IV. The King

This is the fourth section of my story “The Rose in Twelve Petals.” If you would like to see the previous sections, look below!

What would you do, if you were James IV of Britannia, pacing across your council chamber floor before your councilors: the Count of Edinburgh, whose estates are larger than yours and include hillsides of uncut wood for which the French Emperor, who needs to refurbish his navy after the disastrous Indian campaign, would pay handsomely; the Earl of York, who can trace descent, albeit in the female line, from the Tudors; and the Archbishop, who has preached against marital infidelity in his cathedral at Aberdeen? The banner over your head, embroidered with the twelve-petaled rose of Britannia, reminds you that your claim to the throne rests tenuously on a former James’ dalliance. Edinburgh’s thinning hair, York’s hanging jowl, the seams, edged with gold thread, where the Archbishop’s robe has been let out, warn you, young as you are, with a beard that shines like a tangle of golden wires in the afternoon light, of your gouty future.

Britannia’s economy depends on the wool trade, and spun wool sells for twice as much as unspun. Your income depends on the wool tax. The Queen, whom you seldom think of as Elizabeth, is young. You calculate: three months before she recovers from the birth, nine months before she can deliver another child. You might have an heir by next autumn.

“Well?” Edinburgh leans back in his chair, and you wish you could strangle his wrinkled neck.

You say, “I see no reason to destroy a thousand spinning wheels for one madwoman.” Madeleine, her face puffed with sleep, her neck covered with a line of red spots where she lay on the pearl necklace you gave her the night before, one black hair tickling your ear. Clever of her, to choose a spinning wheel. “I rely entirely on Wolfgang Magus,” whom you believe is a fraud. “Gentlemen, your fairy tales will have taught you that magic must be met with magic. One cannot fight a spell by altering material conditions.”

Guffaws from the Archbishop, who is amused to think that he once read fairy tales.

You are a selfish man, James IV, and this is essentially your fault, but you have spoken the truth. Which, I suppose, is why you are the King.

Illustration by Walter Crane

(Illustration by Walter Crane.)

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