The Continuing Adventures of Dakota FitzPercy
Chapter 1: In which we catch up with an old friend and learn of the Earl of Warwick’s life in the Caribbean
It was a small plain circlet of gold and it had rolled almost within Dakota’s reach. It had once decorated the helmet of a king. Now it lay among the thorns, a symbol of a kingdom lost. She’d seen it fall, watching spellbound and breathless as it tumbled through the air and onto the muddy ground, rolling and spinning, scattering small stones and blades of grass. It had fetched up among the hawthorns. Just beyond her reach.
If she could get it, stretching her arm and ignoring as best she could the pain as the thorns dug into her skin. If she could pick it up and wriggle free, find her horse and leave this place, her master would be well pleased. If he lived still. If he’d managed to escape the slaughter. If she could find him again. With the crown in his hands, atop his head, the ragged rebel Richmond, his victory won through a mix of cowardice and treachery, would have nothing left to do but slope off back to Brittany where he belonged.
She almost had it, her hand but inches from it. Every muscled tense and stretched. One more push. One more wriggle…
“It must have fetched up hereabouts!”
Dakota stiffened, resisting the urge to draw back, scramble to her feet and run. She knew the voice and liked not to hear it. Lord Stanley,widower of the Earl of Warwick’s sister, now wife of the most frightening woman Dakota had ever met, stepfather to the man who sought the crown just tantalising inches from her hand, traitor and schemer. Even if he hadn’t spoken, she’d have known him by his boots, though it had been long since she’d seen them.
“I shall be crowned upon the battlefield!” A second voice, little more than a growl. A second pair of boots, though these Dakota was sure she’d never seen before. “I am King now, thanks to your good work, Stanley. And I mean people to see it.”
She drew back her arm, slowly and carefully.
“There!” The boots drew closer and someone hunkered down. Dakota could hear him breathing, smelled the rank mixture of blood and sweat that clung to him. “I have it, Sire.”
Another grunt. The crown snatched up and the men departed.
Dakota let out a long slow breath and tried to still her trembling limbs. So close they’d come! And she’d have had no mercy from such men as these. They’d find the letter, kept close to her usually magnificent but now tightly bound breasts (for she was dressed as a boy again). The letter must not fall into the wrong hands and there were no hands more wrong than Henry Tudor’s. She crawled out of the bushes and stood up, brushing herself down. Her horse waited for her and she mounted, turning her head and his away from the field of destruction and defeat. She’d come too late to stop this. And she would have stopped it, if she’d been on time. This she knew in her bleak and heavy heart. She’d let them all down. Failure was such a new thing to her. It was going to take some time to get used to it.
* * * * *
Burrowed deep in the hay, Dakota tried to sleep, but her mind was troubled. She was cold and hungry. She let her longing thoughts drift back to the moist warmth of La Isla del Centro del Jamon where she’d spent the last ten years living the life of a pirate wench. She let their faces drift through her memory: Mad Meg, the pirate queen and her consort Rabid Richard. With a soft sigh, she thought of Elegant Eddie, her one time paramour, now married to a dusky Carib princess with a brood of half dusky half Carib children. Good times! The sun, the perfumed air, the freedom of the seas, the riches, the rum… The Bastard of Fauconberg. And with this thought, a single tear rolled down her cheek. Time and time again she’d tried to tame the man, but he was recalcitrant to a fault. Last time she saw him, he was in the arms of a Spanish countess, a hostage whose ransom had been paid ten times over yet still he refused to release her. Not, Dakota thought darkly, that the countess had shown any signs of wanting to be released.
But she’d put all that behind her, called back to England by rumours of a troubled realm, arrived back to find the rumours more than true. Secretly contacting her new master, she’d listened, her face blanching with every word, her heart constricting and her blood slowly beginning to boil. She must find him! Tomorrow, she thought. After a good night’s sleep. Well, after a sleep at any rate. Tomorrow she would head north, for that must be where he’d gone. She’d find him and together they’d plot the downfall of the usurper. Together they’d grieve for the fallen king, the frail and angelic® Richard or Dickon III. She wiped away the tear and closed her eyes, tomorrow her last waking thought.