"Mount, mount, my soul. Thy seat is up on high, whilst my gross flesh sinks downward, here to die!" said Richard, and sank backwards.
"Hey, there's nothing gross about flesh!"
Richard opened his eyes. Where was that voice coming from? He looked around "I'm sorry, who are you?" He blinked. Everything had gone a bit strange.
"Or at least, you'll find you miss it when you've been without it as long as I have." There was a man sitting on top of a cupboard, dressed very unfashionably and speaking very impertinently (not that that was unusual nowadays).
"Is this a dream?" said Richard.
"I've been waiting for you," said the man.
"Are you an angel?" Richard asked. He did look slightly androgynous, as angels are reputed to do.
The man laughed. Actually, on second thoughts, less 'androgynous' and more 'like a screaming queen'.
Suddenly Richard was very afraid. He recalled numerous nights with Bushy, Bagot and/or Green, which, though extremely pleasurable, were not, perhaps, as biblically sanctioned as they might have been. Not an angel but a devil then? He shuddered and crossed himself. "Lord have mercy," he said.
"Well, quite," said the man.
Richard looked around and was surprised to see himself lying on the floor. "Sorry if this is an odd question," he said, "but am I dead?"
"You betcha!" The man grinned.
"And you're here to lead me to heaven?"
"Not quite," said the man, and Richard's face fell. "But don't worry: heaven's way overrated."
"Not that I've been, mind. I just don't think it would be very me. You know, standing around like a lackey while some other guy gets to be king."
Richard was shocked. "That's blasphemy. That's..."
"Oh come on, don't tell me you haven't thought it yourself."
"No! Never." But then again, lying is a sin, and the last thing he needed right now was to commit any more of them. "Or at least not much," he confessed. "Sorry," he added, not to the man, who grinned again. Richard was beginning to find him annoying. "Who are you anyway?" he said.
"I am your great-grandsire's spirit!" The voice was very... theatrical.
Richard started counting back on his fingers. He'd never been good at that sort of thing.
"Edward II," said the man, after a while.
"Oh," said Richard. Then it sank in. "Oh! The one with the..."
"Wisdom, majesty and excellent fashion sense?" suggested Edward.
"Or were you going to say 'poker'?"
Edward rolled his eyes.
"My parents always used you as a dreadful warning," admitted Richard.
"I can imagine. 'Don't let me catch you rolling in the hay with that stable boy again or you'll end up just like...'"
"Hey! How did you know about the stable boy?"
"I was watching. And you have to admit they had a point."
Edward gestured towards Richard's abandoned body. "You did end up a bit like me."
Richard turned away. He wanted to cry, but found he couldn't. Edward had been right. Gross or otherwise, he was already beginning to miss having flesh and bones.
"Sorry," said Edward. "I know it's hard at first, but you'll get used to it."
"Well," said Richard, rallying. "No time to waste. I suppose I'm here to avenge myself. I need to appear to someone sympathetic, tell them I was murdered and command them to execute the base traitor Bolingbroke. How do I do that?"
"Appear to people."
Edward shrugged. "Dunno. Drunkards and children sometimes see me. And cats. And lots of people say 'ooh, there's a draft' or 'someone must have walked over my grave' when I go past them."
"Drunkards and children aren't any good!" Richard said. "How can they avenge me?"
Edward thought for a moment. "You're right. Perhaps the cats are your best bet. They could scratch him. Or poo in his shoes."
"Be serious! I don't want to be a ghost. I want to do what I need to do and go to heaven."
"I don't think it works like that."
"Well, how does it work? What have you been doing for the last..." Richard considered trying to count on his fingers again, but decided against it. "What have you been doing since you died?"
"Oh, this and that. Looking at young men getting undressed. Scaring cats. Um... more young men. That sort of thing. You know."
"You've spent... however many decades, or centuries or whatever hanging around young men's bedrooms like some kind of ethereal peeping Tom?"
"They didn't just strip, you know. It was much more exciting than that. Take you and the stable boy, for instance..."
Richard scowled. "Well I'm different," he said. "I am going to take my revenge on Henry Bolingbroke."
"I've got a thought," said Edward. "You could start with his son."
Richard pondered this. It was not necessarily a bad idea. Bolingbroke was very proud of his children. "Go on," he said.
"The eldest of them," said Edward. "Hal? Must be about sixteen?"
"Well... you could start by... studying him closely. When he gets undressed at night, for instance, or when he goes swimming. You can tell a lot about a man from that sort of thing."
Richard rolled the insubstantial image of his eyes. "Don't you ever think of anything else?" he said.
"Like you have any better ideas. Come on: let's get out of here at least. You're beginning to gather flies. It's quite repulsive."
"What do you mean I'm... oh." Richard looked down at his body. He felt dreadfully homesick.
"Hello? Is anyone there?" Nothing. Hal finished drying his hair and slipped on a clean shirt. Odd. That strange buzzing in his ears again, and did he see something move, over by the wardrobe?
He settled back down to his books and took a nice long swig of milk. He didn't understand why other boys his age drank wine or beer – it only made you foolish and clumsy and gave you headache. Speaking of which, it was getting very stuffy. He threw open a window, and leant out over the London street, full of ordinary people talking and drinking and laughing. It was a glorious evening.
"Why don't I go for a walk?" The thought took him by surprise, almost as though someone were whispering in his ear. "Eastcheap. I hear Eastcheap is very nice at this time of year."
Meanwhile, in the next room, Henry IV put on his bedroom slippers and found them filled with something slimy and sticky. What on earth was that horrible smell?