The young Frenchman in blue stared at the English Duke,
as if willing him to rise to the bait. Then, when he got no
response, he went on, very deliberately and insultingly, ‘The
late lamented King Richard II of England, who died by God
knows whose orders.’
The silence deepened. No one did know how the deposed
English King had died. The Duke of Clarence let his eyes rise
to those of the French Prince. The Frenchman let a taunting
half-smile flicker on his thin face. Everyone in the room seemed
to stop breathing. The Duke’s face went red. He’d clearly
forgotten all about being diplomatic with the French. He just
wanted to hit the sneering Frenchman. With muscles tightening
everywhere, he took a threatening step forward.
Owain flinched and looked down.
But, even while staring fixedly at his knees and the forgotten
casket he was hugging, he was aware of the Princess just next
to him. Now, unexpectedly, he felt her move into the middle
of the fray.
Hardly seeming to know what she was doing, the Princess
grabbed the Duke’s swinging arm, then swiftly turned that
movement into a trusting gesture, putting his muscly limb with
its clenched fist through her thin green-covered arm, and turning
him gently but firmly away from the doorway and back towards
the French Queen.
The Duke looked at her in dull surprise, but he let himself
be turned. The Princess said, very quickly, in a voice so tense
with suppressed panic that it somehow came out gay and
flirtatious, ‘Sir, if it please God and my lord father and my
lady mother, I will very willingly be your mistress and the
Queen of England.’
Owain looked up, impressed by the Princess’s bravery. She’d
brought the Duke right back to the French Queen’s feet.
Looking to her mother for approval, and getting a brief nod,
she went on, in a less formal way, with the beginning of
laughter that might have been caused by relief in her throat,
‘After all, I’ve always been told I’d be a great lady one day.’
The Duke seemed to be adjusting only slowly to the change
in tempo. He looked from the Princess to her mother. He
glanced over to the doorway, where the Princess’s older brother,
if that was who the insulting Frenchman was, was also staring
open-mouthed at the girl. Then, very slowly, his head began
to nod. Up, down, up, down. He was still thinking. It seemed
hours before his mouth opened and a great choking guffaw
of a laugh came out.
He didn’t laugh alone for more than a second. The whole
hall filled with a wolf-pack’s howling; mirth and the release
of fear mixed. The French Queen was cackling so hard her
whole body was wobbling with it. She was so pleased with
the way things were turning out that she didn’t even notice
her pet squirrel grab the sweetmeat on her golden saucer and
start chewing at it, sitting on its hind legs, watching the
spectacle with bright round eyes. And all the French officials
were giving their Princess soft, thankful looks as they snuffled
into their hands.
It was the first time she had really understood what it meant
to be Princess Catherine de Valois: that people would listen. It
was the first time she had ever exercised any sort of power.
It was the most exciting thing she’d ever done. Her heart was
racing. There was blood drumming a tattoo in her ears.
Ignoring the baleful look her eldest brother Louis was giving
her from the doorway, and the baleful look her mother was
giving Louis from her carved chair – there’d be trouble between
the two of them soon enough – Catherine breathed in deeply
and let herself enjoy the laughter that meant her words had
saved the day.
Then she looked down. The poor English page was still
kneeling there, holding that casket. The English Duke had
forgotten all about him. The handsome boy with blue eyes and
floppy dark hair was gazing at her with the same soft, adoring
look everyone was giving her now, but he was obviously also
longing to get up off his knees and rush back off to the shadows.
But she could do anything today. She could cut his agony short;
she could save him too.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...