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Play the Devil by Lululuna
Chapter 5 : Barnard Castle
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7

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Barnard Castle
This chapter is dedicated to Phillipa Gregory (though she will never actually read it), whose books first inspired my interest in the War of the Roses.

perfect image by Hobbit at tda

Barnard Castle, 1483

The year was 1483. Richard walked slowly back to the castle that had come as part of his wife’s dowry, the great, ancient fortress of Barnard Castle. The areas around it, hunting land for sport during times of peace, seemed more beautiful and rare now that Rose had been there. As the thought of her name resounded in his head he trembled slightly, and put a hand onto the bobbing neck of Apollo, walking steadily beside him. The horse seemed to lean into his hand, as if understanding his master’s needs. Richard wondered briefly if Apollo, too, missed Rose- had he not taught her to ride upon that very great back? Had she not fed him treats from her pretty little hands and talked to him like he understood, like the horse was her magical familiar?

Richard, like many children poor and noble alike, had been brought up with a distinct fear of the witch. The witch lived in holes in the moors, waiting for an ignorant child to tumble into her trap. The witch whispered curses upon effigies into the wind and burned them in her simmering country fire, cackling beneath a full moon. The witch did not bleed like a regular, pure woman: she did not obey and love her master as a woman should. She made love to the devil and bore his spawn to travel the earth in the form of the demon and the incubus. She brewed poisons with forbidden herbs plucked from cursed soil: she whispered enchantments over a boiling cauldron with the bones and limbs of little children waiting to be consumed.

Richard’s nurse had laughed at these tales, deftly sewing between her thin, careful fingers. She had pulled him onto her lap and kissed him and said not to be frightened at night, for there was no magic that would harm such a precious, blessed boy such as he- was he not cousin to the king himself, and son of the greatest nobleman in the land? For that was before he had been brother to the king himself. Richard’s nurse had sworn she saw lovely, mighty things in his future, that he would be a warrior among warriors, and perhaps, she even hinted, a daring glint in her eye, he would be greater still, know things beyond this life.

And when Richard was a boy of eight, his father and brother had been killed in the Battle of Wakefield, their severed heads were anointed with mocking spittle and honored with mock crowns of paper: the soldiers gaffed and laughed to see the heads of the rival commanders, the golden princes of York, the fallen Pretenders, rotting away in the dull chill of the new year.

So Richard had forgotten the mysteries and fears of witchcraft, the cackling specter of his nightmares had disappeared from his thoughts, as for months he and his brother were fugitives, hiding from the cruel Lancastrian commanders who had sliced off the heads of their kin and would surely come for them, the youngest boys of the rival house. He had faced true devils, known tangible fear. Yet here Richard was today, a duke, second greatest in the land, beloved of the North, rich beyond measure. But every time his ambition, his lust for battle began to take flight once again, Rose would appear. And he would have been content to be a poor country squire if he could only be with her. He would abandon his powers as lord and duke and brother and run away to a small cottage where she would delight him with her tricks and tell him stories of her people and they would hunt and laugh and feast in the wild fields of his beloved Yorkshire.

Yet she never stayed for long. And he feared, from a place of reason deep inside of him, that this was the last time she had come, and she would take his better self with her. This belief gnawed and bit at him, turning his belly to cold fire. Once again, he began to quietly hate cursed magic, which haunted the nightmares of his childhood. The witch. He loathed magic for bringing him Rose and taking her away from him. Like a knight and faerie lady in a romance of King Arthur, they could never belong to the same world, be entirely as one. Magic brought him peace, yet snatched it away with the fleeting sweet smell of her hair lingering upon his skin.

Barnard Castle, 2024

“Hurry up, then,” Cecelia said impatiently as I caught my breath. I stared at her.

“How long have you been waiting for me?”

“Far too long, love,” Cecelia drawled. “Now, come on, hopefully Maude will have tea on and we can talk all about our problems at work and tell her about boys and it will be a grand old evening.” She began to trek through the field, her high heels poking holes in the sodden grass. Wrinkling her nose, she leapt gracefully over a pile of cow manure.

I scurried after her and grabbed at her arm. “No, Cece, for real. How long were you waiting?”

Cecelia frowned at me, continuing her steady path up the slight slant to Maude’s cottage. “Not more than a minute or so, silly little girl. Do you think she’ll have biscuits?” She pronounced girl in the American way, placing special emphasis upon the vowel. Gurl.

“She always has biscuits,” I muttered, releasing Cecelia just in time to avoid another generous mile of cow poop myself. Lovely. I stared around at the field at Barnard Castle. The same brown cows blinked slowly at me. The same large tree – the tree which I had climbed, the sole witness of a forgotten age, perhaps- grew tall and mighty against the skyline: I could see the very branch from which I had hopped down onto the horse’s back, from which he had caught me. We trod on in the direction of Maude’s.

Maude had been my best friend at Hogwarts since first year. She was a year older, and also a Gryffindor, and we were introduced by Louis who had been tutoring her in Potions. I had suspected that Louis had a bit of a schoolboy crush on Maude, which of course went unacknowledged and unreturned for the next few years, by which point it was clear that Maude was never going to return Louis’s admiration, or that of any boy, for that matter, though she seemed to have an unwarranted talent for attracting those blond ones.

Maude was a head shorter than myself, with a pretty face and light brown hair which she currently had trimmed above her slim shoulders. She wore makeup on special occasions and had blue eyes which could always tell when something was wrong and crinkled when she was amused. I admired her for how she could always keep her cool when the rest of us were up in a rage, and how she could reason even with a seething Cecelia or me when I was in a mood or Albus if he performed poorly on an essay and took his frustration out on any corporeal object in sight. He had even blown Nearly Headless Nick out a window of the castle once: poor Nick had been in a huff for weeks after that.

I had started my first year at Hogwarts feeling a little lost. Sure, I had my cousins to look out for me, and the blessing of having a cousin in my house and my year to spend time with and sit with in class. I had a few friends from the Muggle neighborhood and school I had attended, though I had to be careful not to mention anything about magic around them.

I remember in the second week of first year, I had approached the common room after crying when a Slytherin had teased me about my red hair. I knew, child that I was, that there was nothing wrong with having red hair and people like Victoire and Aunt Ginny had red hair and they were very beautiful, but nonetheless this particular insult had grated under my skin. To top it off, I had forgotten the password and the Fat Lady was in a very unmerciful mood, as she had been snubbed by the portrait of witches on the fourth floor from joining their never-ending opera rehearsals.

Victoire had come along and helped me in, then kindly pulled me over to a secluded corner of the room and put an arm around me. She was much nicer back then, or perhaps it was because she liked me better when I was a child who wouldn’t argue back and was small enough to boss around when need be. She comforted me, told me my hair was very pretty and I should be proud of it, and then excused herself as she had a prefects meeting to attend. There had always been a lot of pressure on Victoire to be responsible and set a good example for the rest of us, and she was only doing her duty. I remember seeing her stop and reprimand thirteen year James for whooping when he won a game of wizard’s chess against a trembling first year who lived in Al’s dorm.

Victoire had urged me to go over to sit with Louis, who was bent over a large book with several rolls of parchment scattered all around him. Beside him was a girl with large, round blue eyes and her hair tied in two careful yet uneven pigtails: she smiled at me as I sat down nervously and held out a hand for me to shake and introduced herself in a confident, high voice.

Louis had smiled at me: he was in third year, like James, but much more shy and less inclined to engage first years in betting Galleons on their skills in wizard’s chess. I asked him what he was doing in the Gryffindor common room; he replied that he was helping his friend with her Potions work and that I was a distraction and to please go away, but he said it in a friendly enough tone that I chose to ignore him.

I had pulled out a grammar-correcting quill to work on my History of Magic essay, and Maude had bent over, asking to see it. She was awed: being a Muggleborn, and barely having been in the wizarding world for a year, she was intrigued to find out about such enchanted quills. I told her that you could buy them in the bookstore down in Hogsmeade and that if she liked, I would go with her there and show her all the best things to buy. When she expressed concern that neither of us were yet thirteen and therefore not allowed to go to Hogsmeade, Louis and I had exchanged mischievous glances and said that we knew a way to get there without needing a permission slip.

So had begun a seven-year friendship, eclipsed only by the occasional spat and one quite irrational and over-dramatic argument a month or so ago. Despite that, on that day in the summer of 2024 I was thrilled to see Maude, especially considering the trial and excitement which I had just gone through, and threw my arms around her without restraint. Cecelia watched contentedly.

“I knew if I just brought you two together there wouldn’t be any awkwardness.” She looked attentively towards Maude. “So, tea?”

Maude’s family’s cottage was quaint and pretty, overlooking the River Tees. She settled herself to putting water on to boil in the electric kettle while I sank into the comfortable, large chair facing the window, and pulled a home-knit blanket over my legs, wondering if the stains and scuff marks from climbing in the tree were painfully obvious. Once the tea was brewed, Maude deposited a warm mug in each of our hands, and folded her legs under her on the floor. She put the soles of her feet together and bent over them, her hands on her ankles.

Cecelia frowned. “What the hell are you doing?”

Maude glared back, turning slightly pink. “Yoga, you twit. I’ve been sitting at a desk all day, I’m really stiff and sore.”

“I didn’t know you were into yoga,” I commented.

“Or exercise,” Cecelia butted in. We giggled.

“Well, my friend from uni has convinced me to attend some classes with her this past year,” Maude said defensively, blushing a little deeper.

“Maybe someday you’ll be able to put your feet over your head,” Cecelia snickered. “Rose’s dream!”

“My dream!” I cried out on cue. I was, like Dad and Hugo, notoriously without flexibility. I couldn’t touch my toes from a standing position, which was a source of amusement for my two best friends. Maude laughed, and performed a quick Summoning spell on a tin of biscuits from the kitchen, which proceeded to offer itself to both Cecelia and I as it hovered in the air. She set her wand back on the coffee table in front of her.

“You have no idea how lovely it is to do magic again. Mum and Dad get a little nervous when I use magic at home, and of course there’s no chance at work. I used to perform some simple tasks around my room in halls this year but people were always barging in, it was quite risky.”

I nodded sympathetically. “Well, you could always come work for the Ministry with Cece and I.”

Maude frowned. “That hotbed of corruption and ridiculous investments? Please, Rose. It’s just so irritating that in order to be employed in the wizarding world, one has to be subject to the Ministry in some shape or form. The hospital is paid by the Ministry. The school is paid by the Ministry. It’s so limiting, and I feel sorry for people who get sucked into that.”

I glanced at Cecelia to see if she was about to jump to the defense of her internship position but she was nodding vehemently. “You’re right. Muggles have the whole world at their feet, they can do anything. Hogwarts screws us over in my opinion so we’re stuck in the wizard workforce. It’s like… like…” she thought for a moment. “It’s the same idea as Scotland giving free university education to its residents, tempting them to stay in the North. But with more free education here in the magical world. And more incentives. And less… Scotland.”

Maude and Cecelia were both Muggleborn, and had these options available to them. As for me, it had never really occurred that I could do something outside of the wizarding world. Maude had attended Muggle summer school courses all throughout Hogwarts and studied extremely hard, eventually getting accepted into a Muggle university on special conditions (I had never asked whether these conditions and involved a Confundus charm or a visit from the Hogwarts headmistress to explain things). Maude’s dream was to become a Muggle-wizard liaisons representative and to help with integration of wizards into the Muggle world and vice versa, though at the moment she seemed mostly pleased with uni and the dating and flirting opportunities it carried.

Maude was bringing the conversation back to the Ministry. “Wizards pay higher taxes than any other area or group in Great Britain, did you know that? Plus wizards who technically live in the Muggle world- like your parents, Rose- would have to pay property taxes to the Muggle government.”

Cecelia frowned. “Do you know how they negotiate income tax?” I frowned, not really sure what they were speaking about.

Maude pondered this. “Well, I think the Ministry must provide paperwork for wizards, since all of them are registered as British citizens. I think they pay a certain percent to the Ministry, and then their income is translated into pounds and they definitely pay something to the Muggle government. There’s probably a special office for these things somewhere in Gringotts. It’s terribly confusing and there aren’t many accessible records on these issues, making them all the more questionable. Really, I think the Ministry is corrupt from the core- no offense to your Mum and Dad, Rose, they’re lovely- but did you guys hear about the Blast-Ended Skrewt import scandal a last week? Not to mention the time travel device debacle, though I personally think that was just a stunt made up by the Quibbler to toy with the public a little.”

“I wish it was true,” Cecelia said passionately. I hit her with a cushion and felt my face heat up, though not for the reasons my friends expected.

“You stay away from my Uncle Harry, missy, whether it’s in this age or in the past!” I laughed, and they joined in. I decided this was the right time to move the conversation away from that dangerous route. “So, I got a letter from Scorpius the other night, looks like he’s back from Italy-” Maude looked away, and then smiled brightly.

We continued chatting about dating and the stupidity of significant others, until Maude proposed a walk around the village. This seemed incredibly appealing to me: for the handful of times I had come here to visit over the holidays, I felt like I barely knew the land at all. We wandered up the hill in the direction of the Bowes museum, where Maude was working for the summer as a front desk attendant and occasional fill-in tour guide around the museum’s collection of art.

After admiring the front of the grand old Victorian building which was closed for the evening, we wandered down the high street, stopping to buy a cookie from a local bakery that was just closing its doors. Maude paid, since neither Cecelia and I had any Muggle money left – I had spent my last pounds at the café the day before. While London stayed open and awaiting for hours into the night, sleepy tourist villages like Barnard Castle fell asleep with the sunset.

“Maude, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the castle itself,” I said hesitantly as we walked slowly. Maude smiled at and greeted an old man walking his bow-legged dog – she seemed to know most of the people around, and glanced at me.

“We could go have a look if you’d like! It’s just a ruin, some of the towers and fortifications are still there.”

“How old is it?” I asked, thinking of the dark shape I had seen in the distance from my perch in the tree before Richard rescued me from it. Maude shrugged, and called back after the old man who had passed us.

“Excuse me, Mr. Dunham?”

The pensioner turned around slowly, grinning at Maude. “Yes, dear, can I help you?”

“Do you know how old the castle is up the hill there? My mate would like to know.”

“Eh, I’d say about twelfth century, no later,” he called back, rounding out the words about and no with his pleasant Northern burr. “Have a nice night now, dear.”

“Thanks, Mr. Dunham! And goodbye, Sport!” Maude called back. She turned back to our raised eyebrows.

“What? This is the north. You two have been in London far too long: here, everyone greets everyone else and their dogs.” She whistled a little, leading us up the slope and across a small area of green in the direction of a gray tower poking up above the shops and trees, leading us to a short fence and little booth which a boy around our age was just locking up.

“Oi, Jamie!” Maude called, and the boy turned, startled. “You alright? Would it be okay if my friends and I went and had a look around the castle?”

Jamie was a short, stocky fellow with spiky hair. He blushed shyly and chuckled, not making eye contact with Cecelia or me. “Yeah, I guess that should be okay, Maude. Just don’t tell any of the old timeys, they’re right strict about them things. It’s nice to see you back, Maude.”

“And you, Jamie. I’m working up at Bowes this summer, you should come by and say hi,” she responded cordially. “Come on, then.” She climbed delicately over the wooden fence, Cecelia and I giggling and following.

“Thanks for being cool, Jamie,” I called over my shoulder, and snickered. Maude elbowed me and whispered to keep the poor bloke from getting his hopes up: she’d heard he’d never been snogged in sixth form and doubted that status had changed much since.

The walk to the castle involved trekking across some damp grass in the evening glow on a slightly uphill slant. The ruins became clearer and clearer: the great stone towers looming out over the horizon, and the tumbling of walls and rocky wasteland in the remains of the ancient fortress. I wondered if the man from the dream (as I was now referring to the incident in my head to avoid sounding mad, even with only my own company), if Richard, the man who had kissed me with such knowing passion, lived here, and if he had walked these very same footsteps. How many years ago had that been? Why had I been transferred to that specific place in time, and how in hell was I supposed to figure out when it was? I knew next to nothing about history of the area, about customs. I had a few names, and the knowledge that the men had been hunting, and their costume, and that was all.

I wondered idly if the change into the dream had been spurred by Apparition. It would make sense, I thought to myself, trying to think like Archie, if that was the cause. But why the result? Richard had hardly seemed shocked to find me there. He had welcomed me like an old friend – a beloved, lost lover even. He had known my name, and kissed me, for Merlin’s sake. Had I travelled back in time before and simply forgotten it by some spell or enchantment? Or perhaps he had mistaken me for some other red-haired Rose, a country girl perhaps who liked to hide in trees and spy upon hunters in the area of Barnard Castle and wear trousers. The most plausible yet impossible solution was that I must end up going back sometime in my future, and the idea that the past was ordained and the future configured chilled me more than I could say. Did I have a choice in what I would do next? The years before I had foolishly taken that potion seemed so peaceful and quiet now. Had I chosen my fate when I asked Archie about the time travel device, or had my fate chosen me like a puppet-master and her pet?

We walked the contours of the ruin, once, overlooking the lovely river Tees from the castle’s strategic location on overlooking the gorge and a mild cliff. I wondered if Richard had lived here long, if it was his castle and he a prince. A dark prince: he certainly had the look of it. Or perhaps the castle belonged to one of the men who had laughed at me and teased the huntsman, lords reminding the lowly of their place. I wished I had thought to ask what year it was, or what age- though what a truly silly question that would have been. Though the man seemed to know me, to expect me: he questioned nothing. Perhaps it would not have been so silly after all.

“Rose?” Maude linked her arm with mine. Cecelia had run ahead like a child and was balancing on one of the strips of lingering castle walls, placing one nimble foot in front of the other like a circus acrobat. “Are we alright? After the whole thing that happened before exams? You seem a little distracted.”

“It’s fine,” I told her, patting her arm with my free one. “Really, we talked about it and I know nothing was your fault, and even if it had been your fault I know I’d have forgiven you anyway. I’m sorry, I’ve just been really busy and tired lately, and having some strange dreams.” She smiled, face pale and pretty in the settling dusk, and leaned her head against my shoulder. I leaned my head back against hers for a small moment, then straightened. “So, are you going to tell me all about this yoga-loving friend of yours? I know you’ve been dying to: I can read you like an open book, Miss Maudie.”

Maude giggled and checked her hip gently against mine. She told me how she had fallen over and yelped in embarrassment during yoga and I told her about the pigeon incident and how humiliating it had been to sit in the front seat while Dad was questioned by some very baffled Muggle police, and we both giggled. I felt a sense of peace descend on me, like the feeling I had when I arrived at the Burrow during the Christmas holidays and gave Grandad a kiss on his cheek and Nan a great hug. A feeling of peace, like coming home.

The next couple days passed without any great excitement or upheaval. I waited carefully in case the time-traveling potion was still in my body, I was careful to take the Floo network to and from the Ministry to avoid Apparating, in case I was correct about that causing the shift to happen. I had even arranged that night for Maude’s fireplace to be hooked up to the Floo network for an hour, calling in a favour to the Department of Magical Transportation. Each night I took the tiny flask out again from the jewelry box in which I had stashed it, turning it over in my hands, even lifting it to my lips once or twice, but not drinking again.

I saw Archie Archimago once in the Ministry, but avoided him as easily as a tall redhead could avoid anyone. He was muttering earnestly with a tall, spindly man with an impressive black handlebar moustache in Unspeakable robes, and didn’t even blink as I walked by. I kept my head lowered regardless. I was certain that he would see the guilt on my face, and I did feel guilty for abusing the trust he had placed in me by showing me around the secrets of the Department of Mysteries. Louis, when I saw him, mentioned nothing about any break-ins or reported stolen potions, and I hoped that there were simply enough that nobody would think to notice one tiny flask missing. I dearly hoped so.

I kept thinking of the strange feeling of passing through time, though I had not realized it in the moment; of seeing the same location in two different forms, two different ages and worlds. I found myself wondering what London might have looked like in Richard’s time: what would have stood where my house in Barnet now was. I wondered again if it had just been an illusion. I played the stranger Richard’s kiss, his keen smile, his stern eyes, over and over again in my thoughts. I wondered who his Rose could possibly be.

Yet there was one more image which haunted me, and that was the strange, genderless, featureless face I had seen glaring back at me as I flew through centuries to return to the present, where I belonged. It was the face of an angel, or a demon, pale and lifeless. In a moment of fancy I thought it must be the face of my own soul, or my own death, staring back at me for daring to go where no human had trod before.

Cecelia kept me distracted from these thoughts with tales of her encounters with Atticus Voltaire, the pretentious former Head Boy who seemed to be her own personal ghoul. She complained to me at the café on Friday that he had shown up at her cubicle and proceeded to inform her about the current case she was working on and how her reports could be better structured in terms of grammar and phonetics. Cecelia complained that it wasn’t his job to reprimand her. Atticus Voltaire replied that her cubicle was untidy and unseemly. Cecelia told him to get out of her space (she said it much more rudely than that). Atticus sniffed deeply and narrowed his eyes at her and whirled on his heel, leaving a trail of fragrant man-perfume behind him that Cecelia said reminded her of the smell of some of the more questionable London clubs.

Naturally being the recipient of Cecelia’s dramatic side of the story, I was highly amused and intrigued when Atticus Voltaire (apparently his last name was actually Smith, though Cecelia always called him by both his first and middle names) pulled up a chair to sit with us at the café that day, twirling the chair around on the back leg before sitting down primly, his head held high in the air as though there were a string attaching it to the ceiling, or he was a Victorian lady practicing her posture at finishing school.

He shook my hand in a soft and flimsy way, earning my immediate skepticism, and left my poor palm with a slight impression of his sweat. I wiped it on trouser leg under the table. He proceeded to chatter away about his rising position in the Department and how several of the heads –I assume he did not know I was Hermione Granger’s daughter, from the way he kept enthusiastically mentioning her without acknowledgement to me- and how he had Ministerial aspirations someday. When he began praising his own father (referred to as ‘Papa’ with an extra emphasis on the last syllable) and mentioning Papa’s high yearly salary Cecelia decided she had enough and chose the less impactful option of either hexing Atticus Voltaire right there or squealing something about a meeting via Floo and buggered off, the bottom of her skirt flaring behind her.

On Friday night, Mum reminded me to free my schedule on Sunday afternoon as we were meant to have a family get-together to celebrate Roxy’s return from the continent. Being a rotten older cousin, I had completely forgotten and, slightly guiltily, promised I would attend. I hadn’t seen much of my extended family, besides the few who worked at the Ministry and occasionally crossed my path- for over a month. Dad had me promise to distract Uncle Percy if he tried to pester Dad about his lack of advancement in the Auror department, and Mum scolded him and told me not to listen to anything her husband said. She commanded this with a loving smile, however, and gave Dad a little kiss on the cheek as if she couldn’t resist and Dad turned bright red. Hugo and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes and cleared the table without being asked, and without magic, either.

That night, I dreamt of black horses and dark princes with steady hands and silver chains about their necks.

Middleham Castle, 1483

It happened two weeks after Rose’s last arrival, after magic had once again ripped her away from him even as he held onto her and tried to keep her close. The messenger came, rode hard from London with the news that would shatter not only Richard’s carefully controlled world but that of the entire country, held together by fragile ties of peace and prosperity. All thoughts of Rose were usurped from Richard’s head as he rode on the long road to the south, towards the city of London which crawled with filth and corruption, to the council which would already be bickering amongst itself, the great lords at each others throats.

He was the last of his brothers. First, there had been a boy, born dead and buried in a tiny coffin. The second to die had been his brother Edmund, cut down in battle like a common footsoldier, his head stuck onto a pike outside the Micklegate to leer down on visitors to that mighty city of York, bearing the grisly trophy of the family who bore the city’s name. The third to die was George, killed for his own folly and ambition. And now, Edward, that shining prince who had once been the glorious Edward of March, the eldest son of their great house who struck down the enemies in the night with the fire of Heaven in his eyes and the might of God in his sword arm, was gone. And he was the king, and Richard had loved him devotedly, had sworn his loyalty and led battle charges and sliced down any who dared approach the glorious king who had battered down the enemy until their heir was dead and all which remained of the fallen house of Lancaster was a boy in exile, descended from bastards who earned his bloodline through a mere woman, and a wicked old warrior queen without her heir and her pious husband dead with the same stroke that had felled her son. But now Edward was gone as well, and Richard was alone, the last of the York brothers, alone except for the three sons of his brothers and his own son, none of whom were ready for the responsibilities of being a York in this age.

Richard had not protected his brother George: he had hated him, at times, and thought he had deserved to die. He had not known that his brother Edward the king was taken so ill, and dead so quickly: he had prepared himself for a life in the north, holding the border against Scotland, teaching his little son to ride a pony, and waiting, vigilantly and with some hidden hopes, that Rose might return to him and fill his simple life with the joy and wit with which she always infused it.

Yet everything had changed with the death of the king. In a single night, England had gone from secure, with a strong-minded, battle-hardy king and the dynasty he had founded, with two strong, clever boys and a handful of pretty daughters, towards the state of dangerous instability which led to civil war, that could only end in battle. The new boy king was twelve-year old Edward, the Prince of Wales, a capable, clever boy, held at Ludlow in Wales by the new dowager queen’s brother and men loyal to her. The boy was a son of the queen through and through, the son of the commoner woman Richard’s brother had raised up to the divine position of head of England, and Richard knew, deeply and truly, that she would put that boy on the throne and rule through him, and a puppet boy and a woman’s head were no match for the fierce lords of England. They would tear the child apart, and England with him. He saw it, and he did not need the advice of a sooth-sayer or astronomer to tell him that if the boy Edward held the throne, he would only hold it for as long as it took for the nation his father had worked so hard to preserve to descend into chaos.

Richard tried to harden his heart against Rose. She is a figment of your imagining, he told himself sternly, patting his black charger on the neck as their party slowed to turn in to an inn for the night. He thought of the old tales of faeries and changelings. He thought of what had to be done, for love of his brother’s legacy, for love of England and the York duty, determined by God, a divine right to possess and be worthy of. At the inn, he called to a page boy for ink and paper, and for a fast messenger. He was about to change, to change to a man Rose could not love again. He would ride straight for Wales to find his nephew, and he, and he alone, would control the boy king.

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