Authors: Alison Prince
It's a long time ago now. My daughters and my son are almost grown up, and yet they still want to hear about what happened.
âYou should write it down, Mama,' they say. âYou have told us, but nobody else knows, just you and Papa. And there are so many lies.'
A lot of people do know, more than my children suspect, but they dare not speak because the lies are powerful ones, designed to last forever.
Telling the truth may be the one thing I can do for my lost, beautiful boys and for the lost king who struggled so hard with the secrets and betrayals.
It seems like yesterday.
Perhaps that is the way to write it.
Just see it all over again, the way it was.
My father and I are driving out to see my granny in the next village. It's early spring, and primroses are blooming in the woods â a lovely day.
Papa is telling me about a woman who was digging turnips and put the fork clean through her foot when a horse comes galloping along the lane towards us.
The rider pulls it to a halt. âDoctor Jones!' he gasps, âThere's been an accident at the Castle. The young prince had a fall. His uncle said please come at once.'
âVery well,' Papa says, calm as always. âLead the way and we'll follow.'
The rider turns his horse and sets off, looking over his shoulder. Papa urges our horse into a trot.
The gates of Ludlow Castle are standing open between its high, grey walls so we clatter straight into the courtyard. People are crowded round a fat woman who sits on the mounting block, holding a little boy in her lap. She's wearing an apron, so if he is the young prince, she can't be his mother. Queens do not wear aprons. Perhaps he
royal â there's a kind of dignity about him, though he's only small. His face is blotched with tears, but he's trying to push the woman's hand away as she dabs his swollen forehead with a cloth.
A man in elegant clothes comes towards us.
âYes,' says Papa.
âI am Earl Rivers, the boy's uncle. He was unconscious for several moments after a fall from his pony. He seems recovered, but as his guardian, I can take no chances.'
Papa hates time-wasters, but he says politely, âYou are wise, sir.'
He turns to the boy and says in his cheerful Welsh voice, âLet's have a look, then.'
Papa holds the little boy's wrist for a moment, noting his pulse rate, then he puts a gentle finger under his chin to raise his head and inspects his eyes. He runs his hands through the fair, curling hair, feeling carefully for any damage to the skull, then turns to Earl Rivers.
âNo cause for alarm as far as I can see,' he says, âbut it's quite a nasty graze. I'll put some salve on it. Make him more comfortable.'
Papa smoothes herbal ointment over the boy's forehead then covers the graze with a square of clean, soft linen from his leather bag. I often help him, so I know how to hold the cloth in place while he bandages the boy's head and ties the split ends in a neat bow.
âThere you are, my handsome,' he says to his little patient. âAll tidy now.'
âThank you,' the boy says. âBut you should call me Edward. Not what you said.'
âI beg your pardon, Edward,' Papa says gravely.
He glances at the coin Earl Rivers puts in his hand and says, âThis is too much, my lord. I have only been of simple service.'
âMaybe. But you have set my mind at rest, and that is of value. I am not experienced in the mishaps of children.'
Little Edward has begun to fidget. He's been sitting on the fat woman's lap for a long time, I expect, so he is getting bored. He needs something to play with. I run across to our horse and trap. I'd found a magpie's tail feather in the yard this morning and left it on the seat. I bring it back to him.
He scrambles down from the woman's lap and takes the feather. He runs its smooth length between his fingers and thumb then looks up, strangely excited about such a common thing.
âIs it for me?'
âYes. A present.'
His face breaks into a beaming smile. âThank you!' he says.
He inspects the feather more carefully, as if it is something new to him. Perhaps he is more used to manufactured toys like rattles and puppets. Then he looks at me again and asks, âWhat is your name?'
âElizabeth,' I tell him, âlike your royal mother. But my brothers and sisters call me Lisa.'
âLisa,' he repeats.
He stares at me again then runs to his uncle, who is still talking to Papa. He tugs at his coat, causing Earl Rivers to look down in surprise.
âWhat is it, Edward? You should not interrupt.'
âI want Lisa to stay here.'
People glance at each other but say nothing. After all, this child is a prince.
His uncle seems perplexed. âAre you sure?'
âYes,' the little boy says. âI am sure. She is nice. I like her.'
Earl Rivers looks at me and asks, âHow old are you?'
âShe is the eldest of five,' Papa explains, âso she is used to children.'
Edward takes my hand.
âI want her to stay,' he repeats. Then he adds, âPlease.'
It sounds like a word he seldom uses. He and I look at each other carefully. Neither of us smiles, but his hand tightens round mine.
Papa and Earl Rivers are talking together, so we have to wait and see if agreement comes. Edward holds the feather up to my face and I blow at it gently
to make it flutter in his fingers. He laughs. I feel he does not laugh often.
Papa turns to me.
âLisa,' he says. âEarl Rivers would like you to be a companion and helper to this royal boy. But it means you will have to leave home and live here. The choice is yours. I cannot tell you what to do.'
Little Edward knows he must not pester, but his grey eyes are full of entreaty.
I'm scared and breathless, but in these few astonishing minutes, I have come to know that he needs me. How can this be? This child who will inherit a kingdom has everything, and I have nothing. But I cannot let him down. I start to answer but my voice doesn't seem to be working properly, so I take a shaky breath and try again.
âYes,' I manage to say. âI would like to.'
Earl Rivers tells Papa, âBring her back tomorrow with her things.'
Things? I have only a shawl and a spare dress, and a comb for my hair.
Edward is not absolutely sure his wish has been granted. He asks, âYou promise?'
âYes,' I tell him. âI promise.'
âGood,' he says.
Papa and I climb back into the trap. He slaps the reins gently on the horse's back and we move forward through the gateway to the road outside. I feel as if I'm dreaming.
âWell,' Papa says. âYour granny will be surprised. And your mother, too. I hope we have done the right thing.'
My fingers are crossed. With a magpie's feather that cost nothing, it seems I have bought a new life.
They said my clothes would not do, and gave me two blue dresses and black leather shoes. I wear a clean apron every day and my hair has to be tucked into a white cap. I still feel like a new, strange person, but I am getting used to it.
Edward is an easy child to amuse. He has no brothers or sisters here to play with, so he welcomes my company in his free time â not that he has much of that, poor little soul. He does not have to collect firewood and look for mushrooms and help weed the garden as we do in our family, but in many ways, his life is more severe. His uncle, whom people always call Rivers, expects him to work hard at his learning.
He has a tutor called Dr Alcock â not a medical doctor like Papa, though. He is the Bishop of Worcester, a stern man, though he is careful with his little pupil and never unkind.
Edward's Uncle Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, has been here several times. He is the King's youngest brother. He brings small gifts, but what Edward really likes is that he treats him as an intelligent fellow-person, not a mere child. They get on wonderfully well. Richard is married to Anne Neville, who is slim like him, with a bright, smiling face. They have a young baby, a little boy called Edward, like his cousin. Royal people seem to use the same names all the time.
Richard is not much taller than I am, though they say his brother, the King, is a giant of a man. Richard has a thin, kind face, with grey eyes like his little nephew's and dark eyebrows. There is a wary look to him sometimes, like a dog that lifts its head at a sound nobody else has heard. Had he really been a dog, people might have called him the runt of the litter, for his back is not quite straight and one shoulder is a little higher than the other. I've heard him sneered at as âRichard Crookback', but that is unkind, because he is strong and wiry. And he carries his cloak tossed over that shoulder, so you hardly
see any lack of straightness. Papa thinks swaddling babies tightly when they are born, as so many people do, can cause a curvature of the spine. My brothers and sisters were free to kick their little legs â but I can see it saves a lot of bother if babies are made into tight little parcels that can be hung on any handy peg.
Papa told me a lot about Richard. He was only eight years old when his father and eldest brother were killed in a battle. After that, he lived in the house of a man called Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who was his guardian, just as Rivers is guardian to Edward. Richard's wife, Anne, is Warwick's daughter. They met as children, and loved each other even then. But Papa says Warwick turned out to be a treacherous enemy to Richard. No wonder he is watchful.
Little Edward will not see his uncle so often from now on, because the King has made Richard the governor of the North of England. Annie, the fat woman who was sitting with Edward on her lap when I first saw him, is the cook here, and she knows everything. She says the North is a wild, hilly place rather like Wales, but colder.
Edward made no fuss when his Uncle Richard told him he had to go away, just pressed his lips together
and nodded. He was given the title of Prince of Wales when he was just a baby, and tries hard to be grown up. When he is old enough, he will govern Wales and the Marches surrounding Ludlow Castle. And of course, he will be the King of England when his father dies. So he is serious about everything, and works hard at his lessons.
Our days follow a strict pattern. We rise early, while it is still dark. I sleep in the same room as Edward, in case he should wake at night. I help him wash and dress, then we go to Matins and hear Mass. We have breakfast then he studies with his tutor. He already reads very well. Dr Alcock has a huge, heavy Bible, in a language I don't understand. Edward says it is from Germany. It is not made by hand, but printed by a wonderful machine.
Earl Rivers is stern about the way the servants behave. He is very strict about how we speak, for the King has said his son must not at any time hear swear words or âribald language'. Annie laughed when she heard that and said, âBetter keep my mouth shut, then, hadn't I?'
Annie has worked in this castle since she was a girl, and her mother before her. She is the chief cook now and a great gossip, but wonderfully kind. She
has told me a lot about the royal people we serve, though I don't see much of them, as my days and nights are fully taken up with Edward.
When his morning lessons end at about ten o'clock, we have dinner, then I take him upstairs for a short rest. Rivers wanted to know the reason, but I didn't have a reason, I was just doing what Mama always did. I told him my father says children need time after a meal to digest their food. He accepted that, so the first lesson after dinner starts a little later now.