Royal Redemption: Chapter 6

Edward stumbled back to his chamber assailed by very mixed emotions. He was forced to acknowledge that he was in more pain than he’d ever believed possible from a simple whipping and yet there was a certain sense of pride in having endured it. He was no longer a man set apart, a being whose royal person could never be subjected to physical discipline, but a squire like any other who had just suffered the consequences of his lord’s displeasure.

It had felt until then like he’d been playing a game, travelling to the north in disguise and pretending to be someone he wasn’t. All at once his new existence had become very real, as real as the stripes across his back, and he knew that he had to take seriously his commitment to live as Edward Percy. He suspected he would have to prove his worth to his father’s old friend before he’d be permitted to claim his birthright, but his determination to reform his ways was driven by a more powerful motivation than worldly ambition. He wanted to please Harry Percy; he wanted to make Harry proud of him.

He wearily opened the door of his chamber and stopped in amazement on the threshold. Richard Fitzurse was seated on his bed and Hugh de Warenne, who’d succumbed to the lateness of the hour, was dozing beside him. Richard’s greeting woke Hugh and they both stood up to comfort and commiserate with their new friend.

“How was it?” asked Hugh, sleepily.

Edward blushed. He hadn’t expected such a blunt enquiry but both young men knew he’d been up for a whipping which they regarded as a normal, if painful, feature of their existence. Edward tried for a casualness which he didn’t feel, “Not too bad. He used his belt.”

“He must have been angry,” said Richard. “You’ve really got to push Sir Henry to get him to take his belt to you.”

“He wasn’t angry,” said Edward with sudden certainty. “I think he was just taking into account some previous offences when I got off lightly… like… like when I argued with you, Hugh, on the journey here and when I kicked Richard.”

“Nonsense,” said Hugh decisively. “Sir Henry doesn’t bear grudges. He punishes you and it’s done with. You got beaten for insulting that damn Scot.”

“Wasn’t it funny to see him hopping about and shouting,” interjected Richard. “I nearly laughed out loud but I knew what would happen if I did.”

“I think I’ll be able to control myself better after tonight,” admitted Edward. “It makes a difference, doesn’t it, knowing what the penalty is likely to be.”

“Let’s see the damage then,” demanded Hugh.

Edward looked uncomfortable but Richard said, “Come on, Edward. We waited to help you into bed and we’ve brought water to bathe the sore spots.” He held out his arms in the gesture of a squire waiting to take his lord’s outer garment and the generous offer of assistance broke through Edward’s reserve. He allowed his friends to help him undress and, when he was lying face down on the bed, he surrendered to their ministrations.

The first touch of wet cloths on his painful back and buttocks caused him to gasp with shock but as the cold compresses began to draw the heat out of his welts he was aware of the pain diminishing. When Hugh carefully pulled the coverlet over his damp body and blew out the candles, he was already sinking into a deep sleep of exhaustion.

He awoke early, his prone position reminding him at once of the events of the previous evening, and he shifted cautiously to explore the extent of his discomfort. It was immediately apparent that the intense sting and burn had departed overnight and he was just left with a lingering soreness. Before he’d made up his mind to get out of bed, the door opened and Sir Henry Percy walked into the room, dressed for riding. Edward started to struggle up but Sir Henry restrained him.

“Lie down, Edward. I’ve brought some salve for your back. How are you feeling this morning?”

“Much better, sir. Richard and Hugh tended to me last night.”

“That was kind of them but no more than I would expect. They’re very fond of you.” That piece of information came as a surprise to Edward and he didn’t know what to say. However, Harry didn’t seem to be expecting an answer as he concentrated on drawing back the coverlet and examining his squire’s back and buttocks. The broad, red welts had disappeared leaving only faint outlines where the edges of the belt had bitten into the flesh. Apart from that, only a pink flush from shoulders to thighs gave evidence of the thrashing he’d received.

Sir Henry was relieved to see that the damage was slight. He’d feared that Edward’s fair skin would mark more extensively. He sat down on the bed and opened the pot of ointment.

“Will you let me rub on some of this salve, Edward? It’s made by the monks of Lindisfarne and you’ll find it’s wonderfully soothing.”

Edward nodded his acceptance but, as Harry’s strong hands moved across his shoulders and descended to his buttocks, he was far from soothed. There was something exciting, but also disturbing, to be caressed so intimately by the man who’d punished him the night before. When Harry’s fingers spread his buttocks and thighs to anoint the more inaccessible spots, Edward was thankful that he was lying on his front. To distract himself from what Harry was doing to his body he asked the question which had occurred to him when he first woke, “Should I apologise to Baron Douglas this morning?”

“Douglas departed at dawn,” said Harry. “I apologised on your behalf and assured him that you’d been soundly whipped. He left happy,” Harry added with a note of distaste.

“What about your father? Should I apologise to the earl?”

“There’s no need to, unless you particularly wish to say something. I told him how bravely you took your punishment. He’s proud of you for facing up to your fault.”

“Will he tell my father, the king, what I did?”

“Of course not, Edward. We’re not reporting on you. No messages have been sent to London since you arrived.”

“Oh, I’m glad,” Edward whispered with relief.

“Would you like to send a letter to the king when we despatch a messenger with a copy of the agreement signed by William Douglas?” Harry enquired gently. “I’m sure your father would like to have news of you and know that you’ve settled in.”

“Do you think so?” Edward asked sceptically. “I expect he’s just glad I’m no longer around to cause problems.”

“You’re wrong to think that, Edward,” said Harry firmly. “The king loves you and he sent you here for your own good.”

Edward buried his head in his folded arms and considered that emphatic response. He’d feared his offences had led to a permanent breach between him and his father but Harry’s words rekindled the hope that he was still loved. With sudden resolution he reached under his pillow and pulled out a crumpled parchment, made dirty and dog eared from frequent handling, and asked, “Will you read this to me?”

Harry put down the pot of salve, wiped his hands and pulled the coverlet back over Edward’s body. Edward sat up carefully and handed the document to Harry who immediately recognised the royal seal hanging below it. It took only a moment for Harry to scan the opening formula: Rex Angliae et duc Normanniae et Aquitaniae, et comes Andegaviae…

“This is easy Latin, Edward,” he said. “If you’re having difficulty reading this then you need more practice. It says, King of England and Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou, to my most beloved son…” Harry stopped there in some consternation. “This is a personal letter to you, Edward, and I shouldn’t be reading it. Just show me the part you’re having difficulty with and I’ll tell you what it says.”

Edward held Harry’s gaze, challenging him to say something damning as he made his shaming confession, “I can’t show you… I… I can’t read.”

Harry said nothing at all. He was overwhelmed with pity for the young man who’d kept his father’s letter under his pillow, had brought it out to look at and handle but, all the while, had been unable to tell what it said. Without further objection he turned his attention to the elegant, clerkly hand and began to read:

“To my most beloved son, Edward, greetings.

“Forgive me, Edward, for sending you from court in this manner. I pray it will be for the best. The Earl of Northumberland is my oldest and dearest friend and I would trust him with my life. Today I am entrusting him with my eldest son whom I love more than life itself.

“I know I haven’t given you much cause to believe that I love you. The burden of kingship has taken me from you and caused me to neglect my duties as a father. I do not hold you responsible for the mistakes you have made. You’ve had no father to guide you on the right path.

“I have asked Northumberland to be a father to you instead. He will teach you the self discipline which I have been unable to instil and demonstrate the art of leadership in which I have set a poor example.  Trust him, Edward. He will take good care of you. Obey him and strive to follow his example. His son, Harry Percy, was once your closest friend. Turn to him for help, support and advice.

“Your mother and I hope to hear that you are happy in Northumberland where you can grow into the young man you were destined to become. Forgive me for not coming in person to wish you Godspeed. I am staying to comfort your mother who cannot bear the thought of parting with you.

“I will always love you, Edward. Take this opportunity to make me proud of you.”

Harry put the manuscript down on his lap and looked up in time to catch Edward blinking away tears. The young man who had left his home and family with hardly a backward glance, and who had endured a thrashing dry eyed, was overcome with emotion at this evidence of his father’s love. Harry felt a surge of anger against the king whose neglect had allowed such an engaging young man to take the path to perdition. There was so much courage, loyalty and love in Edward that had been allowed to go to waste and Henry resolved to steer his squire onto a straighter course in life. He placed a comforting hand over Edward’s and said gently, “Would you like me to write a short note for you to send to your father? We could decide together what to say.”

Edward sniffed, nodded, and then said quietly, “I’d like to tell my mother I’m safe and well. I don’t want her to worry about me.”

“That would be good,” Harry agreed. He had no intention of putting words into Edward’s mouth. “We’ll sit down together this morning and work something out. Then your letter will be ready to go with the other documents we’re sending to London.”

“I don’t want my father to know I can’t read or write,” said Edward with a truculence designed to cover his embarrassment.

“His Majesty will think nothing of a letter which looks as though it’s been written by a clerk,” replied Harry calmly.

“That’s true,” agreed Edward. “Clerks do all his writing for him. I don’t see why I need to learn to read and write anyway. William the Conqueror couldn’t read or write; he couldn’t even speak English!”

“Times were different then,” objected Harry. “William reigned more than a hundred years ago. Kings nowadays need to be able to study documents without always having to rely on clerks. Surely your father assigned you a tutor.”

“Oh, yes,” admitted Edward dismissively, “but I didn’t pay much mind to the lessons.”

“Were there no consequences of your inattention?”

“My whipping boy got his hide tanned, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Didn’t you find that hard to witness?” asked Harry, unable to believe that Edward could be so hardhearted as to discount another’s suffering.

Edward was silent for a moment remembering how powerfully he’d been affected when Northumberland had whipped Hugh de Warenne. “I didn’t hang around to watch,” he finally admitted.

“Edward,” said Harry with a seriousness which focused Edward’s attention. “May I have your permission to talk to my father about this? We can’t leave you with such a gap in your education. We must make sure you can read and write. Are you willing to make an effort to learn your letters?”

Edward nodded. His inability to read his father’s letter and his desire to understand the words in Hugh’s beautifully illustrated Book of Hours had recently given him cause to regret his lack of education. “I’ll give it a try,” he agreed, “but I’d prefer to be practising swordsmanship in the bailey.”

“You’ll do both,” said Harry with finality. “A king needs to be a politician and a diplomat, as well as a leader in battle.”

“I may never be king. My father will probably disinherit me,” said Edward dismissively.

Harry picked up the king’s letter again. “Grow into the young man you were destined to become,” he read. Edward blushed at the timely reminder of his father’s faith in him and he resolved to undertake the study which Harry asked of him.