John Dynham & The Wars of the Roses: Part Three: Thomas & Tom, A Spiritual Brotherhood

This series of novels chronicles the Wars of the Roses, as perceived through the eyes of a Devonshire lord, his family and friends. John Dynham (1433-1501) rose from obscurity to become one of the key figures in the violent struggle for supremacy between the houses of York and Lancaster. He left his mark on British history in 1459, in the aftermath of the battle of Blore Heath when he escorted the rebel Yorkist lords, including the future Edward IV, to the safety of Nutwell, his ancestral home, and then on to the Calais garrison. Recovering from a horrific injury which almost cost him his life, he went on to enjoy a lengthy and glittering political career, not to mention a complex and unconventional personal life. Twice-married, but openly gay in his private circle, Dynham survived the harsh reigns and dictates of three very different kings: Edward IV, of whom he was one of his closest friends—Richard III, whose regime he held responsible for the deaths of several loved ones, including his first wife—and Henry VII, the first Tudor king whom he secretly despised. His story is one of compelling interest—sex, shady politics, tragedy and intrigue. The third part of the John Dynham & The Wars of the Roses series covers the period 1474-80, and opens with Dynham and his faction about to leave for London where King Edward IV has appointed him Admiral of the Fleet for his proposed invasion of France. We are introduced to several new characters. There is the dashing, beautiful Sir Thomas Arundell, married to Dynham’s sister, Kate; the strapping, equally illustrious Sir Thomas, Dynham’s illegitimate son with whom he is reunited fifteen years after sending him into exile; and diminutive lothario Lord John Zouche, who arrives at Nutwell to marry Joan Dynham where he seduces not just her but Edith, the youngest of the Dynham siblings. The invasion does not take place, but there is drama when John Radcliffe, Dynham’s psychotic stepson, resurfaces. In a continuation of the events of the Exeter Rebellion, detailed in Nicholas Carew, he has joined forces with Dynham’s much-hated brother-in-law Fulk Bourchier and King Edward’s treacherous brother George, Duke of Clarence to destroy Edward and the Dynhams, and put Clarence on the throne. And in the midst of this melee, before the inevitably tragic Dynham-Clarence-Bourchier showdown, Thomas Dynham and Tom Arundell fall in love—a passionate affair which leads to the “spiritual brotherhood” bonding ceremony of this story’s title. 

EXTRACT

For what seemed an eternity but which could have been no more than an hour, I attempted to assess our predica-ment, conducting a one-sided conversation with Tom—whispering and with him nodding or shaking his head—in the event that if someone was still out there on the landing, they might not come barging into the room and gag me too.

   Our captor’s name was Robert—my father knew him, and he had visited Nutwell. He was obviously involved with the Duke of Clarence, and may have acted as an intermediator during the Exeter rebellion in that he may have been the one conveying the Dynham party’s money to the rebels. The way he had spoken to his henchman about Fulk Bourchier suggested that he disliked him—or that maybe he was afraid of him—which meant that he could have been acting against his will. I asked Tom if he believed young Zouche capable of double-dealing with a man like Clarence. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say that anything was possible. Zouche was young and impetuous, a boy who could have been easily led. But, I pressed, would he be stupid enough to implicate himself with treason—with Anthony Woodville, the King’s brother-in-law, as his guardian, whether they had met or not. Again, Tom shrugged his shoulders.

   This was no straightforward insurrection. Robert had been looking for someone specific and had seemingly been relieved not to have come up against my father. The opportunity to dispose of us had been there, but he had insisted upon letting us live. Tom had been injured only because he had lost his temper. The way Robert had touched my shoulder had suggested genuine concern. So, who were these men looking for? Obviously, the answer to this question lay with John Zouche, the Twynhos and this place called Cayford. Tom had never heard of it, or the Twynhos, until yesterday.

   We were freed by an old groom called Jed, who spoke with an almost incomprehensible Somerset brogue. He hobbled into the room just as the rain stopped outside.

   “Lord have mercy,” he exclaimed. “I expected to find you dead!”

   Tom pulled the gag from his mouth, then dashed to the pot in the corner of the room and relieved himself with a satisfied, “Ah!”

   When he returned, Jed observed the bruise on his face.

   “Lord have mercy,” he pronounced again. “Be you all right, my lord?”

   Tom showed him his bloodied hand, “This may need seeing to. Otherwise I’m fine. What happened, Jed? Has anyone been killed?”

   The old man shook his head, and babbled excitedly.

   “Them came tearing down the lane like bats out of hell, my lord. Me and young Jack were mucking out the stables. Forgive me, my lord. We thinked we were going to be murdered. Them were yelling things about slitting throats and lopping off ears and other bits of us, so Jack and me we hid in the hay-loft. Jack’s had a little bit of schooling, and he counted them—ninety-two, they was. He’s younger and fitter than me, so I sent him over to Buckland to get help. He’s not come back yet.”

   “But who were they looking for?” Tom pressed.

   “Them were looking for Mas’er John,” Jed replied. “I means Lord Zouche. Them wanted to know where the widow Twynho lived. Them asked the servants, and when they didn’t get an answer them got hold of one of them and started pulling his teeth out. Then they shut them in the cellar, with your men.”

   This was getting more baffling by the minute. I asked Jed why on earth these men should have made such a fuss over a simple country widow.

   “Yes,” Tom demanded. “What exactly has Ankarette done?”

   “That’s something I can’t tell you, my lord, ‘cause I don’t know,” Jed said. “But, the lad who had his teeth pulled out talked, I think. You bain’t going to punish him, are you? I reckons he’s gone through enough.”

   Tom shook his head, reassuringly, “No, of course not. Tell me. Does Ankarette Twynho live in a village called Cayford?”

   Jed nodded, “That’s where them’s gone now, my lord. Them said they were going to string the old witch up—their words, not mine.”

   Tom looked to me for a solution to our problem.

   “Well, Thomas? What are we going to do—go after them?”

   I frowned, “A dozen of us, against ninety-two? That wouldn’t be wise.  Bearing in mind they were Clarence’s men, I’d say we’re lucky to be alive. I think we should stay put, certainly for a few more hours. If Jack’s ridden to Buckland, John will be aware of our plight by now.”

   Tom agreed. We spent the next hour tending the man whose teeth had been pulled out by the rebels. His name was Richard Smythe, and he was in considerable pain. He was only nineteen, and about to be married to a girl from the village. Poor Richard was anxious she might not want him, now, and I promised him that whoever had done this would pay dearly.

   Jack, the stable-boy, returned from Buckland Dynham. My father had not been there. He, Philip and William Tystede had ridden into Beckington, the next village, on landlord business. A message had been sent to them, and Jack had bided his time, terrified of meeting up with the rebels on the way back to Castle Cary. That Beckington was off the Frome road also filled us with dread—there was every possibility that my father and Philip might run smack into Clarence’s soldiers. All we could do was wait…and hope.

   They turned up just after midnight, having encountered no problems on the way here. John Zouche was not with them, and the conclusion was that Clarence’s men must have taken him, along with Ankarette—who my father had never heard of, either. And even while Tom and I were explaining our predicament in the great hall, we received another visitor.

   There was such a fierce braying against the door. The servants were so terrified after their ordeal that they fled, so it was left to me to find out who it was—flanked by my father, Tom and Philip, their weapons drawn. At the door was a tall, fair-haired man of around twenty—slim, with a neatly-trimmed beard and big, bulging eyes. He did not announce himself but staggered into the hall, and collapsed in a heap in front of us.

   We helped him to his feet, and settled him into a chair. He started to talk, then burst into tears, but eventually we got a story out of him—of how he had fled Cayford in fear of his life. Philip rounded up the servants, who were as afraid of this stranger as they had been of Clarence’s men. Despite this they went outside into the cold and checked the grounds, while our visitor was given a mug of hot, spiced ale which seemed to settle him down. He told that his name was Roger Twynho, and that he was Ankarette’s grandson.

   “They’ve t-taken her,” he stuttered. “They wouldn’t even allow her to put on a cloak. They told her she was going to be hanged, my lord!”

   The servants returned to the house. They had scoured the grounds right up to the front gates, and seen nothing. My father told them to return to their beds, while Roger Twynho explained what had happened. Ankarette had been a member of the Duchess of Clarence’s household, at Warwick Castle. According to her accuser—Clarence himself—on the tenth of October last she had served his wife a cup of ale mixed with poison, after which Isabel had slowly sickened until the Sunday before Christmas, when she had died.

   “It’s not true,” Roger sobbed. “My grandmother is the sweetest, kindest soul that’s ever drawn breath. Lord Zouche would vouch for that, if he were here. She would never hurt a fly. And those men were so violent. One of the grooms tried to protect me and they cut him down—that’s how I got away. Why should they want to do this to us, my lords? Why make up such a lie?”

   None of us could answer this. In all honesty we did not know what Ankarette Twynho might have been capable of. Our main concern, though we did not tell Roger this, was what had happened to John Zouche.

   “If Clarence and Bourchier are involved, anything’s possible,” my father said. “But I don’t think you need worry unduly, Roger. Even if your grandmother is guilty

—and I’m sure she’s not—they wouldn’t be permitted to take her further than Frome. It’s against the law to escort a prisoner over the border without a signed writ by me. I’m the law around these parts, not that twat Clarence.”

   He could have added that Clarence had always been a law unto himself, but then poor Roger would have given up the ghost altogether.

   Roger went on, “One of the servants said he’d heard this man called Robert saying as how the prisoner would be taken to Warwick and tried there.”

   The bullfrog eyes welled with more tears and he began to shake, while my father spoke firmly, “Now you listen to me, lad. To get to Warwick they’d have to pass all the way through three counties, not one. Not even Clarence would risk that. They has to be in Frome—”

   “Then we’ll have to go there right away and fight them and get her back!” Roger blubbered.

   My father’s reaction to this suggestion was the same as Tom’s had been, earlier.

   “How far do you reckon we’d get with twenty men between us? The stable-boy said they’d almost a hundred when they came here. Who knows how many more there are of them, waiting for us in Frome? There’ll be no fighting, Roger. Clarence’s men won’t want to travel overnight with some of the roads waterlogged. Even if they do start out for Warwick, we’ll catch them up. Robert Willoughby’s a fair man. He’ll give your grand-mother up without a struggle when I convince him he’s made a mistake. If I were you, I’d get myself off to bed. There’s plenty of room upstairs. We’ll keep a watch until morning.”

   Roger Twynho refused to be convinced that his grand-mother was not in grave danger. He declared that unless we left with him now, at a moment’s notice in the early hours of the morning when it was pitch-black outside, he would rescue Ankarette himself. Thus he stormed out of the house as dramatically as he had entered.

   “Leave him be, Thomas,” my father said. “He’ll be in Frome when we get there tomorrow.  I needs a little time to think this thing through. It’s no good throwing good money after bad.”

   Philip stared at him—even he did not understand this.

   Later, in our room, Tom tried to analyse the situation, and I was given the third degree. He had set the lantern on the table between our beds. Though I had kept most of my clothes on and was snuggled in bed with the covers pulled up to my chin, he was sitting up in his, bare-chested and seemingly oblivious to the cold.

   “Isabel Neville had a baby, a few years back on a ship in the middle of the Channel. Right?”

   “Right,” I said, and then shivered, less to do with the cold than with staring at Tom’s fabulously hairy chest.

   He smiled and murmured, “If you’re that cold, dear, you could always get in next to me. You’d be as snug as a bug in a rug!”

   He may have been jesting—it was hard to tell, thus I pretended not to hear and he continued, “Clarence has always blamed your father for the child’s death. He must have known about John Zouche’s involvement with the widow Twynho. You heard what he said, how she’s been like a mother to him. I don’t believe at all that Zouche and Clarence have never met. He told me himself how as a boy he spent much of his time at Warwick Castle…”

   I stifled a yawn.

   “Tom,” I asked. “Is this going anywhere? My head’s still aching and I’m really tired...”

   “Shut up,” he rapped. “In case you haven’t worked it out, I’m thinking! Clarence has been waiting years to get back at John Dynham—right?”

   “Right,” I told him again.

   “So, he contacts his former co-conspirator, Bourchier,” he went on. “They hatch a plot. Why not say the old lady poisoned Isabel, and that Zouche put her up to it?”

   “That sounds far-fetched, too,” I replied. “Why would Zouche want Isabel Neville out of the way? It doesn’t make sense.”

   Tom scratched his chest. Castle Cary might have been clean, but I swear there were bugs in the beds.

   “It makes good sense, Thomas,” he said. “John Zouche is marrying into the family. Clarence hates the Dynhams and their clan. Didn’t he once say that he wanted to wipe us off the face of the earth?”

   “But it still doesn’t make sense,” I argued. “If he wants to kill us all as you say, why didn’t he arrest my father instead of some old woman we’ve never heard of?”

   Thomas settled down in the bed, but did not cover his upper half.

   “Because your father wasn’t at Buckland, where Fulk said he would be,” he put it, with some satisfaction. “He’d gone over to Beckington. If you want my opinion, in spite of what your father says, they’ll take Ankarette all the way to Warwick because Clarence wants to lure us all there for the ultimate showdown. I’ll wager you my last crown, Thomas, that when we get there the first face we’ll see will be Fulk Bourchier’s.”

   Then he gazed across at me like a moonstruck maiden and said, “So, are you going to come over here and get in with me for a little cuddle, or not? Or are you still going to pretend that you’re tired?”