My visit to an ancient church where Richard III prayed on the eve of his death became the backdrop for this transformative scene in my novel, “Rings of Passage.”
(see photos below)
Window at St. James Church
The door of the church was scored by centuries of use by the simple people of his parish. Richard ran his fingers along the scars just as Francis caught up with him.
“Dickon. The hour grows late. This, of all nights, you must rest.”
“I’ve learned to do without rest. What I haven’t learned is why God has forsaken me. This I must know before I die.”
He looked up at the exterior of the old church. Small and squarely built, it had been put up by the Normans long before a Plantagenet ever wore the crown of England. A corner of his mouth quirked – and doubtless it would remain so long after.
“Perhaps here I will find it. I cannot be swayed from this, friend.”
Francis sighed, recognizing Richard’s stubbornness in full force. Grasping the large iron ring at the center of the door, Francis pulled. It opened with a groan.
Within, the walls glowed, bathed in the light of a multitude of candles. Stretching to the ceiling were the colored glass windows that in daytime colored the interior of the church, but at night receded into shadow. The vicar hovered near the altar, his face anxious. He had faced a steady stream of knights who had come this evening to make peace with God.
Other than the priest, the church was empty.
Richard nodded to Francis, who stayed by the door to keep others out. The king did not want to be disturbed.
Under the vicar’s watchful eye, Richard knelt before the altar. The priest consecrated the bread and wine, ministering to his king who, in the eyes of Deus, was but a mere mortal.
But Richard could not open his heart to God. Even now, forgiveness would be denied.
Why have you deserted me, Lord?
Richard spoke the prayer that brought him the most peace: “De beato Juliano. Cum volueris pere res afflictos relevare captivos redimere in carcare positos…”
But he could not concentrate. The memorized words flew from his mind like startled birds. And though he knelt before God, Richard could only think of Anise.
Forgive me, my love – I judged you by my own besmirched soul. I accused you when you were without guilt. My ignorance brought you only suffering – ’tis this I abhor most of all. Dear Anise, wherever you are, know that even hours before my death, I would give up my kingdom to be with you.
A sense of peace flooded his soul, causing him to gasp. He sensed Anise nearby. Was he imagining it? Or had she heard his thoughts? He choked back a sob. “Anise?”
Richard remembered he was not alone. He looked at the vicar and saw the priest staring fearfully at something to Richard’s left.
He followed the man’s gaze and knew why he was frightened. In the aisle, a mist had gathered. Glowing with an otherworldly light, it spread out before him.
Richard’s senses expanded as the power of the magic ring on his finger thrummed through his arm. Opening to its insights, a presence filled him up.
Her presence. Anise. Richard got off his knees and rose to his feet.
His pulse raced as he watched the mist take human form, and now recognized her face at its center.
In his mind, he heard her speak – but could not make out the words.
He sensed her struggle. She wanted to tell him something. He could feel she was weary.
And she began to fade. Don’t leave me, Anise!
He thrust his arm into the glimmering mist, reaching for her – and caught hold of a hand that wavered between two worlds, one moment solid and the next, spirit. The shock of her presence filled him. She could not come to him, but was confined in some place that would not let go.
Where in God’s name is she?
Richard’s mind numbed to everything but Anise – and at last he heard her.
So… tired… cannot go on… must tell you…
She was giving up. Her exhaustion coursed through him. Richard was losing her. I must not… lose… her.
Clinging to the tendril of mist, using what power he could glean from the ring, he fought for her. He pushed back the weakness that sapped her strength, lending her his will and his strength – and his love.
As her spirit rallied, the otherworldly light grew brighter. He could discern her features more clearly now, her eyes hollow with weariness, her full lips, her dark, flowing hair.
She said his name, not in his mind only, but spoken aloud, “Richard.”
From the corner of his eye, Richard saw the vicar backing away in terror.
Anise tried to speak, but no words could be heard. Richard concentrated, opening his heart, drawing her into himself. Her thoughts, her emotions, her soul, joined his.
He knew the eternal blackness she experienced, and sensed her weariness. Without words she told him – she could not hang on. She had tarried too long in that place.
If he let go now, if he lost her, it would be forever. She could not return.
Then all became clear. Richard knew how to save her – to save them.
Clinging to her insubstantial hand for all his life, he shouted to the vicar, “Marry us!”
The priest held up his hands, shaking his head. “N-no, Your Grace – ’tis evil!”
“You fool! ’Tis a miracle! If you don’t marry us, she will die!”
Still the priest refused.
Richard was furious. There was no time for this! With his right hand, Richard felt for his scabbard, and made ready to draw his sword.
“Do you deny your king? As I am your sovereign Lord, I demand you marry us, or be cut down upon this altar.”
The vicar’s eyes widened.
photos by Karla Tipton
St. James Church, information pamphlet, 1990
Window at St. James
Inside the Church of St. James, Sutton Cheney
Inside the Church of St. James, Sutton Cheney
Door into St. James
Rings of Passage
“Rings of Passage” is a time travel historical fantasy, with Richard III as the romantic hero. Wizards control the events of history, but a woman’s love transcends all. Available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com.