Bosworth 1485. "The truth that none dares utter."
Redemore Plain the sky darkened. It glowed
violet, bluest violet, smudged with bars of cloud. On the humped back
Hill the encampment slept, waiting; the wind dropped and banners hung
and as blue as the night. Silence rolled in.
complete was the stillness that Raphael could
hear the chirrup of frogs down in the marsh. He heard the rasp of
and an owl’s fluting cry. Around him the land felt deserted. Even the
spirits of the stones and the mercurial beings of the hedgerows were
Had they deserted in terror of the battle to come? Men feared the
twilight, not realising that those spirits were more afraid of humans
the great, hushed darkness, he thought he could
hear the voices of the enemy; snapping fragments of sound, far away.
usurper, flaunting his rose-red dragon and claiming to be sent by
destroy the Adversary. Raphael spat a quiet curse in his direction, and
back into the king’s pavilion.
lamp burned inside, glimmering on the
cloth-of-gold walls, its flame as pallid as the gaunt face that
The king could not sleep. He had tried, only to wake with a shuddering
complaining of dreadful nightmares, wraiths with pale fingers and
waiting for him just below the surface of sleep. Recovering himself,
his concerned lieutenants away to their rest. Only Raphael remained,
and glad to keep the vigil with him.
anything stir out there?” asked the king. He
was as Raphael had left him; sitting with his arms folded upon the
gazing at the lamp.
sentries report that all is quiet.”
it must be my own ghosts I can hear.”
won’t you have an hour or two’s rest, at
least?” Raphael spoke quietly, trying not to disturb the pages asleep
outer chamber of the tent.
too late,” the king answered. “I’ll not sleep
again tonight. I can only wait for the dawn. Fate tells me that I need
face was a shell with light shining through;
frail and pearly like that of a heavenly messenger, but more eerie than
saintly. Raphael could imagine the same luminous face belonging to the
beautiful of angels, the morning star, Lucifer. The king’s hair was
shadow around his shoulders. His eyes were grey and shrouded, like
you think that I am wicked, my friend?” he
sat down on a canvas stool, facing him
across the table. “No, sire, of course not.”
have been accused of poisoning, infanticide and
incest, among other crimes. You know this full well.”
I been so bad a king?” His voice sounded thin
and distant, as if it already came from beyond the veil of death. “The
they tell of me run like fire from mouth to mouth, so that I must deny
even to my friends. I’m sick to the stomach with denial. After all, how
honesty can I say there’s no truth to the stories?
are only words, rumours…” Raphael trailed
the strength of rumours, a non-entity named
Henry Tudor fashions himself as the revolving sword of God, come to
Devil. And look! My kingdom is sinking into the marsh.”
Raphael was fierce with denial. “That is
utterly untrue. I can’t bear to see you disheartened.”
king shook his head, his hair moving softly,
like crow’s wings. “No, I’m not disheartened, don’t think that. I’m
aloud to unearth the truth. You’ve always helped me in that. You know
my secrets than any other being, and this could be the last chance I
fear went through Raphael, from the
soles of his feet to the roots of his hair. His mouth was thick. He
tried to go
seems every weapon I ever used has been turned
back upon me,” King Richard went on. “Myths are more enduring than
have told me so yourself.”
shouldn’t have said anything. Ever.”
Richard spoke gently. “What, endured that on
your own? You were right to tell me all. If you’d kept such matters to
yourself, you would have failed me indeed. As it is, I’m prepared for
had run out of answers. He wished himself
anywhere but sitting in the midst of this quiet nightmare. “Dearest
don’t. You should rest, not think about…”
death?” Richard said calmly.
was going to say, my dream. It was only…”
real, and perhaps not. I know that. Well,
in the morning this humour will be gone from me and I’ll go into battle
roaring, a black dragon to affright the red. But now, Raphael, tell me…”
merest slide of light changed Richard’s face
from pearl to chiselled marble. He looked straight at Raphael and his
expression was terrible, like that of a demon who’d passed through
madness to chilling serenity on the far side. “Is the Tudor right? Is
Beaufort mother right, everyone right? Have I been used as an
Satan to bring the downfall of a rotten dynasty – while God has chosen
his holy sword of vengeance into the paw of one Welsh-French nobody?”
surprised Tudor didn’t style himself with the
name of an archangel,” said Raphael, so venomously that Richard laughed.
or Michael… or Raphael. So, even the
Devil’s chosen has an angel to comfort him through the longest night.”
poured wine for the king. His hand shook as
he passed the cup. Receiving it, Richard kept his hand on Raphael’s for
moment. The king’s flesh felt as cold and steady as a dolmen.
don’t seem to be comforting you very well,”
you are.” Richard glanced behind him, where a
small altar was set up near his bed. Candles fluttered around a small
the Virgin. “Given a choice between spending this night praying to a
who turned his back on me in childhood, and talking to a flesh and
friend, I know which is more likely to save my soul.”
wine was heavily watered, and tasted flat and
ghostly. “I don’t care what you say, sire. There are souls in Tudor’s
far worse danger than yours.”
grimaced. “I have done wrong, but what
could I have done otherwise?” he said quietly. “Nothing. Thus I am
not only for my choices, but for what I am. Thus is the Devil condemned
being what his Creator made him.”
Grace, don’t listen to their rumours and
slanders. You can’t let yourself believe their lies.”
am not talking about the views of others,”
Richard answered. “I’m talking about what I know of myself. There is a
in me, a great and dreadful shadow that would blot out the entire world
were left unchecked. And this has not been stamped on me by enemies.
glimpsed it, and that’s why they fear me. But the shadow was born with
awoke when I was a child. We were at Ludlow…”
voice was soft and calm. The lamp burned blue.
So intense was the hush outside that Raphael feared they had slipped
hidden world. “Sire, you are low in spirits. This is nothing, a waking
you are an experienced walker in nightmares,”
Richard retaliated. Suddenly he was disturbingly cheerful. “Asleep or
can’t escape hideous visitations tonight, but at least I have you at my
have never told anyone this before. Let me tell you about the waking of
ran through the wildwood, deeper and
deeper. Vibrant images haunted him, of his father and brothers fighting
battle far away. It would be days before he knew whether they had lived
died. No one even cared to tell a boy of seven; he would be the last to
Distraught with frustration, he had evaded tutors and guardians to
castle walls, and now he ran and ran.
first he was bold, striking out at bushes and
shadows with a twig sword. One day his weapons would be true metal and
shadows would be enemies of flesh and armour. He would fight alongside
brothers, turning the red rose crimson with blood.
dreamed of survival, more than glory. His
for now he was only a child, suddenly lost and
cold. The shadows began to move and whisper. Looking back the way he’d
saw no path, only the gnarled gloom of woods enclosing him. The
of elementals followed him from heavy, wet canopies of leaves. He saw
thin long limbs, like folded brambles. They stared at him, pointing,
let the sword fall to his side and backed
blue twilight dripped through the trees. There
was only one way to go, a thread of a path taking him even farther from
Ahead shone a gap in the trees, a patch of slate sky in which a single
star hung like a white rose. He fled towards it, feet and heart
the trees ended there lay a marsh, stretching
away into a blue mist. Two herons started up at his approach and
luminous in the dusk, their long legs stirring layers of vapour. The
swallowed a cry of shock. He stood trapped between the wildwood and the
Water gleamed in the saturated sapphire light. Tussocks crouched in the
water. Like ghosts the herons were gone and nothing moved, yet
watched him, breathing.
knew he’d made a dreadful mistake. He’d
strayed out of the real world and into the netherworld, the dread place
came to life only while God-fearing men slept. He breathed hard,
twig sword. Damp, rank air filled his lungs. Away to his left he saw a
rock arch at the wood’s edge, and beyond, a great rock containing the
slit of a
cave mouth. If only he could reach the cave, he could shelter there,
and set up
his sword at the entrance like a cross to ward off the famished
the Creator would protect him until morning. So his mother always told
feet slid on the tussocks. The cave was further
away and bigger than it seemed. The entrance looked threatening, not a
but a mouth to the demon-realm. An eerie tongue of light lapped within.
was something alive in there, moving, chanting…
fog thickened. He could see barely an arm-span
ahead. He stopped, shivering, tasting blood. He’d bite his tongue to
before he would let himself cry.
woman took shape out of the mist like the prow of
stood rooted and helpless as she sailed towards
him. He glimpsed dangling sleeves of charcoal velvet, a tissue of black
stiffly framing her head, a terrible, stern white face with gold eyes
how did you come here?” she said.
couldn’t speak. Petrified, he watched her
long pale hands coming towards him. Her fingers touched him, moving
shoulders, his cheeks, into his hair. The touch felt light and waxen,
is late for you to be out alone. You strayed
too far from the path. You trespass where you do not belong.”
nodded, trying to say, Your pardon, my lady, I
meant no harm. At last he managed a whisper. “The path brought me here.”
so it did. Therefore you have been called. No
one comes among us without a reason. Would you walk the spiral chambers
to the innermost heart of the shell?”
eyes frightened him. She looked mad, or in a
trance. He tried to back away but her hands closed tight on his skull.
pressure made his bones ache, brought red fire behind his eyes – and
mouth fell open. He was looking at a severed
head. The head of a robust man with greying hair and the plain
of a foot-soldier, stuck on a spike beneath a market cross. The
was yellow and the lips hung slack. The eyes looked sideways at
Richard, as if
in deadly warning.
face was dead and yet alive, animated by the
leaping light of a hundred candles. An old woman was in the act of
them. She rose and lifted the head off its spike, cradled it for a
set it down amid the candles. She began to comb the grey hair and wash
blood-daubed cheeks, all the while sobbing and murmuring to the head.
sons will avenge you,” she lamented. “Your
grandson will avenge you.”
was not only the head that horrified Richard,
but the old woman’s despair.
cried out. The vision vanished. The witch
removed her hands from his hair and now gazed at him with her un-human
every step the path divides,” she said.
path divides,” echoed a higher voice.
voice came not from the sorceress but from
somewhere near her hip. Richard saw she had a small companion, a
lurked behind her, peering around her skirts. It had wild black hair
like marsh-fire. An elf-child. The words issuing from the childish
mouth made the
creature more terrifying than its mistress.
did you see?” asked the sorceress.
does it mean?” asked her familiar.
shook his head mutely. Their faces shone
with witch-light, mocking, demanding. He was sure he’d wandered into
don’t know. A man beheaded. Is it…” He struggled
for the right word. “Is it a prophecy?”
elf-child’s eyes rolled back in its head,
showing two moon-white crescents. Imp and witch spoke in unison.
is no such thing as prophecy. No such thing
as destiny. This is the truth that none dares utter.”
sorceress raised her hand to his shoulder and
went on, “This is the truth. With every step, you weave the spider’s
yourself. Shall you weave a great web or a small? One of shining dew
one of soot and barbs? None can tell. Your future is all darkness.”
meant, he was sure, that he was going to die.
in with us,” said the witch. She half-turned,
her hand sweeping towards the cave. The entrance glimmered and smoked
Come into the labyrinth. The meaning of your
vision will become clear. Some of your questions will be answered. The
serpent’s bite brings wisdom, if you can bear the pain. Come with us.”
stared at the terrible cave and felt his stomach
turn liquid with terror.
he stumbled out of her grasp, twisted
around and ran. His feet splashed into water, mud sucked at his boots.
floundered. Death sighed and clawed him down with famished hands. Deep
himself he felt a shadow waking and flapping anguished wings, and it
fear of death but something far darker. Something that recognised this
and wanted to keep him there.
glanced round. The sorceress was pointing, a
wing of velvet hanging from her outstretched arm, back towards the
wide, clear path had opened between the trees.
the far end – another illusion, surely – he
could see Ludlow Castle standing upon its hill. Home.
that path, child,” said the sorceress. “No
creature of the twilight will harm you while you’re under our
They’ll not dare. You’ll come back when you are ready.”
those last ominous words chasing him, Richard
pulled free of the marsh, and fled. He clutched his flimsy sword for
all he was
worth, teeth bared against green-eyed sprites that chittered in the
as he passed. The castle at the end of the starlit path stood aloof,
drawing any closer.
was not my father’s head I saw, he told
himself. Not my father’s. Yet tears of dread choked him.
ran. He left the netherworld behind, although it
tried to pull him back. Wraiths tugged at his heels with cold blue
Blanched and staring faces swam before his blurred eyes. However far,
hard he fled, the terror rushed along with him.
him, the shadow stretched fledgling wings
and made its claim.
spoke the truth,” said the king, pacing slowly
in the dim light of the tent. “My future was darkness. Almost everyone
ever loved is dead. That was the head of Owen Tudor she showed me. He
Welsh squire who married Henry the Fifth’s widow. Their son Edmund
spawned my enemy, the pretender who waits for me now. But Owen Tudor
lose his head until two years or more after I met the witches. When I
story of the madwoman lighting the candles… I knew I’d seen a glimpse
future and I cannot describe the fear that this hellish netherworld
me. I don’t envy you your dreams, my friend.”
think that I would have gone into the cave,”
you’re braver than me.”
Just more afraid of them.”
knew – not thought, knew – that if I entered the
cave, my soul would be lost.”
you might have understood what they wanted to
perhaps so, and perhaps that would have given
me undreamed-of power – but at the cost, as I said, of my soul. All my
the shadows within me have been trying to drag me back there. The
has been almost unbearable, sometimes. But I fought back. If I lose my
anyway, no one can say I haven’t battled to the death to keep it.”
turned, his face aglow and ghastly. “I’ve
never spoken of this to anyone. I could never confess my terror, not to
nor even to my mother. She would only have told me to pray for
could I explain what horror I’d seen, still less explain that this
so interwoven with my soul that an eternity of praying and an army of
could never exorcise it? They’d have thought me bewitched. All I’ve
avert this destiny has been in vain. I might as well have torn down the
burned my prayer books, ripped out my own heart and offered it to
voice rose, making Raphael start. He was
suddenly alight with passion. “Well, let Tudor come! Let them have the
apocalypse they want. I shall fight as I have lived, and take as many
as I may to the pits of hell.”
Raphael heard the first sounds of the camp
coming to life.
Richard rose, moved towards the pavilion’s
entrance and lifted the flap. The first indigo glimmer of dawn brushed
Redemore Plain. In the gloom, Raphael saw tiny figures toiling up the
quietly, Richard said, “For all I’ve done, for
all I am, and for all the sins of my family, I am punished. I’ve spun a
soot and barbs. And now, the final act.”
(C) Freda Warrington