Relative Strangers - Epilogue
Disclaimer: Standard disclaimer applies (please see Part One for full version)
Feedback: Would really appreciate it!
Author's note: OK - finally the last part. I hope this was worth the wait. On re-reading the whole thing, it seems that my style changed quite a bit from beginning to end so I only hope it's still enjoyable. Here we go then!
Cedric had awoken twelve hours later, safe and comfortable in his own bed. Smiling down on him with weary eyes had been Thomas, immensely relieved to have his son awake again. For a long moment, Cedric had doubted his own eyes, not truly believing that the ordeal was over and he was home and safe. However when Thomas had leant forward to fondly brush the hair away from his face, murmuring that all was well now and that Charles was gone, Cedric collapsed back into the pillows, relieve and shock flooding through him.
The physician had insisted on a great deal of rest and so it was after a quick but hearty meal, that Cedric was bustled back to bed again until further notice. When he awoke again, it was darker this time and instead of his father, Richard and William were sitting by his bedside, playing cards and arguing over the outcomes. They didn't even notice him until he coughed non-too politely. Inwardly Cedric smiled though - it was comforting to witness and participate in such ordinary and familiar events, helping to convince him that his turn in fortune was really happening. After packing the cards away, Richard and William set about informing their youngest sibling of all the events since he had stormed away from the dining table last night.
Charles had excused himself shortly after Cedric had left, Thomas assumed at the time, because he was upset or embarrassed. In an attempt to calm their father's anger, William and Richard had told Sir Thomas what they knew of the last few days of their journey to Chester, including Cedric's earlier unease and the night they had found him fleeing from the inn in fear of his life. They had hoped this might go some way to excusing his current behaviour through reason of stress and illness. Cedric was grateful for their help though shivers ran down his body at the actual confirmation that all he had heard and suspected since Charles' arrival had in fact been true. Somehow, if every last detail had simply been a figment of his over-active imagination, he would have much preferred it. True, he would have been mortally humiliated but Mary might still be alive, Father would not have been forced to confront a brother and he himself would not now be recovering in bed from an attempt on his life.
In any event, instead of dismissing the news, or even becoming angry at it (as Richard and William feared he might) Thomas had been filled with an irrational sense of doubt. When Martha (the serving woman Cedric had earlier encountered in the dungeons) had come rushing into the hall, speaking of the state she had just seen the young master in, Thomas' doubt had been joined by an encroaching sense of fear. They all knew Cedric's fear of that place, and Thomas had found it most unusual that in his right mind, he should choose then to go down there. At this point, his brothers questioned Cedric as to what on Earth had actually made him head for the dungeons that night.
"I have no idea," he answered truthfully after considering the matter for a moment. "My legs were moving and I just...followed them." It wasn't the last time he would repeat that explanation to baffled friends and family and each time, the reasoning never became clearer - at least, not as far as he would ever admit to.
So, Thomas had followed - and that's when he had seen it. His own brother, strangling his own son.
Doubt was cast aside: anger, fear and love usurped its place. Thomas had run forward - towards the fading light of his son, sword drawn. Charles had been so absorbed in his task of infanticide that he had not heard the approach. His dark eyes had never left Cedric's as they had rolled further and further up, to the back of his head. As such, he had not seen the advance either. Cedric remembered those eyes well but did not mention this to his storytellers. He would not mention it ever again.
Though his sword had been drawn, for whatever reasons he had, Thomas did not strike his brother down with the blade, opting to strike Charles once, hard across the back of the skull with the hilt. He had gone down with no fuss or drama, blood beginning to seep from the wound. That was when Richard, William and Eleanor had arrived. They had immediately tended to Cedric whilst Thomas, albeit reluctantly had after a while, gone to deal with Charles and handed him over to the law. They noticed Cedric's discomfort at the mention of the present state of his uncle and so smoothly changed the topic.
One game of cards later and then Eleanor had come to herd them out but not without promising to visit Cedric a little later on.
Two days later, Cedric was finally allowed free range once more. However he found that, much to his own surprise he spent most of the day in his room, occasionally venturing out to wander the grounds close to the castle.
Such was his feeling of displacement that he actually found himself in the room that, second to the dungeon, he would normally have been least likely to visit voluntarily. "Cedric?" asked the Friar from across the table, "are you sure you're feeling up to this? We can always continue your lessons when you have had ample time to readjust."
Cedric shook his head firmly. "No thank-you, Friar. I've probably missed enough lessons as it is. Best get it over with now," he joked half-heartedly. The Friar returned a weak smile.
"Very well then. Let us continue with Virgil's 'Aenead'." Cedric duly opened his book and began to stare at the Latin as the Friar translated. Aeneas went on a journey; he became distracted - he almost never continued to the journey's end. And he didn't marry Dido: the Friar had been right then - not everything was as simple as he first imagined - there was such a thing as 'sub text'.
As the pages rolled by and the Friar continued to translate, the words on the page gradually began to blur together in a neat pattern of black squiggles. He struggled to regain focus but the words would just not reform on the page into anything intelligible.
His head snapped up. The Friar had stopped translating a minute or two ago and was now simply watching him from over his book. "Perhaps we should call an end for today, hmm?" he asked, kindly.
"No - please. I'd rather be here," Cedric explained awkwardly. "I don't know what to do, otherwise." The Friar nodded slightly in understanding.
"As you wish - I must say that this will please your father no end. We are on page eighty- two. Please continue translating at verse fifty."
Cedric once more took the book up and after a few moments scanning, he had found and begun the appropriate passage. After only a few lines however, he was stumbling over the words and losing his place time and time again. He trailed off into silence and for a moment, stared blankly once more at the page.
"Did he really confess to everything?" he asked suddenly. The Friar sighed - he had always known these questions would be the ultimate aim of the young man's visit.
"We'll never know if Charles admitted to all that he has done but I see no reason why he should have held back now. Your father asked me to counsel Charles during his questioning - hear his private confession if need be but your uncle refused. He said what he had to say in front of us all." The Friar closed the book and leant back in his chair, surveying his young charge carefully. The last thing he wanted to do was further distress the boy, but if these unanswered questions were the cause of his anxiety then it was better for all if he knew the truth. He shook his head in sad amazement, "All for the anger of a one-sided love."
"Will he really be tried for murder?"
The Friar seemed surprised at that question. "Why yes. He has confessed to the murder of Mary Eden - you saw the evidence yourself."
"I know," he agreed hastily, preferring not to dwell on that image. "But what of the man on our journey, Edward - the one I told Father about? I heard him tell Charles that he had killed for him. But if Uncle Charles killed Aunt Mary, then who...?" He trailed off questioningly.
"Her suitor," the Friar filled in, picking up on his train of thought. "Mary Eden's lover - Robert Hardy," he explained at Cedric's blank expression. "For Mary to have eloped with this man, he too would have to have had disappeared."
"So Uncle Charles paid him to kill this man to cover for Mary's death?" Cedric reasoned. "Why him though - did he owe Charles a favour?"
"We don't know, Cedric. Perhaps he did but it is more likely that this Edward was simply plagued with avarice and a blackened heart: Robert Hardy was his brother." Cedric's eyes widened in realisation.
"So will Edward be tried as well?" Cedric wondered. At this, the Friar glanced away for a moment.
"He might if he is ever found. It is reported that he is missing since journeying into Chester almost a month ago - many believe him to be dead but there is no proof of anything."
"It was Charles," Cedric muttered quietly, almost to himself.
"Perhaps so," agreed the Friar, equally quietly, "but without a confession only God will know."
"Did Uncle Charles forge the letter as well?"
"Which letter, Cedric?"
"The one from Robert's brother, saying that he and Aunt Mary had eloped together?"
"Oh, yes I'd heard of that. No, I imagine Edward did that - his handwriting would be closer to his brother's than Charles' would have been. Most likely Mary never even intended to leave," he said sadly, shaking his head at the tragedy of it.
"But she did," Cedric protested, "I think not to elope, but she did try to leave Covington Cross one night. Someone...a servant saw her leave and, and someone else - a pregnant woman, she saw it too. Charles must have dragged her back inside. Or maybe he killed her right there?"
At this the Friar decided to call an end to the conversation. "Come now, Cedric - I am sure your father would rather we remain focused on our studies, not on gossip. Now I suggest you leave your books for today - we cannot force that brain of yours to take in what it does not want: I've learned that the hard way." Cedric gave him a distracted half smile and nodded, but his thoughts were already miles away.
The evening was wearing on and, from the slight chill in the air, it was clear that summer was ending and the autumn nights were approaching. The sky was light enough however to still stroll pleasantly about the grounds, enjoying the varying hues of the sunset. Cedric, Richard and William had been practising their swordplay but as the session had worn on, Cedric had begun to tire. Luckily for him, Eleanor appeared from the tilting yard ready to take his place. Her recently found passion for jousting had noticeably dwindled since she had learnt the truth about her uncle. No one had questioned her on it as they already knew the answer. Like the rest of them, she too would need time to come to terms. Charles had only been in their lives for a very short time but he had infiltrated every part.
Cedric made his way back inside the castle intent on going up to his room. As he passed the staircase however, he heard noises coming from the solar. On closer inspection, he determined it was his father - talking to himself again it appeared. Cedric smiled - every father needed the odd eccentricity: it was what enabled their children to mock them in all good humour. Suddenly, Cedric found that he did not wish to be alone.
Turning from the stairs, he ambled over to the solar where, as expected, he found Sir Thomas standing amid a mess of odds and ends. Curiously, he picked his way across the floor to stand by his father who was holding a bundle of old papers and muttering something about them to himself.
"Father?" he asked, causing Thomas to jump unexpectedly.
"Sorry," he apologised, "I didn't mean to startle you." When Thomas saw who it was, a broad smile spread over his face.
"Not at all, Cedric!" He clapped a hand lightly on his son's shoulder. "How are you feeling? The Friar tells me you've been back at lessons today. I'm pleased at your enthusiasm but I feel that perhaps you should stay off for another day or so." Cedric nodded absently. His gaze was casting about the strange objects in the room. They seemed somehow familiar. Thomas followed his look.
"They're from Charles' room," he explained. "The one in the turret tower. I believe you've been there before."
"Once," Cedric agreed. Then he noticed the bundles of letters in Thomas' hand.
"I have seen those before though," he said, "They were poems - love songs." Thomas smiled sadly. "Indeed. They are the poems Charles wrote to your Aunt Mary. The one's you said you had seen...and that I doubted you on." Cedric quickly began to shake his head but Thomas forestalled him. "I was wrong, Cedric," he admitted quickly. "I should have trusted you - paid closer attention. My desire to mend my past almost cost me all future happiness. I could not have lived if I had lost you, Cedric."
Cedric glanced away uneasily. "It's all right Father," he mumbled awkwardly. "I understand. I imagine if it had been Richard or William...I...I'm sorry for what has happened between you and Uncle Charles." At this, Thomas took his son firmly by the shoulders and forced the boy to meet his eyes. "Cedric - this was by no means your fault. You must never hold yourself accountable because no body else does. Do you understand?"
He nodded silently and Thomas drew him into a tight hug, holding on to him as if he may slip away at any moment and only releasing the boy when his arms had worn out.
Keeping a hand resting gently on his son's arm, Thomas turned to the rest of the items cluttering the room. "So what do you think of this little lot?"
Cedric eyed it carefully. "What do you think it is?"
"It seems mostly to be things of Mary's. One can assume that we were meant to have thought that she packed them herself." A cloud of grief passed over his face for the joyful young woman he had once known, cut down far too soon. His pain was tangible - almost cutting into Cedric too and so it was not entirely unselfishly that he attempted to draw his father away from his thoughts.
"What was in the trunks?" he asked, pointing to where they stood on the other side of the room. Thomas looked over at them. "I'm not entirely sure," he admitted, "clothing perhaps?" Cedric wandered over and tried the locks. They were still tight and the lid would not budge. Thomas smiled. "We'll get an iron-monger in here tomorrow," he assured the frustrated youth.
As he turned to move away, Cedric's foot knocked against something leaning up against the back wall. Concerned that he might have damaged something, he pulled it away from the wall and leant it against the trunks to get a better look at it.
It appeared to be a painting, already uncovered by Thomas as the dust cloth lay discarded on the floor next to it. Inquisitively Cedric knelt down to take a closer look. As he did so, Thomas noted his find.
"Ah yes - I'm glad you've found that. It truly is a magnificent work of art. It was commissioned by Charles you see," he said by way of explanation. "After the fall out, I never asked after it again wanting nothing that reminded me of him. Foolish of me, really."
Carefully, Cedric ran a hand over the canvass, tracing the gentle lines of the painted face. It was a beautiful face - kind and soft...and those eyes, he mused. They were captivating, enticing and familiar all at once. The hair, the calm and loving expression on her face - he had seen them - had known them all before.
Then the answer struck him down. "Nan!" he breathed. 'Dear God!' he thought suddenly in a panic. 'He had last seen her in Chester! He had been sure she had come to him that night and he had been so distracted that he had forgotten all about her. He had to act now - to send horses and messengers to seek her out...'
"Where on Earth did you hear her called that?"
His thoughts froze. "Father?" he asked slowly. "What do you mean?"
"That name. I haven't heard her called that in...well in more years than I care to remember," he said, shaking his head fondly and chuckling at the memory.
Cedric's voice was dry in his throat - he didn't trust it to come out. "Who?" he croaked.
Thomas looked at him in amusement. "Your mother of course! I remember she said it was Mary. Yes, that's right! As young children, Mary would never call her Anne - perhaps she couldn't? Anyway, she only ever called her Nan and eventually the name stayed between the two of them - a sort of pet name if you will. I can't imagine where you came across it."
Cedric was backing up away from the painting - away from that face, staring at him innocently from behind long dead eyes. Shaking his head, he managed to whisper, "But it can't be - can't be her."
Thomas appeared puzzled but then he seemed to realise something.
"Of course. You've never really seen pictures of your mother, have you? I have been most at fault there. I confess that sometimes the memory of her could be...overwhelming. If you'd known her I imagine you'd understand.
Of course this painting was quite old even when Charles had it painted - by the time he left England, your mother was heavily pregnant with you and knowing her, she would never have consented to a portrait!
Perhaps I shall display this now? Yes, at the top of the staircase perhaps where we may all enjoy it. Cedric?" he asked in mild concern, "are you alright? You seem piqued."
Cedric nodded, mouthing words that never came out. His hands were shaking, his heart pounding. Wordlessly he ran from the room.
He tore from the hall way and out of the castle, not stopping when he hit the cool evening air but carried on, running for all he was worth past the courtyard, past the fields and on further, into the outer grounds. On and on he ran, his lungs heaving in his chest, every breath of air seemingly piercing them like a needle until he reached the orchards.
He knew she'd be here - she was always here.
Hot tears streamed down his face and he wrapped his arms about his waist, both to steady his shaking body and to alleviate his muscle cramps.
The trees were silent, the air was still - nobody moved: nobody breathed.
"MOTHER?" he cried. Silence answered him and his tears fell harder.
"Mother - please!"
He sank to his knees onto the cool, dewy grass, silently pleading with her to appear. Deep down however - down where sub-consciousness, and instinct and understanding were buried, he knew that she would not appear to him. Whatever they had shared - whatever bond had not been severed - it was severed now.
He stayed in the orchard for another hour. The sun had well and truly set before he had picked himself off the ground - no longer desolate and lonely, but filled with the strangest sensation of peace and clarity. The memories were still raw, but they were fond and with a slowly lightening heart, he made his way back toward his family - towards his home.
Thomas surveyed the scene from a slight distance, an air of dispassion across his face.
Charles stood silently next to the Sheriff's men, bound fast.
"Are you sure, Thomas?" one of them asked.
"Quite so," he replied firmly. "Escorting prisoners on my land is still my responsibility. I shall see to it from here." Charles looked at him evenly. If he had once doubted his brother as a fool, he no longer did so now. 'So be it', he thought grimly - 'this is as it should be.'
The sheriff's men nodded curtly in understanding and handed the documentation over to Thomas.
Thomas waited and watched until they had mounted their horses and rode out of sight, along the road that led into town. When the dust from the horses' hooves had settled, he finally turned to Charles, hand constantly on his sword. He could not bear to contemplate the man he saw before him - the man who could murder his wife's sister and try to take the life of his youngest child. The man who as a boy had played with him and protected him from harm's way. Somehow, this only served to make his hatred of him now, all the more passionate. It burned in his eyes every time he looked at him. Through the questioning, they had spoken little to each other about anything other than his actual confessions: but bad blood could not stay silent for long.
"Mount up now," he ordered, not bothering to ask if he could manage the task with his hands tied. He did, however and as soon as Thomas had checked that their horses were lunged together, he mounted his own horse and kicked it into action. Together both horses set off at a canter along the dusty road. Up ahead of them, the turning was approaching that would lead them to the shire's gaol. Charles regarded it with quiet contempt but with acceptance nonetheless.
As the horses neared the turning, Thomas slowed them down. Suddenly however he yanked the reigns sharply to the left, sending the horses off in a gallop down a narrow path, leading deep into the forest. Charles could not keep the surprise from crossing his face as they changed their course. Thomas had never in his life been one for the spur of the moment. Rules: that is what guided his life - that is what he counted on when planning Mary's elopement: it was what he was counting on whilst Thomas transported him to incarceration. And now - now things were finally changing.
On and on Thomas drew them deeper into the forest. Dimly, Charles tried to remember what was on the other side. Thomas still did not speak to him, but for what Charles knew his brother had in mind, there would be a time and a place for speech and it was not while riding their horses.
As the forest's outer edge came into walking distance, Thomas drew them to a swift halt and leapt off his steed. Wordlessly, Charles followed. Thomas remained silent, turning away from Charles seemingly contemplating the forest around him. Charles simply waited, aware that whatever game was being played here - this time it was by Thomas' rules.
At length, Thomas spoke - so quietly that if Charles had not been paying close attention he would not have heard it:
"I do not understand you, Charles."
"What is it you do not understand, brother?" he replied evenly. At once Thomas spun around, temper raging. With all of his might, he sent his fist cracking into Charles' jaw causing the man to fly backwards from the blow and hit the ground hard. The crack on impact caused little satisfaction to Thomas, however. Hurt; grief; anger - all of these emotions tortured his very soul.
As ably as he could manage, Charles picked himself up off the forest floor ignoring as best he could, the throbbing pain in his face.
"You have tried to take the life of my son! My son, man - how could you? In God's dear name, how could you try to harm him?"
Charles smiled sadly at Thomas, wiping the blood from his lip in a kind of peaceful contemplation. "Thomas, you have no idea how I admire that boy of yours. He is intelligent beyond his own understanding - perhaps beyond yours as well.
Of all the lives I could have felled in my affairs - his would have been by far the most tragic."
Thomas stared at him, dumbfounded - not sure whether to trust his instincts or not. "Then...why?" he managed, struggling to find some reason, some understanding to pin his confusion on.
"Because of his persistence, his ingenuity. Nurture that boy, brother - he will end up surprising you, I guarantee. But come, Thomas - this talk is not the reason you brought me in here. Without the papers, my disappearance will eventually mean very little to the Law. I'm sure you have gathered that by now or we would not be standing here as we do."
Thomas straightened, his expression unreadable. "Indeed I have, Charles. You have attempted to rob me of that which I hold most dear - my family. For that, I can never find forgiveness enough in my heart to bestow upon you."
"I understand that, Thomas - believe me."
"Then I am glad to hear that." From beneath the folds of his cloak, Thomas reached into his belt and brought out a long, ornate silver dagger. Charles' eyes widened ever so slightly, but that was the only response he was prepared to give. He may have been expecting this - his brother, he had learned, was fiercely protective of his own - but that did not mean that he would dance to his brother's tune.
In three short strides, Thomas had crossed to Charles and with one hand, taken a grip on his right arm and with the other, readied the blade. 'No', Charles thought, almost fondly, 'my brother is not the fool I have taken him for.' Roughly, Thomas jerked Charles' arms forward slightly, anger lining his jaw - facial muscles twitching with tension and strain. Bringing the knife towards him, he smoothly applied it to Charles' bonds, sawing through the ropes that held him tight. Charles gazed down in him in astonishment, suspicion obvious on his face but a question on his lips. Before he could remark however, Thomas cut in, roughly:
"There will never be a place for you at my table again, Charles. My hatred of you will be ever lasting. But...I find...that you are still, and always will be...family. If you come near me or mine again, know this - I will strike you down by the Grace of God. No courts - no law: only my law. Your horse will return with me but before this week is gone, you will have left England and this time, you shall not be returning. For all extent and purposes I may consider you dead. Do you understand all that I have said?"
Charles nodded once, mutely. Perhaps his brother was fool enough, after all?
"Then go - we shall not meet again."
With one last look at his brother, Charles turned on his heel and made his way to the forest's edge and into the neighbouring town. England would be a land he would be only too glad to leave behind.
Thomas watched him go - watched until his brother was out of sight. As he mounted his horse for his return, he fined his resolve to speak of this encounter to no one. Though his heart and mind raced in turmoil, his gut was offering assurances - if Charles were ever foolish enough to return, he would be ready.
Drawn in mind and spirit, he spurred his horse onwards to Covington Cross - back to the folds of his family, and the welcome embrace of their inextricable trials and fortunes.
Well, that's it folks! Thanks for seeing it through to the end with me. I know it might seem a little implausible that Cedric wouldn't know what his own mother looked like, but it IS possible, from my own experience. Plus in the episode where Anne's sister (who is supposedly a dead ringer for Anne herself) comes into it, Cedric had no idea who she was. So that's my justification - also it worked well for me!
Hope you enjoyed it :)