England, London, 1461.
Richard looked up at his brother Edward, who smiled as he laid the flat of the sword on his shoulder.
“Thus, I dub thee Richard duke of Gloucester, Knight of the Garter, and Knight of the Order of the Bath. You may rise, Duke of Gloucester.”
Richard, careful not to let any of his nervousness show, rose to his feet. He did so gracefully, despite the new sword that hung on his hip. His exhaustion from spending all night kneeling seemed to evaporate in an instant before the radiant figure of his king, his brother.
The new king presented his hand and Richard kissed his fingers in reverence. When he looked up, Edward winked at him. A glimmer of the boy in the king. Richard smiled back, then head up, moved to stand beside George.
Edward turned his attention to the crowd. He smiled at them, the golden crown on his head blending with the dark gold of his hair.
“Good people of London, I make this oath here and today; no more will you see an unstable king and the hungry usurpers who would take his place walk through these fair streets. No more will your fathers and sons have to fight for the true house of England, the house of York. Here and today, I will serve you, the people of my kingdom.”
“Long live the king!” Warwick led the cheer, raising his fist above his head. People shouted their approval, chanting Edward’s name. Richard said it along with them, eyes solemn as he looked up at his older brother.
Before Richard, Edward seemed larger than life, like a figure from legend. In that moment, it solidified for him, that he would do whatever Edward needed him to do. Richard would learn how to be the best knight and Lord for Edward and England.
England, Middleham, 1464.
“Keep your sword up Dickon!” Warwick shouted.
Richard blinked sweat out of his eyes, carefully darting around George, just out of reach of his sword. He brought the wooden sword up, arms shaking with effort from holding it for two hours. The spring sun beamed down on them as they practiced. Richard knew by the end of the lessons his nose would be pink and peeling.
George attacked aggressively, moving forward with every swing. His height and strength gave him an advantage. But the single mindedness of his strategy allowed Richard to keeping moving about, forcing George to move with him. Richard didn’t need to retaliate, he just needed to wait for George to tire himself out.
His arms shook with the impact as George brought down another punishing blow. However, his brother dropped his sword for a moment, breathing heavily. Richard smiled to himself.
Wrong move, brother George.
A quick upward swing had the wooden sword out of the unaware George’s hands, and landing in the dirt. Richard spun and tapped him in the ribs with the end of his own, mimicking what would have been a death blow in a real battle.
George blinked at him in bemusement for a moment before shock and anger came over him.
“Nicely done, Dickon!” Warwick clapped. Richard bowed his head and wiped sweat away from his eyes, dropping his sword to his side.
A sharp pain to the back of his skull staggered him, nearly sending Richard into the ground. Black spots waved in front of his eyes, and he blinked hard to clear them.
When he was finally able to see again, Richard realized what had happened. In a fit of pique, George had taken up his sword again to deliver a final blow. He scowled.
Warwick had taken his brother by the arm and was shaking him like an errant dog.
“That is not honorable, taking up arms when you have already been defeated. It is a cowardly move, especially against family. Now apologize to Richard, then go find the stable master. He will have something of your ilk to do.”
George turned to him, anger still flickering in his blue eyes.
“Apologies, brother. My temper governed my actions. Forgive me?” The curt words were nothing more than an appeasement to Warwick, who was still watching over the exchange with a beady eye. Aware of this, Richard extended his hand.
“Accepted, brother. Your trespass has already been forgotten.”
Although the knot you left on my skull is going to linger…
George, jaw tight, took his hand and after a cursory shake, let go of it. Turning his back to Richard George stalked away from the grounds over to the stables.
Richard watched him go. He was used to George’s stormy temperament. It made him courageous as a lion but as unstable as sand, constantly shifted by the tides.
Warwick turned to Richard. “Haven’t you be off to your lessons now, Lord Gloucester?”
Richard bowed his head. “Yes, my Lord Warwick. I wish you a safe journey to France.”
Warwick sighed. “Aye. I will bring your brother, the king, back a bride befitting of his reign.”
At this Richard grinned. “May fair fortune smile on you then.”
England, London, 1471.
He rode through the misty evening, mind focused on the destination alone. Clasped close to his body was a piece of paper worth more to Richard than all the riches of England.
He finally reached the stately oak doors of the Church of St Martin le Grand, and knocked. It was dark and he didn’t see a light but Richard couldn’t wait for the morning light to deliver the news. After a few more moments of pounding his fist against the door it finally opened.
“Yes?” The priest that opened the door snapped.
“I need to see Lady Neville. It’s urgent,” Richard ordered brusquely. The priest peered at him through wizened eyes, half hidden by prodigious eyebrows.
“Ah it’s you is it? I shall go see if the Lady will come to meet you. It is very late you know.”
As Richard ducked into the darkened church, he nodded. “I know, but the news couldn’t wait until the morning.”
The priest muttered something Richard couldn’t hear as he made his way deeper into the sanctuary. Leaving Richard to prowl up and down the cavernous room, watching the shadows move over the flagstone.
“Dickon?” A soft voice made him look up. Anne was dressed improperly. Clearly she’d only just tied her robe around herself. Her hair was unbound, and Richard resolutely kept his eyes away from it.
“The King gave this to me. Here.” He handed the paper over, their fingers just brushing in a brief moment of contact. Anne opened the paper and quickly read over it, a smile, genuine and sparkling spread over her features. Richard watched it, a similar one coming over his own. He hadn’t seen her smile enough.
When she looked up at him again, there were tears in her eyes.
“He said yes.”
“Ned is open to any opportunity to confound George these days,” Richard told her in sotto voice.
Anne laughed and brushed a hand under her eyes. “When can we marry? Soon?”
“As soon as it can be arranged. Then, on to Middleham.”
Anne smiled, and reached out a hand to him. Richard caught it and kissed the backs of her fingers.
“My lady wife, the duchess of Gloucester.”
“My lord husband, the duke of Gloucester.”
Richard smiled. “That is all I need to be content.”