Find the Rules at Rachael Ritchie’s blog: http://wp.me/p7rsge-cB
Genre: Historical Fiction
Love of learning amused and absorbed him. A good-natured boy, Henry hid a quick and vicious temper but when he played, he played to win. “Giving up already, lads?”
His cousins William and Charles slid from their horses. Fair-haired Charles, the more outspoken of the two, pursed his lips. “Henry, give it a rest. My backside is raw as a side of mutton. We can hunt again another day.”
Brow furled, William curled his lip. “The hounds need water and a rest as do I. The early spring sun is hot and burns, does it not?”
Henry sized up his companions beneath dripping lashes. Perspiration slid from his ginger hair to his flushed cheeks. He swiped a sleeve over his face. On the cusp of his eighteenth birthday, his energy and stamina exceeded theirs though they were of similar age. The hounds yelped and clustered around. “All right, men. Point taken. Methinks I need a tankard of beer to cool off. Follow me.”
The horses dispensed to the care of the stable grooms, the young men joked and jostled each other like schoolboys up the dusty path to the main building. Large-boned but lean, Henry, the tallest, strut with a confident swagger, kicking up dirt behind him. Long strides thrust him a fair distance ahead of his cousins. Inside the palace, he raised his voice. “Cook. We have need to quench our thirst and meat to fill our bellies. Hurry, else I expire.”
Hearing the commotion in the dining room, Henry’s grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, hastened to his side. “The physicians say your father is weak and may not last the night. Eat your fill but hurry.”
Henry’s father, the king, had been ill for some time but his imminent death chilled him. Arthur, the first-born, had died. His mother had, too within a year. Henry had not been the favored son though his father strove to protect him from harm as second choice of heir to the throne. Now he might die within hours. He had never considered anything in life but continued study and the eventual rise to the role of Archbishop of Canterbury. His mother and grandmother had groomed him since birth.
Lady Beaufort hurried away.
Charles and William gaped at the news. “You’ve been heir to the throne since Arthur died. You knew your father wouldn’t live forever and as the only son left…” Charles patted Henry’s forearm.
Over-heated staff scurried in and out of the kitchen. They placed tankards of beer before the young men. Steaming platters of fragrant meats and pies and fish arrived in a flurry of countless hands.
Henry slumped in his chair. “Alas, I did—and did not. These seven years since Arthur’s death, I considered this often, but I am not for ruling. I prefer my books and music, jousting and wrestling. King? I do not want it.
“Father and I had a terrible row about a year ago. I told him I couldn’t do it. I had never seen him so angry. “‘You must carry on the Tudor line,’” he said. “‘This will be your responsibility after I am gone, like it or not.’” He laid hands on me as if to kill me. Wish he had, then I would not have this terrible weight on me.” He dropped his head in his hands as if to crush his face.
William grabbed a drumstick and sank his teeth in to the bone. He ripped off an enormous bite; juice dripped down his golden chin stubble. Mouth too full to speak, he chomped and nodded.
Charles surveyed the offerings but held back. He punched William’s upper arm instead. “Listen, Henry. It will be fine. You are smart and have a fair face. Who doesn’t adore you? Think of all the wenches and ladies-in-waiting at your disposal. King by day and seducer by night…”
“How can you speak thus or even entertain such depraved thoughts? I am not the sort to partake in the pleasure of the flesh before marriage. This is a sin. Stop right now.” He raised a sweaty palm.
Face pale as goat’s milk, Lady Beaufort reappeared wringing her hands. Henry jumped up before she covered half the distance between them. He slogged after her, chin to his chest. His cousins avoided eye contact and bent to the task at hand: the agreeable indulgence of mouth-watering food.
* * *
Henry’s coronation occurred two months after his father’s burial. Lady Beaufort enjoyed herself at the banquet but died one day later on his eighteenth birthday.
Henry took to politics after all. A new era began in part due to his intelligence and forward thinking: some changes good; others less so.
© 2017 Tess and How the Cookie Crumbles
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