While Grace was attending to Elizabeth, the other two sisters were huddled together in the main room speaking in frantic whispers. Elizabeth York frowned at her sister, Cecily and spoke in a rather condescending older sister manner, “You should not speak of such things, Cecily! What an awful child you are to voice such thoughts of her.” Outwardly she chastized her younger sister, but inside she was thinking some of the same as her sister had mentioned aloud.
Cecily whispered angrily back, “I care not what you think, Elizabeth. And, I know that you are thinking the same things… You are just not willing to admit it. You know I am right though you would never admit that either.” Elizabeth tried to hush her but she would not be quieted, “No, I will speak my say… Just because you do not say the words aloud does not mean that they are not true or that this shall all go away.” Cecily pointed towards the other room and continued, “Mayhaps she is ill because of the ills she has forced upon all of us. Or perhaps she feigns illness now because there is nowhere else to hide… all I am saying is, if she truly is so ill, then perhaps she should make her peace with God, and go to him in a repentent manner. If she should go now in such a way, then perhaps we could have some peace and some semblance of life back…” The girls continued their hushed arguing until Grace came out from the room.
They stopped their whisperings and Elizabeth called Grace close to give her a comforting hug. Grace brushed away tears and answered Elizabeth’s questioning of how their Mother fared. “She is asleep now…She says she just needs rest and that there is much to face in the morning.”
Grace shared the woman’s strange ramblings with her half sisters then sighed sadly as she began to gather her few belongings. The other two girls looked at her in some concern and worry. Cecily asked in a frustrated and irritated way, “What ever are you doing, Grace?” She watched as Grace sorted through various pieces of clothing, “What ever it is you are searching for, it can wait till morning, can it not?” Cecily snatched a ribbon from the girl’s hand, “Oh, that is where that has gone… I have searched for it for days.”
Elizabeth slapped Cecily’s hand and hushed her again, “Oh, hush you stupid chit, can you not see that Grace is much distressed and worried about far more than your silly ribbons.”
They looked at Grace, who was in tears again as she spoke to them softly, “Your Mother has ordered me to leave here immediately and make my way to her sister, the Duchess of Buckingham. I dare not disobey her on this, she seemed to be quite insistant of it’s importance.”
Elizabeth frowned, “But surely it can wait till the morning. Tis not safe for you to go out in the middle of the night. We have no one to send with you for escort or protection.” She gathered her inner strength and spoke now to Grace in a firm, commanding voice, “My Mother is indisposed so it is I who must make our decisions for now. You shall go nowhere until the morn, and then if she wakes and is still of the same thoughts, we will find you an escort to my aunt Katherine. Until then, we should all just try to get some sleep.”
Grace hestitated for but a moment before agreeing. She was scared of everything right now. Grace was a quiet and shy girl who would have much preferred a life in the convent to the one chosen for her as a small child. When her Mother had died, she had been placed in the Royal household of her Father, King Edward to be raised and trained as a maid to the Queen and her many daughters. She grew up knowing that her life’s situation was a rather perilous one and she was dependent on the Queen’s good grace for any benefits she might recieve. Her Father and Elizabeth had always been kindly toward her and she much appreciated that. Edward had always promised that when she came of age, there would be a good marriage arranged for her and she would be well taken care of. With his death had gone those promises and now, this was the only family she knew even if they were not completely hers. She much feared what should happen to her in the future should she fall out favor with them, or as it seemed likely, they should fall out favor and grace themselves. As she curled up in her bed that night, her one thought was, yes she would be much happier and content to a life of quiet contemplation in a convent. If she should survive all of this, she would find a way to make that happen for herself.
During those few days of Elizabeth’s illness, there were other events and plans taking shape. She did not know of Richard’s agreements to keep witchcraft out of any accusations and he intended to keep that his secret leverage over her. For the immediate time, he had other serious matters to contend with besides her.
Those boys he had replaced in the tower were becoming quite ill now and he made it known around court that the Royal sons were under the care of the Royal physicians, having contracted one of the many ailments sweeping across the realm. It was also during this time that there was an attempt made to rescue the boys from the tower. The attempt was thwarted but Richard was now suspicious of who exactly might have been behind the effort. He had already sent Margaret Stanley to confinement, but he did surmise that possibly she had involvement in it’s planning before her departure. Then again, he thought, Why would she want to save those boys… they would ever be a threat to her plans as well as his. He could not really see a good reasoning behind her participation other than perhaps just for spite against him. No, there had to have someone else responsibile for this, he just could not figure out who it might be. The event did signal to him that there was much deeper betrayal and rebellion under the surface than he originally gave thought to.
Now, along with the matter of who was the traitor in Elizabeth’s household, he must determine who were the traitors within his own close circle. The traitor in Elizabeth’s circle concerned him because it was a total unknown quality… was it one who just wanted some revenge on Elizabeth, or was it one who could not be trusted by either side. It was always possible, he thought, that there might be someone who would gladly betray either side to come out ahead or to see them both fall. He could not dismiss that theory. As to those in his close circle, there were far too many people who had previously been Lancaster supporters and then sworn their loyalties to the Yorks. When it came down to it, nearly everyone had some previous ties to the Lancasters. Of them all, John Howard was one of the few who had been a York supporter from the beginning. Howard was the one man whose loyalty and trust he did not ever question, though there were times when he surmised that there secrets within that man’s life. He did wonder at the man’s offer to keep that chest in his own safekeeping. Howard had seemed somewhat on edge when Richard told him that he would see to it himself.
The one other person in his circle whom he had previously trusted implicitely was Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Until recently, he had no cause to doubt the man’s loyalties. When the name of his wife came up though, in the discussion with Elizabeth about the chest, he began to rethink his opinions. Henry had sworn that his wife was ever loyal and faithful to him and his cause above all else. Richard did not care much for that wife of his, and knew well that she felt the same about him. Henry generally kept her much away from court and any influences of her family which caused Richard to think perhaps Henry did not trust her as much as he let on about. Henry said it was rather that she preferred not be at court, and was more content at their country estate with their children. Richard had left it at that for the time. He was in desperate need of Henry’s loyalties and his backing. Buckingham was one of wealthiest nobles and had close lines to the throne himself should he have wanted to go that route. Fortunately for Richard, Buckingham had chosen instead to back his bid for the crown. The more Richard thought about it however, the less he really trusted Buckingham. The man was, after all, a Stafford, being Margaret Stanley’s nephew. He was closely connected to the Lancasters in so many ways… and he had been raised within Elizabeth Woodville’s household. His marriage to Catherine had been arranged and set when they were both small children. It stood to reason that he would have some underlying loyalties to all of those others. Richard did not truly believe the rumors that Henry so disliked the Woodvilles or his pretty wife who had supposedly been forced upon him at a young age. If he disliked the woman so much, he would not spend so much time getting children upon her after the birth of a required heir… They had five in quick succession, if they continued at this rate, they would soon match her Mother’s and Grandmother’s fertility. He had once joked to Henry that there was no need to populate the entire realm with offspring.
He had good cause to doubt Henry Stafford… For Henry had begun to doubt him much as well recently. Henry made every effort to remain loyal and trust Richard but the recent events caused him to rethink his loyalties. It had all begun with Richard’s insistances and assurances that he only wanted to protect the young King Edward after his Father’s death. From there it had escalated so quickly into Richard’s thought that he should be the rightful King. During that short time so much had been going on, there had barely been time for any of them to think rationally… now that Henry looked back on it, he realized that was much what Richard wanted. He wanted no time for them, any of his followers to have second thoughts or doubts. Henry was emotionally and physically exhausted, and pleaded for a few days of rest in the country with his wife. Richard had agreed mainly because he did not want Henry questioning some of his plans or actions, such as those involving the boys.
As Henry made his way to the country, he heard many rumors and suspicions from those in the outlying areas. There were not many loyal to Richard out here. Many voiced their thoughts on those poor boys who had not been seen in a while. They whispered their opinions that Richard most likely had done away with the poor lads. Henry was loyal and trusted by Richard, but only to a certain extent. He had never been made privy to the true secret of the boys and now began to wonder like so many others what was going on with them. The only thing he knew for certain was that he had never had a hand in any attempt to harm the boys, or to rescue them. He knew that he walked a very fine line of balance with Richard and his main concern now was of keeping his own family safe.
Along his way home, he had recieved a message from his wife requesting that he make a detour in his way and meet her at a place called Royals Forest. It was a Royal holding, a place much out of the way and not often used by members of the Royal households now. It was a bit out of his way, but he could not dismiss going if his wife was so adament that he be there and meet her. He thought it quite unusual and out of character for her to make such a plan and wondered with great worry what this was about.
When he arrived, he was truly worried by who he found there with his wife. Waiting for him in this isolated and remote woods were his wife, along with young Henry Tudor and his ever present guardian, Jasper Tudor. He did not know what to think of this… this was most dangerous for all of them.