To hear him howling in pain, crying out for our lady mother, tore at my heart. It had started in the early morning hours days before.
Was this to be the end of my beloved brother? What would become of me?
"Make him stop! For the love of God, make him stop!" I begged the good physician, who stood, rummaging through his bag of medicines and tools, at the foot of my brother's bed.
"My Prince," he said without turning, "would that I could, but I cannot."
"Surely," a white-faced guard near the door trembled. "Surely there is something you can do?"
"I can make him comfortable," the physician murmured. "I can give him something to take his mind from the pain, but I cannot take the pain."
Before the guard or myself could beg for a miracle from a man unable to give us one, the door swung open, and in walked my uncle, Lord Protector, in his customary black tunic and hose.
"My Lord," the physician bowed as the guard sprang to attention. My uncle swept passed the man and knelt at my brother's bedside.
"Your Highness." His voice was a soft, sad whisper. "Can you hear me?"My brother turned his head, and let out a wail of pain as he did.
"U-uncle?" he gasped out. "Uncle, please. The pain..."My uncle turned his head to the physician, despair written upon his face. "Good sir, tell me there is hope."
The physician paled. To answer that question was damning, and well we all knew it. If he were wrong, his reputation would be ruined, and his very life could be in danger.
"Tell me true, man!" My uncle roared as the silence stretched on. "Is my nephew the king at Death's door?"
"Y-yes, m'Lord. I fear that our young King will not last the night," he murmured. "The decay has poisoned his blood, m'Lord, and there is naught I can do for that."
"Can you not pull the tooth?" I cried. "It is his tooth which pains him, not his blood!"All heads turned to me. The physician and my uncle exchanged looks, and it was my uncle who finally answered me.
"My young Prince, my own namesake," he started sadly, "it is not that the good physician cannot pull his tooth. The tooth has decayed far too long in our King's mouth. The death has spread to his blood. He waited too long to mention the pain, until it was too great to hide. There is no more to be done, child."
"But would not the pulling of the tooth allow his mouth to breathe again? Could we not save him in this way?" I cried, desperate, desperate, desperate to save the only remaining link to the golden days, the days of splendor and happiness...the days before our father died.
"No, Your Grace," the physician whispered. "It is too late."
Grief overwhelmed my senses. I was but ten years of age; was I to lose my entire family before I even entered manhood? "What shall we do?" I whispered, frightened. "What will become of us?"
My uncle left my brother's side and came towards me, hand outstretched to clasp my shoulder. "You will become King in his place, Your Grace."
"NO!" I cried. "To be king is a curse. To be king is to DIE. I cannot. Please, Uncle, please...I cannot!"
"Richard.." His voice was soft, gentle, like my father's had been when he needed me to understand what I did not want to accept. "You are your father's only remaining son once the young King dies. If not you, my Prince, then we are lost. All that we have fought for will be lost to the ages, to the Lancasters. To Henry Tudor."
"You do it!" I screeched, desperate in my child's panic to find a way out. "You be King, Uncle! I cannot! I do not wish to die!"
My Lord Uncle stared at me.
"Prince Richard, so long as you live, there can be no other claimant to the throne uncontested. There will always be factions trying to place you, against your will, on the throne, should you fail to take it of your own doing."
"I do not care," I insisted. "I cannot do it!"
"M'lord," the guard's voice sounded from the door. "M'lord, there is a way, if I may be so bold."
My uncle rounded on the poor man. "Prince Richard is the rightful heir upon the death of his older brother, Edward! What other way could there be!?"
The guard shook, but stood his ground. "For years, m'lord, your own mother, Duchess Cecily, put forth a rumour that your brother, God rest his soul, was married to another before he wed the Dowager Queen Elizabeth. Were this rumour true, m'lord, then none of the children of his union with Queen Elizabeth would be legitimate, and none would have an uncontested right to the throne. You, his brother, would be the only claimant for the Yorks."My uncle gaped at him.
"I do not want my brother's throne, man! It is for his SONS to take, not I."
The physician ventured forth to speak this time. "M'lord, you know as well as I that leaving the throne to a twelve year old boy was risky, dangerous. In times as tumultuous as these, what enemy would hesitate to attack us with a child on the throne? Place a ten year old boy on the throne upon the death of the young King, and we are lost. Place a man, a grown man with years of military experience and many battles fought and won under his belt, on that same throne, and they will not attack us. Our land would be safe, m'lord, so long as a man such as yourself sat upon the throne."
My uncle's face reddened. "I can hold the kingdom safely for my nephew through the eight years to his majority. I am still that same man you speak of, but the throne is his, not mine!"
"Yes, m'lord, but as a father with a young son around his age yourself, you are aware of the difficulties of childhood," the physician argued, boldly. "There is no way to say for certain our young prince will make it through these eight years to his majority, just as our young King will certainly not make it through the next six hours, let alone the next six years to his own majority! You can save us the pain of burying another King, the uncertainty of another child on the throne, and save your young nephew the pain of a throne he clearly does not want, all by taking the throne now!"
"And dishonoring my brother and his beloved Elizabeth?" my uncle roared. "Does that mean nothing to you, man? Elizabeth, the Dowager Queen, is a good woman! She has lived a good and honorable life, giving to charities and raising good, God fearing children as the Lord above commands a woman of her position! To dishonor her in such a way and besmirch my brother's name by declaring his Queen to be in truth his whore and their children bastards...it is not a thing I can do!"
A gasping sound from the bed drew our attention back to my brother.
"Uncle," he rasped. "Uncle, please. Richard is too young. It must be you. Please, Uncle. Mother will understand."
We rushed forward to grasp his hands. His head swung painfully around to look at me. The left side of his face was horribly swollen, and his breath was rancid. "Richard, it will be alright," my brother swore to me. "I will join our father in Heaven, and watch over you as you walk this life, and be there to greet you when it is your turn."I fought tears as I held his hand, nodding to his words.
Even in great pain, at the hour Death came for him, my beloved brother tried to shield me. "Uncle," he continued, turning with a great groan of pain to our uncle and Lord Protector, "you must do as has been discussed. You must take the throne and keep our kingdom safe. It must be you, Uncle."
"Your Grace, I cannot do such to your father's memory and your mother's good name," Uncle replied, horrified.
"I command it," my brother ground out. With those words, a final command, my brother's eyes rolled back and he let out a shaky, pained breath, and then...nothing. I let out a wail of despair, clutching his hand, begging the good Lord in Heaven to bring him back to me. A gentle hand on my shoulder drew me momentarily back from the madness of grief.
"My Prince," the physician murmured. "It is over. The King is dead. Long live the King, whichever of you it may be."
I turned to my Uncle, my face drained of all color, pale and frightened, grief coursing through my veins. "Please, Uncle. I am too young. I am but a boy."
"Would you have me kill you, Richard?" my uncle shouted. "For such would be the only way to keep you safe from a throne you do not want!"
"My Lord," the guard ventured again. "My lord, there is another way."We all turned to him.
"What?" my uncle barked out.
"Burgundy, my lord. Spread about that both your nephews have perished of some illness or accident, tell only his mother that the boy lives, and send him to your sister in Burgundy, as you have sent other children of your family in times of danger," the guard hurried. "He will be safely out of the way in Burgundy, and you will be able to claim the throne uncontested."
"Yes!" I shouted. "Yes, Uncle, that is the answer! I shall go to Burgundy. You shall be King, and I shall go to Burgundy! You need not fear your throne's safety from me, Uncle, for I do not want it."
My Uncle stared at me for a long moment. At last, he heaved a heavy sigh and pushed his hand through his dark hair. "Give me your word, young Richard, that you will not claim the throne from me nor will you allow it, when you are a grown man, to be claimed by Lancaster, and I shall do as you wish, for in my heart, you are the true King of England. It shall be as you command it."
I thought for a moment. I thought of the golden days of my father's rules, of the dark days when he was fighting for his throne, and of the days darker still when he lay dying and all around was fear and sadness and grief. I glanced at my brother's cooling body on the bed, a King never crowned for illness had rendered him unable to attend any ceremony, and thought of our mother. Our beautiful, golden haired mother and our beautiful, golden haired sisters who would grieve for us both, but who would continue to live in safety and prosperity, even with damaged or ruined reputations, so long as my uncle held the throne.
And I thought of what future I could have as King of England. I thought of the wars I had no stomach to fight, of the decisions that would rest squarely on my shoulders I did not want to make. I thought of the many rules of diplomacy and court etiquette that I wanted no part of and never had.
I was a boy of ten, and I was a scholarly child. I had been wed young to Anne Mowbray and widowed a few short years later. Was that a life I wanted for a child of my own in the future, to be sold at a young age to the highest bidder? Were those decisions I wanted to make? Could I do as my father had done and be a strong, fair, good King?
No, I decided. It was not for me. Life would be safer in the educated court of my aunt in Burgundy, where I could read to my heart's content and be no more than another face in the crowd, free to study my books and learn my languages. And when I was a man grown, should my uncle's claim to the throne be in danger, perhaps then I would be ready to step up to my father's legacy, to the life my brother had now left behind.
But for now, I was a lad of ten years, and neither I nor the country was ready."I swear it, Uncle. I shall not take the throne back from you, nor shall I allow another to take it. If you die and leave no heir, should my cousin fail to thrive, I swear to you when I am a man grown, I will keep Lancaster from our family's throne," I swore with all the goodness and kind intention of my young heart.
My uncle stared at me for a moment, then nodded."Then it is done. I shall arrange for you a boat to Burgundy and a letter for my sister, explaining our bargain, for we cannot allow word of our arrangement to get out," he sighed. "I do not want this, you know. The throne was for Edward, not I."
I nodded. My uncle's attention then moved to the other two in the room. "If we are to bastardize the children, we cannot allow word of young Edward's death to leave this tower. Word of the death of the boys will demand a showing of their bodies. Richard lives. We cannot show one boy's body and not the other. Let the people suppose what they will. It is far safer for them to think the children alive and well in this place than to know the truth of what we are about to do, God forgive us. Bury the King here somewhere, in a secret place. Put it about to those who knew he was ill that he was moved for his comfort, and his brother sent with him for company. Get word to Elizabeth of what we are to do. Tell her I shall allow her a goodbye with young Richard if she wishes it. And you must never, on pain of death, speak the truth of what happens here tonight."
The other two men nodded solemnly, then knelt. Realizing what was to happen, I knelt beside them, bowing my head in obeisance to my uncle.
"The king is dead," the physician repeated. "Long live the king, Richard III."