Title: THE KING'S RETRIBUTION
Author: Mercedes Rochelle
Genre: Historical Fiction
If you read A KING UNDER SIEGE, you might remember that we left off just as Richard declared his majority at age 22. He was able to rise above the humiliation inflicted on him during the Merciless Parliament, but the fear that it could happen again haunted him the rest of his life. Ten years was a long time to wait before taking revenge on your enemies, but King Richard II was a patient man. Hiding his antagonism toward the Lords Appellant, once he felt strong enough to wreak his revenge he was swift and merciless. Alas for Richard, he went too far, and in his eagerness to protect his crown Richard underestimated the very man who would take it from him: Henry Bolingbroke.
"What ails you, my love? What has happened?" More women came forward and he left them to their work, getting up and standing helplessly against the wall. They finally succeeded in pulling off her outer dress and tucking the queen into the bed. The physician came into the room and passed by the king without seeing him. Satisfied for the moment, Anne's ladies moved aside while he put a hand to her forehead, then an ear to her chest, listening.
"She's feverish," he muttered.
"It happened so suddenly," Richard said and the doctor swung around, startled.
"Oh, sire. I'm sorry. I didn't see you."
Richard moved toward the bed. "What could it be?"
The physician moved her head and she let out a little groan. "My dear," Richard said, sitting next to her. "Can you hear me?"
Anne blinked. "Richard. I feel so faint. I am so tired."
"Shh. Don't push yourself. I'm here." He looked at the physician.
The man shrugged. "I would have to say there's an imbalance of humors in her body. We must check her urine. Then we should let some blood."
Richard knew nothing about medical procedures; he nodded in agreement. “Come,” he gestured to the maids. “The physician needs her water.”
As Master Pol went off to prepare his tools, together they coaxed the queen out of bed. The physician came back shortly with a specially shaped glass to collect a sample, then left the room to give Anne privacy. Taking the queen behind a screen, the maids did what was necessary, but they soon called the king for help. They were having difficulty holding Anne up and she moaned as he put her arm around his neck. Picking her up again, he laid her gently on the feather mattress. He removed his outer garments and crawled into bed, taking Anne into his arms. She laid her head on his shoulder but couldn't stay in that position for long; her breathing was too labored.
When the physician returned, he shook his head. "Sire, she might be contagious. You could get ill."
"It is no matter. She needs me."
The other sighed, knowing that if the king died, he would probably follow in short order—not by natural causes. Resignedly, he laid out a cloth on the bed and lined up his blades before taking the flask, holding it before a candle and studying its color. Tilting the glass, he sniffed before dipping his finger into the urine and tasting it.
"You see it is reddish," he said to Richard. He glanced at the maids. "Is she having her monthly course?" The women shook their heads. "Then we must conclude there is too much heat in the liver. I recommend bloodletting to help balance the humors."
"Do what you must." The king paid little attention to the procedure, concentrating instead on Anne's comfort. The doctor performed his ministrations quickly and efficiently. He tied her arm above the elbow, then straightened it over a bowl and made a slight cut into her vein. A small red stream ran into the dish. When he felt enough blood had been shed, he loosened the tie and bound the small wound.
"I will examine the urine after it has cured overnight," Master Pol said. "I will return in the morning."
Richard nodded, kissing Anne on the forehead. "You must get well," he whispered.
Her eyes fluttered open. "Richard," she said faintly. "Something is very wrong with me. I think I'm dying."
"Shh. Don't speak so."
She took an uneven breath. "Call a priest, my dear. Don't let me die unshriven."
"That won't be necessary. But don't fret. As you wish." He turned, beckoning to one of the ladies. "Summon the queen's confessor."
The maid ran from the room and he put an arm around her shoulders. "Now tell me, are you in pain?"
She nodded. "Down here." She put a hand on her lower belly. "I don't know what it is. Oh." A quick intake of breath alarmed Richard more than anything else. He stroked her hair. "Your priest is coming. He will pray for you."
"Listen to me," she gasped. "If I am gone, you mustn't lose your faith. I will be watching over you. Remember, you must be strong. Don't let your enemies find any reason to rebel against you. Be kind..."
"Shh. You are not going anywhere."
The priest hastened into the room and knelt beside the bed. "Your Grace, I'm here."
Anne turned toward Richard. "I won't need much time. Stay with me."
The king watched in disbelief while the last rites were given to his wife. As the minutes dragged on, her eyes got heavier and heavier, her breath even more labored; her voice shrunk to a whisper. The priest crossed himself, then kissed a crucifix, handing it to her. She placed it against her chest and closed her eyes.
"I thank you," Richard said. "I don't know why she thought she needed you. I will watch over her this night."
"God will watch over her, too, sire. I will pray for her."
Anne's breathing was even, so Richard leaned against the wall, prepared for a long night. She slept for a while then woke with a moan. Startled awake, Richard leaned over her.
"Hold me," she whispered.
Taking her into his arms, he murmured endearments. She put her hand on his cheek and sighed. But she didn't breathe in again.
Richard waited, terrified. He gave her a little shake and her hand fell to the pillow.
"Anne. Anne. Wake up." He shook her again and her head dropped to the side. "Anne. Don't leave me. Don't go." His voice was more insistent, but there was no response. "You can't leave me. You can't. I can't live without you." He held her tight, to no avail. Sobbing, he laid her back against the pillows.
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Like many of us, I first learned of Richard II from Shakespeare. Even though I knew nothing about him, I was totally captivated during the prison scene while he bemoaned the fate of kings—and I never recovered! But his story goes way beyond the events of this play; in fact, Shakespeare only covered the last year of Richard’s life. He tells us nothing about what led up to the famous scene between Bolingbroke and Mowbray, where their trial by combat was interrupted and they were sent into exile. This was indeed the crisis that led to the king's downfall, but Richard's story is much more complicated than you would ever think from watching the play. This book helps explain how King Richard went so wrong and precipitated his own downfall.
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Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. She believes that good Historical Fiction, or Faction as it’s coming to be known, is an excellent way to introduce the subject to curious readers. She also writes a blog: HistoricalBritainBlog.com to explore the history behind the story. Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.
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