More like a gangland war for turf and loot than chivalry, the War of Roses disrupted the life of the English common folk for hundreds of years. Roan Rose is the story of one of these commoners, Rose Whitby, born a peasant on the Yorkshire dales. When the Countess of Warwick, decides to take sturdy, gentle Rose to Middleham Castle to be companion and bed-time poppet for a frail daughter, her fate is changed forever.
Rose bonds strongly with Anne Neville, her young mistress. She also meets a royal boy enduring his knightly training — Richard of Gloucester, King Edward’s baby brother. The noble children have illness and accidents as they grow, but Rose remains a constant, always there to nurse and serve.
Rose bears intimate witness to the passions, betrayals, murders, battles and those abrupt reversals of fortune which will shape her mistress’ life — and her own. Anne Neville will briefly become a Queen, and Richard, Rose’s secret love, will become a King, one whose name has become synonymous with evil. Rose, alone of the three, will survive the next turn of Fortune’s Wheel and the invasion of England by Henry Tudor. Returning to her humble existence on the Dales, Rose has one last service to perform.
The King of England and I played chess, passing his sleepless hours. After years of struggling with the game, I can say, without exaggeration, that I’d become a formidable competitor, nearly his equal. I will stand firm upon this claim, even though I was a lowly servant—and a female, at that.
Nightly, our forces swayed back and forth across the board, until the birds began a summons to Dawn, calling her, as the harpers say, “from that silken couch where she dreams.”
We sat in a steady circle of candlelight in a small, high room at the palace of Nottingham. From our vantage point, the narrow river, spangled by summer stars, flowed below a single, open window. The distance, I might add, was sufficient to prevent the smell from blighting the view.
Of late, I had won a few these matches. This I credited in part to the King’s growing distraction and exhaustion. By June of 1485, he’d realized that his rule was unraveling around him, and, that he, in no small part, had been the architect of oncoming disaster.
What other choices, however, could my Lord have made? If he had let his nephew come to the throne, his own head would, sooner or later, have become his vengeful sister‑in‑law’s trophy. Either that or he would have been arrested and mewed up by his enemies somewhere, murdered in secret like so many members of his family. Richard Plantagenet knew history and he was not passive. All he’d done in deposing the boy was to strike his enemies before they could strike him.
Men now say otherwise.
There is mystery in the dark hours between two and four. The black and white squares of the board swam before my eyes. I, too, was tired to my very bones. The King’s wakefulness had become his servant’s. I was ready to make a move when his foot, under a long red robe, touched mine beneath the table. The contact seemed accidental, or was it?
He knows how greatly I love him, how I hunger for any touch. . . .
Concentration broken, I glanced up and met his brilliant hazel eyes, burning deep in hollows of chronic sleeplessness. For an instant, a slight smile curved those thin, mobile lips, but his gaze returned naturally to the board. Our relationship had always been singular. Only recently had it turned—let us say—customary. During the winter, his queen, the mistress I’d served and loved for nigh onto twenty years, had died. That is why his touch distracted me, made concentration falter.
Was the move I’d planned such a good one?
My hand wavered over the few remaining strong pieces. Traps lay on every side. Several, I saw clearly, for I’d been playing chess with Richard since our shared childhood. Whatever coup de grace he’d planned, I feared I’d never see until it was too late.
“That wasn’t fair.” In our secret kingdom of night, titles, and much else customary between master and servant, had been abandoned.
I’d revised, chosen to move my last knight to pin down his king. Of course, I knew quite well that second guesses are nearly always fatal this deep in a match.
“Nothing in this world is fair.”
As his hand went for it, I saw my doom—a lurking bishop.
“Checkmate,” Richard lifted a dark brow in triumph. Extending those jeweled, elegant fingers, his Bishop cast down my helpless king.
“You touched my foot on purpose.”
“What of it?”
It was worth losing any number of chess matches to see him smile. Always glorious—and always rare—it had, lately, become a thing of legend.
“Old Dick” doesn’t smile. This was well known all over his Kingdom. Like a great many other things that are “well known,” there was not a grain of truth in it.
“I don’t mind. It’s only that you used to win by your wits, and now it seems you must rely upon the lowest tricks to best your humble servant.”
He laughed shortly, but it was not an entirely happy sound. Playing with my king now, turning it between ringed thumb and forefinger, he said, “Better for all of us had I learned the game of low tricks at a far earlier age.”
How to reply? Crouching at the back of this night’s wakefulness lay the same old horror. Where were his nephews?
Everyone knows the pawns are the first to go. In my Lord’s case, crime had brought, as it so rarely does in this wicked world,apunishment not only swift, but apt. In the space of sixteen months, the King had lost his adored son and his dearly beloved wife, my noble mistress.
On this night, Richard Plantagenet had traveled almost to the end of his earthly course, to the haunted land where human tribulation ends. Gazing at the ruin of our board, I believe we both knew it.
Juliet Waldron is a grandma and cat mother who decided to finally do something with her long ago BA in English. She’s always loved to read historicals + history, and to make up stories. She has three grandgirls, one who just graduated from college and another who just entered the 8th grade. The youngest is her own little autistic planet, but she takes a mean photograph.
Juliet’s favorite pastimes are hiking, bicycle riding, cat-hugging and gardening. She’s been married to the same guy and riding behind him on his motorcycles for the last 48 years.
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