Tapestry, by D. Krauss
Sir Thomas suppressed a smile. He got that reaction from every visitor. “It is,” he said.
Countess Rivers stood before the tapestry, transfixed. “Where did you get it?”
“A returning Crusader brought it back from Antioch.”
“Did you commission it?”
“No,” Sir Thomas glanced briefly back towards the main room. Fabyan was signaling that things were ready. “The knight lost his hall in the recent troubles”—careful here, Thomas old boy, the Countess was one source of those troubles—”and I acquired it.”
“It’s exquisite,” the Countess took a step forward and placed a gentle finger on the weave. Sir Thomas restrained himself from snatching her hand away. The Wydeville’s were not known for their cleanliness, but rather a smudge than losing his own hand. “The siege of Jerusalem,” she whispered, transfixed.
“Yes,” Sir Thomas nodded, “in excellent detail. But dinner is ready, Countess, and the King loves his goose hot,” he smiled, genially. Let’s go, shall we, you old witch?
“I must have it!” she exclaimed and took a step backwards, her face glowing with want.
Sir Thomas raised an eyebrow, “Well, I am not inclined to let it go, Countess, but we may speak of that over dinner.” And, given your enthusiasm, command quite a price.
“I will give you two hundred for it.”
He blinked. Two hundred? How insulting! These gilded Wydeville pigs…Sir Thomas inwardly sighed. “Madam,” keeping his face blank, Sir Thomas inclined his head towards the dining room and its rapidly cooling dinner.
“Two hundred for what?” A loud, boorish voice cut through both of them and Sir Thomas looked up. Oh, great, Count ‘Gilded Pig’ Rivers himself.
“This,” Jaquetta Wydeville gestured at the tapestry, the lust full in her witchy eyes.
The Count grimaced. “That? Pretty, but not worth it. I’ll give you one hundred, Cooke.”
Sir Thomas stared at him. “I paid far more than that, Count.”
“Then you were cheated. One hundred I say, and we’ll take it off your hands tonight.”
His blood surged and the only thing that saved Sir Thomas from a regrettable response was Fabyan’s very pronounced throat clearing. They all turned, Sir Thomas silently vowing to give Fabyan a coin for his timing. “This way,” the Alderman flourished the Wydeville’s out, gaining control of his anger.
Dinner was perfect—King Edward made proper compliments and even brought the kitchen master out for praise. But Jaquetta almost ruined it, going on and on about the tapestry and huddling several times with Elizabeth, the queen casting eyes back at the hanging and nodding to her mother. Nothing but trouble would come of this, Sir Thomas was sure.
They took their leave. Finally. The King whispered his gratitude for the loan and pressed a license into Sir Thomas’ hand for further enclosure of Gydihall. Elizabeth, standing next to Edward, watched Cooke closely as her mother continued the onslaught, “Two hundred, Sir Thomas, and I will take it with me.”
“One hundred, I said,” Wydeville waved his boorish arms around. “It’ll save you the embarrassment of having it.”
“Leave the poor man alone,” the King laughed out loud, “and consider his wonderful dinner gift enough.” No mention of the loan, of course. And they were gone.
Fabyan shut the doors behind them, “Makes you long for the Lancaster‘s,” he chuckled.
“That kind of talk will separate your head,” Sir Thomas warned. But he didn’t deny it.
The voice was unfamiliar and Cooke turned, frowning. No doubt another petitioner who couldn’t wait for Alderman hours. He beheld a servant, peasant coat and field trousers, hat still on head, which irritated him more. If you’re going to break protocol at least have the decency to remove your covering. “Yes?” Sir Thomas gave full vent to his irritation.
“I bring you greetings, Alderman, from Sir Whitingham.” The servant looked furtively about, his voice low.
“Who?” Sir Thomas was momentarily at a loss. Whitingham, Whitingham…then he remembered: a Lancastrian, hiding at Harlech Castle along with the rest of them. He started.
“He bears you good will and reminds you of previous times,” the servant raised a meaningful eyebrow.
“Are you mad?” Sir Thomas hissed and yanked the servant off the portico and into the foyer. Fortunately, it was early enough no one was about. Sir Thomas pinned him to the wall, his hand on the poignard. “Speak another treasonous word and I’ll have your tongue!”
“My master Whitingham reminds you that treason is a fast word these days,” the servant was calm, regarding him with ice cold eyes. Not a hint of fear. Sir Thomas blinked and relaxed his hold. “These are new times,” Sir Thomas said. “Best you remind your master of that. All previous considerations are now gone.”
“But they can return.” The servant was a brave one, had to give him that.
“Then your master is a fool,” Sir Thomas shook his head. “We have our King, and no amount of Lancastrian intrigue will usurp him. Whitingham needs to make his peace.”
“My master wonders if you so easily give up, you who stood against Cade.”
Sir Thomas stilled, a brief image of Jack Cade’s murderous mob burning London and rioting right up to his shop, where he turned them away. “Go back to your master,” he ordered, “and tell him Cade is one thing, a king another. These struggles are over. Henry is deposed. Edward is King.”
“Especially when Henry’s former subjects fete the usurper in their homes and even loan him money. Tell me, do you find Elizabeth Wydeville as charming as Edward does?”
Thomas had the blade against the servant’s throat. “So, you shadow me, do you, peasant? I think sending your head back to Whitingham would be a fitting response.”
“And then Whitingham would have reason for your head, when he follows Henry back into London.”
Shocked, Henry stared into the ice cold eyes. “You’re insane.”
“I am not,” the servant coolly pulled at his jacket, “I am just a messenger. The insane are those who ignore the message.”
“I have never done business with your master and do not know his character. But I know a fool when I hear him, so go back and convey my response—abandon this, make your peace. The country still bleeds, and we cannot stand another war.”
“I will tell him,” the servant adjusted himself and turned towards the door. “And I will also assure my master you have enough true Lancaster regard to not betray us.” He raised eyebrows, nodded, then left.
Sir Thomas watched him go. The servant was half right; he would not report this to Edward, but because it was pointless to do so; with ten thousand stupid plots going on each day, what was one more?
“Who was that?” Alderman Plummer had mounted the steps as the servant bounded down them.
“A madman.” Sir Thomas went to his room.
Cooke looked up from his accounts. Fabyan stood in the library door, looking pale. “There are men here.”
“Yes, Sir Thomas,” a figure announced as he brushed past Fabyan, while two others quite ungently threw Fabyan to the side, taking post on the door. Sir Thomas stared at the speaker: Anthony Wydeville, Count Rivers’ son, who clomped to within feet of the desk and made a grand gesture, “Sir Thomas, you are to come with us.”
“For what reason?” Sir Thomas was outwardly calm, but he was measuring the distance to his sword. Anthony was just a shill, doing his father’s bidding, but that sometimes meant a dagger to the heart.
Anthony took a heroic pose and spoke dramatically, “Conspiracy against the crown of our beloved King Edward.”
Sir Thomas just blinked at his ridiculous figure. “What on earth are you talking about?”
“You,” Anthony pointed a dramatic finger, “have conspired with the men of Harlech to overthrow Edward and install the Lancasters. Seize him!” The two henchman rushed him but Sir Thomas was quicker and had his sword out and ready. He saw the glint in Anthony’s eyes.
“Hold,” Sir Thomas bladed the henchmen back and quickly evaluated the situation. Whatever this really was, his death “while resisting” served it better. Anthony, though, would have a difficult time explaining Thomas’ death if he simply gave up. “I will go with you to answer these absurd charges. But I will not be bound.”
“Your word?” the glint became disappointment.
The henchmen looked at Anthony, who nodded. Sir Thomas put the sword up and walked out, flanked by the henchmen. “Tell my father-in-law,” he said to the still-shocked Fabyan as he left.
“It is a put-up case,” Philip Malpas shook his head sadly and huddled further into his robe. The Tower was cold.
“Of course,” Sir Thomas liked his father-in-law, but he was given to stating the obvious. “What is their evidence?”
“Do you know a commoner, John Cornelius?”
Sir Thomas shrugged. “Possibly.” Aldermen had dealings with numerous commoners, all of them quickly forgotten unless they made nuisances of themselves. Malpas knew that, being an Alderman himself under Henry IV, before Cade made short work of everything.
“He was a servant of Whitingham’s.”
“By the Cross,” Sir Thomas’ oath offended Malpas, but he couldn’t help it. “That must be the one who came to see me the other day, completely out of the blue, spouting nonsense about another stupid restoration plot. I sent him on his way.”
“But you did not report it?”
“Of course not! There is a plot a minute these days.”
Malpas began rocking gently, “That’s it, then, because the Wydeville’s have also taken Plummer.”
“Yes. This Cornelius was arrested boarding to France. He had letters for Queen Margaret and, when they lit his feet, he named Sir Clifton and Plummer and a servant of Lord Wenlock, one Hawkins. Hawkins named you from the rack.”
“But I do not even know Wenlock!” Sir Thomas sat back. Arresting Clifton made sense; once treasurer of Calais, Henry’s re-accession would profit him. But Wenlock was a nothing. “And Plummer only saw the back of Cornelius as I sent him off!”
“Nevertheless,” Malpas’ rocking had turned to a keen.
Sir Thomas blinked. It only took a second. “The tapestry,” he said.
“Sir Thomas, it is the finding of this court”—George, the Duke of Clarence, actually kept a straight face when he used the word—”that you are guilty of conspiracy to restore the Lancaster throne.”
Sir Thomas braced, as much as his shattered legs would allow. Hawkins and one of Plummer’s servants, a John Norris, had already been drawn and quartered. Best he could hope for was a merciful beheading. “We,” the Duke glanced at Warwick, who looked troubled but, then, he always did, “fine you 5000 pounds.”
Sir Thomas blinked, waiting for the rest, but the Duke merely looked at him. “A fine?” Sir Thomas was sure this was a trick.
“Yes,” George’s brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, interrupted impatiently, but he was the impatient sort, “and we are being merciful.”
“The expected beheading would be more of a mercy,” Sir Thomas said dryly, looking down at his broken body, leaving unsaid how such a fine impoverished him. Another way for the King and his two brothers, George and Richard smirking from the table before him, to get an interest free loan. Sir Thomas also left that unsaid.
Richard turned blood-red and half rose from the table, looking like he would honor the request but Warwick stayed him. “Alderman,” he said gently, “you have acquitted yourself well under examination”—a glance at his legs—”and we are of little doubt that you are a true subject of the King. But you did not report a treason, and we cannot have that.”
Sir Thomas stared at Warwick. No, you can’t, but even you, Warwick, know the Wydeville’s are vipers. And even you, Warwick, know this has nothing to do with treason. But Sir Thomas also knew there was nothing Warwick or anyone else could do. He bowed his head. “Lord.”
“One other thing,” George spoke as the guards removed Sir Thomas’ irons. “There is the matter of the Queen’s Gold.”
Sir Thomas waited. Yes, her portion of the fine, like there would be anything left for her to take.
“Her majesty graciously forgoes it.” George announced then paused, during which Sir Thomas figured he was supposed to express gratitude. Like she hadn’t already taken her portion. “Praise her Majesty’s leniency,” Thomas said in a tone just below insolence, which made Richard blood-red again and Warwick smile a little. Without another word, which would probably get him that beheading, Sir Thomas hobbled out.
Plummer was standing on the street, his crushed arms bound close to his sides in some vain hope they would heal. “I am ruined,” he said, the shock of that more agonizing than the physical pain.
Sir Thomas nodded. Plummer’s fine was no less than his. “I am, too, brother,” he looked down at his barely functioning legs. “I believe we must now keep company. Between us, we make a whole man.” Gallows humor that did not evoke even a chuckle. Too soon.
Plummer blinked at Sir Thomas, his bewilderment complete, heartbreaking. “Why did they do this?” he whispered.
Cooke gently took an arm, careful not to cause even more hurt. “Come with me and I’ll show you why.
They made their crippled way to Sir Thomas’, the wreckage in the front court impeding their entrance. “Is my house the same way?” Plummer asked, shocked, but Sir Thomas said nothing. He’ll find out soon enough.
“Sir Thomas!” a plaintiff voice from the gloomy interior and Fabyan stepped out, still bloodied and bruised from the fight he’d put up. Sir Thomas grinned, “I hope some of the rioters are in the same condition.”
Fabyan blushed but looked pleased. “They were Wydeville’s men,” Fabyan said and Sir Thomas patted his arm soothingly. “I know.” He gestured at Plummer. “Come, and we’ll see the cause of all this.”
Fabyan lead with a torch, pointing out smashed furniture and other obstructions to avoid. Slow going, the two cripples not having yet figured out how to work together but, eventually, they reached the main room. “Here,” Sir Thomas said.
It was obvious. All the other walls had been staved in, their fixtures either smashed or carted off, frames still hanging sideways from where the paintings had been plundered. But this wall was clean, the outline of the tapestry still visible. “They took that first,” Fabyan confirmed bitterly. “They were most careful. With that only.” He stared at the vandalism and began to cry. Sir Thomas put an arm around his shoulder in comfort. “They burned Gydihall, too!” Fabyan wailed.
“I know,” and Sir Thomas led him and Plummer to a relatively undamaged room off the kitchen for the night.
“You are released from my service,” Sir Thomas pressed the document into Fabyan’s hand. “Take this to the guild. They will find you another position.” Without prejudice, too. The guilds, at least, protected the innocent
Fabyan took it, tears freshened, and he helped Sir Thomas and Plummer adjust their packs, weighed down with their old draper’s tools. He and Plummer once again itinerant craftsmen, like they were so many years before. From the dust ye came…
The two of them made their way out the gate and stood on the road. Passersby stared, some laughed, but most didn’t.
“Where to?” Plummer’s sorrow was now mostly contained.
It only took Sir Thomas a moment. “Harlech,” he said.
They headed north.
D. Krauss is a former military officer and intelligence analyst currently residing in the Shenandoah Valley. He’s been, at various times: a cottonpicker, a sod buster, a surgical orderly, the guy who paints the little white line down the middle of the road, a weatherman, and a gun-totin’ door-kickin’ lawman. He’s been married over 35 years now (yep, same woman), and has a wildman bass player for a son. See more at DustySkull.com
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Tags: betrayal, D. Krauss, history, war