Royal Redemption: Chapter 14

Despite his encouraging words to Edward, it was with some trepidation that Harry left his squire alone in the solar to await the king’s arrival, and he paced his room in private hoping that his confidence in the reconciliation between father and son had not been misplaced. When he judged that they had had more than enough time to talk through past faults, failures and misunderstandings, he sent to the kitchens for wine and personally carried up to the solar the tray bearing a flagon and goblets.

In response to his gentle knock, the king bade him enter and, walking into the room, he immediately sensed an air of calm. “Ah, Harry,” said the king, “come in, come and join us. How’s your father doing? I’m so looking forward to seeing him again.”

“The earl is well, sire,” Harry assured him as he poured three goblets of wine. “He’s making ready to greet you at Alnwick Castle.”

“It was an inspired idea of his to arrange this meeting,” the king said graciously. “I’ve long wished to see Edward and heal the breach between us which was as much my fault as his.”

Edward blushed and tried to remonstrate. “I let you down, sire. I behaved badly at court and brought disgrace on my name and yours…”

The king interrupted him firmly, “There’s no more to be said on that score, Edward. You’ve admitted your responsibility and begged pardon which I’ve freely given. From what I hear, you’ve more than made up for your misconduct with your loyalty and hard work in Alnwick. If I’d been a better father to you, if I’d spent more time with you and overseen your upbringing as I should have done, you wouldn’t have got into such difficulties in the first place.” Turning to Sir Henry, the king continued, “There were faults and failing on both sides, Harry, as your father once told me, and I’ve acknowledged my mistakes to my son and asked for his forgiveness.”

Edward looked uncomfortable at the king’s admission but when his father turned to him and smiled, his face lit up with pleasure and Harry knew that his initial assessment had been correct; the king and the prince had reached a new understanding. The king sat back in his chair, accepted a full goblet of wine from Sir Henry and drank deeply of the best Bordeaux to be found at Chillingham Castle. “One day, Edward,” he said, “you’ll take on the burdens of kingship. Then perhaps you’ll understand the worries and pressures which have led me to neglect my family. You’ve no idea what it feels like to be responsible for the lives of others, to lie awake at night wondering how many men you’ve sent to their deaths in battle.”

Edward gave that some thought. “If it was a just war,” he said eventually, “maybe I could live with myself but if my error of judgement caused the death of even one man I think it would haunt me forever.” He hesitated for a moment and then ploughed on. “I made a dreadful mistake the first time I was put in charge of one of the earl’s patrols. It nearly caused the death of Hugh de Warenne; you know, the younger son of the Earl of Surrey. I finished up taking refuge here from a party of marauding Scots and the castle was severely damaged during the siege. That’s why there’s building work in progress now.”

Edward hung his head in shame but the king responded bracingly and without reproach. “I have no doubt that you paid for your mistake when Northumberland got to hear of it.”

“Oh yes,” Edward answered hastily, “and… and… Sir Henry Percy had something to say about it too.” The king intercepted the look Edward directed at Harry which elicited an amused and affectionate smile. He correctly concluded that the two men had rekindled their childhood friendship and reached a private understanding which, on this occasion, seemed to stretch to a wordless conversation. On the prince’s side it appeared to convey embarrassment and gratitude in equal measure, along with a certain sense of longing which the king couldn’t interpret.

“I was pleased to hear that you consented to act as Sir Henry’s squire,” the king commented briskly, breaking the spell. “I can’t think of a better man to teach you the laws of chivalry and the art of leadership.”

“Thank you, sire,” murmured Harry. “I’m so used to having Edward as my right hand man now that I don’t know how I’ll manage without him.”

“You won’t have to part with him just yet. Now I’ve seen how well he’s doing in Northumberland I’ll convince his mother that he’ll benefit from remaining a while longer in your father’s care. Speaking of the earl, I’ve sent word that I’ll be with him tomorrow morning. The rest of my entourage is travelling slowly to Alnwick Castle; the wagons carrying my bed and furnishings take time to cross this rugged terrain. We’ll depart soon after dawn to rejoin the royal progress before it arrives in Alnwick. I hope your father has laid on a banquet because I fear we’re not going to be royally entertained here.”

“Sir Humphrey Grey has done his best to provide a sumptuous meal for his guests,” said Harry, as disapprovingly as he dared, although the king seemed oblivious of the implied criticism. “He doesn’t know he’s entertaining the king although I doubt he could have made a greater effort even if we’d revealed your identity to him.”

When they eventually went down to the great hall for dinner the meal was not found wanting and Harry left Sir Humphrey Grey and his wife to make most of the conversation with the king, finding it difficult to maintain the required level of informality with the man he knew to be his monarch. Edward was silent for most of the meal and ate little but Harry, glancing at him occasionally, knew his squire was far from unhappy. In fact, he couldn’t remember ever having seen Edward so relaxed and at ease. His demeanour only served to emphasise the burden he’d been carrying with the knowledge that he’d been sent from court in disgrace. Harry prayed that the new found understanding between Edward and his father would prove lasting.

The next day Harry and Edward also left for Alnwick, accompanied by their men at arms who had been kept out of the king’s way at Chillingham Castle. Arriving home they found the castle in a high state of preparedness for the royal visit. The king had not exaggerated the extent of his baggage train; the wagons filled the stable yard. Servants rushed to and fro, running errands for the king’s huge retinue, moving furnishings, carrying piles of household linen and bringing meat and vegetables to the kitchen in preparation for the evening’s banquet.

As they dismounted by the stables, Edward held out his hands to take the reins of Harry’s horse. Harry hesitated for a moment, undecided about allowing Edward to assume his usual role as squire. It was obvious that servants could not be spared to see to the horses and Edward was clearly intending to groom their mounts and clean the tack himself before going inside to get ready for the banquet. A glance passed between the two men; Harry’s carried an implied question but Edward’s smile conveyed all the answer Harry needed to know. Edward was happy to be of service, it gave him pleasure to wait upon his lord and there was satisfaction in returning to the role he had assumed in the Percy household.

As Harry handed over the reins, Edward did have one request to make but it was one which Harry did not feel he was empowered to grant. “You’ll have to ask my father’s permission,” he said with a laugh. “I can’t take responsibility for that, not after what happened last time.”

If the men at arms had not been within earshot Edward might have been tempted to offer a less than respectful response but he bowed slightly and replied appropriately, “Yes, sir.” Only his grin revealed his ready appreciation of Harry’s teasing.

It was some time before Edward finished in the stables and then he had to carry water up to his room from the kitchens so he could wash off the grime from the journey. When he’d changed his clothes he went in search of the earl to make his request. At first the bailiff tried to fend him off, arguing that the earl had too much to deal with while the king was a guest at the castle but Edward’s quiet authority and winning smile soon made him relent and Edward was granted the short interview he requested.

As soon as Edward entered the earl’s chamber, Northumberland sprang to his feet and hastened to embrace his visitor. “Come and sit down,” he said. “Tell me all about your meeting with the king.”

“I’d better not sit down, my lord,” Edward protested. “The bailiff said you could only spare me a few minutes.”

“I expect he said I couldn’t spare the time to see you at all,” said the earl astutely, “and you charmed your way in here.” Edward blushed but the earl patted his shoulder reassuringly. “Don’t worry; I always have time for you. Tell me what you wanted to see me about.”

“Well… I wanted to ask you something. Harry said I needed to get your permission.” There was a pause while the earl waited expectantly. “Tonight, at the banquet, may I serve the king at table?”

The earl smiled. “I take it the meeting with your father went well, then.”

“Yes, it was just as you said, he’s forgiven me for all the things I did wrong and he asked me to forgive him for… for not being the father to me he should have been.”

“And did you? Forgive him, I mean. Were you able to forgive him for neglecting you?”

“I understand a bit better now the burden he carries. Understanding makes it easier to forgive.”

“That’s a very mature view, Edward; I don’t think you would have seen things like that when you first came to Alnwick. Tell me why you want to serve at table tonight.”

“I want to do something to make up for all my wrongdoing, to show the king that I will always serve him. It just seems a very tangible way to demonstrate my loyalty and devotion.”

“It’s important to you that you make restitution for your faults, isn’t it, Edward?”

“Yes, I think I’ve learnt that while I’ve been here. Even punishment has always left me feeling better afterwards… well, at least in my heart if not in my hide.”

“Well, don’t do anything to earn yourself a punishment tonight!” Edward looked at the earl questioningly. “I don’t want a platter of hot food tipped into the king’s lap.”

Edward was momentarily taken aback. He’d accepted the jest from Harry but he didn’t expect the earl to tease him and he wondered for a moment if it was a serious warning. His confusion was apparent on his face and the earl put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, Edward, I know there is no cause to fear you’ll disgrace the household.” The warmth of the earl’s smile and the reassuring way he squeezed Edward’s shoulder convinced the young man of the earl’s trust and affection.

“After all the hours I’ve put in training those boys,” said Edward with a grin, “the last thing I’m likely to do is to set a bad example! I’m going to show them just how it’s done; the king won’t even know I’m at his side.”

Edward’s words proved prophetic. Dressed in Percy livery and being so deft and speedy with his service, Edward never so much as drew a second glance from the king. The monarch’s goblet was kept topped up and dishes of delicacies straight from the kitchen appeared beside his hand. Oblivious as always to the presence of servants, the king used the meal time to quiz the Earl of Northumberland about the threat from the Scots, the readiness of his troops, and the state of the Percy lands. Edward was practised enough in his role to be able to listen intently while he was serving the meal and he couldn’t help but be impressed by his father shrewdness, his knowledge of the north country and his grasp of the political and military situation.

When the kitchen sent up one enormous pie surmounted with a ring of smaller pies, forming a crown, Edward undertook to present this culinary delight to the king on a large platter. Hefting it onto his upturned palm and steadying it with his other hand, he walked confidently up the centre of the great hall, to the admiration and delight of the young pageboys he’d been teaching to perform just such a feat. The hall fell silent as all gazed upon the amazing triumph of the pie maker’s art and the king turned to look at the approaching dish. The huge platter effectively shielded Edward’s face from his father’s sight and not until he knelt before the king and lowered his burden was he recognised. By then, the chatter had resumed in the great hall and no one saw the king’s reaction when he glanced down for a cursory inspection of the banquet’s centrepiece and found himself looking into his son’s light blue eyes.

“Edward,” he exclaimed. “What are you doing serving the pie?”

“I’ve served you all night,” explained Edward, with just a hint of amusement in those sparkling blue eyes. “It’s one of the tasks I learned to perform when I first came to Alnwick and it’s my pleasure to render you the finest service this castle can provide.”

The earl, who was the only one sitting close enough to overhear the conversation, nodded his approval at Edward’s courtly reply but the king objected, “It’s not a task fit for a prince. You should be seated at table beside me.”

“I forfeited that right when you sent me from court, sire. Here, I am Sir Henry Percy’s squire and no one thinks it amiss that I should have the honour of serving you.” Edward paused and gave a moment’s thought to what he wanted to say next. “And… and if all the world knew I was Prince Edward and heir to the throne of England, it would still be an honour and a privilege to serve you.”

For once the king was lost for words at this unlooked for homage from his son, and Edward took at advantage of the momentary silence to get to his feet and place the platter on the table. He picked up a large knife and said, more loudly, “Would you do the company the honour of cutting the pie, sire?” He bowed low, handed over the knife and stepped back while the king made the first ceremonial incision in the piecrust which was then carried away by two of the kitchen staff to be served out in small portions with selections of the baked fowl from within: capon, pigeon, swan, blackbird and duck.

Edward went to render assistance in the division of the pie leaving the king free to speak without constraint to the earl.

“You’ve brought about a remarkable change in my son,” he said gratefully. “I never expected to find him so… so loyal and so biddable.”

“He’s not as biddable as you might imagine,” responded the earl with a laugh, “but his loyalty is all his own. It’s been a pleasure having him here. And I think Edward himself is the one who worked hardest to bring about changes; all he needed was a little guidance in the right direction.”

“How long will he remain a squire? Oh, I’m delighted that your son has given him the training he should have received at court but isn’t it time there was some recognition of his knightly status?”

“I’ve been thinking so for some time, sire.”

“Has Edward not made any objection to his present lowly rank?”

“You mean, since he demanded to be addressed as Sir Edward when I first saw him at the Palace of Westminster and told him he’d be returning to Northumberland with me?” asked the earl with a laugh.

“Oh, dear! Was that interview very difficult? I did rather leave you to manage Edward unsupported but we’d had so many fraught sessions; I couldn’t face another confrontation.”

“Don’t worry about it. Actually Edward was remarkably dignified and well behaved, considering the circumstances. And once he’d accepted my terms I heard no more complaints from him.”

“He didn’t have much of a choice, did he?”

“That’s true, but I think he knew it was his last option. He came with me willingly.”

“He must have been a trial to you to begin with.”

The earl considered his response and then said, “No, not really. Initially he was floundering without the accustomed protection afforded by his name but, in all honesty, Edward wants to please and hates to feel himself at fault. He’s had to struggle with his temper and learn obedience and self control but he’s been no more of a problem than any other strong willed and volatile young man. I count it a privilege to have helped him find his true self.”

“I’ve always valued your friendship, Henry, and now I am indebted to you forever. You’ve returned my son to me.”

“Not just yet, I hope, sire. There’s more we can teach him, especially how to behave as a godly and chivalrous knight. I beg you to let him remain here for a little while longer. I know that is Edward’s own wish.”

“Whatever you think best. I’ll be guided by you on this matter. I would like to feel that his status as a knight will be recognised though.”

“I have an idea as to how we can achieve that without raising any suspicion. In fact, it’s been at the back of my mind for a long time but I need your permission. Technically, we cannot repeat the ceremony of knighthood, as you dubbed Edward a knight several years ago, but I think there is scope for a second rite to take place.”

At that point Edward returned to the table bearing plates of food for the king and the earl and their conversation was interrupted. However, before leaving Alnwick Castle, the king made a point of talking the matter through in private with the earl and reaching an agreement about Edward’s future. By then the royal party had spent a couple of weeks as guests of the Percy household and the king had taken every opportunity to become reacquainted with his son, both in the course of a number of private meetings and also during evenings spent talking to him in company with the Earl of Northumberland and Sir Henry Percy. In addition, he’d had the opportunity to watch Edward going about his daily business with a confidence and commitment he’d never before seen in his son. Edward might only have borne the rank of squire but there seemed to be an unspoken recognition of his right to command, a right not afforded by name or status but by proven competence and an indefinable air of authority, tempered with friendliness and good humour.

A few days after the king’s departure, Edward was summoned to see the earl and he reported as ordered with the guilelessness borne of trust in his guardian and confidence in the knowledge that he’d done nothing amiss. “Hugh de Warenne is in the final stages of preparation for the ceremony of knighthood,” the earl said, getting straight to the point. “He’s asked for you to be his supporter.”

Edward’s first response, which the earl read in his expressive eyes, was pleasure and pride that his friend had selected him for such an important role. A second later his delight evaporated as he realised the problem. “I can’t undertake that responsibility, can I? I’m not to be knighted with the others.”

“But you’re a knight already,” asserted the earl.

“Oh… well… yes… I was dubbed knight some years ago but no one here knows that.”

“When you first learned you were returning with me to Alnwick as a member of my family you insisted on the right to be addressed as Sir Edward,” the earl reminisced.

Edward had the grace to blush. “It wasn’t a title I’d done anything to earn,” he admitted honestly. “I knew nothing of the laws of chivalry. I wasn’t fit to claim such a mark of respect.”

“But you are now,” replied the earl firmly.

Significantly, Edward did not argue that point but he objected on practical grounds. “I can’t suddenly start to use my rightful title and I can’t be dubbed a knight a second time because…”

“Strictly, that’s not quite true,” the earl hastened to point out. “You were dubbed a knight by the king at a civil ceremony but the older rite was always performed by a priest in church. How would you feel about a private ceremony, preceded by the traditional vigil, in a monastic church?”

“Is that possible?” Edward asked in wonderment. “It would be an opportunity to pledge myself properly to the service of God and the cause of right. I’d be entering into knighthood with an adult understanding of the commitment. Would the king permit me to undergo such a rite?”

“He’s already given it his blessing,” the earl assured Edward.

“Really? When can I do this?”

“I’d suggest as soon as possible so that you can act as supporter for Hugh when he is knighted.”

That comment gave Edward pause. “May I have supporter for my own ceremony?”

“Of course, Edward. Who acted for you when the king dubbed you knight?”

“The king of France, I think. I never spoke to him but he was visiting the court to negotiate a treaty and my knighting was part of the celebrations bound up with signing the treaty.”

“So the king used you as a pawn in his diplomatic game,” said the earl trenchantly.

“Oh, I don’t know I’d express it quite like that,” objected Edward.

“I would and, more to the point, so would your father. He admitted as much to me and is delighted that you now have the opportunity to undergo a ceremony which will be more meaningful for you.”

“Well, I would never choose the King of France as my supporter. There’s only one man I would like to have at my side on such an important day and that is your son, Sir Henry Percy. May I ask him?”

“I think he’d be very disappointed if you didn’t.”

Edward beamed with delight. “I take it you’ve discussed this with him already.”

“We’ve had to do a bit of preliminary planning, yes. I’ve taken the liberty of writing to the abbot of Lindisfarne to ask if you can be knighted in the church there. How do you feel about that?”

“That is just as I would have wished but I do have one special request. I would like Father Gregory to perform the ceremony.”

“I expect that can be arranged,” the earl assured him, content that Edward approved so wholeheartedly of all his plans.

Within a fortnight Edward, accompanied by the earl and his son, were journeying to Lindisfarne. Edward couldn’t help but contrast his feelings on this occasion with the sense of trepidation and loneliness he’d experienced on his first crossing to the island. This time he had a sense of returning to a place of solace. The wind blowing off the sea, carrying the scents of salt and seaweed, reawakened memories of the fruitful months he’d spent there as a guest of the community and pupil of Father Gregory.

As they passed through the abbey gatehouse, they found Father Gregory waiting for them in the courtyard. “Welcome, welcome,” he cried. “How’s my favourite pupil doing? Not so intent on preparing for knighthood that you’ve been neglecting your reading, I hope.”

“No, Father,” replied Edward dutifully, “I read every day now.”

“I’m glad to hear it. And you’re about to become Sir Edward… but not, I think, Sir Edward Percy.”

Edward glanced at the earl in confusion. He didn’t know how to respond and he found it difficult to believe the earl would have disclosed his true identity, even to Father Gregory.

The priest correctly interpreted Edward’s questioning glance and hastened to reassure his erstwhile pupil, “Don’t worry, Edward, the earl has said nothing to me. I’m just going by the evidence of my own eyes. No member of the Percy family ever had blonde curls so I had my suspicions from the start. Then you failed to use the Percy name in the letter I helped you write. In fact you used only your Christian name, a practice, in my experience, confined to kings and princes.”

Edward’s blush and confusion told its own story but Father Gregory continued, “I’m not making any guesses or asking any questions, Edward. You will always remain in my prayers and I know I will hear good things of you in the future.”

Edward was touched by the genuineness of Father Gregory’s good wishes and he stepped forward and knelt before him. “Will you give me your blessing, Father, as I’m about to embark on final preparations for knighthood?”

Father Gregory placed a hand on Edward’s head and used the thumb of his other hand to trace the sign of the cross on the young man’s forehead whilst commending him to the protection of the Trinity.

Later that evening, after the three men had been shown to their quarters in the guesthouse and entertained to dinner with the abbot, Edward and Harry went to the church to join the community for Compline. At the end of the service, the familiarity of which transported Edward back to his days participating in the monastic liturgy, the abbot placed Edward’s sword on the altar and the two men were invited to kneel on the chancel steps to begin the long vigil which would last until dawn.

It was as much a test of endurance as a prayerful preparation and Edward had quizzed Harry about his experience on the journey to Holy Island. Harry had admitted that he’d found it hard to remain awake in the small hours of the morning, and kneeling for hours had proved physically demanding, but his abiding memory had been of the peace and the silence, broken only by the monks who glided into the chapel in the gloom to sing the night offices. He assured Edward that he would find the vigil an uplifting experience and promised to make sure he didn’t fall asleep or topple over.

Kneeling in the silence of the vast monastic chapel, Edward allowed the calm to permeate his spirit. Forbidden to speak, he had a powerful sense of Harry’s presence close beside him. He knew that without the support, guidance, discipline and structure provided by Sir Henry Percy he would never have been ready for this moment in his life. Without conscious intent, his mind strayed to the occasions on which he’d felt the closest connection to his lord, when submitting to his authority or baring himself for punishment. Sometimes it had proved a struggle to overcome his pride but Harry had never humiliated him, only made him accountable for his misdeeds and then offered him unconditional forgiveness.

Edward reflected on the pleasure and satisfaction he’d gained from serving as Harry’s squire: waiting on him at table, helping him dress and don his armour, looking after his belongings and overseeing the care of his falcons and hounds. Latterly, Harry had encouraged him to delegate those tasks and had increasingly expected him to take responsibility for others and to exercise command. Edward knew that he’d risen to the challenge, modelling his leadership style on that of Harry himself, but he also knew that, given a free choice, he would happily have served Sir Henry Percy for the rest of his life.

He recognised that his feelings for Harry went beyond the bond of love permitted between brothers in arms and he remembered, with a frisson of excitement, how his naked body had responded when he’d been hoisted onto Edward’s back or lain across his lap awaiting punishment. He tried to banish such inappropriate thoughts but the more he reminded himself that he was in church, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, the more his imagination conjured up new scenarios. He had a vision of himself lying naked on a bed with Harry straddling his body. His arms were stretched above his head and Harry held both his wrists in a firm grip, totally immobilising him. The idea of being entirely at Harry’s mercy, of having to submit to his desires, of being taken, punished, possessed and owned was incredibly arousing.

Edward began to fidget, shifting to kneel with his legs further apart. Harry was alerted by the slight movement and made the mistake of assuming it was discomfort in the knees which Edward sought to relieve. He placed a consoling hand on his squire’s shoulder and pulled him against his own body to support some of his weight. Edward leaned gratefully into the comforting strength of the man he revered and resolved that, whatever the future held for him, he would never willingly relinquish Harry’s company.