Covington Harold Armstead - Rose of Honor

Author : Covington Harold Armstead
Title : Rose of Honor
Year : 1999

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The Casting of the Die. Spring, 1457. I. We arrived at Raby Castle, in the northern English county of Durham, on a rainy afternoon in early April. Our horses clattered across the drawbridge after the queen's heralds had formally demanded entry and the castle gates were opened. The royal entourage had been strung out along the road since before dawn, slogging onward after a miserable night spent huddled around hissing campfires in a sodden meadow beside a roadside inn wherein the queen had slept. In the pre-dawn darkness and drizzle we had struck the pavilions, folded the soggy things and heaved them onto carts, and then we trudged through the mud towards Raby. We were a small army, over five hundred of us in the entourage: noblemen, knights of the guard such as myself, noble ladies and their tirewomen, soldiers, priests, minstrels, clerks, courtiers, scullions, valets, pages, squires, archers, doxies, leeches, porters, clowns, laundresses, pastry cooks, astrologers, heralds, huntsmen, and hornblowers. At the centre of it all was the queen herself, Margaret of Anjou: a proud, strong and beautiful woman whom some believed to be possessed by the devil. So she was. The devil that possessed our queen was hate, endlessly athirst and unslakeable, and she was perforce dragging us all with her as she toured the kingdom from end to end in search of support for her most cherished goal in life, the destruction of the Plantagenet Duke of York and all his kinsmen. For in Anno Domine 1457, the year of which I speak, the two great Plantagenet houses of York and Lancaster were mortal enemies, and ill fared England. I am Sir John Redmond, born outside Tavistock in Devonshire. In that time of which I write, I was then a landless knight in the queen's service. As I had not been among the fortunate ones chosen to remain behind in London with the Tower garrison, thus it was that on that misty afternoon so long ago in the days of my youth, I found myself leaning on my saddle pommel in the fine drizzle in Raby's outer courtyard. The castellan, a rotund little man in ill-fitting armour, stood bareheaded as Margaret stepped regally from her litter. Then he knelt upon the muddy flagstones of the courtyard and kissed her hand, formally surrendering the keys of the castle to her. The amenities now over, the castellan escorted the queen and her ladies into the great hall and thence to their chambers. We knights of the household dismounted and handed over the reins of our horses to squires or servants, save for a few such as myself who were too poor to afford either and who perforce led their destriers to the stables ourselves. As the last of the entourage crowded into the wide outer ward, the gates gave a lugubrious squeak and crashed behind us, a precaution against surprise attack. At the stables I snagged a skinny young groom, slapped a penny into his hand, and gave him specific instructions on the care and feeding of my war-horse, Thunder. I had to look out for the animal, since he was all I possessed in the way or worldly goods save for my sword and my wits, the customary legacies of a younger son. After having seen Thunder off-saddled and his manger filled with oats, I inquired of the groom the location of the bachelors' dormitory and set off in search of my bed for the night. I had feared that by delaying at the stables I would be late in grabbing a bed, but most of the knights had stopped off in the hall for a drink to take off the chill, and there were few besides myself in the long, low chamber with groined stone vaulted ceiling. The room was clean, the mattresses newly stuffed with straw and purged of vermin, and fresh new rushes crackled underfoot. Throughout the castle, signs of preparation for this rare royal visit were manifest. Tapestries had been cleaned and patched, burnished harness adorned the menat- arms, the stables boasted new-cut bracing timbers, and the sleeping chamber smelled of perfume and fresh linen which I savoured. Castles generally stink, and so would this one in a few days, but by then no one would notice After testing several of the beds along one wall of the room I found a soft mattress and threw my helmet and my saddle bags down onto it. This reserved for me only one side of the coarse linen pallet, for another knight would share the other half. This was a rather comfortable arrangement. In some castles we had visited it was three or four to a bed, while in others, cramped Norman keeps built just after the Conquest, we knights had to sleep on the rushes in the great hall along with the soldiers, the servants, and the dogs. I eyed my gear and shrugged. If one of these Lancastrian pugs tossed it aside and took my bed I'd remove the intruder with a fist in the face. It was ironic that so far the only fighting I had seen in the queen of England's service had been with the arrogant young men of her retinue, over just such paltry things. In the great hall, the servants were busily setting the board for the evening meal, their task rendered more difficult by the throng of courtiers who milled around the trestle tables, congregated in the aisles conversing, and crowded around the ale kegs for a draught. There was a good deal of laughter, pummeling, and loud ostentatious horseplay, albeit a bit more nervous than usual, for we were deep into Yorkist territory. Richard of York was raised from childhood right here in Raby Castle, and the Neville family which had then held the fief were now his most powerful allies. Cecily, Duchess of York was a Neville herself. We Lancaster men called her "Proud Cis" and several cruder epithets, but to her husband's adherents she was still "the Rose of Raby". A babble of voices drifted across the cavernous hall "God split me, this stuff is sour!" someone swore. ...

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