So, today is the 22nd of August, the day of the Battle of Bosworth, and a sad day for us Ricardians, since Richard III died. I was watching Game of Thrones, and was inspired by this scene where Daenerys encounters her dead husband and son in an illusion, and wanted to write something similar with Richard.
A couple of notes - although Richard and his wife Anne only had one child, they were married for over ten years, and in this story, I imagine in that time she may have had miscarriages that were so early they would not have been considered stillbirths, and therefore would not have been recorded. Also, I am of the belief that during the battle, Richard felt suicidal, due to his reckless charge at Henry Tudor which led to his death, and so I have hinted at it here and in the title.
His squire had told him to sleep. He had said that he would need it. Richard lay in the gloom, the covers pulled up to his waist, silently listening. He could hear the horses braying, the men as they chattered around campsites, the sound of steel being drawn and sharpened, of armour being cleaned and readied for use. A small fire flickered in the brazier in the middle of the night, providing him with a little warmth as the cold of the night seeped in, banishing away the heat of the day. He felt old, and weary.
And he was only thirty two.
Sleep seemed to recede from him. Richard never slept well before a battle. But at least before, he had had his brothers at his side, and a wife and child to fight to come home to. It was the waiting he loathed. He wished time would pass and he could face Henry Tudor and his army and be done with it. He tossed, and turned. Wriggled his uneven shoulders, trying to find a somewhat comfortable position. He shifted from the warm side of his bed, to the cold side.
He must have slept, because when he woke up he was standing on the moors surrounding Middleham. Richard blinked and shielded his dark eyes. The sky was bright, but cloudy, and it was snowing. Or was it ash? The wind blasted against his slender body, blowing his dark hair into his eyes.
"Is this a trick?" he shouted to the heavens "Is this some sort of riddle? Are you trying to frighten me with magic tricks? Or are you trying to torture me some more? Because I've had enough! I won't suffer this torment anymore!"
Tentatively, he started to walk towards the castle that he hadn't entered in over a year. It seemed deserted. Where were the cooks, the pages, the maids, grooms and steward? There were no stray dogs, or cats, or mice. Richard wandered through the hallways, opening doors, finding nothing, until he reached one of his most favourite rooms.
He and Anne had used this as a family room, as a place to spend time together in the evening, usually with their son. He pushed lightly on the door, and slipped inside.
A fire burned cheerfully in the heath, and the sun shone through the windows, lighting up the furniture. Kneeling on the rug were some precious people he thought he'd never see again.
Richard approached Anne, hardly taking his eyes off of her. She seemed to glow with joy, wearing her favourite gown. She looked how Richard remembered her best, small and delicate, but glowing with spirit, not sickly and sad and waiting for death as she had a few months ago. Sitting beside her sat their son, Edward, whom they had affectionately called Neddy to differentiate between Richard's brother and his two nephews. Neddy smiled at him delightedly, and sat up straight. Like Anne, he was whole and healthy. There were other children, too. Richard had never seen them, never watched them grow, but he knew who they were, and what they would have been called, and how old they would have been, had they lived. Isabel, George, Cecily, Francis, Young Richard and Young Anne. Anne held Young Anne, who was still a baby, in her arms lovingly, and she reached up with her tiny hands to grasp her mother's chestnut curls, falling loosely over her dress.
"This...this is a dream" whispered Richard, his eyes wide with disbelief "This is a fever dream. I must be sick with a fever, like the one that took you from me. Took you from me before I could even..."
He crouched down beside her and knelt on the rug. It felt so real. He could feel the warmth of the fire, hear it crackling, smell Anne's perfume, her hair, smell the soft milky scent of the baby, feel the thickness of the rug beneath him.
"Or maybe I am already dead and I just don't know it yet" Richard blinked several times, and the scene did not go away. He reached out and touched the baby's hand. She gurgled with delight, letting go of Anne's hair and clutching his long slender ones with her miniscle ones "Maybe this is what the monks and the priests and archbishops call God's Paradise"
"Or maybe we refused to enter God's Paradise without you" smiled Anne.
"That sounds like something you would do" Richard smiled back. His eyes turned back to his children. George was fidgeting beside Neddy, whilst Young Richard ran in circles around them, which reminded him of three other brothers, three other sons of York. Isabel and Cecily were as beautiful as their mother. Richard let go of the baby's hand and gently touched Francis' hair, as he snuggled up to his father.
"Or maybe we are all dreaming. Maybe this is your dream, my dream, our children's dream. Perhaps we'll all wake up, and all the suffering and death will have been a nightmare. I don't know" said Anne.
"If this is a dream" Richard whispered, leaning forwards and kissing his daughters on the forehead "Then I will kill the man who tries to wake me"
He turned back to Anne.
"I have missed you" she sighed.
"I have been so alone"
"I have been reunited with our sweet son, and our sweet babies who never drew breath, but we are no family without you, my love"
"They have been pressing me to marry again. They say I need a wife, to give me heirs. But you are my wife, and these are my heirs"
"You do need a wife, and heirs. But I am your love, and these are our children. We always will be"
"I know" Richard reached out to hold her in his arms. One of her small hands rested on his cheek, and their foreheads touched.
"And one day, we will all be together again, and the life we lived will all be someone else's story"
It already felt like it was. Richard sat on the rug, holding Anne, as they cradled Young Anne, admiring his beautiful children. If this was his fate, to spend eternity here, holding them, he'd gladly take it. He could die right now, and die a happy man.
But it wasn't to be. In the distance, he suddenly heard one of Henry Tudor's warhorns sound. Richard turned his head reluctantly. The sound had punctured the tranquillity and bliss of the domestic scene, and reminded him that really, all this was a dream. Anne was gone. Neddy was gone. Their children had never been. He could feel a wrenching sensation, as if he was emerging from the depth of the ocean. He was waking up.
He couldn't stand the idea of it being taken away from him again. He'd leave by choice this time. He'd say goodbye. There were always those few precious moments in the last dregs of a dream before waking up, and Richard used them. Slowly, he climbed to his feet, and handed Young Anne back to her moth. His family sat up straight again, from where they had cuddled up against him, and looked a little sad and lost.
He touched his lips to Anne's "When my sword arm falls, and my shield drops before me. When my crown tumbles from my head, and my armour breaks into shards, then we will be reunited, and not before"
With a final caress of Neddy's dark hair, he took a final glance at each of his children, his eyes lingering on Anne and the baby. The warhorns sounded again, and the distant sound of drumming began. They all watched him. Richard turned away so they did not see him cry, and he stepped out of the room, back along the corridors, and out into the waking world.
He did not know that by nightfall, he'd return, to stay forever.