[FICATHON] This Keen Encounter, for [livejournal.com profile] the_alchemist

Sep. 3rd, 2012 06:01 pm
[identity profile] lareinenoire.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] thisengland
Title: This Keen Encounter
Author: [livejournal.com profile] lareinenoire
Recipient: [livejournal.com profile] the_alchemist
Play: Richard III, some 3 Henry VI
Characters / Pairings: Richard of Gloucester, Lady Anne; Richard/Anne
Rating: T
Warnings: Yorks behaving badly
Summary: Was ever woman in this humour wooed? Was ever woman in this humour won?
Notes: I couldn't resist this prompt, in spite of the play itself trying to argue against me. This fic takes some minor liberties with the chronology of Acts 1-2 of R3 in order to explain, among other things, how Clarence ended up with children old enough to talk when he got married in Act 4 of 3H6 and one assumes from the state of Henry VI's corpse that R3 begins within several days (maybe, if you stretch it, several weeks) of the end of 3H6 and that acts 1-2 take place over the space of several more days.



Anne Neville was not a warrior, nor had she ever been. She fancied she could see all the way from the sanctuary window to the battlefield at Tewkesbury, only she did not know what it was she sought. Neither victory nor defeat was readily apparent in these strange days.

She was at the window therefore when George of Clarence led Queen Margaret through the abbey gates in chains. One look at her mother-in-law's face told Anne all she needed to know. York rose on the wheel and Lancaster turned down.

Her husband was dead.

He was, admittedly, only her husband of five months. And now, she was a widow.

Edward's face intruded on her mind then--strange how it seemed an intrusion--from the last time she'd seen him, giddy as a child at Christmas at the prospect of battle. When next we meet, my lady, you'll be Queen of England. It would not have occurred to this Edward any more than it would have to her father, the great Warwick, that they might be defeated.

It was on that thought that her breath caught on a sob and tears sprang to her eyes. She had not loved Edward, but that had not been part of the bargain their parents had struck. Betrayed by York, or so he imagined, Warwick had turned his prodigious power to Lancaster, and Anne had been the cement to hold that alliance together.

In that, too, it seemed she had failed. Her first failure was the lack of an heir. The greater had not been hers so much as her father's, dying in battle a bare few days before his erstwhile queen arrived on English soil, leaving Anne a worthless appendage to the House of Lancaster--completely and utterly alone.

There were footsteps upon the stairs. Anne's hand dropped from the window sash and she turned, crossing her hands primly over the mourning dress she now wore for husband and father. The tears tracked across her cheeks, she did not wipe away. Surely a widowed lady deserved that badge, regardless of her husband's attainder.

It was her beloved brother-in-law. Anne's lip curled as he stepped into the room, barely out of his armour, still reeking of blood and sweat. "Hail your rescuers, sweet sister." His smile faded a little at the sight of her face.

"I thought you had renounced my family, dearest George." Irrational anger seized her then, at the sight of a black armband on his sleeve. "How dare you. He would breathe yet, but for you."

The expression of bafflement on Clarence's face would have been comical but for the circumstance. "Edward killed Warwick, not I. Who lies and calls me murderer?"

"A traitor, then. Perjured Clarence, to break his oath twice." Her eyes raked him from head to foot. "You disgust me." It had been for that word, perjury, that George of Clarence had stabbed her husband, or so she had heard.

Malice lit Clarence's smile. "So speaks the daughter and wife of traitors. How very like that wrangling French bitch you've become. Your sister will be disappointed."

That gave her pause. She had not seen Isabel since Clarence had defected from their father's side to rejoin his brothers before the walls of Coventry. Her sister had quietly packed her things and left her chambers at Angers as though she'd been no more than a ghost. Anne hadn't even had the chance to bid her farewell. Now, of course, the tables had been turned, but Anne suspected she would not be given the chance to escape as Isabel had.

With a sigh, she offered him a perfunctory curtsey, wondering if she could will some more tears into being. Men seemed to like tears. "What do you want with me, my lord?"

His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "The king sent me to see to the prisoners of rank."

It put Anne in mind of setting the wolf to guard the sheep-fold, but she kept herself from saying that aloud. "Am I a prisoner?"

"You are sister by marriage to the King of England's brother, Lady Anne. Do you think King Edward would send you to the Tower?"

And daughter by marriage to the king he usurped. What of that? Again, she bit her tongue. "I have not seen the king in some years, my lord, and I daresay our circumstances have both been altered."

Clarence was fidgeting with his left gauntlet, the right still half-hanging on his hand. "You'll be sent to London directly, to my lodgings. Isabel is there already; she'll...look after you." With that, he all but fled the room, leaving Anne to lean back against the windowframe, suddenly wearied beyond measure.

***


The rumours of King Henry's untimely--or perhaps too timely--death reached them as they entered the outskirts of London. And with them, a name: Richard of Gloucester.

She knew Clarence's younger brother by reputation if nothing else. The whole world, it seemed, knew of Gloucster's reputation. A valiant soldier. The king's right hand. A monster.

The man who stood before her in the churchyard at St. Paul's was short--she could look him in the eye--and dark-haired. The king, she recalled hazily as a bright-haired giant glittering with priceless gems wrought in the shape of the rose-en-soleil. Richard of Gloucester loomed behind him, a shadow to his substance, the child that should never have been born.

His had been the second stroke that bereft her of her husband. If Edward had died in battle, she would have mourned the wasted life as one among many in these endless wars of York and Lancaster. Instead, the man now once again crowned King Edward IV had stabbed him through the heart, followed by both of his brothers. And now, Richard of Gloucester had finished his bloody swathe through the house of Lancaster.

For that, she cursed him. For murdering a helpless old man. Her father had long ago remarked that for all his squeamishness, Henry was responsible for every man-at-arms slain in England on his watch. There are many ways to rule badly. It can be just as disastrous for a king to be too weak as for him to be a tyrant. He had been speaking, she recalled now, to the young Duke of Gloucester.

To undertake the death of all the world. Of course, he was lying. The very thought was absurd. And yet--

How was she any better? The thought, once planted, flowered with alarming speed. If her father had not changed sides, Queen Margaret and her son would have languished in France, defeated but alive. She, Anne, would not be cursing like a fishwife on the very steps of St. Paul's, watching blood erupt from the wounds of a dead man in the presence of his murderer.

She would not be listening to that murderer now, meeting those unsettling eyes and wondering if there might be even a scrap of truth behind his words.

But her father had changed sides, blaming York and Edward for the loss of his honour, though Warwick had long been a byword for many things, honour not being among them. She had never been beautiful--even her vanity resisted those blandishments--but she did not come to Richard of Gloucester empty-handed.

"I would I knew thy heart," she heard herself say.

"'Tis figured in my tongue." He was breathless, eyes fixed on hers, the shadow of a wild smile transfiguring his face.

Anne laughed, wincing inwardly at the high-pitched sound. "I fear me both are false."

"Then never was man true."

***


She should have killed him when she had the chance. He had laid bare his heart beneath the point of his own dagger. Take up the sword again, or take up me. He had fought every second for his life, or so the stories said, and she could have taken it with a simple shove of her hands. Even if he changed his mind, he would have no time to react.

He had sworn upon her love for Edward. It had not occurred to him that Anne had barely known her husband before she married him. Her sister Isabel had fancied herself in love with George of Clarence and it had brought her nothing but misery. Queen Margaret had loved her son beyond all reason--now she stared into nothingness and muttered a litany of names beneath her breath. Edward – Richard – Henry – an eye for an eye. Isabel turned all her attention to her two children, little pretty things who even appealed to Anne's shrivelling tolerance for human company.

Isabel was, of course, horrified. "How could you possibly marry him? He's so very ugly."

"That depends on one's point of view." Anne found herself defending him more and more often as the weeks went by--turning into months when she hadn't been looking. In fact, she was growing quite accustomed to Richard. In a certain light she might even think him handsome.

And he was clever. It had never occurred to Anne to want a clever husband. Her father had been too clever by half and it had earned him a dagger to the back. And Edward...God rest his soul, cleverness had not been numbered amongst his good qualities.

She found herself growing impatient. Clarence had insisted upon blocking his brother's suit and the king refused to intervene, insisting that his brothers sort matters out between themselves. The Warwick inheritance was too large--too tempting--for either brother to relinquish.

"It's all tremendously frustrating," Gloucester was saying, pacing back and forth in her chamber in Crosby Place. "I could get rid of him, too, if I wanted..." he stopped, eyes flickering to her for a split-second. "But he is my brother and I shouldn't dream of such a thing."

"He turned on the king easily enough before. You can't possibly trust him." Anne reached out to stop him and realised she had grabbed his hand. "George of Clarence has the constitution of a weathervane. It's only a matter of time, surely, before he turns again."

"I know that." He was looking back at her, speculating, wheels turning in his head. "Why do you care what I think of Clarence?"

"Because I want him gone. I want him away from my sister and her children--"

"--are they not his children too?"

"She suffered for them while he drank until he couldn't see. He barely notices them now. Richard--" At that, he looked up at her, eyes wide and startled. It was the first time she had ever spoken his name. "I will help you. Let me help you."

***


King Edward may have long cultivated the air of a buffoon but even he knew better than to trust Clarence any further than he could throw him. And so, when rumours came to him that Clarence was once more plotting against him, what other choice had he but to imprison him in the Tower?

Nobody expected the king to convict his own brother of treason, let alone carry out the sentence, but it was the only answer. It fell therefore to Richard to take matters into his own hands. Anne had waited for him to return until the early hours after midnight.

"Clarence?" she asked softly.

"Dead. Or might as well be. I have placed his life in the hands of arrant knaves who have ta'en payment for his death." He was fiddling with the dagger. "I thought it would feel different, and it does. Is this how a king feels, I wonder? You say it and--there--it is done."

"Would you be king of England, Richard?" She could see him hesitate and added with a scornful laugh. "I am Warwick's daughter, my lord of Gloucester. It takes a great deal more than ambition for a crown to shock me."

"I confess, I had never thought of it that way." He smiled. "Would you be queen of England, my lady of Gloucester?"

Anne could feel her answering smile curve upward. It was her father's smile, and one she had seen often enough in the glass. "I think I might enjoy that."
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