Prince John became irritated by his mother’s growing hatred of his cousin and her constant scheming and whispering against him. “I’m not able to turn into Good King Harold and make the winds warm and the crops grow to please me,” he had said after another of her tirades against Richard and her increasingly openly expressed wishes that the King should die and that John should replace him. “Even if I became King,” he snapped, “I couldn’t wave a wand and make everything right and everyone happy. I’d just become the one whom everyone blamed for everything they don’t like. In fact, if anything untoward happened to Richard, this country could fall apart, not just into civil war, but into anarchy. There’d be little enough loyalty to me or to you, especially if we were thought to have contrived or connived at the death or overthrow of Richard. He’s surprisingly popular, and unsurprisingly, we’re not. Most likely everyone who could attract the support of a few armed men would set up his own kingdom and fight all the others and pillage the unarmed until death or disease carried them all away.”
She wasn’t listening. “There’s so much crime and lawlessness these days,” she murmured to herself, “he could run into an arrow at any time.” Her son took her by the shoulders and shook her. “Mother! Stop talking and thinking like that. It’s foolish and dangerous. It doesn’t help anyone and if Richard gets to hear of it, he’d be quite justified in executing both of us for treason.”
Privately, he thought as he left his mother, that Richard was becoming quite a steely young monarch, not a man to cross and no longer the dreamy youth lost in romantic tales of ancient times, nor the callow young pleasure seeker. He attended closely and perceptively to Royal business and was paying attention to the better administration of Royal estates and offices. A couple of the Royal Councillors had been retired. Several Sheriffs and other officials had been shocked to receive surprise inspections by the King and his staff. Some might feel privileged still to be wearing rather than carrying their heads. Others were less fortunate.
One story was that Richard and his companions had helped to capture a band of outlaws. Rather than having them executed immediately or taken to town for a delayed trial and enhanced opportunities for bribery and escape, he had taken them to the nearest village, where a couple of them were said to have relatives. There he had summoned all the men from their work, empaneled them as a jury, set up the Wyvern standard and the flame that always accompanied him, and presided over the trial. It had been a brisk affair with little doubt of the rogues’ guilt. After sentencing them to death the King had called for a rope, made a noose at one end, placed it around the neck of the first felon, slung the other end over the branch of a convenient tree, and told the villagers to join him in hauling on the rope. And so it went for all of them. By mid afternoon the King and his party had left and the peasants were burying the corpses, much impressed by the King’s justice. This young man was becoming a leader, not squeamish about taking responsibility and participating in any action he ordered. He might not like executing his relatives, but if justice or necessity impelled him John was sure that he would do it. He worried about his foolish mother and felt a breeze on his own neck.