It’s a soft day in mid-spring. Over the river, the fruit trees are blossoming, a foam of white and pink. Steeples rise sharp above the orchards, and oaks beyond, just breaking into vivid leaf; lambs prance and gambol in the green meadows, and suck at their dams.
A man, and another man, stand side by side, on a little sheltered lawn between the palace and the Jewel Tower. They look out across the parapet to the river, talking, glancing at one another from time to time. One of them stands confidently; all authority is in his bearing, for he's the King. The other bends his dark head towards him, and speaks, courteous but firm, in response.
No-one can hear them in this little corner between God's green world and palace, tower and abbey. Their talk is commonplace; a diplomatic exchange. But they're listening to the things they're saying, that are not the words they speak.
The King stands back. He watches as the other man, the enemy’s herald, walks out along a jetty, down its steps and into a waiting barge. He’s going downriver, past the city and across the sea, back to his lord in France.
He takes his seat in the centre of the barge. Looks up at Henry, who is looking down at him.
Swans are making their way up the Thames, great fleets of them. They look serene and stately, but there's hard work going on beneath the surface. The sun's out for once, and the river's blue. There are boats by the jetty, waiting for the King.
Henry comes out of the palace, and looks across the tiny patch of grass beside the Jewel Tower. It was cut not long ago, and there are daisies in it. There's a tall figure at the parapet, dressed in blue, watching the swans. This is the man he was giving audience to, in Westminster Hall early in the day. But out here, between the grass and the river, he's not the enemy, but Montjoy, a man he's beginning to know.
He leaves his attendants, and crosses the grass. The Frenchman turns towards him. His eyes are grey under cloudy skies or indoors, but here, under a different light, they’re blue. There’s a touch of warmth in them now.
Henry’s still for a moment; turns and leans his elbows on the parapet, an informal king. He speaks to the herald. The court is leaving Westminster today, going up-river to Oxford. Montjoy’s going with them, for Henry has not yet made his reply to his embassy. He says that Montjoy might like that city, of learning and of dreams.
They walk out along the jetty by the Jewel Tower together.
There's a nip in the air. The oaks across the river have turned russet, their broad heads standing guard beyond the orchards. A few red clouds still float in the sky, a half-hour after sunrise. Spiderwebs are touched with dew.
In the courtyard between the palace and the Jewel Tower there's something of a bustle. Grooms are leading horses from the stable-yard. There's a whickering, and a shaking of harness. The kennel-master has brought the dogs out; greyhounds, running-hounds, alaunts. They form up into an anticipatory group.
The courtiers don't have long to wait. Henry has had enough of working in gloomy halls and around council-tables. It's a glorious day, touched with scarlet and gold; he's taking a holiday. He descends the steps of the King's House (and around the corner, the prince's chambers, where he'd lived a few heedless months of near-freedom, stand empty.) There's a man beside him, come across the sea on one of his periodic visits, for negotiations between two auld enemies. Today the negotiations can be carried out in the open air. There's no enmity to be seen in the way they cross the courtyard under the Jewel Tower together. Their grooms bring their horses up to the mounting-block; fine, glossy beasts.
Henry's smiling. He takes his horse out through the gate. There are orchards on this side of the river too. Apples peep red from behind dusty leaves, a promise of sweetness in the months to come.
Montjoy the ambassador is riding beside him. Henry's going hunting.
A clamour of bells from a midnight sky; stars sharp and hard; mist rising off the river. Water swirls softly past the stone jetty.
A surge of people leaves the Abbey, murmuring as they make their sleepy way to home and bed, the voices of the choir still soaring in their ears.
The palace folk go down the close behind the chapter house, through the gate to the palace yard. Torchlight flickers on old stone, cold stone; strikes diamonds from the frost.
Henry steps onto the little patch of sward by the Jewel Tower. He motions the courtiers on, taking a torch from one of the pages. He's muffled in a furred cloak; his fair hair catches the golden light. He looks like a boy, or a military cherub. He's smiling as he beckons another man to his side.
The line of courtiers goes on, affecting not to notice as the other man, cloaked in white, crosses to their king. The torch is in a bracket on the side of the tower now.
The clerestory windows of the Abbey show a dim, warm glow of candlelight, but the Jewel Tower is dark. No windows overlook them from the palace. Their boots crunch in the thick frost. For the moment they're alone.
The night air sears their lungs. Henry's arm slips around Montjoy's waist, under the cloak. They smile at each other, and kiss. Cold lips, warm hearts. Torchlight washes them in gold.
Joy to the world. Good will to all men. And on Earth, peace.