Royal Redemption: Chapter 2

Northumberland was up soon after dawn. His squire had risen even earlier to pack his lord’s possessions in leather travelling bags and send word to the stables to have horses and men ready for departure. As Northumberland was breaking his fast with bread, cheese and small ale the royal seneschal came personally to the earl’s quarters to inform him that his travelling companion was ready and awaiting his pleasure. The earl suspected that this message might be something of a diplomatic understatement but the seneschal, who managed all the domestic arrangements in the royal household, was too well trained to betray, even by the slightest flicker of his countenance, that all was not well.

Northumberland refused to be hurried over the meal which would have to sustain him for a long day’s travelling but finally he rose and accompanied the seneschal through the palace on a route which was clearly leading away from the royal apartments. He fervently hoped that his first meeting with Edward since the prince’s childhood would not take place in a prison cell but it soon became apparent that he was being taken to a rather remote but well appointed part of the Palace of Westminster.

The seneschal halted outside a heavy wooden door where two guards were standing to attention and he lifted the key ring which hung from his belt. Using the largest key he opened the door which was reinforced with elaborate iron strapwork. Then he stood aside to allow Northumberland to precede him into a small but comfortably furnished chamber.  Its sole occupant was a young man who had risen to his feet, although his hands remained pinioned behind his back. The seneschal turned the prisoner, none too gently, by the shoulder and bent to unlock the restraints around his wrists. “I’ll wait outside,” he said as the young man flexed his fingers to restore the circulation. “Knock on the door when you’re ready.” With that, he directed a slight bow towards the earl before turning to leave the room. In the ensuing silence both men heard a rattle, muffled by the thickness of the wooden door, as the key turned in the lock.

Northumberland would have known Edward anywhere. Those same golden curls tumbled into his eyes and his face had not lost its childlike roundness, despite the anger and aggression which currently marred his handsome features. Northumberland did not bow before the heir to the throne; he did not even lower his gaze. Instead he looked straight into the prince’s eyes, which retained the startling light blue sparkle he remembered, and in them he detected more than angry amazement that a subject had failed to render due deference. The confusion and anxiety which were lurking in their depths drew from the earl an entirely unplanned response. He held out his arms and walked towards the young man saying, “Edward, you haven’t changed one bit. I held you in my arms when you were just a child. Come here and let me hold you again.”

Edward betrayed no emotion as he allowed himself to be embraced by a man he didn’t recognise but whose stature and authority overwhelmed him by sheer force of personality. “You won’t remember me, Edward, but I vouched for you at your baptism, you played with my son when you were both children, I’m…”

“Northumberland,” interjected the prince with dawning understanding. “The Earl of Northumberland. You’re Harry’s father.”

“You remember Harry?” asked Northumberland in amazement.

“I remember him chasing me and carrying me on his shoulders. I remember him showing me how to fight with a little wooden sword. I don’t really remember what he looked like, just that he was bigger than me and that we had fun together,” said Edward rather wistfully.

“My Henry is only eighteen months older than you but the age difference meant that he could walk when you were still crawling and he could carry you when you were a toddler. He missed you when we went back to Northumberland after my father died.”

“Where is he now?” enquired the prince.

“At Alnwick Castle. I left him in charge of the fiefdom when I received your father’s summons.”

The prince’s features clouded over. He stepped away from the earl and enquired harshly, “What did he want?”

“I think you’ve guessed, Edward. His Majesty wanted to speak to me about you.”

Edward turned away and looked through the narrow window which afforded a view of the River Thames far below. Northumberland could tell from the set of the prince’s shoulders that his earlier warmth had evaporated, to be replaced by an invisible wall of hostility. The earl decided not to mount a frontal attack but to play a waiting game.

He went to sit in the elaborately carved wooden chair placed beside the hearth in which a log fire was burning brightly. His gaze swept around the room which was furnished for comfort, despite serving that morning as a place of confinement. Northumberland guessed that the chamber was generally used for transacting affairs of state. The walls were hung with tapestries, imported from Arras, depicting colourful hunting scenes. There was a long oak table in the centre of the room with five carved chairs just like the one in which he was seated. Wrought iron candlesticks on the table matched the sconces on the wall above the fireplace and indicated that the room could be well lit if clerks were required to transcribe documents.

As Northumberland expected, his silence was beginning to unnerve the prince. The young man turned round to see what his visitor was up to and was surprised to find him sitting in a relaxed pose and gazing back at him with a slightly quizzical expression on his face. Edward was too embarrassed to turn his back again in a childish gesture of defiance so he had no alternative but to comply when the earl issued a quietly worded invitation to come and sit down.

As Northumberland himself was occupying the only chair beside the fire, and was showing no sign of getting up to place a seat for his prince, Edward went reluctantly to fetch one of the chairs from beside the table. He placed it very firmly on the stone flags beside the hearth with a glare at Northumberland which was meant to signal that the heir to the throne was not in the habit of moving furniture. The earl appeared unmoved by this pointed show of irritation and Edward didn’t quite dare to express his annoyance verbally.

The Earl of Northumberland was one of the foremost members of the nobility. His residence in the north meant that Edward had not seen him for years but he knew that the king relied upon the Percy family to guard the northern borders of the realm. In addition, the king and the earl were longstanding friends and Edward had grown up knowing that he and Northumberland’s son had been childhood playmates. But it wasn’t the earl’s status and friendship with the king which placed a curb on Edward’s tongue. There was something about the man’s innate authority and his calm expectation of obedience which prevented the Prince of Wales from objecting to the fact that the earl remained seated in the presence of the heir to the throne.

“Thank you for coming to join me,” said the earl courteously when the prince finally took his seat. There seemed no appropriate answer to that so Edward remained silent and the earl continued speaking. “I want to talk to you about what your father and I have agreed.”

“Does it concern me?” asked the prince with a touch of aggression.

“It does,” confirmed the earl.

“Do I have any say in what you’ve agreed?”

The earl sighed. He had hoped to present the arrangements for the prince’s future in an attractive light but he wasn’t about to tell the young man any lies. “No,” he admitted, “you don’t have any choice in this. You’re coming back to Northumberland with me.”

“I’m being banished from court,” the prince shouted as he leapt to his feet. “The king, my father, is banishing me from court.”

“Sit down,” said the earl commandingly. “There’s been no mention of banishment.” Edward rather reluctantly resumed his seat. “You will be joining my household at Alnwick Castle. If it’s any consolation to you, I had no say in the matter either but I’m looking forward to your company and I know my son, Harry, will be delighted at being reunited with his childhood friend. I’d like to feel that you also view a move to the north as an attractive prospect.”

“I suppose so,” Edward muttered reluctantly. “What have I got to do?”

“There are some conditions attached to this move, as I think you’ve guessed. You will not be joining my household as Prince of Wales; you’ll be travelling to the north incognito.”

“Why?” demanded the prince. “I refuse to renounce my title.”

“You’re not being asked to renounce your title nor your claim to the throne but while you’re under my roof you’ll be treated as a member of my family. I am your godfather and I propose that we describe you as a distant relative.”

“Will I have to change my name?”

“How about we call you Edward Percy?”

“My family name is Plantagenet,” objected the prince.

“The Percy name also bears a proud history and it’s older than yours,” countered the earl with a laugh. “I trust you will not bring dishonour upon it.”

The slight blush which coloured the prince’s cheeks was the first indication of a guilty conscience. He knew his recent conduct had been less than honourable and he covered his embarrassment with a challenge. “How do I know that the king has approved this plan? You come marching in here and you tell me you’re removing me from the court and not allowing me to use my title or demand the privileges due to my rank. Where is your authority for treating me in such a manner?”

Northumberland took the question seriously and replied with calm assurance. “You’ve every right to ask that question, Edward. I will undertake to get proper authority from the king before I ask for your final assent to my proposals. Will that satisfy you?”

The prince nodded. “So what precisely are you proposing?” he asked.

If you come with me willingly it will be as plain Edward Percy. You’ll…”

“But I’ve been dubbed a knight,” the prince interjected. “At the very least, I demand to be called Sir Edward Percy.”

Northumberland took a moment to consider the request but then delivered his decision, “From what I’ve heard, your conduct has fallen far short of the courtesy and chivalry expected of a knight. You will need to prove yourself worthy of the title and honours of knighthood before I decide to accord you the privilege of being addressed as sir.”

“But I’ve been knighted by the king himself. That ceremony cannot be performed a second time,” the prince objected.

“I’m sure a solution to the problem can be found if and when your behaviour reaches the standard I expect,” responded the earl repressively.

“What if it doesn’t?” enquired the prince with forced bravado.

“You’re coming to Northumberland as a member of my household, under my authority. You’ll be subject to my discipline which means you’ll take whatever punishment I impose for any disobedience or misconduct. On the other hand I’ll be no harsher with you than I would be with my own son. Are you willing to accept that?”

The prince thought for a few moments and then said, “Yes, I think I can accept that arrangement, if you’ll treat me as you treat Harry. It might not be a bad idea to get away from London for a while either,” he added thoughtfully. “Things are getting a bit difficult, some of the townspeople have been complaining… I could do with a break in the country.”

“This could be the making of you, Edward, if you undertake to give this arrangement a fair chance.

“I haven’t got much of a choice, have I?”

“It will be your choice to give me your obedience, to try your best with everything that is asked of you, to play a full part in our family relationships and not to opt out if things get difficult.”

“And if I refuse?”

“You’ll still be coming to Alnwick Castle with me but I don’t want to transport you in irons. I’m asking for your consent and cooperation.  Do I have it?”

Edward took a few moments to give final consideration to his options and then uttered his “Yes,” with quiet dignity.

“Yes, what?” pressed the earl.

Edward was momentarily confused and then he got awkwardly to his feet. “Yes, my lord,” he affirmed.

“Good,” said the earl with resolution. “Now we’ll go to your apartments and pack your clothes and belongings for the journey. I trust you have apparel suitable for plain Edward Percy.”

“There are places I frequent in Spitalfields and Cheapside where dressing as the Prince of Wales would probably cost me my life as well as the shirt off my back,” the prince admitted with a hollow laugh. “I have a chest full of clothes which won’t draw attention to my wealth or rank.”

Northumberland rapped on the door and issued rapid instructions when the seneschal stepped into the chamber.  “I will be escorting the prince to his quarters to help him pack his belongings. In the meantime, I would like you to go to the king and request formal authorisation for the arrangements which I’m about to make with his son.”

The royal official looked uncomfortable and gestured towards the guards at the door. “Do you need an escort?” he enquired pointedly.

“We have no need of guards,” the earl stated firmly. “You may dismiss your men. We’ll be ready for departure as soon as my travelling companion has completed his packing. Meet me in the stables when you’ve obtained the king’s warrant for our journey.”

Northumberland fervently hoped that the king would understand the coded message from his old friend and come in person to wish his son farewell. But when the earl and the prince crossed the courtyard to the stables, carrying Edward’s possessions in two leather panniers, they could see that the seneschal was already waiting for them, holding an official document in his hand. The large seal, hanging from cords, indicated that it bore the royal stamp of authority and when the seneschal handed the parchment to Edward he ran his fingers thoughtfully over the solid, red wax.

The royal seal, depicting the king seated on the throne, wearing his crown and holding the sceptre, was universally recognised as the mark of authenticity. Edward didn’t so much as glance at the written text but just rolled the parchment and carefully inserted it into the corner of one his panniers. He flung the bags across the saddle of the horse being held for him by a groom and mounted quickly. He was dressed in brown doublet and hose with a leather jerkin to provide protection from the elements. In that outfit he was indistinguishable from the rest of the earl’s entourage who were warmly and sensibly clothed for the long ride north. Only Edward’s bright curls would have marked him out to any member of the royal court but his hood, pulled low over his forehead, disguised his identity from any inhabitants of Westminster who were abroad at that early hour.

The earl consigned the prince to the care of his squire, introducing him as Edward Percy, a distant relative and his godson. Edward’s identity raised no comment or question as the party set off on the long journey to Northumberland.