In the Shadow of the Red Rose

"It was a sin, what Henry did, you know?" muttered the white haired old knight. "Don't get me wrong, Richard was a woeful man, but that doesn't mean anyone with gorse flowing through their veins should've been able to rule in his stead. The man was disinherited, but here we are… what is it… fifty years on?"

"Sixty-five years on," replied Edmund Tyler.

"Sixty-five years… God will be calling on me soon, no doubt," the old man began again. "Anyway, here we are, with that usurper's grandson on the throne."

"You can't say that, you don't know who might be listening," said Edmund.

"I can't say I'd object to being made a martyr of. Besides, there is hope in Richard of York."

With the conversation having veered onto a subject unfit for record, Edmund dropped his quill and cracked the knuckles on his aching right hand. As the old man cleared his throat, Edmund heard the church bell ring in the distance.

"Sorry to cut this short, I'm expected at evening prayers," said Edmund.

"Leave a log on the fire on your way out," asked the knight.

Edmund obeyed and latched the door behind him before starting toward the college. The walk, though short, provided him with ample time to ruminate on the present political climate and the dire implications that the monarch's lineage might have going forward. He arrived at the college with time to spare.

"Did you get much out of the old man this time?" inquired a voice behind him that Edmund recognised as belonging to a fellow student, Ross Stuart.

"Well… he's finally finished discussing his boyhood," replied Edmund, distracted.

"Did he rattle you?"

"You have no idea."

"I won't pry, I've heard some horrors too," replied Ross, feigning a laugh whilst staring at the floor.

They sat side by side on a pew and waited for the service to begin. After a short span, the priest ascended the pulpit and, to their surprise, read not from the bible but instead from an indentured sheet of vellum.

"As you are all well aware, the Duke of York has made clear his intention to depose our founder and most sainted king. His need is dire, and he begs of you to take up arms in his name against this would-be usurper!" announced the priest from the pulpit. "Our fine patron, the Duke of Somerset, is glad to welcome those who wish to aid their king into affinity. Those not rising to the challenge, I ask to pray for the success of our rightful King Henry."

"Will you be joining?" asked Ross.

"I'll need to get my affairs in order first," Edmund lied. "I'll speak to my father about it. What about you?"

"I'm surprised you even need ask," he replied. "I'll do all I can for king and country."

"Are you not Scottish?"

"I'll take it evening prayers will be self-directed today," said a smirking Ross, seeing the priest descend from the pulpit.

"I'd best be going," said Edmund, "I had better get my affairs in order."

Edmund walked along the north bank of the Thames toward his house in Cheapside. His inner turmoil deafened him to the bustle surrounding him. Henry has created the college I attend, and the school which I attended. I have no right to bear him any animosity, he thought. But he is of weak mental constitution, and descended from a usurper no less, and I'm being asked to kill on his behalf. If I fight for York, I'll lose my home and all means to sustain myself. But if I fight for the king, my losses might be metaphysical.

When he arrived home to his shabby little stone house, he put his key in the door and found it already unlocked. He entered to find his father, Sir Perkin Tyler, a small, stocky man with long greying hair; and his brother, a taller man, younger than Edmund, with cropped blond hair. They were both wearing shirts embroidered with the Somerset coat of arms.

"I bring grave news," his father opened with, cutting across his brother's attempt to greet him. "Our King is in urgent need of men–"

"Because the Duke of York is threatening him," interjected Edmund.

"You've heard. We will ride for St. Albans in the morning."

"I shan't go," replied Edmund meekly.

"What?" replied his father, his face displaying confusion rather than anger. "Why?"

"I believe that if I do, my soul will be damned."

"How did you come to that conclusion, boy?" Sir Perkin replied, now visibly angered.

"Our Henry is descended from a usurper."

"William had papal consent to conquer England!"

"I do not mean William, I mean Henry the fourth."

"He was within his right under Salic law to take the throne," replied Sir Perkin.

"And since when did Salic law apply in England?" replied Edmund, his initial uncertainty replaced by conviction.

Sir Perkin rose from his seat and loomed over Edmund, his face reddening.

"Spare me your coward's rhetoric. If you do not accompany us to St. Albans, you'll find the locks in this house changed and you will be cast onto the street. You will never see another penny from my coffers. I wish you luck earning your own, eloquence in Latin has never built a bridge nor mended a shirt. I brought for you a piebald mare, I'll leave it tied to your porch."

With that, his Sir Tyler beckoned John up and walked to the door. Before departing, his brother turned to him and told him: "You always were a coward."

As soon as the door slammed shut, Edmund broke down into tears. He found himself incapable of forming coherent thoughts. His father's words reverberated ceaselessly in his mind. After what he perceived to be hours, Edmund rose from the table, stuffed a darning needle in his pocket, locked the door, saddled the horse, and set off for St. Albans.

The horse proved docile, which was fortunate, as Edmund was far from an experienced rider. Not once on the journey through the bustling streets of London was she distracted. Upon reaching the open – though still busy – road, his thoughts turned away from morality and politics, chiefly due to the concentration required for him to guide his horse around obstacles. The procession of men bound for St. Albans had clogged the narrow road significantly.

It took him a total of three and a half hours to reach the town, which he found well defended by the forces of his father's liege, the Duke of Somerset, those of the Earl of Northumberland, and those of the Lord of Skipton.

"Halt," demanded a mail-clad archer on the perimeter, "state your intent."

"I'm here to fight alongside my father and brother."

"And who are they?"

"Sir Perkin Tyler and John Tyler, they're in affinity with the Duke of Somerset."

The archer turned and shouted to the rabble behind him, mail rattling as he moved: "Do any of you know a Sir Perkin Tyler?"

"Yeah, and he's a fucking churl too, he's down at the Brass Cock Inn," replied an inebriated voice.

"Come on then," sighed the archer.

The town was garrisoned by two thin lines of comprised of Somerset men to the right of the high street and a combination of Northumberland and Skipton men to the left. The king's own men comprised the rear guard, stationed deeper into the maze of streets. As he rode through the town, he saw people boarding up their windows and doors in preparation for the impending Yorkist onslaught. He stopped a man carrying a bundle of planks and asked: "Where is the Brass Cock?"

"It opens out into the market square, I'd show you but I'm a bit pressed, considerin' there's a battle loomin'," he replied.

He arrived to find that the market square had been re-purposed as a paddock. He saw a brass shingle embossed with the image of a cockerel shimmering in a corner and rode over to its stable. He recognised his father's horse within.

"No room," announced a red-headed stable boy, aged around twelve.

"I see a space next to my father's horse," replied Edmund.

"Are you Edmund Tyler?"

"Yes."

"You're in luck, your father reserved it for you."

Edmund tied his horse to the bridle of his father's destrier, gave the boy a penny and walked in. The inn was old, with stone walls and low ceilings. He had to duck to avoid the beams. At a corner table, he found his father, already drunk.

"Edmund," Sir Perkin slurred. "I knew you'd come 'round."

"When do they think we'll be called out?"

"Don't worry boy, we've got time enough for a night's sleep."

"Where's our room?"

"Room?" laughed Sir Perkin. "I think you mean bunk."

Edmund ascended the dry-rotted stairs to find a large communal hall with rows of bunks, each with a straw bed. At the end, he saw his brother, sat on a bunk, struggling into a suit of plate.

"Do you need a hand?" asked Edmund.

"You've grown a pair in the last few hours, I'll take it," John replied, finally closing the strap on his breastplate bearing the Somerset coat of arms.

"Is there any armour for me?"

"There's a padded coif, a mail coif, and a mail shirt."

"Where did you get your plate?"

"Father."

Edmund rolled his eyes and pulled the mail shirt over his cloth one. He decided to forgo the coif until the moment he was called.

"Has father provided me with a weapon or must I buy one?"

"There's a pike, a badly notched sword, and a rusty dagger waiting for you in that chest."

"Good to know that he's thought of me," Edmund said with a tinge of malice.

"While you're standing, close the shutters, I want to be well rested for my martial debut."

"No problem, John."

He saw the sun dip below the horizon as he obeyed the instruction. With his brother attempting to sleep whilst wearing plate armour, he descended the stairs, and settled down in front of the fire in a seat adjacent to the bar. His mail shirt had a piece of cloth with an embroidered Somerset crest affixed. By the light of the flames, he embroidered his best approximation of the white rose of York on the rear as a minstrel droned out the Agincourt Carol.

With his handiwork complete, he re-affixed the cloth with the arms of Somerset still on display, returned to the dormitory, and lay down in the bunk above his brother's. He did not sleep, but instead spent the night weighing up whether or not he should turn cloak on the field of battle. As dawn broke, he heard the thunderous rap of hooves striking the earth.

"They've broken through!" exclaimed an exasperated John, throwing open the shutters.

In response, Edmund seized his pike; removed the sword, belt, and dagger from the chest; put them on; and charged down the stairs. In the heat of the moment, they failed to even consider their father's whereabouts. Upon reaching the landing at the bottom of the stairs, Edmund feigned a stumble and allowed his brother to push into the fray, then turned tail and ran out of the rear entrance into the meagre kitchen garden.

Hearing the thunderous clatter of men in plate sprinting down the alleyway at the rear, he tore free the cloth bearing the crest of Somerset and reversed it to display the white rose of York. Filled with determination and conviction, he ran onto the alleyway, confirmed that they were in fact men of York, and joined their push toward the forces of King Henry.

The streets flew by as the Yorkist line charged forward until they turned a corner and came face to face with King Henry's rearguard. Determined, Edmund pointed his pike toward them and charged with yet more vigour. For Edmund, at the moment his pike entered the opposing soldier, time stood still. I have either secured my eternal damnation or eternal paradise, he thought, but the die has been cast.

After the initial Yorkist onslaught, Henry's men broke and routed. With the bulk of his force having fled, they found the king protected only by a small detail of loyal knights. Better men than Edmund sliced them to ribbons, and he found himself face to face with a dazed and confused King Henry. Two knights seized him, and Edmund pointed his pike at him, threateningly.

After a few awkward minutes maintaining this arrangement, Richard, Duke of York, arrived to take the king into his personal custody. He appeared to recognise the two knights gripping him, but asked Edmund: "What is thine name, boy?"

"Ed- Ed- Edmund Tyler, my lord," he replied, awestruck.

"Well," said Richard, tapping his sword on Edmund's shoulders, "I dub thee Sir Edmund Tyler."

"Th- th- thank you… my lord!" replied Edmund.

I'm not sure that you have the authority to do that, Edmund replied inwardly.

As the Duke departed with his prize, a greatly fatigued Edmund staggered from the blood-slick street out onto the main thoroughfare. His legs ached from the exertion. There were far fewer casualties than he had expected, as the Lancastrian army had broken almost immediately. "You can't even call that a battle," he heard a Yorkist nobleman shout to his men.

A large crowd had gathered in the market square, he saw the mare on which he had travelled from Cheapside agitated and wheeling around the edge. He beckoned for her, and she responded. He noticed that the rope which he had used to tie her to his father's destrier was still dangling at her hooves. He picked it up and, with it, led her into the crowd. Edmund was not a large man and beating a path through the rabble proved difficult.

At the centre of the congregation, he found his father's body beneath that of his destrier; adjacent to that of the Duke of Somerset, for whom the crowd had gathered. Edmund froze. For all of the man's faults, he was still his father. With tears filling his eyes, he mounted the mare, and rode forth in pursuit of the Duke of York.


To be continued.

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