Chapter 2: In which we meet a man who thinks he’s covered all his bases but ends up losing his head nonetheless
Leicester was a town currently populated by the baffled, confused and uncertain. No-one knew quite what do to. If any of them were asked, they’d have said something like: We were expecting to cheer the frail and angelic ® King Richard or Dickon on his way home, triumphant and still King! But now we’re being asked to cheer some other bloke, some Welsh chappie, and none of us is entirely sure we’re happy about that. But they’d cheer him anyway, because that’s what one did with kings.
Dakota slipped through the half empty streets. As she drew closer to the market square, the crowd grew denser and she heard the hum and buzz of voices. The captives would be somewhere close, in a house or a shop or a tavern commandeered and turned into a makeshift prison. She had to find it, had to make contact with the one man she knew was there. He had the other half of the letter and, without it. things weren’t going to end well.
She snaked her lithe body through the crowd, feeling stray hands as they accidentally touched her, felt hot breath in on her face, heard the lascivious words that always followed her wherever she went, however she was dressed. Pressing her lips into a grim line, lifting a knee from time to time until it, quite by accident, came to a sudden stop in the fork of a man’s hose, letting her feet kick out at this shin or that, she wriggled and squirmed until at last she was free. Behind her stretched a thin line of redfaced silent men. They’d have pleasant dreams that night and every night for a long time to come. Dakota allowed herself a small smile at the thought. It wasn’t her fault that God had taken the time to put her bits into particularly pleasing order.
To her right she saw a shop guarded by two men with swords drawn. The good people of Leicester made no move to rescue whoever might lie within, but the guards were ready for them in case they changed their minds. Dakota looked each one full in the face and smiled. Then, while their attention was taken up by the state of their shoes, she slipped into the narrow lane that ran alongside the shop and to the back.
There was a single window, unguarded, clouded with dust and cobwebs. She crept towards it, keeping as low to the ground as she could. Taking hold of the sill, she raised herself up and peeked inside. A man sat at a table, his back to her. He was alone. She lifted a hand to scratch at the glass and to her surprise, the window swung open.
“Catesby!” she hissed.
The man looked around him, searching for the source of the voice. He looked towards the closed door and into the far corner of the room.
Only then did he turn and see Dakota in the window.
“Mistress FitzPercy! How delightful to see you!” Catesby got up and came to the window. “How do you come to be here?”
“Quick!” Dakota said. “There’s no-one about. You can escape!”
“What are you talking about? Escape? They’re trying me soon and I shall be exonerated.” He grinned broadly. “I saved the life of Stanley’s son. I shall be held high in his estimation and the new King’s.”
“King Richard or Dickon is dead! Don’t you care? You were his man!”
“And now I’m going to be someone else’s.”
“Have you no sorrow? Do you feel nothing? Unnatural monster! He was your friend. You watched him grow from a frail and angelic® duke into a frail and angelic® king! You helped draft the Act that gave women the vote and enshrined representative government into law! The night he invented the jury system and abolished the death penalty, you were awed by his brilliance and compassion! You witnessed his tears at the death of his Queen, who he truly loved and married for love! Do you not remember the night in the Tower when he stood alone against the villains who would murder the princes? Surely you recall the words of the ballad. Our good and noble King, frail and angelic® though he be, took on and smote the rascals, smote them one and two and three…”
Catesby looked at Dakota as if he thought she’d lost her mind. “And live out my life on the run? No, thank you! I shall face my accusers and earn my reward. Go now, foolish girl! Don’t keep me from my destiny.”
And with that he reached out and closed the window. Dakota tapped on it again. He turned towards her, his irritation plain on his face. He opened the window with a scowl.
“The other half of the letter,” she said. “Give it to me!”
He did, pulling it from within his doublet and letting it drop from his fingers. Dakota snatched it out of the air and stuffed it into her doublet. Now she had both halves it seemed such a lot of trouble to go to, to tear the parchment in two, but it made sense a the time.
“And you’re sure you won’t let me rescue you?” she said to Catesby.
He waved dismissive fingers. “No, I’ll be fine here. Off you go! Don’t give me another thought.”
Dakota moved away from the window and left the yard, left Leicester. Left Catesby not to his destiny but to his fate.