Excerpt: 'The White Queen'

"Who is this?" he asks, still looking at me.

"Your Grace, this is my mother, Lady Elizabeth Grey," my son Thomas says politely, and he pulls off his cap and drops to his knee.

Richard on my other side kneels too and mutters, as if he cannot be heard, "Is this the king? Really? He is the tallest man I have ever seen in my life!"

I sink down into a curtsey but I cannot look away. Instead, I gaze up at him, as a woman might stare with hot eyes at a man she adores.

"Rise up," he says. His voice is low, for only me to hear. "Have you come to see me?"

"I need your help," I say. I can hardly form the words. I feel as if the love potion, which my mother soaked into the scarf billowing from my headdress, is drugging me, not him. "I cannot obtain my dowry lands, my jointure, now I am widowed." I stumble in the face of his smiling interest. "I am a widow now. I have nothing to live on." "A widow?"

"My husband was Sir John Grey. He died at St. Albans," I say. It is to confess his treason and the damnation of my sons. The king will recognize the name of the commander of his enemy's cavalry. I nip my lip. "Their father did his duty as he conceived it to be, Your Grace; he was loyal to the man he thought was king. My boys are innocent of anything."

"He left you these two sons?" He smiles down at my boys.

"The best part of my fortune," I say. "This is Richard and this is Thomas Grey."

He nods at my boys, who gaze up at him as if he were some kind of high-bred horse, too big for them to pet but a figure for awestruck admiration, and then he looks back to me. "I am thirsty," he says. "Is your home near here?" "We would be honored..." I glance at the guard who rides with him. There must be more than a hundred of them. He chuckles. "They can ride on," he decides. "Hastings!" The older man turns and waits. "You go on to Grafton. I will catch you up. Smollett can stay with me, and Forbes. I will come in an hour or so."

Sir William Hastings looks me up and down as if I am a pretty piece of ribbon for sale. I show him a hard stare in reply, and he takes off his hat and bows to me, throws a salute to the king, shouts to the guard to mount up.

"Where are you going?" he asks the king.

The boy-king looks at me.

"We are going to the house of my father, Baron Rivers, Sir Richard Woodville," I say proudly, though I know the king will recognize the name of a man who was high in the favor of the Lancaster court, fought for them, and once took hard words from him in person when York and Lancaster were daggers drawn. We all know of one another well enough, but it is a courtesy generally observed to forget that we were all loyal to Henry VI once, until these turned traitor.

Sir William raises his eyebrow at his king's choice for a stopping place. "Then I doubt that you'll want to stay very long," he says unpleasantly, and rides on. The ground shakes as they go by, and they leave us in warm quietness as the dust settles.

"My father has been forgiven and his title restored," I say defensively. "You forgave him yourself after Towton." "I remember your father and your mother," the king says equably. "I have known them since I was a boy in good times and bad. I am only surprised that they never introduced me to you."

I have to stifle a giggle. This is a king notorious for seduction. Nobody with any sense would let their daughter meet him. "Would you like to come this way?" I ask. "It is a little walk to my father's house."

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