Anyway, the reality is I may well never complete it. If by some chance I do, a little preview will do no harm. So here it is. Please bear in mind that this is the equivalent of "green beer" - it has not been polished or edited, it's a first draft. You may enjoy it - or not. Anyway, it's a free read. We may all be glad of a few of those before the current crisis ends:
I am no longer a prisoner. Instead, I live as one of those attached to the King’s court, without land or possessions or income, save for the clothes I wear, and, hidden away in my only travelling-chest, a change or two of linen and a small and dwindling stock of coin.
The King; the so-called King, Harry of Bolingbroke, my dear cousin. Traitor, murderer, usurper - I dare not say these words aloud, though they all but burn on my lips. Instead, I bow my head, I curtsey, I kneel, I offer every kind of deference, and I scarcely speak at all. Yet he must know how I hate him, how I long to see his guts spilling across the floor, how I pray for him to writhe perpetually in hell’s fiercest flames. He does not have so many years to live. Already his body is rotting, so that often he staggers like a drunken fool or slumps in his chair like an ancient. His soul is already rotted. In his eyes I see fear- not fear of me of course, or of any temporal being, but fear for what must come to him - no quantity of masses bought can save him, for he does not repent, will not yield what he has stolen. He keeps a jester close, paid to make him laugh. That little man works harder for his wages than any in England, for what can make Harry of Bolingbroke laugh?
Even the King’s eyes grow weak. He reads too many books. He has built whole libraries to house them, great rooms where can hide from the world and his sins, and lose himself in tales of the ancients, in manuscripts that advise princes how to govern. Once he was a great knight who could take the ring on his lance nineteen times out of a score; now he peers at you, not sure who you are if you are more than a grave’s length away from him. Yet he knows what is written on the wall. It is all too clear. He is the Mouldwarp of Merlin’s prophecy – the half-blind mole whose line will fail. His blood will not long enjoy the English throne. I know this, because God is not mocked, and His justice, however slow, is sure.
This so-called court; more like an armed camp than the seat of a Christian king - not as it was in King Richard’s time. You may walk through it from one end to the other and not hear a word of poetry or a note of music and scarcely talk of anything but the war with the Welsh, the threat of the French, and the emptiness in the King’s coffers. There are scarcely any ladies present but those in attendance on the Queen, and the Queen and I do not agree. I keep myself in corners. I have needle and thread for company, and I make and mend. There is little else to do. There is no conversation, and I lack a horse to ride out or partake in the hunt. Bolingbroke’s courtiers laugh at me behind their sleeves. They see in me a defeated wretch who has lost everything that matters to her.
They are right, of course. I have lost everything; even my faith. I still attend mass, and I recite my prayers, but only out of habit, only as a way of passing time. I no longer believe that anyone listens. Indeed, there is a great deal I no longer believe; if the Archbishop could hear my thoughts he would have me burnt, like the other poor wretches he and Bolingbroke have burned in recent years. King Richard never burnt anyone for folly, but of course he was the tyrant, not Bolingbroke. I smile at the thought; Richard, my gentle cousin, a man less like a tyrant is hard to imagine. Yet so he is called, and people believe it, because it is what they have been told. Why else was he deposed? Why else was he murdered?
There are some who whisper that Richard still lives, in Scotland. I pray for it to be true, but it is something else I cannot believe. Bolingbroke would not have left such a matter to chance. No, the rightful King is the Earl of March and he – despite my efforts – is still Harry’s prisoner. A boy and a weakly puling boy at that – but he will grow. I pray he will grow to be Harry’s bane. God is not listening, not yet, or March would be in Wales with Glyndŵr as I intended. What a world it is when such as I must make common cause with a Welsh rebel! Yet I had no choice, and my only regret is that I failed.
My brother York is here. He arrived last night with due ceremony, bringing his troupe of minstrels, for which I am grateful, and not bringing his duchess, for which I am also grateful. He hastens to kiss King Bolingbroke’s hand, to fawn over him like a whipped dog, to smile and beg for favours. People have already begun to forget that he was the ringleader and originator of our conspiracy. Of course, had I not denounced him, he would have escaped free of all blame, as he had done so many times before. Yet here he is, quite forgiven, and you would think, from the way he bears himself, the way he is received, that he was Harry Bolingbroke’s dearest friend and most trusted counsellor.
He scarcely glances at me. Still less does he approach me. I am not forgiven for my betrayal, though I forgave him for a dozen worse. I am guilty of treason, not against the King, but against him, my brother. Those weeks imprisoned at Pevensey must have hurt, though they were nothing to what he deserved.
Edward thinks he should be King. He says, though he says it very quietly these days, that Cousin Richard promised him the succession. He also thinks he should be King of Castile, in our grandfather’s right. It would be laughable, were it not pathetic. No one trusts him. He has betrayed too many men better than himself, brought about their deaths by his scheming and folly, while escaping unharmed himself. He cannot quite live it down. Men are happy to laugh with him, to ride with him in pursuit of the stag or the hare, but they will never follow him. So he will never wear a crown, no matter how much he craves one.
Someone stands before me; a young man, wearing a lawyer’s gown. As I glance up, he doffs his hood and bows, and waits for me to speak. What new mockery is this?
‘Well, sir?’ I say.
‘Madam, my name is Hugh Holgot.’ He bows again. ‘I am an attorney-at-law, and I hope that I may be of service to your ladyship.’
‘You do, do you?’ He is a small fellow, somewhat stooping in his posture, but his eyes are bright and clear, and sparkle with intelligence. ‘In my experience,’ I say, ‘lawyers expect to be paid for their services, and I have no means with which to reward you.’
‘Perhaps not at this time; but once you have your lands again, you will have very considerable means, and the need to employ a man of business. In the mean time, I can wait for payment, for I know that the wait will be worthwhile.’
‘The King has promised me my lands.’ I must wait a while, that is all.
‘The King is a busy man, my lady; and a sick one. He has diverse matters on his mind, and many seeking his favour. I would suggest a petition by way of reminder. Let us begin with your goods, which I understand are in the custody of the Treasurer of the Household. There is no real reason for these to be withheld from you. The matter has doubtless been overlooked. With your permission, I will draft a suitable petition, and see it put into the right hand.’
I think for a moment. No doubt this fellow will charge me some ludicrous sum, after the way of lawyers, and then add interest to boot. But then again, what have I to lose?
‘Very well,’ I say, ‘you may draft the petition, and I shall sign and seal it. So be it you understand that I can by no means pay you so much as a penny until such time as I am in my own again.’
He thanks me, fawning as though I have granted him a great favour, bows again, and makes his way off. No doubt to find parchment and ink, so brisk is he in his business. I have barely returned to my stitching when another stands before me; this time, to my surprise, my brother York.
‘Who was that fellow?’ he asks abruptly. That is all he says; not a word of apology, or greeting, or common courtesy.
‘That is my man-of-business,’ I say. I resume my work as though he is not there, as I have no wish to encourage him.
‘You have a man-of-business?’ He half snorts, half laughs at the thought. ‘What does he do? Count your pins for you?’
‘It is certainly no concern of yours.’ I know that I am scowling, and I try to ignore him, but he is a very hard man to ignore. He stares down at me, a crooked half-smile playing about his lips as though he is considering a joke. He lifts his foot high enough to place it on the cushion next to me, and draws so close I can feel his breath on my face.
‘What is it that you want, Constance?’ he asks.
‘I want you to go to the Devil and burn in Hell!’ I raise my voice just enough for the heads nearest to us to turn towards us in interest. It is unfortunate, for I know that my anger will be read as weakness, by my brother and by half the court. Anger is an unaffordable luxury when one has no power and nothing to live on.
‘To join the rest of our family?’ he suggests, smiling and trying to make me smile. ‘We shall all of us be very much at home there, one day. The only question is which one of us will be nearest the fire.’ He pauses, as if considering. ‘Cousin Harry, I think, on balance; though he will not lack for competition for the best place.’
I stay silent, and hope he will take the hint and go away. He does not.
‘You should consider,’ he says, ‘whether I can serve you better as a friend than as an enemy.’
‘You have been both,’ I say, ‘and in all truth, I cannot say that I have ever noticed much difference from the one to the other. Certainly, your friendship is extremely costly. Your enmity can scarcely be more so.’
‘The King is grievous sick,’ he says.
‘I know; I have seen him.’
‘Not as he is now; in bed, scarce breathing, let alone talking. Those around him say that he is worse than at any time since the disease first took him. That is why there is no word of us leaving here – he’s in no state to travel. It’s also why I was sent for; he and his Council have need of me. I am quite restored to favour. The Prince has particular need of my services in Wales.’
‘They must be desperate indeed,’ I say.
‘So I may soon be in a position to help you; if you will accept my aid.’
‘Harry and his Council may be fools enough to trust you once more; I never shall, or at least, not until your fine words are matched by deeds.’ I avoid his eyes, his smile. I keep my voice low, though I long to curse him, to scream and throw my work in his face.