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Andělíčku rozkochaný

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August 1392

Anne closes her eyes and turns her face to the sun and cradles the baby against her chest. It's a warm August day, but the heat of high summer is dwindling and the scent of the late-summer roses wafts across the garden with the lengthening afternoon shadows. She's always been content with her life in England, and blissfully happy in her marriage to Richard, but she had never imagined how much happier having a child would make her. It's as though a great weight has been lifted from both of them—all of the years of disappointment and grief, of frustrated expectation, of whispered gossip and looks of pity from ladies of the court (and sometimes their husbands as well), all behind them now.

She presses her cheek to her son's hair, inhaling his sweet scent. He is so like his father, fair-haired and grey-eyed. He will be a great king someday.

The baby begins to squirm against her shoulder, just a little. She bends in and kisses his head and then begins to murmur an old song into his little ear.

"Andělíčku rozkochaný,
nade všěcky přěvýborný,
všie milosti plný,
beze všie proměny,
já tvój sluha jediný!"

It's not really the kind of song you're meant to sing to your child, but Anne has always liked it and the baby has already fussed through Lux vera lucis and Buoh všemohúcí and this one has settled him down. And Richard likes it, anyway, just the other day he'd heard her singing it and he said—

"That's so beautiful," Mary de Bohun says, and her voice calls Anne back to the real world where the baby drowsing in her arms is not her son, not Richard's son, but Henry Bolingbroke's daughter, and her own child never lived to draw breath. "I'd never really heard your language before."

"Oh," Anne says, blinking, and pressing her nose to Blanche's fair hair again in order to avoid Mary's eyes, and to catch her breath, because now she's afraid she will weep. "Thank you," she says, after a moment.

"What does it mean?"

"It means—" Anne feels her face grow hot. "'My frolicking little angel, who excels all, who is filled with all grace, whom my heart has chosen'—" She breaks off and swallows hard, tears beginning to prick at her eyes. She doesn't want to weep in front of Mary, not for this. "I'm sorry, it's silly, I know—I mean, she isn't my child, you shouldn't sing that to someone else's child—"

Anne has shed tears in front of Mary before, back in the days of the Lords Appellant, but that was for Richard, when she learned that the Appellants wanted to depose him. It isn't the same thing. Mary is her friend, and a good and kind woman, but Anne cannot bear to be pitied by Henry Bolingbroke's wife, who needs only a slight breeze to conceive. Blanche is her fifth living, healthy child.

"It's only a song," Mary says, giving Anne her somewhat owlish stare, as she clearly has no idea what Anne is talking about.

"Of course," Anne says. She swallows hard, and carefully hands Blanche back to her mother, so as not to wake her. "I'm sorry," she says again.

"Your Highness," Mary says, gently covering her hand with the hand that isn't occupied holding Blanche. "Is everything all right?"

What does it look like, Anne nearly snaps at her, and then reminds herself that none of this is Mary's fault. She takes a deep breath, turns her palm upward, and clutches Mary's hand.

"When Blanche was born," she says, "I was also with child."

Mary's face pales, and she squeezes Anne's hand back. "I'm so sorry, your Highness," she says. "I didn't know—"

"Nobody does," Anne says. "Richard knows, and my physician and some of my ladies. No one else. It happened just before the Visitation, while Richard was gone to York."

He'd been so furious with the London authorities when he left—it had been a petty quarrel over money, but he had revoked the city's liberties and removed the government to York. They'd agreed that it would be safer for her not to travel, so she had remained at Windsor. The quarrel doesn't seem to matter to him now. He will be formally reconciled with the city soon.

"I'm sorry," Mary says again, and Anne tries not to feel stung by the look in her eyes.

"It isn't even the first time," Anne says. Or the second, or even the third. The first had been years ago, only a year or two after her marriage. "It's just—I'd felt it move, this time, and I thought, perhaps—"

Perhaps it would have lived. Perhaps she would still be happy and expectant—she should have been about five months along, now—rather than grieving and empty. Perhaps she would never have had to see the look in Richard's eyes when he returned to Windsor. He has been a rock for her, has never blamed her, for this or anything, but he doesn't need to.

"Have you ever lost a child?" she says, because it's easier than thinking about that night, when she woke up doubled over from cramps, her smock and thighs and sheets sticky with blood. She remembers thinking The baby can't come now, Richard's not here, and then that the feast of the Visitation had not yet come, and her courses had last come just before Lent, and then she'd panicked and tried to run for help. She'd only made it a few feet when she collapsed. Everything else dissolves into a merciful blur in her memory.

She had been writing to Richard daily, twice a day, before it happened. As soon as she was able she'd written to him again: Please come home now.

Mary shakes her head mutely, and clutches Blanche a little tighter. "No," she says, at last. "Hal was a sickly baby, and Henry was convinced he wouldn't live, though he wouldn't say so. I knew better, though. I know I've been blessed—" She bites the word back, her cheeks flushing. "Fortunate," she corrects herself.

"No, you were right the first time," Anne says. "You have been blessed."

"I'm so sorry, your Highness," Mary says, for the third time. "I shouldn't have brought Blanche—I wouldn't have, if I'd known."

"She's a beautiful baby," Anne says, her throat tight and her face warm. "I'm glad to have met her."

"Her aunt Elizabeth says she looks like her grandmother," Mary says. "Henry doesn't remember his mother, but she does. Her name was Blanche, too." She smiles. "My Blanche had nearly white hair when she was born. It seemed to fit."

Anne nods, not trusting herself to speak. She and Richard have known for years what they would have called their children: the first son and daughter would have been Edward, and Joanna, after his parents; the second, Charles—there are few, if any, of that name in England, but Richard said it was only fitting that a son of theirs should bear the name of an emperor—and Elizabeth, after hers.

"I'm sorry," Mary says, yet again. "I'm only making it worse."

Anne wants to scream Yes, you are. Instead, she tries to smile reassuringly. The look on Mary's face tells her she isn't succeeding. "It's not your fault," she says instead, and it isn't Mary's fault, Anne knows that, but she desperately wants Mary to leave. She wants Richard right now, not any attempt at comfort Mary might be about to offer her, not when she's holding her beautiful baby daughter right there. She can't possibly understand.

God hasn't seen fit to grant many of her prayers, lately, but sometimes he answers where small things are concerned. At that moment a page arrives in the garden and announces, "His Highness approaches."

Mary hastily kneels, clutching Blanche to herself, as Richard sweeps in. His arrival is like a beam of sunlight, one that can wrap its arms around her and hold her close. His face pales, and then flushes, when he sees Blanche.

"My lady of Derby," he says. "I think your child has had too much sun today."

"Of course," Mary says, and her face is relieved as she rises to her feet. "Your Highness." She leaves the garden as quickly as courtly manners allow. When she is gone, Richard takes her place beside Anne, who hides her face against his chest and finally lets herself weep.

"I have you, love," he says, stroking her hair, bending in and kissing the top of her head. "I have you."

"I love you," Anne whispers.

"God, I don't know what Mary was thinking," Richard says.

"She didn't know," Anne says. "You know that. I wouldn't want to put my baby down either, if—" She's been about to say if it had lived, but the words won't come, and if my husband had gone away for God knows how long would just hurt Richard, who would take it as a criticism of his decision to go to York. Anne can't do that, no matter how bad her mood. After all, it wasn't his fault, either. She swallows hard, dabbing at her eyes with her sleeve. "I was so awful to her."

"Anne, you could never be awful," he says. She can hear the smile in his voice; he squeezes her tightly before releasing her so he can cup her face with his hands. "Let's go to La Neyt tomorrow," he says. "You need to get away from here. We need to get away from here."

"But what about the council, and the investigations in London—"

Richard shakes his head. "I don't need to be there," he says. "York can come to Sheen if he has anything important to tell me—he'll stay away from La Neyt—and the official ceremonies aren't for another fortnight. And you need peace and quiet, and a change of scenery."

"I need you," Anne says. She's smiling as she says it, but Richard's face turns white.

"Anne," he says, "I'm so, so sorry I left you behind. Maybe if I'd been here—"

"There's nothing you could have done—you know that," Anne says, draping her arms over his shoulders to brush her fingers over the back of his neck. "I'm the one who—"

"Shhh," Richard says, pressing a finger to her lips, and she kisses his fingertip, which is irresistible no matter how bad she feels. "Anne, you mustn't blame yourself, either." He presses his forehead to hers. They've had this conversation many times since Richard's return from York. He still feels as though God is punishing him. She still feels as though she's broken. "I don't care what people say at court. Even if we never have children, I won't love you any less. And I love you so much." He straightens up and wraps his arms around her again, and she settles back against his chest and closes her eyes.

"Let's go to La Neyt tomorrow," she says.

***

Richard is usually right when he says that greater privacy will improve a situation, and this time is no exception. Anne always treasures their visits to La Neyt, and she knows that Richard does too—even in better circumstances, it's good to be out of the public eye, and the grounds are beautiful and soothing, something Anne has never properly appreciated before. They usually don't spend that much time outside of the bedroom.

Just after the Assumption, a few days before they are set to depart for London, the weather turns to rain. It's comforting, even when it storms—after all, it's a good excuse to stay in bed and be generally indolent, curled up listening to the rain pelting at the casement. Anne has missed sharing a bed with Richard; he was traveling for such a long time, and before that they had tried to keep to their own chambers, because it was Lent, and then because Anne was with child. There had been a great deal of temptation to resist, and resist they had, for the sake of the baby. It hadn't helped.

The last time they'd lain together was on Shrove Tuesday—every year they approached Lent in a spirit of penitence, after all, even if they often stumbled, and it would be their last chance for a while. By Lady Day, she had begun to suspect she was with child; by Easter, she had been certain; by the Visitation, it was all over. The Visitation was nearly six weeks ago, now, and Shrove Tuesday, over five months ago, and for the first time since then, lying in Richard's arms in their most secluded residence, it occurs to her to think about how long it's been.

"Richard?" she asks. "Do you remember the last time we made love?"

"Back before Lent," Richard says. "Anne, it's all right—I don't want you to worry about me. Of course I miss it, but all that matters to me is that you're all right."

Anne reaches up to drape her arms around his neck. "I know," she says. "I want to be all right, Richard." She draws him down to kiss him—just a chaste kiss, really, mouths closed, nothing they haven't done recently. "I want to be close to you. I want to feel normal again." She trails a hand down his jawline, favoring him with a heavy-lidded smile. "If you want to, of course."

Richard smiles back and draws a hand down her side, coming to rest at the curve of her hip. "I always want you," he says, and Anne grins at him. He kisses her again, but then his face is serious. "If you change your mind," he says, "I want to know right away."

"I promise," Anne says.

They climb out of bed to undress; Richard lifts Anne's smock over her head before stripping off his shirt, and Anne's breath catches. It's not as though she's forgotten how beautiful he is—a figure wrought from ivory and gilt—but it's been a long time. She reaches out to touch him, and he catches up her hand and presses kisses to her palm and wrist, murmuring "You're so beautiful" against her skin before leading her back to bed. His skin is warm and soft against hers; he is already stiff against her thigh, and she can feel the familiar stirring in her belly at last.

Anne tilts her head back as Richard positions himself on top of her, trailing kisses down her throat and over her collarbones; she gasps softly as his mouth covers her nipple, and then part of her is back in Windsor, curled up in bed sobbing, her breasts swollen with milk for a child who would never need it, and she cries out and pushes Richard away, staring at the tester and trying not to burst into tears.

"I'm sorry," she breathes. "I'm sorry, Richard, I'm so sorry—"

Richard is immediately at her side; he wraps his arms around her, kissing her forehead and stroking her hair. "It's all right," he says. "I've got you, my love." Anne clings to him, burying her face in his chest, and Richard's arms tighten around her as the tears come at last.

"I'm sorry," she says again, once she's able to catch her breath. "I thought I could do this, I just couldn't—I wanted to, Richard, I wanted to feel good about it…"

"I know," Richard says, kissing the top of her head. "I know. It's all right—it will be all right. We have all the time in the world."

"I suppose," Anne sniffles. Richard can almost make her believe it, especially when his skin is warm against hers and his hand is rubbing soothing circles on her back.

"If I ask something of you, Anne, do you think you can do it for me?" He draws back enough to tilt her chin up towards his face.

"Anything," she says.

Richard smiles. "We have a great deal of work ahead of us in London," he says. "No more worrying about sex until after it's over. I can go without it as long as you need to. Right now, I just want you to rest and feel better—that's why we're here, after all." He bends in and kisses her forehead. "Promise?"

Anne smiles back at him, tears welling back up in her eyes. She's never known what she's done to deserve such a husband as Richard, as surely as she's always known that God has made them for one another. But perhaps it was simply a miracle.

"I promise," she says again, and kisses him.

***

London is decked out in Richard's livery, as far out as Wandsworth. Guildsmen and citizens throng the streets, hung with banners bearing crowned Rs and As, dressed in their finest attire. The city has spared no expense in its efforts to recapture its king's favor. The sky is clearing, after days of rain, but the ground is still damp, and in the late summer heat, steam rises from the pitched surfaces. Anne can almost feel her hair beginning to frizz under her templers, and her face is already warm and probably pink. Perhaps she shouldn't have worn red.

Richard leans over in his saddle, reaching for Anne's hand, which he squeezes briefly before raising it to his lips. "You'll be brilliant today," he says. "The people love you almost as much as I do." He kisses her hand again. "Almost."

"I love you," Anne whispers, reaching up to stroke his cheek briefly. Ten days at La Neyt may not have dissipated the grief of the past two months—that is something Anne will carry with her always—but the peace and quiet, along with Richard's injunction not to worry about resuming normal marital relations until at least after today's festivities, has been restorative enough that she can face a full day of civic ceremonies with some level of equanimity. She takes a deep breath as they ride forth with their retinue.

As they prepare to ride into the city, they are greeted by the representatives of the twenty-four trade guilds and the city warden, who kneels and presents Richard with the keys to the city, and a sword with its point aimed towards himself. He makes a long speech in English; at the end of it, Richard grins unexpectedly and casts a sidelong glance at Anne, who smiles back even though English is by far her weakest language, especially when it's overly-formal, flowery English of the sort that important commoners use in speeches, and she has only been following the speech in a very basic manner. When the guildsmen turn to her, they address her in French, beseeching her to speak for them to Richard, and to mitigate his wrath.

"I am sorry he is angry," she says to them in English. "I wish only for your good. There is hope that all will be well."

"Thank you, your Highness," the warden says, also in English, and the guildsmen smile to hear her speak to them in their own language.

As they ride on towards London, Anne leans over toward Richard again. "What was that about?" she whispers. "During the warden's speech?"

"He told me not to despise the bridal chamber I've always loved," he whispers back with just a hint of a wink at her, and Anne giggles despite herself. The reception is beginning to lighten her heart, a little: if she cannot give her husband a child or the kingdom an heir, at least she can still work for the good of her subjects. They still look to her with hope.

They ride into the city thronged by a rainbow of liveried guildsmen, and as the procession approaches the city gates in Southwark they are met by Bishop Braybrooke and an army of clergy from every order singing the Te Deum and the Summe Trinitati. At Bridgegate, the warden of the city presents them with a pair of white horses trapped out in red and white, with golden harness; he makes another speech to Richard in English, and one in French to Anne, praising her bloodlines and her share in the rule of the realm, and her influence on Richard.

"The queen may soften the king's severity," he says, "so that he may show a kind face to his people; a woman may tame a man with her love—for this purpose God has given her to him. O tender and devoted lady, let your sweet love achieve this end! These good people desire you to smile upon them, on whom their safety and their hope chiefly depends."

Anne can't see Richard's face from where she's standing, but she can feel him beaming at her. It's a shame it wouldn't be regal to take his hand right at this point. The warden is right, of course: since she was first married, she has known for truth that God has made her for Richard. She wishes, yet again, that she were more eloquent in English; it doesn't seem proper to address the commons in French. Not that she means to elaborate too much on that particular subject.

"I thank you for your gifts," she says. "I promise I will do for you whatever I can."

The day is a dazzling spectacle. Inside the city gates they are greeted by two young men with censers—very handsome, which Anne is sure Richard appreciates. The Great Conduit in Cheapside runs with wine; girls fling gold coins to the crowd; a boy dressed as an angel presents them with a golden cup; singers, also dressed as angels, greet them at the Little Conduit; most spectacularly of all, a boy and a girl descend from a tower which seems to float above the street on a cloud and present them with golden crowns, which distracts both her and Richard for some time attempting to determine how they did it. At St. Paul's, Bishop Braybrooke joins them as they make offering at the tomb of Saint Erkenwald, who once baptized a virtuous pagan justice come back from the dead when his tomb was opened. Temple Bar has been transformed into a wilderness, with plants and animals of all sorts, and as they pass through Ludgate, Richard's face splits into a radiant grin as the figure of John the Baptist appears and proclaims "Behold the Lamb of God!"

The warden presents them both with engraved gilt altar tablets—a scene of the Crucifixion for Richard; for Anne, a tablet depicting her namesake Saint Anne, patroness of pregnant and childless women. For a moment, she fears she will cry. He addresses her as a daughter of Caesar's line, beautiful and gracious, named for the mother of the Blessed Virgin.

"And, as you know," he says, "you are named for grace itself, as you now may show grace to all your people. Like Esther before Ahasuerus, a queen can speak for her people as no man would dare to do. For this has God given you to this realm; for this, your people's city pleads for your help and kindness, and presents these tablets to you—when you look on them, remember us to the King."

Anne smiles at him, her eyes still stinging. She will not weep, she tells herself.

"Whatever is in my power, it will be done," she says.

At Westminster Abbey, they are met by a procession of clergy. They set aside their crowns and kiss the Gospels before being escorted into the church to make offerings at the shrine of the Confessor while the monks of Westminster sing the hymn Ave Sancte Rex Edwarde. He is one of Richard's favorite saints, for he too was King of England, and he had been devoted to his wife (although they had lived chastely within marriage—as Saint Ludmila, patroness of Bohemia, had done, after providing an heir. Anne had thought it an appealing idea, in her youth; then she had married Richard).

At last they arrive at Westminster Palace, where they retire in order to change their garments, after riding all day. It has been warm enough that Anne finds it a blessed relief to be stripped down to her smock, even if only for the few minutes it takes to remove her by-now-slightly-dusty red gown and be dressed in a deep blue one, which she's chosen partly because it seems appropriate to wear Our Lady's color for a public act of intercession and partly because Richard says it brings out the gold in her hair (even if most of it is hidden under her templers). The heraldic mantle her ladies drape over her shoulders, featuring her arms impaled with Richard's, was first made for her wedding, which makes her smile; for some reason, it seems appropriate, although it feels much heavier in the August heat than it did on the frigid January day they were married. Not that she'd had any cause to feel cold that night.

Westminster Hall is decorated so brightly that it seems to glow, the crowds dressed in every hue, the walls hung with tapestries and the throne with cloth of gold. It looks like a scene from a book of hours, painted in the lush tones of saffron and carmine and lapis lazuli, richly illuminated in gold. Anne's breath catches at the sight of Richard, seated in majesty, himself robed in cloth of gold, his hair and his garments and even his skin seeming to glitter in the light of hundreds of candles, and his face radiant as his gaze locks with hers. The hall is crowded with people; Archbishop Courtenay and Bishop Braybrooke and all of her ladies are marshaled behind her, and yet she sees only Richard. She makes her way toward the throne, her heart swelling as she falls to her knees—as she might have done even were it not part of the ceremony.

"Anne," Richard says, and there's just a hint of a quaver in his voice, "stand up, my love." His face is pink when she rises to her feet, his eyes shining, and Anne's cheeks grow warm in response. "All you need to do is ask, and I will grant whatever you desire."

Anne bites her lip—this is a solemn occasion, and it wouldn't do either to grin or to weep, although she feels she could do either.

"My sweetest love," she begins, "my life and my strength—without you, life would be like death to me—" She swallows hard, and takes a deep breath she hopes nobody else will notice she needs; she has the impression that Richard's eyes are wet, and she wishes she could take his hand. "Is there any earthly king who has been so honored as you have been today, or been received with such magnificence? If we had been shown greater reverence, I think God himself might have taken offense!"

Richard's lips press together in that way he has when he's trying to be serious, and she continues, "A king who has received such honors, if he is wise, must remember that we too are mortal—and, as we hope for God's mercy, should always seek to show mercy, as I beseech you to show to the people of London today, for their sake, and for the love you have for me, if I have ever done anything to earn it."

There is no reason to be anxious—she has never had cause to doubt Richard's love, and almost everything she has said has been carefully discussed—but for a moment, all Anne can hear is the sound of her own heartbeat in her ears. Then Richard extends his hand to her, and when she takes it, he squeezes her fingers, his voice rough as he says "Everything you ask for is yours," before raising her hand to his lips. He closes his eyes for a moment; when he opens them, he has recovered his composure. "Come sit with me," he says. "I have a few words to say to these good people."

Anne sits beside him on the throne, resisting the temptation to lean on him; it has been a long and exhausting day, although Richard is composed as ever. She has seen him in every mood—and he has an endless range of them—but he never fails to shine in front of a crowd. He takes her hand again and squeezes it before he begins to address the assembly.

She hears hardly a word he says—something about the crown's ancient favor toward London, and about prosperity and pride; at one point he mentions her own efforts on the city's behalf, taking her hand and raising it as if to present her to the crowd, and his thumb caresses her fingers briefly. Her eyes dazzle in the candlelight and the heat; her heart is full with the knowledge that, no matter what, she is still Richard's queen, and his wife, even if she will never be the mother of his children.

She realizes, perhaps for the first time, that it may be enough.

***

It is already dark when the royal barge arrives at Kennington. The return journey is short, but Anne has already dozed off by the time they've set out; it has been a long day spent mostly on horseback, and Richard's arm around her shoulders is exceptionally soothing. When he rouses her from her sleep, her templers are askew, tendrils of hair escaping from the jeweled fretwork, and her veil is hopelessly wrinkled.

"Would you like me to carry you in?" Richard says. Anne can hear the smile in his voice.

"I'm too heavy to carry," she says, leaning up to kiss his cheek, and afterward Richard leans in to kiss her lips.

"Never," he says, but he doesn't press the issue once the bargemen have helped them disembark.

After a late supper, they sit and drink wine together, enjoying the quiet. Richard covers Anne's hand with his, long fingers caressing the back of her hand in a way that makes her skin tingle. She catches his fingers with her own, interlacing them together, and he looks down at their joined hands before raising his eyes to hers again and giving her a heavy-lidded smile.

"I can't stop thinking about how beautiful you looked today," he says, "when you knelt to me in the hall."

Anne smiles back at him. "I felt—almost whole again, Richard," she says. "Like I still have a purpose, even if I'm—"

Richard clasps her hand between both of his, now. "You are my wife, and my Queen," he says, "and I love you, and I will always love you, no matter what."

Anne raises their joined hands to her lips and kisses his fingers. "I've never, ever doubted that," she says. "Not for a moment." Richard beams at her. "I'd been thinking of the pageantry today as…well, as something I had to endure. But it reminded me of what it means to be queen—not just to bear children, but to protect my people—our people," she says.

"England has never been more blessed than when it gained you as its queen," Richard says, pressing her hand between his.

Anne kisses his fingers once again. "Take me to bed?" she says.

Richard inhales sharply; his eyes widen. "Are you sure?" he says. "I know you've been through a lot, these last weeks, and I don't want to ask you to do anything you don't want to…"

"I know," Anne says, smiling. She knows that Richard's complexion colors easily, but he isn't accustomed to go that pink when speaking to her, certainly not after ten years of marriage in which neither of them has ever been reluctant in the bedchamber, before their last failed attempt at La Neyt. "I am, though—I wasn't, last time. But it's different, after today."

Richard beams at her again, although his eyes are serious. "Well, then," he says. "As I believe I've already said before all of London, I could never deny you anything."

Anne rises from the table and approaches Richard, draping her arms about his neck before sitting on his lap and kissing him. Richard wraps an arm around her waist; his free hand moves up to cup her jawline as her lips part against his.

"Good," she says afterward.

Richard leans his head on her breast, his hand trailing down her side to rest on her hip. "God, when you knelt before me today all I could think of was how much I wanted you—how much I wished I could have you right there, in front of all of them." His face blazes scarlet; Anne can feel its heat through the fine linen of her shift. Her own cheeks are burning, and not from shame; she can feel her nipples harden at the thought of it and wonders if Richard notices. She's already had cause to think on their wedding night today; now she remembers how grateful she'd been when he had barred the door against witnesses to the consummation of the royal marriage. She'd been much more retiring then, and a maiden with ten years of gossip about her husband's proclivities, and her own pious frigidity or tragic neglect, still ahead of her. Not that she'd really want anyone to watch them—but as a fancy, it's extremely appealing.

"I'm sure Bishop Braybrooke would have enjoyed that," she says, grinning.

Richard raises his head from her breast and grins back at her, his color beginning to return to normal with the knowledge he hasn't shocked her too badly. "He might!"

"I know!" Anne says. "I meant it!"

"Well," Richard says, lifting an eyebrow. "He'll just have to use his imagination."

"Let's stop talking about Bishop Braybrooke now," Anne says, and Richard laughs.

"You started it!" he says.

"I liked the part before that, though." Anne presses her forehead to his and cups his flushed cheeks. "I'd be happy to kneel before you again, of course," she murmurs, and kisses him again.

"Not tonight," Richard says against her lips. "I want to be inside you."

"Mmm, even better," Anne says, and then Richard's tongue is in her mouth as she runs her fingers through his golden curls. She rises from his lap as they break apart for air, and takes his hands to pull him toward the bed. He releases her hands to shrug out of his robe before drawing her smock over her head and then removing his own shirt; when she goes to embrace him again, he holds her at arm's length, resting his hands on her shoulders as he gazes at her, eyes dark with need.

"You're so beautiful," he breathes, hands moving to cup her breasts, and Anne tips her head back and sighs, her own breath coming with difficulty as Richard presses her backwards until they both fall among the fine linen sheets and and a small shower of down erupts from the featherbeds. "God, it's been so long—" he murmurs against her skin, his lips brushing the soft place just under her ear. "I've missed this so much—" She can feel him hardening against her thigh, and draws her legs up and apart for him. Her hands clutch at his shoulders as his mouth is on her jawline, her throat, her collarbone—when his hand comes up to caress her breast, his thumb lightly circling her nipple, she lets out a small gasp, her hands stilling on Richard's back as she remembers that recent evening at La Neyt. What if she can't do this anymore, if she continues to freeze every time her husband touches her? She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. This is in God's hands, she reminds herself, and immediately, she feels far more at ease.

"Anne?" Richard raises his head, moving into a position where he can more easily see her face. "Are you sure this is all right?"

Anne raises her hands to cup his face again. "I don't want to spend the rest of my life fearing it," she says. "I lost our child—I can't lose you too. I need this, Richard—I need you."

Richard bends to press his forehead to Anne's again, resting there for a moment before kissing her, very gently at first, until Anne's lips part under his and before long they are clinging to one another, mouths locked together until they're both panting for air. Richard moves down to tease Anne's thighs further apart before burying his face between her legs, caressing her with his lips and tongue while she gasps and whimpers and her fingers clutch absently at his hair. She almost cries out in frustration when he raises his head, but then he's back on top of her, bracing himself on his elbows, and their eyes meet as he eases into her and they both sigh with the bone-deep relief born of returning home at last after a long absence. Anne wraps her legs around Richard's hips, and his hands cradle her head, their eyes still fixed on one another's as he begins to move inside her, a slow, sustained effort that soon leaves Richard's face flushed and strained as Anne finds herself gasping for breath as the pleasure uncoils low in her belly. Her fingers dig into Richard's shoulder blades and her toes curl.

"Anne—" Richard pants. "Anne, please—"

"It's all right," Anne gasps, bringing her hands up to stroke his hair. "I don't mind." And she doesn't; Richard is always considerate and careful of her pleasure, even on those occasions where he isn't able to bring her off first—and he always tries.

"No—" Richard's voice is thick with effort. "This is for you, Anne."

Anne reaches up to cover his hands, still cradling her temples, with her own, and Richard interlaces his fingers with hers, stretching their joined hands above Anne's head as Anne tilts her chin back, her body arching against Richard's until she's crying out in ecstasy, and she can feel him swell and pulse inside her, once, twice, thrice, flooding her with heat as he too finds release.

Afterward they lie in each other's arms, their bodies still joined, Anne's fingers idly tracing a pattern over Richard's back and Richard's lips brushing against Anne's temple. "God," he murmurs in her ear, "that was amazing."

"It was," Anne says with a sleepy smile. "You are amazing, miláčku." She turns her head to kiss his lips; she can still taste herself, taste their shared passion and pleasure, on them. "I love you."

"And I love you," Richard says against her mouth. "Let's go back to Sheen after the feasting is over tomorrow."

"Let's," Anne says. "We have a lot to catch up on."

***

Mary returns to Peterborough at the end of August, asking Richard for permission to return home around the Decollation of St. John. She takes her leave of Anne in the gardens at Sheen; she has not brought Blanche, this time.

"She's with her nurse," Mary says. "Your Highness—I wanted to tell you again how sorry I am, about everything."

Anne wraps her arms around Mary. "I wanted to say the same to you," she says. "You meant no harm." She releases Mary, taking both her hands and squeezing them. "And I would like to see Blanche again, before you go." Mary smiles and sends for one of her ladies to fetch Blanche; when the baby is placed in her arms, she passes her to Anne.

Blanche is much more awake than she was the last time Anne saw her; she grins toothlessly and grabs at Anne's pearl-studded hairnet, and Anne smiles back at her as she turns her attention to Anne's veil and stuffs a corner of it into her mouth.

"I think she likes you," Mary says. "She can't resist shiny things. Especially on people's heads."

"I like her too," Anne says. "She's very sweet." She takes Blanche’s little hand. “Aren’t you, andělíčku?”

"You look very comfortable with her," Mary says. She lays her hand on Anne's forearm. "I pray to Saint Anne for you, your Highness—that you'll have one of your own someday."

Anne smiles and shifts her arms so that she has a better hold on Blanche. "Thank you," she says, giving Blanche a squeeze and sighing. "I don't expect it will happen, now—not after ten years."

"Saint Anne herself bore the Blessed Virgin in her age,” Mary says, although her smile in response is sad. “Not that you're old, your Highness," she adds. “Miracles do happen, sometimes.”

"They do," Anne says. She kisses Blanche's forehead, thinking of Richard's rapturous face as he gazed upon her in Westminster Hall, thinking of the children they would never have. “But then, I suppose I have had my miracle already."

Epilogue: June 1402

Blanche’s father comes to visit her a few days before she is to leave for Germany. She will be married to the son of the King of the Romans and Count Palatine of the Rhine; she has learned that her future father-in-law is one of the seven noblemen who choose the Emperor, that as King of the Romans he may someday become the Emperor, and that the Empire itself was beginning to favor England over France, thanks to her own father. Her husband-to-be is fourteen years older than Blanche, but Father says he is reputed to be a good and pious man.

The servant with Father is carrying a wooden box, emblazoned with black eagles, like those worn by some of the ambassadors who have come from Germany. He places the box on the table, and departs when Father nods in his direction.

“I wanted to give you this,” Father says. “For your trousseau. It's been in storage since—" He breaks off, and places his hands on Blanche's shoulders. "For a long time," he says instead. "I had it restored for you."

He unlocks the case, which is lined in luxurious red velvet, and lifts out a magnificent jeweled crown. It dazzles Blanche's eyes: finely wrought in gold openwork enameled in red and blue, studded with rubies, sapphires, and emeralds, blooming everywhere with pearls. In the late afternoon sunlight, it almost seems to glow. When he places it in her hands, she is almost afraid to touch it, in case she breaks one of them off by accident.

"It's so beautiful," she says. She bites her lip—it seems almost too beautiful to wear, even for a princess. "Can I try it on?"

Father smiles at her, which makes her glad because Father doesn't smile much—he is King, and kings must be serious. "Of course you may," he says, taking it gently from her hands and placing it on her head. "Do you have a mirror?" He looks about the room.

Blanche nods carefully. "It's on top of the chest near the bed," she says, and Father picks it up to show her.

"You look lovely," he says. "The sapphires bring out your eyes."

Blanche smiles, gazing at her own reflection and reminding herself that she will have to tell the priest about her vanity next time she goes to confession. She looks like a queen, she thinks.

"Thank you," she says, after a moment. "It's beautiful," she says again.

"This crown was made not far from where you are going," Father says. He sits on one of the stools near the table, and takes Blanche's hands in his. "The lady who first wore it came here long ago, to be married in a foreign country. I'm sure it was very frightening for her at first, but in the end, she had no cause to fear. She was a kind and virtuous woman, and her husband—" Father pauses for a moment, a shadow of sadness crossing his face, before resuming, "Her husband loved her very much, although they had no children."

"What happened to her?" Blanche says.

"She died," Father says. "As we all must." He smiles at Blanche again, though this time it's a sad smile. "Your mother thought very highly of her."

"Oh," Blanche says, because she knows now that it must have belonged to Queen Anne. She had been King Richard's wife, when Blanche was still a baby, and people say that when she died, King Richard went mad, and that was why they made Father king instead. (Blanche's mother had died around the same time. Blanche doesn't remember her at all; Harry and Thomas do, but they don't want to talk about her.) "I shall remember Queen Anne in my prayers, along with my lady mother," she says.

Father squeezes her hands before pulling her into a hug. "I think they would have liked that," he says.


Author’s Notes

Bohemian songs:
Andělíčku rozkochaný is a love song dating back to the late fourteenth century. The information here suggests Anne probably shouldn't actually know it, but whatever.
Lux vera lucis radium is a beautiful thirteenth-century hymn to Saint Ludmila, who was a patron saint of Bohemia (who is referenced later in this fic). She was the grandmother of Duke Wenceslaus of Bohemia (the same one from the Christmas carol; he was posthumously promoted to king after his canonization) and thus Anne's distant ancestor. Alfred Thomas discusses it in his book A Blessed Shore (Cornell UP, 2007), though he does so in the context of Bohemian female saints who practiced celibacy in marriage (sometimes after they've had children, as in Ludmila's case), arguing that Anne had a lot of role models for chaste marriage—he subscribes to the theory that Richard and Anne had one. I think it should be pretty clear if you've read this far that I do not.
Buoh všemohúcí is an Easter hymn which may be related to the well-known German hymn "Christ ist erstanden”—at least, I think it is, but it's hard to find English-language sources for this song. It's damn catchy though.

back in the days of the Lords Appellant: A faction of five lords (including Henry Bolingbroke) who attempted to seize control of the government from Richard II in 1387, and very nearly did so successfully, until internal conflicts drove them apart (although they were able to keep Richard, who had not yet reached the age of majority in 1387, on a tight leash for the next few years). The trauma resulting from this event shaped the remainder of Richard's reign; it was his effort to rid himself of the senior appellants that ultimately led to his deposition. The incident Anne recalls here is invented; it refers to my own fic Like a Well-Regulated Abbey.

I know I've been blessed: According to Ian Mortimer (who would not like anything I have ever written about Richard), the account that Mary gave birth to a stillborn child in 1381 is erroneous and actually refers to a child born to her older sister Eleanor. Which is honestly a relief, as Mary would have been at most thirteen years old in 1381. Mary's comment on Hal's infancy is a tip of the hat to heartofstanding's lovely (and upsetting) "His Autumn Child".

Her aunt Elizabeth: Elizabeth of Lancaster (1363-1426), Henry’s older sister (and Richard’s sister-in-law, as she was married to his half-brother John Holland). Their mother, Blanche of Lancaster, died in 1368, which means Elizabeth would probably have some memories of her, whereas Henry (born in 1367) would not. Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess is believed to have been a tribute to her memory.

what they would have called their children: Richard’s parents were Edward the Black Prince (1330-76) and Joan, Countess of Kent (1328-85); Anne’s were Emperor Charles IV (1316-78) and Elisabeth of Pomerania (1347-93). In real life, the name Charles didn’t enter the English royal family until the Stuart era.

the Visitation: Celebrated on July 2 in this time period (and until 1969). In the present day it is celebrated on May 31. The feast commemorates a meeting of two pregnant women: the Virgin Mary (whose child obviously needs no introduction) and her sister Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist.

The first had been years ago:

i.e., the one implied by her letter to Wenceslaus (see headnote), in 1384.

La Neyt was part of the complex of buildings that formed Sheen Palace (at present-day Richmond), which was Richard and Anne's favorite residence. It was built on an island in the Thames (this is just a random blog but it contains some interesting speculation about which one). Built between 1384 and 1388, it offered unusual privacy for a royal residence of this period.

the investigations in London: Richard established a committee to investigate possible misgovernment in the city in June, 1392; it was headed by Edmund Langley, Duke of York, and Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester. (Richard only mentions York in the story; he probably doesn't want to deal with Gloucester right now.)

the Assumption: July 15. Nigel Saul's itinerary (Richard II, Yale UP, 1997) includes nothing on Richard's whereabouts between August 7-20, 1392; I sent them to Sheen/La Neyt for story purposes, and then discovered that the Westminster chronicler has him at Sheen before his entry into London as well. The reference to the rainy weather is from the Concordia.

The last time…it was all over: During the Middle Ages, sex was forbidden during Lent. Shrove Tuesday (better known now by its French name of Mardi Gras) is the last day before Lent. In 1392, it fell on February 27, while Easter fell on April 14. Lady Day is an old-fashioned name for the feast of the Annunciation, which takes place on March 25. (It was the start of the legal/fiscal year in England until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, but that's not relevant to the story.)

Bishop Braybrooke: Robert Braybrooke, Bishop of London from 1382-1404.

The queen…chiefly depends: All of the longer speeches in this section (and references to things people said in speeches) are adapted loosely from the Concordia (see headnote).

St. Erkenwald's miraculous zombie baptism is the subject of a late fourteenth-century poem. The poem can be read here in Middle English; a prose translation into modern English is available here.

Edward the Confessor: Reigned 1042-1066. He is the only English king to be formally canonized (in 1161). Richard II viewed him as a patron and protector; in the mid-1390s he took up the practice of impaling his own arms with the (fictional) arms of the Confessor, as can be seen on the verso of the Wilton Diptych, where Edward is depicted (along with Edmund of Bury and John the Baptist, also referenced in the pageantry) as one of the three saints presenting Richard to the Virgin and Child. His shrine in Westminster Abbey was built in 1163, and can still be visited today if you go to the Abbey at the right time (it's usually closed off to visitors, but there is a prayer service held there twice daily, at least on weekdays). If you do, you can also pay your respects to Richard and Anne, whose beautiful double tomb is also located in the shrine.

Incidentally, I learned while researching this fic that historians of Edward's reign (as opposed to Richard's, who kind of take it for granted, as I had) don't actually think he had a chaste marriage with Edith of Wessex; this seems to have been a legend built up by ecclesiastical writers (and a poor life choice for a king, as we can see by the history-changing results of Edward and Edith's lack of children!). Obviously people in the late fourteenth century would not have been aware of this.

her arms impaled with Richard's: Married women impaled (displayed side-by-side) their own arms (which were generally their father's) with those of their husband. Anne's can be seen here.

Archbishop Courtenay: William Courtenay, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1381-96. He officiated at Richard and Anne's wedding on January 20, 1382.

You are amazing, miláčku: A Czech term of endearment that basically translates to "my darling."

the Decollation of St. John: Feast day commemorating the beheading of John the Baptist. It is celebrated on August 29.

King of the Romans: In this period, essentially a title for the Emperor-elect, who would officially become Emperor upon his coronation by the Pope. Ruprecht von der Pfalz had ascended to the title in 1400 upon the deposition of the previous incumbent, Wenceslaus IV, older half-brother of Anne of Bohemia. He had retained the title of King of Bohemia, but at the time of Blanche’s marriage he had also been overthrown from that position by his younger half-brother Sigismund (although he was restored a couple of years later). Blanche’s marriage to Ruprecht’s son Louis, therefore, cemented an alliance between two precariously-situated monarchs seeking to establish international credibility.

The crown that Henry gives to Blanche is real and still exists—it is the only item from Richard's 1399 treasure roll known to have survived, as many medieval English artifacts were destroyed during the Interregnum (1649-60), including most of the crown jewels and coronation regalia. It can be seen in the Residenz in Munich to this day. The description of it in the text is drawn from the text of the treasure roll, available here.

Blanche was married to Louis (or Ludwig) III, future Elector Palatine, on July 6, 1402 at Cologne Cathedral. They had one son, Ruprecht, born in 1406. She died in 1409, at the age of 17, while pregnant with their second child.