Epithalamion

By Anel Viz

Illustrated by Rowan Lewgalon

 

~ 1 ~

For this was on seynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foul cometh there to chese his make,
Of every kynde that men thynke may…
—Geoffrey Chaucer, “The Parlement of Foules”
 

A grand banquet for the full court followed the ceremony at Westminster.  Richard’s uncle John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, had seen to all the arrangements, and they did not particularly please the young king.  The one exception was the lavish menu—seven different kinds of game, each in its own highly spiced sauce of dried fruits, five swans roasted on a spit, smoked lampreys, salt herring with pickled walnuts, pike mashed to a paste with savory root vegetables and clotted cream, peas with ginger and bacon, onion custard, soft-ripened white cheeses and sharp, green-veined Roquefort, honey seedcakes with preserves, and red-hued claret from Bordeaux, the city of his birth.  Most of all, the seating seemed calculated to hamper his enjoying the festivities, although it was his own marriage they were celebrating.

The fifteen-year-old couple sat in the center of the high table surrounded by the sons of the late King Edward, the Lords Chancellor and Chamberlain, high-ranking members of the clergy, and the heroes of the wars with France—not one of them a man under forty except his uncle Thomas of Woodstock, Earl of Buckingham, whom Richard disliked.  His wife and his mother were the only women at the table, and anyone not born to the nobility was excluded.  Even Simon de Burley, his old tutor, and Michael de la Pole, who had earned their titles by service to the crown, sat with the other men at the long table to the right of the dais, facing the women on the left side of the hall, although it was de Burley who had negotiated the marriage.  Perhaps Lancaster had excluded him for that reason.

Richard was bored.  His uncle could not have placed him farther away from his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, Thomas Mowbray, Robert de Vere, and his other friends and age mates at the foot of the men’s table.  Sir Ralph Stafford, whom he loved like a brother despite the ten years that separated them, cast him a sympathetic glance from his place next to Robert.  Stafford was dearer to him than de Vere, and closer, too, though it was with Robert he had enjoyed the kind of intimacy he was to know that night for the first time with a woman.  Only with Robert.  The fellow was insatiable.  He had sampled every imaginable pleasure, and if he found he enjoyed it, which he inevitably did, he was always eager for more.  As usual, tonight he had drunk heavily.  His face was flushed and his mood merry.

That was where Richard would have liked to sit, where the wine flowed freely and the laughter was loudest.  Here the men talked of dull political intrigue.  They spoke in English, for what they had to say about the Bohemian alliance was not very flattering.  Their new queen had only been in the country a month and understood hardly a word.

Anne didn’t have much French, either, and however attentive Richard tried to be, their conversation languished.  She followed what he said to her well enough, but could only answer in broken phrases.  She would learn quickly, though.  She spoke, read and wrote three languages, and Richard knew not one word of Czech and no more than two dozen in German, if that.  It had taken him less than a minute to realize her Latin was excellent, so much better than his that he was embarrassed to speak it with her.  What can one talk about in Latin with a woman besides religion, anyway?  Well, he wouldn’t need to say much when he bedded her that night.  He had little to complain about on that score.  “She’ll be a great beauty when she fills out,” Robert had said.  “The handsomest king in Europe deserves the fairest queen.  I wonder if all Bohemian women are as fine.  What magnificent tits on that lady-in-waiting of hers!”

“Which one?”

“All of them, in truth, but Agnes de Launcekrona especially.”

“I didn’t know you were such a connoisseur of women’s breasts.”

“Oh, you know me.  I like anything that’ll fill my mouth.  But yours…  You’ll be able to fuck her right away, you devil.”

“Jealous?”  Robert had been only nine years old when he married Philippa de Coucy.

“Not at all.  I bedded my wife as soon as I was able, and until then sex didn’t interest me.  Look at your cousin Bolingbroke.  Old man Lancaster wanted to make him wait six years before he could have a go at his child bride.”

“But he didn’t listen, did he?”  Though not quite fourteen, little Mary of Bohun was six months pregnant.

“I should say not.  Made him randy as hell.  And what your uncle did to Elizabeth was worse, marrying her to a boy barely old enough to recite his prayers so he could stint on her dowry.  I suppose he’ll need the money to get that ugly eldest daughter of his off his hands.  Twenty-two and still unmarried!”

“I’m sure Uncle John has plans for his Philippa.”

“Plans for himself, you mean.  Mark my words, Philippa of Lancaster will follow her brother’s example and be heavy with a bastard before the babe he chose her sprouts a single hair on his chin and his prick is bigger than the tip of my middle finger.  Your half-brother John has his eye on her.  But it wouldn’t do to tell a king to cool his heels, would it?  You wed your Anne and bed her on the same day.  Tell me, are you nervous?  It’s your first maidenhead.”

“You forget I took yours.  Or did you lie when you said it was your first time?  It was so easy to take.”

“No.  Did you when you said you’d never fucked anyone before?  You did well by me.”

Richard smiled.  “You were my first and so far my only.”

“Then, if not your first cherry, it’s your first cunt.  You’re not the least bit apprehensive?”

“Were you the first time you did it?”

“Not that I remember.”

“Well, neither am I.  What could possibly go wrong?  That fleshy bauble flapping between my thighs stirs at the slightest provocation and won’t go back to sleep until it’s done its business.  Why should I worry after all the practice you’ve given me?  Not that I’d mind another rehearsal.  I feel it stirring again.”

Robert’s eyes lit up.  Richard half expected him to turn around and expose his buttocks.  The fellow was always willing, always wanting more.  He swore he couldn’t imagine a delight more exquisite.  Robert de Vere, of all people—who at twenty had enjoyed almost as many women as Henry, the first Plantagenet, had in a lifetime!

Robert laughed.  “You’re like me.  When the God of Love shoots an arrow at you, it bypasses your heart and flies straight between your legs.  Why, that prick of yours is one of Love’s arrows, and I’m willing to bet it’s his longest.”  He winked and gave it a squeeze for good measure.  “Now, there’s a source of pleasure no woman can provide!”

“So you say.”  Richard had been tempted more than once to let his friend have a go at his bum, but it would not have been seemly, not for a king.  It had cost his great-grandfather Edward his throne and his life.  A stiff prick shoved up one’s arse might well provide the excruciating pleasure Robert swore it did, but an iron poker heated until it glowed?  He’d sooner starve to death!  Better to exercise caution and only pleasure Robert with his mouth.  Perhaps it didn’t feel that good, after all, and Robert’s sighs and squeals, his glazed eyes and cries of “Harder!” were only mummery meant to convince his friend to bend over and reciprocate so he could compare a man’s hole with a woman’s.

After tonight, I’ll be able to tell him, Richard thought.  But first I’ll say he has to let me sample his again to be sure.  Could anyone on earth have a backside sweeter than Robert’s with its dusting of soft down, ample and round like a pumpkin, so tight and warm within?  How he wriggled back and moaned in ecstasy, and how he gasped when Richard’s throbbing prick, lodged in his bowels, spilled its seed deep inside him!  He could weep for love of him.

Richard realized he was aroused now, visibly aroused, his excitement almost ripping the silk of his wedding garb in its pride.  Not at all inappropriate on one’s wedding night if his mind had been dwelling on the girl seated next to him.  He would do better to tear his eyes from de Vere and concentrate on the entertainment Uncle John had ordered for the occasion.

A succession of jugglers, tumblers, mimes and musicians, one following on the others’ heels, had performed while they ate.  Last came a magician who conjured live birds out of thin air, a prologue, it seemed, for the poem Uncle John’s protégé, Geoffrey Chaucer, had written in honor of their marriage and would read after the meal, for it would require their full attention.  Richard hoped he had had the courtesy to write it in French, which his new bride would at least be able to follow—not the bastardized jargon one heard here, but the French used on the continent, which Chaucer spoke as well as Richard.  When he heard the title, however, Richard realized poor Anne would not understand a word of The Parlement of Foules.  Still, she smiled politely and pretended to enjoy herself.

Chaucer’s opus was elegant and charming as always, with the usual exordium about Scipio’s dream, and the allegory quite flattering, even if the details were hazy and not quite accurate.  The piece was seasonal, too, with Saint Valentine’s Day but three weeks away.  Richard wondered, though, how he had come up with the idea that birds would pick their mates and build nests in the middle of February.  Ludicrous!  Then he remembered: On that day it would be exactly one year since the first time he fucked Robert.  How could the poet have known that?  A coincidence, surely.  But there were those references to Alanus’s De Planctu Naturae, not the passage where he rails against sodomy, but still…  And that bit about the gate that gave entrance to the pleasure garden.  How did it go?

Thorgh me men goon in-to that blisful place
Of hertes hele and dedly woundes cure…
 

That blissful place that heals the heart…  The wey to al good aventure, he called it, followed by a closing exhortation to enter: Al open am I; passe in, and hy the faste!  It all fit together, and only too well.  Robert’s gate was certainly wide open and Richard quick to pass in.  Was he mistaken, or had the poet cast him a wicked glance when he read that verse?

Richard looked at his lover to see if he, too, had made the connection, but Robert had his lecherous gaze fixed on full-bosomed Lady Agnes, oblivious to everything else except his wine goblet.  If he listened at all to the reader, it was with less than half an ear.  Lancaster also noticed and made no attempt to disguise his displeasure.  Richard knew it was not de Vere’s inattention to the poem that caused his anger, but his public ogling of Lady Agnes, for Uncle John was fond of his niece Philippa.  The old man must have been aware the king’s glance was also aimed in the same direction, for he cast Richard a significant frown, but no doubt he attributed the young man’s interest in the far end of the table to a desire to join his companions rather than an unnatural affection for Robert de Vere.

Richard answered his uncle’s frown by turning to his bride and trying to explain the story of Chaucer’s poem, though he knew he would lose track of it in doing so.  He had decided his suspicions were unfounded and wished to rid his mind of them.  “The formel eagle is yourself,” he said.  “Which of the three tercels will you choose?”

Anne blushed and lowered her eyes.  “You mean have chosen, my lord,” she murmured, “and you know the answer,” although she had not made the choice herself.  Her brother, Wenzel of Luxemburg, decided for her.

She followed the poem better than Richard expected, considering all she heard of it was his hastily translated bits and pieces.  She had a quick mind.  She even surprised him with her erudition, clarifying some of the obscure astrological points Chaucer so loved to work into his compositions.  Richard liked astronomy but gave no credence to the stars’ ability to determine our destinies, and he paid as little attention to the significance of their heavenly conjunction as he had to Heaven itself since he and Robert had become lovers.  He took communion regularly, of course, and venerated the saints, but his confessions were far from complete.  Still, Robert’s sin was a thousand times graver and ten thousand times more shameful than his.

The wedding guests roared with laughter, and Richard returned to listening, thinking he had missed some clever word play or a suggestively witty argument on the art of love.  Once he figured out that now the other birds were arguing and the tercels were, at least for the time being, no longer involved, he was able to take up where he had left off.  New speakers had joined the discussion; otherwise, it seemed the story had not progressed at all.  When the comic debate took a turn that caught his fancy, he translated their reasoning for the queen as best he could and asked her opinion on the matter.  She avoided his question, saying it was every woman’s dream to have the service of a devoted knight.

He pressed her for an answer.  “I did not ask about dreams, lady, but if you think the bird spoke the truth.”

“What experience do I have in such matters, my lord, who have been married only a few short hours?”

“But you have heard things.”

“My married friends say Frauendienst is a lovely fiction that bears little resemblance to reality.”

“And whom do you believe, your friends or the poets?”

She smiled bashfully and said, “I believe I can be happy in your love if it is your wish to make me happy.”

At that moment, she was as lovely as Robert said she was.  “I do wish it,” he replied, pressing her hand.

“And children,” she added.  “If you give me children, I should be the happiest woman on earth.”

For what other reason does a king take a wife?  Richard wondered if she spoke out of wifely duty or if she truly yearned to be a mother.

She continued:  “We’ll pray to Saint Anne to bless us with children.”

Saint Anne—her patron and the Virgin’s mother, a powerful intercessor.  Richard would do his part, too.  He placed his hand on her chin, drew her face toward him, and kissed her lips.  “And besides children, what gift would please you most, lady?” he asked.

She answered without hesitating.  “An English Bible to help me learn your language.”

“A protégé of my uncle of Lancaster has been working on one for some years.  I believe he’s finished the Gospels.  I’ll order a copy made for you.”  The thought of presenting her with something of Wycliffe’s brought a smile to his lips.  It would irk the Archbishop of Canterbury, who considered him a heretic.

Anne was surprised.  “You mean there is no complete Bible in English?” she asked.

“Not as we speak it now.  I myself scarcely understand half of Orm’s scribblings.” With a nod in the direction of the reader, he added, “Master Geoffrey Chaucer’s poems would better suit your purpose.”

“Has he written religious pieces, too?”  A pained expression had briefly clouded her face upon hearing her husband refer to Scripture in such irreverent terms.

“He’s done a translation of Boethius’ Consolatio, if that will serve.  If not, we could easily procure a manuscript of some mystery plays.  They retell the biblical stories par personnages.”  Anne’s puzzled look showed she hadn’t understood the French expression, so he explained, “For players to act out.  Or you could study with Pearl, a beautiful vision of Heaven inspired by the death of a child.”

“No,” she said, “that would be inauspicious.  I long for children of my own—our own.”

* * * *

Night had fallen before Chaucer had finished reading.  When the torches were lit, the musicians came to take their places and began tuning their instruments for the dancing to follow, and the guests grew restless.  They applauded loudly when it ended.  Richard thought the conclusion inconclusive, perhaps even offensive.  Why should he wait another year?  Or did the story apply only to his courtship, the unspoken ending to take place when he consummated their marriage?  John of Gaunt tossed his protégé a purse, signaled Richard to reward him as well, and all rose to dance.  They shooed away the dogs, who took refuge under the boards, then applauded again as their sovereign led his queen to the head of the line.

The same admiring approval had surrounded them at Westminster when they took the sacrament together: how for a couple barely out of childhood, they cut a handsome figure.  Richard had heard it and knew in his heart they were right.  Yes, though young, he had quickly proven himself fit to reign, but he had shown proper humility before the altar.  Now his chest swelled with pride at their admiration.  One could assume that fifteen-year-old Anne had reached her full height, but the king, eight months her junior, already stood taller than most of the men at court and, since he was a boy, would continue to grow.  Wearing his crown, he towered over them all.  If his round, beardless face seemed out of place perched on his broad shoulders, his fair skin and thick, wavy, rust-blond hair were like an angel’s.  De Vere swore he resembled the god Apollo, “whereas I,” he liked to add, “am more of a Bacchus.”

An apt comparison.  Robert’s bushy, dark brown hair framed his face like a fur cap with earflaps, and, though an avid sportsman, he inclined to chubbiness.  “There’s no denying you like your wine,”  Richard teased.

“My body serves me well, and, in return, I let it take its earthly pleasures.”

“It serves us both well.”

Now that Robert had indulged his body with a copious banquet and more wine than was good for him, he would allow it the pleasure of the dance.  He and the other young men sought their wives and mistresses at the ladies’ table and fell into place alongside the king and queen.  Young Bolingbroke seemed to revel in his filial disobedience, strutting prouder than a peacock next to his slip of a wife with her round belly, and his sister Elizabeth danced with John Holland while her nine-year-old husband slept with his head on the table.  De Vere was right.  John of Gaunt had been asking for trouble when he arranged those marriages.  Poor cousin Philippa, sitting all by herself, indifferent to the festivities that had torn her away from her Greek and Latin!  Richard reflected that, however much he had resented the Council’s interference during his minority, his uncle would have allowed him less freedom.  How intractable Lancaster was about everything!  Had he had his way, Richard would now be dancing with that Visconti woman.  True, a family expected a new bride to bring them wealth and connections.  Despite an impeccable lineage, Anne of Bohemia may as well have been a pauper.

She was handsome, though, handsomer than Robert.  But could this pious, inexperienced girl give him as much pleasure as his vigorous and uninhibited friend?  Would she take as much pleasure in him?

Richard turned to look at his uncle sitting where he sat at the head table.  John of Gaunt was glowering—not at Henry showing off his wife’s ill-timed pregnancy nor Elizabeth basking in Holland’s attentions, but at Robert, openly flirting with the buxom Agnes of Launcekrona while he danced with his wife.

When the figures brought them close together, Richard whispered to his friend, “Pay court to your wife.  You’re making Lancaster angry.”

“Philippa?  I’m dancing with her, aren’t I?”

“And undressing Lady Agnes with your eyes.  You know how Uncle John dotes on his niece.”

“Let the Duke look to his own roving eye.  He dotes on Mistress Swynford.  I may not be the most faithful of husbands, but at least I haven’t taken a mistress.  Philippa has no reason to be jealous.  Are you?”

“Be careful what you say,” Richard hissed.  Then, feigning laughter, he said loudly, “Of all your women?  Don’t be ridiculous!  If you took one that had caught our fancy, We would have you both thrown in the Tower.”  Although his closest friends still called him Richard in private, the young king had insisted on being addressed as “Your Majesty” since he came of age.

Robert mouthed his reply.  “There’s only you.  I swear it.”

“I’m just warning you,” Richard whispered to him.

“Would you really put me in the Tower?”

“About Lancaster.  You don’t want him for an enemy.”

“Then I’ll ask his wife to dance next, since it appears he has no liking to.”

Richard did not doubt that his uncle would be dancing with Katherine Swynford if she were present, but John of Gaunt, ever mindful of propriety, had not invited his mistress.  Although everyone knew of their affair, a man of lesser stature, like Robert, could ill afford that sort of scandal.

“Don’t begrudge me an innocent flirtation,” Robert said in parting as the dancers moved on to the next figure.  “Your Majesty will enjoy himself more than I tonight.”

Begrudge him an innocent flirtation?  Richard had only meant to counsel discretion.  He counted on Robert’s discretion; their intimate frolics were far from innocent.  On the other hand, Robert’s indiscretions with the ladies might allay suspicions more effectively and keep tongues from wagging.

The dancing would go on for hours, long after the royal couple retired to consummate their union.  Shortly after ten o’clock, the Queen Mother, the Duchess of Lancaster, and the ladies-in-waiting who had accompanied the new queen to England led Anne to the bridal chamber, where they would undress, bathe and put her to bed.  Then her husband would go to her and take her maidenhead before the day ended.

The Duke of Lancaster approached the king with a goblet of wine.  The men clustered around  them.  “Drink up, sire,” he said, “to warm your blood and give you strength.”  Then he turned to his younger daughter and added, pointing to the young John Hastings, fast asleep at his place, “Take your husband to bed, Elizabeth.”

“Yes, lady,” John Holland said, “it would be best to put the boy to bed.  Let me carry him for you.”

The Duke cut him short.  “Carry your brother-in-law to Elizabeth’s chamber, Harry, and you go with them, Elizabeth.”

Bolingbroke lifted the sleeping boy and left the hall with his sister.

De Vere cast a lecherous grin in Richard’s direction.  “No one will need bear His Majesty to the bridal chamber,” he said.  “In truth, I believe he’ll arrive there before us all, his long legs will bound so swiftly up the stairs.”

“‘His Prowess’, rather,” Lancaster corrected, disguising his distaste with a pleasantry.  It was no secret he shared the older nobility’s resentment of the ostentatious formalities the new monarch had insisted on since crushing the Peasants’ Revolt the previous June, although it was Cavendish who struck down Wat Tyler.  What had young puppy done, after all, besides lie to the mob?  “King Richard” was respectful enough.  On the other hand, it seemed petty to protest.

“First prowess on the battlefield and tonight in the bedchamber!” Robert exclaimed and called to the serving men, “Refill the goblets!  We’ll all drink to that!”

“If my royal nephew drinks too much, prowess will do him little good,” the Duke replied archly.

“We appreciate our uncle Lancaster’s solicitude,” Richard said, raising the refilled goblet to his lips, “but he worries himself needlessly.”  He failed to grasp that many at court looked on the new title as self-glorification.

“Indeed,” Stafford added.  “It won’t be long before the king has better sport than we, who must content ourselves with dancing and tumblers.”

“I have no doubt His Majesty will enjoy the tumbling immensely,” the king’s half-brother Holland quipped.

The men roared with laughter.  Richard nearly choked on his wine.

Bolingbroke returned to the hall and, with him, a serving woman to inform the king his bride awaited him.

Although the deferential protocols instituted by the new monarch irked him and he did little to hide the fact, John of Gaunt relished pomp and pageantry when it was he who had arranged it.  He himself had chosen who would accompany the king to bridal chamber and each man’s place in the procession.  The younger men, however, in high spirits and well in their cups, ignored his wishes and, wine goblets in hand, joined the party in no apparent order, so in lieu of a dignified procession, Richard raced up the stairs surrounded by a rowdy, jostling crowd.  He was glad for it, too.  It allowed him to give free rein to his youthful exuberance and at the same time stung his uncle’s vanity.

The bedchamber door was shut.  John of Gaunt knocked loudly and called out their arrival.  A lady-in-waiting opened for them and, pushed forward by the press of men behind him, the king entered, nearly stumbling as he did.  The queen’s retinue stood in a line on either side of the large bed where Anne lay meekly under the coverlet, naked except for the linen night bonnet on her head.  Her long hair hung loosely over her shoulders.

The women curtsied then followed the Queen Mother and the Duchess out of the room.  As they were leaving, a hearty slap landed on Richard’s back and he heard de Vere say, “Now comes the entertainment His Majesty will enjoy most!”

Richard turned his head toward his friend and saw him grasp Agnes de Launcekrona’s wrist for a brief second as she passed.  She gave a barely perceptible nod and continued out the door.

As soon as it was shut, the king’s uncle Lancaster said, “God grant His Majesty long life and a fruitful marriage!” and the men drained their goblets—or pretended to drink, since many of them were already empty.  Then Richard’s closest friends—de Vere, Bolingbroke, Stafford and Mowbray—stepped forward and began undressing him.  His penis stirred when he felt Robert’s hands on his skin as they lifted his shirt.  He nearly panicked, afraid his arousal had betrayed their secret.  But Bolingbroke laughed and said, “See how impatient His Majesty is to fulfill his marital duties!”

Even before he was naked, Richard had grown fully erect, and his prick pointed straight out when Robert untied his codpiece.  The little nervousness he had felt at his imminent coupling drowned in a sea of embarrassment, and not only because of Anne.  He felt the men’s eyes staring at him—at it—in admiration, perhaps in jealousy, or aroused by the thought of how he would soon use it.

“Like a lance in the lists,” Bolingbroke exclaimed.

“So red at the tip, I’d swear it had drawn blood in the tilt,” Robert added.  “Clearly, the good Lord fashioned it for jousting and women’s martyrdom.  What a battering awaits her!  You’ll reduce her portal to splinters!”

The men laughed loudly, except the Archbishop of Canterbury, who scowled his disapproval.  Even John of Gaunt couldn’t hide his amusement, though he tried to look stern.  Anne blushed.  She could not possibly have understood their words, but how could she not know the jests were lewd?

Self-conscious, Richard slipped beneath coverlet alongside his bride.  The Archbishop raised his right hand and mumbled a blessing over the marriage bed, Lancaster drew the curtains, and the company left the room, whispering and tittering amongst themselves.  The door clicked shut.

They royal couple lay motionless side by side and listened to the thumping of the men’s boots and their raucous laughter echo down the hallway and onto the stairs.  Then Richard thrust his head out between the bed curtains and said, “We are alone.  You know what happens now.”

She nodded timidly.

Richard turned toward her, his erection pressed against her hip.  He placed his hand on her belly and drew it gently down to rest hesitantly between her legs.  He felt soft hair and a fold of warm flesh.  It seemed odd to him, foreign, although he’d known that was all he’d find there.  “Is my queen afraid?” he asked.

“No, my lord.”

He rolled onto her.  Anne cried out in once in pain, then caught her breath and held it, grimacing, her eyelids tightly shut and her lashes moist.

In the morning, a half-dozen notables examined the bloodstained sheets and declared themselves satisfied the marriage had been consummated.


 

~ 2 ~

Of al my lyf, syn that day I was born,
So gentil ple in love or other thyng
Ne herde nevere no man me beforn…
 

The celebrations continued over the next several days with banquets and tournaments.  With so many people in attendance, not all of whom maintained a residence or had kinsmen in London,  all the rooms in the White Tower and every keep within the outer walls were occupied.  One ran into nobles and servants coming and going from dawn to long after nightfall at every turn, and it was impossible to have a private conversation with anyone.  Richard could tell his friend de Vere was itching for a full account of his wedding night, which he was far from anxious to give.  He was determined to say very little, to couch his narration in general terms and skirt the details, but he knew Robert would be persistent.  He had rushed to tell Richard when he and Philippa at long last finally consummated their marriage and since then had never failed to inform him of every conquest and make a very juicy story of it.

When a week had gone by and they finally had a moment alone together, the lecherous smirk on de Vere’s face told the king that their conversation would go much as he had anticipated.

“By all accounts, His Majesty had good sport on his wedding night,” his friend began.

“Unless I am mistaken, the Earl of Oxford enjoyed himself no less.”

“I spent the night listening to Philippa’s snores.”

“Not with Lady Agnes?”

“Lady Agnes understands not a word of the languages I speak nor the language of the eyes.”

“And the language of the hands?”

“One doesn’t woo a woman with one’s hands; one simply takes,” de Vere stated bluntly .

“Meaning you grabbed her breasts and she slapped your face.”

“I did no such thing.  Lady Agnes is no kitchen wench.  I kept my hands to myself.”

“And palmed the ample mound of your codpiece.  That, too, is the language of the hands.  And she ignored it?  Poor Robert!  I’m sorry you were disappointed.  I was not.”

“The whole court knows the royal union was successful.  I hoped to hear more when I said you had good sport.  Did she weep?”

“She cried out once, then she bore it stoically.”

“Women who have yet to experience childbirth are less inured to pain than men who have felt the bite of the sword.”

“As you have, Robert.”

“Indeed, sire, and of the same sword.”

“And you did not cry out.  Do I hurt you as much as I did her?”

“At that I can only guess,” de Vere said, a twinkle in his eye.  “A man cannot know how something feels unless he has felt it himself.”

“So it would seem, yet your description of the pleasure you take with women gave me a fair idea of what it would be like.”

“And the other pleasure, Richard?”

“I’m not able to say, nor is it likely I ever will.  As for my wife, I mounted her twice.  It was enough—”

“Enough?” Robert interrupted with a lascivious leer.

“Enough to know you spoke the truth when you recounted your frolics in the bedchamber.”

“You’re pleased with her, then?”

“Anne is a gentle and pious soul.  She’ll make my children a good mother and my people will love her.”

“And you?  Do you love her as you love me?”

“She is dear to me, Robert, and I feel confident she’ll win my heart.”

“And your loins?  What makes your prick happier, a woman’s hole or a man’s?”

“I couldn’t say.  I’ve only two to compare.”

“Why should the two you’ve sampled differ from other people’s holes?  Compare.”

Richard smiled.  “I’m sure they’re not all the same.  I’d stake my crown that yours is the finest arse in kingdom.  Aye, and in France, too.”

“I asked your opinion on the holes, not their settings.  Tell me.”

“Once I had fully penetrated, hers did not hug me as tightly.  Come, come, you know all this.”

“Not I.  I’ve never fucked a man in the arse, much as I’d like to.”  Then he added, “Nor a woman, either.”

“Then you can surmise.  You know a woman’s softness and a man’s hardness.”

“I know your hardness.”

“And so does she.  What more do you want?”

“I want it all.”

“Are you trying to seduce me, Robert?  This is neither the time nor the place for that.”

“I want to hear about your lovemaking.  I always tell you my escapades, and you love hearing them.”

Richard rolled his eyes.  “I lay on top of her, as you do with Philippa and the others.  Her knees were raised, and her thighs hugged my hips.  You, I bend over and take from behind, so I only see your arse, but it’s a fine one.  Are you satisfied?”

“When you bend me over—always.  Did you see pleasure on her face when you took her?  You would if you could see mine.  Aye, and love, too.”

Seeing Robert expected an answer, Richard replied, “So you say.”

“Now tell me which you prefer: loose or snug.”

“I see your mind is still fixed on those two holes.  But before I answer, I’ll have to get to know hers better and refresh my memory of yours.”

“It’s enough to know you don’t intend to give mine up.”

“For the time being.”

Robert sulked, as if stung by the threat of rejection.  Richard saw through his pout.  They knew each other well enough for de Vere to recognize flirtation.  “Is my Robert jealous?” he teased.  “Very well.  If you must know, Anne is dutiful, Robert enthusiastic.”

With an exaggerated flourish, de Vere executed a bow.  “Anne is stoic, Robert enthusiastic.  He cries out in ecstasy, whereas she bites her lip in silence.  Your Majesty need say no more.  I know it appreciates my enthusiasm, revels in it.”

“I don’t deny it.  After we’ve spent, you ask me for a kiss.  Can you guess what Anne asked for?  A Bible.”

“A Bible?  Really?”

Richard nodded.  “To teach her English.  She’s a very pious woman.”

“All women are pious, be they Beguines or baggage,” Robert said scornfully.  “You need a man like me, dissolute and unashamed.”

Richard raised a finger to his friend’s lips.  “When we’re together, but discreet when others can see and hear.”

“Of necessity,” de Vere whispered, softly kissing the finger that silenced him. “Still, I spoke the truth.”

“You did, and I love you for it.  But you can’t bear me children, Robert.”

“I’d shit you heirs if it were possible.”

“For that you’d need to stay on your knees all day.  Don’t grin at me like that!  What a wicked mind you have.  I meant, praying.”

“I’ll pray on my knees and bend my head to kiss the ground six times a day.  When will I get on my knees and lower my shoulders for you?”

“When the opportunity arises,” Richard said, “as we always do.”

“Tell me again that you love me, Richard.”

“No man loves you more.”

“Nor does any man love his king more than I.”

Richard clasped his friend’s hands and kissed him gently on the cheek, murmuring as he did, “When the opportunity arises.  I promise.”

“And when will that be?”

“Not for a while, I fear.  The day after tomorrow I leave on a tour of the realm to show Anne our kingdom.  We may be gone a month or more.”

“There’s still time.”

“You’re not thinking of meeting in the park again, are you?  It’s midwinter!”

“In the hall where they wash the linens.  The night before you set out, everyone’s clothing will have been laundered and packed away for your journey.  Have Matthew prepare a bath for you.  Late.  I’ll come join you.”

Richard shook his head.  “Matthew will know of it,” he objected.

“I’ll wait until he’s gone to fetch you, and hide where he can’t see me.”

“He stays to scrub my back.”

“Let him, then, and dismiss him when he’s done.  Tell him your limbs are sore and you want to soak for an hour.  I’ll wash the rest of you.”

“I don’t know; it’s chancy.  Anyone could come by and find us.”

De Vere would not be dissuaded.  “What will they find?   Two friends sharing a bath.”

“Two naked friends.”

“Two naked friends yards apart on either side of the vat.  Where’s the harm in that?  We’ll hear the noise of their boots resounding on the stairs and along the corridor long before they get there.  It echoes like in a cavern.  Say that you agree, ” he pressed.  “Please, Richard?”

“All right.  Tomorrow night, one hour after compline.  But be careful.”

* * * *

After compline, the king and queen retired to their chambers.  “We’ll work on your English a while before we sleep,” he told her.

“But we set out early tomorrow and need our rest.  The past week has been hectic.”

“Not for long,” he explained.  “I’ve asked Matthew to draw me a bath.  When it’s ready, I’ll leave you, and your serving women can make you ready for bed.”

He led her to the table, where a Book of Hours with exquisite illuminations lay open.  They were using it to study until Anne’s copy of Wycliffe’s Gospels was ready.  Richard would point to the pictures, tell her names of the objects and actions the artist had drawn, and she wrote the words on a tablet.

He had begun by teaching her the vocabulary of armor, weapons, and jousting so she could practice speaking at the tournaments.  (If she remembered those words from the ribald jesting on her wedding night, she didn’t show it.)  Tonight  he would devote the lesson to the flora and fauna decorating the margins.

“Thistle,” he said.  “No.  T-H-I—”

“But you said ‘sisstil’.  Why is it spelled with a T when it begins with an S?”

“Thistle,” he repeated, exaggerating the TH.  “Don’t you remember?  I’ve taught you many words with that sound—thigh, thick, thorn, threshold…”

Anne smiled, crossed herself, and pressed her palms together as in prayer.  “Also, ‘Thanks be to God.’”

Then Matthew knocked on the door and told the king his bath was waiting for him.

The air in the laundry room was chilly.  A massive cauldron of hot water hung in the great fireplace, large enough to fit four men, but the flames that licked the logs did little to warm the bare walls and stone floor of the room.  So the king would not have to go barefoot, a joint stool had been set on a thick carpet beside the huge vat, ten feet in diameter, with sides that reached to Richard’s armpits.  It was filled to waist height with hot water and covered with a sheet to keep in the steam, folded back a foot or two at the end by the stool.

Richard undressed hurriedly in the cold and sat while Matthew washed his hair, a heavy quilt covering his legs.  He leant over a basin and Matthew poured a bucket of water over his head to rinse out the soap before he scrubbed the king’s back.  Then he stepped to the side to let Richard wash the rest of his body.

“You may go now, ,” he told his servant, “and leave me to soak in the tub.  Return for me in half an hour with warm towels.”

Matthew lifted the stool into the vat, then he threw more logs on the fire and filled the bucket from the cauldron.  He folded back the sheet at the far end of the tub a few inches and poured in three buckets of scalding water.

Richard waited a few moments after he had gone.  Thinking de Vere was hiding in the corridor, he quickly crossed the icy floor and peered out the door.  “Robert?” he whispered.

No answer.  Either his friend had not yet arrived or would not come at all.  He hoped he would be there soon.  They had only half an hour.  He hurried back to the carpet, climbed into the vat, and sat, closing his eyes and leaning back, surrounded by blissfully hot water up to his neck.

Richard nearly jumped out of the vat in surprise when he felt his friend’s hands stroke his legs.  Robert had concealed himself beneath the sheet.  Clever man, he thought.

Still submerged, Robert leaned into him and took his cock in his mouth.  He kept his head under water so long that Richard wondered if the man meant to drown himself to pleasure his sovereign.  At last he rose, gasping for breath, his beard dripping and his face flushed from the steam.  “Where did you hide your clothes?” Richard asked.

“Beneath the rug, spread out so they wouldn’t make a lump.”  Then he ducked back under the water and resumed sucking his friend to erection, swirling his tongue around the length of his shaft.

When he surfaced for a second time, he asked for the soap.

“Lying next to the bath.”

Robert climbed out and soaped his hole to make it slippery, then climbed back in and straddled Richard’s lap, facing him.  “So you can watch me as you do your wife,” he said, slowly lowering himself onto Richard’s hardness.  “It stings a bit at first, but once you’re in me…”  He released a long breath as Richard filled him.  “…by all God’s saints, you feel good inside me!”

He moved up and down on Richard’s shaft while Richard thrust into him.  His eyes glazed over and a low moan escaped his lips.  Richard placed his hand over his mouth to silence him.

“Hush.  The echoes.”

 Richard and Robert Rowan Lewgalon

Robert buried his face against Richard’s shoulder to muffle his cries.  Richard drew him close against his chest and held him in a firm embrace while they fucked, Robert’s erection rubbing on his belly as they moved.

Robert clenched his buttocks but did not ejaculate when Richard’s seed spurted inside him.  He sat back, still impaled, and caressed Richard’s hair until the waves of orgasm subsided.  Then they kissed.

“You do love it, don’t you?” Richard observed.

“I love you.  And Richard, you cannot begin to imagine how wonderful it is.  You should try it sometime.  You should try it now.”

Richard shook his head.  “I’ll not deny I’m curious, but no.  Not now, not ever.  It’s beneath the dignity of a king to give himself to one of his subjects.”

Smiling wickedly, Robert asked, “Is it also beneath his dignity to let his subject kiss his arse?”

“Are you serious?  What about your dignity?”

“A plague on my dignity!  Kneel on the  stool and I’ll show you how I worship you.”

Kneeling on the stool with his arms resting on the rim of the vat raised Richard’s posterior above the water.  Robert placed a kiss on the base of his spine, trailed a line of kisses down his furrow, then pulled the cheeks apart and swiped his tongue across the tiny, wrinkled opening.

It felt odd, somewhat intrusive, but extremely pleasurable.  Richard relaxed and laid his cheek on his crossed arms, sighing as Robert continued licking and sucking, his lips pressed against his hole.  His flaccid penis stiffened when Robert pushed the tip of his tongue into his hole.  In mere moments it was as hard as it been when buried deep inside his lover.

Robert withdrew his tongue and, still licking between his buttocks, carefully slid the tip of a finger into Richard’s hole.

Richard’s body jerked forward and he braced his hands on the tub to rise from the stool.  “How dare—”

“Calm yourself, and trust me,” Robert reassured him, pressing him gently back into position.  “I’ll not mount you.  It’s only a finger.  Nothing your physician mightn’t do.”

Might do.  He never has.”

“I’m not hurting you, am I?”

“No.”

“Then trust me.”

He pushed his finger back inside, slid it deeper, and Richard felt a warm glow in his vitals that rushed like a torrent in all directions, filling his body with unbearable delight.  He fell forward, grasping the side of the vat to keep his balance, and had to force himself not to thrust back onto the finger that impaled him.

God’s blood and belly, he thought, I could spend without him touching my prick!  And with just one finger!  If a prick feels half as good, I’d let him fuck me, and my soul be damned!

The sound of boots outside the hall sent Robert scurrying back under the sheet as the Duke of Lancaster strode into the room.

Richard stood, moving close to the side of the tub to conceal his erection.  “Have you also come to bathe, uncle?” he asked.

“No, to speak with you.  I came upon Matthew when I left Mistress Swynford’s room and he told me you were here.  There’s a matter that concerns me and I thought the moment to broach it ripe, knowing I’d find you alone.”

“What matter uncle?”

“Your friend de Vere.  He slights my niece in public and sniffs at Lady Agnes’s skirts like a pig hunting truffles.  Order him to stop.”

“Order him?”

“As his sovereign liege.”

“Our subjects owe us loyalty and service.  Where, how and with whom they pursue sexual pleasure is not our affair.”

“That they act courteously and show proper respect to other men of rank is very much Your Majesty’s affair if he would maintain peace in his court,” John countered.  Though obviously peeved, he took the hint and abandoned the second person pronoun.  “The Earl of Oxford is not well liked.  You should choose your favorites more wisely.”

“Robert amuses me.  I enjoy his company.”

“Is his own amusement a king’s highest priority?”

“He is a loyal and trusted friend and dear to me.”

“The earl seeks only his own advancement.  He would kiss your arse if you asked him to.”

“Indeed?  Shall I command him to do so and see if you are right?”

“I’ll not bandy words with you, nephew—”

“Nephew?”

“Sire.”  The duke bowed.  “You’ll discover in time that I’m a more loyal subject than he.”

“Is that all?  I mean, what you wished to tell me.”

“That is all.  Remember, however, although a king is not required obey his counselors, he should at least listen to them.”

“A young king.”

“Yes, a very young king.  I’ve said my piece; now, with your permission, I’ll leave you.”

“You have our permission.  Good night, uncle.  Sleep well.”

“You heard him, Robert,” the king said when he was sure John was out of earshot.

De Vere came out from under the sheet and stood, self-assured and defiant.  “I did.  Meddling old badger!  He eases his loins in his mistress’s cunt then comes to rail about me.”

“Don’t underestimate his wrath, Robert.  He’s the most powerful in the realm after me.”

“After you.  I put my faith in your love.”  He moved forward, opening his arms for a kiss.

“I must go,” Richard said coldly.  “Matthew will be here shortly.”

“But… but I haven’t spent yet.”

“You have Philippa.”

De Vere opened his mouth to protest, but Richard shook his head.  “Quick, duck beneath the sheet.  Matthew.  I hear him coming.”

Is my uncle right? Richard mused on the way to his room.  Is it only advancement Robert seeks?  Or is it pleasure?  Either way, he would use me.  No, I’ll not give him up.  I believe he truly does love me—he always has—and wants to please me as I do him.  If only I were sure of him!  But how can I be when I don’t even know what I want myself?

Indeed, that was the question: Yes, they would remain lovers, but would he surrender his arse?  His head said he would not; his heart was of two minds.  He acknowledged his desires, but felt confident he could deny them if he chose to.  Robert, though—could he deny his lover if he begged him for it?

* * * *

But brekers of the lawe, soth to seyne,
And likerous folk, after that they ben dede,
Shul whirle aboute th’erthe alwey in peyne.
 

Historical Note:

The first undisputable association of Valentine’s Day with lovers occurs in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules, a tongue-in-cheek dream vision in which the birds of the world gather in a garden behind the temple of Venus on that day to choose their mates.  Only later does the legend emerge that the Emperor Claudius II (reigned 268-270 A.D.) had the priest Valentinus executed for secretly marrying Christian couples.

That Chaucer wrote his poem to celebrate the betrothal (not their marriage, as in my story) of Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia is far from certain.  The identification of the three tercels with Anne’s three suitors does not quite fit the dating, but it appears the most satisfactory of all the explanations offered so far if the poem is, in fact, a political allegory.

The wedding took place on January 22, 1382.  Richard had been king for five years and, though but fifteen years old, had established his ability to rule the year before, when he confronted Wat Tyler at Smithfield and suppressed the Great Revolt.  Most of the nobility had opposed the match because it did little to strengthen England’s position in Europe and afforded few economic advantages.  Anne’s father, Emperor Charles IV, could provide no dowry.  Still, the marriage was by all reports a happy one and in time Anne came to be well loved by her people.  Her early death caused Richard inordinate grief.

Under normal circumstances, Richard’s uncle, the powerful John of Gaunt, would have governed England as regent during the king’s minority, but it was widely suspected John had his eye on the throne, and instead an Advisory Council was appointed.  Later events suggest that John sincerely wanted to uphold the integrity of the royal line, for while he lived he made every effort to convince the headstrong king to act with moderation and pacify the nobility when he stepped on any toes other than John’s own.

While Richard’s defiance of the Council in his choice of queen had no immediate repercussions, we may see it as the first in a series of ever more virulent disagreements that would lead to his deposition by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke seventeen years later.

Another bone of contention was the excessive influence certain younger nobles had on the king, in particular Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, whom he appointed Lord Chamberlain of England four years after this story takes place.  The nobility resented de Vere because Richard conferred distinctions on his favorite hitherto reserved for persons of royal blood, and John of Gaunt took offense when de Vere divorced his niece, Philippa de Coucy to marry Agnes de Launcekrona.

The contemporary chronicles of Thomas Walsingham and Adam of Usk, both highly critical of the king and ruthless in their condemnation of de Vere, speak of sexual involvement, and it appears certain that many of Richard’s enemies believed the accusation.  It would be surprising if no one had drawn a parallel with the deposed Edward II and his relationships with Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser.  While most scholars today reject the possibility, their arguments are anything but conclusive.  True, Richard’s almost feminine beauty has no bearing on his supposed sexuality, but neither do his love for his wife, his piety, nor de Vere’s reputation as a womanizer.  The fact that Anne of Bohemia did not once become pregnant in twelve years of marriage—some go so far as to suggest their marriage was never consummated—proves nothing, and Richard’s devotion to her may explain why he fathered no illegitimate children.  On the other hand, although he had no heir, he chose as his second wife Isabella of France, a six-year-old girl with whom he could not legally have intercourse for six more years.  That, at least, is grounds for suspicion.

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