Out of everything she’s learnt to do over this past year, wait is one of them. Wait for the boat at Calais to dock, for Isabel to give birth. Wait for dispensation for her marriage. Wait each night in agony for her husband to stumble his way into her chambers.
Wait for her father to return, to win the war against King Edward — the usurper.
And now, she waits again.
She can hear the faint cries of battle from Tewkesbury Abbey, but can make no sense of them.
It makes little difference to her.
Her Lancastrian family has stripped her of her emotions, sucked the life out of her like a leech.
She thinks of her husband — of his wild eyes and wondering, cruel hands and cringes even then.
He could die, she knows that. But fortune has a way of turning itself against her — her father had broke with King Edward, she’d married Lancaster, her father had died.
And so, she dares not voice her desires — dares not even think them.
She watches with unseeing eyes as Margaret of Anjou paces up and down, left and right, trying to ease her nerves. Anne has never seen the cold, proud woman like this before, so overcome with worry for her son. The only person in this world she seemed to love or care for.
It strikes Anne as odd — yet again — that such a woman could inspire such devotion.
Anne glances down at her lap, numbly starts to play with her fingers. If Lancaster was to win, she would be Queen — whether they liked it or not, they needed her. Needed her to secure Northern support and the respect of their countrymen. While Edouard may have been born in England, he had lived his life in France, England’s sworn enemy. He may as well have been another William the Conqueror.
Anne was of Neville blood — one of the greatest families in the land. At that moment, she had never hated that fact so much.
But if Lancaster was to lose. . .
Her mind flashes to George — her dear, brother-in-law George, who was a Judas twice over. Betrayed his brother, betrayed her father, lead to the latter’s death and defeat at Barnet. A greedy, ungrateful disgrace of man who she would rather not see again.
Who would most likely have her shut away in an abbey to seize her half of her mother’s fortune for himself, now that Anne’s mother was in sanctuary. Something dull stirs within her at the thought of her mother, and Anne cringes away from the emotional weight. She does not want it. Does not care to have it.
It would be nice to see Isabel, though, she admits to herself. Isabel, she would like to see.
Anne visibly flinches now. Richard is not someone she would ever like to see ever again. She could not bear it — she would not bear it.
It was highly unlikely she’d ever see him again.
She’d heard from Somerset he was wounded at Barnet, but that may have been just a rumour. Anne had heard so many rumours over the past few days that she scarcely believed anything anymore, except what she could see with her own eyes. She’d heard that Queen Elizabeth had died in sanctuary along with the long awaited son.
Heard that in the last attainder Edward had signed, he’d not only seized all of George’s lands and titles, he’d barred him and any of his bloodline from the throne for life. It hadn’t meant much, when her father had miraculously managed to place Mad King Henry on the throne once more, but now that Edward was restored and had been recognised by parliament again. . .
Anne shakes her head, uncaring if it causes her long, intricate braid to collapse even more. She is so tired, her eyes hurt to keep open. Her skin is covered in a thin layer of dust from their desperate flee to Tewkesbury crossing. Anne looks at Margaret again; her proud and fierce mother in law, desperate for news, for victory, for the life of her son.
Desperate to be restored.
Anne just wants it all to be over.
It turns out, she does not have to wait long. Soon, there is hammering at their door and before Margaret can even call for them to enter, a bloody, injured soldiers stumbles his way through. Anne would gasp in horror at the sight of him if she were capable, and she knows somehow deep in her bones before he opens his mouth what he is going to say.
But Margaret doesn’t.
She doesn’t realise what the sight of the desperate, panicked, fearful soldier means, appearing in their chambers without Margaret’s commanders, but Anne does.
And so she watches with a calm expression as Margaret’s face crumbles when the soldier stammers:
“I — I — I’m sorry, your grace, bu — but th—the battle is lost. York has won.”
And thus, within a long, stammered breath, Anne loses a future, a crown and a husband in one fell swoop.
Anne does not wait now.
Or perhaps she does.
Except this time, she’s not sure what she’s waiting for.
But she does watch.
She observes with frightening coolness Yorkist soldiers appearing at the Abbey, some clamouring for the blood of the Lancastrian soldiers hidden inside, some searching for loot, others for food and water. Lord Stanley appears with his men, and Anne would cringe at the smug look on his face as he rather cruelly tells her that her son — her bastard brute, as he worded it — had been slain fleeing the field of battle.
A faint hint of sympathy stirs in her chest when Margaret faints in shock and horror, but Anne does nothing to help her. She does not share her grief.
Her husband was a monster, that did not change simply because he had died.
Anne shivers despite the warm spring air. The sun is shining brightly — the Sunne in Splendour, King Edward’s own emblem for all to see.
She does not notice that all of the soldiers are wearing the White Boars of Gloucester.
Anne is suddenly approached by Thomas Stanley himself, and she is all at once aware of her precarious situation. She is the widow of the Lancastrian prince, dowager Princess of Wales, Queen in waiting.
But she was — is — the childhood friend of the King’s brother, sister to his brother’s wife. Edward can’t mean to execute her — it would be most unlike him, to kill a woman. Perhaps George had convinced him to lock her away, and so Anne waits patiently for Lord Thomas Stanley to put her in chains and escort her to a nunnery for the rest of her days.
Instead, he is surprisingly polite to her, in his own odd, unnerving manner.
“My lady, are you ill?” he asks.
Anne is too shocked to speak.
It is then she notices Rob Percy in the background, and a flutter of relief forms in her stomach at the sight of a familiar face.
“Lady Anne,” Rob says gently, his face caked with blood and mud. “The King has asked us to escort you to Westminster.”
Finally, Anne regains her voice.
“As a prisoner?” she asks, her voice brittler than she would like.
Rob shakes his head, and it is then she notices the sadness in his eyes, the tightness of his jaw.
“As a guest,” he responds softly. His eyes linger on her stomach, too quick for Anne to make anything of it, her mind is still processing the sudden change of events — widow, defeat, a crown lost, her father, York —
“Alright,” she says evenly. “If it is King Edward’s command.”
Dread knots in her stomach at the look on Rob’s face — at the soft cluck of Thomas Stanley’s tongue. Perhaps this was all a dream and the Lancastrians had won, and Edouard was waiting in the shadows, watching to see how she would react, ready to punish her, to claim her for her actions, her emotions —
“It is not King Edward’s order,” Thomas Stanley tells her.
Anne blinks in confusion, aware that Margaret of Anjou is now awake and watching.
“Then whose is it?” she asks, uncomprehending.
The smile on Thomas Stanley’s face makes his black orbs seem all the more darker.
“His Grace King Richard, third of his name, King of England and Lord of the Realm. Crowned on Tewkesbury field upon the death of his late brother, King Edward IV and his infant son before him.”
Anne does not believe it.
Can not believe it.
She thinks of Richard, with his short, gangly body and dark unruly curls, brooding and serious — she thinks of him at Middleham, growing up with him, laughing, crying, smiling. Her mind flashes to King Edward, tall, charming, the most handsome Prince in all of Christendom, the winner of the largest and bloodiest battle England had ever known.
Now dead, fighting the last fight of his rule.
It wasn’t real.
It wasn’t possible.
Anne glances at Rob, and her heart breaks and shakes in her chest at the expression on his face, and she knows then what Lord Stanley said is true.
Anne is taken to Westminster amidst the chaos at Tewkesbury. Blocks are being set up — trials are taking place; Somerset, Wenlock — any other Lancastrian commander over the rank of knight is being charged with treason, and Anne has no desire to watch the axe fall.
She sees Margaret of Anjou looking down on her from a window as Anne stands in the courtyard, and the only thing she can think is get her away from there, she’ll jump before someone can blink. Margaret — her former mother in law — is spirited away from the window by the time Anne looks back up.
I suppose it’s too much to ask if you’re with child, Margaret had said to her, after Rob Percy and Thomas Stanley had left her to collect her things.
The thought — even now — robs Anne of all sense, fills her with endless horror and disgust. She doesn’t think she is — she hopes not. Edouard had come to her bed the night before the battle, eager to celebrate and rid himself of his nerves before his first fight.
“Next time I bed you, York will be defeated and I will be the only recognised heir to England,” he had told her — promised her, more like.
Anne resists the urge to shudder at the memory. She would know soon enough, whether or not she was with child, but she’d shaken her head at Margaret, denied the possibility. Anne is sure she’d notice if his seed had taken root, would have felt his evilness blossom in her womb.
Anne can think of no worse fate than to carry Edouard’s child, God and a woman’s duty be damned.
She arrives at Westminster on a day where the sun is swallowed by dark, grey clouds, and the people look at her as though she were some foreign object they had never seen before. She stares at the grand palace, notices its beauty but does not appreciate it. She feels cold and hurt and tired, and all Anne wishes to do is curl into a ball and sleep for a thousand years.
She is bustled into the palace without further prompt, and she takes no care to notice where exactly they are taking her — they could be escorting her to the tower, to lodge with her dear father in law, share in their mourning for his son, her husband for all she knew.
Anne could laugh if she had the energy.
The guards are blank faces she does not recognise, eager to serve, obey and impress the new King, the younger brother so few knew anything about.
I knew him, Anne thinks, as the door to her chambers shuts behind the guards, leaving her alone. He was my childhood friend. I thought I would marry him, once.
Anne shakes her head, banishes those thoughts from her mind. She casts a glance around her rooms, observes that while they are not particularly grand, they’re definitely not a prison either. With a small sigh, whether of relief or sadness she does not know, Anne takes off her slippers and tiptoes her way to the bed. She collapses onto it, face first as though she were a child and not a widow, and falls asleep.
Her dead husband haunts her, mocks her — sneers at her with all his handsome, cruel features. She can feel his hands on her, squeezing, grabbing, claiming her, violating her.
Anne wakes with a feverish, sudden start, gasping and heaving as she shoots up. Edouard Edouard Edouard —
Isabel’s head is peaking through the doorway, her refined features full of concern. She slips through the door, looking rather beautiful in a pale green gown lined with pearls, and makes her way to the bed where Anne continues to lie.
Last time she had seen Isabel was before the Battle of Barnet, when George the Judas turned on their father and sided with his brothers of York. She’d pleaded for Isabel not to leave her — not with them, not with him, please, I can’t bear it — but she’d known she had little choice in the matter. The look of pure venom Margaret of Anjou had shot Isabel when they told her of George’s actions made even Anne shiver.
“Isabel,” Anne murmurs, cold to the bone.
She can feel various emotions threaten to break free from inside the chest she’s locked them inside. If she breaks now, she will break forever, and Anne is still playing the game, Anne may still yet die on the orders of a King she once fancied herself in love with, and Anne is tired. So tired.
Izzy reaches her, sits beside her on the bed like she did when they were children and not wives. Her touch is smooth, cold, and not the least bit comforting.
“Oh Annie,” she breathes. Tears pierce in her blue eyes as she lunges forward, crushing her younger sister to her tightly. “I was so worried for you. I’m glad you’re here.”
She did not offer apologies for her husband’s death. Isabel had not been there long enough for the worst of Edouard to show. In truth, Edouard had kept her increasingly sheltered after their wedding night, as if he wished to hide the bruises he had caused on her skin. Isabel may not have seen it all, but she knew enough to know that Edouard was the kind of husband a woman never truly grieved.
“It’s good to see you Isabel,” Anne whispers into her sister’s dark curls.
Isabel pulls away, swipes at her eyes.
“Jesu, Anne, what have we come to? Father is dead — Mother has abandoned us — Cousin Edward and his Queen are dead as well. And George —“ Isabel bites down on her plump pink lip, nervousness etched onto her features.
“Richard is King and George is still alive,” Anne says, almost as if she were just realising that her brother in law was breathing. “How?”
“Rumour has it Edward made all his council swear to put Richard on the throne after they’d heard of Elizabeth Woodville’s death in Sanctuary, in case he died on the battlefield. George was accepted into the fold —“ More like his soldiers were needed, Anne thinks sharply, “But King Edward’s attainder that bars him from the throne still stands. When King Edward was confirmed to be amongst the fallen at Tewkesbury, all the Lords present kneeled around Richard and declared him, according to his late brother’s express wishes and the law barring George, King of England.”
Anne is still reeling, quite unable to believe what she’s hearing.
“God,” she murmurs. “Little Dickon as King of England.”
She glances at Isabel, takes note of the fear in her eyes, and realises with a pang that Richard’s newfound status may not last long, if the Duke of Clarence has anything to say about it.
Almost a full moon passes by the time Richard’s party finally arrives at Westminster.
Anne has kept mostly to her chambers or the gardens, followed regularly by guards. She does not want to see anyone — can feel eyes on her at all times, the bride of a traitor, the would-be Queen of England. Traitor by blood, by marriage, and by the possible babe that grows in her womb.
Anne shies away from this possibility and darkly thinks that no one in the whole of Christendom would be more displeased at her carrying Lancaster’s seed than herself. Isabel visits her often — they are both would-be Queen’s now and Isabel is anxious, because she has not heard from George, does not know what he is plotting and why or when or —
It gives Anne a headache to think about it.
The whole palace echoes with noise when Richard strolls up the streets of London on his white stallion, and Anne can hear the cries of joy from the people even locked away in her chamber. She has not been permitted to leave her rooms since word of Rich— the King arriving in the capital. Anne wonders if he thinks of her only as a nuisance now, as some pathetic little girl who is an extra burden on his young hands, and who he will gladly give away to his elder brother to do with as he wishes.
Anne is no fool. She knows George better than most, knows he is not at all happy that his younger brother wears the crown he so desperately covets and desires and he is not one to settle for what he deems less than what he wants.
She hopes Richa — the King, realises that by now.
Anne stands by the window, clad in a black mourning gown as she stares down at the gates of the palace, where seemingly thousands of people have gathered to witness and greet their new King. Their cries are loud and joyful but Anne is unmoved, knows the cries are so joyful because they’re relieved the war is seemingly over, and not because of any great personal love for Richard, who they barely know.
Richard is not Edward. He does not share his brother’s illustrious looks or easy charm. He is quiet, steadfast, serious and loyal to a fault — at least he had been the last time she saw him. She knows not who he is now, a year and some later. When she saw him last, he was a boy, and now he is a King, — by God, he’s only ten and eight — a man who had seen battle and who had two bastards, if the rumours Isabel had told her were to be believed.
Anne watches and sees the royal party enter the gate, Woodville’s and Stanley’s and Hastings, Lovell’s and Howard’s, and she is suddenly so frightened to see Richard she gasps and pulls away. She hates herself a little for it, this fear that makes her heart pound so. And yet, a part of her, the child in her that still lives, yearns to see him once again.
Anne does not look out at the window again until the sun has set, and she ignores the part of herself that twinges with regret.
(The late King Edward’s funeral takes place within the week, and Anne closes her eyes and pretends not to hear the sobbing of the crowd outside. Edward was loved by the people, who were blind to his faults and aware only of his best attributes. She thinks of her father, buried and rotting in the ground, and finds it rather fitting that the people who made each other are so quickly buried in the ground after another)
Anne is not invited to Richard’s coronation, not that she’s particularly surprised by the fact. She is, after all, the widow of a would-be King of England and sister-in-law of the elder brother of the current King, so attending would be rather awkward.
She doesn’t see Isabel at all during the week preceding the coronation, and wonders briefly as to whether or not she has been forgotten. Left alone to wither and die and crumble, all alone with no friend or family or love.
Anne thinks of Edouard and she cringes.
(He haunts her still, her beloved husband. His hands and his touch and his mouth and it hurts it still hurts and Anne can’t breathe or think or dream or sleep and —
Anne is trying to forget, without much success)
The only visitors she has for the week preceding Richard’s coronation are the serving maids who bring her food, and that is the only reason why she’s sure they haven’t forgotten her. They bring her books and cloth to knit with, to occupy her time, and Anne is surprised to find some of her favourite childhood books among the selection.
There are romances and stories of heroes and legends that she used to read constantly during her later years at Middleham, and she is rather touched to find that Isabel still remembers. She makes sure to remember to remind herself to thank Isabel next time she sees her.
It doesn’t take long.
She doesn’t see Richard crowned for all to see, but she hears the bells ringing for hours on end, sees the flower petals the people threw in the streets and the celebrations occurring somewhere far off on the other side of the palace.
Anne doubts that if she were to open her door, her guards would still be there.
They would want to see the new King crowned, take part in the feasts. They wouldn’t care for the wellbeing of a traitor — a rather useless one at that. They’d want to drink and dance and laugh and rejoice in the news that the realm was at peace again, and that Margaret of Anjou was finally destroyed once and for all.
According to Isabel, the mourning period for King Edward began the day after Tewkesbury, so it was not as inappropriately short as George was claiming it to be. The people were anxious to have their King crowned and anointed. They wanted security and stability; someone to look to for guidance, and the King needed to be that.
Regardless, it is in the dead of the night that Isabel sneaks into her chambers. Anne is lying awake, unsurprisingly, unable to sleep due to the heat, and she does not speak as Isabel climbs into bed with her, dressed fully in a gown that Anne has no interest to look at.
“George has passed out in his cups,” Isabel whispers. Her breath caresses the side of Anne’s cheek. “He was one of the first to leave the celebrations.”
Anne turns, her long locks brushing against her cheek as she does so.
“And how where they?” she asks.
“Lovely,” she admits. “Grand. I never knew Richard had such extravagant tastes, Anne.” Isabel grows quiet as she ponders over her thoughts.
Anne is tempted to ask her more.
Is he alright? He loved Edward, you know. Does the crown suit him? Is Francis alive?
But she does not.
For she can not care as much as she once did and she is quite sure she no longer has the ability to do so.
(Yet another thing Edouard robbed from her)
“He looked like a King, Annie,” Isabel tells her, sounding rather guilty, as though her husband would peak his head out from under the bed and yell at her for saying so. “Serious and handsome and regal. I think he will be a good King.”
Better than George.
“Are the Lords in favour of him?” Anne questions.
Isabel shrugs, bites down on her lip. Her skin seems strangely silver from the light shining from the moon.
“I think so,” she confesses. “George has dared not question people’s loyalty — the resounding support of King Richard’s ascension to the throne has him rattled, Annie. And I fear — by God, I fear what he might do.”
Anne bites down on her tongue. She has a great deal of words to say of George, and none of them kind. But Isabel, for whatever reason, loves George, despite his follies and lack of reason (or any admirable quality) and Anne has little desire to cause her sister ill. She, who had suffered greatly in the past year as well.
Anne recalls the blood stained sheets and ear-bursting screams, the stillborn boy who Anne and her mother had wrapped in a bundle and lowered into the sea. Her heart tugs with sympathy for Isabel, and she shifts closer to her, and, for the first time since Edouard, is the one who initiates physical contact of any kind.
“All will be alright,” Anne tells her. “God is just and good.”
But the words sound limp and unconvincing to her ears. Anne has little faith in the reason of men anymore; her father had sold her like a brood mare to a family she had been taught to hate since she could walk, and her husband —
Yet Isabel seems to find comfort in them, and she hugs Anne close and sniffs into her white nightgown.
Anne is taken to the Great hall a few days after Richard’s coronation, as part of the long list of traitors who the King has so graciously decided to be given the chance of a pardon, if only they swore loyalty to him.
Anne doubts that is the only reason she has been brought before the whole of the court. She has only been a widow for a moon or so, and there is still a chance she might be with child. She is to be brought before the King to be examined and judged and gossiped about, and it makes her skin crawl.
She has no fine dresses like Isabel anymore, and has no desire to wear the ones granted to her as wedding presents by nobles in France. So she wears one of the nicer gowns she owned before she went into exile, a midnight blue gown that is rather tight on her, and has certainly seen better days.
(If the colour of the gown happens to be Richard’s favourite well, Anne doesn’t think it can bring any harm)
Isabel does not come, and she has no servants to assist her, so she must brush her waist long tresses on her own. It falls down her back in shades of russet and gold, and as Anne puts down the brush, she is suddenly bombarded by memories of Edouard latching onto it, digging his nails in it, pulling and tugging and —
Anne feels sick.
She dares not look in the mirror for fear of what she will find and is relieved when her guards enter the room, and escort her to the main hall. The court looks as grand and extravagant as it did the last time she was there — from what little she remembers — and though the white rose of York is paraded about, it is with the White Boar emblem, not the White Rose en Soleil.
People whisper as she walks down the long carpet laid out in the great hall, which leads straight to the throne, but Anne pays them no heed. She has known worse than whispers. As she approaches the throne, she sees Isabel standing beside her husband, offering her a warm — if brittle — smile, and Anne feels slivers of relief when she catches sight of Rob Percy and Francis Lovell, who had also been wards of her father.
But soon, she is looking straight ahead towards the throne, and her heartbeat thuds louder and louder in her ears with such ferocity she is certain her whole chest is shaking.
What she notices first is the glittering, golden crown resting on his dark curls, and Anne could cry at how beautiful the thing looks. They always say beautiful things are what inspire the most bloodshed, she thinks distantly. Her eyes dart to his hand — the large, ruby coronation ring twinkling on his finger, the fineness of his hose, his midnight blue doublet, before they finally, finally, rest upon his face.
He looks finely cut, regal and removed, and despite the coolness in his eyes she can’t help but think the crown suits him far better than it did the ever-lustful Edward, or ever would the ever greedy George. Said crown hangs low on his dark, lovely, head, and Anne’s heart throbs at the reminder that they are no longer the children they once were, that she has no idea who the person sitting in front of her is.
“Your grace,” she says, obedient as ever as she sinks into a low curtsy, careful to lower her eyes.
“You may rise,” the King utters, and all at once any trace of her Richard vanishes. She does not recognise this deep, manly voice and finds herself eerily reminded of Edouard, whose voice had not yet matured to his liking, and who was desperate to prove his manliness to those around him.
Anne rises at once and looks the King straight in the eye. His eyes are the same.
The moment is broken by Jack Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, stepping forward, breaking the spell.
“State your name for the King to hear,” he commands, as noble as the blood that runs through his veins.
My father respected him, Anne thinks. I know not whether they were friends.
Yet another person she could not rely on. She was already aware that she had no friends besides Isabel — who was an already shaky ally to have — but it was still hard to swallow.
“I am Lady Anne Neville, your grace,” she says, her voice soft. “Daughter to the late Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and Lady Anne Beauchamp.”
She does not say dowager Princess of Wales, or the former would be Queen of England.
Jack Howard looks like he wants to press her for a moment, but ultimately decides not to do so.
“You have been brought here as a suspected traitor, following the actions of your father and late husband. You are aware of this?”
Anne juts her jaw defiantly. If she is to be punished for the actions of her father, if she is to be condemned for being a frightened girl forced to obey her father’s price for ambition, she will not go down a meek little lamb, not matter how tired she is.
It is with a queer sense of triumph the knowledge that Edouard did not strip away every aspect of her seeps into her bones.
“Yes,” she replies, readily enough.
Jack Howard raises his eyebrows.
“Are you prepared to forsake your former allegiance and pledge your loyalty to the new King? King Richard, the third of his name and Lord of England?”
Anne glances at Richard, finds his eyes already trained on her. They reveal nothing, are merely solid pools of grey.
“I am prepared to do so,” she swears.
Lord Howard leads her through the vow, and soon Anne is declaring for all to hear.
“I, Lady Anne Neville, do swear unto God that I will be loyal to the lawful and rightful King Richard, heir to his late brother Edward IV, and do solemnly vow to be a true and faithful subject from this day, until my last day, upon fear of eternal damnation.”
Her eyes flicker to the King’s, and she finally sees a sliver of something in his grey eyes, though it does little to soothe the storm brewing in her soul.
“You are forgiven and welcomed to court,” he tells her. “You will remain here until further notice.”
There is a murmur further back, and Anne need not turn to know it came from George. Her gaze remains on the King, however, and she notices — if few others do — the slight flaring of his nostrils, the strain in his jaw, and knows all at once that Richard — God, the King — does not trust his brother of Clarence.
The knowledge relieves Anne little, to her surprise.
“Thank you, your grace,” she tells him, for she is a lady after all, and a lady never forgets her courtesies.
Anne’s mother suddenly flashes in her mind, and she debates briefly asking him about her, but quickly decides doing so would be to much of risk, and God knows the King has a lot on his hands already.
And just like that, she’s dismissed and hurried off the side, where Isabel is awaiting her. There are numerous other Lancastrians brought before the King, most of them of part of the lower nobility, and so everyone’s attention is distracted.
In other words, everyone is still looking at her.
She glances down at her gown and realises with a dull jolt that most think she is improper for not still wearing a mourning garb for her husband, who is dead. She can almost hear what they think of her whore witch schemer ambitious, wanton woman and Anne could scream, because if she had worn a mourning garb they would have said she was against the King, cursing him for all his days.
The hypocrisy of the human soul makes her ache.
“You did well,” Isabel whispers, when the last of the traitors have been excused and judged upon.
Anne wonders what that even means.
The court disbands, as it always does, the room bursting with whispers and gossip as the King’s councillors swarm around him like bees to a beehive. Anne dares not look at him again, and lets Izzy guide her around the room.
Whispers and stares follow them wherever they go, and Anne listens as Isabel rattles on about some gown, or their estates and other frivolous, harmless matters that wouldn’t get them accused of treason if someone else heard.
I want to sleep, Anne thinks, surveying the room. Is that so much to ask?
“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to come see you these past few days,” Isabel tells her. “You must have gone mad with boredom.”
Anne glances at her, remembers her promise to thank Isabel for the books she sent her.
“I was not completely bored,” she responds. “Thank you for the books you sent me — I’m surprised you remembered my favourites. You always used to tease me for reading of King Arthur and his round table.”
Isabel’s dark brows crinkle into a frown.
“Books?” she asks, clearly surprised. “I haven’t sent you any books.”
Anne stops in her steps, confusion making her blue eyes grow wide.
“What?” she says, gaping.
Her mind flutters quickly — shifts and turns as she thinks of anyone who could have sent her those books. There was only one person present besides Isabel who could have known her favourite books and stories as a child — her Mother did not count of course, there is no conceivable way she sent Anne books from sanctuary — and so that leaves only —
Anne whirls around, her cheeks flush as she finds his eyes already on her, so cool and solid and grey.
They flicker away quickly and Anne nearly thinks she dreamt of it all — imagined his eyes already on her, searching and suspicious, but on her nonetheless. She always used to want Richard to stare at her as a child, wanted to catch him staring at her not-so-secretly, but he never did.
Until now, anyway.
Anne sighs, soft and defeated, and thinks little of it. So Richard was not completely heartless and cold towards her. No doubt he pitied her, his poor little cousin Anne, who had loved and admired him so openly, who had desired to marry him before her world was torn to pieces by her own father.
She does not want his pity — or anyone else’s for that matter.
(But still, late at night, she wonders and wonders and thinks that maybe, just maybe, Richar — the King didn’t want her to think she was forgotten)
Isabel gives Anne a small necklace a belated birthday gift. Anne had turned fifteen somewhere between the days before the coronation, and Anne faults her little for forgetting. In truth, she had forgotten as well.
Fifteen and already bedded and widowed.
Dear God, she truly can’t believe what her life has come to.
She thanks Isabel for the gift with a tender smile and a soft kiss on the cheek, and leaves it at that.
She passes a fortnight in relative obscurity, she is no longer followed by guards everywhere she goes, but Anne still does not venture far or often from her chambers. The court is a nest for vipers and vultures and Anne has no interest in joining them. Her body still aches.
It is midway through June Anne realises she has not bled yet. She spends hours counting on her fingers, trying to remember the last time she bled, having to be sure. Her heart skips and trembles in her chest as she tries to bite down on her nausea.
I’m only a few weeks late, she thinks. It will come. It will.
Anne spends her time praying. She wraps the one rosary she has left around her hand and plays with it at all time. When Isabel comes, she finds Anne praying. When she leaves, Anne prays some more. She knows what she wishes for is blasphemous, that she will condemn her soul for this, but Anne does not care.
She can not stand the thought of Edouard’s seed lingering in her, growing in her womb. It makes her feel dirty and stained and his and Anne does not want that — can not stand that at all.
He is dead he is dead he is dead, she repeats to herself every night, every morning. He can’t touch you.
But in her dreams he can, and if he is in her womb. . .
Anne shudders to think of it.
She considers telling Isabel of her troubles, Isabel with her kind heart and hunger for love, and the words are on the tip of her tongue, but she shoves them down when she thinks of George, her dear brother-in-law who she has seen all of twice since her arrival at Westminster.
No doubt if she was pregnant, Isabel would tell him at once, fearful of George and desperate for his love and approval, which she still years for, even now.
Anne stares at Isabel during one of her many rambles, and wonders if her sister is only here as a spy for George, even if she does not know it. And so she keeps quiet, does not mention her dreams — nightmares — of Lancaster or the lack of bleeding, and lets her secrets stain and weigh down on her soul.
It is two days later that Anne is summoned to the King’s council chambers, and she knows without a doubt why she is there. She surveys their faces, all men she knew, even from a distance, all who look tired and wary and eager to crush the last bud of hope for the Lancastrians.
If only you knew, she wants to scream. I hated him! I hate him still, please, I’m so tired —
She casts a wary glance at the physician standing beside the King.
She doesn’t look at him. She won’t.
“My lady,” someone begins, before they stop.
Anne wonders what they are waiting for.
“I don’t know whether or not I’m with child,” she says tiredly, addressing the elephant in the room. There are some murmurs of surprise, and if she were to look at anywhere other than the floor, she is sure all of them would look taken aback by her forwardness.
But Anne no longer cares if they think her improper, all she wants is it to be done with. No doubt, once the truth is revealed — whatever it may be — she will be turned over into Clarence’s hands, or perhaps into a nunnery. It wouldn’t really matter in the end; George would never allow her to marry, especially if someone would take her half of the fortune.
“My lady,” the physician murmurs, takes steps towards her. “We will need to examine you, with the utmost secrecy of course.”
Anne flinches as he lays a hand on her shoulder, and he pulls away as if he were burned.
Hatred boils in her stomach — at the world, at God, her father, herself, the King — and she draws strength from it. They may have spared her the embarrassment of talking of it in front of all the court, but she hates them anyway, is suddenly petulant and sour.
“As the King wishes,” she says, because of course she isn’t going to refuse the King’s orders, is she?
But then she thinks of the physician taking her to a small room, undressing her, placing his hands on her and she grows cold. He can’t touch her — no, please, please, she can still feel Edouard there, can feel his skin and touch and the scars he caused and the pain and she does not want anyone to see her shame, she does not.
“No,” she gasps, frightened. “No, please don’t —“
She’s trembling as she steps back towards the door. Her head is shaking, no no no.
“Lady Anne,” Francis says, the closest person nearby as he appears at her elbow. She shies away from him too, trying to fight the incessant rattling of her bones.
“You need to do this, my lady,” the physician says, suddenly impatient. No doubt he thinks these are tender, womanly wiles that are a part of a woman’s natural weakness, and Anne wants to bite and scratch at him for it. You don’t know, she wants to say. You don’t know what he did to me.
Perhaps they think she knows she’s with child, and is scared they will try and kill the babe in her womb. Perhaps they think she wants to hold onto what little she has left of her husband. She doubts any of them suspect the truth — knows none of them would care.
A wife is their husband’s property, after all, they can do with them what they wish. Beat and rape and defile and it is all justified by the word of God.
If God justifies what Edouard did to her, then she has no interest in believing in Him.
Thomas Stanley half-rises in his seat, his eyes shining with frustration as he says, “My lady Anne, it is the King’s wish for you to do this.”
As if she did not know that already. It angers her beyond words, this indifference, and her good name and God’s word be damned, she lets words fall from her mouth without care.
“Can you imagine what my dear, departed husband did to me, Sir?” she questions shrewdly, and she trembles with rage now, not fear. “I imagine rumours of his character spread to England, but none that any of you took seriously, rumours are only rumours, after all.”
They all grow silent, flushed and astonished.
“But now I’m sure you’ve heard that most of the rumours are true now. So can you imagine what he did to his wife?” Her head snaps to all of them, except the King. “I know ladies are not supposed to talk about those things, but I’m sure you Sir’s know well enough of what I speak. I ask you again, Lord Stanley, can you imagine what he did?”
He says nothing.
None of them do.
Anne is all anger now, logic and reason stripped from her.
“I can still feel it,” she says desperately, fury evident in her voice. “I can still feel what he did inside my body standing here right now.”
Her anger sharpens into bitterness now, as she finally begins to cool. The silence is heavy and strained, but Anne does not care.
“Do what you will with me, your grace,” she says finally, looking Richard in the eye. “Send me to a nunnery if you wish, kill me or imprison me, but I will not have any man touch me — not now. I beg you.”
She feels flickers of shame beat down on her — she had not meant to reveal so much, God, what has she done? She’s ruined everything — any chance she had, now she is mad and ruined and he will hate her, by God he will —
“Very well, my lady,” Richard says gently. “You may go.”
She leaves without any further push, and she curses herself to hell and back again.
Fool, she thinks, you bloody, emotional, weak fool!
She wonders briefly what they are saying now, in that quiet, wooden chamber with musty air, and decides suddenly she cares very little.
So Anne lies away until the dead of the night, tired and drained but her soul feels lighter than it has in months, and for the first time since Tewkesbury, she drifts off into a black, dreamless sleep.
But God answers her prayers after all.
When she wakes the next morning, her nightgown is sticky and stained with her moon’s blood, and cries and cries, shaking with relief as she calls for the guards to send for the physician after she’s changed.
It is a bloody victory, but it is hers all the same.
Isabel leaves for Warwick Castle soon after, and she leaves with a promise to see Anne soon.
And so Anne is alone at court, without even her sister.
She walks through the halls like a ghost — attends meals in the great hall often enough for rumours of her being dead or poisoned cease. Her voice grows small and dry from ill use, and Anne is alone to her thoughts and demons.
Now that she knows for sure she is not with child, Edouard leaves her alone somewhat. But in his place comes her father, who she loved and hated, bloody and gruesome from battle, and Margaret of Anjou, the mother-in-law she never wanted. They haunt her, but unlike Edouard they are quiet ghosts, and simply stare at her until she feels like clawing her eyes out.
They leave when she wakes, but she still feels their eyes on her throughout the day, and it makes her skin crawl.
While she may not speak to anyone unless necessary, she learns that silence is the best way to learn all the news around court. She hides behind curtains and listens to two young ladies speak of the newest engagements and annulments, learns that many of the hated Woodville marriages had begun to fall apart. She hears of the young Princesses in the keeping of their grandmother, hears that they are still in line for the throne, if anything were to befall the new King.
No one whispers of any plot to bring them to the throne instead, to strip Richard of his title, and Anne is both glad and unsurprised. No one wants a Woodville on the throne, never mind if it was a girl or boy. But some of them still retain power and influence — she sees Anthony Rivers stalking about more than once, hears that he is dedicated to ensuring his nieces from his closest sister are remembered.
She realises that everyone has forgotten already about the Woodville Queen, the most beautiful woman in all the land — perhaps the most beautiful Queen to ever be — and she pities him for the frustration he must feel because of that. Whether people wished to forget it or not, Elizabeth Woodville was married to the King of England, and she died giving him the son he so desperately needed but soon lost.
She hears of other things, both irrelevant and relevant. Margaret of Anjou has been sent back to her homeland, childless, penniless and defeated for good. Richard has called parliament, had himself declared the rightful King of England in accordance to the laws of the land.
Apparently, he restored George to all his lands and former titles, but did not revoke the attainder that prevented him from the throne. Anne wonders with dryly what George thinks of that, but her brother-in-law has been surprisingly quiet through the whole ordeal.
He had sent Isabel to Warwick Castle, but had not gone himself, and Anne hates him a little for that.
Her chambers soon grow into a prison, and Anne finds herself leaving them for as long as she can bear to be in others company. No one had heard of her breakdown in the council room, and for that she is grateful.
She splits her time between the chapel and the gardens, and soon she finds a small spot by the back where few ever venture, and she can be in peace. She disappears there for hours everyday, sure that no one will notice her missing. She has no prospects, is virtually penniless, and no man in his right mind would dare approach her for marriage, not after she’s already been soiled by a traitor and is the property of Clarence, whose viciousness is renowned.
But one day, with a book in her hand and her back against a tree stump, she falls asleep amidst the cool summer air and the flowers, and she wakes in the night, cold and shivering. Her heart lurches as she rushes to her feet — men prowl in every corner, especially at night, and she knows very well what they are capable of.
She is in such a hurry she does not see the man walking around the corner that leads to her little spot of sanctuary, and she stumbles right into his arms.
“Forgive me, Sir, I did not —“
She pulls away from him as if burned, sinks into a deep curtsy.
“Your grace,” she says, breathless and embarrassed. “I did not see you. Forgive me.”
“You may rise, my lady,” he tells her quietly, gesturing for her to do so with his hands.
She observes him quickly — careful not to be too obvious. His clothing is dark, black hose and a grey doublet, and the light from the lantern in his hands make the gold jewels around his neck shine under the moonlight.
What are you doing here? she thinks. What could any King do here in the dead of the night?
“I am rather surprised to see you in the gardens at such an hour,” he says. Anne can detect a hint of curiosity in his voice, and is rather relieved to find it lacks any suspicion.
You act as though you would be see me anywhere else at such an hour, she would have retorted years ago, when they were children. When they knew each other and were familiar.
But they are no longer familiar now, and Anne’s heart aches treacherously because of it.
“I come here during the day, your grace,” she tells him, her voice polite but distant. Cool. “I must have fallen asleep.” She latches onto her book tighter, and she remembers that it was one of the ones he most likely sent her.
She brings the book close to her chest, bites down on her lip.
He watches her closely, not with any obvious coldness, but intently enough to make her feel as though she were some text he was trying to decipher.
“It is unwise for a young lady to be out alone at such an hour,” is all he says.
“As unwise as it is for a King to be alone in the gardens in the night,” she retorts, without truly meaning to. She curses herself for the slip, the dive back to the familiarity they used to share, and prepares herself for his narrowed eyes and sharp retort.
Instead, he laughs.
The sound is music to her ears, deep and lovely, if a little rusty.
It strikes Anne that Richard — for he is now Richard to her like this — has had very little reason to laugh these past few months. First the flight to Burgundy, then the war; Barnet, Tewkesbury, the death of the sibling he loved the most, and then the crown. A sliver of pride warms her chest as she thinks of how she is one of the few people to make him laugh recently.
“Indeed you are right,” he retorts, his amusement dying quickly as he glances around the empty gardens. “I confess, the King’s chambers are rather close to here, so it is not much of a walk.” Not much chance of getting caught, you mean.
“And I rather like the fresh air,” he continues, not looking her in the eye. “It gives my mind peace.”
That does not explain the lack of guards and secrecy, and they both know it.
“The gardens are lovely,” Anne adds, once his excuses start to falter. “I can scarcely condemn you for admiring it in the night, when everything is empty and still.”
When you are alone.
His lips twitch up into a weak smile, and something flashes in his eyes that she can’t quite decipher.
“I suppose you’d understand by desire to be alone from prying eyes,” he says, with a small hint of bitterness and sadness.
All the warmth Anne feels is lost in an instant, and so she stiffens and nods, but does not say anything. She thinks back to the scene she caused in the council room, and her heart beats furiously against her ribcage, betraying her nervousness.
“I am sorry,” he tells her suddenly, causing her head to snap up with surprise. “I did not mean for you to be treated like a prisoner or a traitor. I am sure you were only following your father’s commands, and you obeyed like a dutiful daughter.”
“There is no need to apologise, your grace,” she replies shakily, careful to keep her posture straight. “My position was difficult — as was yours. Neither of us could have predicted what the other was thinking or feeling. Your actions were entirely reasonable and I do not fault you for them, nor I am sure, will God. Though I thank you, your grace.”
“I had hoped George would led Isabel stay,” he continues, ignoring her words completely. “I am sorry he returned her to Warwick Castle. I know you both are close.”
“I — thank you, your grace,” is all Anne says.
A small huff escapes his lips.
“Your grace,” he repeats ruefully. “I confess I am still getting used to it. Your grace. The King.”
Anne’s heart reaches out for him, is desperate to pat his shoulder or grab his hand like she did when they were children, but she does not. She dares not. He is being kind to her now, but Anne is sure it will not last.
She knows it will not last.
“I imagine it will take time, your grace,” she tells him. It is all she can think of to say.
The silence between them grows awkward so fast Anne is desperate to die of embarrassment. She returns Richard’s strong gaze with a weak one, and she is sure it is she who will break first.
“God Anne,” Richard sighs. “I know not how to act around you like this.”
Her stomach clenches painfully at the word. At the sound of her name on his lips. Anne.
Her name has never sounded so beautiful to her before.
“What do you mean, your grace?” she whispers. She clears her throat loudly, at a loss as to how he robs her of her one weapon with little effort.
“Your grace,” he repeats. “I was once only Dickon or Richard to you, Lady Anne. It seems so long ago, when we were at Middleham. . .” His voice drifts off as his brows furrow.
“It feels like a lifetime ago,” Anne agrees.
His grey eyes latch onto hers so quickly it steals her breath away.
“I must confess something to you,” he says, very, very quietly.
Anne’s heart rings in her ears.
“What?” she whispers, as he grows closer.
Her hands ache to touch him, to feel his skin against her own, but she does not move. She can feel her ghosts hovering nearby, waiting to break free when given the chance, and it takes all of her strength to keep them at bay.
“I was happy,” he tells her, “When your husband died. It is rather unkingly of me, I know. But I felt only relief.”
“So did I,” she breathes. “God may curse me for it, but so did I.”
Anne watches with bated breath as he lifts his free hand to her face. She knows not what to do with this sudden turn of events, wants to flee and stay at the same time. She observes his hand growing closer and her heart twists and turns and races till the point she feels nauseous.
“Anne,” he breathes, placing his hand on her cheek as he moves closer. “Anne, I —“
Anne breaks away, stumbling as she does so. Her husband returns with full force, grabbing and biting and scratching and bruising, and Anne can’t breathe — she can’t, because she’s back in France lying on a bed as he forces his way between her thighs, pinning her hands above her head.
“Don’t,” she says sharply, when Richard tries to approach.
He falters, his hand twitching pathetically as it lingers mid-air.
“I am sorry to have caused you ill,” Richard says stiffly. “I behaved most inappropriately, my lady. Forgive me.”
But Anne does not hear him, can only hear the roaring in her eyes and the rush of memories bombarding her, claiming her.
“Don’t,” she says again, when he opens his mouth.
She walks away without another word.
Anne does not return to the gardens for two days. She hides away in her chambers, takes her meals there, bathes and reads and sleeps. It may be rather cowardly of her to do so, but she can not stand the idea of being near Richard. She imagines trying to explain to him why she acted the way she did, but she shies away from the words that creep on her tongue.
She’s crippled with shame and she’s angry because of it.
Richard knew how weak she was now; God, she could not even let him of all people touch her face without panicking. It wasn’t because it was Richard of course, though she doubted he fully knew that, despite what she had said in the council room.
It’s not you, she wishes to tell him.
But then she grows angry with herself for being so willing to excuse Richard — to willingly believe in his good character after all this time. She doesn’t know Richard anymore — knows only bits and pieces and echoes of him, and she hates herself for feeling so sure that he’s good.
More specifically, she hates herself for getting in that position in the first place; a position where she was weak and vulnerable, where he could take advantage of her so easily. Anne is no whore, and she resents Richard for thinking she would so easily be charmed and comforted by him.
Anne exists for two days, before she finally grows fed up with herself. She has nothing to amuse or entertain her, and she grows so bored she nearly scratches her own eyes out. She returns to the gardens on the third day — afternoon, really — hides herself in her usual spot, out of prying eyes and waits.
I’ll wait until the sun sets, she tells herself. I’m not here for him, I’m not.
But Anne does not leave when the sun sets. She stays there with her back against a tree, as the air grows cool and the stars begin to emerge. It does not take long for her to hear footfalls approaching around the corner, and she stills as she waits ensure it is indeed Richard, and not some lecher.
Anne exhales loudly at the sight of his familiar black hair — his back was turned to her — and emerges from the shadows.
“Your grace,” she calls out awkwardly, her fingers playing nervously with the skirts of her dress.
Richard whirls around to stare at her, and his expression is guarded, more taunt than it was the last time she saw him. It makes her heart throb a little, to see him trust her so little, but she quickly curses herself for it — how can she criticise him for not trusting her, when she does not trust him also?
If he is surprised at all by her appearance, he does not show it.
“Lady Anne,” he replies curtly.
Anne feels her lips part but no sound comes out. She’s frozen and unsure, the memory of their last meeting plays in her mind.
Don’t, she had snapped at him. Don’t.
“I wanted to apologise,” she blurts out, as what little remains of her courage stirs in her chest. “For how I behaved two nights past. I was most rude to you, your grace.”
His defences do not lessen.
“It was not you,” she continues, eager to lessen the awkwardness that threatens to suffocate them both. “I was merely startled by your touch, is all. I hope I did not offend you, your grace.”
Anne shifts uncomfortably as Richard continues to stare at her. Eventually, he nods, but remains silent.
He doesn’t want you here, her mind whispers. Stop being a nuisance and leave.
“I apologise if I overstepped,” she says finally, careful to keep her voice even and firm — if he will be cold with her, she can do the same with him. “I thank you for your time, your grace.”
She curtsies and when it becomes apparent he won’t say anything, she turns on her heel to walk away.
“Lady Anne,” Richard calls out softly.
She halts abruptly, links her hands together as she moves to face him.
Richard opens his mouth, hesitates as his lips twist into a grimace as he struggles to find the words he wishes to say.
“Why do you come here?” he asks her.
Anne tries to hide her surprise.
“Why do I come here?” she repeats. She knows the answer, but is hesitant to tell him. She pretends to ponder over her answer, but in reality she’s weighing the benefits and potential harm in telling him the truth. In the end, she decides on honesty.
“Here and the chapel are the only places where people don’t try and talk to me,” she tells him finally.
The smile Richard’s lips is full of a longing she has never seen on him before, even when he used to talk about learning how to fight with a proper sword, or join his brother at court.
“i only have here,” he confesses. “Even in chapel I have people hovering around me.”
Though his words reveal his loneliness, Anne detects no vulnerability in his voice. Even now, in this garden, with her, he is still a King, still expected to be strong and serious and detached. Anne aches for him — aches for the boy she once knew, who loved his brother beyond all others, something her father learned too late.
“I’m sorry,” Anne says, not quite sure what she’s apologising for.
Richard’s smile widens and this time it is rueful.
“Whatever for?” he questions. “None of this is your fault — or anyone’s for that matter. It is all God’s will, and God works in mysterious ways.”
This time, it is her who smiles, because while Richard has always been pious, his words are so obviously his mother’s Anne can’t help but find it endearing. She’s always been slightly scared of the Duchess of York, intimidated by her stern expression and unconditional devotion to God, but she’d admired her for her strength after her husband’s and son’s death.
“What?” he asks, when he catches sight of her smile.
“Nothing, your grace,” she replies. “You merely sounded a lot like your lady mother.”
Richard seems pleased by that answer, and shares her smile and God, it shouldn’t warm her heart so, to see him smiling like that.
“My mother has always been the voice of reason,” he remarks, and Anne giggles slightly, remembering fond memories of Duchess Cecily giving George and Richard a mouthful over their occasional poor manners.
“Indeed,” she agrees, her laughter dying as his gaze lingers on her face.
The awkwardness gone, the silence now turns tense.
“I should return to my chambers, your grace,” Anne says suddenly, casting her gaze somewhere — anywhere — from his eyes.
He lets out a small hum of agreement, and when he makes no move to stop her, Anne starts to leave.
“Lady Anne,” he calls out, for the second time that night.
Anne turns, stares at him expectantly.
“Will I —“ he hesitates, as though he is unsure whether or not what he’s saying is a good idea. “Will I see you here tomorrow?”
Anne pauses, her mind crumbling to pieces as she thinks is this a trick? God, what do I do? I should say no, put an end to whatever this is. Getting attached to Richard again will be a bad idea, and it will hurt when this stops. It is the smartest decision. It is.
“Would you like me to?” she asks instead.
Richard’s lips curl up slightly, into neither a smirk nor a smile.
“What do you think?” he returns.
They don’t speak of Edouard or Margaret of Anjou or her father or King Edward. They have an unspoken agreement not to bring up each other’s ghosts, and so they carefully dance around them, careful not to wound or stir up poorly concealed hurts.
The garden is a safe place, and no ghosts or demons should enter there.
So they spend their time talking of their childhood days. He tells her stories of him and Francis and Rob Percy, makes her laugh and reminisce of times where her father was still her father, and not the man who sold her for ambition. His stories help her forget the feeling of Edouard’s hands on her body and the smell of sea and blood mixed together outside of Calais, and she is infinitely thankful for that.
In turn, she tells him stories of her and Isabel — before he came to Middleham, after, during. She confesses pranks and secrets, and hopes she helps him forget his losses and pain as well.
They don’t talk of the crown on his head and the responsibilities that must be weighing down on him, and they don’t discuss how alone she is, how she feels eyes on her wherever she goes. She doesn’t tell him that this is the best part of her day, and he doesn’t tell her what he thinks of this arrangement, and Anne is fine with that.
If she can ignore the future for a little while longer, she is content.
“Do you miss Isabel?” he asks her one night, after they have both grown silence.
Anne does not know how long they’ve stayed out, but knows they will both have to return inside soon. She shoots him a look, tries to swallow through the sudden bump in her throat. Speaking of Isabel now is venturing near dangerous territory for them both, because then she will think why she is here and Isabel is at Warwick Castle, and he will think of George, who is no doubt still angry and envious of the crown that rests on his little brother’s head.
“Yes,” she admits quietly. “She is the only friend I have left.”
She can see Richard staring at her from the corner of her eye, but he doesn’t say anything.
“Do your guards not wonder where you ago?” she questions, eager to change the subject.
If Richard notices her adement desire to change the subject, he keeps quiet.
“There is a passage inside the King’s chambers,” he tells her. “Some secret door or other. I dismiss the servants and then I leave.”
He doesn’t come to the garden every night of course. He is a King, and he must hold court and attend council meetings and dinners and other important things. Some nights, Anne waits for him to emerge from the shadows hours after they usually meet, and when he does his fingers are ink-stained and his eyes wary. Other nights she simply leaves. She does not fault him for it, knows it would be unreasonable to do so.
“There would be panic if they discovered your secret, your grace,” she tells him, because yes, he is still not Richard to her yet, at least not out loud. “People would notice your absence and fear it at once.”
His eyes are utterly unfazed as she meets his gaze.
“And you?” he asks. “Do you think people would not notice if you were missing?”
Anne almost cackles, has to bite down on her lip to prevent herself from doing so.
“Your grace,” she says, a hint of dark amusement in her voice, despite her best efforts. “I am a traitor both by blood and by marriage, and am possibly the most undesired women in whole of Christendom. I doubt anyone besides Isabel would care if I suddenly disappeared, if you don’t mind my saying so, your grace.”
It no longer bothers Anne as it used to, knowing very few people cared about her existence. She doubts even her mother would be overtly fazed if something were to befall her. No, Isabel would be the only one devastated by her loss.
“I would notice,” Richard says slowly. “I notice that you rarely attend court, that you barely venture outside your chambers. I would care, my lady.”
Anne’s hear rises in her throat, stutters weakly at the look in his eyes. Her mind flashes to the books sent to her rooms almost two moons prior, and if she were standing, Anne is sure she would collapse.
“You are the King,” she murmurs, trying to save face. “It is your duty to care for all the people in the realm.”
A small huff escapes Richard’s lips as he shakes his head.
“You should attend court more,” he tells her.
Anne stills, looks at him inquiringly.
“Is it the King’s command?” she asks, not unkindly.
Richard ponders over this a moment.
“No,” he says at last. “But it is his expressed desire.”
Anne would laugh if her heart weren’t beating so fast.
It goes like this:
Anne attends court more because she knew Richard wanted her to.
She doesn’t talk to him, likes to think she does not look at him often enough for people to notice, and she keeps to herself. Anne spends a great deal of time sitting in the background and observing the world Richard has built.
Anne had not spent a lot of time at King Edward’s court. Jesu, she was only eight when his Queen came to the throne three years after Edward himself, and she barely recalls anything from her coronation. She remembers flashes of long, golden hair and vivid, haughty green eyes. It had been a confusing day, she was in awe of the Queen, but her father hated her, and so Anne had to hate the Queen too.
Though she had not been to King Edward’s court, she had heard rumours of its extravagance. Her father used to complain of the abundant waste of money the King would spend on ale and musicians and fine cloth and women (she only heard that from the kitchen maids, never her father).
But Richard is different. His court is splendid yes, and he is by no means a miser, but Anne is distinctly aware of a sense of propriety she is sure did not exist at Edward’s court, where every man shared their women, their cash, their ale.
She glances at Richard now, sees him smiling thinly at the dancing as Francis Lovell converses with him, and her heart warms when he laughs at something Francis said. She looks around, and wonders briefly where George is, before she quickly decides she is glad of his absence.
Her brother of Clarence has left her alone for the most part, and Anne is both suspicious and happy of it. The court seems happy on the surface, finally coming to terms with the young new King, but Anne is wary of it. She knows better than most that happiness does not last forever, especially with Kings, and she fears whatever darkness may come for Richard’s sake as well as her own.
Anne does not think about what that means.
“How do you like court, my lady?” Richard asks her, a week after she started attending court more regularly.
Anne hesitates for a moment.
“I think you have done a very good job stabilising the Lord’s and making the courtiers feel secure, your grace,” she responds.
She looks him in the eye so he knows she isn’t lying.
A hint of vulnerability shows in his eyes as he stares at her.
“Thank you,” he murmurs. “You are most kind, my lady.”
He looks as though he wishes to say more, and so Anne stays quiet, lets him finish when he is ready.
“I’ve only been King three months,” he comments. “I would not be offended if anyone were still struggling to adapt to my reign. Ned always —“ He stops, his mouth grows taunt at the mention of his brother. Richard exhales loudly, looks down at the grass. “Hastings is struggling with my propriety,” he finishes finally, though his eyes still look sad.
It is one of those rare moments where Anne can see what Richard is thinking without any particular effort, and she knows in her bones that Richard would give anything in the world for his brother to be King and alive once more.
“He will soon grow used to it, your grace,” Anne reassures him after a few moments.
Richard’s eyes snap towards her, grow guarded before she can even blink.
“Have you?” he questions, a slight edge to his voice. “Have you grown used to me being King, my lady?”
Anne does not know what to say. Various answers swirl on her tongue, but none of them feel right to her, none of them convey what she feels.
“Yes,” she tells him, honestly enough.
Richard looks as though he disbelieves her.
Anne is quick to add, “Your grace, I am used to the man I know you as now, being King.”
He raises an eyebrow.
“And the boy who used to be your father’s ward?”
She is the one now full of nostalgia.
“I don’t think he exists anymore, your grace,” she confesses, her voice a mere whisper in the night. “In fairness, the girl I used to be then does not exist anymore either.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Richard replies, sounding rather thoughtful. “Who do you think are now?”
Anne closes her eyes and thinks. Tonight they are speaking of things they avoided before and she can feel the ghosts begin to sneak up on her and threaten to break out of the cell she’s locked them in.
“I don’t know,” she tells him, hoping he doesn’t press anymore. “I am Lady Anne, I suppose. A widow.”
If she didn’t know any better, she would have thought he flinched.
“Is that all you think you are?” he presses, ignoring her clear desire to drop the subject. “You think you are only a widow, my lady?”
His frustrated tone grates on her nerves and makes Anne defensive.
“What else am I, your grace?” she retorts sharply. “I am a traitor both by blood and by marriage, my very name sees that all the world knows it.”
“So you would like to get married then?”
“No,” Anne says, surprised by his confrontational tone. “No, I have no desire to marry, your grace.”
She can feel Edouard brushing against her skin — can feel him in the breeze that makes her hair flutter. She hopes Richard doesn’t notice that her hands have tightened into fists in her lap.
Calm down, her mind whispers. You’re safe.
“Why not?” Richard asks, undeniably frustrated, as though she’s been dancing around him in circles with her answers.
“Why not?” she repeats. “Because no one desires to marry me, your grace —“
“But if someone did?” Richard interrupts.
“I still would not want to, your grace,” she insists stubbornly. “My former husband —“ her voice hitches, makes her heart tremble. She tries again.
“My late husband —“
Anne shakes her head, rises unsteadily to her feet. She leans against the tree for support, and she feels like a feather that could be blown away in the wind. She can hear Richard rise and she shies away when she feels him grow closer.
“I’m sorry,” he tells her, once she manages to open her eyes. “I did not mean to hurt you, Lady Anne,” he murmurs. He raises his hand and lets it fall just as quickly.
“I did not think,” he continues. Richard swallows loudly. “I did not understand how badly he hurt you. I thought with time, the hurt would fade. Forgive me.”
Tears pierce Anne’s eyes as lets out a hollow chuckle.
“I am starting to believe that that amount of time does not exist, your grace,” she mutters. “I know God says men can do what they will with their wives —“
“God had no part in this,” Richard cuts in, not unkindly. “Only the devil.”
Her vision blurs as her lips form a quivering smile.
“Perhaps,” she agrees.
Richard stands close to her, but does not touch her. He lets Anne recollect herself, and this time she can see he is not hurt or taken aback by her response, is only concerned and guilty, eager for her to be alright.
“I hate him,” she whispers. “I hate him for what he took from me. He took my body — I know it was rightfully his, as the Bible says, but I hate him for it. I hate his touch and his voice and I hate that —“ her throat throbs painfully, renders her incapable of speech for several moments. “I hate that I can not touch anyone — it took me weeks before I could even touch Isabel without feeling as though I was going to die.”
“Oh, Anne —“
“Please,” she whispers, closing her eyes tightly as tears trickle down her face. “I don’t want your pity, your grace.”
“Richard,” he corrects.
Anne’s teary eyes flutter open.
“You do not have to call me your grace when we are alone,” he tells her.
“Richard,” she repeats, tasting the name of her tongue. “Is that proper, your grace?”
He shrugs uncaringly as another gust of wind flutters through his hair.
“No,” he admits. “But if you’re Anne to me, than I shall still be Richard to you.”
“Am I?” she asks. “Am I still Anne to you?”
His smile begins to eclipse the memory of Edouard.
“You’ll always be Anne to me,” he tells her, and it sounds like he means it.
Anne dreams of touching Richard.
It is rather worrisome, really, how much she thinks of it.
She dreams of putting her hand on his face, tracing his pink lips with her finger. She wonders what his skin would feel like — she remembers it as soft from when they were children, but now she is sure it would be hard and calloused from war — at least his hands.
And his shoulder, the one made crooked by the horrible accident he had a child, she wonders what it would feel like under her hands.
She aches to touch him — only him, truth be told — and it is the most terrifying thing in the world, because he is not hers to touch, and she knows nothing good can come from wanting such a thing. But still, she wishes to do so, and well, Anne knows not what to think.
It is the beginning of September when she catches herself staring at Richard’s hands yet again. The leaves on the trees have started to brown and the night air has started to grow cold. Anne knows soon they will be unable to do this any longer due to winter, but she does not like to think of that. She can’t imagine not having these nightly excursions anymore, they are one of the few things she has left to hold onto.
She’s barely heard from Isabel, and she is still nervously awaiting for George to strike. George, who comes to and from court. George, who dresses as extravagantly as possible as if to make up for the lack of crown on his head. George, who is the person she should fear the most, but doesn’t, because she feels safe now, with Richard.
Or at least, she thinks this is what safety feels like.
Anne scarcely remembers anymore.
“Anne?” Richard prods.
She jumps, her eyes widening as she stares at him confusedly.
“Your — Richard?”
She manages to correct herself at the last moment.
“You look lost in the clouds,” he comments lightly, sounding slightly amused. “What is wrong?”
Don’t, her mind warns. Do not say anything. Lie. Change the subject.
But Anne — for whatever reason — can not seem to hide the truth from Richard.
“May I try something?” she blurts out.
Richard tilts his head, the moonlight casts his features in silver.
“Yes,” he says, without any hesitation.
Anne bites down on her lower lip as she shifts closer to him. Her heart pounds in her chest, makes her ribs shake and her cheeks grow flush and rosy.
You fool, her mind hisses. You bloody fool!
She halts uneasily as she raises her hands, but Anne refuses to feel fear. She is the Kingmaker’s daughter, and Richard is her friend. Touching his hand is not a sin. It’s not.
He watches her curiously as she shifts closer and once he realises what she plans to do his eyes widen, but he does not stop her. Gently, trembling, she places one of her hands on his clothed shoulder. The material is silky under palm and Anne resists the urge to caress it and the muscle she feels under it.
She is touching him and she waits for Edouard to come.
Her heart rises to her throat as she awaits her dead husband, but he does not come. Her body is stiff and she is uncomfortable and unsure but Edouard has not come, not yet, and that is a victory for Anne in and of itself. She withdraws her hand after a few moments, when the weight of it becomes to much, and lets it fall limply into her lap.
She feels tired, as though she has run up a mountain and not placed her hand on someone’s shoulder.
“Anne,” Richard murmurs. “Why are you crying?”
Anne laughs and for the first time in months, it is without any reservations or melancholy.
“I’m the closest to happiness I’ve been in a year,” she admits, a smile forming on her lips. “I thought he had taken that from me.”
“You’re happy here at court?” he asks.
Anne thinks on this a moment, her smile dying.
“I don’t know,” she confesses.
This time, it is he who reaches forward and grabs a hold of her hands gently. Anne stiffens at the touch, both surprised and startled by the passion in his eyes.
“I will make you happy,” he vows. “I promise.”
And something warm and unfamiliar pools in her stomach, something that makes her heart clench and her fears fade away. She shakes her head, her loose curls tumbling down her shoulders.
“You can not promise me that,” she tells him, with only the moon, the stars and God as their witness. “You can not.”
But her heart clings to his words. I will make you happy I will make you happy I will make you happy
And this stops him in his steps as a dark cloud appears over his features, as though he has forgotten their reality and now just remembered. He is King — a new, inexperienced one at that — and she is a widow, and he can’t make her a promise like that when the danger around him has not stopped.
And the tragedy is the danger around him will never stop, because he is a King, and King’s are always in danger.
They stop meeting after that.
His words — though they warm her heart and stomach and make her yearn for him in a way most unfamiliar — were like a bucket of ice water being tossed over her head. It occurs to Anne in the following weeks that she has built herself a nice imaginary world, and has blocked out all the troubles from the outside world, too consumed with her own demons to care for.
But her walls are destroyed now, and she must begin to survive at court anew.
She has no money, no friends — seeing as George is keen to keep Isabel far away from court — and little prospects, and now she no longer has Richa — the King, so she is back to spying and listening to people in the darkness. Anne learns of the small rebellion brewing in the North, a band of Lancastrians plotting to save Mad King Henry from the tower and place him on the throne once more, as their idol Warwick managed to do before he was slain.
Anne’s father is still condemning her even in death, and so she takes care to make herself sparse, as near invisible as she can. The rebellion is crushed within a day, and some leaders are beheaded in York, others offered pardons. The court relaxes once again and confidence in the new regime grows.
She hears various other pieces of information — that the council is planning on calling Richard’s first parliament soon, and this time not to proclaim and cement his rule and various attainders and pardons, but to introduce new laws and reforms. She listens to hushed whispers and loud jests, and she like anyone else at court or in England can hardly wait to see what happens. For this parliament will be the true start of Richard’s reign, where the people, the court and the world will see what kind of King he will be, and Anne is sure he will do brilliantly.
He is kind and just, and she privately thinks he will be a greater King than his brother ever was.
By the time October comes, Anne realises that he never told her about his burdens as King. They had talked briefly about his new status — like Hastings reaction — but he had never divulged his current troubles to her, always concerned about her own. She wonders what that means, and arrives at the realisation that maybe he just wanted to be Richard with her, and not the King of England.
Isabel returns to court on the first of October, the day before Richard’s birthday, and Anne does not flinch or stiffen when she pulls her sister into a warm embrace. Isabel looks as beautiful as ever, if slightly more pale than the time she saw her last, but she is warm and familiar and —
Anne has been lonely.
Isabel pulls away from her after a while, her eyes taking in Anne’s form.
“You look happier,” Isabel tells her. “More alive.”
“I feel better,” Anne replies.
And it is true — Anne may have been lonely without Isabel (and Richard) but she manages to sleep through the night now, and her night terrors are few and in-between. Her appetite has returned and with the help of what little fresh air London can provide, Anne has become healthier, much to her relief.
It feels like a lifetime has passed since the Battle of Tewkesbury, but Anne is glad of it, glad that her memories have started to haunt her less. A glint of excitement appears in Isabel’s blue orbs as she calls for her servant to bring something into Anne’s rooms.
Anne’s eyes narrow when the servant leaves a wooden chest beside Isabel’s chair, and her elder sister giggles at the look in her eyes.
“I had a dress made for you,” Isabel confesses, delighted with herself. “I know you haven’t had a dress made for a long time — too long. I sought to remedy that, especially for the King’s birthday.”
“And George let you?” Anne asks, surprised.
Isabel’s smile dies slightly as she looks to the ground.
“George has been rather occupied as of late,” she murmurs. “He visited rarely at Warwick Castle, traveled about the lands the King has granted him or was here at court. I don’t know how to reach him, Annie. God knows I try, but I cannot. The only thing I think might calm him is if I had another child but. . .”
Anne leans forward, places a comforting hand on Isabel’s shoulder.
“Listen,” she says softly. “George is George, and he always wants things he can not have. Once he realises he can’t have the crown, he’ll calm. You’ll see.” But even Anne does not believe herself; she knows now why George has left her alone all these months, and now that the dust has finally begun to settle his greed and paranoia will double, and soon he will demand all of the Warwick fortune, lands and titles in paper, with her tucked away.
“But will he?” Isabel questions. “God forgive me, Annie, but I don’t think so. There are whispers spreading around the countryside, especially in the North, saying that the King is a usurper, that he twisted the late King Edward’s mind against George, that he is a tyrant. That he spent two years in his mother’s womb —“
“Nonsense!” Anne cries, beside herself with outrage. “I would expect such things from Londoners, not from the Northerners. They never spread such filth when Father —“
Anne stops short, realises the implication of her words. The North had been loyal to Warwick, and therefore loyal to the crown because Warwick was. Their father had been much loved in the North and now that he was dead, the people were anxious about the fate of his daughters.
“They think you’ve been unjustly denied a crown,” Anne mumbles, dazed. “And they think I am a prisoner here.” Which she is to a certain extent, but not in the way the people were no doubt thinking.
“George is the one spreading these rumours, isn’t he?” she asks, knowing in her heart she spoke true. “He is the one spreading this slander.”
“I don’t know Annie,” Isabel says helplessly. “I can’t prove it, even if I wanted to.”
Anne frowns deeply, the lines on her forehead protruding on her pale skin.
“But why would George spread rumours about my mistreatment when he plans to —“ Anne stops, flushes as she meets Isabel’s miserable gaze. “I’m sorry,” she tells her.
Isabel huffs lightly.
“Whatever for?” she returns. “George is a grown man, an adult.”
Mayhap’s he thinks if he somehow manages to win the throne and crown Isabel, the advancement of one Neville sister will outshine the disappearance of the other. The thought sours Anne’s spirits, she glances at her dejected sister and with a forced smile, she stands and reaches for the chest.
“Let us see if the gown you had made can make me as lovely as you,” Anne teases.
Her sister smiles, and for the moment, it’s enough.
Anne and Isabel look rather pretty the following day, as the King’s birthday celebrations begin in full swing. Isabel looks regal and elegant in a sky blue gown rimmed with white fur, with diamonds circling her neck as her long dark curls fall down her shoulder.
Isabel made Anne’s dress a deep green that somehow makes her eyes seem all the more bluer, and it clings to Anne like second skin, shows off the curves her young body is still developing. Anne feels giddy as she links her arm with Isabel as they walk across the room. Her hair falls down her back in soft, steady waves and she feels pretty, which she rarely ever feels.
Maybe she feels so warm because Isabel has finally returned to court, or because everyone around Anne seems so happy. There are ambassadors from all over Europe — French, Spanish, Bretons — all there to celebrate and recognise Richard as King.
When Anne sees him, he steals her breath away. He exudes confidence and charisma as he turns about the room, and the golden crown on his head lined with rubies looks like it has always rested on his head. Richard is dressed in white house and a white tunic matched by a golden doublet and it makes him look all the handsomer, rather like his brother Edward. She catches sight of serving girls and the young daughters of noblemen glancing at him and giggling with flushed cheeks, and it makes her stomach clench.
Anne ignores it. He is a King, and King’s are meant to be fawned over. She glances around the room, takes note of the happiness on most of the council men’s faces; Francis, Rob Percy and Dick Ratcliffe look like the boys she remembers from her childhood, all laugh lines and mischievousness. Even Thomas Stanley looks like he is enjoying himself. Anne’s mood sours slightly when she catches sight of George conversing with Anthony Rivers, but she resolves to think little of it.
Isabel is here and the realm is happy, and for once, people are not staring at Anne like she’s a leper.
The feast begins soon, and the first round is so delicious Anne nearly moans with pleasure. Another four rounds follow — fish, meats, fruits, pies, anything under the imagination — and all the while the courtiers are laughing and cheering, conversing with each other as though they were all one big happy family. Isabel and Anne mostly talk amongst themselves of course, and no one seems to question why Isabel and George are not sitting together.
After the remaining of the courses have been served and devoured, the flutes and harps grow quiet and the silence grows thick with curiosity. Anne is one of many who gasps when the late King Edward’s three little princesses are escorted into the Great Hall, and her heart throbs at the innocent, bewildered expressions on their pretty faces. The three are dressed in similar gowns — same style, different colours, with small tiaras on their heads.
They have not been to court since their father’s death, having been spirited away to Baynard’s Castle with both their grandmother’s, Jacquetta of Luxembourg and Duchess Cecily of York, and the room stays deathly silent as Richard rises from his throne and approaches them.
The two younger Princesses seem rather shy at the sight of their uncle, but Princess Elizabeth, at five, shows no such reserves and in a complete breach of decorum runs to her uncle without a care in the world, crashing into his legs before he has the chance to kneel down and catch her in his arms. Richard reaches with his arms to steady her and by then the other two princesses are following their elder sister’s example, and soon Richard is bombarded by all three of his nieces and all the women in the court coo with delight at the sight.
He is only nineteen, Anne thinks, watching the family scene and feeling like she’s looking at something private, not meant for her eyes. He is now the same age when Edward became King. It occurs to her then that his brother’s children are all he has left of them and Princess Elizabeth looks like him especially, all honey-yellow hair and vivid blue eyes. She has some of her mother too, less than her sister’s, but they all lack Elizabeth Woodville’s cold look and haughtiness. They are all smiles and blushes as they turn and face the court and the thin smile on Richard’s lips makes Anne’s lips curve involuntarily.
“Il est un famille!” the French Ambassador calls, and soon the whole court is calling out to them, admiring the handsome, united family without hesitance. Anne longs to see how Richard responds to this declaration but she is looking at George, who is overlooked, ignored, and her heart stirs at the expression of pure hatred plain on his handsome features. Something tightens inside her and Anne bites down on her lip.
She glances at Isabel from the corner of her eye, wondering if she was looking at George, but finds her sister smiling at Richard and the Princesses’s. It warms Anne’s heart, to see her sister so joyful, so Anne lets it rest. Her gaze returns to the front of the throne room, and she startles once she realises George is now the one staring.
He hasn’t forgotten me, she thinks, unnerved by the look in his magnificent eyes. And he certainly remembers now.
Anne looks away, forces herself to laugh and smile with the other courtiers when the musician start to play once more, and Richard escorts Princess Elizabeth for a dance. The sight of the Uncle dancing with the small niece is adorable, and the smile on her lips is genuine, makes her cheeks grow even more flush and rosy. Soon, other couples begin to join in on the dance. Isabel leaves to find George, and soon Anne sees them participating in one of the dances.
They do make a striking couple, Anne thinks begrudgingly. Her mind flashes to her deceased nephew, the babe born on a ship outside Calais. Their children will be as beautiful as the late King’s. Anne’s gaze begins to travel around, she observes the ambassadors in their respective circles, shooting the other ones suspicious looks when they think they aren’t looking. The French one in particular looks nervous; King Edward and King Louis had had a very poor relationship, with even talk of an English invasion. French support for Margaret of Anjou and the Earl of Warwick did little to remedy that, so the other ambassadors look infinitely more comfortable than the French.
Anne smiles briefly; she had not met the French King, but she had met one of his many ambassadors and the group of men said ambassador brought with him. She had not been impressed. Her eyes move to —
“No,” she mumbles, stunned.
It takes her a moment to realise she spoke aloud, and so she bites her tongue as she continues to stare at the young French man. Anne does not even recall his name — merely remembers the way his eyes danced during the marriage of her and Edouard, how he had obviously took pleasure in the bedding ceremony.
He was the one who undid the laces of my gown, she remembers numbly. Her and Edouard had no witnesses during the consummation of the marriage, but the bedding ceremony had still gone through. She had not thought of it much — Edouard’s touch had been far worse, far more traumatic than any drunken men who participated in a ceremony as old as time.
The man is not very handsome, like George or Richard, but he is not hideous either, with his soft ginger hair and light blue eyes matched with a relatively tall, thin stature. He looks harmless — he is harmless — but Anne is now rigid in her chair. The ghost of Edouard feels more prominent than it has in weeks and it takes all of her strength to keep her breathing even.
Anne looks into her wine cup before he can notice her staring. She reaches for the wine, takes a large gulp of the sweet liquid, almost to the point where her manners are at stake. What in God’s name is he doing here? No doubt he would avoid her — God knows the French wanted to hide their investment in the Prince of Wales and the youngest daughter of the Kingmaker. A stain on their record with their dealings with the English.
Anne had been married on French soil with French support, and that is a fact no one, including herself, will ever forget.
She takes another sip of her wines, drums her fingers on the table. The tablecloth is gold in colour, embroidered with the white rose of York and the White Boar. Loyaulte Me Lieu. Loyalty binds me. Anne sighs softly, traces one of the roses with her fingers. An image flashes through her mind — unwelcome, unnerving, makes her lower her eyes.
A red rose on a table, the sound of forced laughter — forced joy. The wedding couple had not wanted this marriage.
“Madame Anne,” a male voice calls out softly from beside her.
Anne freezes at the sound of the French accent and reluctantly turns to stare at the man. He looks at her like she’s a Latin text he has trouble deciphering. No doubt he wonders how the would-be Queen of Lancaster is fairing in a Yorkist court. Maybe he was amused by her drastic change of circumstances. She wonders if he has seen Margaret of Anjou since she was send back to her birthplace; she decides she does not care.
“Monsieur,” she returns, polite as always. “It has been a long time.”
Not long enough.
He smiles as if he knows what she’s thinking, like they are sharing some kind of secret. Anne hates it — it makes her feel dirty, complicit in something she does not even know.
“What do you want?” she questions, careful to keep a small smile on her face as they converse.
His smile drops.
“I am curious,” he murmurs. He takes a sip of his wine. “Curious to see how the wife of Lancaster fares under a Yorkist King.”
“Widow,” Anne corrects smoothly. “I am a widow, not a wife.”
He arches a brow.
“And does that please you?”
Anne gasps now; outraged by his audacity. He winces at the sound, almost as if he realises how his words sounded.
“Forgive me, my lady,” he says in French. “I was most rude.”
Anne remains silent. She casts a nervous glance towards Isabel, silently urges her to return to Anne’s side. But she does not notice — or pretends not to. She does not look at Richard, unwilling to call attention to herself or ask him for help. Anne parts her lips, tries to find words when —
Rob Percy appears beside the French men so suddenly Anne can only blink with surprise. She smiles widely at the sight of him, sends a quick prayer to God for his mercy. You must be a Saint, Anne thinks as she rises from her chair and offers Rob a small curtsy.
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance Sir,” Rob tells the Frenchman, sounding like he does not really mean it. He directs his twinkling brown eyes to Anne, exposes his teeth as he smiles.
“My lady, you look most beautiful on this blessed day,” he says. He moved for her hand and Anne lets him place a kiss on it.
Don’t stiffen, she instructs herself. Don’t. It’s only Rob Percy — you knew him as a girl. You grew up with him. He’s safe. You’re safe. Edouard is gone.
“I thank you, my lord,” she replies.
Get me away from him, she does not say.
“I hope you do not mind if I ask the Lady Anne to join me on this next dance?” Rob asks the Frenchman.
He blinks and shakes his head, but Rob is escorting her to the other dancers before he can even offer a reply. Anne can see several couples looking at her, whispering, eyeing her with curious eyes.
“Thank you,” she whispers discreetly to Rob.
“Do not thank me, Anne,” he murmurs.
She takes that moment to observe her childhood friend. He has a scar on the nick of his left brow that wasn’t there before, though his features are still friendly and warm. He was always eager to impress and show-off, and Anne wonders whether or not he has grown out of it.
“You do indeed look rather pretty,” he tells her, winking skilfully.
Anne laughs at his childish antics, rolls her eyes playfully at him.
“Very funny,” she chides, as they finally reach the other dancers. The dance before ends as Anne and Rob take their place, and a relieved grins spreads on her lips when she recognises the dance as one. She knows this one well, well enough that after months of no dancing on her part she feels confident she can perform it without embarrassing herself. Rob grins at her, recognising the song from their dance practices as children back at Middleham.
Anne is wary to be so close to a man, even Rob, but she forces her fear down her throat. She refuses to make a scene again; if she were to do so, she is sure they would all think her mad, and then George could so easily have her sent to an asylum with no qualms whatsoever.
Rob stomps his feet in accordance to the beat of the music, snapping Anne out of her reverie. Her hands clap together five times, thankfully in tune to the other ladies. She curtsies, Rob bows and then she gathers her skirts and takes a wide circle around. She pauses when she returns to her original position, and they move forth simultaneously and press their hands together.
The music is lively, but Anne strains to remember every move of the dance — wait for one moment longer, move to the left not the right, keep your chin up and eyes straight ahead. She struggles but she manages to reach the final position without any obvious mistakes, and for that a small smile plays on her lips. They are now moving in a long line facing the throne, you take two steps and skip, clap your hands and move forward. Once the pairs reach the front of the line, they are meant to break and go their separate ways.
Anne and Rob are two couples till the end and though she is enjoying herself — one night of indulging in court festivities was not a crime, to be sure — but she is distantly aware that she is currently opening herself up to gossip and slander. Anne has no desire to undo all the progress she’s made by drawing attention to herself and that makes her eager for the dance to be over so she can return to her chambers.
One couple left and Anne nearly forgets to clap before moving forward. Her hand in Rob’s, they move gracefully to the music and much to her surprise his hand tightens its grip on her own, and not the other way round. She glances at him quickly, takes note of his steadfast gaze, looking straight ahead at the throne — at Richard, more like — the way he seems to want to avoid her gaze.
Anne’s blue eyes flutter forward and meet Richard’s grey ones and suddenly all she wants to do is stand still and bathe in his gaze for hours on end. She hates herself for it, this weakness, this one thing that she can’t seem to rid herself of and she bites down on her lip when he glances to Rob and then to her, and back again.
He does not seem angry or curious — at least, Anne can not detect any expression on his features from the distance between them, but he surely feels something she can not see, or else Rob would not look so serious all of a sudden. They part when they move forward and neither of them looks back.
As Anne walks away, she would swear before God she felt his eyes continue to bore into the back of her skull.
Anne remains in her chambers for two days, citing illness.
Isabel keeps her company when she can and Anne ignores her curious eyes and listens to her sister’s stories. She does not tell Isabel about the Frenchman who had been at her wedding. She does not tell her about the look on George’s face when Richard reunited with his nieces and she does not tell her about the nights she used to spend with Richard.
She debates with herself for a while about telling her, but ultimately decides not to.
Anne loves her sister more than anyone in the world, but she does not entirely trust her. She hates the world for bringing her to this, to the point where she no longer trusts her sister as siblings should. Her mind flashes to George and Richard when she thinks that and suddenly she is glad for the relationship she has.
Anne returns to court eventually. She vows to herself to remain in the shadows and speak only when spoken to. Isabel is sitting with George that evening, so it is not as though she will have to worry about someone seeking conversation. She is confident her plan will work; if her routine returns to normal, no one will be suspicious and she will be left alone.
Her plan crumbles to dust when Rob asks her — in front of the entire court, by God — to dance with her.
Anne can not refuse, not when he has asked so publicly and she is suspicious from the start. She hides it well, with polite nods and shining eyes, but inwardly she wonders and tries to put the pieces together.
Anne tries to avoid him the following night, but he finds her and sits next to her.
Stop it, she wants to tell him.
On the fourth night of this pretend courtship, Anne notices the badges of various nobles in the North, newly arrived to discuss important matters with the King. No doubt they wish to gain his goodwill after the rebellion that occurred a month prior, and Anne does not fault them for it. Her eyes linger on their badges — her father’s men, they used to be — and she is pleased to find she still remembers which badge belongs to each family.
Anne is quick to notice how they stare at her when she walks by — critical, assessing, trying to make sure she is well-treated, unharmed, healthy — and it is with a muffled laugh that Anne realises the truth behind Rob’s abrupt and random attentions. Anne bites down on her lip to prevent herself from laughing loudly, and it is only when she retreats to her chambers — after having danced with Rob of course — that she finally lets it escape.
Her shoulders shake as she giggles her heart out and that is how Isabel finds her.
“Anne?” her sister asks, concerned as she watches Anne continue to laugh hysterically.
“It’s brilliant,” Anne gasps, her laughter finally starting to die.
Isabel is confused, worried — there is a reason why she came, and it hangs heavily on her shoulders. But she is nervous, made even more so by her younger sister’s hysteria.
“The King wishes to gain the North’s allegiance by making them think Rob is courting me,” she says, her emotions scattered. “It is why he has been showering me with his attention these past few days, because who is the fool if the widow of Lancaster is seen to be courted by one of the main supporters of a Yorkist King?”
Isabel is bewildered now; Anne does not sound angry about the scheme, the blatant use of her as a political pawn. Her tone is casual, almost admiring as she babbles on about the scheme. Isabel can not help but gape at her and suddenly the reason for her nighttime visit resurges with full force.
“Does that not bother you?” Isabel questions, incredulous.
“Bother me?” Anne returns, her eyes suddenly losing their dazed quality. She chuckles lightly and this time it is not joyful.
“I understand why he did it,” she confesses suddenly, averting her eyes. “I understand the need for it unlike —“
She doesn’t say it, but Isabel understands her meaning nonetheless.
“Oh Annie,” she murmurs. They have both been used by their father for his schemes and plots and mindless ambition, and they have both suffered greatly for it. She stills when she thinks of George and her face pales.
“What is it?” Anne asks abruptly, noticing the fear on her sister’s face.
“George,” Isabel whispers.
Anne’s face falls.
Why is it always, always George?
He’s angry, Annie.
He thinks Richard will let you marry Rob and your half of mother’s fortune will go to him, regardless of what the King has promised.
Be careful, Annie. Please.
Anne is hiding behind a curtain, sitting in the windowsill as she reads one of the books she received months ago. The hallway sounds empty but then there are footsteps and a loud, goading voice full of mock concern.
“I tell you this only because I am concerned for my sister in law’s virtue,” he rambles to whoever is with him.
Judging by the footfalls, there are more than two people with him and Anne dares not move incase she gives herself away. It does not take her long to suspect he is talking to the Northern Lords, confessing his concerns about a woman he has talked to all of three times over the course almost sixth months.
“It troubles me greatly to have my brother use her for his own political ends, besmirching her good name all the while. I assure you, gentlemen, Lord Rob Percy hath never showed her affection until my brother the King knew you all would attend court soon. And before that — by God! You should have seen my brother! I have it on good authority they would spend hours together in the gardens at night — alone! I can barely think of it, my lords.”
Slowly, George’s voice drifts off as they disappear from the hall.
George, Anne thinks. You Judas. Thrice you have betrayed those you call kin and for what? A crown?
He knows about the gardens though. Anne did not expect that, and she curses herself for not thinking he would have her followed — or maybe it was Richard. She dares not think why he would want his brother followed — more importantly, by who he would want to follow Richard. If something were to befall him, they might very well put George on the throne, attainder be damned.
It does not surprise Anne, to think her brother-in-law is capable of such an act.
After all, he had already done so with his elder brother not so long ago.
It unnerves Anne, thinking of that scenario, bothers her to the point where she feels compelled to warn Richard. But she knows not how to do so. George may still be having her followed, so the gardens were out of the question. Maybe she could smuggle him some note — but how? How could she do it without drawing attention to herself? She would not involve Isabel, or tell Isabel anything, not yet anyway.
Anne spends the rest of her day thinking. She paces back and forth in her chamber, runs her hands through her hair as she plots. She has yet to come up with a solution by the time she attends the Great Hall for supper — she had debated feigning illness again, but she has no desire to stir concern amongst the Northern Lords, who are already under George’s spell — and so she sits there quietly as she eats her food.
Anne lacks an appetite tonight, and her mind is distracted. She glances towards Richard, finds him conversing quietly with the ever-dutiful Francis and suddenly her line of sight is blocked by Rob Percy, who has sought for her hand yet again.
Anne’s heart beats excitedly as a tangible plan forms in her mind. She could give Rob a note, telling him to warn Richard.
She smiles at Rob amusingly when he seems surprised by the joy in it, and all the while she can only think of the urgency in her veins.
Anne sets her plan into motion the following night. She has a note tucked up the sleeve of her dress, a note that explains everything and so she waits for Rob to approach. She makes sure to keep her face even when he approaches, and she readily accepts his request to dance with her.
He talks of the weather of all things when Anne makes her move. She knows the court will whisper — call her a whore, a harlot, a witch, but she does not care ( she has every intention of having Richard reach twenty, and fifty, and even greater desire to keep the throne from George) — and so she pretends to trip over the skirt of her dress and falls right into Rob’s arms.
“Are you alright?” he asks, panicked. “Lady Anne?”
His one hand stays on her shoulder as the other grasps her wrist, and Anne uses the commotion to furtively slip the note from her sleeve into his unsuspecting palm. Her hand is forceful, her face flushed, embarrassed as she apologises sincerely for her clumsiness and hopes he will forgive her.
Rob is keen enough to maintain the ruse and Anne does not stay long enough to see him read the note or show it to Richard.
It sets her heart at ease, somewhat, and she hopes this well help Richard manage George.
To give George credit, he lets a month pass before he makes his move. Anne is lured into a false sense of security. The Northern Lords have left court — prompting Rob to abandon his suit by the time November comes. She spends her days with Isabel and nights alone. Rob does not speak to her of her note and neither does Richard.
She wonders if they did anything with George, but if they have, neither Anne or the court hears anything of it.
The day it happens, Anne is unaware of anything wrong. She wakes, eats, talks to Isabel, complains about the cold and spends her evening knitting with her sister. They speak of the upcoming Christmastide celebrations and then Anne returns to her chambers. She doesn’t have guards posted directly outside her door anymore, so she is alone but still feels secure, even though Richard and a group of his councilmen had visited Baynard Castle for a few days.
Anne undresses, slips on her nightgown and climbs into bed.
Unlike months before, sleep does not evade her, and soon her world has gone dark.
She slumbers peacefully, unaware of the growing danger.
Her lips part in sleep and a hand clamps over her mouth. Anne wakes at once, aware only of a dark shadow leaning over her, a man, pinning her down as she starts to struggle.
No no no she begs. She tries to scream to avail and before her mind can process what her body already has, a cold, sweet substance is shoved down her lips. Some of it spills onto the mattress, down her nightgown and the last thing Anne is aware of is a sticky substance against her cold skin.
She’s moving — is she in carriage or a litter? She isn’t sure. Her head is leaning against a small pillow and her body is abused by the sudden jerk of the horses leading the carriage. It pains her, causes her head to throb more than it already is. Anne fights to keep her eyes open but she eventually succumbs to whatever they’ve forced down her throat.
When she finally comes to, Anne’s head feels like it is on fire.
It pains her to keep her eyes open, but soon they grow used to her dark surroundings. There are no windows in this small room of hers — her prison cell. Anne stands on shaky feet, places one of her hands on the stone wall to support herself. There is only a small mattress and a chamber pot in the room.
God, she thinks. What is happening?
Anne makes her way to the door — a rather short journey, seeing as she can cover the length of the room in ten long strides — and slumps against the door. She closes her eyes against the pounding in her head and presses her ear to the great wood door. She doesn’t hear anything at all. Anne has no idea of anything.
She knows not where she is — whether or not it is day or night. She does not even know whether she is in England or not. Anne is unaware of how much time has occurred since she was abducted and this seeping lack of knowledge frightens her like nothing else. She is completely at the mercy of her captor — whomever they may be — and Anne shakes involuntarily, sinks down to the floor. The cold stone is welcome against her cheek, makes breathing in the small, claustrophobic room more bearable.
Who would do such a thing? she wonders.
Her mind flashes to Margaret of Anjou, defeated and grief stricken in France. She would have nothing to gain from such a venture, especially since all hopes of a Lancaster triumph died when there was no babe in Anne’s womb. Nor would she attempt to fetch her former daughter-in-law from England due to great love and concern for her.
Her mind turns to the Northern Lords — but who would dare do such a thing? To abduct a noble girl — regardless of who her family was — would spark outrage across the realm. Maybe they would make it seem like she had willingly joined whatever conspiracy this was, but Anne doubted anyone would truly believe that.
So if not the Northern Lords, then —
A wave of revulsion sweeps over her. George. Of course it must be George. But why? And how?
Richard had left court for a week or two and George had gone with him. He must have used fewer guards in the castle to his advantage. Anne could easily figure out the how — that took little imagination. But the why continues to elude her. She summons the strength to turn onto her back and stares at the ceiling. Her body does not feel hurt or bruised, but she realises with a chill that she is dressed in a plain brown gown she does not recognise.
A gasp hitches in her throat. She can’t think of some strange man changing her clothes while she lay unconscious — she doesn’t want to think of what he may have done to her body, if it indeed was a man. Her lips purse as she tries not to cry but Anne resolves to push through it. She is alive — she is a Neville, and she will push through this somehow.
Someone must notice her absence — Isabel will, for certain. And maybe even Richard by the time he returns to court. Anne does not know how much time has passed, so she reluctantly presumes it has only been a day or so since her abduction. Anne counts the days on her fingers — she gives Richard two days until he returns to court, by which Isabel will voice her concerns about her disappearance.
Anne props herself up on her elbows and looks around the room.
I might die in this room, she thinks.
She crawls onto the sloppy straw mattress they so thoughtfully provided and collapses. Anne does not know how long she lies there for, but eventually she drifts off to sleep. Anne wakes to the sudden opening of the door — the glare of the torch hurts her eyes, makes her sit up, terrified.
“George?” she asks, huddling against the wall.
It takes her a moment to realise a servant is standing by the doorway, carrying a small tray of food in his hands.
“Your dinner,” he says simply.
He winces after the words leave his mouth, as if he just remembers that he was not meant to speak to her. He hurriedly places the tray on the floor with a large clatter and slams the door before Anne can even open her mouth. She moves hesitantly to the tray, barely manages to place together the contents on it. She can make out a bowl full of a slippery substance — her hand lands on a small piece of bread.
Anne reaches for the cup, is careful not to drink all of the water at once.
At least I know what time of day it is.
Anne manages to keep track of the days through her meals. She receives three everyday. A piece of bread for breakfast. Soup for lunch and supper. One day, they leave a rosary on the tray.
Anne wonders what it means. Perhaps someone took pity on her, gave her a chance to pray for God’s mercy.
One week passes and Anne’s body betrays her, grows weaker by the day. The lack of light makes her head pound — her stomach grows emptier and hungrier. Anne briefly suspects that they are slipping something into her food or drink, for there are days when she falls asleep, and awakens to find her chamber pot emptied and her tray taken away.
She attempts not to eat one day and then the next not to drink, but the result is all the same.
There are no visitors or people for her to talk to and so Anne talks to herself. Well, she speaks to her Father, to Isabel, to God, even her mother. Her mother who rots away in Sanctuary. It bring a smalls a small, twisted smile to her lips, when she notices she similarities in both of their situations. Anne had never been close to her mother, knew she always wished either Anne or Isabel had been the sons her father so desperately wanted; as though their gender had been their fault.
Regardless, Anne misses her now. She wants a mother’s comfort as she lies on a cold stone floor, dirty and tired. Her body is betraying her and Anne hates herself for it. Sometimes she imagines what will become of her is she somehow manages to survive this. Perhaps she will be forced into a nunnery, or maybe she will be married off to some noble lord or sentenced to the tower for the rest of her days.
At least there is sunlight and windows there.
“Annie,” Isabel’s voice echoes in her ear.
Anne is dreaming, she’s sure of it.
How many times has she dreamed of her sister?
“Annie, wake up!”
There is a hand on her shoulder, and the grip is tight, almost painful as it shakes.
“Now, Annie! You don’t have much time!”
Anne blinks slowly, heart racing in her chest.
But there is no time for that, Anne knows.
There is something desperate and urgent in her sister’s face and it makes the weakness in Anne disappear. Her stomach tightens at the shadow of bruises on Isabel’s fine features.
“He is mad!” she hisses, besides herself with anger.
For once, Isabel does not protest.
“You must leave Warwick Castle, Annie,” she whispers. “The King has started to suspect George — and God knows I tried to convince him to release you when I found out, but he would not listen — he has commanded that every castle and Church be searched, and George —“ a sob escapes her throat as her hands grab ahold of Anne’s. “George plans to send you away; to make you disappear for good.”
Anne grows cold at that, for certainly Isabel means George plots for Anne to die.
“George has left to meet with Richard in London — at least that is what he claims — and I managed to ensure the guards had a sleeping potion. Tonight is your chance Annie, you’re only chance. There is a horse waiting for you and Veronique. You remember her, don’t you?”
It is with a small pang of shame that Anne remembers the frenchwoman who had become her friend in the weeks before she married Edouard. She had sent her away with Isabel, wanted to ensure she would be unharmed by English soldiers, seeing as she was both French and pretty.
Anne has thought little of her since.
“Yes,” she replies, readily enough.
Isabel tugs Anne to her feet.
Anne moves towards the door, shields her eyes against the brightness of the burning torches. The guards lie unconscious near the door.
She turns around, stares at her sister for what might be the last time.
Anne is no sentimental fool;
Anne follows Veronique’s lead.
When she takes Anne to an small, poor inn in London and claims that they are sister’s, Anne does not protest.
She keeps quiet and speaks little.
Veronique had told her the whole of London was searching for her, said it would not be hard to bring her to safety. But George is also looking too — his agents populate London by the hundreds, and Anne is careful to stay in doors, out of prying eyes.
Her name is now Amelie and she is a serving maid.
Luckily for them, Anne’s confinement had made her appearance grow unkept and haggard. Her nails — the only vanity she still held onto — which had once been long, well shaped and clean, were cut crookedly short. Anne hates to look at them, but she is a servant, and she must play the part.
The innkeepers are kind to her and Veronique, accept the latter’s explanation as to why they ran away from the Duke of Clarence’s household. It amuses Anne when she discovers they are Lancastrians. If they only knew they were hosting the would-be Lancastrian Queen.
They have several children, most older than Anne herself and already married with offspring of their own, and it is a cluttered, loud lifestyle, but infinitely preferable to the cold cell she had been locked in for nigh on a month, as Veronique had told her.
Anne scrubs floors and washes sheets. She makes ale and bread with her small, thin hands.
Anne survives quietly, and entertains no hopes of returning to court anytime soon. Her mind flashes to Isabel — the sister who risked everything for her — and she spends her nights worrying over her.
Veronique does not dare comfort her in English, but converses with her quietly in French, tells her to have hope, to be patient, to wait.
If only she knew how good Anne is at waiting.
She had waited for her Father, for her husband, her mother, for Richard — Anne can hardly remember anymore.
And now she waits yet again.
Anne has been a maid for two months when Veronique disappears.
I will be alright, she had said. I can go get the eggs and the chickens.
The family had been busy — one of the daughter’s was about to give birth. Anne could not go, seeing as the innkeepers were under the impression she could neither speak or understand English very well. And so she had been left to do chores while Veronique went about the streets of London.
A month ago, Anne would have stopped her.
But the search for her has begun to die down apparently, and the streets of London whisper that she is long dead, her body thrown in the river. They now gossip about who is to be the King’s wife and of rumours of rebellion stirring in the North. The inn is not particularly busy, so Anne eavesdrops on the rare guests, who supply plenty of knowledge.
The whole North is up in arms over her disappearance, and some say they blame King Richard.
Apparently, there are rumours he will marry a French Princess like the late King was supposed to.
Another customer disputes this, says King Richard plans to marry Joanna of Portugal instead, to unite the Houses of York and Lancaster, seeing as Joanna of Portugal was very distantly related to John of Gaunt, the head of the Lancastrian faction.
Anne hears of this and thinks nothing of it.
She ignores the clench of her heart and the jut of her jaw, and she especially ignores the knowing, sympathetic looks Veronique sends her when she hears the gossip.
But Anne cares little for any of that now, because Veronique is gone.
She was supposed to be back by noon, but the day grows longer and Veronique does not appear.
Anne paces and worries and tries not to panic or scream.
The innkeepers try to comfort her, offer her condolences they think she does not understand.
Her distress is real, genuine.
If George’s men found her, she would surely die after being threatened, beaten, maybe even tortured.
If George’s men found Veronique, Anne is done for.
She debates whether or not to leave at once, but ultimately decides to stay for another two days, in hopes that Veronique will return. Anne knows not where to go, what to do, but she would rather die than go back to George, that is for certain.
So she waits.
She cleans and cooks and scrubs and worries for two days, but Veronique does not return.
And so Anne plots to leave the following morning. She packs her few possessions in a small sack, carefully counts the coin Isabel had given her and Veronique, and decides to leave the following morning.
But Anne never has the chance to.
She is woken at dawn by the sound of raised voices and horses in the street outside, and she is overcome with panic.
He found me, she thinks.
She jumps out of bed, clad in her nightgown as she hears a group approach the door.
“You can not do this!” she hears the innkeeper’s wife cry. “We do not know any Anne Neville! There is only a kitchen maid there!”
Anne grabs a hold of a knife she was using the night before to cut an apple.
God, give me strength, she thinks.
The door swings open and —
“Francis?” she gasps.
The knife drops to the floor with a loud clatter.
Her childhood friend smiles at her with such relief Anne’s heart can not help but warm.
“You have no idea how glad I am to see you,” he says.
She is reunited with Veronique at St. Martin’s le Grand.
I’m sorry I disappeared. The Priest I spoke to needed a lot of convincing — I only managed to get an audience with the King last night.
Anne is bathed and clothed in fine silks that now feel foreign against her skin. She can scarcely believe the rapid turn of events; life feels clouded and dream like and Anne knows not what to feel. Her lodgings are hardly luxurious, but they are comfortable and full of windows.
Francis had looked at her weirdly at her request, but she had paid him no heed.
Anne has lived too much of the past few months in darkness.
It takes three days for the aches in her body to finally subside and Anne is grateful for it. The physicians brought to examine her had ordered her to remain in bed, so Anne has done little but rest and sleep.
She dreams of Isabel — worries about George.
No one tells her anything.
Truth be told, the only person Anne sees regularly is Veronique, and her presence cheers Anne greatly.
She does not see Francis, learns from Veronique that he has returned to Westminster, though he left fifty guards stationed outside the parish to ensure her safety.
Anne is sitting in her chambers by the fireplace. The windows are foggy with cold, stained with snowflakes. Despite this, Anne’s cheeks are rosy as she nestles further into the wooden chair she sits in. She is dressed in a white shift and chemise covered by a long-sleeved, floor length robe lined with fur. Her long, chestnut hair tumbles down her chest, slightly damp from her afternoon bath.
The door opens and closes quickly, and the footfalls that echo are hesitant.
“Veronique,” Anne calls out, concerned by her friend’s hesitance. “What’s wrong?”
She turns her head to look and gasps.
“Richard,” she breathes. Shock propels her forward, makes her take a few stumbling steps forward.
He looks tired and restless as she observes him and when his eyes rest upon her face his features relax, somewhat. As though he did not believe she was alright until he saw her with his own eyes.
“Anne,” he says fervently, stalking towards her.
Anne is too consumed with shock to say anything, but when he envelopes her in a fierce embrace her body reacts instantly. Her arms wrap themselves around his waist as he presses her to his body.
“You’re alive,” he whispers. He presses a kiss to her forehead, her hair, her eyes.
“I’m alright,” she murmurs, once he ceases his kissing. “I’m alright, Richard.”
He pulls away from her, starts to recollect himself.
Anne watches him stand by the fire, notices how the flames cast his face in shadows.
“I’m sorry,” he tells her. “George —“
His voice breaks off, and Anne sees a flash of pain in his eyes.
“What was his plan?” she finds herself asking, her voice cool.
His gaze flickers to her.
“He planned to win over the North by reinstating Mad King Henry. I presume he would have some accident befall him shortly after, seeing as he was declared to be heir to the throne if you and Edouard of Lancaster failed to have children.”
Richard’s jaw jumps.
“He planned on disposing of you — he meant to provoke the North, have them think I was the one who had you abducted or killed. With you gone, he could inherit all of the Warwick Fortune without any difficulties or reprimands, and he would have enough money to finance an army.”
His voice is cool, matter-of-fact. It lacks any of the hurt Anne saw in his eyes moments before.
“Where is he now?”
For George will surely not be allowed to walk away with a slap on the wrist. Such a betrayal was unforgivable — treason defined. But George is of Richard’s blood, is his mother’s son, regardless of his folly’s. Anne knows how he loved Edward, even how he loved George back in the day, and she suddenly realises George may yet escape the death sentence.
“I have had him sent to Bedlam for the time being,” he replies cooly. “No one with any jot of sense would think George has any reason in his brain — especially when Veronique came forth and told me the truth.”
“She is unharmed and safe,” he tells her. “I know she is innocent.”
He moves to her side and gently grabs ahold of one of her hands.
“Can you forgive me?” he questions.
Anne’s brows rise in surprise.
“What for?” she returns. He is not to blame for George’s sins.
“For forcing myself to be ignorant of my brother’s sins due to the love I bore him — due to the blood we share.”
A dark look forms in his eyes.
“If I had paid more attention, been more harsh, perhaps none of this would have happened, and you would not have been mistreated so.”
His other hand rises to her face, cups her cheek, and Anne leans into his warm touch. She remains silent, gently presses a kiss to the inside of his hand.
“George is gone now,” she murmurs, as if needing to reassure herself of the fact.
“I just want to start anew,” she confesses quietly. “That is all I want, Richard.”
He nods once more, and Anne does not think to question the thoughtful look on his face.
The next morning, Anne is summoned to Richard’s room at the parish.
The priests all seem rather stunned by his presence, open-mouthed and gaping, but Anne pays them no heed. They are harmless, after all.
Francis is standing next to Richard when she walks in, and his expression is full of surprise as he stares at Richard, as though his sovereign had just told him the solution to all the world’s problems.
“Lady Anne,” Richard acknowledges.
Anne curtsies obediently, somewhat dismayed by the sudden return to formality.
“Your grace,” she returns.
The silence trickles on as she waits for him to speak.
“The North wants the Neville sister’s restored,” Richard tells her cooly. “They are all still convinced I sought you ill, and plotted my brother’s downfall so I could revenge myself on Warwick’s eldest daughter.”
By God my father’s men could be fools, Anne thinks.
“They also want a Lancaster on the throne, even if it is King Henry. The North has never been true a supporter of the House of York, after all. They only did so because of your father.”
Anne wonders what he means by telling her this.
“You are King,” she says. “King of all England. If you were not meant to be so, God would not have allowed it.”
His lips twist into a smile that does not reach his eyes.
“And yet my country is at war with itself,” he continues. “War and rebellion continue to brew, and I know but one solution that will join the North and South for good.”
He stares at her intently now, his eyes boring into her very soul.
“What does that have to do with me, your grace?”
Richard looks at Francis, dismisses his close friend with a nod of his head. He waits until the door has closed until he speaks again.
“I would ask you to marry me, Lady Anne.”
Anne gapes at him, gobsmacked.
“What?” she demands, incredulous and disbelieving.
His eyes dance with mirth as he gazes at her.
“I would ask you to marry me,” he repeats. He rises from his chair, starts to approach her.
Anne raises her hand, causing him to stop in his tracks.
“Why?” she blurts out.
A smile plays on his lips.
“If I marry you, the North will be appeased for the rest of our days, and England will cease — for the most part — at being at war. Not only that, since you are the widow of a Lancastrian Prince, we would also bind the two warring houses together,” he recites.
Anne arches a brow at him.
“So I am merely another pawn in one of your schemes?” she inquires. “First with Rob, now you.”
He doesn’t seem surprised that she pieced together his plot with Rob.
“Rob was different,” he says. He frowns, bites down on his lip as he struggles to phrase his words correctly. “I want to marry you, Anne. I have every intention of doing so.”
“And if I refuse?”
Richard blinks at her, looking slightly taken aback.
“Would you not like a crown, my lady?” he questions softly, tilts his head so his dark curls fall into his eyes.
Anne lets out a small chuckle.
“I am a daughter of Warwick,” she retorts. “It takes little more than a promise of a crown to surprise me.”
Richard’s features turn contemplative now.
“Unless you do not want to marry me?” he asks.
There is a hint of vulnerability in his voice as he steps closer to her, and Anne realises with a jolt that she is now the one with the power over their relationship. Richard is giving her a choice, and though he just claimed to have every intention of marrying her, Anne can see it in his eyes that he won’t force her, if she does not wish it.
“Richard,” she breathes, shaking her head at his stupidity. “I’ve dreamed of marrying you since I was a child. It’s not a question of wanting.”
He smiles at her, and her heart warms at the genuine joy of it.
“I once promised I would make you happy, Anne,” he whispers, once he stands directly in front of her. Anne moves closer to him, so that their chests now brush.
“You said I couldn’t promise you that, and I believed you then, but now — now I can promise you that. I am promising you that.” His lips brush against her forehead.
“Let me, my love,” he murmurs.
Anne has no illusions about her marriage.
She knows its political benefits, and is well aware that Richard would not have married her if they did not exist.
He is not Edward, after all.
She returns to court a Queen-in-waiting and her marriage takes place in April.
Richard is gentle where Edouard was rough. Kind where Edouard was cruel.
He tells her he wants her and Anne believes him.
She is crowned near the end of May, and it warms her heart to think that he is organising a coronation specifically for her.
You are the Queen, he tells her. You will have a coronation. If I could do it again, I would have you crowned beside me.
But that is an impossibility, so Richard watches from behind a screen as the Archbishop lowers a golden crown onto her head.
(It feels like it was meant to be there all along)
“Long Live the Queen!” they yell.
Anne thinks of how she was supposed to be a Queen to a very different King nigh on a year ago, and it almost makes her laugh, this drastic change in fortune.
It is later that night in their chambers that Richard holds her close.
“Have I made you happy, my Queen?” he asks, pulling back to look her in the eyes.
“I rather think you have,” she tells him.
She watches him as his lips curve, hums contentedly as he presses a kiss to her shoulder before burying his face in his pillow. He is always busy, her husband, ruling their Kingdom, but he looks peaceful in their bed, relaxed in a way he never reveals to the court.
Anne places a hand on her belly, and her smile widens as she imagines his reaction to the news. She is suddenly eager to tell him, to disrupt his sleep and let him in on her secret.
I want to make you as happy as you’ve made me, she wants to say.
Her hand lifts, moves to his shoulder.
But he looks so peaceful, lying there, and Anne lets her hand lower.
Soon, she thinks, snuggling into his side. Soon.
And that will have to be enough.