We were rather out of it in the west, but without our military presence, Wales and the western counties would have risen, too. By March, there was trouble in the Midlands, in Lincolnshire, and in Yorkshire. Gathering an army at Grantham, the King routed the rebel forces so fast and thoroughly that the battlefield became known as Lose-Coat Field—and the badges on the jettisoned coats were those of Warwick and Clarence.
It was out in the open now, even before the rebel leaders confessed. Time to settle the issue. The King sent an ultimatum to his cousin and brother—join him, or take the consequences. Choosing the latter, they fled west, and the King sent for Richard, both to bring in more men and in his capacity as Constable.
And so you see us late in March, heading north through Cheshire, hoping we wont collide with the rebel armies. It was one of those miserable nights that make you wonder if youve died without noticing it. I say night, but it was really no more than dusk. All day snow had threatened; now it was raining in a spiteful sort of way, and cold as a witchs tit. We were seasoned campaigners by then, and knew the soldiers tricks of husbanding our strength, but we were a wretched, wet, tired troop, without the spirit to grumble.
We were still some distance from Manchester when Rob Percy lifted his head and said, Theres a large force on the road ahead. No-one else could hear anything, but Rob had the keenest ears of any man I knew. A few moments later we could all hear the sounds. A large force indeed.
Richard gave the order to halt. Warwick and Clarence were in this area, each with a big army. If we had run into one of them . . . Battle? Flight? Death or imprisonment . . . Richard taken, and used as a bargaining counter against the King . . .
The other force rounded a bend in the road, saw us, and stopped. Rob Percy and I rode forward. Two men from the other troop did the same. We halted a wary four paces apart, and began the who-goes-there routine. They were cagey, but so were we, and peer though I might, I could make out no badges or banners. I kept my hand on my swords hilt (sometimes its useful being left-handed; people watch your right hand, giving you a tiny, vital advantage). Whoever this was, moving troops so late in the day, he had more men than us. And, heading south, they certainly werent going to the King.
Whose men are you? Rob called. Please clear the way.
Fuck off, sonny.
Oh, dear. You talk to a Percy like that at your peril. Fuck you!
I heard a sword being drawn, and the nock of a crossbow. Oh, marvellous. I was going to die in a roadside scuffle over right-of-way. A third man rode forward from the other troop. I recognized him, and my heart sank. Lord Stanley was Warwicks brother-in-law. Famous turncoats, the Stanleys; itd be a fool who trusted them.
I demand to know who you are, he called.
We are the Duke of Gloucesters men, on the Kings business.
Gloucester—that young pup! Clear the way.
But Richard, too, had ridden forward. Lord Stanley. Thick with cold, his voice came out rasping with menace. Young pup I may be, but its an old dog who cant be taught new tricks. Which new trick are you having trouble learning, my lord, treachery or loyalty? Because I ride to the King, on the Kings business, and I doubt you can say the same. Be wise, Tom Stanley, and go home. Now move your men by the time I count ten, because I dont care if I ride through you or over you, but pass down this road I will. He held up his hand, folding down the fingers one by one. Stanley stood his ground for five counts, then shouted an order and his troop gave way. Richard led us straight on as if they didnt exist.
He made an enemy of Stanley, doing that, and fifteen years later, paid for it.
Stanley had in fact, we learnt, been taking that army to Warwick, but he heeded Richards warning and slunk off home. (And he had the brass neck to complain to the King that, peacefully going about his innocent business, he had been rudely set upon and abused by the Duke of Gloucester.)
Warwick and Clarence had been counting on Stanley. Without him they hadnt enough men to come to battle with the King, and they fled southward. Time, now, to pursue them.
Briefly, Jenny wrote that she had borne a son on the sixteenth day of February. The child was baptized John after her father, had red hair, was healthy and strong. She, too, was well. Then followed: While I cannot yet be certain about the particular matter we discussed, I believe you are not, after all, concerned. Then on a separate line came, Please give my good greetings to His Grace of Gloucester. She had signed it, baldly, with her name; no greetings to me, no word of fondness.
Richard was droning through a report on troop numbers and supplies. I crossed the room and threw the letter into his lap. This was familiarity beyond the line in public, and I got some odd looks. But Richard had learnt in his first week at Court to school his expression; he read through the letter and handed it casually back.
Yes, thanks, Martin, I was waiting to hear. If you are writing, please say Im grateful for the information and send my good wishes. Only if you knew him very well could you see the muscle pulling in his cheek.
Finished with the report, he took up another letter. Glancing at the seal he said, From John Neville. A moment later he yelled Fucking hellfire! so violently his startled secretary spilt the ink.
Richard, what is it?
The King has taken the Northumberland earldom from John Neville and restored it to Henry Percy.
What! cried Rob Percy, whose opinion of his cousin was unrepeatable. That backstabbing bastard? Why, he was in prison for years for supporting the Lancastrians! The King must be off his—forgot what I was going to say.
Off his head, said Richard. Harry Percys my cousin, too, remember, and among us, gentlemen, I agree. But the thing is, while John Nevilles loyalty isnt in doubt, Harry Percys has to be bought. Christ, think of the men Percy can raise—if he turned against us . . . Its blackmail, of course—give me back my earldom or else.
But what an insult to John Neville, Rob persisted. Hes been the Kings most loyal supporter, his best general—hes just put down that Yorkshire rising, yet this is the thanks he gets. And its not only that—think of the lands and money that go with the Northumberland title; the rent roll alone is worth thousands. Im sorry, Richard, but with respect, I think the King has made a mistake. Apart from hurting a loyal man, hes told others he can be bought.
Bought by a Percy, too, I thought—for generations the Nevilles and the Percies had been rivals for power in the north; ancient enemies. And, never forget, John Neville was Warwicks brother. Another insult. Back at Christmas the King had made Johns son Duke of Bedford and betrothed him to Lady Bess; a suitable reward, wed all thought, for a loyal man. Now I wondered if the King had always intended to do this—first the honey, then the medicine. Do you know, I felt a twinge of sympathy for Warwick? Of course I saw the difficulty for the King trying to balance all the conflicting claims and demands, but if this was a sample of his judgement—and think of his foolish marriage!—then perhaps Warwick had rebelled less from hurt pride than from real care for his country in this Kings heedless hands.
Richard said defensively, Of course John Nevilles loyalty can never be doubted—the King is trying to show he knows that. People like Harry Percy have to be bought—a Neville does not. And he has made John Marquis of Montagu. But, he added miserably, Im afraid John is furious and hurt, in fact his letter was to beg me to make the King reverse the decision—I cant, of course. And youre right about the Northumberland income, Rob, because poor John says that hes been given forty pounds a year—a pies nest, he calls it. Well, Im sure its more than that, but still . . .
And, as John Milwater said later, as we polished our armour together, the King seemed neither to know nor care what strain he put on peoples loyalty.
Richard wouldnt turn against the King even if he found him eating childrens flesh—but theyre brothers. Its different for other people. And John Nevilles already torn between his brother and the King. Its all very well saying he doesnt have to be bought, but people expect loyalty to be rewarded, its the way of the world. If the King goes on like this hell find himself with no-one but Richard. Bad judgments the same as bad luck, and people will start wondering if Edwards any better than King Henry.
Curiously, because he, too, had grown up at Middleham, I asked, Would you ever turn against the King?
Milwater brushed the blonde fringe out of his eyes, thinking. Of course we were friends, but this was the most intimate conversation wed ever had. At last he said, Im loyal to Richard of Gloucester.
Begging the question.
Is it? Look, Martin, I used to admire Warwick beyond all other men, I loved him, in fact. But I believe one must be loyal to ones king, so I hate Warwicks treachery. Id never go over to him or that bugger Clarence, and Id certainly never turn Lancastrian; like yours, my father died with the old Duke of York. But my personal loyalty to Edward is wearing rather thin, and if the worst happened, I suppose Id settle down quietly under King George. So Ive decided that my loyalty goes with my friendship. After all the campaigning of the last six months, I see that frigging White Boar banner in my sleep, but Ill go on following it while I or its owner live. That answer your question?
Yes. And youve got metal polish on your face. I wiped it for him. I feel the same way.
Lets hope the new Marquis does too.
But they were a half-day ahead of us, and at sea by the time our army pelted into Exeter. Warwick tried to land at Southampton, but was beaten off by Anthony Woodvilles fleet. He tried Calais, but the garrison under Lord Wenlock shelled him back out to sea. Finally, late in April, he landed at Honfleur, where King Louis messengers were waiting to conduct them as honoured guests to the King.
Later we learnt that poor Isabel went into labour off Calais. Her child, a son, was born dead.
In no hurry now, Edward moved his army north. We were at York the day the Kings squire burst into our room crying for us to go to the King. Rob and I were lolling half asleep by the window, our feet up, cold ale to hand—it took us a moment to understand what the man was saying.
Please—theres trouble—its a matter for friends, its Gloucester— That had us on our feet. Running after us the squire said, A messenger came with letters from London. The King read one, then sent for Gloucester. When he came, the King kicked everyone else out. You can hear him shouting like hes run mad. No-one dares go in, but its bad.
Upstairs wed heard nothing, but down here it sounded as if the King was taking an axe to his audience chamber. He was bellowing at the top of his voice, and the few discernible words were obscenities. Rob and I shouldered through the crowd of servants and men-at-arms and knocked on the door. The King gave a yell of rage, and we heard a splintering crash. If Richard was in there, he was silent. I knocked again and this time lifted the latch. The door wasnt bolted, and we slipped inside.
Gods bones, Id heard of Edwards temper but never seen it. I hoped I never would again. The table was overturned, its contents trampled. A window was broken. A lute was smashed to firewood. A lovely old book of French songs had been ripped apart. All the plate from the sideboard was strewn on the floor, dented or broken. The hangings were in ribbons. The room stank of wine from the priceless carafe lying splintered in the hearth. At the end of the room, the King rampaged, purple in the face, weeping, shouting. He held a length of wood—the leg of his fine carved chair, and, Christ, that chair was two-inch oak.
Richard was standing against the far wall, hands pressed flat against the stone. His face was ashen, his eyes dilated black. Neither he nor Edward seemed aware of us, then Edward turned like a baited bear and said Get out with such menace that I near obeyed.
I hand it to Rob. Saying, Your Grace, you can be heard. It wont do, sire, he stepped up to the King and took the chair-leg from his hand. Edward took two great shuddering breaths, and the red madness faded.
I edged past him to Richard. When I spoke his name he stared through me. Id once seen Lady Warwick slap a girl whod delivered bad news and gone blank with shock; I made do with gripping Richards arms and shaking him. Slowly his eyes fixed on me, and he slumped forward to lean his head on my shoulder.
Martin. Oh, God, my dear, Martin.
We righted the one bench still intact, and made them sit down. They perched there like two whipped schoolboys, and after a moment, Edward slid his arm around his brother. Rob cracked the door and asked for wine, and we made them drink.
Can we help? Rob asked. Is it something you can tell your friends?
Richard downed his wine in a gulp. As if continuing a previous conversation he said, Its Warwick, you see.
In relief, for Id been afraid it was the Duchess or Margaret, I asked, Dead?
No. Would that he were! God forgive me, would that he were!
Whats he done?
Made alliance with Margaret of Anjou. With Lancaster.
No! Rob cried, then clapped his hand childlike over his mouth.
He has, the King said. His fathers head rotted with my fathers on a traitors spike at that bitchs order. His father and brother died, with mine, fighting that bitch. He was driven into exile by her. Yet now in his hubris hes made alliance with her.
George, too, Richard said. Christ, Martin, George was at Ludlow. He stood with us and waited for that army to take us. He listened to Queen Margaret rating our mother like a whore. He was bundled onto that ship with us when Queen Margarets army was attacking London. Warwick, yes, because he never really understood, he sorrowed for his father and mine, but it meant glory for him. He couldnt be king, but he could control one, then found he couldnt. But he never understood, and I knew it. Its George I cant bear, that hes done this. Hes none too bright, and hes greedy and proud and untrustworthy, but Christ, hes my brother and I never thought he could betray our parents.
Warwick and Louis dangled a crown in front of him, Edward grunted.
Are you so sure you could resist?
Richard looked at him as if he were barking. At this cost, yes. Anyway, do you think I havent been offered it?
I thought, if Edward was genuinely surprised, no wonder his judgement was often so poor. He and Richard stared at each other in mutual disbelief, and Richard said (slowly, for the dullards down the front of class), Edward, Ive lost count of the clever schemes to put me or George on the thrones of England, Burgundy, Christ-knows-where, Zeeland even . . . It wasnt always Warwick making the suggestions, either; or he was only the conduit for them. Warwick didnt much care whether he used George or me, so long as he overthrew you and made one of his daughters Queen. He flinched at the words. Gripping my hand, he said, Martin, theyre marrying Anne Neville to Queen Margarets son.
I felt as if hed hit me in the gut. Cant be . . .
They are. You see, Warwicks promised to restore Henry the Sixth. Anne is the guarantee and the price for both sides.
Restore Henry the Sixth! It was high summer, but I shivered as if in snow-weather. I had, suddenly, an abominably clear memory of my mother trying to fight the men whod raped and killed her.
Head in hands, Edward said, Im sorry about Anne. Shes a dear little lass, but its not as if shell come to any harm. But dont you see, this makes George superfluous? Irrelevant? No-ones interested now in making him King. From Warwicks point of view Anne will be Princess of Wales and Queen one day. George is to succeed if Anne bears the Prince no heir. From Louiss and Queen Margarets point of view, old Henryll be king again, then his son. No place in that for George, dont you see?
Of course I see! Richard snapped, and slammed out of the room.
Whats the matter? Edward asked, bewildered. Well, I thought, where do you start? Then his brows drew down in a glower. Back at that Christmas feast, Richard looked far too interested in Anne Neville for my liking. Is he?
Sire, said Rob with more courtesy than I could have mustered just then, hes said nothing about Lady Anne. But shes his cousin—he grew up with her, as did I and Martin. Were all fond of her and hate to think of her being used.
Hmm. I hope thats all it is. Because you can tell him from me that Anne Neville is the last person Ill ever let him marry. He stood, casting a glance around the room. My mother, then my tutor, tried very hard to train me to control my temper. On the whole, they did well. But its as Richard said: this treachery.
I was dreaming I was playing football at Middleham—no, on board ship and—I woke to find Richard shaking me. Martin, wake up! Get up! His sinewy hands closed on my arms, dragging me to my feet. Wake up!
Mwakewossamarrerstopshakinmewhere are we?
Still at Doncaster, you idiot. Come on!
Exhausted from the days march, Id fallen asleep in hose and shirt, a cloak huddled around me. Richard was forcing my arms into my doublet, Rob thrusting boots onto my feet. A single candle flared in the draught from the open door. Men were running full-pelt down the corridor.
Whats going on?
John Nevilles turned against the King. Richard pushed my coat of brigandines into my arms. He couldnt betray his brother after all, poor sod. One of his men broke away—hes loyal, hes just come in with the news. Nevilles coming down on us fast with twice our numbers. We have to get out of here, theres nothing else for it. So hurry. Five minutes, in the courtyard. He latched a buckle on my brigandines, kissed me, and strode out, a baggage roll over his shoulder.
I plunged my face into the icy water in the basin, shook myself like a dog, and started to pack. My two books; my cloak, spare shirt, and hose; soap, razor, comb. Christ, what else. Candles. Tinderbox. Money—I had three marks in my belt-purse, my emerald ring. The stale taste of sleep was in my mouth, and because I wasnt really awake, it seemed important to clean my teeth. Id barely picked up the hazelwood twig when Richard raced back in.
What are you going to do, smile at them? He bundled me out and down the stairs.
The courtyard seethed with men. Panicky shouts and the neighs of frightened horses rose on all sides. Flickering torches lit the Kings golden head, and Anthony Woodvilles paler one beside him. They were already mounted, the King holding the reins of Richards horse. The gates crashed open, we threw ourselves into the saddles, and were off.
Where are we going? I shouted to Richard.
Dont know. East. Warwicks to the south.
Wed done this a year ago. But this time there was no question of letting the King be taken; things had gone far beyond that. We galloped eastward, because Anthony Woodville owned land around Lynn. We took boats across the Wash, but at Lynn found no safety, merely a breathing-space in which to take stock. The rebel armies were closing on us fast. Norfolk was hostile. There were only about a dozen of us—Hastings, Rivers, Richard, a handful of us squires. We had no arms but our personal weapons, no money, no supplies.
Burgundy, said Edward. Theres nothing else for it. We have to buy time. Duke Charles wont dare not support me. No-one had a better suggestion, and he went away to arrange our passage. The best he could find was fishing boats whose masters would take us, at a cost. We pooled our money (I kept quiet about my emerald ring, for it was all I had of my father) and Edward gave his fur cloak to one of the masters to make up the fee.
As the boats cast off, Edward hallood from his boat to Richard.
What? Richard bellowed back.
In the morning mist, we could just make out the Kings figure. He waved solemnly, then cupped his hands around his mouth again. Happy birthday!
Christ, he was right. It was the second of October. Richards eighteenth birthday.
We went into exile to the sound of those two royal lunatics laughing.
If you think Duke Charles rushed to our aid, youre wrong. It was the Seigneur Louis de la Gruythuuse whose ships chased away the Germans. He saved us, housed us, succoured us. Governor of Holland, he was immensely rich, a cultured man who, fortunately for us, was firmly Anglophile. While Duke Charles temporized, waiting to see which way the political cat would jump, Gruythuuse opened his heart and house to us. And what a house—the finest in Bruges, a palace crammed with beautiful and extraordinary things from all over the world; not in any English castle have I known such comfort and luxury. Gruythuuse liked novelties and jokes—clockwork toys, automata, books which puffed dust in your face when you opened them—and, a learned man with an interest in all things modern, he supported Master William Caxtons printing press. (Although I didnt remember it, Id met Master Caxton in 61.) Gruythuuse gave us clothes. We had only to ask his treasurer for cash. He opened credit for us to wage soldiers and buy arms, horses, ships.
Meanwhile, in England, Warwick and Clarence had entered London on October 6, promptly whisking King Henry out of the Tower and parading him through the city in what came to be called his Re-Adeption. Warwicks brother Archbishop George was restored to the Chancellorship, Parliament reversed all the attainders on Lancastrians. And, to popular disapproval, Warwick made an alliance of peace with France and promised King Louis to join him in attacking Burgundy.
At this, Duke Charles saw the light. His only hope of keeping his beloved country from the munching jaws of France was to restore Edward to the English throne. He coughed up 50,000 crowns, and we set about provisioning ships and recruiting an army.
Another fillip for our chances arrived with the news that the Queen had borne a son. When Edward fled England, she had scurried into Westminster Sanctuary and there, in November, at last produced a Prince of Wales. The child, called Edward, of course, was reported to be healthy, and Edward gave thanks upon his knees.
Considering it, we looked at one another. Ships, arms, provisions . . . We nodded a joint agreement.
What about Clarence? Rivers asked, without enthusiasm.
Hes ready to turn. Hell come back to me. Rivers looked as if hed stepped in dog-shit. Anthony, I respect your feelings, but I hate being at odds with my brother. And he can put five thousand men into the field, perhaps more. We need him. Also we need him for image—to the people, if the Kings brother turns against him, he must have good cause. (They dont know George, of course.) If he returns to the King, well, that looks as if hes good cause.
Do you trust him? Hastings asked bluntly.
About as far as I can throw him. No, with George its self-interest. And I have a good deal of information about George and his self-interest—Ive had a spy tailing him for months. He grinned, almost giggling. Lets hear my spys latest report. He went to the door, and in the next room, momentarily spoke to someone before returning. Gentlemen—the cleverest spy in English service!
Astounded, we scrambled to our feet, for the spy was a lady.
Edward said, Your Grace, my lords, gentlemen: Mistress Shaksper. I believe she is known to some of you. Oddly, for she smiled pleasantly and said nothing, it was then that I realized Jenny disliked Edward. I filed the fact away in my mind for future reference.
Id heard nothing of or from her since her letter about Johns birth. Id told myself she was dead to me; Id had a thousand other women; Id put her from my mind. Now, I took one look at her and knew I truly loved her.
Yes, I said, bowing, Im acquainted with Mistress Shaksper. How do you do, madam? How come you to be spying for the King?
She gave me a little glance under her lashes, and winked. And no wonder, for she proceeded to play on that gathering of hard-headed men like a skilled lutanist on her instrument.
Sinking gracefully into the chair, she said, I am in the wool trade, and last year, business was taking me up and down England. My path crossed the Kings. You see, I was briefly at Court a year or two ago, so his Grace remembered me when we met.
And I learned she was about to go to Burgundy on business, then on to France—what could be better?
What indeed? Richard murmured.
But using a woman . . . Hastings said, and Jennys eyes turned silver. Richard and I hastily crossed our legs.
I had, shall we say, special qualifications for the task, my lord. Not only my legitimate business interests that allow me to travel without question, and the several languages I speak. You see, I was in Her Grace the Queens service, until she dismissed me. She had cause, but you see, I was able to present myself to Clarence as yet another malcontent, victim of Woodville spite. She gave Anthony Rivers a smile that nearly set his hose on fire. Forgive me, my lord; the subterfuge was necessary.
Of course, dear lady, of course. The tale would have appealed to Clarence.
It did. I let him think the Queen dismissed me because I was the Kings mistress. That is not the case, gentlemen—
Of course not.
Who would believe it?
Perish the thought.
Lying sods—theyd all thought precisely that.
—but it made it credible that I should be both loyal to the King and sympathetic to the Warwick-Clarence grievances. I went first to the Duke and Duchess of Clarence—they were kept well away from the French court. The poor Duchess still mourns the baby she lost, and she was lonely, homesick, bewildered. She was glad of another English lady for company. I became quite friendly with the Duke, too.
Wonders will never cease, said Edward.
All you have to do is agree with him all the time. Simple. Hes not the clearest thinker in the world, is he? But the alliance with Lancaster shocked him; sickened him.
Glad hes got that much feeling, Richard grunted.
Yes, he has. Its not only that hes out in the cold. He despises being allied with the Lancastrians—he loathes Exeter and Somerset and Tudor. Hes lonely and miserable and hates being at odds with his family. In short, if you handle him deftly, hell return.
His chin on his hand, Edward asked, And the situation in England?
In a wretched state, sire. Itd break your heart to see poor King Henry loving and trusting everyone, saying all will be well, longing to return to his prayers, not a clue whats going on. Londons seething with every Lancastrian under the sun. Of course the Tudor connections are riding high. Lady Margaret Beauforts parading her weedy son Harry Tudor as if he were Prince of Wales; hes calling himself Earl of Richmond again. Edward snorted. His uncle Jasper Tudor has gone into Wales, they say, and he was boasting he can raise five thousand men.
And the rest?
Every faction is turning on the next. Warwick cant control it, and he knows it. And Clarence wants to return to you, Your Grace. It will have to be a matter of everything forgiven and forgotten—youll have to honour him and restore him to all his old positions.
The prodigal son, in short.
Edward, you cant! cried Rivers.
I must. That or have his head. Rivers (in fact, most of them) looked as if they thought that a small price to pay. And I cant bring myself to that. Warwick, yes. Not my brother, once hes returned to me.
If he does, Hastings said wryly. It could be a trap. I dont doubt this ladys honesty, but what if Clarence and Warwick spun this story to gull you into thinking you can count on Clarence?
I shall return anyway. I dont count on him; or not as you mean, Will.
And its not just Mistress Shakspers say-so, said Richard. Our mother and sisters believe the same. So do I, because I know George. He never could stand being in disgrace.
And he loves you and the King, Jenny said gently. Its not entirely self-interest. She turned to Edward. Your Grace, write to him. Write again. Assure him of your love and good intentions, promise him whatevers necessary. Because hes in too deep to stand aside now, he must be for you or against you.
I know it. Who else is for me?—would John Neville . . .
I think not. He made the hard choice, and cant turn back. As for who else is for you— She listed the people wed thought of, and a few whod previously been waverers. The people want peace and good government. They dont much care for rights or feuds—but they know youll return, Your Grace, and they want you back. They know Warwick cant go on like this in King Henrys name.
Would George, Richard asked, still think of making a bid for the throne in his own right?
Quite possibly, if things go on as they are.
Ill write to him, Edward said, a mixture of threats and promises, laced with my fraternal love. Will you carry the letter back, Mistress Shaksper?
Jenny agreed, and the meeting broke up. I found myself standing with Jenny and Richard. Would you care to come back to my house? she said. She seemed to mean both of us, and exile had taught us to accept any invitation.
Her house was near Gruythuuses. It was one Id passed many times and admired. Now, entering it with Jenny, I couldnt have told you one thing about it, except that she led us to an upstairs room. I tripped twice on the stairs. And in the door of that upper room Jenny stopped and said confusedly, Oh—Id forgotten—I meant— Then with a resigned little gesture, she moved aside. Of course, I thought in my jealousy, she had a man there.
A woman in nurse-maids clothing sat sewing by the window. On the carpet at her feet, a small red-haired child crooned happily to a wooden horse. His hair was Jennys. His slatey blue eyes and everything about his face were Richards.
Seeing Jenny, he said, Ma-ma, and displayed a couple of splendid teeth. He started to crawl toward her, then remembered a better way. With frowning effort, he rocked back onto his bottom. His hands came down, his arms took the strain, then he was balanced. With the bandy high-stepping gait of the new pedestrian, he came giggling toward us. After four steps, he lost his balance, windmilled briskly, and sat down with a thud. This was evidently hilarious. Ma-ma, he commanded, and Jenny picked him up.
Youll have gathered this is John. Look, John, these are friends of mine. The blue eyes inspected us, and Gods bones, Id seen the Duke of York look over troops like that. I hadnt known until then how much I had still hoped that he was mine.
Richard said, May I hold him? and took him from Jenny with an uncles casual expertise. They smiled at each other, and John began to eat his hair.
I knew little of children, but something was expected of me. He seems very healthy, I offered. Er—is he forward, or do they all walk and talk at this age?
Rather forward. I think hes clever. Though saying Mama is about his limit so far. Will you take wine? She signed to the nurse. We sat at the table. John went back to his horse.
You look tired, Jenny.
I am. Ive been traveling so much. Frankly, if I never see the Channel again itll be too soon.
Do you get seasick?
Martin gets seasick on damp grass. Innogen, youre sure about George?
As sure as one can be. Hes like a child whos stolen the jam or damaged a book; he knows hes done wrong, feels hes suffered enough and longs for his mother to forgive him and make it better with a kiss.
Thats about Georges level of understanding, yes. Hes suffered! And I suppose by make it better with a kiss you mean Edward will have to butter him up, honour him, make it seem hes never strayed?
Mmm, thats George. When you were in France, did you see Anne Neville? His voice was casual, but Jenny shot me an intrigued look. I nodded.
Not to speak to. Shes in Queen Margarets household. The Queen wanted only a betrothal between her son and Lady Anne, so it could be repudiated later and the prince married to someone more suitable. Warwick and King Louis held out for a full marriage. You know they married last December? They dont live together. Shes not pregnant—it would have been trumpeted from the rooftops if she were. The muscles of Richards face tightened. Jealous. Serves you right, I thought, pay for all the times Ive had to think of you with Jenny.
Does he treat her well?
Wouldnt dare not. Well, he ignores her. Thinks, like his mother, that shes not good enough. Poor Anne, poor little pawn. Did you hear that, when Warwick first met Queen Margaret, she kept him on his knees before her for a full hour, grovelling and publicly repenting all the wrongs hed done her? They say she made him kiss her feet.
Only her feet? Whats the prince like? I saw him once, at Ludlow. Fat brat.
Plump. Spoilt brat. Arrogant, bloodthirsty, hasnt the brains of a flea. Believes hes only to set foot in England and the roads will be lined with adoring crowds cheering him home. Believes, too, that once he takes the field, you and the King will either run or be thrashed in five minutes. With an edge of malice, she said, Hes very handsome.
But only a mother could love him. And of course mother-love is the thing—Queen Margaret is desperate to keep him in France, and if Warwick and Louis insist he goes to England, shell do anything to keep him from actually fighting. To her, thats what Warwick is for; hes expendable. Richard, tell the King he must go very soon. Its as if—well—as if theres a tide in these affairs, and you take it at the flood or not at all. Tell him to return, honour George, defeat Warwick. Then Queen Margaret and her son will rot in France the rest of their days and itll be the end of Lancaster forever.
I agree, and the King knows it, too. We go within a month. Speaking of armed invasions of England, I must go, theres a fleet awaiting my all-seeing eye. No need to come, Martin. Jenny, my dear, well meet again soon. Goodbye, John.
Bye—bye, said John, and waved a solemn hand. Christ, he even had Richards hands—long, slim, shapely, deceptively delicate.
Thats new, Jenny said. Saying goodbye. Now, John, my precious, its time for bed. John didnt seem to agree, but Jenny handed him firmly to the nursemaid. He gave me a nasty look over the womans shoulder, clearly believing it was all my fault.
Pouring wine, Jenny asked, Does Richard like children?
Seems fond of his nieces and nephews. Well, hes going to like his own child, isnt he! Christ, Jenny, you bitch, my darling love, I wanted that baby to be mine. I love you, Jenny. I always have loved you. Very well, before it was a boys love, infatuation, and as you told me, I had to grow up. But the love was real. I thought Id gotten over it, over you, till you walked into the Kings room. Im jealous of Richard, jealous of any other man you love, even jealous of John, and if thats a sin, mea culpa. I love you. I want to marry you.
I had already decided. Yes.
Then ask me!
. . . Jenny?
I loved you much more than I ever told you; you were quite conceited enough at sixteen. Martin, I know you read Chaucer—think of The Merchants Tale. The girl, married to the old man. That was my first marriage. Id an old man for a husband—kind to me, proud of me, jealous of me. He was fond of me in the way a doting father loves a pretty little daughter, so long as the daughter remains pretty, and little, and adoring. He was proud of me as proof of his wealth and virility. He wanted me pregnant as soon as we were wed, and when I didnt conceive, he stopped being so proud of me. He beat me. Thats common, hed the right, many men do that—but no man can know what its like for a woman. Understand?
Yes, my dear, I do. Jenny, I was so angry with the Queen for dismissing you, but it was my fault. I boasted of having you, every time I heard a man admire you, I was there, hackles up, snarling like a dog over its bone. So damnably sure of myself. Jenny, can I ask one thing, then never speak of it again?
Yes, she said warily.
When the King told me youd been dismissed from the Court, he called you notorious, said you had many lovers. No names, but was it true?
No. One other, when I first went to Court. It turned out he preferred boys. Startled, I laughed and mentioned a name. She nodded. Same chap had made me an offer. Then I saw Richard, or he saw me—Martin, that smile of his should be made illegal. Well, then I saw you. You are the most beautiful man Ive ever seen, my darling, and I have to admit that I was indiscreet, too, every time I heard ladies sighing over you and wondering what youd be like in bed.
Did you ever tell them? I asked, laughing and pulling her close.
No, but I bristled a lot. Mind you, many of those ladies seemed to know.
Some, yes. And Im afraid that some of them were while I was with you. Oh, Jenny my darling. Do you really love me?
Yes, sweetheart. I made a mess of things, and even if it had been possible, I was too proud to marry you before, it wouldnt have worked. But prides cold comfort and Ive missed you so much, I love you so much.
So you will marry me?
What about John?
Hell be like my own son. I promise to treat him well. Jenny, Jenny, love me, let me love you . . . No, wait. Carefully I placed my fathers emerald ring on her finger. There.
She stared at the ring, saying nothing for so long, that I feared shed had second thoughts. At last, she looked up at me again. Tears poured down her face.
Innogen, my heart, what is it?
Happiness. If you only knew how lonely Ive been all this while and how much Ive missed you—knowing it was all my fault that Id hurt us both so much . . . And now . . . She pressed the emerald ring to her lips. Now I have my hearts desire. I have you.
I took her in my arms, wiping the tears away with my finger. Then I bent my head and kissed her. Our lips met lightly and sweetly but with a power that shook us both. For a long time it was enough just to be holding each other, united at last, tasting each others mouth. Then the other kind of need began to matter badly. I kissed the side of her throat, her shoulder, took her face between my hands to kiss her savagely. She answered me with the same passion, then seemingly without moving, we were in her bed-chamber and tearing off our clothes, and the long starvation ended. It was like the first time—better—as if wed been born to fit together; as if, apart, wed been trying to live without our souls. It was love, and forever.
We had little more time for indulgence, for we had charge of outfitting our ships and victualling our army. The days sped by in a jabber of four languages, of checking endless lists. At night we fell into bed too exhausted for thought. Then, suddenly, everything was done. We were ready—except for news from George.
It came after a week. Exhausted from the double journey, Jenny came to another meeting with the King. Its done, its assured. He wept, Your Grace, when I gave him your letter.
Tears cost nothing.
I think it was genuine. He asks—well, its in his letter—he asks you to forget the past and restore the estates and titles he held before. He says that when you land hell stay with Warwick until the last moment, that moment being up to you, then come over to you.
Mmm-hmm. Richard finished his brothers letter and passed it on to me. It was about what Id expected, and typical of George—incoherent, passionate, self-justifying. Warwick had much wronged him—hed been beguiled from his true allegiance—Mother would be pleased—he had some five thousand men—he longed to embrace his brothers once more and enjoy their love and favour—dont land in the southeast—whatever happened, Isabel must be protected—perhaps Warwick had even used witchcraft on him—all forgiven now and he was the Kings liege man forever.
Forever meaning as long as it benefits him, snorted Edward. But hes in good earnest now? Youre sure, Mistress Shaksper?
As sure as one can be. She looked at Richard. Your Grace, I was to tell you this particularly. He said, Tell Dickon I, too, remember Ludlow.
A swift flush mantled Richards cheekbones. He nodded slowly, and in answer to Edwards raised brows, said, I think we can trust that.
Jenny agreed. But move quickly, Your Grace, before he gives the game away to Warwick or gets a better offer.
I agree. Very well, gentlemen, lets say the second day of March.
I waited until all but Richard had gone then, taking Jennys hand, I said to Edward, Your Grace, I ask your permission to marry Mistress Shaksper.
Rereading Georges letter, Edward swung about, startled. Marry the lady?
Yes, sire. Please.
Let them, Ned, Richard urged. Reward their loyalty.
Is this your wish also, madam?
Yes, Your Grace.
Hmm. Well, Martin, youre of age now and I daresay you know your own mind. Very well. You have our leave.
We want to marry now. Here. Weve just time before Lent.
Do you! Now. In between provisioning ships, training an army . . . Theres no time to call the banns more than once before Lent. Still, there are ways around that, if youre determined. But it appealed to Edwards romantic streak, and I suppose he thought a wedding would put everyone in good heart. A good omen, even. Well, why not? Yes. Ill speak to Gruythuuse. We must do something decent for you. Martins my ward and cousin. And Margaret will want to help. Yes.
And he turned the mind that could organize an armed invasion to planning the best wedding possible in the circumstances. It amused him, and he meant well by us. And so, three days hence, in the Church of Our Lady, Jenny and I stood up before the English Court in exile, some merchant friends of Jennys, the Seigneur de la Gruythuuse and, unexpectedly, Duke Charles and Duchess Margaret. The King of England gave Jenny away. Richard was my groomsman, a role which—by tradition, he pointed out—entitled, or obliged, him to marry the bride if I didnt show up. Jenny wore green velvet and cloth of silver, and her gorgeous hair loose.
Seigneur Gruythuuse gave us a splendid wedding feast, and I still have his gift of silver plate. Duke Charless gift, an ivory figure of St. Martin, was one of the things lost when I fled England an attainted traitor.
Toward the end of the celebration, after Richard had made a witty and mercifully brief speech, Edward rose and called for our attention. It is a humbling and disconcerting experience, he began, to be a King yet unable to provide a suitable wedding present for friends. The very clothes I wear I owe to the gracious kindness of my dear brother-in-law Duke Charles (applause) and to our generous friend in need the Seigneur de la Gruythuuse. (Warmer applause.) Even the coins in my purse are come to me by charity. (Consoling murmurs.) Now, I have known Mistress Robsart only a brief time, but she has served me and England faithfully and with skill. In short, she is as clever and loyal as she is beautiful. (Wild applause, and the groom and best man both kiss the bride.) Martin, now, is my kinsman and Ive known him from a child. Hes been a loyal friend to my dear brother of Gloucester (cheers) and a friend to me and all my family. (More cheers, and Duchess Margaret kisses the blushing groom.) He has twice gone into exile on our behalf—though if one must be exiled, what better place than Burgundy? (Laughter and many cheers, and Duke Charles unbends into a smile.) He has been loyal when perhaps the easier part would have been to forget his first allegiance. (Applause, and people begin to look longingly at the drinks.) Therefore, said Edward, taking the hint, it behooves me to give this charming young couple some suitable wedding gift, but what, I asked myself, could I in these circumstances give them of my own? Come here, Martin.
Bewildered, I went to him. He lifted his sword, and I thought in confusion, He cant be giving me his sword! And no, he wasnt.
Kneel, Master Robsart. The sword touched me twice. Arise, Sir Martin, Knight of the Bath.
Astounded, delighted, I nearly wept as I stammered some clumsy thanks.
Typical Edward, never missed a chance. If thanks are due, Ill take them in the form of a kiss from Dame Robsart.
I love you, Innogen. No woman was ever so loved.
Nor any man. Au revoir, my darling. God keep you safe.
I left without a backward look.