*I have wanted to write about the Plantagenet princes and their possible fate for a long time and was inspired to do so after finishing Phillipa Gregory’s White Queen this last week. I ran long – again – sorry.
Tradition dictated that Henry spend the night before his coronation in The Tower as greater kings of England had done before him and his heirs, God willing, would do after him, but danger and sorrow were as infused in the stone walls as joy and triumph and it was those emotions speaking to him as he lay on the four-poster staring sightless at the canopy above him. His mind’s eye reflected back at him like a painter’s canvas scenes well-known and merely well imagined court gossip. The dead whispered like supplicants, begging for his ear and judgement though Henry wondered how a king with bloody hands could rightly be called upon to administer justice.
Though far from empty as there were guards at every door, even the one that separated his privy chambers from the makeshift council room set up for him by his Uncle Jasper and stepfather, Lord Stanley to serve until the new king moved into Whitehall, Henry shivered with a creeping feeling of isolation. It occurred to him that this night was perhaps the only night in his life he’d spent alone without cousins, uncles, mother or retainers of any sort. Alone.
“That’s what it is to be king,” Jasper had reminded him often in the last decade. “Your mother and I will always be nearby and ready to offer counsel, should you ask – and her even if you don’t – but to be aloof and unto himself alone is what it means to rule as King of England. No man, nor woman either, can share the burden that will fall on you.”
He sighed deeply and sat up. He hadn’t stripped down for bed. His Chamberlain yet to be decided, Henry recoiled from Stanley’s suggestion that he needed a master of the wardrobe to help him dress and undress.
“Seriously, Uncle?” he complained when it was just he and Jasper, the council dismissed for the evening and his mother reluctantly dragged off by her husband.
“You wanted to be, Harry,” Jasper smiled.
“I never wanted to be King,” Henry said. “It’s the price I pay for outliving every other claimant.”
Jasper laughed, rocking back his chair to prop his legs on the table between them.
“You preferred life on the French dole then?” he asked. “Forever a supplicant on bended knee, staring down your nose at shite caked boots?”
Henry silently surveyed his Uncle’s reclining form and toured the simple splendor of his Tower chambers with narrowed grey eyes before shaking his head, but he knew that being king was not something he would have consciously give a care to had another path been open to him.
“I miss Wales,” he said.
Jasper smiled. “It’s gone nowhere. Nor will it.”
Henry climbed from the bed and headed for the door before reconsidering and making for the small ante-chamber he’d discovered earlier. It was a small room sparsely furnished with just a desk, a chair and a tall wardrobe containing old vestments of all things. At first glance it appeared adjacent only with no way of escape save the door leading back to the bed chamber. But Henry had not spent a life on the run without learning a truth or two about rooms like these. There was always another way out though it was seldom apparent to the unhunted eye.
It had taken him less than an hour to discover the secret door cleverly concealed in the back of a wardrobe which was securely attached to a wall and led directly to a damp and dimly light staircase that spiraled up and down. Henry recalled that his own chambers were directly under an open terrace that connected towers on either side and so he turned sharply right and sprung cat-like downward into the dimness with less caution than a newly minted king should, he was sure his Uncle would have said though he was equally certain that Jasper would have followed him for the pure adventure of it as well.
Within minutes, it was clear to Henry that the stairway had passed the main floor and he was below ground. The walls dripped a dank dew and a musty smell mixed with the stench of the Thames, which lapped The Tower walls with a familiarity bred over generations. Even so Henry realized with a shock that the air was lightening as he spiraled away from the world above into the bowels of a place with more secrets than even he as king would ever be privileged to know. Only when his stockinged feet fell flat and the narrow hall widened to reveal a door cracked open to the point that light spilled out and threatened him with exposure did Henry stop and consider the rashness of his actions.
“I am King,” he thought. “I chose this at the end, so why am I prowling about like some spoiled princeling pup?”
Before he could turn thought to action and retreat up the stairwell, a voice called out from the secret room.
“Who goes there? Uncle? Is that you? Are you returned at last?”
It was a boy. Without thinking, Henry replied.
“No, it is I, Henry Tudor.”
“Not King Henry?” the voice gently mocked. “Why such reticence? I was told the Tudors thought themselves grand. I am much surprised by your humility.”
Slowly Henry approached the door, stretching out a hand to swing it open wide before peering in.
“I am no threat to you, Henry Tudor, King of England. Step in and see for yourself.”
Years on the battlefield could not quite overcome the heart hammering fear as he stepped through the doorway. Though he was not a tall man, he needed to bow slightly and when he looked up again, he found himself face to face with a monster.
In spite of himself, he gasped and tottered back, catching the frame of the door as he felt one foot slide away. The creature did not move but smiled and turned away. Limping slightly, it walked the length of a deceptively large room and seated itself at table still set for supper.
“Forgive my appearance, Cousin,” it said, waving towards a vacant seat across from itself. “Join me, please. I wish to hear all the news for it has been sometime now that I have been alone.”
Henry willed his breath to slow and place a hand hard over his ribs to stem the wild beating.
He approached haltingly and with a growing recognition that did nothing to silence the roar in his ears that grew with each step. It was not a monster, but a boy as he first suspected. A decade younger than himself though the lumpy decayed looking blemishes that covered the left side of his face and his exposed hand and forearm made age impossible to guess accurately. The long blond locks and sky blue eyes however left no doubt of identity.
“A fortnight plus,” he replied.
“You’re a leper,” Henry said as he seated himself, taking care to touch nothing and laying his hands on either knee. “That’s why Richard never produced you when the rumors of your death began their rounds.”
The boy nodded. His eyes gleamed, but Henry couldn’t tell if they were rheumy or tear-filled.
“And your brother?” Henry asked, hating himself for hoping that the noticeably absent sibling might be similarly afflicted if not dead already.
“I can’t help you with that,” he replied. “I haven’t seen my brother since returning to Ludlow last year. I suspect our Mother has him hidden somewhere in Burgundy. The boy she surrended to my Uncle’s priests was his whipping boy and he, poor thing, succumbed to a fever not long after. His innocent soul rests uneasily under yonder staircase.”
Henry cast a jaundiced eye towards the door and back again to the mottled youth in front of him.
“Forgive me Cousin when I say that you are the last trouble I needed to add to my list of things unsettled.”
The boy who would have been king smiled widely and with more warmth than Henry knew he would have been capable of had the table been inverted.
“I am too rotted to be much of a threat, don’t you think?” his voice was teasing and it reminded him of Elizabeth’s during their brief meeting a day earlier. There was much about the boy who recalled his future queen and seeing it reminded him that this potential threat to his precarious security was his almost brother as well.
“What will you do?” he asked. “Now that you know?”
Henry shook his head and shrugged.
“I don’t know.”
“Kings have to know, Henry,” he said. “It’s part and parcel. But this has been a shock … to us both for I truly expected my Uncle when I heard footfall on the stairs. I promise you I am no threat, but I understand what needs be done. My death is assured and falls not on thee.”
Henry stood abruptly and the boy flinched the slightest bit before relaxing and closing his eyes for a blow he seemed more than ready for, but Henry hurriedly crossed the room and stepped out into the small hallway like a man searching for fresher air. He stood there with eyes closed, searching the canvas of his mind once more for a lost lesson on such a circumstance, but Jasper had never touched on the possibility that the Prince of Wales was still alive.
He did not turn when the shuffling sound of rag-wrapped feet stopped in the doorway behind him.
“I am a soldier,” Henry said without turning. “I do not murder innocent boys. Did I not fight your Uncle on suspicion of him having done that?”
“Among other reasons, I warrant,” the voice behind him did not bother to hide the sarcasm for vengeance was a loosely applied rationale among their extensive set of relations and they both knew it.
“I will visit again soon,” Henry said and disappeared up the stairs.
“And I will be waiting.”
9 thoughts on “The Two Princes in The Tower #fridayflash”
Very intriguing read, Annie. I always enjoy historical fiction and this is a neat take on one of histories grand mysteries. It reads well, though like a first draft. There are several run on sentences that if reworked would really make this pop. The dialog was well done, and really helped show the humanity of both the characters. Nice job.
Ann – I absolutely love this. I, too, am drawn to another era somewhere deep inside and that story I’ve worked so long with the bard as my hero will come out soon. I would love to hear more and need to have more of this. Not too long for me. Take care, Linda
I must be honest Annie, and admit I did not finish reading this, and have marked it for a return in my evening or weekend hours versus now when I start my day – just past 8am for me, and I have that “flash” expectation of a short story versus a long tale of intrigue. I share this with you because of your preface: “I have wanted to write about the Plantagenet princes and their possible fate for a long time” wondering if this is something within you to be channeled into another exploration? Our wanting is something I’ve learned we should listen to.
You are helping me think about this too, for I admit to feeling my own #fridayflash have been too long for the blog/Twitter expectations, even though less than that 1,000-word rule. Thus I felt that you’d want my true feedback as well – hope so!
I had every intention of staying under 1000 words but the idea mushroomed on me. Most of my #fridayflash stuff is first draft only. I probably could have trimmed it but it might not have turned out as well.
Anyway, that is why I disclaimed at the onset. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time but I know that some people will read anything if it stays within the 1500 word range. I appreciate the feedback. I share your observations on length and forum. It is not easy to find an outlet for short fiction (btwn 1500 and 3000) because it is too long for flash and too short for magazines to be interested.
Great take on a ‘what if’ story. The princes have such mystery surrounding them.
It is an intriguing tale. I am a sucker for that era.
Oh I loved this! I have been such a fan of The Tudors series. And, yes, the young Henry would not have murdered his cousin outside a battlefield.
The older Henry? Well, that’s another story… 🙂
Henry VII was ruthless but some history seems to point to a soft side for his wife and at least his oldest son. I think that the princes were dead by the time Henry usurped Richard, but I like the idea that the elder Henry had their continued existence to deal with in his early days as king. I think it’s a shame not to flesh him out as a character in his own right as opposed to viewing him only through Henry VIII.
Wow! I am really impressed by this…and hungry for more please. It was too short for me not too long. Loved it!