William, Lord Hastings, was a little bit miffed. Even the trollop he’d found waiting in his tent, Ned’s note of recommendation clutched firmly in her hand, hadn’t managed to quite take his mind off the insult that had been dished out. Almost a reprimand, he thought. Was it his fault his wing had almost been utterly destroyed at Barnet? They’d won, hadn’t they? Why then had Ned relegated him to the back of the pack, as if he was some kind of liability?
He looked around him. The sun was shining. He was still alive. The trollop had left his tent in the early hours, weak at the knees and with a smile on her face. Things weren’t that bad. Not really. And being stuck here at the back increased his chances of survival.
“Better than a smack in the face with a wet fish,” he said, just a second before he was smacked in the face with a wet fish.
Ned was wading through a knee deep squirming shoal of halibut, sighing heavily. He knew she thought she was helping, bless her addled little brain, but he could do without this, he really could!
Anne Neville thought there was something odd about her hybrid mother-in-law and stepmother, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Probably stress, she thought. What with Dad dead and her son about to face his first battle. My brother, she thought, suddenly overcome by the horror of what was behind them and what lay ahead. Her father was dead! What was a little odd behaviour from Margaret of Anjou compared with that?
“Dis king vot tinks he can steal my son’s crown,” Margaret said. “Vill die dis day! Dere need be nuddings you can fear about dat.”
Anne nodded dumbly.
“Den, vunce ve haff der old konig ersticken, ve can rule Inglond!” And she laughed both coldly and maniacally, which made Anne shiver. Something was wrong, horribly horribly wrong.
“What did you say your name was?” Isobel Inglodsthrope said frowning prettily.
“William Norreys, at your service.” He flourished a bow and smiled.
To her horror, Isobel found herself smiling back.
“Why,” the stricken, confused and clinging onto a semblance of sanity by his fingernails Archbishop of York said, frowning, having the decided feeling that not only had he lost the plot but there had never actually been a plot in the first place, “does he insist on wearing that blue dress everywhere?”
“Well,” the gaoler of the utterly confused is he or isn’t he king Henry VI said, struggling himself to make sense of things. “It ain’t so much a dress per sigh, guvnah. More a… gahn sorta fing.”
“But it makes him look very silly!”
The gaoler shrugged. “Keeps ‘im ‘appy. And our lives is a lot easier when he’s ‘appy.”
It was a very elegant gown, the Archbishop had to admit, though it was shabby and worn and had seen better days. And, he thought, better bodies to show it off than the king’s.
“I can’t take him out looking like this!”
The gaoler shrugged again. “We was promised an ah roff. ‘e’s your responsibility nah, guvna.” And he turned on his heel and went back into the Tower where he was sure the kettle would be boiling by now.
The Archbishop looked at the king, who was smiling and humming softly.
“Well, come on,” he said with a sigh. “Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.”
Edward, Prince of Wales, in the thick of the fighting, was rather enjoying himself. Easy money this, he thought, pretending to be a prince. People had bowed and everything. He had a smile on his face as he whirled his weapons round his head, smacking them hard into the heads of others. But, as his mutter always told him, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. When a mace, whirled around by someone else, smacked into his head and he fell down hard onto the ground, his last thought was, No-one thought to mention this.
“My son is dead, tot, zerstort,” the increasingly unlikely and unconvincing Margaret of Anjou wailed. “And I am verklempt!”
Anne Neville, not quite so quick on the uptake as one might have hoped, shed a silent tear. She was going to miss her brother.
“So,” Ned said smiling heartily. “Looks like we’ve done it again!”
Richard or Dickon nodded. He needed to get to the Abbey so he could keep his promise to himself and take the Lady Anne into his arms. Once Hastings gets here, he thought. I can slip away and Ned won’t even notice and for once, this didn’t make him clench his frail and angelic® fists and grind his teeth with petty, but understandable, jealousy.
“So,” William Norreys said kindly, his gentle eyes twinkling. “I hear you’ve recently been widowed.”
Isobel dashed away a tear.“Yes,” she said sorrowfully.
Well, I’m here to take your mind off all that.” He leaned over and kissed her.
For a second, Isobel was shocked, then surprised and, finally, confused. That kiss! It seemed so… familiar. She looked into the man’s eyes. They suddenly seemed familiar, too. As did the rest of him. Could it be? Mentally, she wrote WILLIAM NORREYS down on a piece of paper in her mind. And suddenly it all came clear. It was an exact anagram of JOHN NEVILLE, if she used different letters. Her husband wasn’t dead! Ecstatically she threw herself into his arms.
“How did you…” she started to say but he cut her off with another kiss. “Doesn’t matter. We’ll have to get married soon, though not too soon. Wouldn’t want to raise any eyebrows.”
Thank you, God! Isobel prayed silently. I really hoped I wasn’t the only one who didn’t deserve a happy ending.
“But seeing as we’re betrothed, at least in the eyes of God,” she said. “Well, I think there’s something wrong with my bed. It keeps rocking. As I don’t have a man around at the moment…”
William stood up. “Leave it to me, my dear. I’ll give it a good workout and see if I can’t find the problem.”
“I’d best show you the way, in case you get lost, seeing as you’ve never been in this house before. Ever. You can give me… it a good seeing to.” Isobel led the way up the stairs to her bedchamber. Her maidservant followed. Isobel turned to her with a smile. “William’s just going to see to something for me,” she said. “If the bed starts rocking… Well, you know the rest.”
And she followed William into the room and closed the door behind them.
“Anne,” Richard or Dickon said.
She turned to him, her eyes flashing. Suddenly he felt about as frail and angelic® as a man can get.
“Leave us!” she hissed.
“But Anne, my love…”
“I said go! I don’t want to see your face again. Ever!”
In the corner of the room, Margaret of Anjou was rocking back and forth muttering under her breath.
“See what you’ve done! She’s so unhinged with grief that’s she’s started speaking Yiddish. You… you… monster!”
Richard or Dickon was left standing, opening and closing his mouth like one of his sister-in-law’s fishes. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.
Back in London. after sorting out the terribly sad, unexpected but really probably very much for the best death of the old king, Ned and Elizabeth had a nice supper together, then she showed him the son she’d had while he was away and had, till that very moment, forgotten about, and he was very pleased with her.
“All over now,” he said, stroking her silver gilt hair. She smiled at him. She really rather liked being queen again. “Nothing can possibly go wrong now.”