During the months of silence I told myself I had mended my heart. I had made a mistake with Richard, one I would be sure not to repeat in the future. I put away all foolish thoughts of love and marriage, all dreams of a future for Richard and me. Mended, indeed. Then one day as I sat rolling my eyes listening to my mother and her friend complain about their children, I received a letter that changed everything. It was from Joan but I noticed at once that the man delivering it was one of Richard’s soldiers. I went straight to my chambers and I read the words on the page three or four times before I could fully comprehend the message they conveyed. Joan was instructed, it seemed, to tell me that her brother was meeting with his mother to discuss our potential union and when this business was finished he was returning to London, to me. After two months of nothing, two months of picking up the pieces of an illusion he shattered when he left, he used my dearest friend to send me news that turned everything upside down. “You bastard!” I shouted.
Suddenly my room felt too small, as if the walls were closing in on me. My heart was pounding, my palms were sweating, and it was impossible to breathe. Still carrying the damned letter I rushed downstairs and out the door. Eventually my breath returned to normal and my heart slowed but I had so much to think about. I knew if I went back inside mother would question me about Joan and I could not tell her about the letter when I was unsure that I wanted to accept Richard’s proposal. So I fled to the barn where I first decided to remain alone all my life hoping to find a reason to hold on to the lesson I once learned there.
Climbing the ladder to the loft inside the structure, I opened the small bit of wood covering the only window and again I read the pages in my hand as I considered the disappointment I felt in myself for ever loving Richard in the first place. This marriage would be a flat out betrayal of everything I believed in. But whether I liked it or not, I loved the bastard and refusing his offer would betray that love. So who would lose? That was what it all came down to. Richard or me: who would I stay true to?
I wept silent tears as I remembered the heartbreak I felt when I woke up and he was gone. I thought once more of Eleanor in her castle prison knowing too well the circumstances surrounding the revolt she planned, the one Richard and his older brother carried out unsuccessfully. King Henry spun the story to make it seem as if his wife had turned against him for political gain and Eleanor herself would’ve told the same fable had she been asked because she was too proud to admit the truth. Her husband flaunted his mistress all over England and in doing so, he broke her heart. So she planned her revenge. That was where her love had led her. Again I asked myself if loving her son might not lead me straight to such an end. I wouldn’t tolerate mistresses or mistreatment. I was nothing like women of my time. And I had the sort of temper that could drive me toward destroying myself in an attempt to get revenge if he ever wronged me in a way that was unforgivable…
“Is all well, Miss? I can see that you’ve been crying. Are you in need of some assistance?”
I looked up into a pair of piercing blue eyes. I had seen this man around our estate a few times but he wasn’t one of father’s men that I knew well. I didn’t even know his name. But he had a face that was striking, handsome, honest. Wiping away the last of my tears, I folded up the letter and put it in my pocket as I smiled. “I am alright. No assistance is needed, thank you.”
“You look familiar. Are you part of the serving staff?”
While it wasn’t uncommon for me to spend time around those who worked for my family, something told me that the truth of my identity would scare this man away. So I replied, “Aye, I am. Marie is my name.”
Extending his hand to take my own, he smiled. “I am Drake. My work for the day is finished so if you need someone to talk to, I would be happy to listen to your troubles. I find that it is sometimes easier to find a solution to a problem when you have the opinion of an outsider to consider.”
“You may sit.” I said softly.
He took a place at my side, moving so close that our arms touched. It wasn’t my troubles we discussed that afternoon. In fact, I listened more than I spoke. But I found that I enjoyed talking to him and it eased my mind to listen to his tales of working his way through England in his attempt to reach Italy. I liked his stories as much as I liked his smile. So when at last we parted, I accepted his invitation to meet again at the same place and time the following day.
In the weeks that followed a physical relationship began between us. I was on a quest to prove to myself that I belonged to no man and while I liked Drake, he was really just a tool being used to that end. I say that not out of anger toward what came later but because it was the truth then. I felt no guilt. There was no thought for consequences. I never dreamed he cared for me and I did not bother to ask. I believed we had the same intentions for our visits; sex and nothing more. My assumption while we were carrying out our affair was that he would eventually move on and I would eventually face the choice that I had to make concerning Richard’s offer.
It was Christmas Eve when the Prince arrived. Since learning of his plan to return to me, I had played the moment our eyes met again over and over in my mind and always in my musings I had the strength to be cold, aloof, disinterested. Reality was another story. He sent riders ahead to tell us he was coming and mother gathered me along with half the household staff to greet him at the door. I had no idea that she knew the secret I had kept from her, that she and father were given all the details after Eleanor gave her consent. I expected only formalities to pass between Richard and me when he arrived and as I stood beside my mother waiting, as I heard his boots on the porch and his voice answering my father, I thought I still had time to consider things. I was shocked when he came in, bowed to mother, and took me in his arms. All thoughts of a dilemma escaped me. Any resolve to deny him fled. This was my love. If it was marriage he wanted, it was marriage I would give him. “I missed you, sweet girl. I am sorry for my departure before. I couldn’t stand to face you and say goodbye.”
Clinging to him as the crowd around us dispersed quickly, I whispered, “I missed you too, you bastard.”
I was paying no mind to those bringing in Richard’s things. I had even forgotten my own parents. For a little while there was nothing, no one, except Richard and me. I learned later that Drake saw this happy reunion of ours, that he left the estate immediately. He learned my identity and he realized I belonged to the prince second in line to the throne all at once but I still felt no remorse for the way I had treated him when I heard he had gone. I hadn’t the time to consider anything at all even if I wanted to. From the moment Richard arrived I was thrown into the eye of a furious storm and Drake was completely forgotten.
After a large meal where we were all entertained with stories of Richard’s travels since he left us, my parents followed us into the Great Hall only to chaperon while Richard sat sullen in a chair at my side. The room around us was silent for so long that when he stood up, I jumped. “I spoke with my mother about our betrothal out of love and respect for her. She has no authority anymore to consent to or reject anything officially as I am sure you know.”
He looked at me so I replied softly, “I do, yes.” I had no idea where this conversation was going.
“It is Henry’s approval I must have officially. When I was no more than an infant my parents promised me in marriage to a princess of a small country miles away and he must agree to let me out of that promise. I would need his consent even if there wasn’t an agreement of that nature simply because I have the great misfortune of being his son. Your father has graciously offered to come with me to speak to him. Ordinarily, he would consent to this union at once, given his fondness for your family. He would pay a few pieces of gold to the family of the princess and that would be the end of it. But given the state of our relationship right now, I do not think that even his love for your parents will make him forget our mutual hatred. Before I face him I must first be sure that this is what you want.” In a move that was quite out of character for him, he kneeled before me and took my hand, kissing it gently. “Ma cherie, is this what you want? You would be marrying into a royal family, the most powerful family in the Continent, and it is a family full of turmoil. I would die to protect you from anything but I cannot promise you an easy union. Are you willing to carry these burdens if they fall upon you? I would understand if you are not. I would give the world at times to escape it myself.”
He was handing me my reason to say no, my chance to stay true to my ideals, but my ideals meant nothing as I looked into his eyes. “This is what I want. I’ve known it all my life. If I am to ever take a husband, you are the only man I could imagine becoming a wife for. I have always loved you, Richard.”
His smile was so warm and genuine and in that moment I realized he hadn’t been sure that I would say yes at all. “That was what I wanted to hear, my girl. In the morning we’re riding into the city.” Looking over my shoulder at my parents who were still sitting behind us, he asked, “A kiss for good luck?” They must have consented because he pulled my head down and kissed me in a way that took my breath. Touching his forehead to mine, he whispered, “May I come to you tonight?” All I could do was nod. I hadn’t the strength for words.
I went to bed early and I waited there for my beloved to come. Every small sound made me sit up in anticipation until I thought he had changed his mind altogether. It was then that I heard a small rap at my door and finally the turning of my knob. “Rapunzel with her long dark hair/ kind and brave with beauty fair/She’ll haunt me in the moonlight glare/and I’ll shun the world to find her there.” He recited as he walked toward the bed. I giggled girlishly at this little poem of his and I grinned as he bowed to me. “Did you miss me, my love?”
“You know I did, you fool. Now come here so I may show you just how deeply I felt your absence.”
He was so tense, so nervous. He wouldn’t say it but I felt it in each spot I touched and it frightened me. Richard was unshakeable always and I felt like there was something to fear if he was so worried but I asked no questions and he gave no answers. Instead we spent hours in each other’s arms talking and touching, thinking not of the past or the future but only of the present. When at last he left me there alone I forgot everything I sensed in him earlier. I did not dwell on the idea that we would soon be wed or that his father could put a stop to that. I thought only of love and sleep.
When I awoke I heard the usual Christmas day excitement all around me. Knowing I would soon be off to Mass, I picked out the most boring dress I owned and then I made my way downstairs. As I walked I realized the household staff had heard the news and they were all talking about my impending nuptials. Ignoring the cold fear that their chatter inspired, I went into the Great Hall and smiled to see Richard standing by the fire. He didn’t hear me come in but he held me tight against him as soon as he saw me. “Is all well?” I asked softly.
“I dread what I must do today. For something less important I would never go to him. He will want to hear that I feel I was wrong in participating in the revolt, that mother made me do it, and that I am heartily sorry for it all. I want to see him dead. Yet I am resolved to do what I must in order to get the answer I want. I would tell him anything if it meant spending my life with you. But there is a chance I will say all the right things to no avail. Should that happen…”
“We won’t be able to marry.” I finished for him.
“Oh, we’ll marry. But let’s not worry about any of that unless the meeting doesn’t go well and we have a reason to worry. Your mother told me you are going to Mass in the city this morning. I know you really do not care about God one way or the other but I do and I will be engaged most of the day. Will you do me a kindness?”
Holding me at arm’s length, he bore into me with his eyes as he whispered passionately, “Pray for me. Pray for what I’ve done and what I may have to do before this is finished.”
A shiver ran down my spine at those words and I pondered them as I sat in our family’s pew an hour later. Truthfully, that cryptic message did not leave me the rest of the day. As evening fell across the house I sat by the fire waiting for word, hoping for the best, and fearing the worst. My answer was given to me in a simple slamming of the front door. The slam had Richard’s temper written all over it and I knew that nothing about his day had gone as he planned. No one followed him in as he sat at my side and though I knew what he would say I waited patiently just the same to hear it. “He said no, Rapunzel. He has demanded I honor my original betrothal agreement and he has even demanded it be honored a year earlier than originally declared. He has threatened to charge us both with treason should we try to find a church and a clergyman in the land willing to preside over a wedding and he told me he will put us both to death. He has forgiven me no more than I have forgiven him and all the make-believe remorse in the world couldn’t persuade him to change his mind. I am so sorry.”
Although I hadn’t been sure that I wanted any of this just two days earlier, I was suddenly enraged that he would give it all up so easily. “So that’s it, then? Prince Richard, the man with the heart of a lion on the battle field, has returned to tell me he has been defeated and he intends to simply accept it? Like hell! What is the matter with you?”
“On a battle field the life of the woman I love is not at stake, you spoiled girl! If he had threatened my life alone we would be heading toward the Aquitaine in the morning but I believe he will do exactly what he said he would if we get married and I will not risk your life for any cause! It isn’t worth it! Christ, I shouldn’t have to explain this to you!” He shouted in return.
By this point the two of us were standing toe to toe, neither of us backing down on our positions. He was always an admirable opponent but I would win this fight at any cost. I had already made up my mind on that. “If it isn’t worth it to you than perhaps you are right. I will risk my life to marry a man who would do anything to have my love but I will not risk my life for someone who looks me in the eye and tells me that having my hand in marriage isn’t worth it, you bastard!”
“Goddamn it, that is not what I meant!” Slamming his hand down on the mantle hard enough to shake the glass of the mirror above it, he sighed in a way that filled the room. “How do you expect me to go to your father and ask that he let you come with me when he heard what Henry said? It is one thing to ask for your hand. It is quite another to ask for your life! Yes, we could go to the Aquitaine where the people are loyal to my mother and we could hide for a while in Salisbury. I meant what I said last night. I would die to protect you. But even with the loyalty of my mother’s people and my protection there is no guarantee that you will survive this. Your father knows that. He will most likely agree to let you go because he knows of our love but can you really expect me to ask that of him?”
“I will ask him myself if that is your problem. I do not want to die on this adventure of ours but I am not blind. I know how it feels to love and be loved. I know how it hurt when you left me. You can call it what you will but I know it is true that my life means little if I cannot spend it with you. I’ve known other men, Richard. I’ve had suitors and offers and I’ve been paraded around like a pony only to reject everyone because I was yours long before you were mine and I could not forget that even when I thought you would never feel the same way. I was biding my time, waiting for something to happen, waiting for my life to start while you were out seeing the world. So if I die doing this at least I will die being true to myself. Denying me that would be the same as me keeping you from battle. Would you stand for such a thing?”
“You truly mean this, don’t you?” He questioned in a tone that was full of quiet rage.
“I truly do!” I declared.
Instead of saying anything more, he turned his back on me and walked away just as my father came into the room. I watched as he went to Richard and I listened without understanding as the two conversed in French. I knew Richard was telling him all I had said by the way he raised his voice and gestured toward me and I thought my father would take his side on the matter. Richard may have believed my father would consent to my plan but I did not think for a moment that such a thing would happen. I was his only daughter. While my brother was the one who would carry on his name and inherit his legacy, I was his favorite child. So when he walked over to me and I saw the tears in his eyes I thought the tears were for my pain, that he was sorry he had to deny me the man I loved. Putting his hands on my cheeks, he smiled. “Ah, my baby, what a mess. But all will be well in the end. I just know it. God Himself smiled down on us the day you were born. He’ll watch after you when your mother and I cannot.”
“Watch after me?” I asked but father said no more as he walked out. “What is he talking about, Richard? What’s he saying?”
Turning toward me at last, Richard replied simply, “He’s saying you’ve won.” I watched him walk out as well and I continued to stand there trying to process the events of the past hour.
Richard did not come down for dinner but he sent mother with a message for me, that we were leaving first thing in the morning for our journey to the Aquitaine. “What do you make of all this?” I asked her. The expression on her face was breaking my heart and I feared we had all hurt her by not asking her opinion before our decision was made. To lighten things when she didn’t speak, I touched her shoulder and said with a smile, “Your wretched daughter is going to be a princess.”
“And at what cost?”
“Mother!” I called to her as she walked away from me.
When she turned around I saw that she was crying and suddenly she seemed so small, so fragile. “You love him and I believe he loves you. If I did not believe that, you would not leave here with morning’s light, I assure you. But love makes us blind, Rapunzel. Love makes us careless. For the sake of your happiness I will not stop the two of you from doing this thing but for my sake, I hope you do not face his father’s wrath because of it. I have lost enough of my children. I could not bury another without digging a hole for myself. Remember that as you travel. Remember who you are up against. Be ever mindful of that man’s power. He defeated Richard once, you know. I give you my blessing for the wedding I cannot attend but I cannot put a smile on my face and pretend as if all is well when your father and I may have just consented to your execution. I’ll return in a moment. I must make sure the food is ready.”
I sat down as my father and brother came in and I tried to smile at my brother’s congratulatory words. But it was hard to do when I knew that somewhere in the house my mother was weeping with fear that she would never see me alive again. If I could have walked away from the plan I had pushed on everyone without regret, I would have then. If I could have called up the resolve of my old self and told Richard to marry another instead, I would have marched up to his chambers at once. But I could not. My love was too strong, his spell over me too powerful, to simply walk away.
“I didn’t think you would come to me tonight. Are you still angry with me?”
I watched as Richard gently closed my door behind him before he walked over to the bed, standing as if he himself couldn’t believe he had come. “Yes, I am. I am angry with you, with my father, with this entire predicament. But I didn’t sneak in to talk about my anger. Have you changed your mind about leaving with me yet?”
“No.” I replied.
“I’ve changed my mind about taking you away a hundred times since I agreed to it. But each time I do I think of leaving here and marrying another, of never seeing you again, and I know I cannot do it. Your mother won’t even look at me. She walks out of the room each time your father tries to assure her all will be fine. I’ve always considered myself a man of honor but if that were true, I would do the right thing no matter how painful and I would walk away from this. I am not a man who fears a fight. Even in the revolt I felt no fear. I am looking at you and telling you I am afraid of how this will end. I am afraid you will never see your family again, that you will die before you can return. I feel it. So I ask you again, are you sure you don’t want to change your mind?”
Without a thought, I replied, “And I say again, I will not change my mind.”
Nodding his head as if he suspected as much, he took my hand and kissed it. “Very well, then, my love. I will see you with the first light of dawn. Sleep well.” And with that he simply walked out.
I awoke with a start, feeling a sense of nervous tension lodged in my stomach. It took me a moment to realize that this feeling was attached to the fact that this was the last morning I would wake up in the only bed I had ever known. For better or worse, I would soon leave my home behind and if my situation did take a turn for the worst, I would never return. But there was no time to dwell on this startling realization. Moments after my eyes opened, my maid came in reciting Richard’s request that I ready myself for the journey as soon as possible. As she packed a few of my best gowns for the trip, I dressed, attempting to ignore the shaking of my hands.
I was surprised when my mother came in, dismissing my maid at once. I had assumed she would be waiting for me downstairs with Richard and my father. When I looked at her face I was startled by its appearance. Her eyes were bloodshot from weeping all night, her skin was pale, and there were dark circles under her eyes. She hadn’t slept a wink the night before. That was apparent. So was the worry she carried still. “Mother, I am so sorry. I am. If there was any other way…I never meant to do you harm. But I love him so much.”
Smiling softly, she put her hands on my face. “I know, my dear, I know. I came in to say my goodbyes to you. I cannot watch you go. I simply can’t. You understand, don’t you?”
“I do.” I replied, touching her shoulder gently.
Kissing my cheeks, she clasped my hands in hers as her eyes filled once more with tears. “I want only happiness for you, my baby. I will pray for that. But above all, I want you to return to us safe and sound. That’s an order. Do not defy me this time, Rapunzel Winchester! You come home to us, do you hear me?”
I could do nothing as she grabbed me and held me tightly to her. All of my life she had always seemed so strong, even cold at times. To see her in such a state broke my heart. “I will come home as soon as I can and I will walk through those doors in one piece. I promise you that. I love you, mother.”
“And I love you…more than anything. I am proud of you for fighting this way for what you want. But I will fear for you until I see you safely home.”
With that she smiled and walked away. Later, father tried to persuade her to come downstairs and see us off but she locked the bedchamber door and she refused his request that she get out of bed. Her last words to me were running through my mind as Richard helped me onto the back of his steed and when I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t have to watch us ride away, mother’s worried face was what I saw. I couldn’t stop the tears that came but I hoped that the cold wind whipping up around us would blow them away before Richard noticed them.
When we stopped at an inn for the night, my betrothed was very quiet. He hardly said a word to me as we ate our supper and when we went upstairs, I expected him to go straight to his own room. He had been so distant toward me since we made our plans to marry. But in my room he sat across from me in a chair saying nothing for the longest time and when he did break his silence, his words infuriated me. “It isn’t too late to turn around, you know. I could have you back at your parents’ house by this time tomorrow if that is what you want.”
“What the hell makes you think that’s what I want?” I questioned.
“A woman sure of the path she’s on doesn’t spend an entire day weeping as she heads towards what she wants. I heard you. Thrice I thought about turning around as I listened to your muffled tears. Clearly you are unhappy.”
“I just left behind my family, my home, all I’ve ever known! Of course I wept! My tears had nothing to do with you, with us. If I wanted to turn back, I would tell you as much, damn it! How typical of you to assume that what I was feeling had everything to do with you! I left behind a mother who was so upset by my departure that she couldn’t get out of bed, Richard! She believes she will never see me again and she may be right. So yes, I wept. But still I let you go on. I am quite sure of my path. You are the one who seems to doubt it.” I countered.
For a moment he said nothing but his eyes were locked on mine as if he were trying to read my mind or touch my very soul. His voice softened considerably when he replied, “I doubt nothing. Damn you, can you not see that I am blinded by my love for you? If I were thinking rationally, we wouldn’t be here. What I’ve done by agreeing to this is the same as leading you straight on to a battlefield. Yet I cannot doubt that this is the right thing. I apologize for the misunderstanding. We’ll ride out first thing in the morning.”
“Richard!” I called out, annoyed, as he walked away.
Turning around only briefly, he said, “I love you, my girl.” before he left the room.
After a restless night I awoke at Richard’s insistence feeling rather confused and alone. However, as we talked over our morning meal, it was clear that whatever was bothering Richard the night before had passed. In fact, he was softer toward me completely and while I pondered the change, I didn’t question it. On we rode for what seemed like an eternity and with each village we passed, my thoughts of mother’s fears faded. The sorrow of leaving was replaced with excitement for the future. I held tighter to Richard as we rode on and I held tighter to the hopes I had formed as well.
After crossing the Channel into France, Richard relaxed considerably. Though he was an English prince, it was France that he truly loved and it was there amongst his mother’s people that he felt most at home. I couldn’t understand the language but I was taken with the beauty I saw all around me. When we arrived in the Aquitaine Richard insisted upon giving me a full tour before we went to his mother’s estate where we were to stay. I saw his pride in the place as he told me that the land around us would one day pass on to him and that he wanted us to raise our children there. With his mother’s estate looming before us as he spoke of this, he became somber suddenly and then he surprised me by stopping the horse. “We must have a son, Rapunzel. I cannot put the burden of this place on the shoulders of a daughter. I would rather have no children at all.”
I couldn’t believe him! I was enraged as I demanded, “You had better take that back at once or I will leave this place and go home. I would rather have no husband at all than to marry a man who doesn’t want a daughter should that be the way it happens for us!”
Turning as much as he could, he seemed to realize at once that I misread his words. “My god, do you not know me better than that by now? I wasn’t saying I don’t want a daughter! I was saying that I do not want only a daughter! It isn’t a matter of preference! A daughter with the Aquitaine as a dowry would break my heart because I would have to sit back in heaven and watch vultures swarm around her for her hand, watch as she was forced to marry someone who didn’t love her, just because of this damned place.”
“I am confused. I don’t know what you are talking about.” I replied honestly.
His sigh was heavy. “There are those who question whether my father loved my mother at all or if he married her because of this.” He gestured at the land around us. “It was why Philip married her. Whoever controls the Aquitaine has the larger nation. My mother was nearly destroyed by this dowry of hers and should we have a daughter one day…”
“What about you? What do you think? Do you think Henry married her for this?” I cut off his fears for our future offspring. I couldn’t fit anymore fears for the future into my thoughts.
Making his steed move at a slow gallop, he was silent for a moment. Finally he replied, “Out of spite for the bastard he’s become, I could say yes, that he never loved her, that it was entirely about the land. But that would be a lie. He loved her then and he loves her still. That’s why she’s imprisoned in a castle where he tries to visit her twice a year. Refusing to execute her for treason made him look good to the people because they love her but it also made him look weak before men you should never show your weaknesses to. I remember the way the two of them looked at each other once, the way they were always touching, sharing private jokes…they were very much in love.”
Voicing my own fears at last I asked, “What will stop us from ending up just like them? Who’s to say we won’t make their mistakes?”
“My father loved my mother for her strength, her courage, her intelligence…all the reasons I love you. But both of them were raging fires. Neither would compromise, neither would bend. I am not like that, not with you. Perhaps in other things, yes, but not with you. I’ll bend for you. That’s what sets us apart.”
Lying awake that night, I thought of all he said while we surveyed the lands. He wanted me to see that I could be happy there and that I would always be happy with him. He had spent the evening with a group of men working out our small wedding the next day. A secret ceremony without our parents, our siblings…but at the end of it all, we would be joined in a way that no one could break for better or worse…forever. That was still worth the danger, the secrets, the breaking of my mother’s heart. Even as I lay alone with my betrothed in his study working out our great escape from the Aquitaine to Salisbury, I believed in what we wanted to do.
“Wake up, my princess. Wake up.” Richard was kissing my face softly and I smiled before my eyes opened. “If you still want this, it’s our wedding day.”
“I’ve saved my most beautiful gown for the occasion so if it’s all the same to you, yes, I want my reason to wear it.” He laughed but there was no mirth in the sound. He was worried…worried about the repercussions of what we were about to do…worried that this would destroy me…maybe even worried that I was disappointed in the way we had to get married. Gently I touched his cheek and I smiled. “So much fret in those pretty eyes of yours. Perhaps it’s superstitious of me but it doesn’t seem right to carry so much worry into our marriage. For today, this one day, please let’s pretend you believe we’re safe and all is well. I cannot become your wife when I feel that doing so will make you this unhappy.”
Richard’s smile warmed my heart and when he kissed me, it took my breath away. “How could I be unhappy when I am marrying the only woman I’ve ever loved? I am worried, of course I am, but I am not unhappy. Put on your most beautiful gown and come downstairs.”
Our wedding was such a small affair. I recognized no one in the handful of men that greeted us at the church though they seemed to be close to Richard, relatives perhaps or former members of his mother’s infamous Court of Love. No one spoke English, including the priest, so I couldn’t understand my own vows and I could only guess at my timing to respond softly, “Oui.” It was probably the smallest thing Richard had ever done in his life yet I had no regrets about it. In its own way, it was beautiful. When we left the Aquitaine just hours after reciting our nuptials I was truly happy. I should have felt apprehension or at least a little worry but the joy of being Richard’s wife seemed to block out all the rest.
The journey back to England, to Salisbury where Eleanor lived in her castle prison, was cold, wet, and miserable. Though we discussed this before we set out, I could not understand my husband’s logic when it came to this demand that we leave France, leave his mother’s people, to go back to England where his father had all the power. No matter how many times he repeated his fears that Henry had spies in the Aquitaine or his assurance that his mother was surrounded by supporters in Salisbury, I thought the trip was a poor move strategically. Coming from a man who was a brilliant strategist, I could only assume that his desire to go to Eleanor had less to do with our safety and more to do with his inability to fully cut the apron strings. This put me in quite the mood and I think a part of me despised Salisbury and resented the queen I had always respected and admired long before we arrived.
It was nighttime when we reached the enormous structure. It stood on a hill surrounded on all sides by a field with nothing else for miles which only made the place seem larger and more cut off from the world. Richard was thrilled at the prospect of seeing his mother and as soon as we walked inside it was obvious that she was just as happy to see him. She looked older than I remembered her and she looked tired in a way that had nothing to do with the late hour but even with all that, she was still beautiful. In my youth she had always been kind to me but as I bowed to her out of respect, her smile seemed a little cold. “You look like your mother, girl, though there is no mistaking that defiant look in your eye as anything but Winchester. Richard is going to London next week. Did he tell you?”
“No.” I replied softly, resisting the urge to shoot him a glare. Not that he would’ve noticed. He was pouring a drink on the other side of the great hall laughing with his mother’s friend William Marshal over something the older man said.
“Yes, that is his plan. He is going to go once more to my husband’s home and try to persuade him to agree to a marriage Richard has already proceeded with. I think it’s foolish. You both would’ve been safe at home…in the Aquitaine…because for every spy Henry may have there, I have three more supporters to cut him down. Anyway, my son’s foolishness is not my point. My point is that he will be gone for a few weeks leaving the two of us here to get reacquainted and I can tell by that defiant look that we will get on famously.”
“Your mother hates me! No way in hell will you leave me here with her! Why are you doing this at all? Why do you want to taunt your father? Even your mother agrees that we should’ve stayed in France but yet we’ve come for no other purpose except to latch on to your mother and taunt your father! For that you would risk our lives?”
“What a list of grievances you have against me and we’ve only just entered our room. I am impressed, Rapunzel. Already you harp like a wife! My mother does not hate you! She is your Godmother for Jesus’s sake and she adores you just as she did when you were a spoiled girl of a smaller stature. As for why I’ve come…It is not enough for me to be married to you in secret hiding from this intolerable place you call home! I want to know that you can tell the whole damned kingdom you are my wife if you are so inclined and that you are free to come for visits when you please. All of your family is here, not in France. I have seen how a mother’s heart breaks when her child is taken to a foreign land, when her daughter is unable to visit her. I know the way a brother’s heart aches when his sister is kept from him. I will not do to your family what Philip of Spain has done to mine since he married Joan and if you cannot understand that, if you can honestly say that you believe I brought you back here simply to pick a fight with Henry, than I fear I have married a stranger. You should know me better than that!”
“You should be easier to know!” I retorted. “Why are you suddenly keeping secrets from me? Why did you say nothing about this before we got here? Why did I have to hear of it from your mother? You should have told me the truth before we left the Aquitaine!”
It was a vase that probably held flowers in the summertime that bore the brunt of his frustration as he threw it across the room until it shattered into a million glittering pieces on the floor. “And have you refuse to come out of fear for me? I think not! This way, if things go well, we can have a proper wedding as soon as our mothers can plan the damned thing and you can go to London to see your family when I return. I can ease your father’s worry and wipe away the look your mother had the last time she would face me. If things go wrong and Henry figures us out, you will be safe. I have made sure of it. You’ll be taken to France until it’s safe to return. Hell, you could stay there forever if you chose. I have not put you in danger! I did not do this for petty or selfish reasons and damn you to hell for believing otherwise!” I tried to apologize but it was no use. I had hurt him with my assumptions and when Richard was hurt he lashed out. It was a family trait, that. And he was Plantagenet to the bone.
He was impossible to deal with in the days before his departure and when he left Eleanor and I were on pins and needles waiting for him to return to us. We wouldn’t speak aloud our fears, that Henry would make sure Richard never came back. We would’ve gone mad thinking on all that could go wrong. So we had no choice but to entertain one another. It took no time for me to remember why I was so fascinated with her when I was a little girl. She had seen so much, done so much, and the way she told stories of better days in her life was as enthralling as the tales themselves. I laughed often with her, taking note of her bright smile and the twinkle of youth that sometimes crept into her eyes. I learned so much about the woman she was, the incredible spirit inside of her, and when Richard returned at last, I was a little in love with the enigma I had spent the past few weeks with. As bad as her present situation appeared, she was still herself. She was still her own woman even in a prison her husband designed and in a time when women went from being under the control of their fathers to being slaves of their husbands, that was a little more than extraordinary.
When Richard returned, he had little to say to us. He was brooding; that much was clear, and it was obvious things had not gone well. But he told me only that we would stay in Salisbury at least a month more. At bedtime, we lay side by side in silence. I wanted to sleep but his mood cast a thick cloud over the room that made it impossible. I tried to talk to him throughout the evening, to get the details he denied me, but to no avail. I was about to try again when he finally said what I already knew. “I didn’t tell him about the wedding. He was so furious that I came again to ask for your hand, that I hadn’t already married the girl I was betrothed to, that I didn’t risk telling him the truth with you here. The crestfallen look on your father’s face when he realized you couldn’t come home with him…that was my plan, you see. He’s a good man, your father, and he was very kind about the whole thing. He assured me he understood, that my father was a stubborn ass set in his ways, that he hadn’t said anything to your mother because he anticipated my father’s response, but despite all of that, I know I let him down. I’ve let you down as well. I have friends within the walls of my father’s castle. If anything changes, we’ll know. But I am going to begin the plans for renovations on the house in the Aquitaine in case he refuses to budge. Perhaps he will die soon. That would solve all of the problems.”
“Don’t say that, damn it. You don’t mean it.” I chastised.
Rolling away from me, he replied bitterly, “I don’t know what the hell I mean.”
For a month we lived like fugitives alongside Henry’s greatest enemy. Most of the time it was easy to ignore the reason we were there but when William Marshal or another member of the staff spied strangers coming up on horseback and we were all but shoved into a secret room by my mother-in-law, the reality of the situation was brought back to me. With Richard making plans for the home Eleanor had given us as a wedding present and Eleanor always finding ways to entertain me on those long, cold days, I felt as if being a fugitive wasn’t so bad. As long as Henry didn’t find us, as long as he never knew the truth, I could bear the rest.
“We have to talk. You won’t like what I am going to tell you but I implore you to just listen to me before either of you start shouting.” Eleanor and I tore ourselves away from our conversation to hear what Richard had to say. “I am through playing the coward. I believe we could safely return to the Aquitaine now so the plan is to do so at the end of the week.”
“But the plan was always to return to the Aquitaine, wasn’t it? Why would we shout?” I questioned, confused.
Holding up a hand, he declared, “My god, woman, what part of ‘hear me out’ did you not understand? There’s more, obviously. When we return I am holding a meeting and I am inviting every supporter of Henry’s in my mother’s land. Once they’ve gathered, I am going to announce that Rapunzel and I are married. If Henry wants a battle, let him come to me and we’ll have a battle! I will make sure that if this goes badly, Rapunzel will be removed from harm’s way. You may have to spend some time with Joan in Sicily but you will be safe.”
“Are you fucking mad?” I spat out. I was beyond shouting. I was furious! “You told me the night we came here that you were not foolish enough to risk our lives simply to prove a point yet that is exactly what you are planning to do! To what end are you taking such a risk? Would it be so bad to simply stay in the Aquitaine until things are better between you and your father? Is that such a gloomy prospect?”
“I do not hide! I do not cower! Not from Henry, not from God himself if he wanted to come after me as well! You said once that you would never keep me from a field of battle. Now is the time to prove it to me. I don’t intend to lose this gamble but if I do, you will be safe. At least I can keep that promise to your father. And if I win, if Henry relents at least enough to agree to take no action, you can come home. You cannot talk me out of this. You will not change my mind. So you have until the end of the week to decide. Ride with me by my side or stay here with my mother. Either way, I am doing this!”
“If he arrests us, he might let me go. His friendship with my father might persuade him to do that even if it has failed to sway him thus far. But have you stopped to think of what he will do to you? As things stand right now, you are one of his biggest enemies, one of the largest threats he has to his power. Defying him and publicly flaunting that defiance to make him look weak may make him forget that you are one of his heirs, you know. Wouldn’t that be grand? Married and widowed all before my eighteenth birthday!”
“If mother can handle prison, I think I can handle anything he might dream up for me.”
“Of course you can, Richard. Obviously that incredible pride of yours refuses to relent on this so you just pull my bloody strings when it’s time for me to move and move I shall!”
The following morning I awoke with a terrible feeling of apprehension lodged in the pit of my stomach. As the days passed, it grew until it consumed my waking thoughts. I believed it had to do with Richard, with what he was going to do in France. I just knew in my heart that this was going to be the end of him. I never thought to look over my shoulder as we crossed the English Channel to see if anyone or anything was following us. It never occurred to me that the feeling was a matter of past mistakes coming back to haunt me. Richard asked me once, much later, if I honestly thought that I would never have to face what had happened during his months of silence, if I really believed I would never have to atone for the wrong I might have done. I replied in all truth that I did not. What sort of scorned lover goes to so much trouble over an affair as insignificant as the one I had back then? Perhaps I was negligent because I never saw the attack coming. Then again, I had no idea that Drake had undergone a transformation from sweet stable boy to monster.
We arrived tired and worn to the festive people of the Aquitaine. The following day Richard would announce his betrayal and possibly change our lives forever but that night was ours alone. I wasn’t angry with him anymore. Rather, I was, but in light of the circumstances, I decided to put the anger away and enjoy our time together in case it was the last night we ever had.
“Let me assist you with that, princess.” Richard declared, taking the hair I was unbraiding from my hand to work on the task himself. ‘We’ll be here all night’, I thought, but I let him do it nonetheless. As if reading my mind, he laughed. “I do not understand why you insist upon growing your hair so damned long! If you didn’t do something with it every day, you would surely trip over it and break your neck. That’s madness.”
“Less than five minutes with it and suddenly your love of it has soured? You are a fickle man, Richard Plantagenet.”
Kissing the side of my cheek, he replied, “I love it still, you know I do. Your hair is as infamous as your beautiful face and your wretched disposition. I will bet that the legacy of it will outlive us both. A thousand years from now they will recite songs about the princess with the hair that stretched a mile. They will embellish on it as people always do. Perhaps they will say that it took twelve handmaidens to carry it, that animals and children were sometimes lost in it…”
The thought of it made me laugh as I hadn’t since the night he told me what he planned to do. When I caught my breath, I added, “'And at the end, when the princess was tired of living, she made a noose of her great hair and hung herself…only it was so long she hit the floor, filled with bitter disappointment.' And where are you in this tale? The great Prince Richard, husband of the hair?”
Chuckling lightly, he said, “Probably lost under this damned mess in my attempt to unbraid it.” After our laughter died down, silence filled the room. The reality of everything that lay ahead came back as if no humor could dispel it and I felt like there was much we should say to each other but it seemed in bad form to actually say it. “Are you still angry with me? I’ve never heard you as quiet as you’ve been since Salisbury.”
“No, I’m not angry. I am worried. Of course I am. You are risking your life and I am sure you believe that you are the one with the most to lose because of that. But I would trade you places anytime, my love. Were that it was my life on the line at least I would know that the worst that could happen would be death. The way it stands, unless your father is so furious that my father’s name no longer means anything to him, I am risking a lifetime of loneliness. It will be a slow death far worse than the hangman’s noose whether you believe it or not.”
“Listen to you, my headstrong wife, the woman that turned out half the realm and swore to all that she would never marry or fall in love. You are stronger than that. You will go on without me if it comes to that. You will love again. Mother has already said that as long as you are not remarried, you may keep everything here that is mine. Upon her death, if you are my widow still, the Aquitaine will be yours. You will be the most sought after woman from France to Germany. Then you can remarry, have children, pass the land to them…”
“I will not! I will not love again, I will not remarry, I will die the widow of Prince Richard. Who would I marry when the only reason I married in the first place was because I was given the chance to marry my great love? And who would I love when the only reason I gave my heart to anyone was because you showed up at my door? I won’t pretend to love. I won’t marry for protection or money or any of the reasons that other women force themselves to marry men they do not love. I would just as soon die alone, thank you.”
I felt his fingers stop and I turned to face him. He had the strangest expression on his face, as if he realized I was completely serious and he never expected that from me. “I will never leave you, sweet girl. Everything will go fine tomorrow and if Henry brings a battle here, all of my supporters in France will come to my side against him. That is why I’ve done it this way. The people of England love my mother, they love my father, they even love Harry, which I suppose is for the best since he is next in line and all, but they do not love me. And I do not love them. If there were a battle between us there he could put together an army much faster and much larger than anything I could summon. But here, in the Aquitaine, I am king. In France, the people like me more than their own king. He will not best me even if he dares to try it. And when all of this is over, if you are not with child already, we will start our family. Our children will not be like other royal offspring. They will not be the product of a perfect business alliance. They will be born of a love so great, nothing could tear it asunder. Perhaps when my father has learned of the birth of his grandchildren, he will see that all this fighting we’ve done, the bad blood between us all, is foolish. Perhaps he will die without ever making peace with us. Either way, we will be happy. I promise you, Rapunzel, that we will be happy.”
That night we made love as if it would be the last time despite his assurances that all would be fine. The man that never broke, the man that wouldn’t crumble, held me to him as if I might disappear if he let me go. He whispered endearments in French, he told me I was everything to him in English, and each time I thought he was spent, that he couldn’t possibly touch me again, he would kiss me and start all over. I was absolutely exhausted by the end of it. When I woke up just before daybreak, he was gone. There was a letter telling me he loved me, that he would return in the evening, but no note, no reassurance could quell that horrible feeling I had that I would never see him again.
That day I felt terrible, with sharp pains racking my stomach, and the worry over Richard was as consuming as the physical pain. I paced, I tried to sleep, I tried to write, I tried to read, I tried to walk around the beautiful grounds that were attempting to come back to life after the cold winter, but in the end I found myself in a chair weeping with my face in my hands. It was probably one of the most miserable days of my mortal life. As twilight was blanketing the countryside and my hopes were sinking with each passing moment, I spotted a line of men approaching on horseback. At the head of the line was my husband, back in one piece, completely unharmed.
I ran out the door, nearly knocking him to his feet as he dismounted. Picking me up, he kissed me, and then he sat me down and wiped away the tears staining my cheeks. “My poor girl! Look at you. I told you all would be just fine. Have you spent the entire day in tears?”
Instead of replying, I buried my face into the crook of his neck. Though I was still in pain, in that moment it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. He was home, safe and sound. Because I didn’t want to let him out of my sight, I spent the rest of the evening sitting shamelessly on his lap while he and the men that came back with him discussed his father in French. I couldn’t understand a damned word of it. He had told me only that the news was well received and we should celebrate, that we had every reason to look forward to our family we wanted to create. Beyond that I knew nothing and without an interpreter, I wasn’t going to get any more information, it seemed. When I was satisfied that he was truly alright, when I could take the pain in my lower stomach no longer, I decided to go to bed. Kissing me, Richard whispered, “I will be up as soon as I can wind down this conversation. If you are sleeping, would you like me wake you?”
“It depends on your motives. There shall be no work on our future family tonight if that’s what you have in mind. Otherwise, yes.” He smiled, kissed me once more, and let me go. As I walked up the stairs to the top floor, the floor that was ours alone, I was grateful for the silence that greeted me, ready to go straight to sleep in order to end my misery.
It was the music coming from the end of the hall that drew me on past my bedchamber door. I should have been alone on this floor as it was our private rooms. I resented that I had to walk down the incredibly long corridor simply to tell someone to get lost with the pain that I was in and I intended to give whoever I found in the drawing room a piece of my damned mind. But when I opened the door I was frozen in place, unable to speak. I felt like I was staring at a ghost. It didn’t help that he changed so much in the short time since I saw him last. It was the death-white color of his skin, the way it seemed almost opaque in the candlelight around him, that made me think perhaps I was receiving a visit from a scorned lover now in the great beyond. “Come in, Rapunzel. Shut the door. I doubt you want your husband to know that I am here. That would provoke questions, questions I doubt you’ve answered already.”
“Drake, what the hell are you doing here? If Richard caught you, questions would be the last thing on his mind.” I replied, trying to be as cold as I felt toward him, trying to ignore the stabbing pain now spreading from the front into my back as I moved forward and turned to shut the door. I suddenly felt as if I had stepped into a strange dream. The pain, the candles, the music, and Drake sitting there strumming the harp still…Drake with that terrible white flesh…looking like a monster…
“You are the monster, Princess! You ripped the heart from my chest without a second thought! You used me! And the second your dear Prince returned I was forgotten like last week’s waste!”
Had I called him a monster out loud? I must have. Drake was no mind reader. If he had been, he would’ve known what he was getting into before he did it and he wouldn’t be sitting in my drawing room looking at me with such hate and contempt that I nearly felt shame for what passed between us. “Are you here for revenge? Do you intend to go downstairs and tell my husband that I took advantage of your poor kind soul when he left me in the lurch last year? I don’t think I married the sort of man that would turn me out over something so insignificant but perhaps I am wrong about him. I was wrong about you. I never pegged you for the sort of bastard that would break into my home long after our meaningless affair ended to try to blackmail me. What do you want? I don’t feel well tonight and I would just as soon have this over with!”
He was furious. I could see it all over his face. But I didn’t give a damn. He was talking, I knew that, I could see it, but I couldn’t focus on his words. I was trying to breathe through the stabbing ache, breathe through it and pray that it stopped… “You selfish whore, are you listening to me? Rapunzel? Goddamn it…” He moved toward me in a way that was impossible. I feared I was hallucinating because there wasn’t any way that I saw what I thought I saw. One moment he was on the other end of the room and suddenly he was standing right in front of me. I shook my head to clear it as he asked, suddenly concerned, “Are you alright? You don’t look well. You look like you might drop where you stand.”
“I thought you hated me. Why do you care?” I asked even as I let him put an arm around my waist to help me hold myself up. “I’m nothing more than a selfish whore, aren’t I?”
“If only that were true, I could’ve forgotten you long ago and spared us both this unpleasantness. Where does it hurt?”
A series of sharp pains dropped me to my knees but Drake did all he could to break my fall. He even let me lean against him until it passed. Suddenly all of it was gone, the pain I had endured since morning, and I couldn’t help but smile as I breathed a sigh. “I’m fine. It stopped. Whatever was wrong…it’s over.”
I watched in confusion as Drake moved toward the front of my body like an animal tracking the scent of its prey. I tried to slap him away as he lifted my dress but he only gave me a look as if whatever he was up to was important and I hadn’t the strength to fight him. If he tried anything I would scream and Richard would… “Were you with child?”
“No. Why would you ask me that?”
Instead of answering me, he took my hand and placed it on the floor between my legs. Bringing it up I saw something red, sticky…it was blood. This wasn’t my courses. There was too much…and there was all that pain… I couldn’t speak. Knowing I had carried a child and that the child was now blinked out of existence was heartbreaking. I wanted Richard. I needed to tell him. “I’m sorry.”
Weeping behind closed eyes, I replied softly, “Thank you.” It was as if Drake had come as nothing more than an old friend wanting to say hello. All of the anger, the disdain, the hatred he showed me when I walked in was gone. Perhaps because he bore witness to one of the most personal moments of my life, I idly thought on how we could be friends now, if he wanted to be. We should’ve been that and nothing more in the first place and he would have never grown to hate me…
“No, you don’t understand. I am so very sorry.”
I felt something sharp pierce the skin of my inner thigh. I knew it was teeth and when I tried to sit up, I knew beyond a doubt that I wasn’t imagining this. Drake was biting the hell out of me! I tried to kick, to push him away, to slap and punch, but he just kept sucking…I didn’t understand in that moment what he was sucking at. I didn’t understand anything at all. Then I felt so drained, so tired, that all I could do was lay back and accept the brightest, clearest memories of afternoons from my childhood that I had ever known.