In the stillness of the dark chapel, it was easy for Johnny to feel the weight of his new responsibilities. But equally awesome, was the idea he was being well and truly admitted into this fraternity of knighthood that he'd dreamed of so long.
He was freshly bathed and clad in linen and purple. All night, he and Tom and the others had stayed awake, keeping vigil over their new arms – and now Father, Henry, a few other knights and the priests stood around the young men, bestowing on them the honors of knighthood.
Johnny stood quaking, waiting for his turn to receive accolade, going over and over in his mind the four vows that he would now expected to keep: to uphold order, to honor and assist all women, to hear Mass daily whenever possible and to also fast on Fridays in remembrance of our Lord.
It was not that he really thought he would have trouble keeping any of them. Father had always done so, and saw that his offspring were raised in the right way… It was just the fact the responsibility to keep them from now on would be on Johnny's shoulders and not Father's that frightened him a little.
It was enough to give even a high-spirited young man pause.
Johnny swallowed, trying to clear his thoughts of everything but the importance and holiness of the ceremony, but his eyes drifted over to where Tom was standing and receiving his arms, and curiosity kept them there.
First the gold spurs of knighthood were put on Tom's feet, then a shield of black with three boars draped around his neck. Next came the helmet.
And then, finally, Henry of Bolingbroke, as Tom's overlord, brought to him his gleaming new sword. Tom unsheathed it the traditional three times and became, in that moment, a knight.
It was a breathtaking thing.
The bishop kissed Tom on both cheeks, bidding him to be faithful and devout.
The next thing Johnny knew, all eyes were on him. The bishop, Father, Henry and the others were moving towards him, taking forever to arrive. His throat suddenly felt too small for the rest of his body. He fought against having to take a calming gulp of air. That would not look manly – or knightly – at all. He closed his eyes briefly and prayed he was worthy of what was about to happen.
Soon his shoes were being girded with golden spurs. And then, the circle of knights parted and he saw Father bringing him his new shield.
Johnny looked up into Father's eyes, wondering how the side away from him was painted. He knew he should not be thinking it at such a solemn occasion as this, but he had not yet seen what his blazon was to be, and he had spent so many hours agonizing over it. He did not think he could bear the agony of waiting another moment to look at it.
Somehow Father seemed to know his anxiety, though Johnny had never dared mention these thoughts to him. Something resembling a smile broke in the corners of the Duke's mouth as he approached. And, at the last moment, he turned the shield so his son could see it.
Johnny gasped, shamefully out loud, but found he could not help himself.
For so long, he had worried for so long that his blazon would have no meaning, or at the very least, would be ugly. He had met one of King Richard's bastard half-brothers once and his shield had been gold and black with the Black Prince's badge of ostrich feather on it. It had been nothing like the royal arms at all.
Johnny knew, or had thought he had known, that he could expect no better.
But now… his heart thumped loudly in his chest as he took in the details of his new shield.
Instead of being quartered into fields of blue and red to display the royal leopards and lilies, the background on his arms was halved into white and blue and pierced by a diagonal stripe of red on which they rested.
Johnny looked back up at Father in absolute wonder. This shield the Duke had had made for him was a thing of beauty, and as close to the Duke's own arms as would be allowed by a herald.
There, stated as explicitly as could be in the language of heraldry, was the message that these were the arms of the son of Lancaster. Oh, an illegitimate one to be sure, but also one well-beloved. And when father passed the treasured object to son, Johnny realized he had achieved one of his life-long goals.
Father loved him, but more than that, Father was proud of him.
Johnny saw it all written on the Duke's face as the harsh features briefly softened in understanding. In these last years, he had not seen his father much. There had been trouble with the French and the Scots… and even from King Richard's own court, as Father had escaped several assassination attempts. With all that going on, combined with the now-imminent plans to invade Castile, Father's time was precious.
And yet he was here, for his son's knighting, and he had somehow arranged for this beautiful blazon to be made for it, amidst all the other pressures of his busy life.
Johnny wondered if they would still knight him if he broke down into tears.
He did not want to find out. Though his still-beardless chin quivered, he did not cry as he looked in his father's eyes, knight to knight.
It felt like minutes later, but it must have only been seconds, that the Duke moved away. Someone else presented him with his helmet before Johnny even had time to recover from the experience. In a panic, he tried to refocus himself on the ceremony. It was a holy and solemn occasion, after all, one not to be marred by such worldly thoughts. But later, he found he remembered little else of his knighting. He was still in a daze when Henry brought him his sword and the bishop kissed his cheeks.
He, Johnny, was at long last, a knight. Sir John Beaufort. It sounded like the name of someone much older and more important than he was, but it was not. It was his name, just as the blazon on the shield was his.
As he and the others came out of the dark chapel, blinking into the early morning light, Johnny realized how tired he was from staying up the whole night before. He wondered if there would be time for a quick rest in his chamber before the obligatory feasting started up later on to celebrate the knightings.
He stifled a yawn as he felt Tom and Henry jostling up beside him.
"Let me see!" Tom reached for the shield. Armor was one of the few things that excited him.
Henry too, was admiring of the work. "Ah, Father had described it to me, but I had not seen it before! I like the design, Johnny… Sir John," he corrected himself. "Ay, but that will take some getting used to."
"Ay," Tom grunted, still focused on the shield, having not heard a word Henry said. "It'll do."
It took Johnny a while to notice there was more commotion to be expected in the keep. There was a small gathering around the chapel, waiting to see the new knights emerge, to be sure – but over in the far corner, by the gate, there was a party arriving.
Henry saw the horses a second after Johnny, and inspecting the banners near them he burst out into a wide grin. "It's Mary!" he exclaimed jubilantly and set off down the steps to meet his little young wife.
Johnny and Tom heard the Duke's deep chuckle behind them. Turning his head to look at his Father, Johnny noted joy erasing the deep creases around his mouth and eyes that had become so pronounced as of late. Why he looked happier than Henry had, Johnny thought.
And then he saw her on the back of a palfrey near Mary's.
Part of him wanted to race across the courtyard to see her, although that would be entirely unsuitable now. But he had not seen her in over four years, since that day he had rode away from Kettlethorpe, and he had not known she was to be here for his banquet.
Once again his heart was in his throat and he felt that deep gratitude to Father for all the preparations he'd made for this momentous day… Although, looking back at the Duke once again, Johnny did not think the gesture of bringing Mother here was entirely selfless.
Thinking back over the years, to that morning at Kettlethorpe when he and Harry had listened to their parents talk on the back steps, Johnny remembered Father saying he would bring Mother here, to Hertford, when Henry's little wife came of age. Her presence here with Mary must mean that she was here to stay. Were they all to be a family again, here, like they had once been long ago – at the Savoy?
Mother was off her horse by now, and approaching the chapel steps.
"My lord," she said, the knights on the porch parting for Father to approach her.
He lifted her up by her hands, clasping them. "My Lady Swynford," he greeted her, not boisterously as he might any other widow of a former retainer, but with a voice soft and low as velvet.
Johnny saw tears in his Mother's eyes as she raised her head. She stood there in front of the Duke for a moment longer than strict propriety allowed, and then she turned to face her sons.
Johnny was stunned to realize that he now towered over her. With all the excitement of the ceremony, he had not given much thought that morning to how close he came to looking the tall Duke levelly in the eyes. Of course he would be taller than Mother, why was he so surprised by it?
"Can this truly be my little Johnny?" she asked.
Remembering his vow to honor all women, especially this one that had given him birth, Johnny immediately crossed to her side and took a knee before her with his head bowed.
He lifted his head and saw her eyes sweep over his every feature appraisingly.
"Nay, you are a man now, Sir John," she answered her own question, her face tightening.
Even as he thrilled at her words, Johnny felt the loss of something – some bond between a mother and child that existed no longer when the child became a man grown. He did not, perhaps, feel it as keenly as she did – but he felt it.
The moment did not last long, for soon a gruff deep voice was saying "Mother" and a stocky, tow-headed figure was elbowing for room on his knee beside Johnny.
Johnny gave an inward sigh and stood, letting Tom also pay his tribute to their mother.
He noticed, then, the two lithe young blonde children standing beside her. The boy and girl, of differing heights, were looking up at him wide-eyed and he realized with no small shock that they were Tamkin and Joan and he hadn't even recognized them at first!
Further away, but approaching cautiously, there was a darker young man in Oxford robes.
"Harry?" Johnny stared at him.
The young man looked up, and Johnny at once recognized the gray-blue eyes that were so like Mother's. They smiled at each other, brother-to-brother. The years had not changed Harry nearly as much as it had the others.
They wandered through the halls of Hertford that day, Johnny and this younger brother of his – who managed to look both studious and impish at the same time – catching up on four years worth of memories.
"Father stops to see me whenever he's near Oxford," this younger brother, Harry told him. "I think he thinks I do not take me studies seriously. But I do. There's ever so much to learn, but I should think I should have a little time for fun too."
"Of course," Johnny had responded, wondering how awful his knighthood training would have been if so much of it hadn't have seemed like some grand adventurous game. His lip still curled thinking of the new spurs on his feet and the feel of the sword draped around his hips.
"Do you visit Kettlethorpe often?" he had asked, feeling guilty that he had not found a way to get there.
Harry had shook his head. "Not since I left a year ago. This is the first I've seen of Mother since then." Here he had hesitated for a moment. "She looks well, don't you think?"
Thinking of the weariness etched on her face that had not been there the last time he had seen her, Johnny still had to reluctantly agree.
"There was a child… the winter after Father and the rest of you left… did you know that?" Harry had asked distantly.
Johnny's big blue eyes widened. He hadn't known… He didn't think Father had known either. Is that why she drew away from him when he had tried to embrace her on the chapel steps, not just modesty?
Harry shook his head. "It was early, stillborn… And it was another girl, too… She had been hoping for a girl… But," and here he sounded briefly like the young cleric he was studying to be, before he lapsed back into Harry Beaufort language again, "it isn't our lot to question God's ways… And Mother is awfully old to be having babies anymore… Why, she must be in her thirties!"
Alone on his bed that night, after the feasting was over, Johnny could not help but feel a stab of guilt and pain at Harry's words. All this time, when he had been happy and healthy at Hertford, he had lost a younger sister he hadn't even known about.
Mother had suffered through that loss without her two oldest sons and the Duke around her.
And yet, there would have been nothing they could have done had they been there.
Harry was probably right. Mother was just too old to be having babies now.
The knowledge did not comfort Johnny at all as he lay on his bed, staring at the bedcurtains overhead, for it implied that there were some things even a knight of the realm could not solve – heart wounds that even a dutiful son could not heal.
Perhaps things would never be as they once had been, back in the golden time of his childhood. Perhaps even Mother's presence here could not make them all a family once again.
Before long, another presence in the chamber sensed his beleaguered thoughts and came to comfort him.
Even though he knew he was a knight now, and should be beyond such things, Johnny wrapped his arms around his faithful hound, just as he used to do as a distressed child… and fell promptly into a deep sleep.