Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Black Legend

Submitted for Project # 12: "By the Numbers"

About this Project:

Back in 1995, Wizards of the Coast, Inc. published ‘Everway’, a game by designer Jonathan Tweet. It was an interesting blend of collectible card game and roleplaying game system. Although it has faded into obscurity since then, the mechanics and artwork of ‘Everway’ are still fascinating to those who follow the ebb and flow of the gaming industry. Along with the other game components, ninety “Vision Cards” were included with the original game. On the back of each Vision Card is a number printed in miniscule font and a few questions pertaining to the illustration on the front of the card. 

Before the announcement of Project #12 we were asked to choose a number from one to ninety. We did not know the number we chose would represent the Vision Card that would be the basis for our story, poem, or artwork for that project. We could use the questions on the back of the card to help form ideas for our own original work, or we could ignore them and provide answers to other questions, but the heart of the work had to be based on the illustration on the card having the number we had chosen prior to the start of the project.

 I chose #72 and this was the card which went with that number:

(Illus. Martin McKenna)
And the questions on the back:

  1. What sort of magic is he calling up in his right hand?
  2. Does his staff have any special power?
  3. Where does the stairway lead?
  4. From whom did this mage learn magic?

Based on this image, I wrote the following story: The Black Legend.

After long lamentations [Queen Elizabeth Wydville] kneeled down and cried to God to take vengeance [for the murder of her two young sons by their uncle].
—Sir Thomas More

When King Edward IV of England died in 1483, he left as his heir a child of twelve. The King's brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was declared Lord Protector of the Realm and charged with control of the kingdom until young Edward reached his maturity. But ambition led Richard to covet the crown for himself. Together with his allies he moved against the Queen who fled with her children to Westminster Abbey. Richard then kidnapped the young heir to the throne and imprisoned him in the Tower of London.

♦   ♦   ♦

The boy leapt to his feet when the elderly man entered his chamber. “Oh, Lord Hastings! Terrible things have happened! Uncle Richard has arrested Uncle Anthony, Lord Rivers! Then, in my very presence, he arrested Sir Haught and my faithful Vaughan! He's brought me here to the tower against my will and what's more, he's dismissed my servants—good men provided me by my father—and replaced them with dreadful men; one called "Black Bill" Slaughter simply frightens me to no end!”

“That's not all he's done, your Majesty. He's summoned troops from the north who march to London even now. He plans to seize your throne and has the support of Lord Howard and the Duke of Buckingham.”

The twelve-year-old king slumped to the bed. “And what of you? Does he have your support as well?”

“Never, your Majesty. True, I helped him against your mother's relatives, but my loyalty remains as always with you and if any head but yours be crowned I swear it shall be that of your brother, the Duke of York, who remains in the safety of sanctuary with the Queen.”

“Sanctuary? Has Mother left me then?”

“She has taken your brother, your half-brother Dorset, and all five of your sisters to Westminster Abbey where the abbot protects them.”

“What about Uncle Edward? Surely the commander the fleet can—”

Lord Hastings interrupted. “I'm afraid your uncle Richard has disbanded the fleet. Sir Edward has fled to France with one or two ships. It seems your mother's family has been rendered powerless.”

“Woe is me! Is there no one who can put a stop to Uncle Richard's plans?”

“He has called the Council to a meeting on the morrow, supposedly to discuss your coronation. I shall discover the extent of his treachery then.”

“Thank you, Lord Hastings. You've only ever showed me loyalty and kindness.”

The elderly lord managed a low bow. “My family has served the House of York for four generations. It is my pleasure to serve you, Sire.”

Young King Edward never spoke to old Lord Hastings again.

♦   ♦   ♦

At the council meeting the next morning, convened in the Tower of London where the king was being held captive, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Lord Protector of the Realm, who had, with the help of Lord Hastings, broken the power of the Wydville family, announced to all present that Hastings was a traitor. Richard slammed his fist on the table and shouted, “Treason!” At that signal armed men rushed in from an adjacent room, arrested Lord Hastings and dragged him outside to the courtyard where he received no trial and no mercy. He was executed with neither priest nor lawyer present. From the window of the royal apartments high in the tower a young sovereign watched the beheading with horror.

♦   ♦   ♦

“Your, Majesty, there's someone here who's been anxious to see you.”

Before the king could reply, into the room burst a child of ten. Richard, Duke of York, rushed headlong into the arms of his elder brother. His escort, the Duke of Buckingham, followed him into the chamber.

“It seems he was bored at Westminster Abbey and it is only proper that he attend your coronation.”

The king shot Buckingham a hate-filled look. He held his brother at arms length. “Oh, poor fool! You've no idea what you've done! You have left the safety of your mother's bosom for the uncertainty of your brother's prison. Don't you know, now he controls the fate of us both?” He pulled the boy close and wept. Buckingham quietly backed out of the room.

♦   ♦   ♦

“I've come to tell you that Lord Rivers is dead.” Lord Howard's announcement received no reaction other than downcast eyes, so he went on. “Executed along with Earl Grey, Sir Haught and Sir Vaughan.” At this news tears welled up in Edward's eyes and his lips trembled. He clenched his fists. Sir Thomas Vaughan, his chamberlain, had cared for him since birth. Lord Howard, amused by the king's dismay, added more fuel. “Also, it seems your parents' marriage was illegal.” This earned him nothing more than a blank stare. “Oh, yes, I'm afraid it's so. Your father was quite popular with the ladies and he apparently entered into a precontract with some Butler woman before he married your mother. Do you know what that is?”

“I do not.”

“Well, you are a bit young to understand, but suffice it to say that you and your brother are bastards and not eligible to inherit the throne.” He paused for effect. “In view of this the Duke of Gloucester has had himself crowned at Baynard's Castle. Even now he sits upon the King's Bench at Westminster Hall.”

King Edward looked down at his shoes, tears falling. “Alas, I would my uncle would let me have my life yet, though I lose my kingdom.”

Lord Howard started turning to leave. “You know, there was a prophesy that 'G' should follow 'E' to the throne. Your father always thought it meant your uncle George, the Duke of Clarence. It seems that it refers instead to his other brother, Richard, the Duke of Gloucester. Fancy that.” He departed, cuckling.

♦   ♦   ♦

The youthful king cowered before the hulk of a figure who entered his chamber. "Black Bill" Slaughter was one of those chosen by Richard to replace the boy's loyal servants. His great size and dark demeanor, coupled with his gruff manner, struck fear into the heart of the pale and delicate boy.

“Your uncle is furious. Your mother's relatives tried to get your sister away to safety. Everyone knows she's next in line for the crown, after you and your brother. And she has sworn if harm comes to you she will marry any foreign prince willing to raise an army to challenge Richard to the throne of England. The Wydville's thought if she were safely out of his reach Richard would not dare harm the two of you, but they have been foiled. The fools asked the Duke of Buckingham to help and he told Richard about the plan.”

The king, sure that Slaughter had been sent to kill him, made no reply. After a moment Slaughter continued,
“As I said, he's furious and it's probable that you two are now in very serious danger.” The big man looked intensely at the boy which only made him tremble more. “There's another plan, I don't know who's behind it, but a man is coming with orders for Constable Brackenbury to hand over the keys for one night. This man, along with Forrest and I, are to take you and your brother to safety; I don't know where.” While he waited for the king to say something, it finally occurred to Slaughter that the young boy was afraid of him. As he departed, he tried to comfort him. “Don't worry, King Edward, we'll see you on the throne, yet.”

But the king would not trust that man and continued to fear for his own life as well as that of his brother.

♦   ♦   ♦

A few days later Brackenbury handed the keys of the tower to Sir James Tyrell. Having been informed by Forrest that Slaughter could not be trusted, Tyrell dismissed him. “The princes are being relocated and your services are no longer needed. You are to remove yourself at once.” Believing the boys were being taken to safety and having no desire to face the wrath of their uncle, Slaughter left the tower.

That night, Tyrell stood watch outside the door while Miles Forrest and John Dighton entered the chamber in which the king and the duke were sleeping. The boys struggles were no match for the burly men who dispatched them easily, smothering them in the feather beds. They carried the lifeless forms down a little-used staircase, the base of which was filled with loose stones. Here the three men hid the small bodies.

Amid rumours of their disappearance, Slaughter pondered his dismissal. Why wasn't Forrest sent away? I was a better servant to those boys than he was. Why, he didn't even like them.

The verity of the situation hit him like a brick.

♦   ♦   ♦

It took the better part of a year for Slaughter to track Forrest down. He finally found him at St. Martin le Grand where, burdened with remorse, he had sought sanctuary. Slaughter fought to control himself. “What have you done, you miserable wretch? You killed them, didn't you?”

Forrest, a sorrowful and broken man, closed his eyes and nodded. “King Richard's orders.”

“Don't you know we could have saved them? An army would have risen up to restore the rightful king if we had only gotten him away from the tower. We could have saved England from that tyrant. Why did you do it? What did he give you to kill your king?”

“I was given a post at Baynard's Castle.” Forrest looked up at the cloudy sky.

“So why are you here? Wasn't that enough?”

Forrest finally looked the other man squarely in the eye. “Nothing would have been enough. Nothing would be worth the torment I suffer. I can't sleep a night without seeing the face of that boy. He haunts my dreams, looking at me as if to ask, Is it any wonder why I never trusted you?

Slaughter's voice softened. “Tell me: Where are the bodies?”

♦   ♦   ♦

It took another year for Slaughter to find the Sorcerer. The Sorcerer had learned his craft from a man whose mother had been a protégé of the famous Dame Alice Kyteler of Kilkenny who had come to England in 1324. He was also the father of Ankarette Twynho, who did not practice witchcraft, but had nevertheless been accused of it and executed for it in 1477. Her accuser had been none other than the Duke of Clarence, brother to kings Edward IV and Richard III.

The Sorcerer told Slaughter, “I have already taken my vengeance on that family. Clarence was himself dead within a year of my daughter, executed on the orders of his own brother, King Edward.”

“Yet his other brother sits on the throne of a murdered king. Who will speak for him?”

“King Richard has answered for him. Remember his son, Edward of Middleham who died in April last year?”

“But one child can't answer for two. Think of their mother, the Queen, whom your daughter served. Surely you've heard her cries for vengeance.”

“Have you any proof her sons were murdered? Their bodies have never been found.”

“Rumour has it they've been moved, but they were originally interred at the foot of a staircase under a heap of stones. The staircase leads to the Chapel of St. John the Evangelist in the White Tower. It was used to gain private access to the chapel from the royal apartments.”

The Sorcerer sat in silence for a long moment. Then he nodded his head. “I will go there and if the bodies lie where you say, I will use my powers to grant them justice.”

♦   ♦   ♦

The Sorcerer appeared in the shape of the Duke of Buckingham to gain entry into the tower. He shed the disguise when he reached the staircase which led up to the Chapel. With his staff he tapped the heap of stones at his feet. The black orb at the top of the staff turned the color of blood. In his mind's eye, the wizard saw the fate of the two boys. Using the ancient power he had been taught to wield, he began to speak:
Rise, gentle sleepers,
From your unhappy slumber
To save a kingdom
By a tyrant torn asunder.

Sworn by your father
To protect and defend
He decided instead
To devise your sad end.

He murdered you children,
A duke and a king,
As if Divine Providence
Would forgive such a thing!

Rise, sweet sleepers,
For the time has come
To remove a pretender
From the royal kingdom.

To Bosworth Field fly, fly away!
Mighty "King Richard" answers for you this day!

♦   ♦   ♦

King Richard III was at that moment preparing to face the forces of Henry Tudor at Bosworth Field. He had no idea he would be facing the forces of the Sorcerer as well. From Ambien Hill he could see that Lord Stanley did not intend to join his forces. He had prepared for such a contingency by holding Stanley's son captive. He dispatched a messenger.

“Lord Stanly, King Richard has instructed me to tell you your son will lose his life unless you take the field.”

Lord Stanley looked upon the silent apparition of a young blond boy. Then he turned to the messenger. “Tell Richard that I have other sons.”

Upon hearing this, the furious king ordered Stanley's son killed. His subordinates trembled with fear but flatly refused to obey. “The two Princes from the Tower stand before the young man.”

King Richard grunted. “So, you see the ghosts. I have seen them too.”

Next he called upon the Earl of Northumberland to engage the enemy. But the earl, seeing that a ghostly young duke held the reigns of his horse, simply shook his head.

Abandoned, Richard realized he could not win the battle, but he determined to kill the man who would have his throne. Along with a small group of followers, he charged toward Henry Tudor. Before reaching his objective he came face to face with his own brother, the dead King Edward IV.

The ghost roared. “Lord Protector of the Realm! You would sit on the throne of England by declaring my very self to have been a bastard child, even while our dear mother is at hand for the coronation of her grandson! Failing that, you disinherit my children by declaring my marriage illegal, something you would not dare do while I lived. But it wasn't enough to steal their kingdom, you had to deprive them of their lives as well! I gave you everything and trusted you completely and this is how you repay me—by destroying my greatest joy, whom you swore to protect! Behold how I now repay you!” With that the ghostly king swung his stately sword and struck off his brother's bewildered head.


Weir, Alison. The Princes in the Tower. Ballentine Books, NY, 1992.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Magic Lamp

Submitted for Project #11: "Careful What You Wish For"

I wish I never laid eyes on this lamp!

Of course that one won't come true. I'm all outta wishes. The name's Defoe and I'm a thief—at least I was a thief—but not just an ordinary thief. I was a specialist; I dealt in antiques; mostly merchandise that was difficult to move and not just because it was heavy or fragile. It's a very tight market. Any fool can steal and resell TVs or watches but how many buyers can you find for a crown that belonged to a Czar of Russia with a price tag of $75 million? And how do you keep such a sale quiet? First thing everyone asks is 'Where'd you get it?'. “Well, uh, my grandfather was a guest of the Czar and it was traditional in 1914 for the royal family to give away an heirloom to people they entertained at the Winter Palace.” Riiiight.

Most of the customers know the stuff is hot but they've got reputations as fine, upstanding citizens who can't be caught receiving stolen goods so you gotta convince 'em there's no possible way they coulda known. Once you've done that they're happy. You can't beat human greed.

Collectors are the best. They get so obsessed with their collection that they stop asking questions. You got a piece they need? They don't care where it came from; all they care about is how much it'll cost 'em to have it.

One such customer came right to mind as soon as I spotted the Bastard. I'm not talking about the child of an unwed mother here; Bastard is a type of sword also known as a hand-and-a-half. It was developed when people realized the two-handed broad sword was not really useful in battle. Anyone who could move at all could usually get outta its way and it left the holder unable to carry a shield. They needed something they could wield with one hand but would give 'em a two-handed grip when they wanted to deliver that final blow. I had a customer who was specifically looking for one of these. If I was lucky the owner of the shop would think it was just another long sword. I could steal it without actually stealing it.

One look at the price tag killed that hope. I'd haveta get it the other way. The next question was whether it was authentic or a knock-off. As I was looking it over the proprietor of the store started heading my way. I pretended to be very interested in the small brass oil lamp sitting on the mantle shelf just below the sword.

“It's functional.” The old man was smiling like an idiot. “Made of heavy brass. The wick length is adjustable. The opening is large for easy filling and it uses ordinary lamp oil.”

I was glad he was talking about the lamp. Maybe he hadn't seen me checking out the sword. For fifteen dollars I couldn't go wrong. I asked the man to gift wrap it for me, which gave me time to prepare his store for my evening visit. His locks were child's play. There was an alarm, but the wiring was in plain view. No problem. I paid the man for the lamp and went on my way.

♦   ♦   ♦

At 2:00 A.M. everything was dark and quiet. I worked the lock on the front door and slowly pushed it open. Silence. I didn't figure anyone woulda noticed the alarm wire I'd cut earlier, but you never know. My penlight provided just enough for me to avoid tripping over stuff as I made my way across the floor to my prize. I carefully lifted it from the wall.


I didn't need anyone to tell me what that was. “How long have you been sitting here in the dark?”

“Oh, a while now.” The old man spoke very slowly. “I saw you eyeballing that sword and knew you didn't care a hoot about that lamp you bought. After you left I had a look around. When I spotted those wires you cut I figured you'd be back.”

For a brief moment I considered that I held in my hands what was possibly the most dangerous type of sword ever made. This thought was quickly replaced by the realization that it would be extremely unwise to pit a blade, however deadly, against a gun. I let the heavy thing clatter to the floor.

The next sound I heard was a gasp followed by the shotgun hitting the floor. I turned around to see the old man clutching at his chest, a look of pain and horror on his face. He needed medical attention, but I had no time for that. I grabbed the ancient sword and ran out of there.

♦   ♦   ♦

“Sixteenth century German.” My customer looked the sword over carefully. “Here's the mark of the smith, Melchior Diefstetter of Munich. How much?”

“Seven Gs.”


“Six and a half.”

“Sixty-three hundred.”

“Sold.” We shook hands and he paid me. In cash.

♦   ♦   ♦

Not long afterward I was sitting around not doing much of anything when my eye was drawn to the lamp which I had placed upon the mantle. I thought it might shine nicely if polished so I picked up a clean rag and began running it over the brass.

I nearly dropped the thing when smoke began coming out of it. I put it down on the coffee table and watched as plumes of white smoke poured forth from the lamp. I moved to open a window because the room was filling up. I turned around again and collided with something that knocked me backwards to the wall and onto the floor. I blinked my eyes and sat staring as the fog cleared to reveal the image of a giant.

At first all I could see were these ridiculous slippers that curled upwards at the toes. Gradually his legs came into view. They were enormous and covered with loose silk which seemed to change colors between pink and red. A gold belt around his waist led to a muscular stomach. Huge arms were folded across his massive chest. A Moroccan fez adorned the top of his bald head. I got the feeling he could break me in half like a twig.

“You've got to be kidding.”

When I could finally make out his face I thought he might actually be thinking about breaking me in half like a twig. He scowled and his eyes seemed ablaze. “I can hardly believe it myself.” His voice was the deepest I ever heard. “But I am free from that lamp and apparently have you to thank for it. I have the power to grant you no less—and no more—than three wishes.”

“You've got to be kidding.”

“I am not.”

I briefly thought about the old guy from whom I'd bought the lamp and whom I had left in all probability to die. But only briefly. “Okaaaay; I want to be rich and idle and to live many years.”

“Those are your wishes?”

“That's them.” I thought they were pretty good wishes.

“They shall be granted.”

“When?” I was not buying any of what I was hearing.

Just then there came a pounding on the front door, followed by a booming voice. “Police, Defoe! Open up! We've got you on film for that robbery! The old man died, Defoe; You're looking at hard time!”

I looked with astonishment at the giant. He pointed at the lamp. “Quick, change places with me. You'll be able to hide in there. It's your only chance!”

In a panic, I hastily agreed. Smoke filled the room again and when I could see again I was wearing the ridiculous Arabian outfit, all the way from the fez to the funny shoes. My room had become like the great hall of a palace lavishly furnished. A huge oriental rug covered the entire floor. I beheld treasure chests lining the walls, overflowing with riches: gold and silver, rubies and emeralds, diamonds and pearls. I stared at it all with wonder.

Then I heard a tremendous crash, followed by a rush of footsteps and a flurry of voices. “Where is he?”

“Give it up, Defoe!”

“Check upstairs!”

“Nothing here, Boss.”

“Empty here, too.”

Soon everything was quiet again. The police apparently went looking for me elsewhere. I'm sure they've given up the search by now—I mean, it's been almost three hundred years.

I wish I never laid eyes on this lamp!