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My Father Hath a Power

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Edward turned the story around in his head for years, and no matter how he told it, his father always carried the guilt. His father bit his tongue when he should have spoken up, hesitated when he should have taken sides, treated a crumbling dynasty like an ordinary family squabble. In the end, he had let one nephew bully him into permitting the murder of another nephew.

The first years after Richard's death, he began the story on that wretched beach, watching a kingdom melt like a child's sandcastle slowly eaten by surf. The Welsh archers had returned home, but surely his father's men would arrive. Old men, young boys, even women had joined Bolingbroke's army, but his father's hardened knights would take them down. Bushy and Green, sweet, smiling Bushy and diligent Green, had given their heads to defend their king; his father would make their sacrifice count.

His certainty held him together as he watched Richard wail and writhe on the sand, kept Richard's hope firmly anchored to himself.

"My father hath a power; inquire of him," he pleaded. Richard's breath caught and he looked at Edward as though into a mirror, his conviction the glue that pulled the king together.

"Say, Scroop, where lies our uncle with his power?"

Scroop's reply washed the sand, no, the entire earth out from under Edward's feet.

"Your uncle York is joined with Bolingbroke."

Once the painful moment of his father's betrayal had dulled with time, however, he wondered when it had begun, and started the story with his uncle Gaunt's death. Richard's men robbed the house even as his uncle breathed his last, and comforted his grieving brother, Edward's father, with platitudes before ordering everyone to be merry.

This version turned into an argument with his father.

"His body was still warm, Edward!"

"But he was dead."

"And his estate and title belonged to Henry. It was theft, pure and simple."

Edward couldn't find a response.

"Then, that whole, now uncle what's the matter thing." He looked accusingly at Edward. "Some of us in this family love our relatives! The ripest fruit first falls, my ass!"

"I mourned him too, but we had to move on."

"And move right on you did. To Ireland, with him, to fight a pointless war with your cousin's wealth."

"Some of us in this family are loyal to our king," Edward mocked.

"Spoken like his queen," his father spat, narrow eyes brimming with spite.

Rage claimed Edward's blood before embarrassment could flood him. He ground his teeth and clenched his fists, but his father wouldn't let up.

"Gaunt was loyal to Richard. Your loyalty extended only as far as your own desire. You betrayed your family."

The futility of asking how supporting one cousin rather than the other betrayed the family did not escape him. In his father's mind, he had willingly participated in a crime. In this version of the story, Edward inevitably blamed himself for his father's eventual defection.

And yet, his father's cruelty hinted that Gaunt's death sat in the middle of the story, not its beginning. So he started with his first memory of Richard, paraded through streets that flowed with wine on his coronation day. Just four years old, Edward would not attend the ceremony itself, but clung to his mother's skirts in the crowd as Richard, pale cheeks flushed and golden curls damp with sweat, struggled past them beneath robes heavy with golden embroidery and pearls. His face bore a serene expression, but for the briefest of moments his eye caught Edward's and he saw nothing but a nervous, uncomfortable, lonely little boy looking back at him. He worried about the boy.

He had no other image of Richard in his mind until the court visited his father's household, when he was ten. Richard had grown tall and carried himself gracefully. His hair shone against the bluest silk, and a faint, downy beard had just begun to adorn his chin. At dinner, he leaned against his friend, Robert, and put the choicest morsels of food on his plate. Edward could not take his eyes off him.

He trailed Richard like a ghost, always on some other pretext, half hoping the adolescent king would not notice him, and half hoping he would. Once, he crept silently into a room where Richard and Robert lounged on a bed, flagon of wine between them, and he saw Richard kiss him on the mouth. He must have gasped because Richard caught him staring, and smiled. He ran away, followed by his cousin's laughter and haunted by the memory of that kiss.

When Richard married Anne, their blissful sphere of love included Robert, but not him. He was too young, too invisible. Then, Robert died, and he could do nothing but watch from afar as Richard sought solace with his wife. Years later, when Anne died, Edward saw the frightened, lonely little boy return in Richard's ravaged face, and stepped up.

"Cousin, I understand," he whispered, the royal body yielding like a cloud to his embrace. "I'm here. You're not alone."

Richard took his face between both hands and kissed him with a tenderness that summoned Edward's own tears to mingle with his cousin's on their cheeks.

Edward couldn't even remember a time when he had not sided with Richard. His cousin had long ago bought him with a glance and claimed him with a kiss. Here, at the beginning of the story, he saw loyalty to the king, to family, and to his lover braided in a single strand before him.

He signed on to the Epiphany Uprising to redeem the York name, and himself, to Richard by rescuing him from prison, but failed to conceal the plot from his father's prying eyes. In a final act of betrayal to both his nephew and his own son, the Duke of York accused Edward of treason to King Henry, who showed mercy and absolved him.

"If my father had stood up to Henry, Richard would still be king. If he had let the uprising succeed, Richard would still be king. No, my father deserves all the blame," he thought, and spoke rarely to him or of him.

When Edward finally inherited his father's title, he wore it like a badge of shame.