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St. Edmund’s Abbey, 1447
The Abbot Whethamstead moved briskly down the cold and damp hallway, his hands trembling and his heart certainly racing. The knock had come at such a late hour, who could it possibly be? He shuffled as quickly as his sandaled feet allowed and soon made it to the great door of his house. He could think back to just a fortnight before when it appeared that all might be well. There was a reconciliation of sorts and a meet between the King and his uncle. But in no time at all, that good faith had been torn asunder by agents acting in the good Duke’s name and now, it was surely an act of retribution that heralded the abbot out of his bed.
He placed his candle on a short table next to the door, and with both arms pulled with strength to allow the cold air outside to enter along with whomever felt the need to visit at this hour of the night. Wind whipped passed as the freezing temperatures from outside met the already cold interior. Abbot Whethamstead turned his face away to try and brace himself as two large men pushed their way into the abbot’s presence.
“Good evening, fine pilgrims. What is it that you seek?” The abbot played the perfect host, even at such an hour. It was habit, or expediency, but anything to move the men on and allow for just a slight bit more sleep before prayers.
“I think you know who we’re after. Just point the way and never you mind about the rest,” the first bulky soldier barked as he stepped forward and crowded the abbot.
“I…I don’t know at all what you mean, good sir…”
The second pulled his mate aside when the question presented itself and the two men backed away slightly even though the abbot could overhear their brief discussion.
“You sure this is right? You spoken with Bracken?”
“Yes…and him to his master and on it goes.” Turning back to the abbot, the first pressed him even closer to the wall, “It’s a bit of business for the King. Now allow us pass or we shall force it.”
Whethamstead wriggled out of the large man’s frame and shuffled down the hallway quickly, “You may look to the apartments, my good gentlemen. I’ll not stop you. But please…give care to the noise. There are others sleeping, if you mind.”
The two men went towards the apartments as directed while the abbot watched them. A pity, it was. The Duke was a good man, or so the abbot felt, and thus his leisure to stay here. But it was surely known that his nights would not be long given the current frame of mind. The recent demand that he show himself before the court was proof enough of that in these times. And there was little Whethamstead might do to change the picture. Not tonight at least. Only prayers…that might be enough. Pray for the sinners for surely they must be.
As he began to move back towards his own warm bed, he heard the men call after him, “We’ll be needing the key, if you please.”
Yes, of course…the key to the locked apartment where the Duke slept. He had been instructed to keep him so and was loath to dispute the King’s writ. The abbot could keep up the ruse no longer and answered “I have it here, my sons. Lead on and I shall follow.”
That he did as they made their way to the room. Back outside and through the biting cold and then once more into the apartments kept for noble persons, they approached the room and Abbot Whethamstead made shift to move passed them and open the door with a key dangling gently from a chain on his neck. He pulled it over his head and with trembling fingers did his best to unlock the door without dropping it. Once the door swung wide, the two men pushed him aside and hurried into the room, the first making a direct line towards the slight bed that held the Duke. The second simply stood and waited.
Abbot Whethamstead watched the first man kneel down and stop short as he noticed something odd. In fact, so too did the abbot. The second took a step forward when he noticed his partner’s reticence,
“What is it?”
The first finally turned back and gave a knowing smile, “I think our work here is done.”
Shocked, the second moved closer and looked down at the man. He looked a second time just in case he missed something on the first pass. And then he bent down and felt at the man’s chest.
“Right. And that means our business is concluded, old friend. Now about that tavern…”
The first was up again and quickly out of the room as the second kept his eyes firmly on the dead body before them. He turned to the abbot just in time to see him cross himself.
Clearly irritated, the first man moved back into the room and glared at his friend, “You planning on joining in tonight?”
The second kept looking at the Duke, even as his friend passed him. When he called out to go, the second turned and followed, but not before stopping one last time at the door and looking at the man for a final moment.
With irritation the first followed, “What the bloody hell is it, you bastard? I’m thirsty.”
The abbot shook his head in disdain but not enough to show his guests and was quickly moving to place a white sheet over the dead man’s face as the second answered his mate,
“I dunno…there lies good Duke Humphrey. It’s a bit sad when you think on it…”
“What so bleedin’ sad? He’s another one of them. They’s only good for as far as pay goes. And this one lost his purse a long time ago. Come on, there’s a woman I’m up for.”
With that the two men exited and moved back into the night while the abbot tended to his friend and one time benefactor. Indeed, deceased on the bed was Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester…brother to King Henry V and uncle to the current King…long since lost his purse and power. He was now dead and no longer a threat to the throne.
As Abbot Whethamstead walked from the room he crossed himself once more and thought in quiet introspection. Clearly this time was not meant for peace and goodwill but recrimination and spite. And so it had been for too long now. A family, seemingly torn apart by factions and jealousy, had fought tooth and nail to take and keep power in the lands and it did not look to end soon. The only question in the abbot’s mind, and surely in the minds of the King and his retinue, was who might take the place of this good Duke?
A third time crossing himself allowed the abbot’s mind to focus and he realized that if no suitable candidate was apparent readily, one would shine through as the sun shines each day. Soon all of England would feel the weight of men’s egos as they pressed their advantages and sulked in their defeats. Soon another would rise to challenge and continue this ever-present cycle. Soon the roses of Plantagenet, white and red, would bleed for God and Jesus would weep. The abbot crossed himself a final time as he shuddered. He could not bear the thought.