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.

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