Richard longed for a paper book.
The slick glass tablets, thin a piece of parchment, did not hold the same feeling of satisfaction as holding a page and turning it to reveal the next. The slippery action of sliding his fingers along the screen was too fast, too immaterial.
Richard did take solace in the fact that there now there was much more to read, indeed more than he ever thought he could read if given another ten lifetimes, but bitterly longed for paper.
He’d remained in his room, today. The atmosphere of the castle was distinctly cold since the discussion of Robespierre. Leonardo had been his usual distant self, only conversing with the guards and the staff in tense, quiet tones. Bonaparte, too, had been quiet, reading and mumbling to himself in a corner of the solar lounging in a chair with his feet to the fire.
Richard had no desire to speak to this self proclaimed Emperor of the French. He did not seek out the company of Leonardo. He felt the quiet disdain of the staff and guards. Richard, as he had for so much of his life, had no company but himself.
He sat in his room and studied the grounds instead. The weather had stripped the leaves from the trees and he felt that there was snow on the way. Richard had noticed that it seemed to roll in harshly, unexpectedly. He shuddered. Were the seasons not even a constant he could depend on, anymore?
A knock on the door started Richard from his thoughts.
“Enter!” He barked.
It was Strong.
“You disappeared after breakfast. It’s past lunch now,” she delivered, staring at him intently.
Richard eyed her. “Yes?”
Strong stepped further into the room, hands held behind her. “You also weren’t in the chapel. I thought I should check in.”
Richard turned back to the window, flicking his fingers. “You can see I’m perfectly fine. I’ll be down for supper.”
He heard the woman’s steps across the rug. “Yeah, somehow I doubt that,” she muttered. “You know, I think you were right.”
Strong was level with Richard, looking out the window. Despite the afternoon sun, a fog was rolling in, over the slate-grey strip of river.
Curious now, Richard asked “In regards to?” He assumed it was Robespierre, obviously. Why would the castle risk everything for a traitor? At least he could recognize Bonaparte as another legitimized authority.
“About your scoliosis.”
Richard turned to face her fully. “Excuse me?”
“I wanted to apologize, too. Magpie and I never asked how you might feel in regards to bringing Doctor Russo here. So, I’m sorry,” Strong continued. She looked over, face serious. “Accepted?” She held her hand out.
Richard was struck silent. It hadn’t even occurred to him to be offended by the offer, only annoyed by the protests he’d encountered. Without thinking about it, Richard accepted her hand and shook it firmly.
Strong grinned and Richard surprised himself by smiling back. Strong, despite her obvious failings, seemed to be tenderhearted. In some small way, she reminded him of his sister, dear Margaret.
“What have you been doing up here, anyway?” She asked. “Reading?”
Richard handed her the infuriating glass tablet. “Yes. The library is extensive.”
“King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Huh. I don’t think I’ve ever read the original stories. My cousins always bothered me to read The Once and Future King, but I never did.” She handed it back.
“My brothers and I had many debates over which of Arthur’s knights were most noble,” Richard replied.
Strong raised an eyebrow but shrugged. “I guess, Merlin? At least when we did literature in school I liked The Hobbit and Harry Potter.”
Richard eyed her blankly.
“Look, here, I’ll add them your list.” She tapped on the screen and then passed it back. “I think you’ll like Tolkien. It’s all wizards and magic and dragons.”
Richard nodded, still considering himself lost. He looked at the cover of the book, The Hobbit. Indeed, there was a dragon curled around a pile of gold.
Before he pressed on it, however, Strong grabbed him. “But first, you’re coming down for lunch.”
Richard spent his meal with Strong, who asked him about his family.
“You work here, shouldn’t you know?” He asked, focusing on his braised steak. Strong has also forced fried potatoes on him. Richard had never had the like, and after the initially disquieting sensation of how under cooked they were in the center, found himself enjoying the salty taste.
“Nah. I rely on Mags for that kinda of stuff. I wasn’t a history student in school. Didn’t one of them drown in wine?”
Richard had just taken a swallow of his own drink, the coffee that Miller had introduced them to, and narrowly avoided inhaling it wrong.
“Who told you that?” He snapped when he could breathe again. Strong looked at him wither brows furrowed.
“Uh, no one. I think it’s just cultural osmosis. It’s in your play, right? Hey! Harm, is it in Shakespeare where Richard’s brother dies in wine?” She leaned over to where Harmony and Leonardo were in conversation.
“You brother drowned in wine?” Leonardo asked.
“I think so. Hang on a tick,” Harmony said reaching for his tablet.
“He was drowned and sent home in a barrel,” Richard said shortly before he could finish the movement. “Edward did not want to honor his death, what with the rebellion and ordered it.” He did not mention his own part in the drama. “What play do you refer to?”
“The one about you? Have you not looked at that yet?” Strong asked.
Richard thought about all the quotes he’d seen around the castle and restrained a shudder. “No. It is by a man named Shakespeare, yes?”
“Yeah. You’re gonna want to look into it,” Strong said slowly, glancing at Harmony, who grimaced. “It uh, might inform some of the missing pieces for you.”
Richard was not sure how to interpret this and so nodded.
It could not possibly be that bad.
Hours later, Richard was seething.
His curiosity piqued, he’d sought out the play that Strong mentioned. He was fortunate and discovered an actual bound copy, though the pages were oddly flimsy and yellowed. It had also been behind a glass barrier, but Richard disregarded this as everything in this castle was technically his.
Richard knew there was going to be a problem as soon as he read the first lines.
“Now is the winter of our discontent?”
Richard’s jaw grew tighter and tighter the more he read. What slander was this? He, the slayer of George? And Henry V?
When he reached Anne’s death, Richard threw the book aside in disgust. He stood up and started pacing the room, running his hands through his hair.
How could he be accused? Was he to blame for Edwards death? For Elizabeth’s predatory family? For Hastings betrayal?
Richard pinched his nose and sighed. He walked another circuit around the room before throwing the door open. Perhaps he could find a sword to train with. It had been too long.
He was still absorbed into his dark thoughts while walking through Middleham. All the lights were out. This did not bother him as he could have walked Middleham blindfolded.
As Richard walked towards the entrance, to make his way out onto the grounds, there was a massive clanging from the dining hall. Richard paused and slowly rounded the corner from the door.
Leonardo had completely taken over the table with screens, papers and what looked like the entirety of the rubbish pile. The tall Italian ran his hands through his hair, talking aloud to himself and then looking at a one of the screens.
Richard cautiously stepped into the room. “Leonardo?” If the man had lost his mind, Richard would be left alone here as the only reasonable one.
Leonardo didn’t answer, only muttering louder. He stepped briskly around the table and looked at a different tablet, before pointing it at a piece of twisted metal. A minuscule red dot appeared and after a moment it beeped. Leonardo glanced at it and grinned, teeth exposed.
“Leonardo?” Richard tried again, a touch more impatiently.
He startled and looked up. “I know how to get Robespierre from the Bastille.”
Napoleon woke to find the English Castle in a uproar. Da Vinci seemed to have developed some plan to take back Robespierre. He lingered at the top of the stairs to listen.
“You want to disguise the ship as garbage?”