It had been easier when they were young.
Richard remembered his youth in snatches and spurts. His memory was unforgiving these days, his mind a shell of the sharp, tactile weapon it once was. Gone were his wit and sly cunning. In its place was a repository of grief, thick and bitter on the tongue, twisted shadows, has-beens, faces that faded before he could recall their names.
He found himself clinging to whatever he could recollect. He imagined them to be papers, the vellum worn and creased, folded over and over by his shaking fingers. Bound together, they would make a book. A history or a tragedy? He hardly knew.
The covers would be red. Of this, he was certain. He liked silk, but the material was prone to tatter, so perhaps hide would be a better choice. Letters in gilt, embossed with golden thread. The red would be rich, almost purple. Not like the watery gloss on apples, but a ripe, bloodier tint.
Strange that he would gravitate towards red, given the colour's connotations. Red was Lancaster, roses that stole warmth and sunlight in their greed to grow. Red was rubies winking on a crown, blood spilling from a gash, strawberries ripening in a sun-drenched meadow. Red was anger and passion and lust, the scenes of war incarnate. Red was the colour of his childhood, and it made sense he would dye his covers the same way.
Another day, another page. A lot of his memories involved his brothers. Richard found himself dwelling on his upbringing in the care of his aunt, the steadfast Anne Neville, then the duchess of Buckingham. He remembered little, except the fact that he had been a quiet child. Getting along with George had been difficult, even at that age. He found gazing out of windows a winsome pastime, something that could keep him entertained without his aunt's constant warnings and reprimands. One could have adventures and stories without scarcely taking a step outside and often achieve much more.
It started with the cross slit in the north tower. He was still too small to reach the ledge and had to use an empty wine barrel to leverage himself up onto the sill. The ledge was precariously narrow and gritty with dust, but young Richard had cared little for such trivial things. The view was what truly mattered. Up there, in the tower room of his aunt’s estate, Richard had truly felt like a king. His gaze fell immediately on the cluttered keep and the kitchen gardens, and then farther beyond onto fields and commons, stys full of pigs and geese, grazing cattle, woods, ponds and a murky treeline that eventually faded into the distance.
On clear days, Richard tried to find the exact point where browning grass gave way to azure sky. He'd reach, eyes squinting in the haze, tubby fingers grasping at what he imagined were ley lines. On overcast mornings, he made shapes out of clouds, imagining himself a creator, sculpting creatures out of mist and fog.
Storms were theatrical, noisy things. He enjoyed them immensely. The grimy rain wetted his chapped knuckles and the thundering claps resonated through the tower stones he knelt upon. And of course, what were storms without lightning? Don't look at flares, the Duchess said, but Richard found them maddeningly attractive. He couldn't look away, he couldn't.
In a way, they reminded him of Edward. Bold, bright, unyielding. He did not live with them, already preparing for kingship and lordly duties. Richard found himself squirming the few rare times they met, feeling quite lost and inadequate at the sight of him. Forever golden, his Edward. Dressed primly in teal and turquoise, boots polished, buckles set, hair curled just so.
Always at his side, seemingly conjoined, was Edmund, his other brother. Richard didn't remember much about him, except that he was a copy of Edward, a poorly soldered one with unrendered edges. He possessed none of Edward's natural charm and witty conversation, yet seemed happy enough to bask in his brother's glow. His gentle disposition irked young Richard for reasons he couldn't explain. Where Edward was the sun, Edmund was a buttercup, soft, frail, half as golden. Ill fated, like most pretty things are. Easily crushed underfoot.
Naivete, Richard would realise later on, was a deadly thing. He didn't know of the exact circumstances his brother died in, but enough rumours abounded for him to get a grasp on how it may have come about. Killed at the hands of a Lancaster, avenging wrongs and baying for blood. The stuff of ballads and legends. Supposedly, Edmund's namesake had led to his own demise. Had he bent, cowered, pleaded on his knees? Had he called for Edward?
Out of all of them, it was Edward who truly grieved. He and Edmund had rode together, fought under their father's banners, drank and washed and supped together like lovers. Young Richard imagined them as two figures curled into each other, one a sturdy sapling and the other a lisping tendril, clinging to the tender wood like a vise.
Richard had always considered Edmund stupid and silly, but there were times he had been almost sweet. He hadn't cared particularly for his dead brother's smiles, but perhaps he could learn to appreciate them now that he was six feet under the ground, ensconced in coarse burial shrouds and cold, frozen earth.
His manner of observation improved in the low countries, where he and George were again banded together in the custody of a distant relative. It was frustrating, to always be on the run, growing up in the care of others, but there was not much to be done about it. George had been a tempestuous child, a boy who took sadistic delight in scaring the cook's cat and pulling the mane of his riding pony. Richard stayed clear of his frightening whims and stuck to his window watching. Their drawing room had lovely patterned panes that cut up sunlight into flecks of gold. He sat there with his tin soldiers and ivory horses, a wooden carriage with a broken wheel, a small pouch of amber beads that he liked to hold up to the light. Occasionally, he looked out onto the cobbled streets and the canals that ran by the garden. Flanders was always obscured by sea mist in the mornings, but the blades of the wooden mill houses were easy to spot in the gloom.
In between riding lessons and instructions on Latin, he wrote letters to his mother. They had never been particularly close, for it was clear that mother favoured George over her other sons, even at that age. He asked after Edward sometimes, and treasured whatever scraps of information he received about his whereabouts.
Things became different after Towton. A bloody battle on the snow, the deadliest fought on English soil. Edward was no longer Edward, but the King. And he had somehow become a prince.
None of this phased him terribly. He had known in his heart that Edward was rightfully anointed and had the disposition of a monarch, for he was golden and bright and beautiful, the white rose adored by all and loved by many. This was a fulfillment of his childhood fantasies, nothing more.
What was hard to adapt to was the presence of another - Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. The man was now responsible for his tutelage. Richard had grown used to solitude and the solace of windows, glimpsing into others' lives and flitting away like a curious sparrow. He was used to being overlooked and tolerated in conversation, so the Earl surprised him. Aside from being responsible for his lessons, Warwick seemed to be genuinely interested in his thoughts and wellbeing.
Their companionship blossomed over rides and jousts, and Richard was pleasantly surprised to find they had quite a lot in common, whether it be their knowledge of warfare tactics or their mutual adoration of Edward. He knew the king and his cousin were close, Warwick held a great deal of influence in the courts, after all. The kingmaker, people called him, and it seemed a fitting title.
Edward, in return, was charitably disposed towards the man. 'He's the reason I'm here, where I am. He's taught me everything I know.' he confessed to him once, sharing ale and cheese after a particularly tedious council session. 'And now he will teach you.'
For Richard, the greatest reward was being close to Edward again. Starved of his brother's light and affection for long periods of time had made him forget, but it came back to him now that he had his full attention. It was an addiction, the spell of his company. Richard found himself concentrating on the coquettish line of his mouth, the way coral lips fixed onto the rim of a wine glass. Sometimes, he wondered what it would feel like to be a goblet, or the ale pitcher in Edward's chambers, and then consciously tried to forget the thought.
He watched silently as Edward charmed all the women in their court with protestations of love and scandalous kisses, and then charmed their husbands with pretty whispers and promises of greatness. It worked remarkably well, and everyone seemed to love him more for it. Warwick encouraged his clandestine meetings so long as it guaranteed greater consolidation of power, and turned a blind eye to most of his visitations.
Perhaps that was where they differed. If it had been Richard in his place, he would be driven mad with jealousy. Mother had always called him a rather possessive creature. But Warwick, despite how he professed to love his king, loved power more. He was lucky enough to have both.
Richard, however, did not. His positions had been granted to him by virtue of the king, and he was still considered too young for much more, despite his ambitions. And of keeping the king's company, the less said the better. They shared occasional conversations, a small joke and a private smile, and that was it. Richard contented himself with this bare intimacy and did not dare demand for more.
The Earl of Warwick had no such qualms.
His childhood memories were barely coherent these days, but even he could not forget that one particular May night. The air had been rich with the scent of honeysuckle and dog rose. Cupid showing his favour, little Anne had explained seriously, but her stoicism was belied by the blotchy flush of her cheeks.
A pleasant spring night, heady with the promise of rain. The air in the king's bedchambers was thick with the smell of sweat and overripe fruit. Edward stripped himself carelessly, while Richard lounged in the rocking chair by the fire, consciously avoiding the bare expanses of skin.
'Warwick's coming by to discuss some plans, you'll be fine on your own won't you?'
A casual dismissal, but thoughtfully worded nonetheless. Richard acquiesced by picking up the cloak he had thrown over the bedpost and not addressing why Edward had to be in his smallclothes to talk strategy with the man.
He bumped into Warwick in the corridor outside. The man gave him a friendly nod, as though assignations such as this were commonplace. Perhaps they were, and this was the first Richard was hearing of it.
He knew the king had a great appetite for sex, with how often he had to sit through the flirtations that led up to the act. It was common knowledge, in fact. But what others didn't know was that it was all manners of intimacy the king favoured, and not just the base lust of it. Edward liked the wine and cheese, the bawdy jokes, the tawdry humour, the kissing and the petting, the feeling of skin on skin and silken hair, the embracing and soft caresses at the end, lying spent on soaked sheets.
Richard compiled this knowledge through close observation, and keenly guarded secrecy. Knowing that another had access to this private well of information bothered him to no end, but as always, he did nothing. Warwick passed him by into the chambers he had just left, and Richard tried very hard not to be affected by it, knowing the king lay beyond, enticing and vulnerable, covered by nothing but the barest of linens and a modicum of modesty.
Warwick's shoulders were strong and confidently set, his posture radiating a self assuredness Richard could never hope to possess. He waited until the other entered and then crouched in an alcove situated nearby. He heard Edward's cheerful greeting 'There you are, dear cousin!' and then the door shut securely on its hinges.
Many wouldn't know, but there was a conveniently placed crack in the heavy set wood, warped and weathered smooth under his skin.
Richard crouched quietly, and then moved to do what he did best.
He sat in the shadows by Edward's door, and listened.