish.”

Henry gapes at her. “He’s nothing, Cecily. A squire.”

“Yes,” Cecily says with a stubborn nod, “exactly. Why should I aim for anything higher?” she demands. “You are a king, Henry, and still your love cost me everything.”

For a moment he thinks he hears something like sadness, which is an unusual softness from Cecily of York. But it doesn’t last, because he’s furious; because he’s aching, thinking finally they were free. Elizabeth had died in childbirth only days before, and now this.

“You did this without my permission,” he says, gritting his teeth, “and I’m supposed to be mourning my wife—”

“Then mourn her.” Cecily’s voice is clipped. “You couldn’t have me, Henry, even if you wanted to. Your dead wife’s sister for a king’s consort?” she asks drily. “Believe me, I’ve done you a favor.”

But it doesn’t quite ring true.

“You want him,” Henry realizes. “You love him—is that it?”

Cecily sighs heavily, as if he’s being petulant. “You always make this about love. What exactly makes you think me capable?”

“You love me.” He rises to his feet and flings it at her. “You love me, Cecily!”

She has to, or none of this has ever been anything, and then what has it been?

What has he been, if he has belonged so wholly to Cecily of York, and she has never loved him?

She shakes her head, turning away. “I’ll speak to you when you regain your head, Henry,” she says, and moves to exit, only he takes one look at the line of her neck and pauses her with a shout.

“GET OUT!” he shouts at her back, at the rigid line of her York spine. “You have defied your King, and as such, your lands now belong to the crown. You are banned from court,” he seethes at her, sliding the words through his teeth, and she turns slowly, her grey eyes finally wide with shock. “I never want to see your face again. You can starve to death, Cecily. You can die penniless and alone.”

She opens her mouth, about to argue, and then closes it.

“I may die penniless, Henry, but I will not die alone,” she says, meeting his gaze with rebellion. Her lips curl up in a taunt, and she says softly, so softly he thinks maybe he heard it in a fever dream, “I’ll die with my husband’s cock deep inside me, Henry Tudor, and it will be his name on my tongue.”

Henry picks up a vase and throws it, letting it shatter against the wall, and she gives him her cruelest smile.

Then, before he can even think to sob, Cecily of York is gone, her golden hair still slipping through his fingers.

He refuses to see her after that, though the cost of her absence is bitterly steep. For weeks after Cecily is gone from court, Henry keeps to himself, using his wife’s death as reasonable explanation for his mourning. For years afterwards, he grants Cecily nothing. His mother helps her secretly, he knows, but he cannot bring himself to care. Perhaps he’s even glad for it. Let Margaret do whatever she wishes while he sleeps alone, dreaming of Elizabeth or Cecily or even sometimes both. His dreams of Elizabeth are always forced, stilted conversations about the children. His dreams of Cecily are like flames of memory; they are visions of him, of them, of being buried deep inside her, of being swallowed up by hell itself.

One night he dreams of her lying bare on his sheets, waiting for him. In one hand she holds a white rose, the symbol of the York line. In the other she holds his crown, beckoning to him before she places it on her own golden hair.

“Henry,” she whispers, taking his hand, “I will never leave you. From now until forever, I will never be gone from you.”

“Cecily,” he breathes in her hair, “I love you, I love you, oh God, Cecily, forgive me—”

“Henry,” she says soothingly, twining her legs around him, “do you know why I will never leave you?”

“Why?” he asks, dazed, as her lips brush his temple.

“Because,” she says with a delicate laugh, “you have already given me your soul.”

He shivers, and wakes with a start, and before his mother tells him the news, he already knows what she’ll say.

“Cecily of York is dead,” Margaret tells him tentatively, and from the moment his mother says it, Henry knows Cecily will haunt him until his dying day, and perhaps long after. Cecily, who owns his soul, will haunt whatever exists of him, from this day until he follows her to the grave.

Margaret waits for him to speak, but Henry says nothing. He merely rises to his feet and reaches for his crown; holds it delicately in his hands. For a moment he thinks to ask his mother: Does this truly belong to me, or was it taken? Was I born to claim it, he wants to beg, as much as it will never be mine?

In the end, though, he puts it on his head without comment.

The crown, like Cecily’s hair between his fingers, is just another fistful of stolen York gold.