"D'you want a ride, boys?" he asks them. Their heads bob up like imploring ducklings. "You can both go up," he says, and lifts Richard and then Thomas into the saddle. "Now hold tight. You on to your brother and you—Thomas, is it?—you hold on to the pommel."
He loops the rein over his arm and then offers me his other arm, and so we walk to my home, through the wood, under the shade of the trees. I can feel the warmth of his arm through the slashed fabric of his sleeve. I have to stop myself leaning towards him. I look ahead to the house and to my mother's window and see, from the little movement behind the mullioned panes of glass, that she has been looking out, and willing this very thing to happen.
She is at the front door as we approach, the groom of the household at her side. She curtseys low. "Your Grace," she says pleasantly, as if the king comes to visit every day. "You are very welcome to Grafton Manor."
A groom comes running and takes the reins of the horse to lead it to the stable yard. My boys cling on for the last few yards, as my mother steps back and bows the king into the hall. "Will you take a glass of small ale?" she asks. "Or we have a very good wine from my cousins in Burgundy?"
"I'll take the ale, if you please," he says agreeably. "It is thirsty work riding. It is hot for spring. Good day to you, Lady Rivers."
The high table in the great hall is laid with the best glasses and a jug of ale as well as the wine. "You are expecting company?" he asks.
She smiles at him. "There is no man in the world could ride past my daughter," she says. "When she told me she wanted to put her own case to you, I had them draw the best of our ale. I guessed you would stop." He laughs at her pride, and turns to smile at me. "Indeed, it would be a blind man who could ride past you," he says. I am about to make some little comment, but again it happens. Our eyes meet, and I can think of nothing to say to him. We just stand, staring at each other for a long moment, until my mother passes him a glass and says quietly, "Good health, Your Grace."
He shakes his head, as if awakened. "And is your father here?" he asks.
"Sir Richard has ridden over to see our neighbors," I say. "We expect him back for his dinner."
My mother takes a clean glass and holds it up to the light and tuts as if there is some flaw. "Excuse me," she says, and leaves. The king and I are alone in the great hall, the sun pouring through the big window behind the long table, the house in silence, as if everyone is holding their breath and listening.
He goes behind the table and sits down in the master's chair. "Please sit," he says, and gestures to the chair beside him. I sit as if I am his queen, on his right hand, and I let him pour me a glass of small ale. "I will look into your claim for your lands," he says. "Do you want your own house? Are you not happy living here with your mother and father?" "They are kind to me," I say. "But I am used to my own household, I am accustomed to running my own lands. And my sons will have nothing if I cannot reclaim their father's lands. It is their inheritance. I must defend my sons."
"These have been hard times," he says. "But if I can keep my throne, I will see the law of the land running from one coast of England to another once more, and your boys will grow up without fear of warfare."
I nod my head.
"Are you loyal to King Henry?" he asks me. "D'you follow your family as loyal Lancastrians?"