“He’s no less mad,” sighed the Princess Matilda, “even if the madness has taken another form.” “Well”, said her son, “he seems to have lost interest in blacksmithing and sword making, and even to have lost or forgotten about that sword he went to so much trouble to make.” “Doesn’t that prove that he’s mad?” asked his querulous mother. “Can’t the doctors and the Council be persuaded to see that?” “Hardly,” said John. “A man, even a King, may have eccentric hobbies and sudden changes of interest, without being judged insane and tipped out of his house or off his throne. To most people he seems fairly normal, albeit rash and eccentric. He’d have to do something really outrageous and leave the ‘people who matter’ as a whole feeling endangered before usurpation would be tolerated. It’s not even as if we’re any more popular, and we certainly don’t have a lot of military force or the means to buy friends.”
“Until he marries and provides a son, although you’re his older cousin you’re still the Heir Apparent. I’d be the Mother of the King.”
Dear Mother, please stop playing Margaret Beaufort and trying to turn me into Henry VII he thought to himself in exasperation. Aloud he said, “Richard’s now promoting patriotism and presenting himself as a King of Justice. There’s certainly enough crime and dissatisfaction to keep him busy.”
“Huh! I thought it was some new religion he was setting up to worship the Wyvern. He put up those altars with little fires on them which the servants have to keep tended, under pictures and banners of the Wyvern. It must be a fire risk, besides being a nuisance and distraction from their other work. Some of the sillier maids are convinced that the Wyvern has spoken to them or that they’re seen it flying around.”
“It must have been flames flickering in dimness or draughts moving the banners,” suggested John. “He’s gone round all the local villages telling them to put up Wyvern images over their village halls or headman’s houses and to keep burning a fire dedicated to the Wyvern which he presented to them, and to offer it twigs and happy thoughts and to request the aid of the Wise Wyvern of Wessex when they need advice or to make a decision. The children love it. He’s also sent similar instructions to all the towns and counties as well as to the Royal estates. The Council liked the idea of promoting patriotism and distracting people from their grumbles. I don’t think that the sheriffs have found it helpful in reducing crime though. ”
Matilda’s eyes shone with malice. “They’ll soon get bored, and feel foolish. It’ll end by making him seem crazy, and they’ll blame him for making them feel foolish.”
Winter was bleak and cold and long. No word came from William or from the Wyvern. People continued to grumble and to starve. The King’s initiative had caused some revival of patriotism and participation in traditional practices. People talked of Good King Harold and told tales of the plentiful bounty of nature that had supposedly flourished in his days, when the crops grew just to please him, as some said. Others became more raucous and contemptuous in their rejection of all such things.