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Fewer Than Ten Scenes From the Second Coming of Richard III

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I.

The honoured dead are bollocksing up Jen's party. They've been tearing in and out of the flat all day, knocking over photos and turning the biscuits soggy, and now that the Richard programme is on, a little blue and white cyclone of child queens has formed over the monitor, chanting, “Yark! Yark! Yark! Yark!” in high wounded voices like the barking of small dogs

“Just ignore them, please,” Jen tells her guests.

That's what the people from the lab keep telling her to do. The consulting historian for the Richard III excavation, who pretends to know them all by name, is convinced that as long as everyone in Leicester agrees to ignore them completely, they will all eventually get bored and leave.

Jen isn't so sure.

One of the ghosts has decided to sprawl out over the entirety of Jen's orange and cream sofa, his big filthy ghost boots dangling over the side of one arm, his shoulders perched on the other. He's taken all of the crackers and Stilton Jen bought for the watch party, and most of the salami rounds, despite being obviously a ghost who couldn't possibly have a working metabolic system, because if he had a working metabolic system he would be alive and back in his own time instead of in Jen's flat making a mess of the laws of physics and spoiling what ought to be a solemn historical moment.

Jen's friends are being good about it. At least they're more interested in hearing the DNA test results than in trying to argue with ghosts. Of course, they all have to sit on cushions on the floor because the ghosts keep filling up the furniture, but it's all right, really. The programme has an hour to fill and only a yes or no to give on the bones matching Richard III, so there's plenty for them to yell at without even looking up at the dead and their awful manners.

“Ugh, no,” said Kelly, rolling her whole head back on her soft freckled shoulders “No one cares about the church; get on with it!”

“It's not him, anyway,” says Loos. Her brittle hair curves toward her mouth. She keeps dunking a plastic spoon in her wine glass and chewing on it, trying to make her nervous movements look casual. “I knew it wasn't him the minute I saw that spine. If they try to tell me that fakey old hunchback is Dickon, I'm going to pitch my glass at the screen.”

“Please don't do that,” says Jen.

She's had to walk past the ghost on the orange and cream sofa four different times to make sure it sees how thoroughly it was being ignored. This time it leers at her pointedly and puts its incorporeal tongue through a stack of salami rounds and Stilton

Jen would be lying if she said she hadn't ever imagined having a ghost over for dinner or something. She had often daydreamed meeting some gentle unquiet soul that she could show around Highcross and impress with her phone. She imagined dazzling him with her cleanliness and literacy, listening to him tell the sad story of his life, making him a mix of her favorite Smiths songs, then parting friends as he returned to the mists of time with confidence restored and broken heart partially on the mend.

In the daydream, the ghost is Richard, her brave maligned king, and no one can see him but her. He sulks invisible but winsome in the corners of her bedroom, until the accumulation of her love and sympathy begins to grant him weight and color, and knits the ax wounds in his skull. Later, if he decided to stay in the present, she would get him a job in the government where his prescient legal reforms could be appreciated.

The ghost on the couch caught her looking pensive and aimed a salami round at her head. It bounced off and rolled under the end table. Jen's stomach sank.

On the monitor, the camera lingered over the yellowed bones, then closed in on a scurrilous Tudor portrait of Richard III. “Yark! Yark! Yark!” cried the child queens. Well, why shouldn't the dead be excited, too? Jen poured herself a drink and sat cross-legged on the floor with Loos and Kelly. There was history to witness.

 

 

 

 

 

II.

The new ostelogist picks at his clothes. Pick, pick, pick, like tourist women squirming in their hijabs. His hand keeps straying to the back of his head where his hair has been cut unevenly, possibly with a knife. Stray hairs drift around his neck like jellyfish tentacles. His accent is a trainwreck.

Maie was suspicious from the start. She came in early to work one day and found him bent over the glass case that held the Greyfriars skeleton, carefully shaving one of the finger bones with a large metal file. When he saw her, he dropped file and finger together and shut the glass case, slung his greasy old leather portfolio on top of it and beaming at her with small watery eyes. “Mlady charmant,” he said. “You must be the assistant.” He pronounced the last word in a flattish fake French: a-sissy-taunt.

Maie, having been specifically blocked from promotion to assistant by narrow-minded academics who feared her ideas about cloning, did not nod or correct him.

“What happened to Jo?”

“No one tells me ought about any,” he said brightly. “I'm the bone expert for this situation. I'm been told to get the mad deets of this--” he waved his pink and white hand vaguely around the osteology lab, “from my gentle lady a-sissy-taunt.” He bowed deeply, the way Americans do sometimes at the staff of historical monuments. “Have you deets for me, my lady?”

Maie sat down beside the magnifying equipment. She set her large jewel-studded purse on her lap and folded her hands to make a little couch for her chin. She gazed carefully and without reserve at the new osteologist in the manner described by her irritatingly conventional thesis adviser as “extremely off-putting.”

She had learned that  the quickest way to get anyone talking about their home country was to hand them a truly awful cup of coffee. To that end, she had specifically chosen to walk an extra four blocks to Costa. The osteologist had touched his tongue carefully to the little hole in the plastic lid, then tipped the cup forward, letting the gritty brew slosh reflexively out of his mouth before catching it with the sleeve of his green sportcoat and pretending to drink again.

"Mar-vay-leous," he said. "Pure nectar." He lifted the cup to his lips again, but made no further effort to pretend.

"I like it, myself," she said. She gave what she hoped was an inviting smile. "Have you got good coffee back home?"

The osteologist didn't seem to understand the question.

"I was born here," he said.

Maie made a small skeptical noise in her throat.

"Right up under the bells of St. Nicol," he said wistfully. He touched his tongue to the mouth of the cup again. "Now deets. This bonefellow is the old duke of Gloucester, hey? What? No one told me really," he added apologetically. He pretended to drink the coffee again, then wiped his dry mouth with his sleeve. "What are we doing, sciencewise?"

"Why don't you give me your key card," said Maie, "and I'll go into Jo's office and put together a folder of all her files."

"Brill, bearlady," he said. "What key is this?"

Maie leaned forward and tugged on the plastic identity card around his neck. Fitzsimon, Raymond, it said. The photo was new, the eyes round, shadows and nuances of feature flash-obliterated.

He lifted the lanyard obligingly from around his neck. "I await your deets with fever-rent hope," he said.

"All right," she said. As she left the room, he turned toward the bones and his greasy portfolio. Through the glass window of the laboratory door, she watched him peel open a Tupperware container full of unsifted dirt from the Greyfriars site, sniff it, then pour the rest of his coffee over the dirt. He replaced the lid and tucked the container underneath the imaging computer, where it could still be clearly seen. Then he removed from the greasy portfolio a long brown sheet of paper and a dodgy pen, pressed the paper up against the glass over the skeleton, and began to write.

 

 

 

 

 

 

III.


The Black Prince is a barrel of air that clangs and sings like steel. His wife is a pillowy cloud with anxious eyes. His brothers, annoyed at his return, have set up their own territories in the Marks & Spencer, with Lionel stalking the housewares and linens department and the irritable Woodstock puncturing bags of crisps with a sliver-handled dagger. 

The ghosts are thicker than ever outside. Like most people who don't work for the Daily Mail, Maie tries to ignore them. The illustrious ancestors of Richard III and their illustrious friends and relations have returned to the living world and every single one of them is a nuisance of one kind or another. The kings and dukes have all brought their mistresses and the mistresses have brought their children, who fight each other in the park and taunt drunks outside the city centre clubs and turn all the bandages murky in the first aid bus. Woodvilles are everywhere. Edward III and Philippa told the Mail the dead had come to demand the removal of Richard's bones to his childhood home at York, a ridiculous claim which the paper repeated without commentary. But if they were ever a part of that mission, the Woodvilles have already forgotten it. They careen around in packs of three or four, trying and failing to steal scarves and costume jewellry from House of Fraser, or trailing after the sullen young men with gold chains on their hollow chests, tickling their spotty necks with fetid ghostly fingers.

Most of the ancestors are no better. The Leicester City police have written fourteen ASBOs for deceased nobles in a single week, the most since the dig began. One of the policewomen on drunk duty had to arrest and attempt to detain Edward I after he tried to stab four Scottish office workers with an incorporeal but still very uncomfortable lance outside the Fan Club on 90s Night. By coincidence, the young victim was also named Lance. Most of the dead do not obey the twenty-four hour ban on returning to the city center. It's hard to say if they understand it. The consulting historian on the Leicester dig has suggested that the police re-state their orders in the form of liturgical hours, or possibly sunrise-sunset cycles. But the police are tired anyway of arresting people who can pass through walls and who inevitably respond to reprimands by waving their swords and knives around and claiming to be paying the police force's salaries, though they have not in fact paid anyone's salary for centuries and, as the consulting historian has pointed out more than once, the modern British police force was not invented until 1847.

At first they only came out at dusk, lurking outside the lab when Maie and the other lab assistants left for the evening, or passing anxiously back and forth through the news vans, disrupting the equipment. Since then they have multiplied, and now, in the wet morning light, the air is already rank with them. On her way back from the Costa with two coffees, Maie ran into a ghost hanging over the crosswalk. She edged away to prevent it getting its corpsey breath mixed in with her coffee. It was one of those narrow-boned medieval ladies with glowing sockets for eyes. The ghost turned toward her as the light changed.

“One of our enemies is among you,” it said.

Maie pulled her coffees close to her chest and tried to cover them with the folds of her scarf

“Please don't,” she said. “I just bought this coffee fresh.”

“An enemy walks among you,” said the ghost again. “The bones of King Richard cry out for rest."

But Maie was walking away too fast to hear the rest, both coffees tucked close beneath her chin to close off the awful fumes of ghost chatter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IV.

“Can you believe these wankers?” said Loos. She had managed to grab the rest of the grapes from the couch ghost and was pelting them one by one at the child queens, who had left off chanting and were chasing each other in and out of the walls of Jen's flat. “Everyone knows the real Richard wasn't a hunchback. Even the bloody Tudor boosters know Shakespeare just made that shit up for propaganda purposes.”

“It's not a hunchback,” said Kelly. “It's a spinal curvature. Like I have. You can have one and still not be a murderer, Loos.”

“It's bloody Tudor propaganda.,” said Loos. “He couldn't get into his armor like that! Fucking Henry Tudor just dumped some Quasimodo in Richard's grave just to have us on.”

“Just because he's got a bit of scoliosis doesn't mean the Tudors were right. I have scoliosis worse than Dickon-- ”

“That is not Dickon. Don't even pretend that was Dickon.”

“I have scoliosis. Does that mean the Tudors were right about me?”

“The Tudors are right about you,” said Loos acidly.

“All Richards are roast bollocks,” said the sofa ghost, in a rich cold ghost voice that made the air of the flat smell strongly of corpses. Loos shrieked and covered mouth and nose with both hands.

“Your Dickiebones was a twisty son of a bitch,” said the ghost. “I see all.”

“Just ignore him,” said Jen. “Maie says it's just the ancestors coming to demand something or other.”

“Yark! Yark! Yark! Yark!” yelped one of the child queens, then dissolved into giggles and fell through the floor.

“How did Maie get to work with the Richard dig?” groaned Kelly. “She failed her orals twice.”

Jen shrugged. “It's not a crime.”

“Henry Tudor was the hunchback,” shouted Loos. “It takes one to know one! He wished Dickon was ugly because he was so jealous he couldn't stand it.”

“Richards are backstabbing shiteweasels,” said the ghost. In his attempt to eat the Stilton, he had reduced it to crumbles, which rolled and fell from Jen's orange sofa. “Your man was a runty twisty cuntrag with one nostril, and his both arms had no fingers on 'em, and he had a twig for a penis that he pasted on, yea, because he was born without one. I see all.”

“Who the hell are you?” said Loos.

It was clearly the wrong thing to say.

The ghost whirled upward, grey and luminous, eye-sockets burning like coals, scattering crumbs and cheese everywhere. Its beard flickered and writhed like a white bonfire. On the monitor, the mad woman who found the skeleton with ESP was enumerating the portions of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights that had been directly lifted from Richard's legal reforms. Just then, the doorlatch opened and Jen's neighbor Marcos came blundering in, arms full of Maryland Chicken.

“Wotchall,” he said. “I brought dinner." Then, despite Jen's warning  texts, he looked directly at the ghost. "Who's this one?”

The ghost turned its coal-hot eye sockets on each of them in turn.

“I am Henry of England,” he said, “sire of kings, and your own true king, whom men love and fear” Again the death-air whirled through the room, kicking up crumbs of cheese like tiny tumbleweeds. “Rosamund and I have torn the fabric of time and split the gates of Hell itself to demand the, ah – ” His coalish eyes dimmed. The white beard wavered. “Something something somewhere for some reason. It doesn't matter. I see all.”

“That's serious, mate,” said Marcos. “Well done.”

“Tudor propaganda,” said Loos scornfully.

A plump ghost in a wimple of bright hair sailed in through the kitchen and snatched two sacks of fried chicken out of Marcos' hands, then passed straight through Marcos with no more thought than through the air. Marcos looked sick and dropped the remaining bag. He sat down on the couch that was covered with cheese crumbs and greasy rounds of salami. The smell of fried chicken wrestled with the death air in an ugly battle of heat with cold.

“Burial of King Richard III of England at his childhood home in York,” she said crisply.

“Yes,” said Henry. “Yes! Roz knows. York! Go there! Roll him up and stick him in the ground.” Rosamund, who seemed to have greater efficacy than most of the ghosts with regard to the material world, tore open one of the bags of fried chicken and tucked a large breast piece into Henry's ample collar, where it promptly fell through him to the floor.

“We'll need the use of your bedroom,” he said. “Roz and I intend to make a large number of healthy boy babies and disinherit all you insufficient bastards from beyond the grave.”

"Sicko," said Marcos.

"That's not possible," said Jen. "And no, you can't."

"Cowtits," said Henry cheerfully. "I breached the veil of time, and I'm your king. You don't get to lecture me about possible this and that."

"Well, listen," said Kelly. "If the Daily Mail is right, the lot of you have breached the veil of time. There's kings of England all over the car park, all over everything. What are you going to do, all of you usurp each other?"

"That won't be necessary," said Rosamund. She was chewing delicately at a drumstick. Her small grey teeth worked the meat and breading loose, each new scrap falling through her wispy luminescence to the carpet below. "All we want is what's best for our dear son, Richard III, which is for his poor dear bones to interred at York with the proper solemnities, in accordance with his wishes."

"But it's nothing to do with you," said Kelly. "It's hundreds of years after your time."

"I am your King!" bellowed Henry. "It's everything to do with me!"

"We just don't want our honored descendants to be buried in a dump like this," Rosamund explained.

"He's not even related to you!" said Loos.

"We're fixing all that," said Henry. His fiery beard calmed, then bristled bright. "We're patching up the whole mess. The Eleanor line is all tittywompers. I annulled that noise from beyond the grave. No self-control, eh, Roz? Got to get some new blood into the whole blood situation." He gestured again for a piece of chicken. Rosamund rummaged in the bag and handed him a breast and a drumstick. Both fell through his hands immediately.

"Would you please stop dropping food on my floor?" said Jen.

"You're a terrible host," said Henry, "and I'm going to burn this house to the ground."

The ghost made a final sweep of the living room, knocking Jen's trifle off the end table and sending a glass dish of chutney headlong into the magazine basket before he disappeared through the wall.

The plump wimpled ghost hovered apologetically over the mess. "He can't really burn anything down," she said. Then she followed him through the wall of Jen's bedroom. There was a chilly silence.

"Sorry about your chicken," said Kelly.

The programme was still stalling on revealing the test results. A slow-motion reenactment of the Battle of Bosworth was coming to a grisly close.

"I'm calling Maie at the lab," said Jen. "They must have some kind of protocol."

"Those dead gits are in your bed," said Marcos anxiously.

"Just ignore them," said Jen.

"It can't work," said Kelly. "I mean, everything's already happened, hasn't it? You can't really have a baby when you're dead. All they can do is muck up your sheets a little bit."

Jen clapped her hands over her ears.

"Regencies are always a shitstorm, anyway," said Loos.

"You're not supposed to do a lot of things when you're dead," said Jen. She tucked the phone against her ear and picked at what was left of the grapes.

"Hello, hey, Maie," said Jen. "We're having a bit of trouble with some of the ancestors. I don't know if you have a department for that or what, but they did take all my food and now I think they're in my bedroom. Which I am not comfortable with at all."

"Hush!" said Kelly.

The battle had faded to black. The forensic team's gently smirking facial reconstruction rose and turned in closeup.

"Oh, no, no, no," said Loos. "They made him look like a pedo! You gimpy Tudor wankers, Dickon is not a pedo!"

"Text me, all right," said Jen sharply. "It's important. All right."

She tapped the call shut, and listened. The terrible cold smell had died down. The dead had made a mess of her party, but they couldn't spoil history in the making. As for the sheets, she needed to do laundry anyway. As for the food--

Jen felt the adrenaline drain from her body all in a rush, almost before she realized it had been there. She bent down to pick up the scraps of ghost-chewed chicken, then thought better of it and went to the kitchen for the hoover. She was just pulling a packet of rubber gloves down from the pantry when she heard an anguished shriek, and the high, crystalline smash of her wine glass as it shattered against the corner of the screen.

 

 

 

 

 

V.

"We need to have a talk," said Maie. It had been a week since the DNA results arrived. The osteologist had delegated the task of speaking to the media to his assistants and holed up in the lab with the yellowing bones.

“Capital," said the osteologist. "Bloody well yes. Let us conversate.”

“You are a spy,” said Maie simply. "It's been clear for weeks. Who are you working for?"

A simpering look of false surprise careened across his face. “Of course you are. Anyone can see that. What I don't understand is why? Is it the Saudis? What do you have to do with this dig?”

“My most worshipful lady,” said the osteologist.

Maie cut him off with a flick of her fingers.

“You are being watched,” she said. She pointed her bright green phone at the CCTV camera in the corner of the room. “We are being watched right now. If anyone has reason to suspect you, if I testify that I am suspicious, for example, there will be reams of video to convict you from here all the way back to – Bhutan?” His face remained impassive. “Oceans of evidence. Galaxies. Do you understand?”

It was painfully clear that he did not understand. Maie saw with irritation that he was not looking at the camera at all. “Look,” she said. Look. Follow my finger. You see that camera?”

He nodded, not seeing it.

“Not on the shelf. Up, up in the corner. See that? A box with a little round eye.” He tilted his head in the rough direction of the camera and nodded vaguely.

“That's no concern,” he said. “Our business is scientas, eh? We're here to inquire, inquiry, eh, mate? Oi, mate? Bloody well yay.”

“You are not from here,” said Maie coolly.

“I was born here,” said the osteologist. I've lived here all my life.”

Maie shook her head. “There will be an inquiry,” she said, “and there will be a great deal of evidence of espionage, and you will be thrown in jail for a very long time.”

The osteologist gave no sign that he understood. He leaned back on his sinewy arms, folded up the tabs of his shirt collar, and scratched sorrowfully at the back of his neck.

“However,” said Maie, “that's only if someone in the lab is clever enough to report you. That's only if we can't work together to make this losing situation a win for both of us.”

“I commend that shit to God's keeping,” he said. “It's not my own future I work for, but England's."

“England,” said Maie. “England. Really.”

The osteologist laid a rashy fist against his chest. “For the honor and glory of England, may tyrants never cease to be buggered by the dagger of righteousness.”

“You are not comfortable in our clothes. Your command of the language is extremely questionable.”

The osteologist lurched forward to protest.

“Your resume? Were you aware that these are made public? Is a flimsy excuse for a lie. Most of your papers do not appear to exist. Two of them are in fact written by a woman in Glasgow. Several other aspects of your biography are not consistent.” She drew a large sheet of brown paper from her purse. “And this – report? On what is clearly some kind of dodgy foreign paper? Is addressed to 'my most gracious and magnificent king.'”

“I'll write to anyone I choose. I work for the glory and honor of England, past, present, and future.”

“You ought to be kicking your government for sending you out so poorly prepared. Are you even aware that England has a queen?”

“That is not relevant to my work,” said the osteologist.

“It's been a queen for literally sixty years,” she said.

The osteologist glanced up at the box with its glassy black eye. He sighed.

“What do you want,” he said.

Maie's smile was radiant. She folded the brown paper carefully and tucked it into her large gem-studded purse.

“I think you'll be quite happy,” she said. “Compared to the favor I'm doing you, it's practically nothing. And posterity will be much kinder to you because of it.”

She hooked her large purse on one knee, where she could snap it back if he tried to steal the incriminating evidence.

“The unimaginative people who run this university have decided that my ideas are too dangerous to be published,” she said. “They can't risk shaking up the received wisdom that keeps them comfortable. This paper has been rejected by forty journals and I have been told in no uncertain terms to look elsewhere for my research subject.”

The air around them grew cold. The smell of death began to puncture the Axe Body Spray cloud that surrounded the fake osteologist.

“Just ignore them,” said Maie. “I need you to coauthor my paper so we can have it published in a proper journal.”

“It's my fault,” said the osteologist. “They're here because of me.”

“Don't be foolish. They have nothing to do with you.” She unfolded her silver laptop. Its chimes were magnified by the heavy air of the dead. “I have two files here. One is a paper which will revolutionize the fields of archeology, psychology, forensics, and history. We'll just type your name in there and add it to your awful fake CV. One is a letter –"

“My dame,” he said, “there are many things on this earth I have failed to understand, even long before I came to this--”

“I don't need to hear it and you can save your breath,” said Maie. “The other is a letter of recommendation. This establishes that I am a valuable member of the research team and my project is well supported by evidence. We'll print them out on some uni letterhead and you can sign them both. And then?”

“The only future I care about is England's,” he said stubbornly. “For my own, I leave nothing.”

“Well, in case you start to care, nothing will happen to you. You can gather all the information you need and leave here. I'll have my grant to begin the Royal Cloning Project long before anyone checks up on you, and if they ask, I shall tell them I never suspected a thing. You can finish your job and go home without consequences.”

The osteoloist flopped forward like a boneless doll. He put his head in his hands. His watery small eyes met Maie's large impassive ones.

“You fail to understand me, lady,” he said. “I speak and speak and speak it and you fail and fail and fail. I was born under the bells of St. Nicols,” he said. “I carried water for the Black Canons as a boy. This city of yours is my home already. What makes you think I can go home?”

 

 

 

 

 

VI.

Travelling to the future is easy. Everyone does it anyway. Time is a cart that living sets in motion, and time is a steep downward slope. All you need is a kick, an extra jab of the spurs at the start, and the cart will go clattering away as far down the slope as you like. It will keep on going until you throw yourself loose on the ground.

Where the bottom is, no one knows but God.

Getting to the future in one piece, with all of your clothes still on, is harder. Raymond woke in a culvert back of the tower blocks, nearly naked and covered in a red rash, with nettles in his hair and a few rancid scraps of wool stuck to his body. At first he thought it hadn't worked, that he was back where he started and had been robbed again and left for dead. That perhaps the whole thing had been a ruse to steal his cloak and shoes. But no, his hair could not have grown so fast. It was a long time before he was able to sit up and look around.

He had been told to prepare for the future: its brazen women and Saracens, its tall buildings and dizzying speeds. What no one had thought to warn him of was its kindness. Was it kindness? It was something like kindness he didn't have a name for. The dusky young men who found him in the culvert laughed and laughed at his accent and his predicament, but before they stopped laughing they had brought him a pair of heavy pantaloons and a slick silk tunic, and enough money to buy a meat pie and a milk ice of terrible sweetness at the sign of two hills.

It wasn't just them, though. It wasn't just that. It was everything. His countrymen were quick and tall, beautifully and lightly dressed and unafraid of each other. It made him a little fearful, the way high mass made him fearful. At the sign of two hills, the round-armed barmaid sighed and smirked at his confusion, but patiently showed him which coins to use, and how to sip the milk ice slowly through a straw. It was colder than winter itself. He thought of the laughing young men and his own quarrelsome sons, who were grown now and old and dead for years. He thought of his brave new king, still young, now dust.

Getting back is impossible.

Raymond knew this. In a way, he'd known it all along. He knew it in the same way he knew of the stars' orbit in their spheres, or the existence somewhere to the East of Amazons and elephants, or his own death waiting for him somewhere. He knew it, but not so it mattered. He had a job to do.

His contacts, time travellers from the height of Tudor power, were not kind. They scoffed at the clothes his young friends had given him. “Are you joking?” they said. They wore close, dark cloaks and loose hose, and their eyes were masked. They bought him new clothes, uncomfortable clothes like their own, and told him to lose the hair and beard. They gave him a list of contemporary words to use in his speech, and a new identity: Raymond Fitzsimon, osteologist. His mission: Gather information useful to the Tudor cause. Diminish as much as possible the figure of the tyrant Richard. Report back to Henry VII, by the grace of God, King of England, in or around the year 1490. If that proves impossible, report to his son Henry VIII no later than 1542.

“How do I do that?” he said.

“Not our department,” said the future Tudors. “Supposedly the technology here is up to it. Steal a machine if you have to.”

“Where can I find such a machine?”

They shrugged.

Going forward is easy. Getting back is impossible. By the time he found the hated skeleton and his new home at the bone prison, Raymond was already exhausted from pretending to understand. He was afraid to ask about this future: was he trying to avoid it, or preserve it? Were the new monarchs Tudors or not?

He told himself it didn't matter. He had a job to do. On the sturdy parchment his contacts had provided, he wrote down everything he could think to say about the bones, the facial reconstruction, the opinions of his colleagues. He even described the machines he saw in use, in case there was some way to invent them ahead of time. He assured his beloved king that even if he was unable to return, the future was kind and it was a small price to pay for the honor and glory of England and the House of Tudor. Then he opened the case that held the tyrant Richard's bones and went to work, withering the old king's arm bit by bit with a file until it mirrored his withered soul.