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Cicely's Lord Lincoln
A Story of King Henry VII
By Sandra Heath Wilson
Robert Hale LimitedCopyright © 2014 Sandra Heath Wilson
All rights reserved.
'No, Henry Tudor, you will not turn me into your mistress!'
The angry words were uttered to thin air by Lady Cicely Plantagenet, now Lady Welles. Hooded and cloaked to hide her identity, she stood alone on the windswept stairs from the Thames to the palace of Westminster. She was seventeen, and her large grey-brown eyes were bright with anger and defiance, for she was nothing if not spirited, and for some reason, today was the last straw.
It was early afternoon, the palace was relatively quiet because the court was at Greenwich, and she had been summoned for another secret assignation with her unwanted lover, King Henry VII, who forced her to his bed by threatening those dear to her. He was not worthy of the throne he had stolen through treachery from King Richard III, the uncle she had always loved far too much.
Well, today Henry would not have his own way! Being made to lie with this Lancastrian usurper, even in secret, was one thing, becoming his publicly acknowledged mistress was quite another. But that was what he was demanding of her, and if she went to him, there would be a bitter confrontation.
She was the daughter of a Yorkist king, Henry's aunt by marriage and the sister of his queen, and would not submit to further shame. She felt immense guilt already, because her exceedingly sensual nature let her down. Henry was a far more exciting, skilled and considerate lover than his cold exterior suggested, and she despised herself for finding a great deal of pleasure with him. It disgraced her, but she could not help it. She told herself that at least she was protecting those she loved, which provided an undeniable reason for submitting to this king. But she was not as averse as she ought to be, and loathed herself as a consequence.
Last month there had been a salacious scandal at Winchester, where the court had gone for the christening of Henry's son, Prince Arthur. Henry had embroiled her in an unmistakably intimate kiss that, to her unutterable mortification, had been witnessed. Her husband had left her because of it, and she had fled back to London. But Henry continued to impose upon her. Well, today he could go to Hades. He blighted her life, and this time she would brave his uncertain temper and disquieting moods by returning to her husband's residence in the heart of London. But it was an empty place without Sir Jon Welles, who, although Lancastrian and Henry's half-uncle, was much loved by his fiercely Yorkist wife.
Head held high, Cicely went back down the steps to the unremarkable skiff that had conveyed her so anonymously to Westminster. Still hooded, her face in complete shadow, she sat down and wrapped her fur-lined cloak tightly around herself. She was dark-eyed and dainty, with a curving, small-waisted figure and a mass of thick, deep chestnut hair that was at present hidden beneath a headdress as well as her hood. Too resentful to care what Henry might or might not do on account of her defiance, she sat stiffly and proudly. She was a highborn lady of the House of York, a princess, and Henry Tudor should never forget it!
The autumn air was chill, low clouds scudded and the breeze made the river choppy as the little craft sped downstream on the fast-ebbing tide, jolting on wavelets and strong cross-currents. Vessels of all sizes crowded the water, from the smallest fishing boats to the most elaborate gilded barges of the nobility. There were modest coastal vessels, lighters, ferries and rafts, large and small, all capable of passing beneath London Bridge. Larger seagoing craft stayed downstream of the bridge. The tall steeple of St Paul's Cathedral rose from the summit of Ludgate Hill on the north bank, above the tumble of the city's tightly packed roofs, winding streets and numerous churches. On the south bank was Southwark, and the cathedral with its great square tower.
Cicely was glad when Three Cranes wharf appeared ahead, where she would alight to make her way uphill to the Welles town house, Pasmer's Place in St Sithe's Lane. The house was named after its owner, Master John Pasmer, a member of the Skinners' Guild and the Calais Staple. He was a fat, jolly man who owned many properties in the city, of which Pasmer's Place was easily the finest. Cicely liked him, because she sensed that his political sympathies lay with the House of York, the rightful reigning House of England. Her House.
The wharf was where wine was loaded and unloaded by the three sturdy wooden cranes from which it took its name, and there was an immense crush of vessels and on the quay itself many people, horse-sleds and wagons. Only one skiff was at the foot of the steps, having just conveyed the young gentleman who now stood at the top, flirting unconscionably with a pretty whore, who seemed likely to waive her charges for one such as him.
Like Cicely's, his hood was raised against the cold, and as the breeze billowed his rich cloak, she saw he wore costly thigh boots. She knew those boots! They belonged to her favourite cousin, Jack de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. Her craft nudged the steps and she alighted. Jack remained unaware as she paid the boatman and went up towards him.
The future Duke of Suffolk was in his twenties, handsome, charming, and one of the most inveterate flirts in the kingdom. King Richard III — Jack's uncle as well as hers — had informally indicated this nephew as heir-presumptive to the crown of England. If Richard had not died at Bosworth Field, Jack would still be heir to the throne, and if Richard had remained widowed and childless, Jack would have eventually become King John II of England. Instead, Richard had been hacked to death, and his crown stolen by Henry Tudor.
For looks, Jack took after his father, the present duke, with long dark curls, dark eyes and a fine figure, but his smile and character owed nothing to his humdrum sire and everything to Jack himself. Dashing, irrepressible and engaging, he was also strong-minded, shrewd and discreet, and always kind and sympathetic. She loved him immensely, more than anyone else in her living family — only Richard still mattered more, but he would always be peerless. Jack was one of two men she protected with her body; the other was her husband, Sir Jon Welles.
She halted right behind him. 'How now, sir?'
He whipped around and she put a finger to her lips. No names in front of the whore, that finger said. Leaving his hood raised, as did Cicely, he looked back at the young woman, drew a coin from his purse, placed it in her palm and closed her fingers over it. She tossed her head haughtily at Cicely and then hurried away towards Thames Street.
Cicely smiled. 'Do you ever stop playing the gallant, Lord Lincoln?'
He grinned. 'I was about to pay you an unannounced visit, Coz.'
'In broad daylight? Are you mad?'
'Well, I thought it safer than calling after dark, which would raise Tudor's hackles.'
Jack knew why she went to Henry and hated it, but she had made him promise not to do anything rash on her account. Jon did not know that the king, his half-nephew and brother-in-law, was forcing her into frequent adultery, and the kiss at Winchester would have confirmed his belief that she went to Henry more than willingly. Jon now wished no more to do with her. But to her he remained her cherished lord, and she would continue to shield him. She honoured him too much not to.
She was reproachful with Jack, however. 'You know you should not try to see me at all.'
'Plague take it, Cicely, I will not stay away from my dearest cousin simply because Henry Tudor might choose to misinterpret. Did you know he has been having one of his creatures follow me everywhere? I half expect the fellow to watch when I have a shit! So today, on the assumption that even Tudor's spies have functioning cocks, I paid one of the Bishop of Winchester's pretty Southwark geese to keep him busy.'
'I hope she earns her money, or he will already be on your trail again.'
'He last saw me on the south side of the Thames, and will need a bloodhound to find me here. I am more likely to be discovered because Henry is having you followed.' Jack studied her. 'And where have you been, without even your maid? To his bed?'
She told him of her decision, and he was taken aback. 'You take a risk, sweetheart. Henry is not used to being disobeyed.'
'I really am too angry today, with him and myself. Can you imagine the Yorkist outrage if I were to be set up openly as Henry's mistress? Yet he does not seem concerned. He makes so much of claiming to have united York and Lancaster by marrying my sister, thus ending decades of bloody civil war, and yet he would do this. It is the sort of thing that might provoke a resumption of conflict. The daughter of Edward IV, humiliated by being set up as Henry's official mistress? He is mad!'
Jack smiled. 'Sweetheart, I doubt there is another woman on earth more able to arouse a man as you do. Tudor is no different. He will do anything to have you to himself. But he is not fit to kiss your feet, let alone any other part of you.'
She returned the smile. 'Oh, Jack, you make me feel good.'
'One day you will learn exactly how good I could make you feel.'
'I am tempted.' She so enjoyed such silly jesting with him that it suddenly made her sad. Tears came to her eyes and she had to press her lips together.
Jack put his arm quickly around her shoulder. 'Come, I will take you home.'
His clothes were scented with thyme. How it suited him, and how gratifyingly good it was to be so close to him. Too good sometimes, she thought.
'It is not a home now, because Jon has gone. I have not heard from him since Winchester. He took himself off to Lincolnshire and ignores all my letters. No doubt he is being influenced by Henry's lizard of a mother.'
Born a Beaufort, the illegitimate line descended from John of Gaunt and specifically barred from the throne, Margaret was now the Countess of Derby. She was Jon's older half-sister, sanctimoniously pious and mealy-mouthed, and she wielded immense influence over Henry, upon whom she doted to the point of being fanatical. Henry's claim to the throne came solely from Margaret, which was why Henry declared himself king by conquest, not by blood right. To Margaret, the fault for Winchester lay solely with Cicely, the adulterous Yorkist strumpet. Her dear Henry was pure as the driven snow.
Jack's arm tightened and he rested his head to hers. 'Jon will return, sweetheart. Come now, a measure of his close-guarded favourite wine will restore you. And me.'
'What if he never wishes to see me again?'
'Jesu, lady, where is your confidence? I would return to you even if you spread yourself beneath Tudor a thousand times.'
His arm remained around her as they walked, hooded and unidentifiable, across the wharf and up into an alley that gave way to the various narrow streets that climbed towards St Sithe's Lane. She hated it there without Jon, but had nowhere else to go. Except to Henry, which was what he wanted, but she would never do!
Her mother, the Queen Dowager, was in virtual seclusion near Sheen palace, with her three youngest daughters, and anyway also blamed Cicely for Winchester. Cicely's older sister, Bess, now Henry's uncrowned queen and the mother of his baby son and heir, was justifiably jealous and angry, for it was not only this king who had come between the sisters, but his predecessor as well.
The love of their fascinating uncle, Richard III, was what Bess had always wanted most of all, but his heart had been given to Cicely, who surrendered hers in return. She had now been loved by two very different kings.
The first-floor parlour at Pasmer's Place was wainscoted and comfortable, and a good fire danced in the hearth. Outside, the racing clouds now began to thread over the London sky, and several shafts of pale sunlight swung across the room, illuminating tapestries, paintings and rich furnishings as Cicely poured two glasses of Jon's best Rhenish wine. There was no place for servants when she wished to speak privately with her cousin.
Divested of his cloak, gauntlets and hat, Jack was revealed to be of athletic build with broad shoulders, lean hips, and his full share of easy Plantagenet elegance and appeal. His legs were well shaped, and he possessed loins ample enough to turn most female heads. His face was aristocratic and rugged at the same time, and his smile was as devastatingly engaging as Richard's had been. And, like Richard, he could speak volumes with a glance. Those glances conjured unerring thoughts of sharing his bed.
His clothes were rich — furred indigo velvet, stitched with the silver leopards' heads of his family — and there was a fine single amethyst on the fourth finger of his right hand. His legs were tightly encased in grey hose and his thigh boots seemed calculated to concentrate female attention upon his generous manhood. Not that female attention needed encouragement. His shoulder collar was not lavish, merely silver studded with modest sapphires and pearls, and his dark curls tumbled loose and long, requiring frequent pushing back from his fine-boned face. When he did this, the amethyst ring flashed to deep purple.
'It is not often that I am waited upon by a king's daughter,' he said, accepting a cup of wine as they stood in front of the fire.
'Then you should bask in the privilege while you can, sir.' She smiled, her mood suddenly lightening. 'Oh, Jack, you bring such memories with you.'
He raised his glass to her. 'We only saw each other last month at Winchester, and I hardly imagine that is what you think of so fondly.'
'Certainly not, for I cringe to remember it. So, clearly, I think further back than Winchester.'
'And I know to whom.' Jack sipped the wine, which was very good. 'You still love Richard, but what of Sir Jon? You are very fond of him, I can tell that.'
'But he is no longer fond of me. You did not see the kiss. I am a leper to him now. To everyone now.'
'Not to me, and certainly not to Henry,' Jack observed, glancing at the gown she had chosen for the abandoned assignation. It was made of rich plum-coloured brocade, elaborate and seductively beautiful, with a low bodice and pendulous sleeves that were lined with silver satin. A gown in which to enchant a king. And this earl, he thought.
He studied her. Her father, Edward IV, had been well over six feet tall, exceedingly handsome and engaging, with auburn hair and blue eyes, but this daughter was his opposite. Her sisters took after their father. Cicely was the only dark one, and she had an allure that men could not resist. She certainly attracted Henry Tudor, whose desire for her showed no sign of abating after a year, and whose stifled emotions were sometimes so delicately balanced as to be barely controlled.
'So, Coz, the kiss at Winchester was that shocking? Jesu, lady, what were you doing? Rolling Henry on the floor, stark naked?'
'No, but ...' She glanced at him, a little shamefaced. 'I am rather talented with kisses, Jack. Richard taught me so much and I learned with such eagerness. You cannot imagine.'
Jack lowered his cup. 'Sweet God, Cicely, you almost have me standing with anticipation. Are you telling me Richard was really that good?'
'Oh, yes. He knew how to caress every sense, and turn earth into heaven. No one will ever compare. Not even you, which certainly says a great deal of him,' she added with a little smile.
'I am insulted.' Jack set his wine aside. 'So, he imparted all this to his sweet, innocent little niece? Shame on him.'
'It was not like that, Jack. Never, ever think such a thing of him. I ceased to be innocent the moment I realized what my love for him really was. He did not seduce me from my purity, I seduced him from all his principles. I was the one who took advantage.'
'Cicely, he was twice your age.'
Excerpted from Cicely's Lord Lincoln by Sandra Heath Wilson. Copyright © 2014 Sandra Heath Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
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