Volume 2: Securing the Nation - The Diary of a Bastard Chapter 10
Upon my arrival at London I was met with the hustle and bustle of a city. And I had to admit, what a city it was. The docks were buzzing with life as vendors and the likes set up their stalls before it got truly busy. I had been here before when I was just a child, my father was due to attend a meeting with the King, but anything I remember paled in comparison was to what I saw now.
When we reached the quayside the ship jumped into life as the Captain relayed orders to get ready for docking. Ropes were hurled to and fro as the ship docked, a plank was laid and I found myself greeted by a group of soldiers bearing the royal emblem. They waited for me to cross the plank before, who I assumed to be their leader, unfurled a piece of parchment and began to read of it. "Eustace Radcliffe, you are hereby summoned by orders of the King, His Royal Highness, Lord High Marshall, Keeper of the Privy Seak, and High King of all Britain." Very formal I though, this can't be a good sign, "from this point onwards you will be required to surrender any arms upon your person, forthwith you will be escorted to the Tower of London, where His Majesty will be awaiting your arrival. Have you any questions?"
"No, but -"
"Very well," he interjected. "Please surrender you weapons to this man," he said as a large burly man stepped forward from the group. I handed over my weapons, which Archibald had kindly given me back, with a grunt. The large man snatched them out of my hand with an equally loud grunt. "Right, we're ready to go. Stevens, Williams, lead the way," he said, waving his hand into the air, bringing it up to fondle his moustache as two more of the men steeped forward and began to march off into the city. The man who had done the speaking stepped in next to me, whilst motioning me to follow his lead. The big man, alongside the rest of them, brought up the rear.
We marched through the streets, people clearing the way as they saw the royal emblem emblazoned on my escorts surcoats. Of course we gained quite a few stares along the way, but this didn't seem to bother the guards, so I pretended to ignore it. The one thing that had hit me upon landing here was the stench, and I thought the smell in Paris was bad. Compared to this it was as sweet as a rose, but here, here it was truly unbearable. I couldn't understand how people managed cope, and live their day-to-day lives in such filth. As we continued out march through the streets I realised I wasn't nervous, more relieved that this would finally be over. I was finally going to find out why the King had gone to such great lengths to bring me here. I was ready.
The sound of ringing armour, beating hooves, and shouts of men all confirmed that we were nearing our destination. Soon enough we were greeted by more guards at a portcullis, who exchanged greetings with my escort and pointed them off into a different direction. More men walked past us exchanging greetings, the big man behind me shouted over to one man sitting on a keg of ale, "Working hard or hardly working,'ay Mack." This brought a chorus of chuckles from the nearby men, and an inaudible noise from the man sitting on the keg. After going past him we reached another entrance, guarded by two stern looking guards armed head-to-toe in platemail and wielding 6ft spears, who, upon seeing us, uncrossed their spears and opened the door. The man who was standing next me muttered something to the rest of my escort and they filed off to separate parts of the Keep as me and him contiuned through the door that led into a narrow hallway.
"Follow me," he said picking a torch up from off the the wall and walking down the corridor. I followed him, trying to keep up.
We walked in silence for a couple of minutes before I found the nerve to ask him, "So, do you know what I've done?"
"Haven't got a bloody clue. Me and the lads got message from the top saying we were to meat you down by the dockside and escort you here," he replied, seemingly less formal than before. "All I know is it must be something pretty big for 'Old Stevie to go too so much bloomin' trouble for you," he contiuned.
I just nodded before saying, "So where are we going?"
"We're almost there actually, the King has requested this meeting in private, so you have the honour of seeing him in his Tower quarters."
When he'd finished speaking we took a right and another, larger, door was guarded by two other guards who looked similar to the previous ones. They nodded, and let us through. To door swung open into a bright, spacious, sparsely furnished room. In the middle sat an old man, bending over a scroll which lay on a large oak desk, the key feature of the room. A few paintings dotted the surrounding walls, and there was another door at the back. Chairs were arranged around the desk, several of which had piles of scrolls on them as well. The creaking of the door as it swung on its hinges seemed to snap the old man out of his trance and as he looked up his face frowned, before an expression of recognition seemed to replace it. He stood up, and the man who had escorted me bowed, as did the guards at the door. I followed suit, as he walked around the desk towards us.
"Thank-you Nigel, I trust everything went smoothly?" The man asked, his voice croaking.
"Perfectly, your majesty," the man standing beside me replied.
"That is good, you may leave us."
"Of course sire," Nigel replied walking off, the curt dismissal not having an effect on him.
"You two as well," the man said, motioning at them to leave the room. They just nodded, and with a bow swung the door shut.
All this time I had remained silent, and an awkward silence fell upon the room as the old man made his way back to the chair behind the desk. he sat down with a sigh, and motioned for me to take a seat. I picked one of the few available chairs, nearest to him, and took a seat. "Eustace, hello. I'm King Stephen."
I thought as much, the way the guards spoke to him kind of gave it away, but I was still shocked that a men who appeared so old could be king. "Your majesty," I replied as graciously as I could, trying to disguise my surprise.
It didn't work, and the King picked up on my shock. "Not what you expected? I can understand, I'm not as young as when I last met you, mind you, neither are you," he replied, followed by a hacking cough. "Excuse me, I've recently come back from Ireland, must've picked up some disease from the provincials."
Again I just nodded, not knowing what to say. The situation seemed so unreal, here I was speaking to a King who had summoned me out of the blue, and now we were face to face having a chat as if we were old buds.
"Now Eustace, I know you'll have a lot of questions, and I'll endeavour to answer as many of them as possible, but first I have some sad news that I must tell you," he said, rubbing the side of his temples. "There's no easy way for me to say this but just recently your father has past away. Now me and your father were good friends, and I've organised a state funeral for him. Your eldest brother has taken up the Dukedom of Winchester, whilst your younger one has taken up his position of Duke of Exeter. I've arranged for Howard to marry to one of my daughter's daughters, as a show of my gratitude to your father's life, I know it won't bring him back, but it's the least I can do."
I was in shock, I didn't know what to say. I had just been told my father was dead. Dead. A flood of thoughts came rushing to my head, and a wave of emotion rippled through me as I tried to comprehend the situation, "How...when...how?" I whispered.
"We believe his heart just gave out, it was a peaceful death," the King replied, trying to console me.
"When's the funeral?" I asked, sniffling back the tears.
"Ah, that brings me on to another complication," the King said, "You see, before his death I received a letter from your father, a letter containing some shocking revelations. I ordered you to be summoned here, to account what's happened, but you fathers death has complicated things. I'm the only one who knows the contents of this particular letter, which is why I ordered you to be brought here as quickly as possible. When people realised you were Phillip's bastard son, well they started talking and-"
"-and they thought it was me," I finished, deflated.
"Sadly, yes. People began to think I had ordered your arrest, hence the somewhat harsh treatment you received. I'm truly sorry for that Eustace, I didn't realise things would get out of hand."
"So can I go to the funeral?" I said, matter-of-factly. "Can I see my brothers?"
"I don't think that would be wise. I cannot be seen to go back on my decision, people know I'm dying, the vultures are circling, ready to peck at me at the first sings of weakness. I've been on this throne a long time, and all these bastards can scent out weakness like a hound to a bone," he replied. "My succession needs to be absolute, otherwise it'll become anarchy, there'll be panic on the streets of London, and I cannot, I will not, let that happen, for no men." His voice had risen during his speech, and a new life seemed to be emitting form him, to me it felt he was draining mine. "But that's vying off course, and why I've summoned you here. Your're here due to the contents of that letter."
"Why, why all this fuss over a letter?" I retorted, my fists were clenched underneath the table, I was so frustrated with the entire situation.
The King must've have noticed my anger, as he replied gentler, "Eustace, in his final days your father wrote to me, this you know, but inside that letter he revealed something, a confession if you like, something about you. I have to admit I was shocked, and felt betrayed after what he'd wrote, but I could not find it in me to remain angry at a man I had been friends with all my life, and had, on his death bed, found the courage to tell me something that would've ruined him, and his family, effectively you. You see Eustace, your mother was my wife, your mother was the Queen."
My heart skipped a beat, for all these years I'd wondered who my mother was, and then to find out it was the Queen, my father's best friend's wife! "What?!" This was all I managed to chock out.
This seemed to amuse the King, "Indeed, that was my initial reaction. It turns out when we used to visit, it wasn't just falconeering your father and Alisone got up to."
I was amazed at how... calm the King seemed. "Aren't you angry?"
"I was, it was probably the worst feeling in the world," he replied, in a more serious tone, "but my wife has been dead for a long while, and you father's passing has taken away all anger that I had."
"I'm still not sure why I needed to be summoned, and all this hassle created for nothing?"
"Don't you see Eustace, if anyone else found out it would be an outrage. Your fathers memory would be ruined, and the humiliation upon my family would be unbearable. No one else knows about this, and it has to stay this way."
"So what to you plan to do with me then," I queried rubbing my forehead, still not quite sure what to make of the situation.
"Indeed. What to do with you? That was the biggest conundrum, but I think I've finally figured out what to do."
"And that is?" I said, bracing myself for the worst.
"Well, I can't release you, not after all the mystery and fuss which has surrounded this event. Nor can I imprison you because, after all the fuss, people will be expecting an evil crime, punishable by death." My heart sank at hearing these words, and for the first time since getting here I was afraid. "However I feel it would be wrong to execute you for a crime you could not have prevented, or indeed been a part of. I would not sleep right if that's what happened. This is why after much deliberation I've decided to send you on a new undertaking, if you will. A service to the crown, and to the country."
"You're sending me away?" I said bluntly. No amount of dressing up would change that. I was being banished.
"Eustace from what I've heard you're a brilliant commander, with a sound knowledge for tactics. It's this or the noose, I'm sorry it's the best I can do."
I knew he was right, but I still didn't want him to be, "You're King can't you do something, anything?" I pleaded.
"We've been through this Eustace, too many questions would be asked."
It seemed fate had resigned me to this banishment, this exile. "Where will I be going?"
The King slid something out from beneath his desk, and pushed a sealed envelope towards me, "You'll be meeting an army of men, in here tells you everything else," he said, tapping the envelope. "These men have no notion to as who you are, you may feel free to tell them you're a bastard if you so wish, but I can trust you not to say anything about what we've spoken about today?" I just nodded. "Good, ships we'll be waiting for you when you arrive at the coast."
"When will we be leaving?" I replied standing up, picking up the envelope. I've had enough and just want to go.
"You'll be leaving tonight, it's the only way to keep things hidden," he answered, standing up too, extending his hand. "It was a pleasure to meet you Eustace, you remind me so much of your father. I wished we'd met in better circumstances, but I fear we'll never meet again. I'm an old boy, with not long left in me, by the time all of this has blown over I know I'll be long gone."
"The pleasure is all mine, sir." I said, shaking his hand. I released, and turned around to walk off.
"Sir?" I replied, turing around.
"Gods speed," the King replied, his face weary.
"Thank-you sir," I bowed, before exiting the room, closing the door behind me. I walked down the corridor, my head full of emotions. I needed a good nights sleep, but that seemed to be the last thing I was going to get. Opening up the envelope I checked where fate had resigned me too. I filed through the documents until one caught my eye. My destination.
I opened it up and it turned out I was being sent to...