“Clarendon, you must calm yourself,” Charles said. He gestured for a servant to pour a glass of claret for the old man, who limped in gouty fury around the privy chamber. Rogue paced beside him, back and forth, back and forth, tail in the air. “And od’s fish, man, sit down and rest that foot.”
“I cannot, sire! How dare he? I have served this crown with honor and devotion since—”
“Sit,” Charles ordered, and Clarendon dropped to the chair. His complexion had gone violet, his cheeks so red they were apt to burst into flame. “None will seriously consider these charges against you.”
At the House of Lords, only this morning, Lord Bristol had impeached the Lord Chancellor on charges of high treason. The crimes included conspiring to injure England, along with a series of frivolous charges and insinuations. The entire assembly of Lords had been taken by surprise, none more so than Charles.
“All know I did not conspire to marry my daughter to the Duke of York!” Clarendon cried, slapping his hand against his thigh. He gulped claret, leaving his lips wet with wine, and spluttered, “I was against the match and tried to halt it.”
“Yes, yes,” Charles said, and accepted a cup of claret for himself, taking a more mannerly taste. He’d forced the marriage himself, as all knew.
“Gossip! The court is lousy with it! Gossip, gossip, gossip! It is all the scurrying rats know to do, titter and whisper and spread lies!” Clarendon gestured dangerously with his cup and a few drops splashed over his hand. “’Tis true that I wished the match with Portugal and thought it wise, and never believed a word of the ills they spoke against our kindly queen, that she was a dwarf and disfigured and barren! Why would I wish to injure my own sovereign king in such matters?”
“You do not. You did not.” Charles gestured for his servant to refill their cups, and the lad moved noiselessly. “You must calm yourself, Edward. If you give yourself an apoplexy, they’ll have won.”
All at once, Clarendon seemed to shrink. “What sin have I offered to give them call to hate me so? I have served with integrity and thoroughness.”
In part, Charles knew, it was that Clarendon was an old man in a very young court, a traditional and blustery old man, at that. Ever it was the way of the world that the young found their elders to be irrelevant. Clarendon did himself no favors when his gout made him bad-tempered, when he failed to put on a new coat when the old needed brushing. “You must remember what it was to know all there was to know, as the young lords believe,” Charles said gently. “’Tis only age that reveals how little grasp any of us have on this business of politics.” He looked into his cup, thinking of his hungry days, his grand schemes. “Or life.”
Clarendon scowled. “I suspect the lady’s mark will be on this when it all comes to light.”
“You ever suspect her of evil, my friend. Leave it be.”
“Aye.” He looked a decade older all at once, his face twisted in pain as he rubbed his knee. It was the foot that hurt, Charles knew, but to touch it would set the flame burning hotter. “But I will not be impeached, Your Majesty, on so thin a warrant!”
“No, old friend. It will be well.” A page in a jacket growing too short for him came to the door. Charles seized the distraction with verve. “Speak!”
“Your Majesty, the Duke of York wishes an audience.”
“Send him in.”
Clarendon gulped the rest of his wine and clambered to his feet. He resembled nothing more than one of the fat robins who lived in the oaks along St. James’s Park, his belly pushing out his coat, his body rocking. Charles clapped him on the shoulder. “Fret not. This will all blow over like a summer storm.”
Looking glumly toward the rain-dark windows, the earl shook his head. “Not like this summer’s storms, I hope.”
Charles allowed a chuckle. “Go home, have a rest. We shall talk again soon.”
James came in as Clarendon left, and looking after him asked, “What madness is this charge of impeachment? Treason? Had you word it would happen?”
“Rumblings, no more.” Charles offered the bottle, and James waved it off.
“I am on my way to the theater, but wanted to deliver the news that the East India ship is in. Cotton, indigo, tea, opium.”
“Good.” Perhaps it was a sign of shifting tides, the coffers filling rather than emptying.
It could not come quickly enough.
Catherine sat by the fire in her chamber, cloaked in a thick shawl. She despaired of ever finding physical comfort again in this damp, cold land. Had she not developed such deep love for her husband and people, she might have been tempted to flee back to the lemon-scented groves of her homeland. The bitterly cold winter had melted into a dreary wet spring, and even now, as summer progressed—midsummer!—the days had not particularly warmed or brightened. The walls mildewed. Her skirts and sleeves drooped in the damp.
She was hardly alone. Dona Maria complained about the weather daily, and there was...