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geeking out on shakespeare's histories
[FICATHON] This Earth Shall Have a Feeling, for gileonnen 
3rd-Sep-2011 04:23 pm
sir ian as richard ii 1
Title: This Earth Shall Have a Feeling
Author: angevin2
Play: Richard II
Recipient: gileonnen
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke, occasional others
Warnings: No common triggers. Contains self-loathing, loathing of other people, mild clockpunk elements, dead children, faulty understanding of religion, period attitudes toward sexuality, and unmerited resentment of dead people.
Rating: It's pretty close to G-rated. There is like one use of the word catamites.
Summary: For the first time in generations, England has a king without magic.
Notes: The bit about Edward I attempting to exhume Arthur is real, although its results are obviously not; the references to cramp-rings and touch-pieces are also basically accurate. Clockwork gardens were also a real thing, although quite a bit later than Richard II. Finally, I am infinitely grateful to everyone who held my hand while I was writing this fic and helped me to work out reasonably consistent rules for the magic.

What had always bothered Thomas the most was the bees.

It was not, perhaps, necessarily prudent to grumble constantly about how his nephew sent for the finest and most brilliant clockmakers and artificers from Cologne to Constantinople, and instead of mighty war machines to fight the French, he wastes money, talent, and time on gardens -- intricate clockwork gardens whose plants would unfurl and turn their gilded or jeweled or enameled faces towards the royal presence as the king walked through them.

Thomas, though, had never been a prudent man.

Still, even he had had to admit that the tiny clockwork bees were a magnificent feat of engineering; you could mistake them for real ones unless you were close enough to see the tiny pins and gears and hinges. There were servants in the royal household who spent hours every morning winding them all up.

They had no sting, though. In that they were just like Richard, or so Thomas thought.

But if he had not seen fit to tell Richard that a true king would not need to build plants to do him homage, he might have lived.


King Richard can never quite explain to his councilors why he persists in touching for the evil, in distributing cramp-rings and touch-pieces, even though it has never been effective, as far as anyone can tell.

Fortunately, he does not need to justify himself to them.

He might have told them that he remembers his grandfather, tall and golden, laying on hands, and how he was sure he could feel the presence of God Himself in the presence of old King Edward. He had never been quite certain that Grandfather was not, in fact, actually God himself, or if not God (because he knew his father was not Jesus, after all), then at least King Arthur, Arthur whose opened grave at Glastonbury had reawakened magic in England in the days of the first Edward.

But it is not his grandfather's memory, really, that presses him to lay his royal yet ineffective hands on his ailing subjects, but the memory of a long-ago day in Bordeaux, of scraped skin knitting itself together, of his long-dead brother's voice piping "Don't cry, Dickon, I'll fix it for you!"

Neither torn flesh nor whole plants respond to Richard's touch.

Richard's brother, and then his father, had wasted away under the strain of using English magic on foreign soil. In England, where the very soil seems to hum with power and possibility, Richard feels that he too is wasting away, a withered stalk, unbearably wrong.

He lays his hands on sick children and twisted old men and, sometimes, women with child, handing them afterwards a gold coin pierced through the center. He wonders if they notice the divine jest of it all.

"God go with you," he tells them.


Everything is wrong.

Everything has been wrong since old Edward died.

Everything has been wrong since young Edward died. He left a second son to inherit. Second sons have no magic.

England seethes. Crops fall and men rise up. The bay trees in Wales wither.

The land will not harm its king.

The land does not know its king.

Everything is wrong.


The chronicles say that Richard's great progenitor William the Conqueror, when he first came to England, fell upon the sand and, as the grains slid through his fingers, exclaimed, "This is my country."

Richard falls prostrate upon the rocky Welsh beach and whispers to the stones, for surely his land will know its king, will rise up even for him, barren though he is, for the blood of his ancestors runs true in his veins.

But there are no automata that will transform the stones to armed soldiers. When he rises his lips taste of dust.


England lies open before Henry Bolingbroke; he enters with no resistance, and the last few who might think to offer it -- Richard's inconsequential catamites, mostly -- are brushed aside like flies. Or, more appropriately, those ridiculous clockwork bees.

If he knows Richard -- and he is certain that he does -- that mad clockmaker is counting on England itself to rise up and stop him, as it might have done had he been like his father, or his grandfather. But Richard is no better than any other man. No better than Henry.


Henry sits in the throne for the first time and clings to the crown that is not yet formally his, although he has had it from Richard's own hands. It is painfully floreate, the work of talented Bohemian artisans who had come over with Queen Anne, before she was inconsiderate enough to die and send her husband completely out of his head with grief. If she hadn't, Henry wouldn't have had to step in and put a stop to things.

It really is a very beautiful crown.

Henry cannot look at it without thinking of that confounded garden, wondering whether the same people who designed it also designed its enameled flowers; the visible hinges joining its sections, and the tiny gears (they don't do anything, but it is the sort of thing Richard likes) mixed with the blossoms, probably intended as some sort of wretched equivalence of nature and artifice. And then he reminds himself in disgust that he sounds like Richard, and that he is not the sort of person to pay close attention to these things. Or to use words like floreate.

He can't even distract himself with the image of Richard handing the crown over to him, looking every bit as fragile and beautiful as his mechanical flowers (if Henry were inclined to notice those things, which of course he is not), because then he would have to think of the words Richard had said to him, bending close to whisper in his ear:

It will never be your land either.


The coronation takes place in early October, during the harvest season. It has rained unseasonably throughout. So glory is unbecoming to a fool, Henry remembers, and dismisses the thought.

It is not his fault that there is no one left to channel England's own magic.

He thinks of Richard and is nearly blind with rage.


The clockwork garden has been covered and locked up since Richard left for Ireland.

Richard is dead now, and Henry cannot bear for it to remain standing.

Henry does not know what presses him on to survey the ruins. The most precious materials have been stripped, of course. Henry is a practical man. He is not Richard.

There is a crack beneath his boot. He kneels to investigate: it is the remains of a clockwork bee, its tiny gears bent and its spun-glass wings shattered, its little legs bent askew.

King Henry the Fourth sits among the wreckage and weeps like a child.
3rd-Sep-2011 10:25 pm (UTC)

* Book Called the Governor reference!

* 'he remembers his grandfather, tall and golden, laying on hands, and how he was sure he could feel the presence of God Himself in the presence of old King Edward' -- this is as near to a perfect passage as I could imagine.

* 'He left a second son to inherit. Second sons have no magic.' -- Such an excellent narrative moment. It cuts through the lushness of memory and garden and wonder like the blade of the narrator.

* Richard creating artificial life, and insisting upon its beauty; he needs an art that will recognize him, and clockwork can be that art, but he also needs a thing that he can recognize and wonder at. He needs to be generative, even by proxy (as must a king always be), but simply to produce is never enough--simply to produce is commercial. He needs magic, and ordinary men make beauty their magic.

* Oh GOODNESS what you've done with the Welsh beach scene. *__* I just. AUGH YES THIS IS WHY I PROMPTED THIS PROMPT.

* 'But Richard is no better than any other man. No better than Henry.' -- It makes such horrible, perfect sense.

* Sly little reference to nonfunctional steampunk gears. XD I cracked up right there.

* Henry's battle against his own vocabulary. 'Floreate' indeed!

* It will never be your land either. -- Cold bloody chills.

* Henry's response to beauty--to the only magic that Richard could ever practice--is to tear it apart. To melt it down, figurines-into-swords. Richard chose beauty over functionality because it lent him the illusion that he might generate wonders, but Henry cannot have (perhaps couldn't bear) such illusions ... but he wishes he did. He wishes he could.
9th-Sep-2011 10:25 pm (UTC)
You always give such marvelous feedback! :D You are completely spot-on in your reading of the differences between Richard and Henry in this fic, although you put it into words better than I could, seeing as how I wrote the bloody thing. But especially the part about Richard needing some sort of generative capacity -- that is exactly what I was trying to do, hence the emphasis on the bees. (I was going to make it more explicit by putting in more childless-widower!angst, but I do that a lot with Richard, so I figured it would show through anyway.)

Anyway, I am so glad you liked it; it was a pleasure to write (once I figured out some of the specifics of the magic, which was the tricky part. Also, the bees).

Also, I am not surprised at all that you got the Elyot reference, but I am very pleased. I heart Elyot.
3rd-Sep-2011 11:14 pm (UTC)
Ooh. I love this story and the concept behind it.
9th-Sep-2011 10:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! I think a lot of the credit ought to go to Gil for suggesting the prompt in the first place, but I really enjoyed writing it. :)
4th-Sep-2011 01:50 am (UTC)
Richard's brother, and then his father, had wasted away under the strain of using English magic on foreign soil. In England, where the very soil seems to hum with power and possibility, Richard feels that he too is wasting away, a withered stalk, unbearably wrong.

Oh, RICHARD. I feel so very sorry for him. He wants so much to be the right king and he can't be, no matter how hard he tries. But he tries to create his own mechanical magic ANYWAY. And I like him better for trying to create something better than I do Henry for destroying Richard's attempts.

It will never be your land either. And Richard demolishes Henry in just seven words.

Henry's idea of who he should be versus who he really is--and in ONE WORD.

And Thomas telling Richard an unpalatable truth that he already knows and cannot bear, and dying for it.

This is superb. Thank you for writing it.
9th-Sep-2011 10:31 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you liked it!

Henry's characterization in this fic surprised me a little bit -- his voice came out pretty clearly right away, but he's much more of a dick than I normally write him. Or rather, it takes him longer to get all tortured and remorseful. This is, and of course it's explicit in the fic, because Richard's magic creates the sense of an equal footing, but it was interesting to write.
9th-Sep-2011 09:06 pm (UTC)
Oh wow, this is gorgeous and sad.
9th-Sep-2011 10:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much!

I sort of worry about what will happen to England in this universe... ;)
11th-Sep-2011 12:49 am (UTC)
I now get to comment on all the RII fics without giving away (by omission) my own! Of course I read them all on the first day, but restraint was called for. ;)

Anyway, this is brilliant and wonderful[ly sad]. I'd say the warnings read as very 'you', but that style of warning (which is fabulous) has been more widely adopted in our tiny fandom now (including by me, at times), and so it didn't clue me in to who you were. This works so well! It is a departure from your norms, maybe, but marvellouslly done throughout - as accomplished as all your prose always is. There's a whole...magical universe, and certainly a whole nation (eeee, such a good play to do this with) packed into this, and it's - so rich, so rewarding to read. Gorgeous!
13th-Sep-2011 02:59 am (UTC)
I love the imagery of this -- the clockwork bees and flowers, beautiful but useless and a poor substitute for magic, but still representative of something Henry can't attain on his own.
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