To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
Donington-le-Heath Manor House, Leicestershire, England
“I know it’s five o’clock, but I want to keep working.” Leigh stood inside the medieval fireplace, running her hands along the rough bricks. “I can’t quit until I find that secret passageway, and where it leads to.”
“Well, if anyone can find it, you can.” Her partner, Viv, shut her briefcase. “Sorry, Leigh, but I’m beat. Come on, it’s your birthday. You can’t knock off early?”
“Being here is my birthday present.”
“Okay, then, see you tomorrow. Geez, why don’t you just sleep here?”
Leigh smiled as she watched her partner leave. Viv hit it right on the head: spending the night surrounded by relics and maybe a lurking spirit—that was her fantasy ever since she first saw this charming cottage.
Restoring a medieval house was every historic preservation architect’s dream, and she was thrilled when she won this bid. English history was her passion, and this project gave her the chance to spend the summer here, explore castles, and sip mead in the same pubs as long-ago Crusaders.
Besides its rustic charm and secret passageway, Donington-le-Heath boasted a one-of-a-kind artifact: the bed of King Richard III. It accompanied him on every journey, and on the eve of his final battle, it awaited the king who never returned. Still it waited, five centuries later.
But where could that passageway be?
“Maybe it’s lower to the floor.” She crouched and pressed the bricks with her fingertips. The dust made her sneeze. Walking on her knees, she covered the width of the fireplace. Nothing but a solid wall.
She stood and brushed her hands together, trying not to feel defeated. She had another two weeks of work here, plenty of time to find it. According to legend, the passageway had started as a hidey hole for heretics, but later owners extended it until it led somewhere—and the answer to that was a dead end. Not until now had anyone even tried to find it. She hoped to be the lucky one. The renovation was extensive enough to probe a few dark corners and discover the portal, hidden for five centuries.
But it wasn’t here inside the fireplace.
Heading upstairs, she met the curator on the staircase, an oil painting tucked under his arm.
“Hi, Peter. What have we here? I mean whom have we here?”
He propped the portrait on his knee. “The Leicester Museum delivered it. It was in their archives. It dates from the same year as this house, 1485.”
The man in the portrait was dressed in medieval nobleman’s garb, giving him an air of regality. The eyes were kind, trusting; a hint of amusement played on his lips. A rolled brim hat topped his shoulder-length hair.
“He’s very handsome.” As Leigh’s eyes locked into those in the portrait, she felt as if he could actually see her. She took a step back and looked away. “Who is he?”
“According to the museum records, his name is Guy Blakamour, Duke of Nottingham. Richard the Third executed him for treason.” Peter shrugged “But some sources claim he was innocent of his alleged crime, and he was framed by a mad Welsh brood, the Llanwddyns.”
As her eyes once more looked into Guy Blakamour’s, her heart went out to him across five hundred years. “I read about him in a few obscure history books. He’s not a well-known figure. I always wondered if he really did commit treason or if he was framed. Even if it were true, being drawn and quartered was a horrible way to die.”
“That was the penalty for treason in those days, my dear.”
“Barbaric.” She suppressed a shudder. “But since we can’t be sure of his guilt, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.” She followed Peter down the hallway and into the chamber that displayed the king’s bed.
“The higher-ups at the National Trust want the painting in here because of the connection between Guy and King Richard.” He searched the wall for the best place to hang it. “And if tourists ask about it when they come to see the bed, I can tell the story.”
“Does Guy have any living descendants?” she asked.
“Not that anyone knows of. His only son died a few days after birth.” He started hammering a nail into the wall. “Oh, and he drowned his wife, Lady Sandrissa, in a lake in Wales.”
Taken aback by his words, Leigh stifled a gasp. “Good grief. You’re awfully casual about it.” With the picture hung and straightened, she studied Guy Blakamour’s gentlemanly features, unable to imagine him doing anything so heinous.
“Who knows? It may be another of those old legends that can’t be proved or disproved,” Peter said. “Like King Richard murdering the little princes in the Tower.”
She shooed the idea away with her hand. “Shakespeare was just taking license for dramatic effect. I’ll never believe it’s true.”
“Facts do get a bit distorted over five centuries.” He smiled and stepped back to observe the portrait. “This chap may have been the kindest knight in the kingdom.”
“And one of the cutest,” she commented, but she knew that portraits were idealized in those days. He might not have been handsome at all.
“Well, it’s closing time.” Peter hiked up his sleeve and glanced at his watch. “You ready to call it a day?”
“I’m going to work late tonight,” she told him. “I’m not really finished yet.” And she wasn’t.
So he gave her the old skeleton key and asked her to shut all the lights before leaving.
But she wanted to be alone for a while, to wander through the chambers adorned with medieval furnishings, the uneven boards creaking beneath her, with only a candle’s flame to lead the way.
Excited to begin, she lit a candle and started on her journey through history.
Passing through the great hall filled with paint cans, ladders and tarp covering the coppery tile floor, she marveled at the tapestries and sconces that graced the walls. The diamond paned glass glowed like jewels in the flickering shadows. The arched windows’ colorful glass let in fading shafts of daylight. Downstairs in the kitchen, a trestle table was set with pewter trenchers and goblets as it would have been long ago. Herbs hung from the ceiling beams, suspended over the wide hearth, its bricks blackened and charred. A cast iron cauldron hung over a pile of firewood, where brews of every concoction had once simmered.
The cold flagstones bit into her stocking feet.
She locked the front door and went back up the narrow staircase.
Entering the bedchamber, she smiled as she looked at the king’s bed. Tourists came from everywhere to gape at it. But for now it was all hers.
She gazed at the frame’s pristine condition and the secret compartment where Richard had stashed money. The present melted into the past as she ran her hand down one carved post. She felt a current go through her, almost as if the bed were electrically charged. Then she remembered something else that made this bed a major attraction. It stood directly on a Ley Line. Ley Lines crisscrossed England, and were believed to hold mysterious properties of earth energy. Strange things happened on Ley Lines, and pilgrims flocked to them for thousands of years, for everything from ceremonial rites to miracle healings. She’d visited many ancient sites built on Ley Lines, but nothing otherworldly ever happened to her. And she could use something otherworldly right about now. The reality of life was too much for her to bear lately.
While lost in this reverie, one of the warped floorboards tripped her up, and she stumbled. Unable to regain her footing, she fell face first, banging her head on the floor. The candle flew from her hand. The flame died out.
Trying to stand, she held onto the bedpost for support. She felt her head where she’d hit the floor. A throbbing bruise swelled under her fingers.
Head pounding, she slid out of her sandals and sank into the mattress. Resting here for a while would help, she hoped. She didn’t want to stay all night, even if she had to drive home with a pounding headache.
As she lay back and propped her head on a bolster, she let her imagination wander. The old bed gathered her into its long history, the essence of its royal owner. He’d lain here weary from battle, fraught with grief and the burden of his troubled kingdom. Her fantasy swept her away to ages past: to stone castles shrouded in mist, to armored knights on colorfully draped war horses, daggers and swords…and rogues like Guy Blakamour, now watching her from across the room. Oh, to go back to those days, just for a little while. To forget that her life had spun out of control with her beloved Matthew’s death, her business on the brink of failure, bills piling up . . .
Her eyes slid shut and she drifted into a dreamless slumber.
Whitehall Palace, London, 1485
Guy Blakamour strode through the corridor, his boots clicking on the flagstones. He entered the royal apartments, where his proxy bride was resting in King Richard’s bed. She’d taken ill on the journey to Whitehall, so they’d given her the most comfortable bed here.
He’d never met her, but they all said Sandrissa Maundeville was a beauty. He already knew she was going to be trouble—she’d tried to escape through the window. Why were the comely ones always the most vexing? His departed wife Alice was no beauty, but he’d loved her—rare in marriages. Sadness filled him at the memory, and he slowed his steps.
Could he ever love that way again?
He prayed he could, but he doubted it. True love came but once in a lifetime, if at all. Still, he vowed to make this union work. He wouldn’t have much time to court Sandrissa; they were to be wed again in church a fortnight from now.
As he approached the king’s audience chamber, two guards stood facing the entrance. They bowed and let him through. Noticing a pitcher of wine on the trestle table, he poured himself a gobletful and downed it. He opened the retiring chamber door and tiptoed in. Candles glowed in each corner. Moonlight and the garden’s fragrance streamed in through the window.
His heartbeat quickened as he approached the bed, the tapestry rug muffling his footsteps. A sleeping form lay under the coverings. Finally–his bride, here before him. His eyes grew accustomed to the dimness. He rested his hand on a bedpost and leaned over to get a closer look at her.
She lay on her side. The chestnut locks, described to him so many times, were as lustrous as he’d imagined. He watched the rise and fall of her breasts.
He touched her cheek with a fingertip. Oh, it had been so long since he’d caressed such a luscious female.
She stirred, opened her eyes, and their gazes locked.
With a ragged breath, she flattened her palms against his chest and pushed him away.
“What is this?” He caught himself at the edge of the bed before tumbling over. “Why do you push me out of our bed?”
He nodded. “This is King Richard’s bed, but ’tis ours in the legal sense, as per the proxy contract.”
She shook her head, taking rapid breaths. “King Richard’s bed? Oh, I must have fallen asleep here.” She touched a bruise above her brow.
“You took ill…after you fell,” he added. “I came to see if you were well. You are as beautiful as they say.” He reached for her, but she pulled back.
“Who’s they? Wait a minute—who are you?”
“I am the reason you were brought here. I am Guy Blakamour.”
She bolted upright at the name. She shook her head and blinked. “Guy? The man in the painting? Or are you his spirit visiting me?” She sat open-mouthed.
He chuckled. “I’m hardly a spirit. I’m as alive as you are, my dear one.” He moved closer. Mayhap she would let him embrace her to show her how real he was.
“No, stay away from me.” She slunk back, looking deathly afraid of him. He saw her swallow a few times.
He smiled and held out his hand. Her features softened in the fireglow, but the fear in her eyes didn’t.
Her breath came in short bursts
She shook her head, as if she did not want to believe this was happening. She looked around at the drapes, windows, up at the ceiling, the glowing hearth. “This is not the room I fell asleep in.”
With trembling hands, she pulled the covers around her. “Where am I?”
He gave her a smile. “‘Tis all right, my sweet. You were quite ill, and knocked cold from the fall, so they say. Mayhap you’re still distressed. But you remember it all now, do you not?” He moved towards her and caressed the curve of her shoulder. Her skin was warm and soft.
“I remember tripping, falling, and then lying in this very bed. In Donington-le-Heath’s chamber, not this big drafty room.” She looked around again, clearly disoriented. “I feel fine now. But—but you’re right, I am distressed. But I wasn’t ill, I fell.”
He shook his head. “You took ill in the night, shivering, fever. Caught a chill after your attempted escape from the window, mayhap?”. He could tell she was still too petrified to move.
“You’re wrong. I didn’t try to escape from any window and I certainly didn’t have any chills last night. All I did was trip and fall. And you’re in the wrong room.” She glanced once more at the surroundings. “No, I’m in the wrong room! I’m here by accident. Let me walk around.”
“Are you certain?” He stepped back as she struggled to stand. “Shall I help you?”
“No, no, I can do it myself.” She clutched at her frock. To him, it looked thin, not very upper class. “I’m very…er…confused right now. Let me look out the window. I need some air.” She pushed him aside and stumbled over to the window before he could stop her. He could see the leaded glass was shattered and several of the diamond panes were empty, surely from last eve, when she’d tried to escape. “Oh my God,” she moaned.
He rushed to her side, afraid she might jump. She turned and looked up at him. The moonlight illuminated her face, mingled with the soft flicker of the fire. He saw her confusion giving way to a strange comfort. “I am not here to harm you.”
He took another step closer, lifted a hand to touch her, but brought it back down. Mayhap she doesn’t care to be touched.
She turned away, peering through the open window. He came up behind her and gazed out into the night. The stars shone bright, like an angry princess had flung her jewels out into the heavens. The twinkling diamond-points glittered and danced, each a separate world in the velvet sky. A breeze carried the fragrance of roses.
She ran her hand over the window casement. “But where am I? And how did I get here?” she asked. “This isn’t the house I fell asleep in. Maybe that whack on the head is making me hallucinate.”
“You will be fine,” he assured her.
She turned to face him. Taking a deep breath, she asked, “Where are we?”
“Whitehall Palace, in the king’s retiring chamber.”
“And although I’m afraid to ask–what year is this?”
“My, has the fever rendered you so dazed?” Now he was beginning to worry. “We should summon the physician.”
“No! Maybe tomorrow, if I’m still here…er, if I’m still…distressed as I am. But please, ’til then, just humor me, all right? Now tell me what year it is.”
“Fourteen-eighty-five, of course,” he stated, trying to mask his tone, edged with suspicion.
She forced down a gasp. “Of course. The year of the portrait. But what am I doing here in fourteen-eighty-five?”
“Are you certain you aren’t in need of the royal physician?”
“No. Just tell me who you are again.”
“I am Guy Blakamour.”
“Guy Blakamour. The mysterious figure in the portrait.”
“Aye, I did recently sit for a portrait. But I am hardly mysterious.” He chuckled. Who had told her he was mysterious? One of the best known knights of the realm, and the king’s dearest friend, everyone knew who he was—naught about him was a secret.
“My mouth feels like it’s filled with dust. I need a drink.” Her voice cracked.
He guided her over to a table and poured wine into a tankard. She gulped at it and sputtered. Mayhap they didn’t have such good quality of wine in her region.
He took a generous quaff himself and studied her with a mixture of awe and confusion. A corner of his mouth twitched. He was now as fascinated with her as she was with him.
“Feeling better?” He took the goblet from her.
“I think so, but I need to know how I got here.”
“They carried you in.” He stood still as she ran a hand down his sleeve and encircled his fingers. He squeezed her hand, trying to be inviting, soothing.
“The king’s guard told me you’d fallen, had fever and chills, and were put abed in the royal chambers,” he said. “His Highness is currently at Westminster, holding court, but I could not stay away. I needed to see my beautiful bride.”
“Wait…bride? Good Lord, I’m not your bride!”
“Aye, you are. We were married by proxy this morn,” he said as matter-of-factly as he’d told her the year. “Our formal church ceremony will be in a fortnight.”
She shook her head. “I—I feel weak. All this confusion—” She collapsed into his arms. “I’m not going back home? Ever?”
With practiced swiftness, he swept her up and turned to exit the chamber.
She stiffened in his arms. “Where are we going now? Please let me get back into bed. Maybe that could get me home, if I fall back asleep.”
He stepped into the corridor, nearly colliding with an old woman clutching a cane with a bony hand.
“What goes on here, my lord?” she rasped. “‘Tis an ungodly hour to be cavorting so.”
“I am simply taking my wife to my bed, Hester. She is distressed after her illness and fall.” He pushed his way past her. At that instant, the old crone shrieked, her cane clattering to the stone floor.
“What is amiss, woman?” Guy shouted in exasperation.
“M—my lord, that isn’t…”
Hester fumbled her way to the far wall and wrenched a torch from its sconce. She returned, banging into the wall, the flames streaming behind her.
The poor distressed lass tried to struggle free of Guy’s grasp. He put her down, but kept his arm around her. He felt her shiver as her feet hit the flagstones.
Hester pointed at her with a trembling claw. “My lord! You must unhand her at once! That is not your wife!”
“You know naught, Hester!” Guy roared. “Your own eyes wouldn’t recognize you in a looking glass, they are so blind.”
The old woman took a cautious step towards her, holding the torch high. “Nay. ‘Tis not her, I am sure.”
Guy shook his head. “You are sure of naught.”
Hester babbled on, “She looks quite hale now, but last eve, the grim reaper held her fast in his clutches, white as the sheet on which she lay, mumbling bosh and twaddle in the dark…”
“A-ha. Dark.” Guy nodded. “You are seeing what isn’t there. How many walls jumped up and struck you today?”
“Then this lass made a miraculous recovery. Just yestermorn, she was thin and frail as parchment. Now she looks like she’s been training at the quintain.”
Guy turned to his soon-to-be wife. “I know you did not wish to join me in this arranged marriage, my lady,” he said. “But I promise you, I shall make it worth your while.”
He watched her tremble as she studied his features, her baffled eyes throwing back glints of firelight.
Once again, she shivered.
“Please let me lie down. I feel queasy again. This draft seeping through these walls chills my bones.”
“I shall take you to my apartments and have the physician attend you,” Guy said.
“Guy…I’d better go back to the bed you found me in.”
“Whatever for? The king will want to use it upon his return. I shall remove you to my own chamber.” He swept her up in his arms once again. She wound one arm round his neck, and her fingertips brushed the hair that fell to his collar.
Guy gazed upon her once again. This poor lass did not know where she was.
Wordlessly, he carried her through drafty corridors, up one winding stone staircase and down another. Steely-eyed guards stared straight ahead. When he brought her to his comfortable but sparsely furnished chamber, he felt her tension ease. His tin tub stood in one corner, his plump four-poster bed and oaken chest in another. He felt her chest expand as she inhaled. “Such a lot of candles burning,” she commented.
“We are fortunate in that we can afford to,” he replied. “My bed is smaller than the king’s, but the feather mattress is just as comfortable.” He gently lay her down. He brushed a strand of hair from her cheek and the gesture sent warmth through him.
“Are you certain you do not want me to summon the physician?” He stood over her, running his hand through his hair. He didn’t know what to say or do next.
“No, it’s all right. I just need to sleep. Alone.”
“I hastened back from a council meeting, looking forward to my new bride. They’d told me you were beautiful, but I never expected this.” He hoped his outward adoration didn’t unnerve her.
“Guy, I’m n—” She stopped abruptly.
“I reckon the damp air in Yorkshire gave you the chills.” He covered her with a fur throw and tenderly tucked it around her.
“Yes, it’s very damp and chilly up there.”
“Then I shall keep you warm.” He raised a brow and the corresponding side of his mouth curved upwards. He knew the ladies liked his half-smiles.
“But in the meantime,” she was shivering again. “I trust you’ll leave me be, whether I’m your wife or not?”
He paused and gave her an appraising look. “I shall leave you for the time being.”
She sighed. “All right…but please…don’t forget to come back tomorrow. I don’t want to be left alone for any length of time.
“My love, the black death wouldn’t keep me away.” After a lingering gaze, he swept out of the chamber, his velvet cloak swirling round him.
He nearly skipped down the corridor. Such a beautiful lass—and she was all his! She was terribly confused and disoriented, however. How could she not know what year it was? But he could correct all that. She was worth straightening out.