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Young Richard Plantagenet knelt by a richly blazoned tomb in Canterbury Cathedral while priests and monks chanted prayers for the repose of his father's soul. Every now and then he made a valiant effort to recall his wandering thoughts and leash them to the solemn meaning of the Latin words; but it was difficult not to drowse in an atmosphere so heavy with incense and packed humanity. He was only fifteen and this was the fifth anniversary of the Black Prince's death, and even when he had been alive Richard hadn't cared for him with all that passion of loyalty of which he was capable.
Not that he would have dreamed of telling anyone so, of course-unless perhaps it were his closest friend, Robert de Vere. Such an unnatural confession would hurt his mother and shock his uncles, besides seeming to admit some rather shameful lack of appreciation in himself. For hadn't all these people crowded into the Cathedral year after year on the Black Prince's birthday to pay homage to a national hero? And wasn't all England still mourning for the martial, grown-up king they might have had instead of a useless minor like himself? But unfortunately his illustrious father had always been too busy fighting to play with him when he was small and Richard remembered him mostly as an irritable invalid, blighted in his prime by some unpleasant disease picked up in the Spanish campaign.
Actually, he had preferred his old war-horse of a grandfather, Edward the Third, who had lived a year longer and anxiously bequeathed him the crown.
At last the long Requiem chants died away in a series of lovely, diminishing echoes that pursued each other upwards from choir to clerestory and out through the open arches, one hoped, to the feet of God. Richard eased his knees from a faldstool and seated himself beside his mother to listen to the usual eulogy of their dead. Sudbury, the Archbishop, spoke proudly of how the late Prince of Wales had carried the renown of English arms like a flaunting banner across the Continent-of his courage at Crécy and his generalship at Poitiers. His effective voice was like a clarion call to the new, untried generation, and Richard, in common with other youngsters of his age, gazed with apologetic awe at the recumbent effigy of the proven warrior, flanked by a hardy company of living comrades-in-arms bearing the famous black armour and the captured ostrich feathers of Bohemia. He had been brought up on the names of Crécy and Poitiers. The overworked words had been dinned into him until something inside him sickened secretly at the sound of them. He felt that people used them unfairly, like pikes to prod him with, so that in self-defence he tried to avoid the warlike things they stood for. Unconsciously, against such high-sounding standards, he was always striving to keep inviolate that precious indescribable thing which was himself-the spiritual quality which so many well-meaning people tried to encroach upon. And being both imaginative and intelligent, he could usually find plenty of alleys of mental escape when he didn't want to listen to them. Even now, while formally trying to fill a chair of state which was considerably too big for him, he was able to give the primate's eloquence the slip and enter into the intimate, satisfying world of his own conceits.
He couldn't be bored for long in so exquisite and interesting a place. If his father's war cult left him cold, the boy had imbibed his mother's cult of beauty. He loved the rich colours of vestments and stained glass, the cool mysterious perspective of dim aisles and the grandeur of tall arches soaring into the vaulting of the roof. By sliding forward a little in his chair he could catch a glimpse of the worn steps leading to Becket's golden shrine and relive the well-known tragedy of a previous Plantagenet's anger and remorse. What must it feel like, he wondered, to be murdered. How must poor Saint Thomas have reacted when he saw the King's knights invading his sanctuary? Had he suffered much? Richard shivered involuntarily, miserably uncertain whether he himself could ever face the violence of four assassins with the bravery of Becket.
"Priest or no priest, he set about some of them first!" he recalled, reconstructing the thrilling scene which he and Robert de Vere had pestered their tutor to recount so often. From the time when he had first come from Bordeaux it had formed a favourite theme for their "play-acting"; and what with his own vivid imagination and Robert's dramatic skill, they had managed to scare themselves deliciously. And as soon as they were a bit older they had ghoulishly searched the Cathedral floor for bloodstains.
But all that had been in the untrammelled days when he was only the King of England's grandson. Richard suppressed a yawn and tried to ease the heavy ermine cloak about his shoulders. For want of something better to do he began picturing the masons of William of Sens' time scaling ladders or standing on precarious stagings to build the lovely choir, and devoted monks carving queer little faces of men and beasts and angels. Sometimes they set the perfection of these reflections of their own laughing, Christ-loving souls so humbly high up-so removed from the earthbound glances of the righteous-that they seemed almost to be intended for an intimate, tender jest between craftsman and Creator. He remembered seeing one harsh, self-important face that had reminded him of his Uncle Thomas, a handsome one on some doorway that was like Uncle John and a grotesquely puff-cheeked figure of Gluttony that might have been meant for Uncle Edmund of York when he was hungry. The memory of such fortuitous resemblances delighted their unregenerate nephew so much that he almost forgot the solemnity of the occasion and laughed aloud. Mercifully he was hidden from Thomas of Gloucester by a massive pillar, York was dozing gently, and John of Lancaster-the eldest of the uncles-was up north trying to finish off some peace negotiations with Scotland.
While the familiar recitation of his father's virtues drew towards its concluding homily, Richard turned his attention to the newly restored nave with its half-finished aisles. In spite of workmen's scaffoldings it was packed with people who had come surging after the royal party through the great west doors. He often wondered why they came so far and stood in such discomfort to see him. The men always shouted for him good-naturedly, the women sometimes cried a little because of his youth; and he on his side was always careful not to show his repugnance for their frowsty clothes and sweating bodies. For even if his mother spoiled him, at least she insisted upon good manners. And whenever he had complained about the way some of them stank, his tutor, Sir Simon Burley, had pointed out that no one who had seen inside their houses could expect them to wash much. Naturally, this was one of the things Richard had immediately wanted to do, but no one would let him for fear of the plague.