I richard, p.19

I, Richard, page 19


I, Richard

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  “Her brothers,” he said patiently, and slowly to make sure they absorbed each Romantic detail. “If Henry Tudor legitima-tised Elizabeth of York prior to marrying her, he would have been legitimatising her brothers as well. And if he did that, the elder of the boys—”

  “Gracious me,” one of the group sang out. “He would've been the true King once Richard died.”

  Bless you, my child, Malcolm thought. “That,” he cried, “is exactly spot on.”

  “See here, mate,” Sludgecur interrupted, some sort of light dawning in the cobwebbed reaches of her brain. “I've heard this story, and Richard killed those little blighters himself while they were in the Tower.”

  Another fish biting the Tudor bait, Malcolm realised. Five hundred years later and that scheming Welsh upstart was still successfully reeling them in. He could hardly wait until the day when his book came out, when his history of Richard was heralded as the triumph of truth over Tudor casuistry.

  He was Patience itself as he explained. The Princes in the Tower—Edward IV's two sons—had indeed been long reputed by tradition to have been murdered by their uncle Richard III to shore up his position as King. But there were no witnesses to any murder and as Richard was King through an Act of Parliament, he had no motive to kill them. And since he had no direct heir to the throne—his own son having died, as you heard moments ago—what better way to ensure the Yorks' continued possession of the throne of England than to designate the two Princes legitimate … after his own death? Such designation could only be made by Papal decree at this point, but Richard had sent two emissaries to Rome and why send them such a distance unless it was to arrange for the legitimatising of the very boys whose rights had been wrested from them by their father's lascivious conduct?

  “The boys were indeed rumored to be dead.” Malcolm aimed for kindness in his tone. “But that rumor, interestingly enough, never saw the light of day until just before Henry Tudor's invasion of England. He wanted to be King, but he had no rights to kingship. So he had to discredit the reigning monarch. Could there possibly be a more efficacious way to do it than by spreading the word that the Princes—who were gone from the Tower—were actually dead? But this is the question I pose to you, ladies: What if they weren't?”

  An appreciative murmur went through the group. Malcolm heard one of the ancients commenting, “Lovely eyes, he has,” and he turned them towards the sound of her voice. She looked like his grandmother. She also looked rich. He increased the wattage of his charm.

  “What if the two boys had been removed from the Tower by Richard's own hand, sent into safekeeping against a possible uprising? Should Henry Tudor prevail at Bosworth Field, those two boys would be in grave danger and King Richard knew it. Tudor was pledged to their sister. To marry her, he had to declare her legitimate. Declaring her legitimate made them legitimate. Making them legitimate made one of them—young Edward—the true and rightful King of England. The only way for Tudor to prevent this was to get rid of them. Permanently.”

  Malcolm waited a moment to let this sink in. He noted the collection of grey heads turning towards Sutton Cheney. Then towards the north valley where a flagpole flew the seditious Stanleys' standard. Then over towards the peak of Ambion Hill where the unforgiving wind whipped Richard's White Boar briskly. Then down the slope in the direction of the railway tracks where the Tudor mercenaries had once formed their meagre front line. Vastly outnumbered, outgunned, and outarmed, they would have been waiting for the Stanleys to make their move: for King Richard or against him. Without the Stanleys' throwing their lot in with Tudor's, the day would be lost.

  The Grey Ones were clearly with him, Malcolm noted. But Sludgecur was not so easily drawn in. “How was Tudor supposed to kill them if they were gone from the Tower?” She'd taken to beating her hands against her arms, doubtless wishing she were pummeling his face.

  “He didn't kill them,” Malcolm said pleasantly, “although his Machiavellian fingerprints are all over the crime. No. Tudor wasn't directly involved. I'm afraid the situation's a little nastier than that. Shall we walk on and discuss it, ladies?”

  “Lovely little bum as well,” one of the group murmured. “Quite a crumpet, that bloke.”

  Ah, they were in his palm. Malcolm felt himself warm to his own seductive talents.

  He knew that Betsy was watching from the farmhouse, from the first-floor bedroom from which she could see the battlefield. How could she possibly keep herself from doing so after their morning together? She'd see Malcolm shepherding his little band from site to site, she'd note that they were hanging onto his every word, and she'd think about how she herself had hung upon him less than two hours earlier. And the contrast between her drunken sot of a husband and her virile lover would be painfully and mightily on her mind.

  This would make her realise how wasted she was on Bernie Perryman. She was, she would think, forty years old and at the prime of her life. She deserved better than Bernie. She deserved, in fact, a man who understood God's plan when He'd created the first man and woman. He'd used the man's rib, hadn't He? In doing that, He'd illustrated for all time that women and men were bound together, women taking their form and substance from their men, living their lives in the service of their men, for which their reward was to be sheltered and protected by their men's superior strength. But Bernie Perryman only ever saw one half of the man-woman equation. She—Betsy—was to work in his service, care for him, feed him, see to his well-being. He—Bernie— was to do nothing. Oh, he'd make a feeble attempt to give her a length now and again if the mood was upon him and he could keep it up long enough. But whiskey had long since robbed him of whatever ability he'd once had to be pleasing to a woman. And as for understanding her subtler needs and his responsibility in meeting them… forget that area of life altogether.

  Malcolm liked to think of Betsy in these terms: up in her barren bedroom in the farmhouse, nursing a righteous grievance against her husband. She would proceed from that grievance to the realisation that he, Malcolm Cousins, was the man she'd been intended for, and she would see how every other relationship in her life had been but a prologue to the connection she now had with him. She and Malcolm, she would conclude, were suited for each other in every way.

  Watching him on the battlefield, she would recall their initial meeting and the fire that had existed between them from the first day when Betsy had begun to work at Gloucester Grammar as the headmaster's secretary. She'd recall the spark she'd felt when Malcolm had said, “Bernie Perryman's wife?” and admired her openly. “Old Bernie's been holding back on me, and I thought we shared every secret of our souls.” She would remember how she'd asked, “You know Bernie?” still in the blush of her newly-wed bliss and not yet aware of how Bernie's drinking was going to impair his ability to care for her. And she'd well remember Malcolm's response:

  “Have done for years. We grew up together, went to school together, spent holidays roaming the countryside. We even shared our first woman”—and she'd remember his smile—“so we're practically blood brothers if it comes to that. But I can see there might be a decided impediment to our future relationship. Betsy.” And his eyes had held hers just long enough for her to realise that her newlywed bliss wasn't nearly as hot as the look he was giving her.

  From that upstairs bedroom, she'd see that the group Malcolm was squiring round the field comprised women, and she'd begin to worry. The distance from the farmhouse to the field would prevent her from seeing that Malcolm's antiquated audience had one collective foot in the collective grave, so her thoughts would turn ineluctably to the possibilities implied by his current circumstances. What was to prevent one of those women from becoming captivated by the enchantment he offered?

  These thoughts would lead to her desperation, which was what Malcolm had been assiduously massaging for months, whispering at the most tender of moments, “Oh God, if I'd only known what it was going to be like to have you, finally. And now to want you completely…” And then the tears, wept into he
r hair, and the revelation of the agonies of guilt and despair he experienced each time he rolled deliciously within the arms of his old friend's wife. “I can't bear to hurt him, darling Bets. If you and he were to divorce… How could I ever live with myself if he ever knew how I've betrayed our friendship?”

  She'd remember this, in the farmhouse bedroom with her hot forehead pressed to the cold windowpane. They'd been together for three hours that morning, but she'd realise that it was not enough. It would never be enough to sneak round as they were doing, to pretend indifference to each other when they met at Gloucester Grammar. Until they were a couple—legally, as much as they were already a couple spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically—she could never have peace.

  But Bernie stood between her and happiness, she would think. Bernie Perryman, driven to alcohol by the demon of fear that the congenital abnormality that had taken his grandfather, his father, and both of his brothers before their forty-fifth birthdays would claim him as well. “Weak heart,” Bernie had doubtless told her, since he'd used it as an excuse for everything he'd done—and not done—for the last thirty years. “It don't ever pump like it ought. Just a little flutter when it oughter be a thud. Got to be careful. Got to take m' pills.”

  But if Betsy didn't remind her husband to take his pills daily, he was likely to forget there were pills altogether, let alone a reason for taking them. It was almost as if he had a death wish, Bernie Perryman. It was almost as if he was only waiting for the appropriate moment to set her free.

  And once she was free, Betsy would think, The Legacy would be hers. And The Legacy was the key to her future with Malcolm. Because with The Legacy in hand at last, she and Malcolm could marry and Malcolm could leave his ill-paying job at Gloucester Grammar. Content with his research, his writing, and his lecturing, he would be filled with gratitude for her having made his new lifestyle possible. Grateful, he would be eager to meet her needs.

  Which was, she would think, certainly how it was meant to be.

  In the Plantagenet pub in Sutton Cheney, Malcolm counted the tip money from his morning's labour. He'd given his all, but the Aussie Oldies had proved to be a niggardly lot. He'd ended up with forty pounds for the tour and lecture—which was an awesomely cheap price considering the depth of information he imparted—and twenty-five pounds in tips. Thank God for the pound coin, he concluded morosely. Without it, the tightfisted old sluts would probably have parted with nothing more than fifty pence apiece.

  He pocketed the money as the pub door opened and a gust of icy air whooshed into the room. The flames of the fire next to him bob-bled. Ash from the fireplace blew onto the hearth. Malcolm looked up. Bernie Perryman—clad only in cowboy boots, blue jeans, and a T-shirt with the words Team Ferrari printed on it—staggered drunkenly into the pub. Malcolm tried to shrink out of view, but it was impossible. After the prolonged exposure to the wind on Bosworth Field, his need for warmth had taken him to the blazing beechwood fire. This put him directly in Bernie's sight line.

  “Malkie!” Bernie cried out joyfully, and went on as he always did whenever they met. “Malkie ol' mate! How 'bout a chess game? I miss our matches, I surely do.” He shivered and beat his hands against his arms. His lips were practically blue. “Shit on toast. It's blowing a cold one out there. Pour me a Blackie,” he called out to the publican. “Make it a double and make it double-quick.” He grinned and dropped onto the stool at Malcolm's table. “So. How's the book comin', Malkie? Gotcher name in lights? Found a publisher yet?” He giggled.

  Malcolm put aside whatever guilt he may have felt at the fact that he was industriously stuffing this inebriate's wife whenever his middle-aged body was up to the challenge. Bernie Perryman deserved to be a cuckold, his punishment for the torment he'd been dishing out to Malcolm for the last ten years.

  “Never got over that last game, did you?” Bernie grinned again. He was served his Black Bush which he tossed back in a single gulp. He blubbered air out between his lips. He said, “Did me right, that,” and called for another. “Now what was the full-on tale again, Malkie? You get to the good part of the story yet? 'Course, it'll be a tough one to prove, won't it, mate?”

  Malcolm counted to ten. Bernie was presented with his second double whiskey. It went the way of the first.

  “But I'm givin' you a bad time for nothing,” Bernie said, suddenly repentant in the way of all drunks. “You never did me a bad turn—'cept that time with the A-levels, 'course—and I shouldn't do you one. I wish you the best. Truly, I do. It's just that things never work out the way they're s'posed to, do they?”

  Which, Malcolm thought, was the whole bloody point. Things—as Bernie liked to call them—hadn't worked out for Richard either, that fatal morning on Bosworth Field. The Earl of Northumberland had let him down, the Stanleys had out-and-out betrayed him, and an untried upstart who had neither the skill nor the courage to face the King personally in decisive combat had won the day.

  “So tell Bern your theory another time. I love the story, I do, I do. I just wished there was a way for you to prove it. It'd be the making of you, that book would. How long you been working on the manuscript?” Bernie swiped the interior of his whiskey glass with a dirty finger and licked off the residue. He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. He hadn't shaved that morning. He hadn't bathed in days. For a moment, Malcolm almost felt sorry for Betsy, having to live in the same house with the odious man.

  “I've come to Elizabeth of York,” Malcolm said as pleasantly as he could manage considering the antipathy he was feeling for Bernie. “Edward IV's daughter. Future wife to the King of England.”

  Bernie smiled, showing teeth in serious need of cleaning. “Cor, I always forget that bird, Malkie. Why's that, d'you think?”

  Because everyone always forgot Elizabeth, Malcolm said silently. The eldest daughter of Edward IV, she was generally consigned to a footnote in history as the oldest sister of the Princes in the Tower, the dutiful daughter of Elizabeth Woodville, a pawn in the political power game, the later wife of that Tudor usurper Henry VII. Her job was to carry the seed of the dynasty, to deliver the heirs, and to fade into obscurity.

  But here was a woman who was one-half Woodville, with the thick blood of that scheming and ambitious clan coursing through her veins. That she wanted to be Queen of England like her mother before her had been established in the seventeenth century when Sir George Buck had written—in his History of the Life and Reigne of Richard III—of young Elizabeth's letter asking the Duke of Norfolk to be the mediator between herself and King Richard on the subject of their marriage, telling him that she was the King's in heart and in thought. That she was as ruthless as her two parents was made evident in the fact that her letter to Norfolk was written prior to the death of Richard's wife, Queen Anne.

  Young Elizabeth had been bundled out of London and up to Yorkshire, ostensibly for safety's sake, prior to Henry Tudor's invasion. There she resided at Sheriff Hutton, a stronghold deep in the countryside where loyalty to King Richard was a constant of life. Elizabeth would be well protected—not to mention well guarded—in Yorkshire. As would be her siblings.

  “You still hot for Lizzie?” Bernie asked with a chuckle. “Cor, how you used to go on about that girl.”

  Malcolm suppressed his rage but did not forbid himself from silently cursing the other man into eternal torment. Bernie had a deep aversion for anyone who tried to make something of his life. That sort of person served to remind him of what a waste he'd made of his own.

  Bernie must have read something on Malcolm's face because as he called for his third double whiskey, he said, “No, no, get on with you. I 'as only kidding. What's you doing out here today anyway? Was that you in the battlefield when I drove by?”

  Bernie knew it was he, Malcolm realised. But mentioning the fact served to remind them both of Malcolm's passion and the hold that Bernie Perryman had upon it. God, how he wanted to stand on the table and shout, “I'm bonking this idiot's wife twice a week, three or four
times if I can manage it. They'd been married two months when I bonked her the first time, six days after we were introduced.”

  But losing control like that was exactly what Bernie Perryman wanted of his old friend Malcolm Cousins: payback time for having once refused to help Bernie cheat his way through his A-levels. The man had an elephantine memory and a grudge-bearing spirit. But so did Malcolm.

  “I don't know, Malkie,” Bernie said, shaking his head as he was presented with his whiskey. He reached unsteadily for it, his bloodless tongue wetting his lower lip. “Don't seem natural that Lizzie'd hand those lads over to be given the chop. Not her own brothers. Not even to be Queen of England. Sides, they weren't even anywheres near her, were they? All speculation, 'f you ask me. All speculation and not a speck of proof.”

  Never, Malcolm thought for the thousandth time, never tell a drunkard your secrets or your dreams.

  “It was Elizabeth of York,” he said again. “She was ultimately responsible.”

  Sheriff Hutton was not an insurmountable distance from Rievaulx, Jervaulx, and Fountain Abbeys. And tucking individuals away in abbeys, convents, monasteries, and priories was a great tradition at that time. Women were the usual recipients of a one-way ticket to the ascetic life. But two young boys—disguised as youthful entrants into a novitiate—would have been safe there from the arm of Henry Tudor should he take the throne of England by means of conquest.

  “Tudor would have known the boys were alive,” Malcolm said. “When he pledged himself to marry Elizabeth, he would have known the boys were alive.”

  Bernie nodded. “Poor little tykes,” he said with factitious sorrow. “And poor old Richard who took the blame. How'd she get her mitts on them, Malkie? What d'you think? Think she cooked up a deal with Tudor?”

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