When the door slammed, I had to run.
Without a backward glance, my feet clad in leather boots pounded on the rough stone floor. Arms and hands outstretched, reaching for the cold, uneven, slightly damp walls. Fingers scraped on the surface as unsteady legs carried my body forward, head swimming and heart thudding. I paused to catch my breath, the uneven curve of my spine pressing against my lungs and making me gasp for air. Forehead pressed against the stone wall of the castle corridor, I watched a rivulet of water stream seamlessly, navigating the rough bumps and valleys of the stone like a river, a mirror of the tears I longed to shed. I could feel them, burning behind eyelids that I kept pressed shut. But now wasn't the time.
Grief burned a hole straight through my chest, but now wasn't the time.
Palms flat against the stone, my prayers were whispered and hurried. Head bent and eyes closed, shoulders aching and neck beginning to stiffen, I made the corridor my chapel and the hard stone of the walls my confessor. In the darkness I heard footsteps, and with one last, lingering amen, I had to run once more.
The king was dead.
Long live the king.
On the ramparts I found silence. Up the winding stairs and out into the night air, I was utterly alone. I could see for miles, the green and fertile land that stretched beneath. Land without a king. A ship without a captain. Rudderless, I stumbled.
Leaning on the walls for support, my breath hitched as my legs grew weak. Numbness swept through me, each muscle paralysed and aching, and I moved each of my fingers in turn to make sure I could still feel. The coldness of my golden rings against skin, the sharp point of a ruby when I balled a fist into my palm, told me I could still feel despite the ice that had formed around my heart. A lament of sorrow and longing filled every inch of my being. That, too, I could feel. I felt pain when the same balled fist slammed against the grey stone, and I felt a titter of regret when the ruby cracked. Inspecting it in the starlight, I could see a clear crack running top to bottom. It was broken, cracked and hurting, but yet it remained intact. The irony almost made me laugh. The deformation of my back was surely a sign of the Devil and meant I was just as cracked and damaged as this ring. I was broken, the news of the king's - my brother's - death tearing my chest apart, cleaving muscle from bone and leaving behind little but an empty carcass. I was hurting, the throbbing of my knuckles dim and superficial compared to the pain that stabbed my lungs each time I drew breath, or the pain that curved my back and made standing feel like a trial by fire. And yet here I was. Standing. Breathing. Running, quite literally, from each and every one of my responsibilities.
I was a man split in two. Part of me had died with Edward, that much I felt for certain. That small, tiny piece of utter, devoted loyalty had dissipated, because who else could command so much? Who else deserved so much?
A bitter laugh broke from my lips. Edward hadn't deserved my loyalty. Jesus, had he even deserved my respect, these past few years? Maybe not, but he had it all the same.491Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ8ZYdLKXM7x
We had been sitting by the fire when the news reached us. A liveried man had burst through the door, not even pausing to knock. I remember that brief feeling of outrage - how dare he burst into the chambers of his duke and duchess without so much as knocking first?! And then I saw the greyness of his features, the dullness of his eyes that suggested he hadn't slept in days. The rapid rise and fall of his chest and the riding gloves still on his hands. The man had run through the courtyard and up hundreds of steps to deliver the letter he held in shaking hands directly into my palms. That was when I knew it was serious.
I had expected news of an invasion. A vast army arriving on our shores from France or the Scots burning towns across the border. I hadn't expected to read that for the past two days, my brother's soul had not been in this world. Should I have known, I wondered idly. Had the sun not shone as brightly as usual? Had it been colder? There must have been some sign, for how could the king himself pass into the halls of memory without there being a sign? The light must have been dimmer, the darkness more thick and cloying. My heart must have felt heavier, skipped a few beats, surely? When I rose in the morning, before I opened my eyes, had there been a taste in my mouth I hadn't noticed or a notch in my breath? My brother cannot have left this world with my soul in ignorance of it. As he drew his last breath, even with hundreds of miles between us, surely mine had paused for a moment, too?491Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡYOy7YsIa5i
How could it be that even as I slept soundly, as I spoke with my wife and son, as I worked to make things run smoothly in his land... How could it be that even then he was lost to me? I had sworn to follow him anywhere, but my grief at his passing turned bitter and venomous, hissing that he hadn't ever followed me. I had been a child when he abandoned me to go and win the crown, had gone to fight whilst I was put on a ship and pointed towards the continent, just weeks after the death of our father. Now he had gone where I could not follow.491Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡZTeaucKIM2
Betrayal burned through me like a wildfire, because although Edward had abandoned me before, he'd always come back. There was no coming back from this. He'd left me alone. He'd left his son to inherit the crown, but he was a child. My nephew was utterly unprepared for the task his father had left for him, and even now the capital was in panic. Chaos would reign, not my brother's son.
They wanted me to come to the capital. To smooth the path for my nephew's accession. To guide him as he navigated the waters of kingship. Just another burden on my already weighted brow. And I ran. I ran from my wife's open arms, waiting to draw me to her breast and sooth the pain in my soul. I ran from the messenger, waiting with bated breath to ride back to the capital with my response, and I ran from the ghosts of my brother, and my father, and every other man that had died to put my brother on the throne. Because if I did nothing, Edward's legacy would end and our dynasty with it, and I was sure the pressure would make my eardrums burst. So I ran, and I could hear them - my wife, and men from the household, and the memory of my brother and my father with them - following, and I knew they were going to urge me to see sense, to understand that I was the last surviving son of the House of York, and without me, it was over. Because Edward's son was but a boy, and he had no chance of ruling without me.
And as I stood there, watching the moon shine on the fields and the stars gaze downwards on this foul, sceptered isle, I hated my brother. I hated him, and I envied him, and I loved him, and I mourned him. A cacophony of emotions flooded my heart, and I thought of his booming laugh, his wide shoulders and his height that convinced me as a child that he was giant, born not of our father but of some mythical creature from a far off land. He was a Hercules. A Jason. And yet even they don't quite cut it. He was an Achilles. Fierce and strong and bold - and dead before his time, leaving chaos in the wake of his corpse.
He was gone, and I was lost.
And then, borne of fear and anger and desperation, I decided. My brother, as highly as I held him, had been a terrible king. He had grown fat and lazy, loving his wine and his whores more than his subjects. Perhaps that was why God had decided to take him so soon, perhaps he intended to give me a chance, and perhaps instead of a sign of the Devil, the unnatural curve of my back was a symbol of adversity and strength. God had decided to test me, and perhaps this was my chance to succeed. Christ and all his saints, I didn't want the crown for myself. But for England - this was best. My brother was gone, and his son could only lead us into civil war. Only I was left. Fear lapped like waves inside my ribcage, and I feared that if my heart beat any louder, they would surely hear it in London and know I had made my decision. I had to take the crown for myself. To take Edward's crown for myself. To sit on his throne and save us all from the mess he left behind.
I knew then I had to stop running.
The king is dead, I muttered.
Long live the fucking king.
Word count: 1,625
A/N: The narrator is based on Richard III. He was Duke of Gloucester in 1483 when his brother Edward IV died suddenly, leaving a boy as his heir. A courtier in London wrote to Richard and told him to get to London as soon as possible, as the Queen's family were likely to try and shut Richard out of government in order to keep their influence over the young new king. At some point between April 1483 and June of that year, Richard had decided to take the crown for himself. It was declared that all of Edward's children were illegitimate as he had already been married when he married their mother and so they couldn't inherit the throne. Richard was left as the next heir of the house of York. He had the prince and his brother put in the Tower for safekeeping, where they disappeared. Whether Richard had them killed or not remains a subject of intense debate - it's possible they escaped, that they died of sickness, that someone else had murdered them, or that Richard had hidden them away in secrecy somewhere else.
Richard's skeleton was found in 2012 and it was discovered that he had a curvature of the spine. Not only would this have caused him a lot of pain and made it sometimes difficult for him to breathe, he was living in a time when a physical deformity was a sign of evil. Richard was known as being very, very pious and religious and perhaps this was his way of making up for the 'evil' that he must have assumed was inside him. He was certainly incredibly loyal to his brother, and has been dealt a harsh hand by history. I decided here to draw on the grief he must have felt, and what I truly believe was his reluctance to take the throne.ns 18.104.22.168da2