Richard II/Bolingbroke, loosely based on Shakespeare's plays. Written for Speak_me_fair for the 2009 "Histories Ficathon." Willful slashing of royalty, and flagrant use of 2nd person point of view contained herein. Thou'rt warned, forsooth.
Richard is tall.
You didn't expect that. Although you're both of an age, two-and-twenty, you remember Richard as he was when you were childhood playmates – a clever, smallish child with a willful streak, always getting you (but never himself) in trouble. Your father's recent letters have only enhanced the expectation that King Richard is immature and childish. You're aware he's shown a knack for achieving the love of his people, and for surviving revolt (you know that only too well), but it's a fair-haired waif you expect to find as you step through the arch into the Great Hall.
The Richard who stands chatting before the throne still has the same tousled curls and youthful face of childhood, but he's taller, taller than you, slender and graceful in a way you'll never be, with a dignity enhanced by the trappings of sovereignty. Some things remain the same, besides his youthful demeanor; clearly he still plays favorites – another occupies a place at his right hand, as Oxford did before the revolt, this one also smugly confident. You remember the time when you were his favorite, and he yours.
When you were children, before he became king at such a young age, his game of choice was hide and seek. No matter how hard you'd try to find him, no matter how long you searched, Richard remained elusive. He'd obscure his slender frame behind small tables, fold himself inside ridiculously tiny chests, disguise himself, chameleon-like, as a flowering bush in the garden. Perplexed, frustrated, you'd seek him in vain until he'd leap out of his hiding place shouting your name and applauding his own skill. His unexpected appearance would send your heart pounding with fright. Every game was his. He'd leap, you'd be frightened, then angry. But you were thrilled, too, in that moment of surprise.
Now you find him elusive as ever. Physically he's present, but discovering who this kingly person may be at heart – that may be a far more difficult game.
His eyes – Richard's eyes! – are surprisingly sharp when they turn in your direction. You feel his appraisal and you freeze, awkward, naked. Yes, officially his power has been limited, but he still wears the crown, and if Richard is still headstrong and impetuous—
But in the space of a heartbeat his gaze softens. "Cousin Henry!" His voice brims with warmth that seems genuine. "You are welcome at court!" He descends to greet you and kisses both your cheeks in the French manner. A kingly arm slips about your shoulders. "Come," he says, "sit with us. Sit beside us."
And there you remain, lost, unable to do anything but yield to Richard's charm.
Richard is late.
You've just returned to court and you're a hero. Despite the abortive attacks on Vilnius, there's nothing like a successful foray to Jerusalem to erase failure, and you've been feted and hailed by everyone…except the king. And here you are, in the garden, awaiting his tardy pleasure. It's not your favorite place – you much prefer the stables, or the tournament yard, or the hall lined with armor and Plantagenet escutcheons. But Richard has said he'll meet you here, and in all things one must obey one's king.
It's hot, and he's very late now, and you're pacing, frowning at flowering borders as frivolous and decorative as Richard himself. No doubt he'd know the names of all these flowers, but to you they're merely the (brightly-cloaked) red one, the (golden-curled) yellow, the (royal) purple. The garden suffers from a surfeit of sun; there are brown edges on even the most glorious petals. The sun–
"We trust we've not kept our cousin waiting."
Words of annoyance rise to your lips, but wisely you keep them to yourself. "Certainly not, my liege." Richard laughs softly. Like you he's but two years from thirty now, but boyishness remains in the softness of his face, the challenge in his eyes. You feel years older; certainly you know you look older than he.
He's attended by a dark-eyed youth, slender and fragile, almost feminine. A sodomite, of course. He doesn't touch the king, but the look in his eyes is territorial and challenging. Richard's gaze burrows into yours. He turns his head to the youth, but his eyes don't leave your face. "Be gone," he says, "and quickly." The young man's mouth turns surly, but he bows and departs with a swish of tapestry sleeves.
"It's warm out here," says Richard, sighing and stretching. "Shall we retire inside?"
Richard's skin is white.
Trying not to stare, you lie on your back and gaze up at the gold and silver canopy, and ponder how it is you find yourself here, naked in his bed.
"Why you, you are wondering. Why have I brought you here, when I have others to entertain me?"
His unexpected perception is startling. So you lie. "I was thinking of Jerusalem, Your Majesty."
"Jerusalem? Henry, you're a bore. And don't be so formal. After the things you've just done to the king's body..."
His manner is suggestive, his words wanton, and as you hear them a blotchy flush colors your skin. The king's chambers are indeed cooler than the garden, but a sheen of sweat covers both of you. You're acutely aware of how you must appear to him: short-legged, barrel-chested, the scars of recent battles standing out thick and red on your torso. "My liege—"
"Richard," you manage. "Why dally with a gargoyle, when you have any number of angels for your bed?"
"Cousin! We are scandalized. Do you think us a whore?" He's returned to the plural and you open your mouth to apologize, but he seals it with a kiss that leaves you breathless and desperately aroused. "Don't be tiresome, cousin."
"But I must know why you wished… Richard, you're the king, I'm only—"
"Of the same blood as I, or very nearly." He lets out a great long sigh. "Think of it, Henry! It's a trick of fortune. Had my dear uncle John been the eldest you'd be the sun and I'd be, well, you." That amuses him; he laughs, though it's more like a giggle. "I'd be merely a man." His hubris appalls you, as does the implied insult, but you are distracted as his long fingers draw swirls in the hair of your chest. His own body is nearly hairless but for the tight reddish curls around his sex.
"I am most assuredly merely a man," you huff. His body draws you, and you touch him gently, as if he might be bruised, or you seared. "I won't deny I am a creature of the dirt, with all of Man's sins."
"Well, we're all sinners, cousin. Even the king."
"The priests say—"
"The priests! Sodomites all."
There's no answer for that but to gasp in horror and then laugh.
"Besides, Cousin Henry, the wheel of Fortune may make you king some day, when I am gone."
His tone has darkened. He must be thinking of how he is childless. "I do not wish that," you say, not with complete candor. "Besides, in time your wife will bear you many sons."
"She's failed so far." He flings himself back against the pillows. "The sow."
"The Queen is a woman of many accomplishments."
He snorts. "The Queen is a– never mind. I don't need many sons, cousin; more than one's tricky, as you and I both know." Abruptly his hand moves lower and you can't suppress a gasp as he takes hold of your manhood. "Come, cousin," he says in your ear. "Defile the body natural, and who knows? In time you may well plunder the body politic."
"I assure you, I never—"
"Henry," he laughs. "You've no sense of humor. Don't worry – you're not Warwick, or Arundel, or any of the others, I forgive you. Utterly. It's a thing of the past. Now come, take me again."
He pulls you atop him, slick hot skin yielding against your own, and heat of the day or not, you begin again.
There are many afternoons such as these and many nights as well, when you grunt and sweat pleasuring him and yourself. You cannot refuse him, though whether that is because he is king or because it would be like death to you you cannot say for certain. You know in your heart he is fickle and willful; he's made no promises. He never speaks of what you have between you, whatever it may be. Each time you take your leave you wonder what you'll find upon your return.
And yet, when you are abruptly, off-handedly banished, it's the last thing you expected.
Richard is play-acting.
There's no other word for it. He's staged his appearance on the battlements with all the care and trappings of an actor, choosing his costume and his theme of rejection and milking it before the crowd in the courtyard as thoroughly as ever cow was milked.
Your hands itch to applaud, but you're too angry to unclench them.
"Come, cousin, seize the crown," Richard taunts.
You don't need to be asked twice.
Richard is dead, killed by an assassin who may have done exactly what you wanted him to do. Even now you're not sure what you wanted, less sure what you said that provoked the act. Some say you starved him to death; others maintain Exton acted alone. Of course there will be no inquiry, for certainly it's better for you, and for England, if Richard is dead and gone. No one needs an extra king languishing about the countryside, with whatever friends he has left fomenting rebellion on his behalf. You know all about revolts and rebellions. As Richard would say, they can be tricky.
And so here you are, seated on the throne. The late afternoon sun shines through the transom, casting bars of light and shadow on you where you sit. You're just beginning to realize how much of a prison the throne can be, a richer, more elaborate and far more dangerous prison than Richard occupied in his last days.
You are king, and your son will be king, and when all is said and done it might have been expected that things turn out this way. It wasn't a trick of fortune, or an accident of birth. It was because of a weak man who should never have been on the throne, a man willful, and shallow, and petty, who used the crown, that hollow ring of metal, as a weapon to plunder the land and abuse the people.
Richard was weak. Richard was a sinner. Richard deserved his fate.
You weep for him.
And that too, is unexpected.