Thy Name is Love
Westminster Palace, London, April, 1471
Denys Woodville hiked up her skirts and hopped onto the palace gate to see over the cheering crowd. King Edward and his Yorkist army approached, on their triumphant march home after beating the Lancastrians at Barnet. She loved all the pomp of victory parades, but, oh, how she wished she had her own soldier to welcome home!
The king’s banner flew high above the others, brandishing a blazing sun. Mounted on his grey stallion, King Edward waved to his adoring subjects as if today were like any other. A stream of knights in dress armor followed. As trumpets and clarions blasted a sprightly tune, the parade entered the palace grounds. Yorkist flags fluttered and caparisoned horses pranced past her. The knights dismounted and removed their helmets as their families and lady loves rushed up to them. Richard, the king’s brother, leapt off his mount into the waiting arms of his sweetheart Anne. With squires and grooms at his heels, the king strode into the castle, where the heavily pregnant Queen Elizabeth awaited him. Amidst all this embracing and kissing, Denys stepped down from her perch and stood alone. The moment was one of mixed emotions for her. England was at peace once again. The king and his army were home. But no one came home to her. Her personal despair overtook her joy at England’s victory. Releasing a heavy sigh, she swept her gaze across the palace grounds, now nearly deserted.
Only one knight remained mounted. He hadn’t rushed into the arms of an ardent maiden. Instead, he halted his white stallion directly in front of Denys.
“Good morrow to you, my lady!” His tone, clear and confident, boomed from behind his slatted visor.
Her eyes locked on the proud figure, its regal bearing a stunning portrait of chivalry. The sun’s rays blocked out all but the outline of his pointed helmet. With one graceful move, he threw back his visor. Her gaze lingered on his face, shadowed with stubble, a cut on his chin his only physical mar. The sun glinted in his eyes like flecks of gold.
“Welcome home, my lord!” she greeted him. “We are all very proud of you.”
He plucked a white rose from the vine behind him, reached down and handed it to her. This display of tenderness and the striking contrast between the delicate rose and the plate armor encasing his body sent a thrill rushing through her. She wished he hadn’t been wearing gauntlets so their fingers could touch. “Why, thank you, my lord.”
His eyes gazed into hers so intently, she knew he shared her loneliness, her displacement. He gazed down at her as if admiring a magnificent work of art.
He longed for a special someone to come home to; she knew it in her heart.
“How lovely you are,” he said reverently, like a prayer. His voice had barely reached her, yet she’d heard every word.
The remaining revelers converged on them, pushing them apart, yet their eyes still locked. The press of people and horses drove him away, only his helmet and gauntlet visible as he waved. Standing on her toes, she waved back, but for certes he could no longer see her.
Sir—who? As he vanished, she caressed the rose petals and let her imagination soar.
She’d never been close to a man in that way. She cherished her childhood friend Richard, but that was childhood. This soldier made her feel like a woman for the first time in her life. He’d gazed at her so adoringly, he made her heart skip. Would she ever see him again?
Valentine Starbury guided his mount around the courtyard’s perimeter, trampled flowers and handkerchiefs the only remnants of the joyous parade. He glanced over his shoulder, but couldn’t find her, the only maiden without a steepled headdress. Only an elegant pearl circlet graced her silver hair. Standing alone when he’d entered, apart from the laughing and embracing, she’d looked so despondent. Her eyes, downcast and sad, brightened like jewels when he approached her. He saw his own heartache reflected in her eyes. She was no ordinary wench—she was the maiden he’d envisioned during those lonely nights in far-off France. She was the maiden he always knew he’d find.
Now he’d lost her just as quickly.
He shook his head in despair, swearing, his breath hissing back at him under the helmet in mockery—you lost her, you fool, you can’t even do that right.
He couldn’t bear another loss.
* * *
Denys sat all alone—the abandoned waif, the lost soul. Back in her chambers after the victory feast, she stroked the fragrant white rose he’d given her, once again longing to know who her long-dead parents were. Her Aunt Elizabeth adopted her, then passionately pursued Edward, the future King of England. Edward fell hard, and they married. The new bride had no need of a demanding child, so she sent Denys to Yorkshire, far enough out of the way.
The childless Duke and Duchess of Scarborough raised her as the daughter they never had. When the duchess died, the duke sent Denys back to court, unwanted again. But even with a king and queen for an uncle and aunt, with every privilege of royalty, Denys remained a lost soul. Today, as reunited lovers surrounded her, she’d stood alone, most unwanted. To add to her misery, the knight of her dreams appeared, only to vanish. That was her life—a course of fleeting moments.
Her lady-in-waiting entered, curtsied, and held out a folded parchment embossed with the royal seal. “A royal page just delivered this message from her highness the queen, my lady.”
She waved the maid away. “It can wait.” Probably another summons to attend one of the queen’s silly musicales, an excuse for the court ladies to gossip.
She put the message out of her mind and didn’t remember it again till her tiring woman stood behind her brushing her hair.
“Jane, please fetch me that royal parchment there.” She waved in the direction of her writing table.
Denys broke the seal and unfolded it. It was a summons, all right—but not to any giddy musicale.
It was a summons to attend a wedding—her own. Her heart took a sickening tumble as the reality hit her.
She mouthed the words as she read them, over and over again.
Her intended was Richard Plantagenet, the king’s brother, her childhood companion. Queen Elizabeth always married her relatives off to the cream of the nobility, and as Duke of Gloucester, Richard was the highest ranking bachelor in the kingdom.
But far from her idea of a husband. A brother, yes. A husband—never!
He was a prude. He was maddingly fastidious. He was also planning to wed Anne Neville, the love of his life.
Denys and Richard played together as children, and renewed their friendship when she returned to court. Together they played tennis, chess, cards—but the playing ended at games. Just the thought of kissing him made her shudder.
And the queen wanted them married on Christmas Day.
She strode over to the hearth and flung the parchment into the flames. They licked and charred it beyond recognition. Then she headed for bed and a long, hard think.
By the time she fell asleep, she’d already thought of several ways out.
* * *
King Edward stood to bid his queen good eve; she left the dais and her bevy of maids escorted her from the great hall. Denys made sure she was gone before approaching her uncle with a graceful curtsy. “Uncle Ned, I need speak with you.”
“Dove, my dear, come sit, sit by me!” His large hand wrapped hers in comforting warmth. “I’ve hardly seen you, what with all the battles and council meetings and—you must let me get my own back on that chessboard!”
She couldn’t help smiling. In their last match, she’d captured the king’s own king with no more than her rook and her pawn. “I would much enjoy that, Uncle.” She sat beside him and kissed his ruby coronation ring.
“So—” He motioned for a passing steward to bring Denys a cup of wine. “How’s my little Dove, then? Are you happy back here at court? Or would you rather have stayed up Yorkshire way where it’s quiet at least?”
“Oh, I felt especially misty today. ‘Twas the first anniversary of the duchess’s death. I’m missing Castle Howard so much.” Ah, Castle Howard—where warmth and love surrounded her, embracing her childhood with rocking cradles, a lullaby every night and the duchess’s soft breast to rest her head on. “I loved it there, Uncle. I had my studies, gave alms to the poor, read to the urchins…they devoured those King Arthur tales.” Her tone lightened as she recalled how rewarding it was to bestow gifts upon the poor, read to the children, and bring some happiness to their lives, however brief. She longed to do that again.
“I know how much the folk and the duchess adored you, my dear.” King Edward’s eyes grew soft and thoughtful. “In the years my brothers, sisters and I lived at Castle Howard, the duchess was like a mother to all of us.”
Denys nodded. Her eyes held fast on the blur of lights glinting off her goblet. “Duchess used to spend hours fussing over my hair, especially when the sun bleached it white. ‘How pretty you are, like a little dove!’ she said to me one day.” She was Dove from that day on. But her halcyon childhood met an abrupt end.
A playful grin frolicked on Edward’s lips. “She had nicknames for all of us. Richard was Gumpy. George was Ulchy. I was Knobby, because my knees and elbows were so big. But I seem to have grown into them.” He held out his hands, rough and calloused from years of wielding swords and pikes, the hands of a fearless military leader.
She admired her uncle’s robust figure. “I’m lost here, Uncle, with the constant buzz of politics, and the trappings of royalty. I just don’t fit in here.” She could talk to him this way; his was the most sympathetic ear at court. He shared her love for the Yorkshire countryside: the lush green fields, the gentle dales, the moors purple with heather. London was a filthy, crowded stinkhole and she hated it. Most of all, she despised the queen’s greedy family. “What I really want to do is find my true origins. I’ll never believe I’m the queen’s niece.”
“Have you appealed to her since you’ve been back at court?” He took a swig of wine. “She might be more accommodating now that you’re older.”
“Aye, the day I returned from Castle Howard. She dismissed me with a ‘your father never married my sister, they died of the sweat, and be grateful I adopted a bastard like you.’ She’s hiding something, Uncle.”
As soon as she learned to talk, she began asking Elizabeth—“Who were my lord father and ma mere?” Her aunt either slapped or shooed her away, and when the questioning became too annoying for Queen-to-be Elizabeth, with coronation jewels and feasts on her mind, she shoved Denys off to faraway Yorkshire.
But Denys never stopped wondering. What is Elizabeth trying to hide? Who are my parents? Who am I?
Edward nodded, a dimple in his cheek punctuating his frown. Oh, he knew his conniving wife, all right.
Dove took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “Uncle, last eve, her highness dispatched me a most preposterous demand. I must appeal to you about it.”
“Oh, no, what did she want this time?” His tone weary, Edward motioned one of the servers to refill his wine goblet. “Shall I fetch a pitcher for this?”
“I would fetch a cask for this.” She gripped her cup of wine. “Elizabeth wants me to marry Richard. On Christmas Day.”
“Richard? My brother Richard?” Edward rolled his eyes heavenward and took another, longer pull of wine. She read his thoughts: “High time we married off the urchin.” But not to Richard!
“I knew it was just a matter of time before she betrothed me off. But I cannot not marry Richard, Uncle. ‘Twould be a disaster! Besides, he’s been planning to wed Anne for years and the queen well knows it!” She took a much-needed gulp of wine, emptying the cup. “Elizabeth pushed me round since infancy, shunting me out of the way, then bringing me back. But she cannot marry me to Richard on Christmas Day or any other day. Uncle, please, do deny your permission.”
“So that’s what the urgency was about.” He chuckled, swinging his goblet like a pendulum between his thumb and middle finger.
Edward nodded. “Richard already cornered—” He twirled his goblet. “—I mean, requested that I grant him permission to marry Anne immediately, as in tomorrow morn. I’ve seen men anxious to get unmarried, but not the other way round!”
“Oh, thank heaven.” She sighed with relief. “They should be wed. They’re ever so fond of each other. So they are to wed tomorrow morn, then?”
“Aye, but not at the crack of dawn as he requested. He was all ready to engage the services of any priest he could drag out of bed, but I thought it wise that he inform the bride first.” He gave her a smile and a playful wink. “I promised him I’d post the banns between council meetings tomorrow, so he can’t enter wedded bliss at least until after vespers.” He glanced around the noisy great hall. “Now I’ve got that dreaded funeral mass to attend, so I must be gone, my child. But we shall have that chess game, I promise that.”
“Whose funeral?” She stood as he did.
“The Earl of Desmond. He was executed as were his two small sons.” He tugged on his doublet.
“Desmond? Executed? Why, he was a most loyal Yorkist. What was his crime?” Dove shuddered at the thought of another execution. “This court is a bloodbath,” she muttered.
“There was no crime. Not on his part, but on the part of my wrathful queen.” Edward spoke as if resigned to the steady flow of executions Elizabeth instigated. “When Desmond first arrived here from Ireland, he and I went hunting. I lightly solicited his opinion about my marriage to Elizabeth. You know—just making idle chit-chat. Desmond replied in all honesty that I would have done better to marry into a foreign alliance. Thinking no more of it, I made the mistake of casually mentioning the conversation to Elizabeth. She flew into a rage, and cajoled the Earl of Worcester into devising a trumped-up charge against poor old Desmond. He was arrested a week ago and brought to the block yestermorn.”
“But why could you not stop it?” Dove insisted, following him down the two steps of the dais.
“I had intended to grant him a pardon. Whilst in the council chambers, I led a futile search for the royal signet, and discovered Elizabeth had confiscated it in order to seal the death warrant.” He let out a tired sigh. “Desmond was ever so faithful. Wish I could say the same for—others round here.” But she knew exactly whom he was referring to.
Dove frowned in disgust, knowing she didn’t have to hide it from her uncle. “Whenever will your rope snap, Uncle?”
“No need, lass.” The king cast his eyes downward. “The queen’s about to birth now, and I’ll keep her breeding for the rest of her days. She’s bound to bring forth a prince fit to be king, or at least as robust as the two wags she whelped by that other canker.”
That ‘other canker’ was her first husband, John Grey.
“We shall hope that’s where the similarity ends.” Uncle and niece exchanged amused glances.
Edward waved to some courtiers as they exited the great hall. Several members of his retinue followed him out.
“I must change into some black raiment.” He leaned forward and hugged her. She felt so safe encircled in his warmth.
“Thank you, sire.” She tightened her embrace.
“Sometimes I wonder why I bother changing out of black. One would think I was a widower or something.”
“Be careful what you ask for, Uncle.” She nudged him in the ribs. “You may get it.”
They shared a more secret exchange of smiles this time.
She loved Uncle Ned with all her heart. He was her sanity—she trusted him with her every problem. He was father, brother, and friend to her. She missed him so when he was away in battle or on progress. He was the only good thing that came out of this twist of fate. But why had he fallen under Elizabeth’s spell? She’d heard so many tales, most of them outright bawdy, about the maidens Uncle Ned had courted. He nearly married one of them.
But Elizabeth Woodville fixed all that.
And many thought it was witchcraft.
Elizabeth first met Edward under an oak tree. The night before their wedding, thirtieth of April, was one of the sabbaths in the witches’ year, and witches always held their sabbaths beneath oak trees. Elizabeth’s neighbor publicly accused her of witchcraft, producing two small leaden figures representing the king and queen. Edward took the charge so seriously, he investigated it personally. But he was hopelessly smitten with the Grey Mare, as she was known. He still married her. Was it because she wouldn’t give him what he truly wanted till they were lawfully wed? Denys always wondered.
* * *
All throughout Mass the following morning, Denys watched Richard in the front pew. She could tell his mind was not on worship, either. He toyed with his rings, smoothed his tabard till she thought he would wear the fabric out, and spent the latter half of the service with his head in his hands.
She couldn’t let the queen do this to them. Poor Richard; the queen wanted to take away his only chance for true happiness with the girl he loved. Well, we shall get out of it somehow, she swore before God. We’re both clever and crafty and if we had half the brains of Elizabeth Woodville, we’d be smarter than she!
As the chapel emptied out after Mass, Richard tugged on Denys’s sleeve and motioned for her to follow him. But he made an abrupt twirlabout and strode back down the aisle. “No. Let’s sit in the back instead.” He added, muttering, “the farther from the altar the better.”
Denys gathered her skirts and sat in the last pew. Richard paced back and forth so rapidly, he almost walked in circles. “Richard, please sit down. You’re making me dizzy.”
“I cannot sit down. I can only think on moving feet, not a sitting prat.”
“What bothers you?” Her voice echoed through the empty chapel. “The ringing of wedding bells?”
“Nay, my wedding bells have been de-clappered! The blasted queen is up to her usual tricks. And this one might even work. Oh, I’d like to de-clapper her!” He drove a fist into his palm.
“What has she done now?” Her voice rose with alarm. “I thought Uncle Ned gave you permission to wed Anne today.”
“He did. So, after securing permission and engaging the services of a priest, all in the space of an hour, I went to fetch my bride, but her sheep-biting father had already sequestered her away.” His voice dripped with bitterness.
“Why would he do that?” She got to her feet and stood next to him.
“Oh, it wasn’t entirely his doing. He had help.” He emphasized the last word with a jerk of his head.
“Oh, yes. Queen Elizabitch is at it again.” He threw his hands up. “I’ve been trying to find Anne, I’ve sent out a search party, but they’ve done sod all. I feel like I’m chasing my tail all over England.” He pounded his fist on the edge of the pew. “Oh, we should have eloped!”
A heavy pall descended upon her spirit. “Even Uncle Ned said you should’ve secured your bride in place first.”
“Well, isn’t it like me to overlook the obvious?” He rubbed his eyes. “Now hell knows where she is and we’re back to square one.”
She held up a hand. “No, not yet. All’s not lost. I’ve come up with some solutions. I can depart the court disguised as a maid and take up residence in the north, near Castle Howard. I’m familiar with those parts, I know trustworthy folk there, and can pursue my quest for my family from there.”
He shook his head as she spoke. “Too dangerous. I can’t have you sneaking away from court, wearing disguises, wandering Britain dressed like a bloody fishwife–”
“Very well, then, ponder my next idea. It hit me like a flash of light in the night.”
His eyes lit up and fixed on hers. “Carry on.”
“You can marry someone else.”
“Who—me? Pray why me?” He fixed his fist on his hip. “You’re the one your aunt wants to marry off. I’m just the hare who got caught in the hound’s ugly jaws.”
“Well, I shan’t marry someone of the queen’s choosing. I have no intention of marrying anyone right now. I want to find my true parentage first. But when I do marry, it will be to a man of my own choosing who’s courtly, handsome, and—virile. Not that you’re not all those things, surely, Richard!” she added in haste.
He nodded, egging her on. “Carry on, let’s see you wriggle your arse out of this one.” His grin spread, yet aslant. He liked making people squirm.
“Oh, you know what I mean!” She clasped her hands, her heart leaping as the memory of yesterday rushed back. “I want someone like the knight who came prancing up to me in the courtyard yesterday.”
“We didn’t exchange but a hello—and a rose. The crowd swept us apart. He was come and gone in a twinkling. But oh, he made me feel so special, so wanted,
so—” She released a longing sigh. “So womanly. No man ever looked at me like that before. The courtyard was filled with maidens, yet he chose me. And you know what he said when he handed me the rose?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. ‘Ouch, I just pricked meself’?”
“Nay, smartarse. He said, ‘How lovely you are,’ so softly, but had he shouted it from the ramparts, I couldn’t have heard it more clearly. Oh, he could have stepped out of a King Arthur tale!”
Richard laughed. “May it have been Edward in disguise? That sounds like one of his ribald propositions. ‘Ah, fair maiden, come to my apartments and pay homage to your great king and his royal staff!’ In a sotto voce, he mimicked the earthy King Edward, whose liaisons were legendary.
“Of course it wasn’t Uncle Ned and ‘twas nothing ribald about it!” she insisted. “He was sincere.”
Richard clapped his hands. “Wakey wakey, Dove.”
“Well, I’ve always dreamed of a fairy-tale wedding—to someone just like him!” She lowered her eyes, realizing he was right. She was dreaming again, out loud this time. “But what good could it do you, or anyone else, to marry the queen’s orphaned illegitimate niece anyway? I don’t even have a dowry.”
“Oh, you do now.” Richard chucked her under the chin. “The old witch covered her corybungo, as usual.”
“She’s furnished a dowry?” Dove’s eyes widened. “Of what?”
“In noticeably larger lettering than the rest of the message, and underscored no less, she tried to prey on my sense of greed by using Foxley Manor for bait.”
“Foxley Manor?” She shook her head. “Never heard of it. What is Foxley Manor?”
“Some property she claims is quite substantial. As if a poxy manor house can compare to what Anne brings to the table. With all due respect, Dove—” Richard paused. “Anne’s dowry is vast, and she also stands to inherit half her mother’s estates.”
“But I know of no Foxley Manor.” She splayed her fingers. “I never had any form of dowry. How can I, being an orphaned bastard?”
“I thought it may have been part of Elizabeth’s own dowry, but her dower lands were in Northamptonshire, where Edward first fell under her spell. Her family home in Grafton Regis became Edward’s after their wedding in the chapel there,” he explained. “But I don’t know where she came up with this Foxley Manor. Nor do I care. Sounds like an old cow shed to me. Utterly useless.”
“Well, I care.” She folded her arms across her chest. “Did she say where this place is?”
“Somewhere in Wiltshire—oh, what was the name of the town?” He tapped the side of his head. “It sounded like a kind of wine—oh, yes. Malmesbury.”
Denys gasped. She clasped her Book of Hours, its spine digging into her palms. “Malmesbury! God’s truth!”
“So you’ve heard of it then?” Richard tilted his head.
“Divers times!” She couldn’t seem to catch her breath. “Richard—” Her heart pounded. “Divers times before she sent me to live at Castle Howard, I heard her popping round the court speaking of Malmesbury, followed by my name, in sneaky and muffled voice. But I was never able to make out the words through the palace walls, with servers clattering about. Thinking there must be some connection, I wrote it in my journal immediately after hearing it so there would be no mistake. I even found it on the map.”
“Mayhap that’s where your father hails from,” Richard suggested.
“Well, I never believed I was her sister’s child. I don’t even look like a Woodville, and by the grace of God, I possess nary a characteristic in common with any of them.”
“So there may be a connection with your family to this Foxley Manor.” Richard drummed his fingers on the pew. “Hmmm.”
“Richard, I must depart for Malmesbury to find Foxley Manor, and God willing I’ll find what I’m looking for.” She pumped her clenched fists. “Whilst I’m journeying, you carry on your search for Anne.”
She tried to keep her breathing even, tried to stay calm, when she really wanted to storm into her aunt’s chambers and throttle her.
Richard tapped his foot. “Well, whether you find what you seek at Foxley Manor, we just might find a way to make your other fairy tale fancy come true.”
Denys gazed up into the vaulted recesses of the chapel ceiling and conjured up the image of that knight so deeply etched into her memory. If Richard could find someone remotely resembling him . . .
“I call it a fairy tale because that’s all it is, Richard.” She plummeted back down to earth.
“Perhaps not. The realm has its fair sprinkling of courtly—” He waved his hand. “Whatever you said. There are divers more where he came from. Trust me to help procure you one. Then get Edward’s permission to wed and be done with it. The Grey Mare need not know a thing.”
A spark of excitement got her pulse racing again. “I may consider your plan if you can actually dip into that fair sprinkling and retrieve a gem—but he’s got to fit the description of what I want. But first, you go find Anne and I shall go to Malmesbury to seek my family. At least one of us should find what we’re looking for. Now I’m going to have a word with my aunt—and there’s naught less courtly than she!”
He shook his head. “Not outside the privies, anyway.”
“Oh, how I wish I could sprout wings and fly to Malmesbury!” she fancied out loud. “Another link in the mystery and it’s right within reach–finally. I shall go there and God willing that’s where my true beginnings lie.”
Please let it be the place I’ve wondered about through all those nights in the drafty chamber as a child, every time Elizabeth shooed me away, she begged God above. It made her more determined to defeat the queen at her own cruel game. Now she had a purpose—somewhere to go—the first step in the journey that would lead her to her heritage. And if Richard found her the knight of her fancy, then her life would be complete. Was that too much to ask? Finding family and true love?
“For now, let’s keep that in the mists of my dreamworld whilst I go on the quest that will make me truly whole.” She clasped his hand and led him to the chapel door.
“You are whole, Dove,” he assured her. “You are you, and don’t let anyone, especially her, ever undermine that.”
“I’m not doing this to defy her, Richard. I need to know who I am and where I belong. Then I can have some meaning to my life. I’m not royal. I don’t belong here nor do I deserve all these royal trappings. Even if they’re peasant crofter working the soil, they’re my family. Oh, how I long to find them! Then I’d be worthy of a knight’s love. Perhaps he sensed my loss and displacement and that made him go away. He saw the sadness and anguish in my eyes. Who wants to share such misery?” She pushed the door open.
“But something brought him to you in the first place.” He followed her out. “The crowd separated you; you did not drive him away. I know how those courtyard victory celebrations are. Confusion and pandemonium prevail—especially once the wine starts flowing. People get pushed apart, and I daresay even more often, they get pushed
together. Many a maiden gets shoved into the arms of an eager knight, who takes every opportunity to celebrate with her, in more ways than one, into the wee hours before finding out her name.”
“Oh, and how do you know this? Experience?” She smiled because she knew it wasn’t.
“Nay, I couldn’t trick a maiden even if I wanted to. Everyone knows my distinctive countenance.” He licked a forefinger and ran it over his brow. “But it’s happened to mates of mine. Sometimes I think they’re out there fighting in anticipation of the victory celebrations rather than the survival of the kingdom.”
“We all have to live for something, Richard.” She ran her finger down his cheek.
Their missions planned, they parted and she removed to her chambers to rehearse her dialogue with the queen.