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Philippa Gregory's Wars of the Roses 2 Book Boxed Set The Red Queen and The White Queen by Philippa Gregory Book

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Philippa Gregory's Wars of the Roses 2 Book Boxed Set The Red Queen and The White Queen by Philippa Gregory Book Read Online And Epub File Download


Overview: Philippa Gregory was an established historian and writer when she discovered her interest in the Tudor period and wrote the novel The Other Boleyn Girl, which was made into a TV drama and a major film. Published in 2009, the bestselling The White Queen, the story of Elizabeth Woodville, ushered in a new series involving The Cousins’ War (now known as The War of the Roses) and a new era for the acclaimed author.


Philippa Gregory's Wars of the Roses 2 Book Boxed Set The Red Queen and The White Queen by Philippa Gregory Book Read Online Epub - Pdf File Download More Ebooks Every Category Go Ebooks Libaray Online Website.



Philippa Gregory's Wars of the Roses 2 Book Boxed Set The Red Queen and The White Queen by Philippa Gregory Book Read Online Chapter One


SPRING 1464

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My father is Sir Richard Woodville, Baron Rivers, an English nobleman, a landholder, and a supporter of the true Kings of England, the Lancastrian line. My mother descends from the Dukes of Burgundy and so carries the watery blood of the goddess Melusina, who founded their royal house with her entranced ducal lover, and can still be met at times of extreme trouble, crying a warning over the castle rooftops when the son and heir is dying and the family doomed. Or so they say, those who believe in such things.


With this contradictory parentage of mine: solid English earth and French water goddess, one could expect anything from me: an enchantress, or an ordinary girl. There are those who will say I am both. But today, as I comb my hair with particular care and arrange it under my tallest headdress, take the hands of my two fatherless boys and lead the way to the road that goes to Northampton, I would give all that I am to be, just this once, simply irresistible.


I have to attract the attention of a young man riding out to yet another battle, against an enemy that cannot be defeated. He may not even see me. He is not likely to be in the mood for beggars or flirts. I have to excite his compassion for my position, inspire his sympathy for my needs, and stay in his memory long enough for him to do something about them both. And this is a man who has beautiful women flinging themselves at him every night of the week, and a hundred claimants for every post in his gift.


He is a usurper and a tyrant, my enemy and the son of my enemy, but I am far beyond loyalty to anyone but my sons and myself. My own father rode out to the battle of Towton against this man who now calls himself King of England, though he is little more than a braggart boy; and I have never seen a man as broken as my father when he came home from Towton, his sword arm bleeding through his jacket, his face white, saying that this boy is a commander such as we have never seen before, and our cause is lost, and we are all without hope while he lives. Twenty thousand men were cut down at Towton at this boy’s command; no one had ever seen such death before in England. My father said it was a harvest of Lancastrians, not a battle. The rightful King Henry and his wife, Queen Margaret of Anjou, fled to Scotland, devastated by the deaths.


Those of us left in England did not surrender readily. The battles went on and on to resist the false king, this boy of York. My own husband was killed commanding our cavalry, only three years ago at St. Albans. And now I am left a widow and what land and fortune I once called my own has been taken by my mother-in-law with the goodwill of the victor, the master of this boy-king, the great puppeteer who is known as the Kingmaker: Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who made a king out of this vain boy, now only twenty-two, and will make a hell out of England for those of us who still defend the House of Lancaster.


There are Yorkists in every great house in the land now, and every profitable business or place or tax is in their gift. Their boy-king is on the throne, and his supporters form the new court. We, the defeated, are paupers in our own houses and strangers in our own country, our king an exile, our queen a vengeful alien plotting with our old enemy of France. We have to make terms with the tyrant of York, while praying that God turns against him and our true king sweeps south with an army for yet another battle.


In the meantime, like many a woman with a husband dead and a father defeated, I have to piece my life together like a patchwork of scraps. I have to regain my fortune somehow, though it seems that neither kinsman nor friend can make any headway for me. We are all known as traitors. We are forgiven but not beloved. We are all powerless. I shall have to be my own advocate, and make my own case to a boy who respects justice so little that he would dare to take an army against his own cousin: a king ordained. What can one say to such a savage that he could understand?


My boys, Thomas, who is nine, and Richard, who is eight, are dressed in their best, their hair wetted and smoothed down, their faces shining from soap. I have tight hold of their hands as they stand on either side of me, for these are true boys and they draw dirt to them as if by magic. If I let them go for a second, then one will scuff his shoes and the other rip his hose, and both of them will manage to get leaves in their hair and mud on their faces, and Thomas will certainly fall in the stream. As it is, anchored by my grip, they hop from one leg to another in an agony of boredom, and straighten up only when I say, “Hush, I can hear horses.”


It sounds like the patter of rain at first, and then in a moment a rumble like thunder. The jingle of the harness and the flutter of the standards, the chink of the chain mail and the blowing of the horses, the sound and the smell and the roar of a hundred horses ridden hard is overwhelming and, even though I am determined to stand out and make them stop, I can’t help but shrink back. What must it be to face these men riding down in battle with their lances outstretched before them, like a galloping wall of staves? How could any man face it?


Thomas sees the bare blond head in the midst of all the fury and noise and shouts “Hurrah!” like the boy he is, and at the shout of his treble voice I see the man’s head turn, and he sees me and the boys, and his hand snatches the reins and he bellows “Halt!” His horse stands up on its rear legs, wrenched to a standstill, and the whole cavalcade wheels and halts and swears at the sudden stop, and then abruptly everything is silent and the dust billows around us.


His horse blows out, shakes its head, but the rider is like a statue on its high back. He is looking at me and I at him, and it is so quiet that I can hear a thrush in the branches of the oak above me. How it sings. My God, it sings like a ripple of glory, like joy made into sound. I have never heard a bird sing like that before, as if it were caroling happiness.


I step forward, still holding my sons’ hands, and I open my mouth to plead my case, but at this moment, this crucial moment, I have lost my words. I have practiced well enough. I had a little speech all prepared, but now I have nothing. And it is almost as if I need no words. I just look at him and somehow I expect him to understand everything—my fear of the future and my hopes for these my boys, my lack of money and the irritable pity of my father, which makes living under his roof so unbearable to me, the coldness of my bed at night, and my longing for another child, my sense that my life is over. Dear God, I am only twenty-seven, my cause is defeated, my husband is dead. Am I to be one of many poor widows who will spend the rest of their days at someone else’s fireside trying to be a good guest? Shall I never be kissed again? Shall I never feel joy? Not ever again?


And still the bird sings as if to say that delight is easy, for those who desire it.


He makes a gesture with his hand to the older man at his side, and the man barks out a command and the soldiers turn their horses off the road and go into the shade of the trees. But the king jumps down from his great horse, drops the reins, and walks towards me and my boys. I am a tall woman but he overtops me by a head; he must be far more than six feet tall. My boys crane their necks up to see him; he is a giant to them. He is blond haired, gray eyed, with a tanned, open, smiling face, rich with charm, easy with grace. This is a king as we have never seen before in England: this is a man whom the people will love on sight. And his eyes are fixed on my face as if I know a secret that he has to have, as if we have known each other forever, and I can feel my cheeks are burning but I cannot look away from him.


A modest woman looks down in this world, keeps her eyes on her slippers; a supplicant bows low and stretches out a pleading hand. But I stand tall, I am aghast at myself, staring like an ignorant peasant, and find I cannot take my eyes from his, from his smiling mouth, from his gaze, which is burning on my face.


“Who is this?” he asks, still looking at me.


“Your Grace, this is my mother, Lady Elizabeth Grey,” my son Thomas says politely, and he pulls off his cap and drops to his knee.


Richard on my other side kneels too and mutters, as if he cannot be heard, “Is this the king? Really? He is the tallest man I have ever seen in my life!”


I sink down into a curtsey but I cannot look away. Instead, I gaze up at him, as a woman might stare with hot eyes at a man she adores.


“Rise up,” he says. His voice is low, for only me to hear. “Have you come to see me?”


“I need your help,” I say. I can hardly form the words. I feel as if the love potion, which my mother soaked into the scarf billowing from my headdress, is drugging me, not him. “I cannot obtain my dowry lands, my jointure, now I am widowed.” I stumble in the face of his smiling interest. “I am a widow now. I have nothing to live on.”


“A widow?”


“My husband was Sir John Grey. He died at St. Albans,” I say. It is to confess his treason and the damnation of my sons. The king will recognize the name of the commander of his enemy’s cavalry. I nip my lip. “Their father did his duty as he conceived it to be, Your Grace; he was loyal to the man he thought was king. My boys are innocent of anything.”


“He left you these two sons?” He smiles down at my boys.


“The best part of my fortune,” I say. “This is Richard and this is Thomas Grey.”


He nods at my boys, who gaze up at him as if he were some kind of high-bred horse, too big for them to pet but a figure for awestruck admiration, and then he looks back to me. “I am thirsty,” he says. “Is your home near here?”


“We would be honored . . .” I glance at the guard who rides with him. There must be more than a hundred of them. He chuckles. “They can ride on,” he decides. “Hastings!” The older man turns and waits. “You go on to Grafton. I will catch you up. Smollett can stay with me, and Forbes. I will come in an hour or so.”


Sir William Hastings looks me up and down as if I am a pretty piece of ribbon for sale. I show him a hard stare in reply, and he takes off his hat and bows to me, throws a salute to the king, shouts to the guard to mount up.


“Where are you going?” he asks the king.


The boy-king looks at me.


“We are going to the house of my father, Baron Rivers, Sir Richard Woodville,” I say proudly, though I know the king will recognize the name of a man who was high in the favor of the Lancaster court, fought for them, and once took hard words from him in person when York and Lancaster were daggers drawn. We all know of one another well enough, but it is a courtesy generally observed to forget that we were all loyal to Henry VI once, until these turned traitor.


Sir William raises his eyebrow at his king’s choice for a stopping place. “Then I doubt that you’ll want to stay very long,” he says unpleasantly, and rides on. The ground shakes as they go by, and they leave us in warm quietness as the dust settles.


“My father has been forgiven and his title restored,” I say defensively. “You forgave him yourself after Towton.”


“I remember your father and your mother,” the king says equably. “I have known them since I was a boy in good times and bad. I am only surprised that they never introduced me to you.”


I have to stifle a giggle. This is a king notorious for seduction. Nobody with any sense would let their daughter meet him. “Would you like to come this way?” I ask. “It is a little walk to my father’s house.”


“D’you want a ride, boys?” he asks them. Their heads bob up like imploring ducklings. “You can both go up,” he says, and lifts Richard and then Thomas into the saddle. “Now hold tight. You on to your brother and you—Thomas, is it?—you hold on to the pommel.”


He loops the rein over his arm and then offers me his other arm, and so we walk to my home, through the wood, under the shade of the trees. I can feel the warmth of his arm through the slashed fabric of his sleeve. I have to stop myself leaning towards him. I look ahead to the house and to my mother’s window and see, from the little movement behind the mullioned panes of glass, that she has been looking out, and willing this very thing to happen.


She is at the front door as we approach, the groom of the household at her side. She curtseys low. “Your Grace,” she says pleasantly, as if the king comes to visit every day. “You are very welcome to Grafton Manor.”


A groom comes running and takes the reins of the horse to lead it to the stable yard. My boys cling on for the last few yards, as my mother steps back and bows the king into the hall. “Will you take a glass of small ale?” she asks. “Or we have a very good wine from my cousins in Burgundy?”


“I’ll take the ale, if you please,” he says agreeably. “It is thirsty work riding. It is hot for spring. Good day to you, Lady Rivers.”


The high table in the great hall is laid with the best glasses and a jug of ale as well as the wine. “You are expecting company?” he asks.


She smiles at him. “There is no man in the world could ride past my daughter,” she says. “When she told me she wanted to put her own case to you, I had them draw the best of our ale. I guessed you would stop.”


He laughs at her pride, and turns to smile at me. “Indeed, it would be a blind man who could ride past you,” he says.


I am about to make some little comment, but again it happens. Our eyes meet, and I can think of nothing to say to him. We just stand, staring at each other for a long moment, until my mother passes him a glass and says quietly, “Good health, Your Grace.”


He shakes his head, as if awakened. “And is your father here?” he asks.


“Sir Richard has ridden over to see our neighbors,” I say. “We expect him back for his dinner.”


My mother takes a clean glass and holds it up to the light and tuts as if there is some flaw. “Excuse me,” she says, and leaves. The king and I are alone in the great hall, the sun pouring through the big window behind the long table, the house in silence, as if everyone is holding their breath and listening.


He goes behind the table and sits down in the master’s chair. “Please sit,” he says, and gestures to the chair beside him. I sit as if I am his queen, on his right hand, and I let him pour me a glass of small ale. “I will look into your claim for your lands,” he says. “Do you want your own house? Are you not happy living here with your mother and father?”


“They are kind to me,” I say. “But I am used to my own household, I am accustomed to running my own lands. And my sons will have nothing if I cannot reclaim their father’s lands. It is their inheritance. I must defend my sons.”


“These have been hard times,” he says. “But if I can keep my throne, I will see the law of the land running from one coast of England to another once more, and your boys will grow up without fear of warfare.”


I nod my head.


“Are you loyal to King Henry?” he asks me. “D’you follow your family as loyal Lancastrians?”


Our history cannot be denied. I know that there was a furious quarrel in Calais between this king, then nothing more than a young York son, and my father, then one of the great Lancastrian lords. My mother was the first lady at the court of Margaret of Anjou; she must have met and patronized the handsome young son of York a dozen times. But who would have known then that the world might turn upside down and that the daughter of Baron Rivers would have to plead to that very boy for her own lands to be restored to her? “My mother and father were very great at the court of King Henry, but my family and I accept your rule now,” I say quickly.


He smiles. “Sensible of you all, since I won,” he says. “I accept your homage.”


I give a little giggle, and at once his face warms. “It must be over soon, please God,” he says. “Henry has nothing more than a handful of castles in lawless northern country. He can muster brigands like any outlaw, but he cannot raise a decent army. And his queen cannot go on and on bringing in the country’s enemies to fight her own people. Those who fight for me will be rewarded, but even those who have fought against me will see that I shall be just in victory. And I will make my rule run, even to the north of England, even through their strongholds, up to the very border of Scotland.”


“Do you go to the north now?” I ask. I take a sip of small ale. It is my mother’s best but there is a tang behind it; she will have added some drops of a tincture, a love philter, something to make desire grow. I need nothing. I am breathless already.


“We need peace,” he says. “Peace with France, peace with the Scots, and peace from brother to brother, cousin to cousin. Henry must surrender; his wife has to stop bringing in French troops to fight against Englishmen. We should not be divided anymore, York against Lancaster: we should all be Englishmen. There is nothing that sickens a country more than its own people fighting against one another. It destroys families; it is killing us daily. This has to end, and I will end it. I will end it this year.”


I feel the sick fear that the people of this country have known for nearly a decade. “There must be another battle?”


He smiles. “I shall try to keep it from your door, my lady. But it must be done and it must be done soon. I pardoned the Duke of Somerset and took him into my friendship, and now he has run away to Henry once more, a Lancastrian turncoat, faithless like all the Beauforts. The Percys are raising the north against me. They hate the Nevilles, and the Neville family are my greatest allies. It is like a dance now: the dancers are in their place; they have to do their steps. They will have a battle; it cannot be avoided.”


“The queen’s army will come this way?” Though my mother loved her and was the first of her ladies, I have to say that her army is a force of absolute terror. Mercenaries, who care nothing for the country; Frenchmen who hate us; and the savage men of the north of England who see our fertile fields and prosperous towns as good for nothing but plunder. Last time she brought in the Scots on the agreement that anything they stole they could keep as their fee. She might as well have hired wolves.


“I shall stop them,” he says simply. “I shall meet them in the north of England and I shall defeat them.”


“How can you be so sure?” I exclaim.


He flashes a smile at me, and I catch my breath. “Because I have never lost a battle,” he says simply. “I never will. I am quick on the field, and I am skilled; I am brave and I am lucky. My army moves faster than any other; I make them march fast and I move them fully armed. I outguess and I outpace my enemy. I don’t lose battles. I am lucky in war as I am lucky in love. I have never lost in either game. I won’t lose against Margaret of Anjou; I will win.”


I laugh at his confidence, as if I am not impressed; but in truth he dazzles me.


He finishes his cup of ale and gets to his feet. “Thank you for your kindness,” he says.


“You’re going? You’re going now?” I stammer.


“You will write down for me the details of your claim?”


“Yes. But—”


“Names and dates and so on? The land that you say is yours and the details of your ownership?”


I almost clutch his sleeve to keep him with me, like a beggar. “I will, but—”


“Then I will bid you adieu.”


There is nothing I can do to stop him, unless my mother has thought to lame his horse.


“Yes, Your Grace, and thank you. But you are most welcome to stay. We will dine soon . . . or—”


“No, I must go. My friend William Hastings will be waiting for me.”


“Of course, of course. I don’t wish to delay you . . .”


I walk with him to the door. I am anguished at his leaving so abruptly, and yet I cannot think of anything to make him stay. At the threshold he turns and takes my hand. He bows his fair head low and, deliciously, turns my hand. He presses a kiss into my palm and folds my fingers over the kiss as if to keep it safe. When he comes up smiling, I see that he knows perfectly well that this gesture has made me melt and that I will keep my hand clasped until bedtime when I can put it to my mouth.


He looks down at my entranced face, at my hand that stretches, despite myself, to touch his sleeve. Then he relents. “I shall fetch the paper that you prepare, myself, tomorrow,” he says. “Of course. Did you think differently? How could you? Did you think I could walk away from you, and not come back? Of course I am coming back. Tomorrow at noon. Will I see you then?”


He must hear my gasp. The color rushes back into my face so that my cheeks are burning hot. “Yes,” I stammer. “T . . . tomorrow.”


“At noon. And I will stay to dinner, if I may.”


“We will be honored.”


He bows to me and turns and walks down the hall, through the wide-flung double doors and out into the bright sunlight. I put my hands behind me and I hold the great wooden door for support. Truly, my knees are too weak to hold me up.


“He’s gone?” my mother asks, coming quietly through the little side door.


“He’s coming back tomorrow,” I say. “He’s coming back tomorrow. He’s coming back to see me tomorrow.”


 


When the sun is setting and my boys are saying their evening prayers, blond heads on their clasped hands at the foot of their trestle beds, my mother leads the way out of the front door of the house and down the winding footpath to where the bridge, a couple of wooden planks, spans the River Tove. She walks across, her conical headdress brushing the overhanging trees, and beckons me to follow her. At the other side, she puts her hand on a great ash tree, and I see there is a dark thread of silk wound around the rough-grained wood of the thick trunk.


“What is this?”


“Reel it in,” is all she says. “Reel it in, a foot or so every day.”


I put my hand on the thread and pull it gently. It comes easily; there is something light and small tied onto the far end. I cannot even see what it might be, as the thread loops across the river into the reeds, in deep water on the other side.


“Magic,” I say flatly. My father has banned these practices in his house: the law of the land forbids it. It is death to be proved as a witch, death by drowning in the ducking stool, or strangling by the blacksmith at the village crossroads. Women like my mother are not permitted our skills in England today; we are named as forbidden.


“Magic,” she agrees, untroubled. “Powerful magic, for a good cause. Well worth the risk. Come every day and reel it in, a foot at a time.”


“What will come in?” I ask her. “At the end of this fishing line of yours? What great fish will I catch?”


She smiles at me and puts her hand on my cheek. “Your heart’s desire,” she says gently. “I didn’t raise you to be a poor widow.”


She turns and walks back across the footbridge, and I pull the thread as she has told me, take in twelve inches of it, tie it fast again, and follow her.


“So what did you raise me for?” I ask her, as we walk side by side to the house. “What am I to be? In your great scheme of things? In a world at war, where it seems, despite your foreknowledge and magic, we are stuck on the losing side?”


The new moon is rising, a small sickle of a moon. Without a word spoken, we both wish on it; we bob a curtsey, and I hear the chink as we turn over the little coins in our pockets.


“I raised you to be the best that you could be,” she says simply. “I didn’t know what that would be, and I still don’t know. But I didn’t raise you to be a lonely woman, missing her husband, struggling to keep her boys safe; a woman alone in a cold bed, her beauty wasted on empty lands.”


“Well, Amen,” I say simply, my eyes on the slender sickle. “Amen to that. And may the new moon bring me something better.”


 


At noon the next day I am in my ordinary gown, seated in my privy chamber, when the girl comes in a rush to say that the king is riding down the road towards the Hall. I don’t let myself run to the window to look for him, I don’t allow myself a dash to the hammered-silver looking glass in my mother’s room. I put down my sewing, and I walk down the great wooden stairs, so that when the door opens and he comes into the hall, I am serenely descending, looking as if I am called away from my household chores to greet a surprise guest.


I go to him with a smile and he greets me with a courteous kiss on the cheek, and I feel the warmth of his skin and see, through my half-closed eyes, the softness of the hair that curls at the nape of his neck. His hair smells faintly of spices, and the skin of his neck smells clean. When he looks at me, I recognize desire in his face. He lets go of my hand slowly, and I step back from him with reluctance. I turn and curtsey as my father and my two oldest brothers, Anthony and John, step forwards to make their bows.


The conversation at dinner is stilted, as it must be. My family is deferential to this new King of England; but there is no denying that we threw our lives and our fortune into battle against him, and my husband was not the only one of our household and affinity who did not come home. But this is how it must be in a war that they have called “the Cousins’ War,” since brother fights against brother and their sons follow them to death. My father has been forgiven, my brothers too, and now the victor breaks bread with them as if to forget that he crowed over them in Calais, as if to forget that my father turned tail and ran from his army in the bloodstained snow at Towton.


King Edward is easy. He is charming to my mother and amusing to my brothers Anthony and John, and then Richard, Edward, and Lionel when they join us later. Three of my younger sisters are home, and they eat their dinner in silence, wide-eyed in admiration, but too afraid to say a word. Anthony’s wife, Elizabeth, is quiet and elegant beside my mother. The king is observant of my father and asks him about game and the land, about the price of wheat and the steadiness of labor. By the time they have served the preserved fruit and the sweetmeats he is chatting like a friend of the family, and I can sit back in my chair and watch him.


“And now to business,” he says to my father. “Lady Elizabeth tells me that she has lost her dower lands.”


My father nods. “I am sorry to trouble you with it, but we have tried to reason with Lady Ferrers and Lord Warwick without result. They were confiscated after”—he clears his throat—“after St. Albans, you understand. Her husband was killed there. And now she cannot get her dower lands returned. Even if you regard her husband as a traitor, she herself is innocent and she should at least have her widow’s jointure.”


The king turns to me. “You have written down your title and the claim to the land?”


“Yes,” I say. I give him the paper and he glances at it.


“I shall speak to Sir William Hastings and ask him to see that this is done,” he says simply. “He will be your advocate.”


It seems to be as easy as that. In one stroke I will be freed from poverty and have a property of my own again; my sons will have an inheritance and I will be no longer a burden on my family. If someone asks for me in marriage, I will come with property. I am no longer a case for charity. I will not have to be grateful for a proposal. I will not have to thank a man for marrying me.


“You are gracious, Sire,” my father says easily, and nods to me.


Obediently I rise from my chair and curtsey low. “I thank you,” I say. “This means everything to me.”


“I shall be a just king,” he says, looking at my father. “I would want no Englishman to suffer for my coming to my throne.”


My father makes a visible effort to silence his reply that some of us have suffered already.


“More wine?” My mother interrupts him swiftly. “Your Grace? Husband?”


“No, I must go,” the king says. “We are mustering troops all over Northamptonshire and equipping them.” He pushes back his chair and we all—my father and brothers, my mother and sisters and I—bob up like puppets to stand as he stands. “Will you show me around the garden before I leave, Lady Elizabeth?”


“I shall be honored,” I say.


My father opens his mouth to offer his company, but my mother says quickly, “Yes, do go, Elizabeth,” and the two of us slip from the room without a companion.


It is as warm as summer as we come from the darkness of the hall, and he offers me his arm and we walk down the steps to the garden, arms linked, in silence. I take the path around the little knot garden and we wind our way, looking at the trim hedges and the neat white stones; but I see nothing. He gathers my hand a little closer under his arm and I feel the warmth of his body. The lavender is coming into flower, and I can smell the scent, sweet as orange blossom, sharp as lemons.


“I have only a little time,” he says. “Somerset and Percy are mustering against me. Henry himself will come out of his castle and lead his army if he is in his right mind and can command. Poor soul, they tell me he is in his wits now, but he could lose them again at any moment. The queen must be planning to land an army of Frenchmen in their support and we will have to face the power of France on English soil.”


“I shall pray for you,” I say.


“Death is near us all,” he says seriously. “But it is a constant companion to a king come to his crown through the battlefield, and now riding out to fight again.”


He pauses, and I stop with him. It is very quiet but for a single bird singing. His face is grave. “May I send a page boy to bring you to me tonight?” he asks quietly. “I have a longing for you, Lady Elizabeth Grey, that I have never felt for any woman before. Will you come to me? I ask it not as a king, and not even as a soldier who might die in battle, but as a simple man to the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. Come to me, I beg you, come to me. It could be my last wish. Will you come to me tonight?”


I shake my head. “Forgive me, Your Grace, but I am a woman of honor.”


“I may never ask you again. God knows, I may never ask any woman again. There can be no dishonor in this. I could die next week.”


“Even so.”


“Are you not lonely?” he asks. His lips are almost brushing my forehead he is so close to me, I can feel the warmth of his breath on my cheek. “And do you feel nothing for me? Can you say you don’t want me? Just once? Don’t you want me now?”


As slowly as I can, I let my eyes rise to his face. My gaze lingers on his mouth, then I look up.


“Dear God, I have to have you,” he breathes.


“I cannot be your mistress,” I say simply. “I would rather die than dishonor my name. I cannot bring that shame on my family.” I pause. I am anxious not to be too discouraging. “Whatever I might wish in my heart,” I say very softly.


“But you do want me?” he asks boyishly, and I let him see the warmth in my face.


“Ah,” I say. “I should not tell you . . .”


He waits.


“I should not tell you how much.”


I see, swiftly hidden, the gleam of triumph. He thinks he will have me.


“Then you will come?”


“No.”


“Then must I go? Must I leave you? May I not . . .” He leans his face towards me and I raise mine. His kiss is as gentle as the brush of a feather on my soft mouth. My lips part slightly and I can feel him tremble like a horse held on a tight rein. “Lady Elizabeth . . . I swear it . . . I have to . . .”


I take a step back in this delicious dance. “If only . . .” I say.


“I’ll come tomorrow,” he says abruptly. “In the evening. At sunset. Will you meet me where I first saw you? Under the oak tree? Will you meet me there? I would say good-bye before I go north. I have to see you again, Elizabeth. If nothing more. I have to.”


I nod in silence and watch him turn on his heel and stride back to the house. I see him go round to the stable yard and then moments later his horse thunders down the track with his two pages spurring their horses to keep pace with him. I watch him out of sight, and then I cross the little footbridge over the river and find the thread around the ash tree. Thoughtfully, I wind in the thread by another length and I tie it up. Then I walk home.


 


At dinner the next day there is something of a family conference. The king has sent a letter to say that his friend Sir William Hastings will support my claim to my house and land at Bradgate, and I can be assured that I will be restored to my fortune. My father is pleased; but all my brothers—Anthony, John, Richard, Edward, and Lionel—are united in suspicion of the king, with the alert pride of boys.


“He is a notorious lecher. He is bound to demand to meet her; he is bound to summon her to court,” John pronounces.


“He did not return her lands for charity. He will want payment,” Richard agrees. “There is not a woman at court whom he has not bedded. Why would he not try for Elizabeth?”


“A Lancastrian,” says Edward, as if that is enough to ensure our enmity, and Lionel nods sagely.


“A hard man to refuse,” Anthony says thoughtfully. He is far more worldly than John; he has traveled all around Christendom and studied with great thinkers, and my parents always listen to him. “I would think, Elizabeth, that you might feel compromised. I would fear that you would feel under obligation to him.”


I shrug. “Not at all. I have nothing more but my own again. I asked the king for justice and I received it as I should, as any supplicant should, with right on their side.”


“Nonetheless, if he sends, you will not go to court,” my father says. “This is a man who has worked his way through half the wives of London and is now working his way through the Lancastrian ladies too. This is not a holy man like the blessed King Henry.”


Nor soft in the head like blessed King Henry, I think, but aloud I say, “Of course, Father, whatever you command.”


He looks sharply at me, suspicious of this easy obedience. “You don’t think you owe him your favor? Your smiles? Worse?”


I shrug. “I asked him for a king’s justice, not for a favor,” I say. “I am not a manservant whose service can be bought or a peasant who can be sworn to be a liege man. I am a lady of good family. I have my own loyalties and obligations that I consider and honor. They are not his. They are not at the beck and call of any man.”


My mother drops her head to hide her smile. She is the daughter of Burgundy, the descendant of Melusina the water goddess. She has never thought herself obliged to do anything in her life; she would never think that her daughter was obliged to anything.


My father glances from her to me and shrugs his shoulders as if to concede the inveterate independence of willful women. He nods to my brother John and says, “I am riding over to Old Stratford village. Will you come with me?” And the two of them leave together.


“You want to go to court? Do you admire him? Despite everything?” Anthony asks me quietly as my other brothers scatter from the room.


“He is King of England,” I say. “Of course I will go if he invites me. What else?”


“Perhaps because Father just said you were not to go, and I advised you against it.”


I shrug. “So I heard.”


“How else can a poor widow make her way in a wicked world?” he teases me.


“Indeed.”


“You would be a fool to sell yourself cheap,” he warns me.


I look at him from under my eyelashes. “I don’t propose to sell myself at all,” I say. “I am not a yard of ribbon. I am not a leg of ham. I am not for sale to anyone.”


 


At sunset I am waiting for him under the oak tree, hidden in the green shadows. I am relieved to hear the sound of only one horse on the road. If he had come with a guard, I would have slipped back to my home, fearing for my own safety. However tender he may be in the confines of my father’s garden, I don’t forget that he is the so-called king of the Yorkist army and that they rape women and murder their husbands as a matter of course. He will have hardened himself to seeing things that no one should witness; he will have done things himself which are the darkest of sins. I cannot trust him. However heart-stopping his smile and however honest his eyes, however much I think of him as a boy fired to greatness by his own ambition, I cannot trust him. These are not chivalrous times; these are not the times of knights in the dark forest and beautiful ladies in moonlit fountains and promises of love that will be ballads, sung forever.


But he looks like a knight in a dark forest when he pulls up his horse and jumps down in one easy movement. “You came!” he says.


“I cannot stay long.”


“I am so glad you came at all.” He laughs at himself almost in bewilderment. “I have been like a boy today—couldn’t sleep last night for thinking of you, and all day I have wondered if you would come at all, and then you came!”


He loops the reins of his horse over a branch of the tree and slides his hand around my waist. “Sweet lady,” he says into my ear. “Be kind to me. Will you take off your headdress and let down your hair?”


It is the last thing I thought he would demand of me, and I am shocked into instant consent. My hand goes to my headdress ribbons at once.


“I know. I know. I think you are driving me mad. All I have been able to think about all day is whether you would let me take down your hair.”


In answer I untie the tight bindings of my tall conical headdress and lift it off. I put it carefully on the ground and turn to him. Gently as any maid-in-waiting, he puts his hand to my head and pulls out the ivory pins, tucking each into the pocket of his doublet. I can feel the silky kiss of my thick hair tumbling down as the fair cascade of it falls over my face. I shake my head and toss it back like a thick golden mane, and I hear his groan of desire.


He unties his cloak and swings it on the ground at my feet. “Sit with me!” he commands, though he means “Lie with me” and we both know it.


I sit cautiously on the edge of his cape, my knees drawn up, my arms wrapped around them, my fine silk gown draped around me. He strokes my loosened hair and his fingers penetrate deeper and deeper until he is caressing my neck, and then he turns my face towards his for a kiss.


Gently he bears down on me so I am beneath him. Then I feel his hand pulling at my gown, pulling it up, and I put both hands on his chest and gently push him away.


“Elizabeth,” he breathes.


“I told you no,” I say steadily. “I meant it.”


“You met me!”


“You asked me. Shall I go now?”


“No! Stay! Stay! Don’t run away, I swear I will not . . . just let me kiss you again.”


My own heart is thudding so loud and I am so ready for his touch that I start to think I could lie with him, just once, I could allow myself this pleasure just once . . . but then I move away and say, “No. No. No.”


“Yes,” he says more strongly. “No harm shall come to you, I swear it. You shall come to court. Anything you ask. Dear God, Elizabeth, let me have you, I am desperate for you. From the moment I saw you here . . .”


His weight is on me; he is pushing me down. I turn my head away but his mouth is on my neck, my breast; I am panting with desire, and then I feel, unexpectedly, a sudden rush of anger at the realization that he is no longer embracing me but forcing me, holding me down as if I were some slut behind a haystack. He is pulling up my gown as if I were a whore; he is pushing his knee between my legs as if I have consented, and my temper makes me so furiously strong that I thrust him away again and then, on his thick leather belt, I feel the hilt of his dagger.


He has my gown pulled up, and he is fumbling with his jerkin, his hose; in a moment it will be too late for complaints. I draw his dagger out of the scabbard. At the hiss of the metal, he rears back to his knees in shock, and I wriggle away from him and spring up, with the dagger unsheathed, the blade bright and wicked in the last rays of the sun.


He is on his feet in a moment, weaving and alert, a fighter. “Do you draw a blade on your king?” he spits. “Do you know treason when you do it, madam?”


“I draw a blade on me, on myself,” I say quickly. I hold the sharp point to my throat and I see his eyes narrow. “I swear, if you come one step closer, if you come one inch closer, I will cut my throat before you and bleed to death here on the ground where you would have dishonored me.”


“Playacting!”


“No. This is not a game to me, Your Grace. I cannot be your mistress. I first came to you for justice, and then I came tonight for love, and I am a fool to do so and I beg your pardon for my folly. But I too can’t sleep, and I too can think of nothing but you, and I too could only wonder and wonder if you would come. But even so . . . even so, you should not—”


“I could have that knife off you in a moment,” he threatens.


“You forget I have five brothers. I have played with swords and daggers since I was a child. I will cut my throat before you reach me.”


“You never would. You are a woman with no more than a woman’s courage.”


“Try me. Try me. You don’t know what my courage is. You may regret what happens.”


He hesitates for a second, his own heart hammering in a dangerous mix of temper and lust, and then he masters himself, raises his hands in the gesture of surrender, and steps back. “You win,” he says. “You win, madam. And you may keep the dagger as a spoil of victory. Here—” He unbuckles the scabbard and throws it down. “Take the damned scabbard too, why don’t you?”


The precious stones and the enameled gold sparkle in the twilight. Never taking my eyes from him, I kneel and pick it up.


“I shall walk with you to your home,” he says. “I shall see you safely to your door.”


I shake my head. “No. I can’t be seen with you. No one must know that we have met in secret. I would be shamed.”


For a moment I think he will argue, but he bows his head. “You walk ahead then,” he says. “And I will follow behind you like a page, like your servant, until I see you safe to your gate. You can revel in your triumph in having me follow you like a dog. Since you treat me like a fool, I shall serve you like a fool; and you can enjoy it.”


There is no speaking against his anger, so I nod and I turn to walk before him, as he said I should. We walk in silence. I can hear the rustle of his cloak behind me. When we get to the end of the wood and we can be seen from the house, I pause and turn to him. “I will be safe from here,” I say. “I must beg you to forgive me for my folly.”


“I must beg you to forgive me for my force,” he says stiffly. “I am, perhaps, too accustomed to getting my own way. But I must say, I have never been refused at the point of a knife before. My own knife at that.”


I turn it round and offer him the hilt. “Will you have it back, Your Grace?”


He shakes his head. “Keep it to remember me by. It will be my only gift to you. A farewell gift.”


“Will I not see you again?”


“Never,” he says simply, and bowing slightly walks away.


“Your Grace!” I call, and he turns and pauses.


“I would not part with you on bad terms,” I say feebly. “I hope that you can forgive me.”


“You have made a fool of me,” he says, his voice icy. “You may congratulate yourself on being the first woman to do that. But you will be the last. And you will never make a fool of me again.”


I sink down into a curtsey, and I hear him turn and the swish of his cape on the bushes on either side of the path. I wait till I cannot hear him at all, and then I rise up to go home.


There is a part of me, young woman that I am, that wants to run inside and fling myself on my bed and cry myself to sleep. But I don’t do that. I am not one of my sisters, who laugh easily and cry easily. They are girls to whom things happen, and they take it hard. But I bear myself as more than a silly girl. I am the daughter of a water goddess. I am a woman with water in her veins and power in her breeding. I am a woman who makes things happen, and I am not defeated yet. I am not defeated by a boy with a newly won crown, and no man will ever walk away from me certain that he won’t walk back.


So I don’t go home just yet. I take the path to the footbridge over the river to where the ash tree is girdled with my mother’s thread, and I take another loop in the thread and tie it tightly, and only then do I walk home, brooding in the thin moonlight.


 


Then I wait. Every evening for twenty-two evenings I walk down to the river and pull in the thread like a patient fisherwoman. One day I feel it snag, and the line goes tight as the object on the end, whatever it is, is freed from the reeds at the water’s edge. I tug gently, as if I were reeling in a catch, and then I feel the line go slack and there is a little splash as something small but heavy falls deeper, rolls over in the current, and then lies still among the pebbles on the streambed.


I walk home. My mother is waiting for me by the carp lake, gazing down at her own reflection inverted in the water, silver in the grayness of the dusk. Her image looks like a long silver fish rippling in the lake, or a swimming woman. The sky behind her is barred with cloud, like white feathers on pale silk. The moon is rising, a waning moon now. The water is running high tonight, lapping at the little pier. When I stand beside her and look down into the water, you would think we were both rising from the water, like the spirits of the lake.


“You do it every evening?” she asks me. “Pull the line?”


“Yes.”


“Good. That’s good. Has he sent you any token? Any word?”


“I don’t expect anything. He said he would never see me again.”


She sighs. “Oh well.”


We walk back towards the house. “They say he is mustering troops at Northampton,” she says. “King Henry is gathering his forces in Northumberland and will march south on London. The queen will join him with a French army landed at Hull. If King Henry wins, then it will not matter what Edward says or thinks, for he will be dead, and the true king restored.”


My hand flies out to catch her sleeve in instant contradiction. Swift as a striking viper, my mother snatches my fingers. “What’s this? You can’t bear to hear of his defeat?”


“Don’t say it. Don’t say that.”


“Don’t say what?”


“I can’t bear to think of him defeated. I can’t bear to think of him dead. He asked me to lie with him as a soldier facing death.”


She gives a sharp laugh. “Course he did. What man going off to war has ever resisted the opportunity to make the most of it?”


“Well, I refused. And if he doesn’t come back, I shall regret that refusal for the rest of my life. I regret it now. I will regret it forever.”


“Why regret?” she taunts me. “You have your land restored either way. Either you get it back by order of King Edward, or he is dead and King Henry is king and he will restore your land to you. He is our king, of the true House of Lancaster. I would have thought we would wish him victory, and death to the usurper Edward.”


“Don’t say it,” I repeat. “Don’t ill-wish him.”


“Never mind what I say, you stop and think,” she counsels me harshly. “You’re a girl from the House of Lancaster. You cannot fall in love with the heir to the House of York unless he is king victorious, and there is some profit in love for you. These are hard days we are living in. Death is our companion, our familiar. You need not think you can keep Him at arm’s length. You will find He bears you close company. He has taken your husband; hear me: He will take your father and your brothers and your sons.”


I put out both hands to stop her. “Hush, hush. You sound like Melusina warning her house of the death of the men.”


“I do warn you,” she says grimly. “You make me a Melusina when you walk about smiling as if life is easy, thinking you can dally with a usurper. You were not born in an untroubled time. You will live your life in a country divided. You will have to make your way through blood, and you will know loss.”


“Nothing good for me?” I demand through gritted teeth. “Do you, as a loving mother, foresee nothing good at all for your daughter? There is no point cursing me, for I am ready to weep already.”


She stops, and the hard face of the seer dissolves into the warmth of the mother whom I love. “I think you will have him, if that is what you want,” she says.


“More than life itself.”


She laughs at me but her face is gentle. “Ah, don’t say that, child. Nothing in the world matters more than life. You have a long road to walk and a lot of lessons to learn if you don’t know that.”


I shrug and take her arm and, walking in step, we turn for home.


“When the battle is over, whoever wins, your sisters must go to court,” my mother says. She is always planning. “They can stay with the Bourchiers, or the Vaughns. They should have gone months ago, but I could not bear the thought of them far from home and the country in uproar, and never knowing what might happen next, and never able to get news. But when this battle is over, perhaps life will be as it was, only under York instead of Lancaster, and the girls can go to our cousins for their education.”


“Yes.”


“And your boy Thomas will be old enough to leave home soon. He should live with his kinsmen; he should learn to be a gentleman.”


“No,” I say with such sudden emphasis that she turns and looks at me.


“What’s wrong?”


“I will keep my sons with me,” I say. “My boys are not to be taken from me.”


“They will need a proper education; they will need to serve in the household of a lord. Your father will find someone, their own godfathers might—”


“No,” I say again. “No, Mother, no. I cannot consider it. They are not to leave home.”


“Child?” She turns my face to the moonlight so that she can see me more clearly. “It’s not like you to take a sudden whim over nothing. And every mother in the world has to let her sons leave home and learn to be men.”


“My boys are not to be taken from me.” I can hear my voice tremble. “I am afraid . . . I am afraid for them. I fear . . . I fear for them. I don’t even know what. But I cannot let my boys go among strangers.”


She puts her warm arm around my waist. “Well, it is natural enough,” she says gently. “You lost your husband; you are bound to want to keep your boys safe. But they will have to go someday, you know.”


I do not yield to her gentle pressure. “It is more than a whim,” I say. “It feels more . . .”


“Is it a Seeing?” she asks, her voice very low. “Do you know that something could happen to them? Have you come into the Sight, Elizabeth?”


I shake my head and the tears come. “I don’t know, I don’t know. I can’t tell. But the thought of them going from me, and being cared for by strangers, and me waking in the night and not knowing that they are under my roof, waking in the morning and not hearing their voices, the thought of them being in a strange room, served by strangers, not able to see me—I can’t bear it. I can’t even bear the thought of it.”


She gathers me into her arms. “Hush,” she says. “Hush. You need not think of it. I will speak to your father. They need not go until you are happy about it.” She takes my hand. “Why, you are icy cold,” she says, surprised. She touches my face with sudden certainty. “This is not a whim when you are both hot and cold in moonlight. This is a Seeing. My dear, you are warned of danger to your sons.”


I shake my head. “I don’t know. I can’t be sure. I just know that no one should ever take my boys from me. I should never let them go.”


She nods. “Very well. You have convinced me, at least. You have seen some danger for your boys if they are taken from you. So be it. Don’t cry. You shall keep your boys close at hand and we will keep them safe.”


 


Then I wait. He told me clearly enough that I would never see him again, so I wait for nothing, knowing full well that I am waiting for nothing. But somehow I cannot help but wait. I dream of him: passionate, longing dreams that wake me in the darkness, twisted up in the sheet, sweaty with desire. My father asks me why I am not eating. Anthony shakes his head at me in mocking sorrow.


My mother snaps one bright-eyed glance at me and says, “She is well. She will eat.”


My sisters whisper to ask me if I am pining for the handsome king, and I say sharply, “There would be little point in that.”


And then I wait.


I wait for another seven nights and another seven days, like a maiden in a tower in a fairy tale, like Melusina bathing in the fountain in the forest, waiting for a chevalier to come riding the untrodden ways and love her. Each evening I draw up the loop of thread a little closer until on the eighth day there is a little chink of metal against stone and I look into the water and see a flash of gold. I bend down to pull it out. It is a ring of gold, simple and pretty. One side is straight, but the other is forged into points, like the points of a crown. I put it on the palm of my hand, where he left his kiss, and it looks like a miniature coronet. I slip it on my finger, on my right hand—I tempt no misfortune by putting it on my wedding finger—and it fits me perfectly and suits me well. I take it off with a shrug, as if it were not the highest-quality Burgundian-forged gold. I tuck it into my pocket, and I walk home with it safe in my keeping.


And there—without warning—there is a horse at the door and a rider sitting tall on it, a banner over his head, the white rose of York uncurling in the breeze. My father stands in the open doorway reading a letter. I hear him say, “Tell His Grace I shall be honored. I will be there the day after tomorrow.”


The man bows in the saddle, throws a casual salute to me, wheels his horse, and rides away.


“What is it?” I ask, coming up the steps.


“A muster,” my father says grimly. “We are all to go to war again.”


“Not you!” I say in fear. “Not you, Father. Not again.”


“No. The king commands me to provide ten men from Grafton and five from Stony Stratford. Fitted and kitted to march under his command against the Lancaster king. We are to change sides. That was an expensive dinner we gave him, as it turned out.”


“Who is to lead them?” I am so afraid that he will say my brothers. “Not Anthony? Not John?”


“They are to serve under Sir William Hastings,” he says. “He will put them in among trained troops.”


I hesitate. “Did he say anything else?”


“This is a muster,” my father says irritably. “Not an invitation to a May Day breakfast. Of course he didn’t say anything except that they would be coming through in the morning, the day after tomorrow, and the men must be ready to fall in then.”


He turns on his heel and goes into the house, and leaves me with the gold ring, shaped like a crown, spiky in my pocket.


My mother suggests at breakfast that my sisters and I, and the two cousins who are staying with us, might like to watch the army go by, and see our men go off to war.


“Can’t think why,” my father says crossly. “I would have thought you would have seen enough of men going to war.”


“It looks well to show our support,” she says quietly. “If he wins, it will be better for us if he thinks we sent the men willingly. If he loses, no one will remember we watched him go by, and we can deny it.”


“I am paying them, aren’t I? I am arming them with what I have? The arms I have left over from the last time I went out, which, as it happens, was against him? I am rounding them up, and sending them out, and buying boots for those who have none. I would think I was showing support!”


“Then we should do it with a good grace,” my mother says.


He nods. He always gives way to my mother in these matters. She was a duchess, married to the royal Duke of Bedford when my father was nothing but her husband’s squire. She is the daughter of the Count of Saint-Pol, of the royal family of Burgundy, and she is a courtier without equal.


“I would like you to come with us,” she goes on. “And we could perhaps find a purse of gold from the treasure room, for His Grace.”


“A purse of gold! A purse of gold! To wage war on King Henry? Are we Yorkists now?”


She waits till his outrage has subsided. “To show our loyalty,” she says. “If he defeats King Henry and comes back to London victorious, then it will be his court, and his royal favors that are the source of all wealth and all opportunity. It will be he who distributes the land and the patronage and he who allows marriages. And we have a large family, with many girls, Sir Richard.”


For a moment we all freeze with our heads down, expecting one of my father’s thunderous outbursts. Then, unwillingly, he laughs. “God bless you, my spellbinder,” he says. “You are right, as you are always right. I will do as you say, though it goes against the grain, and you can tell the girls to wear white roses, if they can get any this early.”


She leans over to him and kisses him on the cheek. “The dog roses are in bud in the hedgerow,” she says. “It’s not as good as full bloom, but he will know what we mean, and that is all that matters.”


Of course, for the rest of the day, my sisters and cousins are in a frenzy, trying on clothes, washing their hair, exchanging ribbons, and rehearsing their curtseys. Anthony’s wife Elizabeth and two of our quieter companions say that they won’t come, but all my sisters are beside themselves with excitement. The king and most of the lords of his court will go by. What an opportunity to make an impression on the men who will be the new masters of the country! If they win.


“What will you wear?” Margaret asks me, seeing me aloof from the excitement.


“I shall wear my gray gown, and my gray veil.”


“That’s not your best; it’s only what you wear on Sundays. Why wouldn’t you wear your blue?”


I shrug. “I am going since Mother wants us to go,” I say. “I don’t expect anyone to look twice at us.” I take the dress from the cupboard and shake it out. It is slim cut with a little half train at the back. I wear it with a girdle of gray falling low over my waist. I don’t say anything to Margaret, but I know it is a better fit than my blue gown.


“When the king himself came to dinner at your invitation?” she exclaims. “Why wouldn’t he look twice at you? He looked well enough the first time. He must like you—he gave your land back; he came to dinner. He walked in the garden with you. Why wouldn’t he come to the house again? Why wouldn’t he favor you?”


“Because between then and now, I got what I wanted and he did not,” I say crudely, tossing the dress aside. “And it turns out he is not as generous a king as those in the ballads. The price for his kindness was high, too high for me.”


“He never wanted to have you?” she whispers, appalled.


“Exactly.”


“Oh my God, Elizabeth. What did you say? What did you do?”


“I said no. But it was not easy.”


She is deliciously scandalized. “Did he try to force you?”


“Not much, it doesn’t matter,” I mumble. “And it’s not as if I was anything to him but a girl on the roadside.”


“Perhaps you shouldn’t come tomorrow,” she suggests. “If he offended you. You can tell Mother that you’re ill. I’ll tell her, if you like.”


“Oh, I’ll come,” I say, as if I don’t care either way.


 


In the morning I am not so brave. A sleepless night and a piece of bread and beef for breakfast does not help my looks. I am pale as marble, and though Margaret rubs red ochre into my lips, I still look drawn, a ghostly beauty. Among my brightly dressed sisters and my cousins, I, in my gray gown and headdress, stand out like a novice in a nunnery. But when my mother sees me, she nods, pleased. “You look like a lady,” she says. “Not like some peasant girl tricked out in her best to go to a fair.”


As a reproof this is not successful. The girls are so delighted to be allowed to the muster at all that they don’t in the least mind being reproached for looking too bright. We walk together down the road to Grafton and see before us, at the side of the highway, a straggle of a dozen men armed with staves, one or two with cudgels: Father’s recruits. He has given them all a badge of a white rose and reminded them that they are now to fight for the House of York. They used to be foot soldiers for Lancaster; they must remember that they are now turncoats. Of course, they are indifferent to the change of loyalty. They are fighting as he bids them for he is their landlord, the owner of their fields, their cottages, almost everything they see around them. His is the mill where they grind their corn, the ale house where they drink pays rent to him. Some of them have never been beyond the lands he owns. They can hardly imagine a world in which “squire” does not simply mean Sir Richard Woodville, or his son after him. When he was Lancaster, so were they. Then he was given the title Rivers, but they were still his and he theirs. Now he sends them out to fight for York, and they will do their best, as always. They have been promised payment for fighting and that their widows and children will be cared for if they fall. That is all they need to know. It does not make them an inspired army, but they raise a ragged cheer for my father and pull off their hats with appreciative smiles for my sisters and me, and their wives and children bob curtseys as we come towards them.


There is a burst of trumpets, and every head turns towards the noise. Around the corner, at a steady trot, come the king’s colors and trumpeters, behind them the heralds, behind them the yeomen of his household, and in the middle of all this bellow and waving pennants, there he is.


For a moment I feel as if I will faint, but my mother’s hand is firm under my arm, and I steady myself. He raises his hand in the signal for halt, and the cavalcade comes to a standstill. Following the first horses and riders is a long tail of men at arms; behind them, other new recruits, looking sheepish like our men, and then a train of wagons with food, supplies, weapons, a great gun carriage drawn by four massive shire horses, and a trail of ponies and women, camp followers and vagrants. It is like a small town on the move: a small deadly town, on the move to do harm.


King Edward swings down from his horse and goes to my father, who bows low. “All we could muster, I am afraid, Your Grace. But sworn to your service,” my father says. “And this, to help your cause.”


My mother steps forward and offers the purse of gold. King Edward takes it and weighs it in his hand and then kisses her heartily on both cheeks. “You are generous,” he says. “And I will not forget your support.”


His gaze goes past her to me, where I stand with my sisters, and we all curtsey together. When I come up, he is still looking at me, and there is a moment when all the noise of the army and the horses and the men falling in freezes into silence, and it is as if there is only he and I alone, in the whole world. Without thinking what I am doing, as if he has wordlessly called me, I take a step towards him, and then another, until I have walked past my father and mother and am face-to-face with him, so close that he might kiss me, if he wished.


“I can’t sleep,” he says so quietly that only I can hear. “I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep.”


“Nor I.”


“You neither?”


“No.”


“Truly?”


“Yes.”


He sighs a deep sigh, as if he is relieved. “Is this love then?”


“I suppose so.”


“I can’t eat.”


“No.”


“I can’t think of anything but you. I can’t go on another moment like this; I can’t ride out into battle like this. I am as foolish as a boy. I am mad for you, like a boy. I cannot be without you; I will not be without you. Whatever it costs me.”


I can feel my color rising like heat in my cheeks, and for the first time in days I can feel myself smile. “I can’t think of anything but you,” I whisper. “Nothing. I thought I was sick.”


The ring like a crown is heavy in my pocket, my headdress is pulling at my hair; but I stand without awareness, seeing nothing but him, feeling nothing but his warm breath on my cheek and scenting the smell of his horse, the leather of his saddle, and the smell of him: spices, rosewater, sweat.


“I am mad for you,” he says.


I feel my smile turn up my lips as I look into his face at last. “And I for you,” I say quietly. “Truly.”


“Well then, marry me.”


“What?”


“Marry me. There is nothing else for it.”


I give a nervous little laugh. “You are joking with me.”


“I mean it. I think I will die if I don’t have you. Will you marry me?”


“Yes,” I breathe.


“Tomorrow morning, I will ride in early. Marry me tomorrow morning at your little chapel. I will bring my chaplain, you bring witnesses. Choose someone you can trust. It will have to be a secret for a while. Do you want to?”


“Yes.”


For the first time he smiles, a warm beam that spreads across his fair broad face. “Good God, I could take you in my arms right now,” he says.


“Tomorrow,” I whisper.


“At nine in the morning,” he says.


He turns to my father.


“Can we offer you some refreshment?” my father asks, looking from my flushed face to the smiling king.


“No, but I will take supper with you tomorrow, if I may,” he says. “I will be hunting nearby, and I hope to have a good day.” He bows to my mother and to me, he throws a salute at my sisters and cousins, and he swings up into his saddle. “Fall in,” he says to the men. “It’s a short march and a good cause and dinner when you stop. Be true to me and I will be a good lord to you. I have never lost a battle, and you will be safe with me. I will take you out to great plunder and bring you safe home again.”


It is exactly the right thing to say to them. At once they look more cheerful and shuffle to the rear of the line, and my sisters wave their white budding roses, and the trumpeters sound, and the whole army goes forward again. He nods at me, unsmiling, and I raise my hand in farewell. “Tomorrow,” I whisper as he goes.


 


I doubt him, even as I order my mother’s page boy to wake early in the morning and come to the chapel ready to sing a psalm. I doubt him even when I go to my mother and tell her the King of England himself has said that he wants to marry me in secret, and will she come and be witness, and bring her lady-in-waiting, Catherine. I doubt him when I stand in my best blue gown in the cold morning air of the little chapel. I doubt him right up to the moment when I hear his quick stride up the short aisle, until I feel his arm around my waist and his kiss on my mouth, and I hear him say to the priest, “Marry us, Father. I am in a hurry.”


The boy sings his psalm, and the priest says the words. I give my oath and he gives his. Dimly, I see my mother’s delighted face and the colors of the stained-glass window throwing a rainbow at our feet on the stone floor of the chapel.


Then the priest says, “And the ring?”


And the king says. “A ring! I am a fool! I forgot! I don’t have a ring for you.” He turns to my mother. “Your Ladyship, can you lend me a ring?”


“Oh, but I have one,” I say, almost surprised at myself. “I have one here.” From my pocket I take the ring that I have drawn so slowly and so patiently out of the water, the ring shaped like the crown of England that came with watery magic to bring me my heart’s desire, and the King of England himself puts it on my finger for my wedding ring. And I am his wife.


And Queen of England—or, at any rate, the York Queen of England.


His arm is tight around my waist as the boy sings the bidding, then the king turns to my mother and says, “Your Ladyship? Where can I take my bride?”


My mother smiles and gives him a key. “There is a hunting lodge by the river.” She turns to me. “River Lodge. I had it made ready for you.”


He nods and sweeps me from the little chapel and lifts me onto his big hunter. He mounts behind me and I feel his arms tighten around me as he takes up the reins. We go at a walk along the riverbank and when I lean back I can feel his heart beating. We can see the little lodge through the trees and there is a curl of smoke from the chimney. He swings down from his horse and lifts me off and takes the animal to the stalls at the back of the house while I open the door. It is a simple place with a fire burning in the hearth, a jug of wedding ale and two cups on the wooden table, two stools set for eating the bread and cheese and meat, and a large wooden bed, made up with the best linen sheets. The room goes dark as he comes in the doorway, ducking his tall head under the beams.


“Your Grace . . .” I start, and then I correct myself. “My lord. Husband.”


“Wife,” he says with quiet satisfaction. “To bed.”


 


The morning sun, which was so bright on the beams and the limewashed ceiling when we went to bed, is turning the place golden in the late afternoon when he says to me, “Thank the Lady of Heaven that your father asked me to dinner. I am weak with hunger. I am dying of hunger. Let me out of bed, you witch.”


“I offered you bread and cheese two hours ago,” I point out, “but you would not let me go three steps to the table to fetch it for you.”


“I was busy,” he says, and pulls me back to his naked shoulder. At the smell of him and the touch of his skin, I feel my desire for him rise again and we move together. When we lie back, the room is rosy with the sunset and he gets out of bed. “I must wash,” he says. “Shall I bring you a jug of water from the yard?”


His head brushes the ceiling; his body is perfect. I look him over with satisfaction, like a horse dealer looks at a beautiful stallion. He is tall and lean, his muscles hard, his chest broad, his shoulders strong. He smiles at me and my heart turns over for him. “You look as if you would eat me up,” he says.


“I would,” I say. “I cannot think how to sate my desire for you. I think I will have to keep you prisoner here and eat you up in little cutlets, day after day.”


“If I kept you prisoner, I would devour you in one greedy swallow,” he chuckles. “But you would not get out till you were with child.”


“Oh!” The most delightful thought now strikes me. “Oh, I shall give you sons, and they will be princes.”


“You will be the mother of the King of England, and the mother of the House of York, which will rule for ever, please God.”


“Amen,” I say devoutly, and I feel no shadow, no shiver, no sense of unease. “God send you safely home to me from your battle.”


“I always win,” he says in his supreme confidence. “Be happy, Elizabeth. You will not lose me on the battlefield.”


“And I shall be queen,” I say again. For the first time I understand, truly understand, that if he comes home from the battle and the true king, Henry, is dead, then this young man will be the undisputed King of England—and I shall be first in the land.


 


After dinner he takes his leave of my father and sets off to ride to Northampton. His page boy has come to the stable and fed and watered the horses and has them ready at the door. “I will come back tomorrow night,” he says. “I must see my men and raise my army, all day. But I shall be with you at dusk.”


“Come to the hunting lodge,” I whisper. “And I will have dinner there for you like a good wife.”


“Tomorrow evening,” he promises. Then he turns to my father and mother and thanks them for their hospitality, nods to their bows, and leaves.


“His Grace is very attentive to you,” my father remarks. “Don’t you let your head be turned.”


“Elizabeth is the most beautiful woman in England,” my mother replies smoothly. “And he likes a pretty face; but she knows her duty.”


Then I have to wait again. All through the evening when I play cards with my boys and then hear them say their prayers and get ready for bed. All through the night when though I am exhausted and deliciously sore I cannot sleep. All through the next day when I walk and talk as if I were in a dream waiting for night until the moment that he ducks his head under the doorway and comes into the little room and takes me into his arms and says, “Wife, let us go to bed.”


Three nights pass in this haze of pleasure, until the last morning when he says, “I have to go, my love, and I will see you when it is all over.” It is as if someone has thrown icy water in my face, and I gasp and say: “You are going to war?”


“I have my army mustered, and my spies tell me that Henry is commanded by his wife to meet her on the east coast with her troops. I shall go at once and bring him to battle and then march to meet her as soon as she lands.”


I clutch at his shirt as he pulls it on. “You will not go right now?”


“Today,” he says, gently pushing me away, and continuing to dress.


“But I cannot bear it without you.”


“No. But you will. Now listen.”


This is a different man from the entranced young lover of our three-night honeymoon. I have been thoughtless of everything but our pleasure; but he has been planning. This is a king defending his kingdom. I wait to hear what he will command. “If I win, and I will win, I will come back for you, and as soon as we can, we will announce our marriage. There will be many who will not be pleased, but it is done, and all they can do is accept it.”


I nod. I know that his great advisor, Lord Warwick, is planning his marriage with a French princess, and Lord Warwick is accustomed to commanding my young husband.


“If luck goes against me and I am dead, then you will say nothing of this marriage and these days.” He raises his hand to silence my objection. “Nothing. You would gain nothing for being the widow of a dead imposter, whose head will be stuck on the gates of York. It would be your ruin. As far as anyone knows you are the daughter of a family loyal to the House of Lancaster. You should stay that way. You will remember me in your prayers, I hope. But it will be a secret between you and me and God. And two of us will be silent for sure, for one of us is God and the other is dead.”


“My mother knows . . .”


“Your mother knows the best way to keep you safe will be to silence her page boy and her lady-in-waiting. She is prepared for that already, she understands, and I have given her money.”


I swallow a sob. “Very well.”


“And I should like you to marry again. Choose a good man, one who will love you and care for the boys, and be happy. I would want you to be happy.”


I bow my head in speechless misery.


“Now, if you find you are with child, you will have to leave England,” he commands. “Tell your mother at once. I have spoken to her, and she knows what to do. The Duke of Burgundy commands all of Flanders, and he will give you a house of your own for kinship with your mother and for love of me. If you have a girl, you can wait your time, get a pardon from Henry, and come back to England. If you leave it for a year, you will be deliciously notorious—men will be mad for you. You will be the beautiful widow of a dead pretender. Enjoy it all for my sake, I beg you.


“But if you have a boy, it’s a different matter altogether. My son will be heir to the throne. He will be the York heir. You will have to keep him safe. You may have to put him into hiding till he is old enough to claim his rights. He can live under an assumed name; he can live with poor people. Don’t be falsely proud. Hide him somewhere safe until he is old enough and strong enough to claim his inheritance. Richard and George, my brothers, will be his uncles and his guardians. You can trust them to protect any son of mine. It may be that Henry and his son die young and then your son will be the only heir to the throne of England. I don’t count the Lancaster woman, Margaret Beaufort. My boy should have the throne. It is my wish that he has the throne if he can win it, or if Richard and George can win it for him. Do you understand? You must hide my son in Flanders and keep him safe for me. He could be the next York king.”


“Yes,” I say simply. I see that my grief and my fear for him is no longer a private matter. If we have made a child in these long nights of lovemaking, then he is not just a child of love, he is an heir to the throne, a claimant, a new player in the long deadly rivalry between the two houses of York and Lancaster.


“This is hard for you,” he says, seeing my pale face. “My intention is that it should never happen. But remember, your refuge is Flanders if you have to keep my son safe. And your mother has money and knows where to go.”


“I will remember,” I say. “Come back to me.”


He laughs. It is not forced; it is the laugh of a happy man, confident in his luck and his abilities. “I will,” he says. “Trust me. You have married a man who is going to die in his bed, preferably after making love to the most beautiful woman in England.”


He holds out his arms and I step towards him and feel the warmth of his embrace. “Make sure you do,” I say. “And I will make sure that the most beautiful woman in your eyes is always me.”


He kisses me, but briskly, as if his mind is already elsewhere, and he detaches himself from my clasping hands. He has gone from me long before he ducks his head to get through the doorway, and I see that his page has brought his horse round to the door and is ready to go.


I run outside to wave to him and he is already up in the saddle. His horse is dancing on the spot; he is a great chestnut beast, strong and powerful. He arches his neck and tries to rear against Edward’s tight rein. The King of England towers against the sun on his great war horse and for a moment I too believe that he is invincible. “Godspeed, good luck!” I call, and he salutes me and wheels his horse, and rides out, the rightful King of England, to fight the other rightful King of England for the kingdom itself.


I stand with my hand raised in farewell until I cannot see his standard with the white rose of York carried before him, until I cannot hear the hoofbeats of his horse, until he has quite gone from me; and then, to my horror, my brother Anthony, who has seen all of this, who has been watching for who knows how long, steps out from the shadow of the tree and walks towards me.


“You whore,” he says.


I stare at him as if I don’t understand the meaning of the word. “What?”


“You whore. You have shamed our house and your name and the name of your poor dead husband who died fighting that usurper. God forgive you, Elizabeth. I am going at once to tell my father, and he will put you in a nunnery, if he does not strangle you first.”


“No!” I stride forward and grab at his arm, but he shakes me off.


“Don’t touch me, you slut. D’you think I want your hands on me after they have been all over him?”


“Anthony, it is not what you think!”


“My eyes deceive me?” he spits savagely. “It is an enchantment? You are Melusina? A beautiful goddess bathing in the woods and he that just departed was a knight sworn to your service? This is Camelot now? An honorable love? This is poetry and not the gutter?”


“It is honorable!” I am driven to reply.


“You don’t know the meaning of the word. You are a slut and he will pass you on to Sir William Hastings when they next ride by, as he does with all his sluts.”


“He loves me!”


“As he tells each and every one.”


“He does. He is coming back to me—”


“As he always promises.”


Furious, I thrust my left fist towards him and he ducks away, expecting a punch in the face. Then he sees the gleam of gold on my finger and he all but laughs. “He gave you this? A ring? I am supposed to be impressed by a love token?”


“It is not a love token, it is a wedding ring. A proper ring given in marriage. We are married.” I make my announcement in triumph, but I am instantly disappointed.


“Dear God, he has fooled you,” he says, anguished. He takes me into his arms and presses my head against his chest. “My poor sister, my poor fool.”


I struggle free. “Let me go, I am nobody’s fool. What are you saying?”


He looks at me with sorrow, but his mouth is twisted into a bitter smile. “Let me guess, was this a secret wedding, in a private chapel? Did none of his friends and courtiers attend? Is Lord Warwick not to be told? Is it to be kept private? Are you to deny it, if asked?”


“Yes. But—”


“You are not married, Elizabeth. You have been tricked. It was a pretend service that has no weight in the eyes of God nor of man. He has fooled you with a trumpery ring and a pretend priest so that he could get you into bed.”


“No.”


“This is the man who hopes to be King of England. He has to marry a princess. He’s not going to marry some beggarly widow from the camp of his enemy, who stood out on the road to plead with him to restore her dowry. If he marries an Englishwoman at all, she will be one of the great ladies of the Lancaster court, probably Warwick’s daughter Isabel. He’s not going to marry a girl whose own father fought against him. He’s more likely to marry a great princess of Europe, an infanta from Spain, or a princesse from France. He has to marry to set himself more safely on the throne, to make alliances. He’s not going to marry a pretty face for love. Lord Warwick would never allow it. And he is not such a fool as to go against his own interests.”


“He doesn’t have to do what Lord Warwick wants! He’s the king.”


“He is Warwick’s puppet,” my brother says cruelly. “Lord Warwick decided to back him, just as Warwick’s father backed Edward’s father. Without the support of Warwick, neither your lover nor his father would have been able to make anything of his claim to the throne. Warwick is the kingmaker, and he has made your lover into King of England. Be very sure he will make the queen too. He will choose who Edward is to marry, and Edward will marry her.”


I am stunned into silence. “But he didn’t. He can’t. Edward married me.”


“A play, a charade, mumming, nothing more.”


“It wasn’t. There were witnesses.”


“Who?”


“Mother, for one,” I say eventually.


“Our mother?”


“She was witness, along with Catherine, her lady-in-waiting.”


“Does Father know? Was he there?”


I shake my head.


“There you are then,” he says. “Who are your many witnesses?”


“Mother, Catherine, the priest, and a boy singer,” I say.


“Which priest?”


“One I don’t know. The king commanded him there.”


He shrugs. “If he was a priest at all. He is more likely some fool or mummer pretending as a favor. Even if he is ordained, the king can still deny that the marriage was valid and it is the word of three women and a boy against the King of England. Easy enough to get you three arrested on some charge and held for a year or so until he is married to whatever princess he chooses. He has played you and Mother for fools.”


“I swear to you that he loves me.”


“Maybe he does,” he concedes. “As maybe he loves each and every one of the women he has bedded, and there are hundreds of them. But when the battle is over and he is riding home and sees another pretty girl by the roadside? He will forget you within a sennight.”


I rub my hand against my cheek and find that my cheeks are wet with tears. “I’m going to tell Mother what you said,” I say weakly. It is the threat of our childhood; it didn’t frighten him then.


“Let’s both go to her. She won’t be happy when she realizes that she has been fooled into pushing her daughter into dishonor.”


We walk in silence through the woods and then over the footbridge. As we go by the big ash tree I glance at the trunk. The looped thread has gone; there is no proof that the magic was ever there. The waters of the river where I dragged my ring from the flood have closed over. There is no proof that the magic ever worked. There is no proof that there is such a thing as magic at all. All I have is a little gold ring shaped like a crown that may mean nothing.


Mother is in the herb garden at the side of the house and, when she sees my brother and me walking together in stubborn silence, a pace apart, saying nothing, she straightens up with the herbs in her basket and waits for us to come towards her, readying herself for trouble.


“Son,” she greets my brother. Anthony kneels for her blessing and she puts her hand on his fair head and smiles down on him. He rises to his feet and takes her hand in his.


“I think the king has lied to you and to my sister,” he says bluntly. “The marriage ceremony was so secret that there is nobody of any authority to prove it. I think he went through the sham ceremony to have the bedding of her, and he will deny that they were married.”


“Oh, do you?” she says, unruffled.


“I do,” he says. “And it won’t be the first time he has pretended marriage to a lady in order to bed her. He has played this game before, and the woman ended with a bastard and no wedding ring.”


My mother, magnificently, shrugs her shoulders. “What he has done in the past is his own affair,” she says. “But I saw him wedded and bedded, and I wager that he will come back to claim her as his wife.”


“Never,” Anthony says simply. “And she will be ruined. If she is with child, she will be utterly disgraced.”


My mother smiles up at his cross face. “If you were right and he was going to deny the marriage, then her prospects would be poor indeed,” she agrees.


I turn my head from them. It is only a moment since my lover was telling me how to keep his son safe. Now this same child is described as my ruin.


“I am going to see my sons,” I say coldly to them both. “I won’t hear this and I won’t speak of it. I am true to him and he will be true to me, and you will be sorry that you doubted us.”


“You are a fool,” my brother says, unimpressed. “I am sorry for that, at least.” And to my mother he says, “You have taken a great gamble with her, a brilliant gamble; but you have staked her life and happiness on the word of a known liar.”


“Perhaps,” my mother says, unmoved. “And you are a wise man, my son, a philosopher. But some things I know better than you, even now.”


I stalk away. Neither of them calls me back.


 


I have to wait, the whole kingdom has to wait again to hear who to hail as king, who shall command. My brother Anthony sends a man north, scouting for news, and then we all wait for him to come back to tell us if the battle has been joined, and if King Edward’s luck has held. Finally, in May, Anthony’s servant comes home and says he has been in the far north, near to Hexham, and met a man who told him all about it. A bad battle, a bloody battle. I hesitate in the doorway; I want to know the outcome, not the details. I don’t have to see a battle to imagine it anymore; we have become a country accustomed to tales of the battlefield. Everyone has heard of the armies drawn up in their positions, or seen the charge, the falling back and the exhausted pause while they regroup. Or everyone knows someone who has been in a town where the victorious soldiers came through determined to carouse and rob and rape; everyone has stories of women running to a church for sanctuary, screaming for help. Everyone knows that these wars have torn our country apart, have destroyed our prosperity, our friendliness between neighbors, our trust of strangers, the love between brothers, the safety of our roads, the affection for our king; and yet nothing seems to stop the battles. We go on and on seeking a final victory and a triumphant king who will bring peace; but victory never comes and peace never comes and the kingship is never settled.


Anthony’s messenger gets to the point. King Edward’s army has won, and won decisively. The Lancaster forces were routed and King Henry, the poor wandering lost King Henry who does not know fully where he is, even when he is in his palace at Westminster, has run away into the moors of Northumberland, a price on his head as if he were an outlaw, without attendants, without friends, without even followers, like a borderer rebel as wild as a chough.


His wife, Queen Margaret of Anjou, my mother’s one-time dearest friend, is fled to Scotland with the prince their heir. She is defeated, and her husband is vanquished. But everyone knows that she will not accept her defeat, she will plot and scheme for her son, just as Edward told me that I must plot and scheme for ours. She will never stop until she is back in England and the battle is drawn up again. She will never stop until her husband is dead, her son is dead, and she has no one left to put on the throne. This is what it means to be Queen of England in this country today. This is how it has been for her for nearly ten years, ever since her husband became unfit to rule and his country became like a frightened hare thrown into a field before a pack of hunting dogs, darting this way and that. Worse, I know that this is how it will be for me, if Edward comes home to me and names me as the new queen, and we make a son and heir. The young man I love will be king of an uncertain kingdom, and I will have to be a claimant queen.


And he does come. He sends me word that he has won the battle and broken the siege of Bamburgh Castle, and will call in as his army marches south. He will come for dinner, he writes to my father, and in a private note to me he scribbles that he will stay the night.


I show the note to my mother. “You can tell Anthony that my husband is true to me,” I say.


“I shan’t tell Anthony anything,” she says unhelpfully.


My father, at any rate, manages to be pleased at the prospect of a visit from the victor. “We were right to give him our men,” he says to my mother. “Bless you for that, love. He is the victorious king and you have put us on the winning side once more.”


She smiles at him. “It could have gone either way, as always,” she says. “And it is Elizabeth who has turned his head. It is she he is coming to see.”


“Do we have some well-hung beef?” he asks. “And John and the boys and I will go hawking and get you some game.”


“We’ll give him a good dinner,” she reassures him. But she does not tell my father that he has greater cause for celebration: that the King of England has married me. She stays silent, and I wonder if she too thinks that he is playing me false.


There is no sign of what my mother thinks, one way or another, when she greets him with a low curtsey. She shows no familiarity, as a woman might do to her son-in-law. But she treats him with no coldness, as surely she would if she thought he had made fools of us both? Rather, she greets him as a victorious king and he greets her as a great lady, a former duchess, and both of them treat me as a favored daughter of the house.


Dinner is as successful as it is bound to be, given that my father is filled with bluster and excitement, my mother as elegant as always, my sisters in their usual state of stunned admiration, and my brothers furiously silent. The king bids his farewell to my parents and rides off down the road as if going back to Northampton, and I throw on my cape and run down the path to the hunting lodge by the river.


He is there before me, his big war horse in the stall, his page boy in the hayloft, and he takes me into his arms without a word. I say nothing too. I am not such a fool as to greet a man with suspicion and complaints, and besides, when he touches me, all I want is his touch, when he kisses me, all I want are his kisses, and all I want to hear are the sweetest words in the world, when he says: “Bed, Wife.”


 


In the morning I am combing my hair before the little silvered mirror and pinning it up. He stands behind me, watching me, sometimes taking a lock of golden hair and winding it round his finger to see it catch the light. “You aren’t helping,” I say, smiling.


“I don’t want to help, I want to hinder. I adore your hair, I like to see it loose.”


“And when shall we announce our marriage, my lord?” I ask, watching his face in the reflection.


“Not yet,” he says swiftly, too swiftly: this is an answer prepared. “My lord Warwick is hell-bent on me marrying the Princess Bona of Savoy, to guarantee peace with France. I have to take some time to tell him it cannot be. He will need to get used to the idea.”


“Some days?” I suggest.


“Say weeks,” he prevaricates. “He will be disappointed and he has taken God knows what bribes to bring this marriage about.”


“He is disloyal? He is bribed?”


“No. Not he. He takes the French money but not to betray me: we are as one. We have known each other since boyhood. He taught me how to joust, he gave me my first sword. His father was like a father to me. Truly, he has been like an older brother to me. I would not have fought for my right to the throne if he had not been with me. His father took my father up to the very throne and made him heir to the King of England, and in his turn Richard Neville has supported me. He is my great mentor, my great friend. He has taught me almost everything I know about fighting and ruling a kingdom. I have to take the time to tell him about us, and explain that I could not resist you. I owe him that.”


“He is so important to you?”


“The greatest man in my life.”


“But you will tell him; you will bring me to court,” I say, trying to keep my voice light and inconsequential. “And present me to the court as your wife.”


“When the time is right.”


“May I at least tell my father, so that we can meet openly as husband and wife?”


He laughs. “As well tell the town crier. No, my love, you must keep our secret for a little while longer.”


I take my tall headdress with the sweeping veil and tie it on, saying nothing. It gives me a headache with the weight of it.


“You do trust me, don’t you, Elizabeth?” he asks sweetly.


“Yes,” I lie. “Completely.”


 


Anthony stands beside me as the king rides away, his hand raised in a salute, a false smile on his face. “Not going with him?” he asks sarcastically. “Not going to London to buy new clothes? Not going to be presented at court? Not attending the thanksgiving Mass as queen?”


“He has to tell Lord Warwick,” I say. “He has to explain.”


“It will be Lord Warwick who will explain to him,” my brother says bluntly. “He will tell him that no King of England can afford to marry a commoner, no King of England would marry a woman who is not a proven virgin. No King of England would marry an Englishwoman of no family and no fortune. And your precious king will explain that it was a wedding witnessed by no lord nor court official, that his new wife has not even told her family, that she wears her ring in her pocket; and they will both agree it can be ignored as if it had never happened. As he has done before, so he will do again, as long as there are foolish women in the kingdom—and that is to say forever.”


I turn to him and at the pain on my face he stops taunting me. “Ah, Elizabeth, don’t look like that.”


“I don’t care if he doesn’t acknowledge me, you fool,” I flare out. “It’s not a question of wanting to be queen; it’s not even a question of wanting honorable love anymore. I am mad for him, I am madly in love with him. I would go to him if I had to walk barefoot. Tell me I am one of many. I don’t care! I don’t care for my name or for my pride anymore. As long as I can have him once more, that’s all I want, just to love him; all I want to be certain of is that I will see him again, that he loves me.”


Anthony folds me in his arms and pats my back. “Of course he loves you,” he says. “What man could not? And if he does not, then he is a fool.”


“I love him,” I say miserably. “I would love him if he were a nobody.”


“No, you wouldn’t,” he says gently. “You are your mother’s child through and through; you don’t have the blood of a goddess in you for nothing. You were born to be queen and maybe everything will come out well. Maybe he loves you and will stand by you.”


I tilt my head back to scan his face. “But you don’t believe it.”


“No,” he says honestly. “To tell you the truth, I think you have seen the last of him.”

 



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