Joan pulled her robe around her and swept over to her bedroom door. She yanked it open, fully intending to roast whoever was disturbing her sleep with their lunatic hammering- but the reprimand died on her lips as the door swung inwards to reveal Simon Burly mid frantic knock. “My Lady,” Sir Simon gave a hasty bow. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but the King-”
She pushed past him and strode down the corridor before the sentence had even fully died on his lips. He almost had to jog to keep up “What’s wrong?” she asked, heart pounding in her chest. Awful, awful visions swam before her–some sort of illness–a fever, like the one Ned- God forbid-
“I just- I poked my head in to make sure he was alright, I know it was foolish but this past few weeks…” he didn’t need to elaborate. Wat Tyler’s rebellion had terrified them all- except, it seemed, the young King- but however fine her son appeared to be, it hadn’t stopped Joan from checking in on him before she went to bed herself most nights.
“What is wrong?” she pressed, as they approached Richard’ s door and the guards outside stood to attention.
“Some sort of nightmare,” Burly dropped his voice. “I would have tried to wake him up myself, but, well, he’s the King, and protocol…and anyway, I don’t want to overstep myself, and you’re his mother….”
Joan nodded, once. “Wait out here,” she ordered, and went in to the room. The moment she did so, her eyes fell on the bed where her son (fourteen now, where had the time gone?) was tangled up in his sheets, twisting about and whimpering. Strings of words broke past his lips as his face contorted: she caught the words “tower” and “heads” and “don’t” in amongst others, and as she sat down on the edge of the bed and reached out to stroke his forehead he said: “Please, Master Tyler…” then trailed off, gangly limbs jerking restlessly, distress written all over his face.
“Hey,” Joan whispered, “Hey, calm down.” She ran her fingers through his hair. “They can’t hurt you anymore,”
“Mother?” Richard’s eyes flickered open, and he pulled himself up a little, drawing away from her hand. Joan sat back, and braced herself to be dismissed. She was so prepared for it, in fact (most fourteen year olds grew embarrassed at being mothered, and this particular fourteen year old had the added pressure of having to act Kingly) that it took her a moment to register that what actually came out of his mouth was: “Mother, can I have a hug?”
“Budge up then,” she said, rather pleased. She slid beneath the duvet as he moved aside to make room for her, then curled in to her as she wrapped her arms tight around him. She began to stroke his hair again as he hugged her back. “Bad dream?” she asked.
“It was nothing,” he mumbled. Joan continued to stroke his hair, and pressed her lips to the top of his head. They carried on like that in silence for a few long moments, then Richard blurted out. “I promised! And I know everyone said I should- and my uncles are older than me and they know more things and Sir Simon says good kings listen to their advisors and they all told me the same- but I promised! And- I don’t think it would have been such a bad thing, any way, at least not as bad as uncle - he’s just annoyed they burnt down his palace which- he could build a new one. At least Harry wasn’t-” he trailed off.
Joan sighed. “Oh sweeting.” She didn’t have any answers to give him. What was done was done: the decisions had already been made. Edward’s brothers had thrown his son’s negotiations right out of the window and, truthfully, Joan couldn’t quite bring herself to condemn them for it. Richard was right- implementing their terms wouldn’t have been a bad thing. But bright as he was, her son had trouble thinking through the widest implications of a scenario, and if the King capitulated to the demands of a mob once… “I’m so proud of you,” she said instead, and Richard pressed closer to her.
“…Do you…do you think father would have been proud?“
“Yes,” Joan said firmly. Her eyelids prickled, and she screwed her nose up. When she died, she was going to have strong words with the Almighty about depriving her children of their earthly fathers too soon- first Thomas, then her Edward- it wasn’t fair “Yes, Dickon, your father would have been incredibly proud. What you did was very brave.”
“Oh.” Richard’s grip relaxed a little. “Can you stay?” he asked. “Just until I fall asleep again?”
“Of course I can.” She pulled the covers up around them both as Richard closed his eyes. It was nice, being her child’s mother and not the King’s, for the first time in a very long while. A small and selfish part of her was almost saddened as his breathing evened out and he appeared to slip back in to a quiet, restful sleep. She waited a few more minuets just to be sure, then eased herself out of his grasp and padded quietly to the door.
Burley turned to her as she appeared. “Is his majesty well?” he asked anxiously.
“He’s well,” Joan said, and Burley heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank you for coming to fetch me,” she added, and Burley smiled faintly.
“I will let you return to bed, and go back to my own. Before we’re both still absent in the morning and tongues start to wag.”
Joan smirked. “You assume they haven’t already. You knocking on my door. Me accompanying you down a dark corridor in my nightgown and robe. And of course, my Reputation.” she waggled her eyebrows, and Burley laughed.
“Your beauty, madam, is of course, legendary,” he said, bowing gallantly. Joan swatted at him.
“That wasn’t what I meant and you know it. Get you gone, Sir, away with you.”
He bowed again, properly this time, and took his leave. Joan watched him go and then, suddenly called him back. “Simon!”
He turned. “Yes, your grace?”
“We’ll look after him, won’t we, you and I? Whatever else happens, however else his uncles try to push him and pull him for their own advantage, we’ll take care of him for his own sake.”
“Till we’re old and grey, your grace, and keeping half an eye on his children as well. You’ll be bouncing them on your knee and I’ll be praying I have better luck explaining some principles of mathematics to them than I’ve had with their father.” He smiled, and took his leave.
Joan cast a last look back at her son’s door, and feeling herself reassured, headed off towards her own.