Here is an extract from my current work-in-progress, Servants of Infamy. This was quite a fun part to write so I thought I’d share it.
This is also the one part so far with only noble characters in it (I mentioned in a previous post that this is Wars of the Roses from a common-man perspective). That means it shouldn’t give anything away about the main plot!
As ever, feedback is appreciated!
A great commotion at the inner gate caught his attention and he strode over to it, feeling his expansive belly sway with every step. He had been in his prime when old Richard died, now he would face the man’s son as a fat old duke. The new title added weight to his bearing, he thought. Not that he needed it.
“Make way for the king!” a sentry shouted down into the deserted space between the Norman keep’s high towers.
Suffolk waddled aside and dabbed at his face with a yellow silk handkerchief. The sun was hot overhead in a sky absent cloud, stifling. It pricked sweat from his brow, but the discomfort would be worth it to see the expression on York’s face. He knew well the cause of his fellow duke’s return. Poverty. Ireland had eaten through his coffers like a plague that devoured men’s flesh.
How funny a thing fate was. It was an empty purse that had driven York’s father in his treason, lacking the funds to buy even a saddle horse that would carry him to campaign in France.
“Damned fool.” Suffolk said, looking at the spot where the Third Earl of Cambridge’s blood had wet the cobblestones. He let a wicked smirk play across his mouth. “You might have walked.”
A thick oak door creaked open beneath the gateway’s crumbling masonry. In came a troop of horsemen in the royal livery and badge of Lancaster. Regal red and blue cloth, golden lions and fleurs de lis, and the red rose in stately bloom. To see the golden leopard’s face of Suffolk adorn those strapping guardsmen, he thought, but it was only a passing fancy.
“William, is that you?” Henry asked through a gap in the plush velvet curtains of his carriage.
The king was barking today, Suffolk thought. Truly, God and the Virgin were with Suffolk on that blessed afternoon. Henry snapped in a voice of command that might have belonged to his battle-ready father, were it not for the drooping nose, weak eyes and slack jaw which peered out at the duke.
They were the features of a simpleton, not a king. But no, Suffolk reminded himself, Henry was no simpleton. His mind lived in two worlds at once and who could say with which hand the Lord gave and with which he took away. A curse might count for a blessing in the right hands. God had granted England a mad captain so that the first mate might take the tiller and lead all of them into prosperity.
“William, it is either you or else a walrus has somehow scaled the ramparts.” Suffolk laughed dutifully at the king’s jest. “Why have you called my council to attend me at this forsaken castle? My estates in Windsor are far more comfortable and at Westminster I have the abbey. What is there for us here? Must we pray in that dilapidated shrine?”
“It is a fine church, Your Majesty. If I might be so bold as to suggest -” his words stuck to his tongue as he reached out to pull back the curtain. Within, Henry sat alone on a pile of crimson cushions and plump furs. “Where is the queen?” he asked in a deadened tone.
“That is my business and not yours.” Henry replied, his voice prickling in response to Suffolk’s sudden abandonment of all formality.
“Where is she?”
“Margaret was invited to dine with the Duchess of York and certain other renowned ladies of court. Does that satisfy you, William?”
“It does not.” he snapped, throwing the curtain closed in the king’s face.
He waved the horsemen on and the king’s guards led the small procession back out of the inner gate. They knew better than to heed the king’s cries for them to halt, just as they knew not to take him to the keep. Henry would wish to pray thanks to God for their safe journey, as he always did. There was a joke frequently told in the royal guardrooms of England, that the king would not squat to move his bowels without offering thanks to Christ for their safe passage.