The evening is warm and still and peaceful, fragrant with the scents and smells of an English country night in midsummer. Darkness comes late in June and beyond the narrow window I can still see the pale stone walls of the keep, reflecting the crimson of a sky still lit by the rays of the setting sun, and in the village a church bell rings, calling the faithful to Vespers.
We have been lodged, nay imprisoned, in this bleak place these two months past; since that fateful confrontation with Richard Duke of Gloucester as we escorted the new king to London for his coronation. And tomorrow we depart for Pontefract. And I know and he knows what lies in wait for him there.
There will be no more journeying for him, only that poignant short walk to the block. I will be with him to the end,as his squire and his friend it is what I must do, and no more than he deserves; that I should watch what he must endure. And when he is gone I must live with the pain of loss while he abides in that bliss he is so sure he will know…afterwards.
But it is now evening, we are still at Sheriff Hutton and my lord must see to his affairs and write his last letters because, God help him there may not be time later.
Now, he raises his head and looks across at me where I sit patiently in expectation of his needs.
‘Rob, you may light the candles now if you will’, he says, ‘It grows dark and I must finish this ere morning’. And as he speaks he smiles at me, but it is a smile which does not reach his eyes. Only the quirk at each corner of his mouth betokens the attempt at a cheerfulness he cannot feel.
I do as I am bid and touch the taper to the candles, lighting them one by one and watch as each wick buds and flickers into life; the flames casting their insipid yellow light onto the table by the window where sits my lord, and the scratching of the quill as it moves across the parchment is the only sound in this, his prison cell.
His movements are quick and deft as his hand shifts from paper to ink stand and back to paper, and scratch, scratch, scratch as the quill moves left to right, left to right and down and down in a column of words and phrases.
I cannot see what he writes, only that the words are formed in that fine italic script which I have come to know so well these past years. The words of Antony Wydville Earl Rivers, and the man I love so dearly and am soon to lose.
Oh, he’s known since his arrest at Northampton that his days were numbered, for you do not anger Gloucester either intentionally or not, with impunity. Gloucester, in his paranoia was not sensible to past friendship with ones king or service to ones country, nor the natural loyalty to kith and kin. Because my lord trusted a man he had no reason not to trust, a fellow knight, a prince of the blood royal of England, he was so easily placated, so easily fooled.
He argued with Gloucester of course. Told him that treason was never his intent but it availed him nothing. My lord was ordered to surrender his sword, and ringed by men each wearing the White Boar badge, we were dispatched with alacrity to Gloucester’s castle at Sheriff Hutton.
And as the chamber door of his prison was locked and bolted, I watched as my lord sat on the narrow bed, his hands covering his face in his despair. Oh, not because he was a prisoner, nor for what he knew would be his fate; but for his nephew Edward the young king.
‘I fear for him, for Edward’, he said, ‘I looked into Gloucester’s eyes, those black fathomless eyes and I know what he means to do. He wants the throne, my boys throne and he’ll do anything to achieve that end’. He had stood then, pacing the small cell with the nervous energy I had seen so often on the eve of battle. Back and forth, back and forth as though movement alone could somehow ease his pain and his fear.
‘My lord’, I had said to him, surely even Gloucester would not harm a child. Perhaps you…you…condemn him too readily’.
‘He fooled us, Rob’ he went on as though I had not spoken, ‘Loyalty Binds Me! Oh yes, while it was politic and while the king lived. Ah! but now, now we see brother Clarence’s treachery and ambition made flesh again. How well he hid his true nature and fooled the king all these years’.
I had no answer for him, for I barely knew George, Duke of Clarence. Only that his ambition and his treachery had forced his brother the king to confine him to the Tower, and there Clarence ended his days, drowned some say in a butt of Malmsey wine.
But I knew Gloucester, and I never liked nor trusted him, and I thought him cold and calculating.
And when his brother died so suddenly and so unexpectedly, ere the young prince of Wales had attained his majority, how he must have rejoiced beneath his show of grief and pious mourning. How swiftly did he ride south from his Yorkshire fiefdom, and how trustingly did my lord walk into his trap.