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A Perfect Sun

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Perhaps he will wait. There is no urgency in laying claim to a widow like there is in deflowering a girl. He'll wait until she's sick with anticipation, until her curiosity has grown unbearable, until she wants to see the full extent of his deformity with her own eyes — and then he'll seize her, he'll fall to and devour her.

He does not keep her waiting long.

His crooked shape is unmistakable, even at the dying of the day. Richard kicks off his boots, jaunty as midday; he carries himself as if he were completely alone. In the dark, perhaps, with one eye closed, he could be trim and strong — the parts of him that aren't grossly deformed could be called neatly made. These parts are few. If only he were stunted too, some bulbous wheezing thing that could hardly raise its head — but his whole body is lit up with obscene vigor. He has all the hardiness of a crooked weed. If not for the impossible skew of his shoulders he would look just like an oversexed little clerk. There are ink smudges on his hands, Anne sees as he approaches. He has been writing something, something too private for the hand of a secretary. His hands are a murderer's hands. They are fashioned for cruelty. She half-expects him to come to her with the bloody dagger still in his hand.

At St. Albans he was only a boy. Some mistake of nature, a golden voice and a broken body, so twisted and forlorn as to be helpless — but a saker with a shattered wing still has its talons. He's come to her with pared nails, and fresh linen, and a scrubbed white face. He never seems to sweat, his body is like a stone. Anne's heart is fluttering in her breast.

*

"In marriage, man and wife are one flesh. The beauty of your body is as good as mine, and now my deformity is as good as yours."

As good as his — as good as bought and paid for, with nothing but his words. The lamps seem to burn brighter; the room seems to grow hotter. Anne draws her robe close around herself. She cannot help watching him — nothing will make him beautiful, but familiarity has done something to him that almost seems worse. It has transformed his wicked mouth with waiting, his wicked eye. All these long stifling days, and Anne always watching for some sign of reprieve and never finding it there. Waiting for him to speak. Anne is his dog; at the sound of his voice she does tricks.

"Better to say, my beauty is your possession."

Richard smiles a brittle smile. "Your beauty possessed me before you were even a widow yet. Comfortless. Powerless. Sleepless."

If only he were speechless. "Then come to bed."

She is too tired for more pageantry. This much she can bear. He will know her body, but not the soft corners of her heart — she can lock him out and bar him from the places that matter. He'll throw her skirts up over her face and so much for Warwick's daughter. Anne is almost steeled against this, the mere outrage of her body — a few insolent pokings and then disinterest. It was always in the offing. She's not a girl any longer, and this is her forfeit for a match badly made — her soft body buckled first, and her woman's heart, and now they'll pay for it. She should have killed him when she'd had the chance. He'd been a sorry devil then, sick in love.

"You'd lie down with the man who killed your husband." His hands pluck her hair down from its silk web, tugging sharply at pins — he makes a fist in her braid, bending her head inexorably back. "You're a party to treason. A husband is king of his wife's household, and lord of her body."

Man and wife.

"Edward was my husband first. Strike me like you struck him."

"Eve was cut from Adam's side," he says gently, chiding, "and you were made for me."

Richard's body may be twisted, but Anne's heart —

The crush of his body is suffocating, the press of his crippled trunk against her. It occurs to her that he might not even bother to doff his clothes for the act. Anne lets her robe fall, and his blood-drenched hands pluck down the shift from her shoulder, not so far, but far enough. The pale corner of her breast is exposed, flush to her shoulder.

"Shall I call you husband?"

"Your husband called me a crook-backed scold. Did he spare such sweet words for his wife?"

"I'm sure he could have called you much worse things."

"If only he'd had the time."

"Do you still love me, Anne?"

She doesn't dare answer. Her eyes are fixed on his mouth. He has fine teeth — small, even, sharp.

He strips off his embroidered coat with deliberation — at first Anne thinks the slowness is meant to rattle her, but she realizes as he fumbles with the absurdities of his gilt doublet-points that he is ill-shaped for the task. He cannot shrug out of his clothes like other men do, and his withered hand is no good to undo a buttonhole — Richard can fight more fiercely than any man in England, but he can run aground on a two-a-penny button. He can dance a saltarello and kill a king but he cannot untie his own laces. She would laugh, if it would do her any good.

She could call back her servants — and have witnesses to this scene, just what she's always wanted. A crippled sport of nature makes sport of her widowhood while a maid watches from behind the curtains. It's like something from a repulsive story, some Italian book bound full of filthy pictures. It would be easy to assist him, this man who is her husband. Ease the coat from his crooked back, loose the laces — play the dutiful part, and help him ravish her. Be her own procuress.

"Let me," Anne says. "Let me help you."

Richard gives her a look of such savage amusement that she flinches back. "You're in a hurry, aren't you? All in due time. Turn and face the wall."

She feels the presence of him, even with her face to the cold stones. What is he hiding? What lies beneath his clothes? Iron braces, fettering his legs into straightness like a stonemason's scaffold, or terrible scars, or withered parts —

There's a sound, a dry cough too sharp to be anything but a throat-clearing. Richard stands there in his shirt, like a man still only half-made-up — waiting for the hand of God to fumble him back into true, like a wax poppet. He is nothing but a nearly naked man with a bad back and a lamed arm. He is her husband. She has never been more afraid of him. Anne steps forward, acutely aware of her bare feet and the heat where her thighs chafe together.

This man would become king. A crown will hang on that crooked head.

Richard presses her bottom lip with his thumb, in a gesture that is horribly sexual and horribly sterile at the same time. Anne wants to spit at him. Her throat has grown tight, and her mouth is terribly dry.

"Deny me," he says, "dissolve your marriage, beg an annulment — they come so cheap these days. See if you can do it. Refuse me. Resist me. For modesty's sake, aren't you going to try? You're so beautiful that I'm afraid it'll be the death of me. Tell me no."

Resist him and die, resist him and starve. Resist and be smothered. She'll lose everything she's ever had, she'll wear rags, he'll knock her down like a butcher lopping meat until she'll be lucky to find a hedgerow to shiver under. She is too proud for charity, but not too proud to bargain.

Richard seizes her like a true lover, with both hands, greedy as a child. She digs her fingernails into the backs of his wrists, making the crippled hand spasm with pain — he makes no sound, bearing against her, but the cruelest light blooms across his face like the red light of dawn.It sends the blood prickling to her own cheeks. She hardly notices the jolt when he throws her back against the bed.

She hates him worse than hell, worse than all the House of York. Richard strikes her across the face, first once and then again — the first blow is a slap, the second a cuff with the heel of his hand that rattles her teeth.

Tears spring to her eyes instantly — and that is worlds worse than the blow, she had borne the blow upright without staggering but her body betrays her anyway. She sees him through a veil of water.

"Don't you love me, Anne?"

"Yes. Yes, I love you."

"More than your own soul?"

"Much more."

"Very good."

How loathsome it is, to have him caress her with words — like a man who grasps a serpent in his hand, and lets it twine around his wrist like a bracelet. She saw a man like that at a Middleham fair, long ago — watching the black-barred adder slip over his ungloved hand, dry as cloth, she'd felt a delicate horror. Her mouth is smarting. The back of her throat is crawling with salt-tears.

I love you, Anne wants to say, like I love my own damnation.

This is hell, and she is in it, here and everywhere, on her knees in the chapel, on her back in the middle of the night. He will have her wherever he likes, and in the end she will thank him for it — he will fuck her however he pleases and if any of his bloody-handed favorites want to take a turn, so much the better. He will take her apart at his first convenience. He will bury her.

"There's no need for formalities between us. You're a widow, after all." The back of his hand draws across her breasts, which are restrained by nothing more substantial than linen — the shape of them is easily discernible, their small shallowness. It seems to amuse him. "I cannot woo," Richard says, "but the time for that is past. One kiss, and you'll satisfy me. I'll swear by St. Peter that I had you, and when I swear to anything you know how well I lie."

But his eyes cut their way clear to her naked body, and she knows from the ache between her legs that he will not be satisfied, he will never be satisfied — nothing could satisfy this man. He paws at her face, in the tangle of her hair. Anne's body twists against the bedclothes, but he captures her in his loathsome hands, there is something in his ill-made face like tenderness — like pity, but only the ill-made show of pity, the melting look of a shoddy actor. Something like remorse.

"Will you let me in?"

Anne does not answer him with her tongue. Her hands draw her linen shift up past her plump knees, well past the dark garden of her pubis. She cannot call to mind now how it was with her Edward, or it will be too horrible to bear.

The corruption that hangs on him will cover her too. Richard lays hands on her; his fingers pinch cruel marks in the soft part of her thigh. Anne parts her legs.

He touches her her effortlessly, long fingers making her twitch and gasp. It's a strange formality to observe, or maybe he's only working a path for himself, but she scarcely has time to think perhaps he can't before it becomes preeminently clear that he can and will. His erection presses against her. Anne closes her eyes.

King Henry is dead, Warwick is dead, her Edward is dead. Perhaps in the darkness of their bed there's some unseen dagger waiting to pierce her breast, some silk cord hidden between the mattress and the bedframe that will close around her neck like a chain of office. Richard's hands will tie the knot in it around her throat. His hand closes around her throat, like a reminder: lie still and endure. Her good breeding will enforce this much. In another hopeless lifetime she might have gone into this with a perfectly untroubled mind, leaving the last of her girlhood behind her. The heel of Richard's hand fits into the hollow of her collarbone.

This man will be king. He will use England this way, and they'll love him for it. She will not kiss him, not once, never. She cries out when he enters her, not at the pain — though there is pain, it sparks in the pit of her and knifes up between her legs, as if she were a maiden all over again. She cries out at the quickness of it — one moment he is merely atop her and the next he is inside of her, rapid and efficacious as snakebite.

Surrender altogether, surrender and be damned. Richard lowers his head and sucks red marks atop her breasts. Anne counts out paternosters in her mind, ignoring the press of pleasure in her belly — this is not what she wants. The more she tries to flee, the more it excites him — even if she can only flee deeper into her own mind, rifling through prayers and curses like a wardrobe's worth of cloth. His hands bruise her, his cock splits her apart — and the terrible scratching sensation of being invaded turns to a splintering warmth as his thrusts pick up quickness. What a sight the two of them must be.

Anne cries out, grasping at him uselessly. She has no choice but to open her eyes. He'll kill her like this, he'll destroy her — the cruel bludgeon of his body sinking too-easily into her crooked secret places, breaking her down like a castle's walls, annihilating her. Her breath quickens with his pace; she squirms and turns her head, but Richard fixes her face against his own, brow to brow and eye to eye.

"I killed your husband," he says, voice unbroken by exertion, "I killed your father, and you love me. You must have a heart of iron. Our sons would retake Jerusalem."

He sounds proud of her — and pleased with himself. Anne makes her fingers into hooks and rakes her nails down his face. Richard laughs, and forces back her wrist with bone-grating force — pinning her arm back behind her head. He pierces her mercilessly, quick and sweet and to the heart of her — she cannot stop herself from making sounds, from hooking her bare unstockinged feet against him even as her raw breaths turn to cries. If she screamed, who would hear her?

His white sweating face is terribly beautiful. There are red tracks across his cheek, furrowing the edge of his eye — she could have blinded him if she'd put a little more effort in it. Richard lunges against her at the last, pressing his face to the softness of her cheek — she can feel his breath, as if he were whispering sweet things to her, words without words. He'll pour himself out in her, hot and bitter, and get sons with her, and she'll have served her purpose well enough. If there's a merciful God in heaven she'll never conceive a child, she'll be barren as the grave. Anne kisses his mouth, and tastes her own tears.

*

Richard whistles a tune, sweet and careless as birdsong. He is moving somewhere in the dark, beyond the horizon of the bedclothes.

Afterward, Anne is stunned into uselessness — she cannot dress herself, she cannot rise from the bed and braid her hair and trim the lamp wicks and speak of tomorrow morning's itinerary, she cannot put her legs together without pain. There is no blood on the sheets, nothing to show for their struggle — no blood at all. Her fingers worry at her secret places, at the oily track between her legs — there is no blood, not a drop of it. He has conquered her without cost.