The Sun in Splendour
THE MEETING IN WHITTLEBURY FOREST
Jacquetta was watching from the topmost turret of Grafton Manor for the arrival of her daughter. She herself had made sure that Elizabeth’s bedchamber was ready and that it should be as comfortable as she could make it. Poor Elizabeth would be in need of comfort, sorrowing widow that she was with two young children to provide for and an uncertain future before her.
These were indeed uncertain times. The wretched war went on and on – swaying this way and that, victory one day for York and the next for Lancaster.
A plague on their wars, thought Jacquetta, which continually took a warm-blooded woman’s husband away from her and robbed her daughter of hers altogether.
At least her beloved Richard was safe and had managed to send news to her after having fled with the King somewhere up to the north, for the message had come to her from Newcastle. They were the losers again, and this time it seemed that some conclusion might be reached for Edward of York had proclaimed himself King and the people favoured him. He was a young man of great charm, Jacquetta had to admit, although the Rivers were staunch Lancastrians. ‘Every inch a King,’ was what they said of Edward; and as he was almost six feet four there were a good many inches. He was a magnificent soldier, an ardent lover of women and the greatest possible contrast to poor Henry who was so saintly that he longed to be a monk and had on more than one occasion lapsed into madness.
Perhaps, thought Jacquetta, we are on the wrong side.
Her heart began to beat faster for in the distance she could make out a party of riders. Her daughter must be among them. She would go down at once to meet her, to assure her that she was welcome, that Grafton was her home and should remain so for as long as she wished it to be.
The sight of her daughter filled her with pride. Elizabeth was as beautiful as ever – the most handsome of a very attractive family. Jacquetta had reason to be proud of the children she had borne Richard – seven sons and seven daughters, and Elizabeth, the eldest, had made a very quiet entrance into the world for their marriage had been frowned on in high places and everything connected with it had had to be conducted with the utmost secrecy.
Elizabeth had dismounted. She was as calm as her mother expected her to be. Little ruffled Elizabeth and it had always been so from nursery days. Elizabeth had taken command which was perhaps natural as she was the eldest, and her brothers, lively young boys as they had been, could never get the better of their sister Elizabeth.
‘My dearest,’ cried Jacquetta, embracing her daughter. ‘This is a sorry occasion.’
Elizabeth returned her mother’s embrace with restrained affection.
‘We knew you would offer us a haven,’ she said. She led the boys forward. Thomas and Richard Grey were pleasant looking and about ten and eight years of age, old enough to realise that the death of their father was a very tragic event and of great consequence to them.
Jacquetta kissed her grandsons with fervour, calling them her little lambs whom she was glad to have in her keeping.
‘Come in, dear child,’ she went on, putting her arm through that of her daughter. ‘You will be weary. Your own room is ready for you, and the boys will be next to you. Welcome to Grafton, my darlings. Your home, dear Elizabeth, as it ever was and always will be while I am here.’
‘My heartfelt thanks, dear lady,’ said Elizabeth. ‘For we are indeed in dire circumstances.’
They went into the Manor together.
‘It has been a long ride to Northamptonshire,’ went on Elizabeth.
‘Never mind, my child. Now you are here.’
The boys were taken to rooms made ready for them and Jacquetta accompanied Elizabeth to hers.
‘There, my child, just as it used to be. You’ll be happy again. I promise you.’
‘Have you read the signs?’
Jacquetta hesitated. Many people thought she was a witch. She was in a way, she supposed. She had on occasions foretold the future but in her heart she was not sure whether she had wanted something to happen and had made it so by her own actions. The water nymph of the Rhine, Melusina, was said to have been an ancestress of hers. It was one of those lovely legends which became attached to some families. Supernatural beings found their way into the family history by beguiling one of its members and thus infused some strain either for good or evil which appeared in the family for generations. The House of Luxembourg had Melusina, and the serpent who was said to be a familiar of that fair enchantress had become one of the devices on the shields of the Luxembourg Princes. Because she came from the ruling Luxembourg family and had the right to the device, the suspicion that she was a sorceress had been born; and Jacquetta found it intriguing and often useful so, while she did not exactly encourage it, she did nothing to deny it.
‘There is a great fortune for you,’ she said now. ‘My daughter, your fortunes are at a low ebb but that will change. There is such a dazzling prospect before you that soon you will be looking back to this day and realising that it was only a stepping-stone to great things. It is the little dark wood which you must traverse before you reach the pastures of prosperity.’
‘Oh, dear lady, is that what you wish for me or what you prophesy?’
‘Elizabeth, I would say this to none but you, but sometimes I do not know the difference.’
Elizabeth threw back her hood. Then the full blaze of her beauty struck even her mother speechless even though she had been aware of it. It was always like that after she had not seen her for a while. Elizabeth knew it and there was just a hint of the dramatic in the manner in which the hood was thrown back.
The beautiful golden hair fell loose about her shoulders to her knees. It rippled and shone where the light caught it; it softened her face which in its perfect classical features might have been a little repellingly cold without it. Her teeth were white and perfect; her eyes a greyish blue fringed with long thick golden lashes; the nose straight, neither long nor short, but perfect. Jacquetta always thought that Elizabeth had inherited the best features from each parent; and they were two exceedingly handsome people.
Elizabeth, however, had inherited little of her mother’s warmth. She was clever, and had been from a child, and Jacquetta had always thought: Elizabeth can take care of herself. That was why it was such a triumph to have her come home now in this time of need.
‘The estates have been confiscated,’ Elizabeth said. ‘We have nothing at all. Dear Mother, I need to get through that dark wood quickly.’
‘You will. I promise you that. These are strange times.’
‘Warwick has made Edward of York King and he will remain so, they say. Henry has no heart for battle.’
‘There is the Queen,’ Jacquetta reminded her daughter. ‘And the little Prince.’
‘Margaret will fight to the death,’ said Elizabeth. ‘But Margaret is a fool.’
‘It is well that lady is not able to hear you say that.’
‘She would rage against me, threaten me with all sorts of horrible punishments, and then, when I reminded her of our friendship and service to her cause, embrace me, forgive me, and tell me she would always feel affection for me. That is Margaret.’
‘You should know her. You served in her bedchamber and such service is the best way to know queens intimately.’