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geeking out on shakespeare's histories
[FICATHON] And Villeins Ye Shall Remain, for highfantastical 
3rd-Sep-2012 04:47 pm
smithfield by saraken
Title: And Villeins Ye Shall Remain
Author: angevin2
Play: Richard II, pre-canon
Recipient: highfantastical
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke, with a couple of mildly slashy bits; references to Henry/Mary de Bohun and Richard/Robert de Vere that don't really affect the story
Warnings: fairly graphic discussion of severed heads, incessant monologizing, unsubtle dramatic irony, privileged people being all sad about being oppressors
Rating: PG for discussion of violence
Summary: Henry isn't coping very well with the aftermath of the Peasants' Revolt. Surprisingly, neither is Richard.
Notes: Many thanks to R. and A. for beta-reading, church-picking, and general support/handholding, and to M., who is largely responsible for most of my knowledge of the revolt. Details of events (insofar as they appear in this fic) are drawn from various chronicles, Nigel Saul's biography of Richard, and R.B. Dobson's book on the revolt, which is still fairly standard. The rumor about Richard letting the rebels into the Tower is drawn from Walsingham; I'm not sure whether it was actually current or just Walsingham maligning Richard after the deposition (it wouldn't be the only time he did this), but I couldn't resist mentioning it. Finally, I know the prompt asked for h/c, but I couldn't get Richard and Henry to have any sort of interaction that involves much comfort. They are essentially the opposite of it. I hope this will please nevertheless; it was fun to write.

Henry hasn't slept well since the rising.

It's mostly all right in the daytime, because then he can be distracted by the general mood of thanksgiving and the fact that Mary has come to London from Monmouth to see him and, possibly most of all, the specific annoyance of how completely smug Richard has been ever since the rebels were put down and how he and Robert de Vere have been stupidly clingy and gross in a way that's gotten inexplicably under Henry's skin (not that Richard doesn't deserve to be smug, Henry reminds himself, he did basically face down a mob of angry peasants with arrows and other pointy objects while you were hiding in the Tower pissing yourself with fear, not literally of course, but he might as well have been). Even his father, when he returned from Scotland, had seemed almost happy to see him, or at least relieved that he hadn't actually been torn to pieces by angry peasants, which is so completely out of keeping with Henry's expectations that he's half inclined to believe it's not his real father but some unusually pleasant devilry conjured by the Scots.

Not that not having his father rebuke him for his cowardice means that some part of his mind isn't always stuck in the Tower on the day the rebels broke in. And when he's alone at night that part takes over everything so that nothing drives away the shouting and the crowds and the filthy hands pulling at him and the anticipation of steel at his throat. He'd wanted to be defiant. All he'd managed was a whimpering "Please don't kill me."

He has had the sinking feeling ever since that Richard wouldn't have acted like that, even if the rebels' watchword hadn't been King Richard and the true commons! -- Richard who has shown the mettle of his father the Black Prince. Nothing like Henry, who doesn't even have his father's steely nerves but is only alive because one of the rebels had taken pity on him, John of Gaunt's son though he is, and convinced his fellows to spare his life.

Henry is grateful. He really is. To his deliverer and to God. It's just hard to remember that.

He's just gone into the oratory to try and get a grip on that, one day near the end of June, except that as he's kneeling in front of the altar a voice from behind it remarks "It's terribly rude to barge in on a king's devotions, you know," and this startles him badly enough that he falls over in a way that will probably bruise his knee and he has to bite his tongue to prevent himself from swearing, in the oratory no less.

"It's hard to respect invisible devotions," Henry grumbles, pulling himself back to his feet. "Your Highness." He steps gingerly across the altar to peer behind the rerebus, where Richard is seated with his arms curled around his knees. "It's more conventional to pray in front of the altar."

Richard turns his head to frown up at Henry. "I didn't invite you back here," he says.

"I thought your Highness had already left for Essex," Henry says. "I'll leave, if you want."

Richard sighs, in a manner that's entirely too world-weary for someone who is only three months older than Henry (which is a lot to hear Richard talk about it, but not really at all). "Fine," he says. "Sit down, then."

It's an incredibly uncomfortable space to sit in, since the space is only narrow enough for a (painfully underfed, apparently) priest to walk through. Henry has to bend awkwardly to sit down, and his knees press painfully against the wall. He can't help but notice that Richard does not have this problem; he's a fair bit taller than Henry, but also rather thinner (and more bendy, annoyingly).

"What are you doing back here, anyway?" Henry says, once he's managed to arrange himself in a reasonably satisfying position.

Richard's lips purse and his fingers clench. "We're revoking the charters of manumission," he says.

"Oh," Henry says. He knows that Richard had promised to free the serfs, but then, he'd had to promise lots of things, with his back to the wall the way it had been. He'd also agreed to abolish bishops, and nobody expected that to happen. Granted, Richard hadn't had charters made up for that one.

"I promised them I'd set them free," Richard says, "and the council and Parliament are making me a liar."

Henry hasn't thought too closely about the politics of the whole thing. Sympathy for people who would cut someone apart just because of who his father was hasn't been the first thing on his mind, but at any rate, Richard seems to have lost sight of the big picture.

"They're rebels against their king," Henry says. "Why do they deserve to be set free?"

"It's not about them," Richard says. "Not really. If I promised you something and then took it back, what would you think of me?" He looks at Henry for a moment, his face unreadable. "Don't answer that," he adds.

"I wouldn't dream of it," Henry says, although he knows exactly what he would think. "But that's different, isn't it? I mean, if I were a rebel -- "

"Don't talk to me about the due to rebels," Richard says, his voice sharp. "I've just been in Kent with my lord Tresilian watching men hang on the gallows, because the Kentish townsmen gave up their leaders." He looks away from Henry. "All those men dangling there, trying to die as quickly as possible -- I told myself that my father wouldn't look away, and neither should I."

"I think you've been a lot like him," Henry says.

"That's what everyone says," Richard says. He looks Henry in the face then, and the corners of his mouth turn upward unsettlingly. "They say I let them in, you know."

"What?"

"When they broke into the Tower. That I let the doors be opened in order to save myself -- that I gave them Sudbury and Hales. And my own mother. And you."

"Who says that?" Henry says. It's suddenly much chillier in the oratory, unseasonably so, for June.

"People," says Richard. "They don't normally mention you though."

"I don't believe it," Henry says, and he only needs to search inside of himself for an instant to realize that he means it. He isn't even sure why. It's not as though he doesn't think Richard has it in him to sell people out, if he needs to. Although he's always been close to his mother. That's probably it. He tries not to remember that the Princess had initially set out with Richard for Mile End.

"Well, it's not true," Richard says, looking back down at his lap and sighing again before continuing: "Did you see Tyler's head on the bridge?"

"Of course," Henry says. "Who hasn't?"

"They brought it to me after Walworth's men killed him," Richard says. "I'd just been talking to him a quarter of an hour before. He'd called me 'brother,' can you believe it? And then there I was holding his head." He swallows hard. "It was heavier than I expected. And there was blood in his hair. I got it all over my hands." He unfolds his hands and examines them, as though he's looking for stains. "They put it up where Sudbury's head had been, you know. You should have seen what they did to him, Henry, after they dragged him from the Tower."

"I heard." Henry shudders. Stories of what some called the late archbishop's martyrdom were already circulating; they rarely left out the violent details. It had taken eight strokes to get his head off. The whole thing makes him feel sick. He can never help but wonder how many strokes it would have taken to behead him.

"You'd hardly have recognized him," Richard says. "They'd mangled the back of his head. There were huge pieces gouged out -- " He swallows hard again, his face pale in the dim light. "Poor old Sudbury hadn't done anything wrong, and here I am trying to set these people free."

"I don't understand," Henry says. "You said you were revoking the charters."

"The charters I signed," Richard says. "I'm the king, and I promised. Except no one will let me keep my word." He leans forward, burying his face in his hands for a moment. "I can't do anything about it, Henry. Your father and the rest -- they won't let me, and I can't even completely convince myself they're wrong."

He straightens up then, placing his hands on the floor, and Henry covers Richard's hand with his. He instantly regrets it, except Richard turns his palm upward and interlinks his fingers with Henry's and then he's stuck.

"I want my subjects to love me," Richard says, and Henry feels this odd pang like something in his heart is knotting itself up -- and then they hear footsteps and Richard withdraws his hand. Henry finds himself sighing with relief, internally.

"Your Highness?" says a voice behind them. It's their uncle Thomas, who has been more restless than usual since the rising. Richard pulls himself to his feet and crosses the altar, and Henry, not wishing to sit in the royal presence in these particular circumstances, follows suit. "Everything is prepared to ride for Colchester."

"Very well," Richard says. "I'll be on my way directly." Thomas crosses his arms and frowns, and Richard adds, "That means you should leave."

Thomas looks as though he wants to protest, but doesn't. He bows perfunctorily and departs.

"You're still the king," Henry says, because Richard always looks the most kingly when he's angry, especially standing there in the oratory with the light bouncing off his hair. "They do have to listen to you."

Richard almost smiles at that.

"That's easy for you to say."
Comments 
3rd-Sep-2012 11:22 pm (UTC)
This fic is practically perfect in every way. Just enough kindness to leaven the grisliness; just enough hope to leaven the helplessness.
8th-Sep-2012 03:15 am (UTC)
Thank you! That means a great deal coming from you. :)
4th-Sep-2012 12:35 am (UTC)
I love this interaction between the two of them. The early part of Richard's reign doesn't usually get as much attention when discussing the plays, but it's there as part of their shared histories. They're so young here, and they have no idea what the future holds! Henry, at least, doesn't have any idea at all -- it's interesting to see a moment where Richard actually seems more knowing than Henry.
8th-Sep-2012 03:23 am (UTC)
I always found it so interesting that there's not really even a mention in the play that Richard used to be quite the little badass -- that line about how "all the treasons for these eighteen years...fetch from false Mowbray their first head and spring" is generally seen as a reference to the Revolt, although it doesn't really work because a) the scene technically takes place in 1398, and b) IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYTHING. (This kind of elision of the Revolt is pretty common in Tudor-era accounts of Richard II, though; it doesn't really fit in with the narrative. Although Shakespeare's depiction of Jack Cade's rebellion is actually based directly on Holinshed's section on the 1381 revolt.)

Anyway, I'd been meaning to write fic about it for years, so I was glad to see a prompt about it! I totally love writing Richard and Henry this young -- one of the things that's fun about it is that young!Richard has that semi-unnatural sense of maturity that comes with being king. I mean, it's less eerie here because he's 14 and that's something of a turning point for medieval teenagers, but still, he is far more experienced than Henry at this point, yeah. And he definitely has a clear idea of what he can't do.
4th-Sep-2012 01:53 am (UTC)
This is SO very them. They are so young and adorable and they desperately need hugs. I love that Henry is more worried about being thought a coward (and how desperately he tries to reassure himself that he didn't LITERALLY piss himself in the Tower) while Richard is tense and angry because he's being made to look like a liar. I love Richard telling Thomas of Woodstock that yes, he should go NOW. I love that Richard wants his subjects to love him and that Henry doesn't even think of this. I love that Henry thinks that being a king should be so very simple...and it's not. It's not.

As I said...it's so very, very them.
8th-Sep-2012 03:28 am (UTC)
One of my favorite things to do to Woodstock in fic is let Richard order him around. It's fun. ;)

Anyway, yes! Richard is totally worried about what his subjects think of him -- I thought about having him be more explicit about how he wants to be a great king but how can he be if his people resent him for going back on his promises? But I decided, what the hell, obviously people would get it. And of course Henry has a view that's...not exactly rose-colored, but he hasn't tried it, plus after Richard's actions during the revolt he probably assumes Richard can clearly do anything.
4th-Sep-2012 02:21 am (UTC)
I ADORE THIS, please worry not at all, I am more than delighted with EVERY variation of Henry/Richard and my prompts are never more than very vague suggestions! This is amazing and a joy to read and I'm so, so glad you had fun writing it. Oh my god, just brilliant. I love poor Henry so much and it's fascinating to have a fic exploring what the aftermath was like for him - and gosh, poor Richard, too! I've always longed for more fic covering this period; thank you immensely for this story! :DDD

*uses icon of REJOICING AND GLEE*
8th-Sep-2012 03:32 am (UTC)
I am so glad you like it! I worried for ages about what to do with this lovely prompt, so I'm very pleased you like the result. I totally agree there should be MORE 1381 FIC -- I have a couple of fics in the works that involve it (including the Richeldis fic, which is going to have a lot of the main events onscreen, if you will) but who knows when I'll finish them.

Poor Henry has such a bad time during the revolt, and then he ends up feeling crappy and useless and AT LEAST I DIDN'T WET MY PANTS, WAIT, OH GOD, I DIDN'T, RIGHT afterwards. I do rather wish I'd brought it back to his issues more explicitly after starting with them and then sort of dropping it once I got to Richard -- Richard's monologues do tend to dominate things, and then, I don't think Henry's going to be very forthcoming about his feelings in Richard's presence, anyway. Maybe I should write an epilogue. :D
4th-Sep-2012 11:25 am (UTC)
I really love this -- Henry's perpetual missing the point while still wanting, obscurely, to find some way of making Richard feel better about things, the image of the way the priest would have to be starved to fit in the space behind the altar, Richard's acceptance of what he can really get done.

And all the WONDERFUL foreshadowing of EVERYTHING.

Also, I have a complete thing for kid-fic, so this really hit the spot on all counts :-)
8th-Sep-2012 03:37 am (UTC)
Oh man, I worried SO MUCH about the foreshadowing! Especially the "what if I promised you something" dialogue because HI OBVIOUS. I'm glad it worked for you and wasn't just O HAI SLEDGEHAMMER OF FORESHADOWING.

And I really love writing kid-fic (teenagerfic? They're 14 so I dunno if it counts as kidfic) and haven't in a while. :D
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