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Play the Devil by Lululuna
Chapter 9 : Richard
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 4

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Chapter Nine

wonderful image by lady.luck at tda.

Richard Plantagenet, youngest brother to the king of England, admiral of England, duke of Gloucester, woke early with the sun and spent its hours of rising at Mass. He broke his fast in his room, sent his man away and dressed himself in his riding clothes. He opened the shutters of the fine windows of the ducal suite of the castle and breathed in the country air, grateful again to have escaped London.

Richard felt a little uneasy, sleeping in the rooms his father had once owned and occupied. He had been a child when he left Fotheringay, his father had been still warm in his grave, and while he was content to return to their ancestral home the place bore memories, some good and some more difficult to face. When he saw a woman, the wife of the castle’s steward, descend to her knees in front of the cross, he saw for a moment his dear sister Margaret, who had been sent away to Burgundy to marry the new queen’s kinsman there and whom Richard thought of with great love and tenderness. The comfortable chatter of a husband and wife echoing through the corridor was the sound of his father and mother sharing the news of the court and the tenants after a long time apart.

Though he had tried hard to ignore the events of yesterday with Agnes and the young woman with the red hair, he had lain in his bed, body exhausted and aching from the long ride, unable to fall asleep. He remembered it over and over again in his mind: the young lady’s start of recognition, her frank, eager eyes with her hair tumbling about her shoulders, how she seemed to shine in the dark little cottage like a beacon from the stained glass windows which seemed to watch him as he prayed.

And there was another scene which haunted him: that of a young boy and his nurse, holding hands and playing at lords and highwaymen in the thicket of trees which bordered Fotheringay, always in sight of the castle. Agnes had been a wonderful, delightful caretaker: she had told him in her kind, simple voice that he needed to learn to be brave, to think beyond the regular confines of boys’ minds. She would take him to the woods to play for in the woods there was danger and intrigue that there was not in the fields and open areas where his brother George and his sisters Lizzie and Maggie played together, often excluding the youngest and smallest of their family. Agnes had let him be the highwayman when they played, and she the knight, chasing his delighted giggles through the thick weave of trees, half exhilarated and half terrified there would be a dip in the forest and he would come face to face with a true convict, or one of the wild wolves which were rumored to roam these parts and which sometimes killed his father’s sheep when the creatures were neglected by certain lazy and drunkard tenants of Fotheringay, who, like many serfs, were likely to squander their earnings on vices and loose women.

But Agnes had told him stories of Faerieland and magic, and women who appeared in misty groves to take young knights errant as their lovers. She had read to him the great Arthurian romances: Richard had chosen not to ask why his humble village nurse could read English so smoothly, with only a slight hesitancy in her voice. Peasants were usually illiterate. She read the different voices of the characters perfectly. She told him stories of beautiful fairy women who never grew old, who loved their knights even as their swords became heavier and their bodies weaker and their beards to turn to gray, and who would eventually disappear from the knight with a kiss and blessing upon his weary head, never to be seen again in this life, but to return to Faerieland and mourn the loss of their human love.

Richard had loved these stories, and once, he met a fairy lady in the thicket as he ran from Agnes playing the knight. He had turned the corner and come face to face with her. She was tall, taller than his mother or sisters, and far more beautiful, with a halo of golden red shining in the summer sunlight. He had cried out in surprise, and asked if she was an angel. She had laughed and taken his hand and asked him to bring her to his nurse, for she had important tidings for both of them.

And they had sat and talked, and the strange lady had pulled him onto her lap and kissed the top of his head, and he’d noticed there were tears in her pretty brown eyes. She had told him a story and asked him to fetch her a flower. Richard had obliged, and as he turned to search for a worthy bloom the woman had quietly asked Agnes for a handkerchief, and whispered something to her and Richard had been very curious. He had found a lovely flower and returned to bring it to the lady, but when he looked back she was gone, and Agnes was tucking something into her dress.

He had asked Agnes where the lady had gone, and Agnes said she had returned to her world, but never fear for she had promised to return someday. Richard had asked Agnes whether she was a fairy lady, and the good woman had laughed and said he was a precious boy and yes, if he could remember the fairy lady then she would return to him someday, it was a promise. Richard had thought of her many days since then: as a boy he had looked in the moat and the river, expecting to see her emerge from it like a mermaid or naiad of the tales of old. He had searched the thicket, hoping to see her bright, kind face smiling at him from behind a tree, ready to accept his gift of a flower. But then his father and brother had been killed in battle, and Richard and his brother George had been taken away to Flanders, and when they had returned he had been sent to Middleham to live among the young charges of the earl of Warwick, and he had not dared to speak of her then, not dared to look for the fairy lady in the tamed wild of Middleham. And so he had all but forgotten her.

That is, until the fairy girl had appeared in Agnes’ cottage.

Richard liked to internally boast of his denial of fate. Virtue and respect were won through personal fortitude and hard work. He himself was a living example of this: he was the weak boy nobody had paid attention to, the runt of the litter, with a twist in his back, yet he had worked hard and was now a great rider, a strong fighter, who could wield a sword as gracefully and forcefully as any larger man. He was one of the great peers of the land at only sixteen years old: the king trusted his word over their other brother, George, and praised Richard on his loyalty and wisdom. Richard had worked for everything he had: none of it had been pre-determined. He did not believe in a future destiny, only in the sweat and personal toil of the present.

His brother the king believed it had been fate that he had met his bride, the lowly Elizabeth Woodville, eldest daughter of a simply country squire of the enemy Lancastrians. Edward had ignored the Privy Council, ignored his greatest friend and champion, the earl of Warwick, to marry the girl for love and raise her up to the throne. Yet he had not regretted it for a moment. She is my past, present and future, Edward had told his younger brother. It matters not what is her station in life, for she was born to be my queen, and she is the destiny of this country, of our dynasty, just as it was my fate to win these wars and bring England into peace. It made Richard uncomfortable, this talk of destiny as truth. He thought the wars had been won based on the strength of the Yorkist armies and the might of their commanders, of the brave footsoldiers who were once farmworkers, of the great lords who had given their souls and their men to the cause. Edward being king was no trope of God, but a mere twist of chance, won through the blood and destruction of many good men.

Yet, when Richard rode out that day, he let the reins hang low and loose on Apollo’s neck, easing the gelding into a brisk walk through the morning sunlight. It had been an uncommonly hot summer thus far, yet it was still early in the day and the sun had not yet risen far overhead. Several of his guests and gentlemen had asked Richard if they would like company as he rode out: he had politely declined, sick to death of the patronizing, eagerness to please of those men. They wanted him in their pockets: they wanted his approval, he who had the ear of the king, and he had hoped to escape them by retreating to Fotheringay. Lord Stanley had said he would leave that day, a few others following, so Richard hoped he had bought a few days of solitude in his native county.

Apollo shook his head happily and pranced a little: Richard imagined he must be pleased to be free to hang his head and relax after the long ride of the day before. The road to London was a long one that both horse and rider made many times, and Richard knew how hard his favorite mount worked to please him. He was surprised when Apollo’s steady walk led him down into the village.

The tenants of the cottages there were up in the early morning: they bowed or curtsied upon seeing the young duke and said they were pleased to have his presence there among them. They knew enough to treat him as the brother of the King, but with that curious familiarity of those observing a boy they had seen grow up.

Richard nodded and smiled at the pack of boys who stopped in their tracks and the one bold child among them who asked if he might give Apollo a pat: the wee beggar had darted quickly away from the horse’s neck, frightened that the charger’s mighty hooves might step on his bare feet. Richard was indeed surprised as he found Apollo stopping in front of Agnes’ cottage, where he had received a carrot the day before: he nearly laughed to see the horse’s ears prick expectantly and his pawing of the dirt, and the loud, happy snort which escaped him.

“You are a mischievous lad,” Richard told his horse, hoping that none of the villagers had overheard him. They were busy: the men preparing to return to the fields and animals which they tended, the women setting about those mysterious domestic arts of making bread and tidying the cottages. Richard dismounted and, almost a little hesitantly, knocked on the door of the cottage.

The strange girl, the fairy girl, was the one who opened it, a shy smile on her face. She was wearing a shabby dress which was a little short for her, the hem dangling a few inches above her thin ankles. Richard fought to keep his gaze from going there, commanding thoughts of her bare skin from the night before to keep out of his head. Her face was clean and bright, her hair tied back in a tidy braid which coiled over her shoulder. She fidgeted a little under his gaze: finally, she seemed to remember her place and dropped a clumsy, odd sort of curtsey, more of an awkward bob than anything else, almost as if her knees had given out.

“Erm, can I help you?” She asked, wrinkling her nose a little. “Agnes went out early this morning, I don’t know when she’ll be back. She said I was to wait here and open the door if there was a caller… so I did.”

She was still holding the door open. Apollo nudged Richard’s arm, knocking him slightly off balance as he caught him unawares, and he stumbled over his own feet. To his surprise, the girl giggled.

“Sorry,” she said, when he glanced at her, puzzled. “He just seems very forceful, that’s all.” She reached out to Apollo and let him sniff her hand, like a lady and a lapdog, then reached out and scratched his forelock. “I think he needs a good brushing,” she said frankly to Richard, showing him her hand which was now covered in a faint, thin layer of gray grime. “Or a horse bath. Whatever you call it these days.”

Her eyes seemed to sparkle in the sunlight. Richard was having trouble processing her strange speech patterns and the informal, amused way she seemed to be addressing him.

“What be your name?” he blurted out, glancing at the floor. His voice sounded soft and weak, even to him. He realized he was staring at her pretty, exposed ankles and quickly moved his gaze up—no, that wouldn’t do either. He settled for staring at a spot on her forehead, so he wouldn’t be too distracted by her bold gaze.

The girl laughed. “You’d know this, if you hadn’t been so occupied being rude last night.” Richard felt a little ashamed, though he was a prince of the realm and this girl was surely a nobody. She was in no place to manipulate his emotions. “My name is Rose, Rose Weasley,” the girl informed him, seeming to take pity.

“I am Richard, the duke of Gloucester and patron lord of his estate,” he said simply. The girl nodded, raising one eyebrow a little, as if to say she already knew this. “And I apologize for last night… Mistress Rose.”

“Just Rose is perfectly fine,” she said airily. Richard swallowed, working up his reserve.

“Mistress Rose, I wonder only if you have a bit of a carrot for Apollo here, he seems to be quite peckish.” He rubbed the horse’s neck affectionately. “Greedy little bastard.” Talking about Apollo felt safe and comfortable.

“Little indeed,” The girl- Rose- said between her teeth, and she fetched a carrot from inside, still with a bit of soil from the earth, Richard thought. He watched as she held it out, palm flat to Apollo, smiling, then wiped the horse spit on her new dress. He thought how pretty she would look in proper gowns befitting such beauty: there were several in storage at the castle, leftovers from when his mother and sisters had lived there.

“Would you care to come for a turn with me about the village?” Richard blurted out, though his words felt slow and small in his mouth. He hated himself for sounding so nervous and apprehensive, but was relieved when Rose smiled and nodded.

“That would be nice. You can tell me about why you were so rude last night, and I can explain how I knew your name.”

“Indeed,” Richard said, still not smiling. He waited as she clumsily tied a bonnet the color of dust around her hair, dimming its radiance for a moment, and smiled at him brightly as she closed the door. They were just about the same height, their eyes at a similar level. He held out an arm for her to take, as if she were a lady-in-waiting going for a stroll with him in the gardens around Westminster palace, but she did not seem to notice this and strolled along beside him, scuffing her feet in the dirt a little and swinging her arms by her sides. Richard lowered his hand a little awkwardly and matched her pace. He noticed one string of her bonnet was uneven and brushing at her collarbone.

She turned to him, sharply. “When I… arrived here, last night, I think I may have dropped something from my bag. Would you like to help me look for it, if we’re going on this walk together?” The last two words came out a little sharply, though he thought there was a playful tilt to her lips. “It’s over this way, I think, from the spot where Agnes fo-er, picked me up.”

“Were you picked up by the road?” Richard asked, deciding to keep his eyes ahead. He enclosed his gloved hand around the clasp in Apollo’s reins and tried to relax a little, to make his walk less military, less mechanical, in case she was watching. Her long red braid swung vigorously between her shoulder blades.

“Yes, I suppose so,” Rose said after a moment. He followed her a short distance from the town, nearing the edge of the woods where he had so often played with Agnes as a child, where he had first met the fairy lady. They walked in silence, Rose whistling an unfamiliar song. He caught the gaze of a man carrying a large rake: the man paused, staring at Rose, then nodded and did a little bow when he caught Richard looking at him.

Rose looked around. “Here,” she said, standing at the side of the space in the road, one direction leading through the village. “It’s here where I came from, and it must be here somewhere. The grass is not so long as that, will you help me look? I’m looking for a flask with a po-with a liquid in it, a medicinal drink given to me by a physician. I may have dropped it when I arrived here.”

“I will help you,” Richard said graciously. So he and Rose began to comb over each inch of the territory. Rose muttered a little to herself: he watched her bite her lip several times, a look of deep concern on her face. “Is it of great need or value to you, this medicine?”

Rose smiled ruefully. “I don’t think it would be very useful to me now, to be honest. It’s more that I could get in a lot of trouble were it found and drunk by the wrong people.” She kicked the grass lightly with her foot. “I don’t think it’s here. Why don’t you show me around the territory here? I’m very new to the area.”

Richard decided he wasn’t quite ready to take her to the place where he had seen the fairy lady. In the face of this lively, strange-spoken girl in front of him, that distant, cherished childhood memory was beginning to slip more and more into the likes of a dream. Instead he led her about the fields of the area, and to a spot he quite enjoyed with a favorable view over the castle and village atop a small hill.

“Let’s sit here for a little,” Rose declared, throwing herself down onto the grass. She stretched her legs out in front of her and supported her torso with her palms flat on the grass, gazing around her. “It’s a beautiful view, really. Nothing looks like this where I come from.”

Richard hesitated. Hardly knowing why he was obeying her, Richard loosened Apollo’s bridle and slipped the bit out of his mouth so that the horse could graze. His plans of going for a morning ride had come to fruition, though neither Apollo nor his internal consciousness seemed to be complaining. He loosened Apollo’s girth and settled down a respectable distance away from Rose. She was now ripping up the grass with her fists.

“Why didn’t you just take off his gear and let him graze properly?” she asked without looking at him. “He could just as easily run away now: it’s not as if you’re touching the reins or anything. I’m sure neither of us could catch him.”

Richard frowned. “I suppose. But if I let him go, then… when he’s wearing his tack he knows he’s been mastered. He knows not to run away. If I were to remove it, he might forget his duty.”

“Poor thing,” Rose said softly. She picked a dandelion and began idly picking off its tiny petals.

Richard chose to ignore this. It was a typical comment of a woman: women who did not know the knight’s dependence on the loyalty of his horse, who he relied upon above any man.

“Tell me, Mistress Rose,” he said carefully. “Where exactly did you come from? I believe,” and here a small smile played about his lips, though he fought to hide it. “I believe you promised to let me know how you knew my name, yet did not address me as a woman of the peasant class should.” A thought which had berating at him suddenly found its voice. “You’re not truly a peasant, are you, ma’am?” He disguised the hope in his voice with the mastery of a courtier.

Rose glanced at him through her lashes, and waited a moment before answering. “No, and I suspect that a man of your, erm, station, would not ask just any peasant woman to go for a walk.” She did not directly answer his question, a fact which did not go unnoticed.

“If I were in London, and you were a woman of the court,” Richard said quietly, “then simply to be alone with you and only Apollo as a chaperone would be improper. You would have taken my arm and talked politely with me about the flower arrangements and the weather and other little things. But you would not sit on the ground in my presence, you would not speak to me first.”

“That sounds ridiculous,” Rose said, lying back in the grass. Her fingers curled around the end of her braid and she stroked the strands, gazing up at the clouds. “Why the hell would you want to speak with a woman who can only talk about the weather? Though I will say,” and here she pointed with a slim finger to the skies, “I will say, on that subject, that this cloud overhead is very interestingly shaped. It looks like a telescope, not that I think you know what that means.” She cocked her head to the side. “And from this angle it looks like something else, though I won’t frighten you into more of this talk of the perfect polite woman by saying what it is out loud.” She smirked and snorted quietly to herself. Richard was simply puzzled. He looked up at the cloud: it looked like a shapeless mass to his eyes.

“Are you a noble lady in the realm where you come from?” Richard asked, shaken but persistent. The mention of ‘hell’ had set him aback. He did not often hear fine women speak in this way. “Is it France, perhaps, or even Flanders? I have lived in Flanders before, when I was a boy.”

“A place more similar to England than anything,” Rose said, not taking her eyes off the clouds.

“Then how did you come to be living at the home of a humble goodwife such as Agnes?” Richard asked, getting a little impatient with her veiled responses. He glanced at Apollo, who was chewing up great mouthfuls of grass. In the village beneath them down the slope of the hill, he could see the people going about their days. A young man and his sweetheart were holding hands gently in the shadows beneath one of the thatched roofs, out of sight of from the road.

“It was an accident that I ended up here,” Rose said slowly. “I was supposed to be going up into Scotland to, uh, visit my family, but I, well I decided against it and asked the… carriage to drop me off here instead. It felt like the right place to end up. I’m on the run from some people I don’t care for, you see. The truth is…” she seemed to ponder this for a moment. Richard thought she must be pained to speak of the subject: he was about to say that she need not speak of her trials, if it would cause her anguish, when her voice regained its confidence. “The truth it that I was engaged to be married to a horrible, awful man, a light-haired jerk-erm, a scoundrel!”

“I am sorry to hear that,” Richard said, feeling a little disappointed despite himself that Rose was to be married. His dream of the fairy lady was fast fading. “But the Scots are a wild and treacherous people, and I am afraid you would not have found safe passage through their parts. Perhaps it is best you abandoned your plans. However, should you not obey your father and marry this man, if it is his plan for you?”

At this, Rose laughed out loud, her chest rising and falling in a great gasp. Richard noticed how her face contorted when she laughed, truly laughed: her eyes became little slits, her lips curled up and her white teeth and gums were bared to the skies, the skin around her eyes and cheekbones wrinkling. “Oh, I promise you, my father did not approve of my… betrothed.”

Richard was puzzled: to his knowledge, couples were wedded on the basis of their mutual benefit to each other. A man might marry his daughter to his friend and trading partner for a debt he owed the man. A princess might be sent to a foreign land as a bride to ensure mutual friendship between the two nations. Rarely were couples married for love, and indeed, a woman rarely had any choice in her husband. For Rose to run away from a bad betrothal was madness, and illegal, yet he was somewhat glad.

“What was this scoundrel’s name?” he asked her, hoping his voice did not betray his interest in the matter. He did not recall seeing Rose at court, but if she truly was a noble daughter from another land that might explain it. He assumed she must be promised to an English gentleman.

Rose thought for a moment. “Scorpius, is his name. Scorpius Malfoy. But you probably wouldn’t know him. He likes to keep away from the public eye… on his estates. He lives in a dungeon, in fact. He rarely has contact with the outside world.”

Malfoy- perhaps a member of the French nobility? Richard thought. The name rung a slight chord in his memory, though he could not completely place it. “What has this poor gentleman done to earn such hate and respite from his intended lady?”

“Intended, good one,” Rose scoffed. “Well, first of all, Malfoy cheated on me.” Richard frowned- had he cheated at cards and stolen some coin from her – coin that would have become his anyway once they were wedded? “He… he was with another woman, or tried to be with her,” Rose explained, biting her lip angrily. “And then, after we fought about it, he showed up to an event with my cousin. He’s horrible, and I’m very over him. I’d much prefer to have another, a more honorable… suitor.” Richard thought he might have imagined it, but she seemed to glance up at him intently, as if willing him to remember or say something. He thought of a fleeting moment of telling her about the fairy lady but decided against it- it was madness, and this was no spritely woman of air and wind, but a flesh and blood girl.

Privately, Richard was quite surprised that Rose was so incensed about the infidelity of her fiancé. Men were well known to dally with other women, even when wedded: Richard supposed it was a casualty of the lack of love which pervaded so many advantageous marriages. His brother Edward, for example, who had married the lowly Elizabeth for love, had kept several mistresses throughout their marriage, as well as several visits to certain houses and businesses housed in London which made a profitable sum off the gentlemen of the king’s court. The idea that men should and would stay faithful to their wives was a laughable one, though Richard did not want to upset Rose by informing her so.

“That is no sign of an honorable man, and I wish you were blessed with a more virtuous suitor,” he said instead. Rose smiled kindly up at him.

“Thank you, and I’m glad you understand my predicament and why I am so alone and friendless here,” she said.

“You shall be friendless no more, my lady, for I shall have a room at the castle here made up for you, and you shall be under my protection for the duration of my stay here at Fotheringay castle,” Richard informed her, feeling quite grand and chivalrous. His shoulders straightened a little at his own generosity, but more than that, his heart beat a little faster at this chance to spend a little more time with this outspoken and interesting young woman. “The servants will treat you as a lady, and you will dine with my guests and I as an honored visitor.”

Rose blushed. For the first time, she seemed a little shy. “That’s really nice of you,” she said softly. “Thank you, I appreciate it. And I’ll try not to embarrass you in front of your guests.”

Before Richard could ask what that meant, she was on her feet again, having scrambled up quite unceremoniously. Richard rather thought that a true lady would have waited for him to offer to lift her up: instead, she stuck out her bare, clean hand with a friendly smile.

“Go on,” she told the boy, the young man, on the ground. “I’m strong enough, I won’t bite.” And he cautiously put his hand in hers, feeling the warmth of her skin even through his glove.

AN: The Arthurian romances referred to here would have been written by Sir Thomas Malory in 'The Morte Darthur,' although they were transmitted in many texts and forms over the centuries. Okay, I'm confusing myself with these citations, but I definitely don't own any Arthurian romances. Hope you guys liked, thanks for reading! ♥

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