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Crown of Vengeance

By Emilea Jones All Rights Reserved ©

Mystery / Drama



She thought of Lionel with every pluck of every string. She heard laughter all around her as the King's jesters juggled fruits and did flips and acrobatics. His minstrel, Menander was shouting something by the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, who were so stiff and formal she wondered why the man tried at all. The King seemed delighted, as did Arthur who sat beside his father in the place usually reserved for the Queen. He laughed and clapped his chubby hands, making Maggie smiled,. But still, in the back of her mind, Lionel lurked. She thought of his broad shoulders and his thick mane of hair.She thought of his deep, throaty laugh, his sure stride and his confidence. He was intelligent, witty even, and a match for her in conversation, yet she was not frightened of him as she was of most men at court. He seemed genuine, and though she knew this was only a dalliance for Yule, she couldn't help but ponder the possibilities.

Why not let him press his suit? How many others had done the same? In the end, she would be the one to give the final decision and in the end Maggie would be no man's leman and no man's fool, not ever again. Sir Lionel of Cambridge would find that out sooner rather than later. She smiled to herself as she played and looked up, surveying the crowd.

The entertainers were being dismissed and the food was being served. Being that it was not a feast, there was only so much food to be brought up from the kitchens, but there was enough to marvel at. She thanked her mother for having the foresight to get her some mutton, peas and bread before she had arrived, elsewise she would be very hungry smelling all the delicious food the Countess had served.

She watched as the King and his Stepfather sampled the eels in a spicy broth, and as Arthur made a face, refusing to eat it. The Viscountess Welles and her husband were both sampling venison and the Countess of Derby was urging them to eat some of the lamprey fritters she enjoyed so much. Cecily's sister, the Princess Anne and her mother, the Dowager Queen were enjoying the roast phesant and whispering about the Earl and Countess of Surrey, who were in attendance along with their eldest son, young Thomas Howard. He was a handsome lad, but kept his eyes averted and a few times his father seemed to be sharing harsh words with him, as the boy barely ate a bite. His mother, the Countess Elizabeth Howard was having a lively conversation with the Duchess of Bedford, who's husband kept holding her hand under the table, though they believed no one noticed.

That was strange to Maggie. Jasper Tudor and Catherine Woodville had married for political reasons and she had seldom seen either of them show the other any affection or loving kindness. The Duke of Bedford had drank his fair share of the good wine the King's Mother had offered and that might have explained it. Maggie looked at the Countess, who glanced at the couple every few minutes, almost imperceptibly, but her sadness when she did was evident. Her heart hurt for her, but the Lord Stanley was quick to avert her attention. A few times he even made her laugh aloud. Maggie wondered, not for the first time, at the strength and fortitude of the Lady Richmond. Could she endure that same pain and still smile?

Of course, if she were the most powerful woman in the land it might be a trifle easier.

She played on, watching the Dowager Queen's eldest son Thomas Grey and his comely wife Cecily bicker subtly. Cecily was now Marchioness of Dorset through her wayward husband. Once she had been the richest heiress in the land. she was niece to the dead Kingmaker and married to a man who was said to have more mistresses than anyone knew. He had shared one with his Stepfather the King, one Jane Shore. Interestingly enough, Jane had been the mistress of the late Baron Hastings, who had been the Marchioness's mother's second husband.

Katherine Neville Bonville Hastings sat near her married daughter, talking jovially to her sister Margaret. Margaret had married the Earl of Oxford and they were a striking couple indeed. Though they were in their forties both were still looked young and hale and Margaret was still a great beauty. Her husband, the Earl, was having a lively conversation with the Dowager Baroness Hastings daughter Anne, who had married the young George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. He had been in attendance but had drank too much wine and had retired early, looking ghostly and sure to vomit.

Sir Lionel's suspected brother or cousin, Henry Bourchier was in attendance. The Earl of Essex was not talking at all, but looked rather tired. He ate little and spent most of his time giving the Dowager Countess of Northumberland appreciative looks. Maud Herbert Percy was still a good looking woman, and the most buxom lady at the King's court. There were stories that the King had fallen in love with Maud when he'd been a ward of her late father, but Maggie couldn't imagine the two of them having a love affair. Maud had gone on to birth the Earl of Northumberland three children before he died, and they had seemed to have made a good match. Then again, appearances were everything at the royal court.

The former Earl of Pembroke and current Earl of Huntingdon was speaking to his voluptuous sister as Essex stared at her hungrily. He had forsaken his title of Pembroke to return it to Jasper Tudor, but Henry had appeased him with the new title of Huntingdon. He was a widower, and had been married to both the Dowager Queen's sister Mary Woodville and King Richard's bastard daughter Katherine Plantagenet, John of Gloucester's sister.

The Dowager Queen's only other surviving sister (aside from Catherine) was Margaret, Countess of Arundel who was leaning her head on her husband Thomas's shoulder. Thomas was casually discussing something with his brother in law, Richard Woodville, the Queen's last surviving uncle and Arundel's brother in law. The Earl Rivers was as handsome as ever, though he looked much more frail and in poor health than he ever had before. He was the last of the male Woodvilles and had never married or sired any children. The Queen had spoken of how her grandfather's titles would fall into obscurity with no Woodville heir to claim them. Considering that the Earl's late father and his wife Jacquetta had borne a dozen and more children, it seemed strange to think the Rivers Earldom would have no one to inherit it. The wars had crippled that family, and no one was surprised that their fortunes had suffered so. Such was the way of those who sought to reach too high, at least that is what most courtiers said about the Woodville family.

The King's mother had invited her cousins the Beaufort Dames as well. Dame Anne Paston, Dame Joan Fry and Dame Eleanor Spencer were all daughters of the late Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. He had been a favorite of Margaret of Anjou and the Countess's uncld. He was long dead, killed in the cousin's wars some thirty years hence.

His daughters had not married as well as some of their older sisters, who had found husbands when their father had still been a Duke. But they were the last of Edmind's line and in their children the Beaufort blood still ran. The Lady Stanley was eager to have her family about her, and they could be proud of their heritage with York decimated and Lancaster supreme.

Her older brother, Oliver St. John and his wife were gesturing playfully at Viscount Welles, who St. John had a very close relationship with. As the Countess of Richmond's siblings they had both experienced favor along with their sister Elizabeth, the Baroness Scrope. She and her husband were absent, but had they been at court Maggie was sure they would be in attendance.

The clergy was well represented also. The Archbishop Morton of Canterbury, the Archbishop Rotherham of York and Henry's "Sly Fox", the Bishop Richard Fox of Exeter were all there. Rotherham was old and grey while Morton (though more rotund every year) still carried.himself with youthful vigor. Exeter was in his forties and still had the look of youth about him. he

The King kept intelligent men around him, men who owed their allegiance to him and not the bastions of the old bloodlines or the mighty noble houses of England. As he sat in his high backed chair, eating and talking quietly to his step father, Maggie watched the Tudor. He was slim, never muscular or strapping. In armor he could pass for something more masculine, but in reality he was shaped very much like his mother.

Elizabeth had come to love him, Maggie knew that much. She could not fathom it, seeing how loving and affectionate her Kingly father had been. Tudor never showed and surplus affection, unless he and his Queen were closeted up. She had spent a few nights on a pallet in the Queen's presence chamber, close enough to hear whispers and laughter but nothing passionate. The Queen was a lustful Plantagenet, but Tudor was a cold Welshman. Usually Welshmen were hot blooded, like the King's Grandfather. To have caught a Queen! Owain ap Tudor was a legend among men of any nationality. Thinking of Sir Lionel, she murmured his famous last words to herself, stroking the harp strings mindlessly.

"That head shall lie on the stock, that was wont to lie on Queen Katherine's lap."

She remembered a song her mother had sang, a little ditty some village girl's near Grafton had sung on May days. It had been about the Dowager Duchess of Bedford and her handsome Baron Rivers. Both stories had always made Dorothea swoon and Maggie roll her eyes, but tonight they filled her with some kind of dim hope. For what she was not sure, but she felt it was her only desire. It was foolish and she must forget it, but her ball gown and the jovial atmosphere of the Countesses chambers had spirited her mind off on paths she very rarely trod. Lionel, holding her close, making her laugh, calling her beautiful, those startlingly black eyes seeming to see her soul, to know her without knowing her. It seemed as if he had loved her for a lifetime, yet to even think such was madness.

Her hands had sped up, as the song of Jacquetta and Richard came back to her. She could remember Grafton, almost. she had visited there a few times with her grandmother as a very small child. It had been peaceful, and the Woodvilles had raised their family there. Could she and Lionel find that? A peaceful house in the country? A gaggle of children? Love? Happiness? Safety?

The thought made her stomach not. She had not thought of such things, even with John. John of Gloucester had broken her heart, but she had never hoped to be his wife. What would it be like, to be the wife of a bastard? Dorothea would be disgusted.

"Girl!" a voice rang out to her, causing her to startle and her playing to cease "What is that tune you play? It sounds familiar to my ears?"

This was Jasper Tudor, the current Duke of Bedford. Maggie tried not to pale this time, but smiled sweetly. Catherine smiled back at her, reassuringly. It looked as if the King's Welsh uncle was deep in drink. The Countess frowned, Catherine put a hand on his arm. He smiled back at Maggie happily enough. She took a deep breath.

"I heard it from a Welshman." she lied, and took note to confess it tomorrow "A song of the King's grandfather, and your sire."

There was silence, Margaret fixed her with a sharp stare and Henry had turned his attention to her. She didn't mind, not with thoughts of Lionel dancing in her mind. She grinned mischievously.

"I shall play it for the King's Grace, if it would please him?"

Henry did not smile, but the corner of his mouth twitched.

"Play on."

The song was sweet with a lilting melody and her voice was sure and steady. She did not imagine Earl Rivers and the Lady Jacquetta or even Catherine of Valois and her Welsh lover. Instead she imagined Lionel, her hands in his and his eyes locked with hers. He would embrace her and take her in his arms and these sweet words would fill her up with longing and wonder.

"Oh maiden, how your fairness grows with every passing day!

And I, your lovesick swain, do hourly weep and pray,

for just one look, one single glance, from eyes so far above me.

The smallest kindled spark of hope, that the Queen of my heart loves me!

For gown of gold, her gems, her furs, I hold no great ambition.To capture her eye! Her hand! Her passion! For these I cannot fathom contrition.I am her servant, she is my Mistress, as the Lord in his wisdom has bequeathed.But would that I could conquer her with kisses, beneath her bridal wreath."

Henry nodded his approval. Maggie heard a lovelorn sigh from the Princess Anne, and saw Thomas Howard the younger staring at her as if she were the sun come down from the sky. Magdalena smiled and continued playing as the company settled back into their food, forgetting her romantic aside. Henry said something to one of his mother's grooms and after a moment a tray was brought over with elaborate spun sugar confections and sweet jellies. She bowed her head and paused her music for a moment to try some. They were exquisite. She wished she could save some for Dorothea. Her elder sister had spent most of her monthly allowance on clothing again, and had not the money for sweets from the kitchens. Maggie couldn't bring herself to buy such an expensive snack, when she could find treats at vendors on the London streets for much cheaper prices. So she ate one and felt a stab of pity for Dorothea. She wondered if her mother was still planning to set her free from her duty as a royal nurse.

Maggie wiped her hands in a small bowl of rosewater provided and dried them before beginning her playing again. The desserts she had just sampled were being served, along with other puddings, jams, marzipan and a replica of Westminster in spun sugar. The guests oohed and awed and devoured the treats as Magdalena played on. She smiled to herself and mused about the night to come. She wondered where Lionel was, where he had supped and how much longer until she would see him. She was being foolish but for tonight, just for tonight, she felt she could give herself that liberty. As she looked about the room again she realized the courtiers were preparing to leave, washing their hands, wiping their mouths. The Countess was standing, her son looking up at her expectantly.

"Friends and honored guests, on behalf of my son, the King, I thank you heartily for your attendance. I toast the house of Tudor and King Henry the Seventh. May God bless and keep him, and may his reign be long and prosperous!"

A cheer rang out and Maggie felt herself transported back in time. These rooms had been Queen Elizabeth's when Edward had been King and instead of Lancaster it had been filled with York partisans and supporters. She had supped with her parents and her sister, guests even though they were but servants. She had been surrounded by her family, their friends and the beautiful royals who they served. In the past that thought might have brought her sadness, but she had since learned that the fickleness of fortune was not something to mourn over. It was the way of the world, the way it would always be. Nothing was set in stone, not happiness or melancholy. She smiled stiffly, trying to brush the ghosts of the past away. All that was left was to live, while she still had the breath in her body.

"Mistress Delacroix." the voice of Jane Guildford startled her out of her thoughts, she smiled up at the Countess of Richmond's Lady "Her Grace bids me to give you her thanks and to dismiss you for the festivities. Your playing was wonderful."

Magdalena nodded and stood, looking to her heavy harp. If she tried to pick it up and walk out with it she would make a fool of herself. Luckily, a familiar face appeared behind Jane, the Cornishman Timothy, the brother of Dame Dreyfus. Maggie nodded and smiled at him, thankful for his presence.

"I shall escort ye Mistress, I shall." he said, returning her smile "It'll be a pleasure fer me, lemme take yer harp."

"Many thanks Master...." she stopped "...master Timothy."

"Tis Moyle ma'mm, Timothy Moyle, at yer service."

"Master Moyle, take this token of my thanks."

She pressed a few shillings into his hand from the pouch at her waist. He beamed.

"Mistress Delacroix, surely yer a saint. Come, where must Timothy go?"

Maggie informed him that her harp was stored mainly in the Queen's chambers. He nodded and prepared to take leave. She curtsied towards the royal table, where Henry and the Countess nodded and young Prince Arthur beamed at her. She smiled up at him, full of pride, and made her way out of the Countess of Richmond's apartments. Timothy chattered the whole way back to Queen Elizabeth's chambers, but Maggie paid him little mind. she smoothed her dress and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Her mother and sister would be attending the Queen, she was sure, and they would enter the great hall together tonight. For once she was looking forward to a court entertainment. She was sure Dorothea would be livid.

She was correct...

"It isn't fair!"

Dorothea nearly screeched. She and Maggie were cozied up in a small alcove in the privy chamber, far enough away from the Queen's bedchamber not to rouse her from her rest. Elizabeth Woodville raised her head from Princess Catherine's headdress that she was adjusting and smiled at the familiar exchange, Dorothea had always been so choleric. Phillipa looked up and rolled her eyes, shaking her head but not interfering.

"Dorothea be reasonable! The Queen has insisted that I participate in these festivities, and I have a part in the masque! What would you have me do?"

Dorthy was dressed in a simple, beige gown with a gable hood. Maggie, for once, seemed to outshine her in her courtly finery. Elizabeth had lent her a necklace of pearl, amber and onyx along with an onyx ring which glittered in the torchlight. Phillipa had been overjoyed at her daughters appearance, Dorothea had been green with envy.

"You mind the Princess and let me attend the ball where I belong! You're a cursed, plain creature and that dress is mine! You shall take it off this instant!"

"Fine!" Maggie hissed in a rare flash of temper. She regretted feeling sorry for her horrid sister. "Why should I attend a royal ball wearing the garments of a whore?"

"Better a whore than a spinster!"

"Better a spinster than a humiliation!"

Phillipa stood then, as their voices were raised enough to alert other women in the Queen's chambers of some distress. She stepped towards her daughters.

"Dorothea I have had enough. I will address the issue of your nursing with the Queen and the King's Mother on the morrow. It is clear you are not fit for such an honor. We will find a maid willing to fill that role, even though it fills me with shame."

Dorthy cast her eyes down to the floor in contrition, but in her heart Maggie knew she was pleased.

"Magdalena, do not speak of your sister in such company. To dishonor your family is to dishonor yourself, remember that."

She nodded at her mother and twisted her hands together in front of her. She had lost her head, Dorothea tended to do that to her.

"Dorothea, leave us. Go and attend your charge, you have not been relieved of your duty as of yet. You will attend no fetes this evening."

The auburn haired beauty sneered but bobbed a quick curtsy to her mother and left, her face red and her eyes glistening with tears. Grace Plantagenet, her best friend and King Edward's bastard, followed behind her. She was expected to attend the ball tonight, but would be delayed. She was devoted to Dorthy, even though she was a self indulgent harpy. Maggie kept her eyes on the floor, ashamed of her behavior.

"Must she always think only of her own pleasures?" she said sadly "She must ruin all she touches."

"Do not speak so. she is your sister, your blood. She loves the festivities, you do not. You would not understand."

"It is no great matter. There are often balls and masques and fetes at court. She would begrudge me this one, the only one I have desired to-"

She cut herself off and looked up, alarmed. She had said too much. Phillipa watched her, but said nothing, waiting for her to continue.

"...that I have desired to attend to please Her Grace the Queen. She has heartily begged me to enjoy myself, and I plan to do so."

She would not mention Lionel now. There would be enough to explain later, after she had given him a dance. Magdalena never, ever danced. Her mother looked suspicious but did not press the issue. After a moment she took a deep breath and turned to the Dowager Queen, who was preparing her daughter to leave the Queen's chambers.

"Shall we go, your Grace?"

"Is the drama concluded?" she asked playfully "Of course, come let us illuminate these Lancastrians as only White roses can. Shall we?"

It was a dangerous jest. Maggie looked around at the servants who didn't seem to find anything amiss. She took a deep breath and followed as the Dowager Queen and her daughters lead the way. Maggie had usually arrived at balls and feasts in the train of Elizabeth Woodville as a girl. Once again she felt swept into the past, but when they arrived in the Great Hall a banner with the Tudor rose painted square in the center reminded her that they were rooted firmly in the present. The Lancastrian present where red roses bloomed...

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