Chapter 1: Gloomy Man
Gloucester spared Buckingham only one look and nod when he entered the chamber, he was giving instructions to some awfully concerned man about something he did not quite catch. Duke send man back with some nonsense task, rubbed his temples and sighted and then focused on Henry.
Richard was a gloomy man, always occupied with something that couldn’t wait, he was vastly different from his brothers.
His average height and slight build made him stand out between Edward and George, both well-built like their deceased father. This and delicate face structure, high cheekbones with elegant, long neck also reminded others about his young age. People talked about his shoulders, one hanging higher than the other but he himself never thought of this as something defining for this man. It was last thing he noticed about him with first being the difference between him and the king.
But, to be fair, Buckingham never thought of any king’s brothers as similar to each other, without mentioning the king. And yet, it was Richard whom both king and Buckingham trusted most.
‘Well he doesn’t have a lot of options, only a fool would entrust gaby drunkard George anything’ skipped through his mind when his eyes met Richard’s blue ones looking up from the papers.
‘Yes? Does my dear cousin brings me good news?’ his words dripped with irony.
‘His Grace, your brother, requests your presence. I must disappoint you but I don’t believe this to be good news. It’s probably fixing Dorset’s mess’
‘Oh, maybe something good will come out of it. Woodviles are losing their credibility and dignity, little step by step’ Richard briskly stood up and smoothed out his clothes.
‘So you believe in existence of those in first place, cousin?’ Buckingham smiled, turning his head to look back at Gloucester.
‘Of course! Haven’t you seen their delightful manners? How dare you doubt your cousin, queen!’ he laughed shortly but sincerely.
‘My wife’s manners were enough for me to doubt my own dignity’ this reminder made him nauseous. He rolled his eyes and held door for Richard.
‘How is our situation after Scots?’
‘Not that well as we pretend it is’ his cousin’s smile faded. ‘We have spent way too much money on campaign in France, it was foolish’
‘How come it is always you, who makes the dirty job? Money… Can’t he pick for this someone of those jiggling, foolish Woodviles? Someone who is not entirely corrupted’ Henry noticed bags under his eyes and his stiff shoulders. Both of them knew that by ‘he’, he meant the king.
‘That is the problem! All of them are corrupted, His Grace may seem like he trusts others easily but in reality, he is paranoid and too lazy to do the work himself! I should spend more time in the North for him to see how it is to take care of it all by himself. York has problems too.’
‘I will be heading home after I finish most of my tasks. If you wish to leave court you could visit me in Buckingham. My wife would be delighted’ upon hearing this, Richard eyed him with something in his pupils he couldn’t name. Like he suspected something. He seemed startled and little taken aback with the proposition. But who knew what Duke of Gloucester had in his mind.
‘I will consider it, thank you for this proposition’ He said after a short moment of silence. ‘I am afraid I will have to discuss this with his Grace’ his voice was empty with blank courtesy when they stopped in front of the door of king’s chamber.
‘Buckingham’ Richard nodded as a sign of a good-bye.
‘Gloucester’ he returned gesture.
Henry’s eyes followed him while he grasped the door-knob. He did not know what to think.
‘I wish to leave court for some time. Buckingham invited me to visit him’ Richard immediately had Edward’s attention.
He seemed sick lately with his messy hair and hollowing cheeks. He rarely got out and now, with fever in his eyes and paranoia on his face he looked like a mad man. Yet, he still remained handsome even in this state.
Richard could feel his remaining strength when he grabbed him by shoulders, hovering over him. Edward’s thumbs dug uncomfortably into his collarbones.
‘Does he know?’
‘Of course not, how did that get into your head? Good Lord, sit down.’ Richard rolled his eyes. Edward flung an arm over his shoulders and pulled him down with him.
‘It’s not good for you. What would you do if he knew? Buckingham is ambitious and he schemes, all the time, I know you two are friends but… I think he suspects something, you know how he looks at people, like he suspects them of doing horrors.’ King said with a grim expression.
Richard felt anger bubble inside of his chest for treating him like a naïve little kid. ‘I know you two are friends…’ Who is the one not thinking clearly? Both of them have done much more dangerous things. And all of the people Buckingham! He couldn’t deny that there was a little bit of truth in his brother’s words; his cousin was one of the most ambitious and distrustful people on the court but he was loyal for sure.
Edward invited Woodviles to court and started getting paranoid, fearing their schemes but in the end, it was always other people, like Buckingham that seemed the worst. ‘We fear what we don’t know’ he thought ‘Edward is unfamiliar with people like Buckingham, people who are ambitious but do not thirst for power.’
‘You are getting paranoid. We’ve done much more dangerous things. Court tires me and I want to enjoy life a little bit.’ He decided to remind Edward that he always treated Buckingham like a funny younger relative. He always laughed a little bit at Buckingham’s snobbery and his animosity to fencing. ‘You know how Buckingham is. He loves the court, he doesn’t want to go home, he wants to take court home. I am the little souvenir he gets to take home and show to his wife as a symbol of ‘I am better than you and you know it.’
Edward smiled. He seemed a little bit relieved. He grabbed Richard’s hand and squeezed it.
‘I am just constantly worried, you know, Cecily. It is my duty to keep you safe, as your older brother. I promised mother to keep an eye on you, she still disagrees with us.’ He sighted and looked Richard in the eyes. ‘I sometimes doubt if this is what is the best for you.’
Richard stiffened at the use of his birth name.
‘I am certainly happier than I would be married. Didn’t I prove myself worthy, more worthy than most of your men? Of my title, of my duties?’ His chin rose up. He opened mouth to say more but Edward cut him off.
‘Yes, yes you did.’ Edward sighted again. ‘But don’t you miss man’s touch sometimes? When we long for touch, we become distracted. If Buckingham touched you…’
‘He never did nor he will. I don’t long for… that.’ He still was stiff when Edward embraced him, wrapping his long arms around him and covering him almost entirely with his huge body.
‘You can go.’ King whispered in his hair.
‘Mhm.’ Richard mumbled. Edward was older than him by 10 years and he never stopped treating him like a little sister, being overprotective and suspicious of any male friend. Especially when he himself was feeling lonely, he started being melancholic and touchy. His patronising behaviour irritated Richard but he actually didn’t mind his touch all that much though he would never admit how touch-starved he sometimes was.
He closed eyes and let himself to be a little sibling for once.
Buckingham was ridiculous. He made a show out of Richard, parading around with him, speaking with him about important (with big I) subjects, going hunting and on and on and on. Of course, someone who did not know him or situation would only see treating important guest with respect and fanfares but Richard knew what was going on. He suspected that Buckingham was doing this unconsciously but who knew what was in his head.
Buckingham despised the fact that he was forced to marry as a ten year old boy to a woman of much lower birth. Everybody knew this. He never missed opportunity to remind his wife of the class difference and that it will always be there and nothing is going to change that. And now he walked around with king’s beloved brother, calling him cousin and clinging to him like it is something he was born to do while she could barely open mouth in Richard’s presence. Buckingham was ashamed of her manners and kept her at home where she couldn’t become a problem.
Despite of her being queen’s sister, part of Woodville family, Richard pitied Catherine. She was stuck with a man unable to give his love to anyone beside court and politics. His cousin was often immature and insensitive. Catherine on the other hand bitterly tried and repeatedly failed to love him somehow.
Nonetheless sitting with them at the one table and eating breakfast seemed both surreal and familiar. It was hard to believe that Buckingham was father of the children on the other side of the table. They looked alien on his hands. Surprisingly, he did not avoid them and wasn’t the worst of fathers. The children were somehow the place when Catherine met Henry.
Meals side by side with them made him think about family and how he remembered it, before his father’s death. He missed that, oh so terribly! He didn’t feel old but it seemed like the rest of them did. They aged and became bitterly alien. He didn’t know them anymore. They died, they married, they walked away from him. Awareness of that made him feel so lonely that he had to take deep breath to come back from this realization. He knew that he will never come back to this, he can’t with this body and with this mind. He has no way of having new family.
How could he?
Richard eyes caught the sight at the entrance. Two men argued about something, one tried to enter the room but the other was holding him back. He could hear fragments of conversation; ‘it’s important’, ‘not about duke Buckingham!’, ‘don’t disturb…’. When the one trying to enter saw his gaze, his face lighten up and Richard could recognize him now; it was William Catesby who was waving at him desperately.
‘Lord Richard!’ he shouted. Now everybody was looking at the scene.
‘What is this? Do you know this man?’ Buckingham rose up, squinting his eyes in suspicion, trying to recognize the face.
‘It’s William Catesby’ Richard shrugged his shoulders, taken aback a little bit. ‘I didn’t expect him’
‘Let him in.’ Buckingham sighted, still up. He waited till Catesby come closer, arms folded on his chest, one feet bouncing on the ground.
‘I have important news’ in his hand was a sealed letter. Catesby opened his mouth to say something more but Buckingham bluffly took a letter from his hand.
He grabbed nearest clean butter knife and opened the letter roughly. His eyes skipped through the text and his face clouded. Without a word, he handed it to Richard and watched him anxiously while he was reading it.
Richard didn’t read the letter carefully, it was full of unnecessary words and pleasantries. He didn’t even read the half of it. One sentence was enough.
‘We request your presence because of King’s death.’
Chapter 2: Partners in crime
This chapter is kind of short, shorter than I would like it to be. I didn't have much time; I am leaving my hometown for a while and wanted it finished till I leave. In this chapter I described Earl River's and Richard Grey's execution. I hope that who they are is clear, but just to be sure: Anthony Woodville, Earl of Rivers- queen's brother and Richard Grey's uncle, Richard Grey- queen's younger son from first marriage, Edward's and Elizabeth's half-brother.
I also wanted to say that I alter real events a little bit; for the sake of the story, sometimes just because that's the plot and it's intentional. For example, in reality when Richard was informed about his brother's death, he was at Middleham castle.
And that is all!
(I would really appreciate pointing out eventual mistakes; I am not native English speaker)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Anthony looked at two approaching figures. He recognized them with ease; slight, stiff silhouette of Gloucester, one shoulder higher than the other, riding the horse elegantly and the long, lazy shadow; Buckingham. He leaned back in the saddle but his chin was high as always.
Earl Rivers felt sick.
Gloucester thrown his legs over horseback and jumped off his horse in swift, clean-cut motion. Anthony hid his smile. Duke was too short for a horse this tall and if he got down slowly, it would be painfully obvious. Buckingham, on the other hand had no problem with sliding off his horse ungracefully.
‘Rivers’ Earl was greeted with Gloucester’s sour face.
‘Gloucester, Buckingham’ he returned.
‘Where is the king?’ Buckingham cut the conversation with unpleasantness so typical for him.
‘In safety of course!’
‘I don’t doubt that’ Gloucester removed gloves with expression that said that he would be unfazed even if earl announced that he decided to throw the new king off the tallest tower in England. ‘But wouldn’t it be inappropriate if Lord Protector was denied meeting with the king?’
Anthony felt his jaw drop and he shut up for a moment, trying to pick up his dignity off the ground. Buckingham handed him papers, giving him some time.
Gloucester waited for his reaction, frozen in place, his young face strained, jaw clenched. Buckingham had shamelessly smug expression on but he tastefully let the smirk go.
‘This way’ he showed them.
Their footsteps clashed on silent courtyard. Gloucester waved at his men to stay in place and wait. Anthony squinted at them; at first glance, it looked that he had at least three times more people, but he couldn’t be sure.
Nobody said anything till they arrived at the door of king’s chamber.
‘Can I count on you to give me some time alone with his grace?’ Gloucester turned his head, lost in thoughts and exchanged glances with Buckingham.
Anthony didn’t say anything, only nodded because it was only a pleasantry, of course Lord Protector could talk to king alone. He looked on Buckingham who looked perfectly normal, maybe a little bit too pleased.
And he still couldn’t shake off the feeling that something is wrong when the door closed.
Richard stepped into the room with uneasy feeling, clutching gloves in her hand. Her nephew sat by the window turning pages of some book without enthusiasm. His resemblance to her brother was painfully visible; he was tall, almost as tall as her, she could see the same line of jaw, the same cheekbones. He had his blue eyes, the same blue eyes as Richard herself had.
Her father’s blue eyes.
‘Your grace’ she said quietly. Edward’s head turned at her.
‘Uncle!’ his face lightened up. ‘If I knew about your arrival, I would welcome you properly.’
‘I am here to pass to you your father’s will. He chose me as a Lord Protector. I will escort you to London for coronation’ she came closer and gave him the papers but she didn’t take the seat, waiting for response. His eyes skipped through the text, unfocused.
‘Richard*, I mean, Lord Grey, said something else when I asked about Lord Protector…’ Edward sounded concerned. When he looked up at her, he suddenly remembered about his manners. ‘But it’s nothing important, please sit, we will talk.’
He slammed papers into the table and got up, suddenly looking embarrassed. Richard felt wave of sympathy for him. She knew how it is to lose father in a young age. She came closer and put a hand on his shoulder.
‘We need to depart Northampton. You will stay at Stony Stratford, your grace. Me and Earl Rivers need to clear few inaccuracies. Then, we will head off to London.’ She said softly.
‘You can drop “Your Grace”, uncle. What do you mean by inaccuracies?’ he squinted his eyes in suspicion and suddenly she saw her brother saying; ‘Does he know?’.
‘I can‘t tell you everything right now’ she lowered her voice and leaned in, looking him straight into his eyes. ‘There are people on court who want to use your father’s will for their own gain. I suspect they are going to make a move soon. We need to do something about this and in meantime we can’t have you here, risking your life.’ She could see how his eyes widen.
Well, if she scared him, that’s good. That was the intention. If he is scared, he will listen. At least for a while.
Actually, what she said wasn’t entirely true. Edward would not risk his life at all, staying at Northampton but Richard needed him away from Rivers and Grey. He couldn’t just simply arrest them with the kid here. Edward spend half of his life with Rivers. Would he tilt to Richard’s cause in the trial? She didn’t think so.
Also, they liked her much more at Stony Stratford.
‘I will explain everything when I come back to Stratford to take you to London.’ She tried to sound soothing and reassuring but she doubted if she succeeded.
‘To London…’ he lowered his eyes to the ground and crossed his arms on the chest. ‘What is first? The coronation or the funeral?’
His voice was very quiet.
‘Coronation. You will say goodbye to your father as a king’ she squeezed his shoulder. He was shaking. Oh, Lord. ‘There is no shame in tears, Edward.’
‘But did you cry? He was your brother, too.’ Boy looked up at her with wet eyes. ‘And I have to be a man, I have to be a king.’ His voice broke. He covered his mouth to silence the sobs. ‘Oh God, oh god. My father is dead.’
She slowly put her gloves on the table and hesitantly brought her hands to him. She cupped his neck with one hand and put the other one gently on his back. Edward put his head on her shoulder and grasped the material on the back of her robe.
She played with his golden locks and rocked him gently.
Like her brother would do.
She remembered how he had hold her like this last time and felt knot in throat.
‘Oh, Edward’ she thought. ‘Where is my big brother now?’
Richard Grey was never the happiest man on court and now he felt that he could enter a competition for the unhappiest one. He couldn’t stand his uncle’s ramblings at the trial and he himself was drained of every coherent thought. His migraine got worse since yesterday and every little sound hurt.
And he was going to die.
The trial went badly.
Well, it wasn’t like they weren’t guilty anyway.
Gloucester rightfully accused them of treason thought Richard’s role in this was almost non-existent. He never had a choice. People rarely had a choice but men like Gloucester didn’t know it. For him, it was always about choice. He had the power in his hand and he was the one ordering.
Richard Grey was the one who received orders. Who was he to deny his uncle? His mother? He had one family. Doesn’t matter who they were; cheaters, scholars, liars, saints… He was never going to get a new one.
Most of his life he never had any feeling of purpose so he thought that was probably for the best. But now he felt that he was so bitterly wrong. He has spent his life trying to please his mother, to make his uncle look at him and now he was a grown man being executed because of something he didn’t care about.
Looking up from his seat he could clearly see Lord Protector’s fine boned face, how one of his shoulders hung higher than the other and how his fingers curled on a book on his lap. He saw Buckingham get up and lean in, whisper something into Gloucester’s ear. As a response, he only got a nod and duke’s absent expression.
Richard stared blankly at him; his hair curled on the edges, framing chin elegantly. Just like Elizabeth’s. Duke of Gloucester always was awfully similar to his nice but now, Richard thought for a moment that he could see his stepsister next to Lord Protector.
Both him and Buckingham looked so young, almost as young as Richard himself. It pained Richard, to see someone almost the same age as him to have accomplished so much. Why was he left behind? Why he had let himself?
‘My amount of self-pity is disgusting’ he thought and rubbed his temples, as if that realization had worsened his headache. He wanted out of this bitter thoughts and of his misery.
His mind was empty through the whole trial. He listened to his uncle’s words every night and felt how his head sloped down and his eyelids drop. It felt like he was a little boy again; everyone told him what to do and how. In the night before execution he curled up in bed and thought about mother.
‘Look out for your brother’, ‘You are going with them’, ‘I can’t’, ‘remember your place’ he could her words in his head, spinning, twisting. He dreamed about his childhood; sound of his own footsteps in the empty hallways, King Edward’s tall, broad figure behind his mother’s back, his uncle’s books, his long, difficult words, Elizabeth holding his hands.
His headache disappeared next day. He didn’t know what to do with this sudden clearness of mind but he did notice how Gloucester’s chin looked exactly like Elizabeth’s.
Then, they cut his head off.
‘So Grey and Rivers are out of the game.’ Buckingham sat down with a sigh and poured more vine for himself. ‘More?’
‘Thank you.’ Richard shook his head. ‘It’s enough.’
‘The problem is, how to break this news to His Grace…’ he continued after a moment of silence. ‘He spent a lot of time with Rivers. I don’t know about Grey but they were half-brothers.’
‘As far as I know, Grey was closer with Elizabeth.’ Henry’s expression got serious in a split second. His back straightened and he looked Richard right in the eyes. He seemed younger and gentler in the soft light of candles.
They both fell silent for a moment.
‘It was different, wasn’t it?’ Richard thought about the war and shook his glass, looking as the wine curled and jumped inside. ‘What killed them? Their own actions? Or did we?’
‘We did.’ Buckingham answered without hesitation. ‘It’s just how things are. You should stop philosophising, cousin, or you won’t last long as Lord Protector.’
‘Isn’t that disappointing…’ mumbled Richard.
‘I think we should be going to bed now’ Buckingham’s sudden change of tone baffled him. ‘We’ll be riding to Stony Stratford early in the morning.’
Henry stood up and his hand fell on Richard’s shoulder. It felt heavy.
‘Well, aren’t we perfect partners in crime…’ Richard thought, finishing his vine.
They were on their way to London in a few days.
Please, If you enjoyed and have a moment, leave a comment or kudos.
I hope I will be able to update again quickly, but I will be not in home and busy so next chapter can be late.