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The Disappearing Rose

 

Dedication

 

In memory of my brother,

Ronald Forbes Duke,

who disappeared from our lives in August, 1963,

but is forever in our hearts.

 

Acknowledgements

 

The author would like to thank the following for providing historical background and insight: Professor David Dendy, M.A., Department of History, Okanagan College, and the late Dorothy Mitchell, founder of the Society of Friends of King Richard III.

Family support throughout the creative process was much appreciated, too (thanks, Mum and Richard), as was input from my editors, Nancy Bell and Jessica Naccari, beta reader, Carole Field, and OSC kid consultants, Teryl Bates, Arman Benoit, Brendan Boychuk, Anna Danby, Taylor Dumaresq, Isabella Harmel, Jordan Janicki, Gabriel, L’Heureux, Joshua Lundquist, Georgia MacDonald, Lilly MacDonald, Jenna Matchett, Paige McLaughlin, Mila Mirchandani, Nina Mroz, Joshua Ridgway, Vaeda Russett, Brielle Ryan, Kyle Seed, and Alexis Vizcaino.

Thanks, also, to my cover artist, Michelle Lee, my touch-up artist, Summer Bates, my cover model photographer, Carlos Le Guerrier, and my cover models, Antonella Feeney, Teryl Bates, Gabriel L’Heureux, Noah Law, and Tarran Bates

Chapter One

 

MISSING!

Brothers, aged 10 and 12.

Foul play suspected.

 

That’s what the headlines would say nowadays. But not then. Back in the fifteenth century there had been no headlines. No amber alerts. No posters. Just a rumour that two young boys had vanished from the Tower of London. When, and how, was a mystery.

A mystery that a twenty-first century boy was thinking about as he turned over in bed for the umpteenth time. He’d felt very weary when his family landed in England the day before, but it was now ten to five in the morning, and Dane Marchand had never been so wide-awake in all his eleven years. The lost princes were among the subjects being covered in a documentary his filmmaker father was shooting, and pondering their fate gave him something to do.

On the bed opposite, a large black and white cat named Socrates lay in a sphinx-like position beside Dane’s nine-year-old cousin, who was still asleep. Dane’s mother described Jonathan—usually known as Jack—as a walking encyclopedia. He was also a whiz with languages, both ancient and modern. Dane did well in school and was fluent in both English and French, but he was no genius. Even so, he did not find his cousin’s intellect disconcerting. Awake, Jack looked more alert than studious. He liked card games as much as chess and read his favourite weekly comic, The Beano, as avidly as the ponderous academic works owned by his parents, Gareth Taisley and Augusta Hollingsworth Taisley.

Dane’s mother was a Hollingsworth too. Britannia Hollingsworth Marchand wrote historical novels and would be researching one while she was home visiting her family.

Shifting position yet again, Dane also shifted his thoughts and began to wonder what his sister Paige was doing. The Marchands travelled a great deal, and jet lag usually got to her as well. Taking his glasses from a nightstand, he slipped out of bed and tiptoed into the corridor.

He found Paige there, sitting on the lower of two steps leading to an upstairs bathroom. She was wrapped in a blanket and looked a bit disgruntled. According to their father, thirteen-year-olds were supposed to look that way.

Paige’s attentive brown eyes were a match for Dane’s, but her hair was a lighter shade of brown and a little wavier. Though two years older, she was only marginally taller, and had yet to become reconciled to the fact that a recent series of growth spurts had allowed her ‘little’ brother to catch up to her. That he was quite pleased about this irked her even more.

“Take some of the blanket,” she whispered as he settled beside her. “It’s cold this time of morning.”

Dane accepted the offer. “Been up long?”

Paige shook her head. “I’ve been awake, though.”

“Me too. How long do you suppose it’ll be before everyone else is?”

“An hour, maybe. Could be longer. Aunt Augusta and Uncle Gareth work from home during the summer, and Jack doesn’t have to get up for school.”

“He only got out yesterday,” said Dane. “Imagine being in class for almost all of July!”

A few minutes later, a slightly overweight man came out of a door at the end of the corridor, his receding ginger hair offset by the bushiness of his grey-tinged beard and moustache. Wrinkled pants and a baggy sweater proclaimed Uncle Gareth dressed and ready for the day.

“Do you always get up at this hour?” Paige asked him as he strolled toward them.

Uncle Gareth nodded. “I do some of my best thinking before six a.m. What about you two?”

“We’re kind of hyped up from the trip,” said Dane.

“That’ll pass. You’ll probably feel shattered again by the time we get to Grantie Etta’s. I thought you’d all be resting up here for a bit after your long flight from Canada, but it seems your dad’s keen to get on with his filming.”

“Aren’t you?” said Dane.

“No. Two of the other historians he’ll be working with are archrivals. I’ve been serving as a referee ever since I found those letters over at Rosebank.”

The letters were from the fifteenth century. Uncle Gareth had come across them in a large, rambling house owned by an elderly relative.

Edging between them, he lowered himself onto the topmost bathroom step before continuing. “My colleagues have confirmed the letters’ authenticity and are in tentative agreement as to which of Grantie’s ancestors wrote them. What they do not agree on is how to interpret what he wrote. They’ve held opposing views on that particular era for years and will probably have conflicting ideas about the period pieces your dad wants to do.”

Paige groaned. “I don’t even want to think about those. Or how he’s making us portray the children of King Edward the Fourth.”

“He’s not making me,” said Dane. “I like acting.”

Paige scowled. She and Dane often worked on their father’s films, but she had never shared her brother’s enthusiasm for the task. And she was definitely not looking forward to walking around in full medieval array in the heat of summer. She was a T-shirt and shorts type. Long gowns were not her style.

“Edward the Fourth’s children are important background figures,” said Uncle Gareth. “The fate of the boy king, Edward the Fifth, and his brother, the little Duke of York, has been stirring up controversy for over five hundred years.”

“I don’t know why,” said Paige. “It’s common knowledge that their uncle did them in so he could become king.”

“Uncles were pretty treacherous back then,” Dane added, grinning.

Uncle Gareth laughed. “King Richard the Third has often been cited as the classic example of a wicked uncle, but some people think he was framed.”

“Well, I don’t,” Paige said emphatically. “He was only able to cheat Edward the Fifth out of the throne because the kid wasn’t old enough to do anything about it. But you can bet he would have tried to get it back later on. The only way for dear old Uncle Richard to keep it was to get rid of both his nephews before they could become a major problem.”

“Perhaps,” said Uncle Gareth. “But any stories you might have heard about the little princes being smothered in their sleep or walled up in a room in the Tower of London are just that—stories. All that’s known for certain is that sometime between July fourteen-eighty-three and September fourteen-eighty-five, they disappeared without a trace. Which doesn’t necessarily denote a tragic end. They might just have escaped and gone into hiding.”

“Is that what it says in those letters you found?” Dane asked.

“Not directly. But one does say something about the boys being guests at Rosebank before and, more importantly, after their supposed disappearance.”

Paige’s eyebrows went up in surprise. “Guests? At Rosebank? I know it was considered pretty fancy back in the fifteenth century, but I wouldn’t have thought it rated royal visitors. Mum told us it’s belonged to Grantie Etta’s family ever since it was built, and they weren’t members of the aristocracy or anything.”

“You didn’t have to be an aristocrat to lend a king money. Edward the Fourth got on very well with rich merchants like the Wolvertons.”

A sleepy-looking Jack emerged from his room, interrupting the conversation on the stairs.

“Morning, you little layabout,” said his father, flicking at the boy’s mop of blond, slightly gingery, hair. “Finally decided to stir, have you? Your cousins have been up for ages.”

“I’m on holiday,” Jack said crossly. “You like getting up at beastly hours. I don’t. It’s not in my genetic make-up.”

“Oh, yes, I keep forgetting you were adopted,” Uncle Gareth replied solemnly. “And I don’t suppose they’d let us trade you in for a more compatible urchin after all these years.”

Dane and Paige smiled. Uncle Gareth and Aunt Augusta had waited a long time to get Jack. They wouldn’t have exchanged him for anything on earth.

“It’s okay, Jack,” said Paige. “We’re not usually early risers either. Dad’s the one who gets up with the birds in our house.”

As if on cue, Alan Marchand emerged from the guestroom.

“Good morning, good morning,” he said jovially. “It is indeed my habit to rise upon being drawn from slumber by the chirping of little birds. Today it was the chirping of little birds known as Canadian Whisperers—an inconsiderate species with exceedingly penetrating voices. If you’re up because they woke you up, Gareth, you have my permission to swat them.”

“Da-a-a-d,” said Paige.

Mr. Marchand cringed. “Oh! I’ve embarrassed her. I’m always embarrassing her. It seems like only yesterday, she idolized me, but now…” He let his shoulders droop dejectedly.

“Oh, please,” Paige said in disgust.

Mr. Marchand had always been a tease. Lately, Paige had been taking more exception.

“They didn’t disturb me, Alan,” said Uncle Gareth, getting to his feet.

“Good. They didn’t actually wake me either. Their mother had already managed to do that, tossing and turning. They get their susceptibility to jet lag from her. It never bothers me.”

A minute or two later, Mrs. Marchand came to join them. So did Aunt Augusta, who claimed she usually got up at that time. As they made their way downstairs to breakfast, Jack appeared to be the only one who felt the day had begun too soon.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

The Taisleys lived in a large, comfortable brick house. Since it was barely a hundred years old, they considered it quite modern, but its location made up for its lack of history. It was located at the end of a quiet lane on the outskirts of Windsor, an immensely historic town, complete with castle. Once Jack was properly awake, he took his cousins on a walking tour that included England’s shortest street, a crooked house, the famous boys’ school in nearby Eton, and, of course, Windsor Castle. They also visited some souvenir shops and even watched the Changing of the Guard before going back to the house for lunch. None of them ate much, however. A tea room near the castle sold various types of baked goodies, and Jack had purchased some fancy cakes to share with Dane and Paige on the way home.

After lunch, Uncle Gareth drove Mr. Marchand over to Grantie Etta’s to set up a shooting schedule with her housekeeper. Aunt Augusta followed with Jack and the rest of the Marchands an hour or so later.

Grantie Etta lived near a small village between Windsor and the city of Slough. It was Aunt Augusta who had first called her Grantie Etta. As a small child, she had been unable to say Great Aunt, and the title had stuck. Miss Rosetta Wolverton was actually her great-great aunt, and the children’s great-great-great aunt, but they rarely thought about their exact connection to her. She was just Grantie, their very oldest relative. Toward the end of summer, she would be celebrating her one hundred and fifth birthday.

Though they kept in touch, they had not been to see her since they visited England with their parents three years earlier, and Jack knew her far better than they did.

“She has all her faculties and is still remarkably fit,” he told them as the car sped along a narrow, tree-lined lane on what they considered the wrong side of the road. “She has the odd day when she feels a bit poorly, but we don’t worry about her too much. Her housekeeper, Mrs. Purdom, lives in now, and she used to be a nurse. She does all the cooking and such, and a girl from the village comes in to clean.”

Dane remembered Mrs. Purdom. He also remembered the staff being a little larger. So did Paige. “Doesn’t it take more people than that to run such a big house?” she inquired.

“A lot of it’s been shut up now that Grantie can’t manage the stairs. Daddy found those letters behind a wall being knocked down to make a bedroom on the ground floor.”

High iron railings surrounded Rosebank’s fields and gardens, and the house itself sat well in from the road, at the end of a long paved drive. It was indeed a big house. Wings added at a later date had kept the original brick and timber design, and the whole place had an old feel to it. Inside, however, the rooms used as living quarters were comfortably furnished, and had all the usual modern conveniences.

Mr. Marchand was in the entrance hall talking on his cell phone when they arrived. He nodded to his family as they followed Mrs. Purdom into the sitting room where Uncle Gareth was talking to a small, slightly built woman with white hair, twinkling blue eyes, and a great many wrinkles.

Grantie Etta was seated in an armchair. The rotund pug dog lying on a footstool beside her did not bark at their entrance but did get off the stool and waddle across the room to inspect them. Dane loved all animals. The pug seemed to sense this and gave him extra attention. Behind the old lady’s chair, a large scarlet macaw turned around on its perch and started to beat its wings.

“Strawberry!” it screamed as Mrs. Marchand bent down to kiss her great-great aunt. “Strawberry! Strawberry!”

“Be quiet, you noisy creature,” said Grantie Etta.

The parrot paid no attention. It kept repeating the word.

“Here.” Grantie Etta handed Dane a dish of strawberries. “People claim parrots don’t know what they’re saying, but this one does. I withheld his afternoon treat so you young ones could give it to him. He wasn’t amused.”

Dane and Paige both had allergies, and one of Dane’s was to strawberries. Mindful of a probable rash from touching one, he used a tissue to pick it up and hold it out to the parrot. Taking the berry firmly in one claw, Grantie’s assertive pet began to nibble at it contentedly.

“How old is he now?” asked Dane, stroking the bird’s head with his forefinger.

“Thirty,” said Grantie Etta. “And he’s loved strawberries ever since he was a chick. Hence the name. The fat dog snuffling around your feet is Horace. I didn’t have him when you were here last, but he regards anyone holding a biscuit as a bosom friend. There’s some just there, beside you.”

Dane selected a biscuit from a tin on the table and knelt down to give it to the pug. He then passed both treat containers to Paige and stood up to survey his surroundings.

Grantie’s sitting room was an interesting place. The plaques and oil paintings lining the oak-panelled walls looked down on an impressive collection of knick-knacks sitting atop antique tables and stands. At the far end of the room, brightly polished ornaments of brass and silver were arranged along a sideboard standing between two glass fronted display cabinets. One of the cabinets was filled with dishes, clocks, and model furniture, the other with music boxes and jewel cases.

“Quite a lot of clutter, isn’t there?” observed Grantie Etta.

“But clutter with a past,” said Mrs. Marchand as she and Aunt Augusta joined Uncle Gareth on a tapestry-backed sofa. “Most of the things in this room have been in the family for generations.”

“Most of the things in this house have been in the family for generations,” said Grantie Etta. “I doubt if anything’s been thrown away since the place was built. Hoarding is an old Wolverton tradition.”

“And a grand old tradition it is, too,” said Mr. Marchand, coming in to join them. “Suppose your ancestors had decided to use those letters Gareth found to light their fire? I wouldn’t have had anything to do this summer.”

“You’d have found something,” said Grantie Etta dryly. “You’re not the type to be idle for long. Would you like to see that medallion now?”

“Do you mean the rose medallion?” asked Mrs. Marchand.

“Yes. I offered it to Alan for those flashback segments he has the children doing. I thought it might be just the thing for Dane to wear. You remember it, don’t you?”

“Of course. It’s lovely. I see you still keep it on the top shelf of that cabinet over there. You’re closest to it, Jack. Could you fetch it, please? It’s in that wooden box.”

Jack went to the cabinet and took out a small oblong box. After he handed it to Mrs. Marchand, he and his cousins settled down on a rug in front of her and waited for her to show them its contents.

The box was made of basswood, a light, almost white coloured wood. Delicately carved roses adorned each of its sides, with larger, but no less intricate, roses on the lid.

Prying the lid off, Mrs. Marchand said, “This medallion’s solid gold. It’s of Armenian origin, and is thought to have been in the family for generations before possession of it was officially recorded by a William of Roseheath around ten-eighty-five. He was definitely one of our Wolverton ancestors, but, like most people, they didn’t start using a specific surname until much later.

“Missives from William’s time indicate he was quite taken with the medallion. He even claimed it had mysterious powers. It was just kept in a pouch in those days, though. A couple of centuries later, a Roswold—sometimes spelled Rosewold—Wolverton commissioned someone to make this box for it. He also composed a rather curious verse and had it put on the lid.”

She turned the box lid over so Dane and the others could read the words carved into its underside.

 

’Tis for youth to call its own,

By speaking words in proper tone.

And up to five times be guided,

To those whose fate be not decided.

For divers lives must come to blend,

Ere the roses’ peregrinations end.

 

“Peregrinations?” said Paige. “What on earth are peregrinations?”

“Travels,” said Uncle Gareth.

“Then why couldn’t he have just said travels?”

“Because people back then seldom used a small word if they could use a big one.”

“Hmph,” said Paige.

Dane had a different question. “Which rose is it talking about?” he inquired. “The box is covered with them.”

“It must be the one on the medallion,” Jack said as Mrs. Marchand lifted the finely crafted object out from the folds of a piece of dark blue velvet.

The obverse, or front, of the medallion had a solid, perfectly formed five-petal rose projecting from its otherwise flat surface. The reverse side was completely flat, but had a stamped image. One of the two human figures depicted there was a weary-looking old man with a long beard. He was seated on the back of a huge eagle with one hand resting on the shoulder of a young girl. The girl stood before him, her own hands cupped and elevated to receive the single rose he held in his other hand. Both wore simple robes and beneath their sandal-clad feet were the words: ROSAE ADULESCENTIAE OMNIA TEMPUS REVELAT.

“That’s Latin,” said Jack. “It means, ‘To…to the rose of…youth…time reveals all’.”

Dane looked at him with open admiration, but the translation failed to impress Paige.

“That makes about as much sense as the verse on the box.”

“I expect they both made sense at one time,” said Uncle Gareth. “Unfortunately, the meanings of such things tend to become obscure as generations pass.”

Grantie Etta disagreed. “How do you know they weren’t obscure to begin with? This little gewgaw has mystical connections. Its powers weren’t meant to be available to all and sundry.”

“What kind of power is it supposed to have?” asked Dane.

“The power to drive people crazy trying to figure it out,” said Mr. Marchand, leaning over the back of the sofa to take a closer look.

“It’s had plenty of opportunity to do that,” said Aunt Augusta. “It’s almost two thousand years old. It’s one of a set of artefacts known as Keeper Pieces.”

“Keeper Pieces? That’s a strange name,” Dane said.

“It’s a strange story,” said Mrs. Marchand. “You’ll have to get Uncle Edmond to regale you with it. He’s the family expert on the history of the Middle East.”

“Good luck getting hold of him,” said Grantie Etta. “All I’ve been able to make contact with lately is the wretched boy’s answering machine.”

Hearing their grandfather’s older brother referred to as a wretched boy made the children smile. Great Uncle Edmond was almost seventy-three.

“Whatever its history, this medallion’s a real beauty.” Mr. Marchand ran his forefinger across it admiringly. “Are you sure you don’t mind Dane wearing it, Grantie Etta? I could get it copied, you know.”

“Nonsense. Use the real thing.”

“But it’s so valuable. What if he breaks it?”

“I’m sure he’ll be careful with it.”

“I’ll be very, very careful with it,” said Dane, whose actor’s eye could see how much the medallion would add to his costume.

“You’d better be,” Mr. Marchand told him, looking stern. Then he beamed. “Thanks a million, Grantie. This will add a nice touch to my flashback scenes. Edward the Fourth’s children probably had lots of stuff with a rose motif.”

“How come?” asked Paige.

“A white rose was the emblem of their family, the House of York,” her father replied. “Their rivals, the House of Lancaster, used a red one. That’s why the wars they fought against each other were called the Wars of the Roses.”

“I tried reading about those once,” said Dane, shaking his head to throw off a sudden wave of jet lag induced fatigue. “I found them pretty confusing.”

“Me too,” Paige agreed. “There were too many guys called Edward, Henry, and Richard.”

“There certainly were,” said Mrs. Marchand. “And most of them had wives called Elizabeth, Margaret, or Anne. I know there wasn’t that wide a selection of names available back then, but you’d think they could have put a little more effort into naming their offspring.”

“Like you did?” said Mr. Marchand. “You named our kids from the eras you were writing about around the time they were born.” He turned to his children. “You two don’t know how much you have to thank me for. If I hadn’t put my foot down, you’d be walking around as Berengaria and Gorm.”

Paige’s name had indeed been inspired by Mrs. Marchand’s novel about a young girl who disguised herself as a page boy in the court of Queen Berengaria of Navarre, and Dane’s by one about the wife of the Danish king, Gorm. Even so, her children doubted her work would have led her to choose anything too unusual. She and Aunt Augusta had always hated the Latin appellations bestowed on them by their parents.

“People had nicknames and titles,” said Uncle Gareth. “Those letters I found were to an Edward Wolverton, but the cousin who wrote them addressed him as Ned.”

“And he was chummy with Edward the Fourth, whose family doubtless called both him and his oldest son Ned,” said Mrs. Marchand. “You probably couldn’t move around here during a royal visit without tripping over a Ned.”

“Probably not,” agreed Grantie Etta. “The house wasn’t as large back then. Neither were the rose bushes on either side of the front door. Is that going to cause a problem with authenticity, Alan? They’re supposed to be the same ones Edward Wolverton planted at the request of his mother, Rohesia, but they’ve grown quite a bit.”

“Don’t worry Grantie, we’re not going to chop them down to an appropriate size. Computer technology can adjust anything we can’t physically recreate.”

“Good. Did you children know that Rosebank was originally called Rose Blanche, the French for White Rose? My ancestors had to change the name after that Lancastrian upstart, Henry Tudor, defeated the Yorkist king, Richard the Third, and set himself up as King Henry the Seventh.”

“Yeah? Well, that’s what comes of murdering your nephews,” said Paige. “You come to a bad end yourself and someone else takes the throne from you.”

“Richard the Third did not murder the princes,” said Grantie Etta, bristling. “That story, and other lies, were put about by Tudor propagandists after he perished on Bosworth Field.”

Uncle Gareth laughed. “Careful, Paige. Grantie Etta and other champions of Richard the Third take exception to remarks like that.”

“Champions of Richard the Third?”

“Commonly known as Ricardians. Ricardians dismiss much of what’s been said about Richard the Third by what Grantie just called Tudor propagandists. They think he was a much better king, and a much better person, than the general public has been led to believe. They strive to improve his image and for the most part, I applaud their efforts, but I’m afraid I’ve found some to be just a wee bit…fanatical.”

“He means round the twist,” whispered Jack.

“Overly zealous, dear,” said his mother, overhearing him. “Overly zealous is a much nicer way of putting it.”

“And I wasn’t referring to Grantie,” Uncle Gareth put in hastily, seeing the old lady’s indignant expression, “or even Ricardians in general. There’s a small Ricardian society here in the village. Its members support the cause in a calm, reasonable way, and steer clear of the kind of people who take it to extremes.”

“I have a cousin who takes everything to extremes—Ricardianism included,” said Mr. Marchand. “Needless to say, I didn’t tell her anything about my current project.”

“A project designed to throw my once peaceful home into total chaos for the next week or so,” said Grantie Etta.

“You’ll love every minute of it,” said Uncle Gareth.

“Of course I will. Especially the fights between Professor Clarke and Professor Hodges. They came for tea yesterday and argued the whole time. You’ll be much duller company.” She glanced at Mrs. Marchand and Aunt Augusta. “You will be staying to tea, won’t you? Lydia’s got in all of Jack’s favourite titbits and said she’d do some of those battered sausages Paige and Dane seemed to like so much the last time they were here.”

As far as the two young Canadians were concerned, battered sausages were among England’s leading attractions. At teatime, they were delighted to find they were just as tasty as they remembered.

Chapter Three

 

 

The costumes they were to wear in Mr. Marchand’s documentary arrived the next day. They had been made to measure and were perfect modern replicas of the type of clothing favoured by fashionable people in late fifteenth-century England. Paige displayed little enthusiasm over her long purple and maroon gown, dainty embroidered shoes, and black velvet cap studded with pearls, and even less over the blonde wig she was going to have to wear because she had refused to dye her hair.

The boys, however, loved their ensembles, which consisted of velvet doublets with decorative embroidery, short capes, velvet hats with jaunty little feathers, and tight black hose. The hose resembled modern day leotards, but had to be tied onto their doublets with points: tagged laces on the doublets that threaded through holes in the hose.

Leather shoes completed their costumes, along with a blond wig for Dane. Unlike his sister, he would have been willing to dye his hair, but wore it too short to be compatible with the times. Hair colour and style were not an issue with Jack, whose golden curls were deemed to be sufficiently medieval looking.

Admiring themselves in the hall mirror, the two boys felt they looked even more regal than the princes, Edward and Richard, did in a book of famous paintings Uncle Gareth had shown them. The book contained photos of paintings featuring well-known historical characters. The painting he liked was by a nineteenth-century artist, John Everet Millais. It showed the princes, dressed in black doublets and hose, standing beside a winding staircase.

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