PALACE OF PLACENTIA, DECEMBER 20TH 1489
"John, what news of your mother?"
John of Gloucester had never heard his grandmother speak his mother's name. She had been apart of his life from the cradle and yet he'd never seen both women in the same room with one another. It was a strange juxtaposition, the idea of his sweet, laughing, dancing, singing Mama and his proud, dour, noble Grandmere the Duchess.
She liked to think of the mothers of her bastard grandchildren as vessels. They were shameful but fulfilled their purpose. In these bastards the last of the great York blood flowed. In them, for her, the white rose still flourished.
"Her health has improved markedly." He said with what he hoped was a thankful smile "It is good of you to ask, sweet lady."
She smiled with a look of righteousness plastered on her face. In many ways Cecily of York was a great woman, but in just as many ways did she show herself to be quite a small one. He cared not for the petty, childish squabbles of women. He'd much rather be hunting or fighting or whoring. Whores would never judge his mother.
Sadly they were in Greenwich, not London town and it was five days until Christmas. The King and his mother were dreadfully pious and the Countess of Richmond had eyes everywhere. His position was tenuous at court and he meant to court favor, to carve out a future for himself. He wouldn't be like poor, dumb, old Arthur the Mastiff. He was a King's son as well, the only other male bastard of the Sons of York. It was a damnable shame that he had been born to Edward and not John. His memories of his father were warm and fond, but his memory was poisoned by that one question.
What had happened to his cousins, King Edward Uncrowned or little Dickon of Shrewsbury, Duke of York? Had his father killed them or had Tudor spread it about to sully the last York King's name? Well it wouldn't have been Henry would it? He was cautious to a fault and if he knew Richard had not killed the royal brothers he would never have let the story become so wildly believed.
He was a slimy, slippery eal that Tudor, and one of the smartest men John had ever met. He wanted Henry Tudor to know that he craved success, he craved wealth, he craved favor but he had no desire for any crown. King's died early in England, it seemed. When was the last time a King had died old in his bed, in a peaceful and prosperous country?
Henry was setting up a Kingdom that just might see him old and grey, reigning peacefully. John had no intention of changing that. All he wanted was the acknowledgement of his royal blood and the benefits of such status. It seemed petty, but the life he had lived before Bosworth had always been one of plenty, and poverty did not suit him in the least.
He could not take his friends to taverns, he could not frequent the cleaner and more expensive brothels, he was forced to sit through tedious evenings such as this, with his Grandmother and his three bastard cousins.
Arthur, Elizabeth, Grace and John were the only beneficiaries left alive to inherit from the Rose of Raby and they were all keen to stay in her good graces. When they were not at court, it was much more plesant to stay with Grandmere the Duchess, at one of her estates, but when she was near the royals and nobles she was bitter. She thought only of the past. She often wept, or was frustrated and angry because she felt powerless. When she was away she was almost serene, a font of peace and contentment, mingled with a little wistful sadness.
"Grace sit up straight. Your posture is so slovenly dear! You will never find a decent husband with that slouch."
Grace was lovely, probably more so than even her older sister Elizabeth. All of the children by Elizabeth Lucy were comely as their parents had been. Arthur, though lare like his father, had full pouty lips and at times could even be called pretty, with his cascade of blonde hair and large blue eyes.
John knew he was handsome. He had the fey charm of his mother and was well built, if not a Titan like Arthur. Cecily had always loved John's sister Katherine best. Se had been dark and lovely, bearing a strong resemblance to King Richard.
She had married the Hebert heir and had she lived she would have been Countess of Huntingdon by now. As is stood se had passed, childless and Elizabeth had married a Knight, Arthur had lost his Cornish heiress and the idea of Grace marrying above her station seemed more ad more impossible as time went on. John avowed he would marry richly and well, to a beautiful womn and through his prowess in battle he would grow in the King's esteem until he was one of the greatest men in England.
"When one finds so loftly a position as Captain of Calais at five and ten, it is not easy being just the bastard son of a murdered King."
John had told this to Maggie when he had returned to England, disgraced and dismissed. He had not even been able to fight at Bosworth only rage and pray from far across the channel. Those had been dark days for him, and he had fallen headfirst into pleasure. All the money he'd had left he'd squandered and it wasn't until the King gave him a place in his court and commisions to work that the cloud of grief and rage and loss had left him. When the smoke had cleared, Maggie was lost to him for good.
Now, she was always making calf eyes at Lionel whenever she got the chance, and making him feel as if his stomach was full of lead. She was blossoming under Lionel's attention. It wasn't as if Lionel sought only a leman either. He loved Magdalena, he had since John had asked him to write all those damndable love letters in his stead. So he had come to court and he had been so struck by the physica nearness of his lady, he had vowed to win her hand. He had not told her these things, he had explained, for he knew the lady's heart was skittish, but that with time she would find him loyal and true and be his bride.
All of it was hogwash. He had no time for such things, he left that to bards and poet and troumbadors. He was a Warrior, a man of action. Would that Maggie would get herself in some mortal peril so he could save her. In that he could demonstrate his love for her and she would see he was worthy of her. It was how his father had shown his own great love Anne Neville of his devotion. Yes he had mistresses, but he had cherished her above all. Magdalena did not see that as love, and she had forsworn never again to succumb to John's sweet words or charm.
Now, Lionel sought to claim her (and consequently her rather large inheiritance) for his own. The thought sparked envy. He had even bedded sweet, nimble Dorothea when they had first come to Grenwich, but both of them had been fueled in their desire by the thought of another.
He did not know who Dorthy had envisioned, but for him it had been Maggie and since that night he had felt a dark jealousy pricking at him. Lionel was his cousin and his closest friend. He knew he must quelch the feelings, and as Lionel was announced and let into the Duchess of York's dining chamber he fought back the unwanted snarl of his upper lip. His face was slack but inside he seethed.
"Lionel, you are late, and have kept your Duchess waiting. That is not very chivalrous, is it?"
She smiled fondly at him, the Bourchier Bastard. No one knew whether the late Viscount Bourchier or the last Earl of Essex had sired him, or who his mother was, but Isabel of Cambridge had raised him and Cecily had loved her sister in law dearly and on her death she had taken him under her wing and he had risen to great heights in her esteem. It seemed everyone at court liked him, his taint of bastardy being his only flaw, apparently.
"Forgive me, I escorted Mistress Delacroix to mass and she is often late at her prayers. I deemed it ungentlemanly to leave her in the midst of her devotions."
Cecily narrowed her eyes.
"She had no chaperone? A maid of her age allowed a man to escort her to her chambers...alone?"
"No, Dame Oxenbridge and Mistress Draughton were with her. They had come from the nursery. Lady Darcy commended me on my gallantry."
Cecily smiled and put a hand to his cheek as he leaned down to his her hand. She then cupped his face in her hands.
"I do not seek to chastise you, but you must be weary of that girl."
He stiffened. This was the first time she had reproved him about Maggie. John had gotten the same speech as had Elizabeth. Grace had even befriended Dorothea and faced the ultimate wrath, as Cecily despaired of Dorthy and called her a harlot. Even Arthur had heard it, when he had for the briefest of moments pondered wedding the elder Delacroix sister.
How is it that this damned family has usurped places throughout my family? It is the same as the Woodvilles I tell you, the very same!
Arthur had given up his suit soon after. Grace had been distraught, Dorthy had been a pillar of rage, but she had wed Willem Verhille and was still the wealthy heiress, only she was no longer ripe for picking. All that was left was Maggie, and the field had grown crowded lately. It wasn't only John who's senses had been alerted to Maggie's fancy to Lionel. It seemed half the lower tier at court had set their eyes on her. New men were abundant within the King's entourage, who saw Maggie's fortune and no male relatives (other than her brother) as a plump prize. Lionel called it barbaric, John called it sensible.
"Your grace I assure you she is without any pretense. She guards her virtue, she is wise beyond imagining. There is no Lady in the world who would deserve your distrust less."
"Yes but she and her mother and sister all three are limbs of a sinful tree. Old Dame Majerus was a sorceress, in league with Jacquetta Woodville. They ensnared my beloved son Edward, they murdered your...kinsman the Duke of Clarence, my dearest Prince!"
She was growing red, her gnarled old hands were shaking with anger.
"My Lady please do not trouble yourself so with thoughts of the past. I am sorry if I have upset you. My beloved Aunt, Your Grace, please put your trust in me. Magdalena Delacroix is as pure a soul as I have ever come to know, there is nothing to fear from her."
Proud Cis looked into Lionel's face and then turned away.
"That woman has taken all from me. She has cursed my line to nothingness and what little I have left to me is picked at still by her familiars." Her voice was full of spite "Do what you will. At least you will make yourself a fortune from it."
Arthur nearly spat the trout from his mouth. Grace covered her mouth as if she had just seen a frightful shock. John could only laugh at his Grandmere's words. He stood.
"You both speak of the Lady as if she had already been won." John felt like overturning the dinner plates like an angry child "Were Mistress Delacroix here she would be less than overjoyed, at the very least."
Lionel fixed him with a stare that almost made him jump over the table. Whatever he claimed to know about Maggie, Lionel knew it as well, and more.
"Aye, very well. Marry the shrew. You're well suited to her."
Arthur was half standing, looking concerned and Lionel lunged for John and stumbled. He righted himself, but not before Grace brushed past him, standing between them both.
"You're both shameful," she said in her gentle voice "It is five days till Christmas. Enough."
Lionel was breathing heavily, but he nodded and fell back. Cecily let out a wounded shriek. Some of her attendants were eagerly watching, but trying their best to stay invisible. Servants would be gossiping around the palace all day tomorrow.
All the better, let her hear him claim her as his own. She will be incensed.
John mused on this as he stormed out of the Duchess Cecily's chambers. It was time he and Mistress Delacroix discussed a few things, and she stop this foolish game with Lionel, at once...