In the beginning, I play with characters, trying them out in scenes, testing how they react to events and their fellow characters. With Joan of Kent, I’d already portrayed her several years before the death of her husband, the Black Prince, in A Vigil of Spies (Owen Archer #10), and she appeared at various points before, during, and after her marriage to Edward in The King’s Mistress. Now, for A Triple Knot, I needed to understand her life in full.
This morning, searching for a scene I’d written and rewritten and finally discarded, in which she teaches the young Ned (Prince Edward) to dance, I found instead this experiment in first person. I did not intend to use first person for this book, because I wanted other voices at court, but to explore her life through her eyes, looking back, I played with the elderly Joan in this piece. Her son Richard is now King Richard II, and her sons Thomas and John Holland are adults. The daughter-in-law is Anne of Bohemia.
I lay in bed all night fingering my beads, murmuring prayers.
I am accustomed to dramatic rows with my sons Thomas and John, Richard’s half-brothers. We growl and snap at one another, they shout hateful things, I favor quieter retorts, and the courtiers pretend to avert their eyes, though they hold their breath fearful lest they miss a word. Always, my sons and I come together afterward in loving contrition. This is possible because we have shunned speaking of that which must not be questioned.
Until last night, when John uttered a hateful accusation. A look of horror made a mask of my daughter-in-law’s sweet face. She, most of all, understands the danger if what he said were widely believed. Her husband’s reign rides in the balance. John’s cruel nature has robbed Anne of her innocence.
When she arrived from the court of Bohemia to wed my son, she expected the glorious court of his grandfather, a court celebrating military prowess and chivalry with frequent and extravagant festivals of tourneying and jousting. She found, instead, a more sedately elegant, cultured court barely tolerated by barons lusting for the passion of battle and especially the spoils of war.
And now she has glimpsed the even more dangerous undercurrents threatening her husband’s crown.
Edward’s was a glorious court, but it was so by design. He and Philippa had come to power on the waves of rebellion, his father’s inglorious, forced abdication, his mother’s treason, her lover’s execution. They strove to distract the barons and the commons with the trappings of the ideal royal court, and provide them with a battleground offshore.
I do not remember a time when I did not understand the price we pay for noble birth. I was not yet four when my father was beheaded for his loyalty—albeit belated—to his half-brother. My pregnant mother, my brother and I were spared—kept in Arundel Castle until the young king’s familial affections stirred him to release us.
My parents had betrayed themselves, first supporting Queen Isabella, then King Edward, Father’s half-brother, and so had been betrayed.
The tragic result has been a festering wound all their progeny carry. If it did not smack of blasphemy I would call it stigmata, for we carried it invisibly until some crisis brought it forth, and we were revealed. It was our inheritance. In all my sons it plays out most violently, Thomas and John from within, Richard from without. Two would control with violent emotions, the third with a rigid peace—which I fear will be the undoing of his reign.
* * * * *
The royal court—what a strange and splendid stage in which to be a child, exploring possible roles, testing my strengths. We were privileged players, and all life was a performance in which at any moments marvels might arise to delight us. How exciting to be continually surprised by my surroundings.
Yet sometimes it was an unpleasant sort of excitement. People shifted roles without warning.
I remembered the darkness from which we burst out into the confusing magnificence of the court. Mother chided me, assuring me that I could not possibly remember our confinement in Arundel Castle. She swore as well that I had appropriated someone else’s memories of my father.
But I did not believe that my nightmares were borrowed.
My apprehension did not last long. My cousins Edward and Isabella soon pulled me into their circle of friends. What adventures we had! How privileged we were. I saw the other side of being royal—the fun, the extravagance.
Mother was respected by Kind Edward and Queen Philippa. I understood that we were accepted, secure. As long as the royal couple were secure.
Joan has been my companion through three books–no wonder I miss her.
I still haven’t found the dance lesson.
For a few more days (through 8 March), the ebook version of A Triple Knot is on sale for $1.99 in the US. Just so you know…!