Yourstone followed the cortege into the ground floor of the Wellington Barracks. In a few days the building would be packed with tourists, all eager to view the royal regalia of crowns, scepters, orbs, and swords proudly displayed behind bulletproof glass. Today the crowds were absent, replaced by a small contingent of royal family members taking advantage of the first opportunity to view the newly constructed Jewel House before it was formally opened to the public.
Eleanor walked beside him, her dress a pale blue boucl?, the jacket similar with a gray velvet collar. Hats were her trademark, and she’d chosen a wide-brimmed lattice straw design. Her no-frills wardrobe brought both compliments and complaints. The press praised her frugality, the fashion columnists harangued her lack of style. But no one could accuse her of extravagance.
“This is quite a spectacle,” she whispered. “It will be fine pomp and circumstance for the masses.”
During World War II her grandfather had ordered the crown jewels moved from the nearby Wakefield Tower to an underground chamber beneath the Waterloo Barracks. There a magnificent star-shaped case was constructed and elaborately lit to showcase one of the last sets of crown jewels left in the world. But the swarm of visitors that flocked each year to view the display had proven too much for the cramped chamber, and Victoria had commissioned a larger location back at ground level. It had taken two years to remodel an old barracks into a state-of-the-art vault that not only ensured security but also provided a dazzling spectacle.
Evening sunshine from outside was replaced by a cool semi-darkness. A wide corridor led forward, equipped with a conveyor-belt walkway designed to keep viewers from lingering. The cases themselves were illuminated with a combination of halogen floods and miniature lasers. He’d never seen the collection in such vivid color, and the effect was remarkable. Today the conveyor belt was still and the twenty or so guests strolled about, taking their time. Eleanor had come to represent her mother, her appearance limited to this tour, as other duties would shortly take her to North London and Greenwich. Her causes varied from animal rights to organizations for the disabled to environmental concerns. Richard tended to draw the industrial plant openings, state visits, and trade association gatherings.
“The ceremony will begin promptly at 7:00 P.M.,” an attendant reminded everyone. “We need you outside around 6:30. Until then, please enjoy the display.”
Eleanor led the way as they drifted to where her nephew, Albert, stood alone admiring the crowns.
“One of those will someday be on your head,” she said as they approached.
The others were studying more of the regalia in other cases.
“The thought is frightening,” the young man said.
Albert Saxe-Coburg was tall, with squared shoulders, his legs and arms in nearly perfect proportion to a sturdy frame. A thick patch of hair drew attention to eyes that seemed to flash a dreamy light. He’d acquired most of his physical features from his mother, who was, though batty, incredibly beautiful. Virtually no Saxe-Coburg feature could be found in his nose, mouth, or eyes, and only the pronounced oval skull and tiny ears could be credited to his father. He was well educated, an Eton scholar, versed in the classics and possessed of an Oxford degree. His interests were simple, among them chess and Scrabble. A procession of nannies, tutors, and sporting instructors contributed to his upbringing and helped instill a sense of conscience. He was soft-spoken and chose his words with great care. Yourstone could recall no press report ever speaking ill about him. Born to privilege, educated with purpose, and existing in a life devoid of privacy, this young man had managed to remain both sane and immensely popular.
Yourstone stared through the polished glass a few feet away at the 400-year-old St. Edward’s Crown. He envisioned the Archbishop of Canterbury, who stood on the other side of the room admiring the royal scepters, reverently placing that crown onto Eleanor’s head. Cheers would ring as echoes of
“You will do us proud,” Eleanor told her nephew.
The young man smiled at her. “You are a treasure, Aunt Ellie.” Protocol would never allow him to speak such intimacies outside the immediate family. “I see why Father loves you so.”
“Your father is a troubled man. He does not want to be king.”
“I’m afraid you are right.”
“But he’s lucky to have such a worthy son.”
Yourstone’s gaze fixed on the smaller Imperial Crown. Once Eleanor’s coronation ended, with her having taken Holy Communion and withdrawing to an adjacent chapel, he could envision her changing into velvet robes, the heavier St. Edward’s Crown replaced with this lighter version. Her great-great-great-grandmother Victoria I had been a finicky sort, much like herself, and ordered its creation, an accommodation for comfort demanded by her petite size and spare frame.
Albert exhaled a short breath and continued to stare at the display. “Father must deal with his own demons. It’s not my place to interfere.”
“Nor mine, but I have told him to let these crowns pass him by, directly to you.”
The young man’s face tightened, but he did not look at her. “Bad advice, Aunt Ellie.”
“You’re more ready than he will ever be.” She paused a moment. “And I can say that because I am his sister.”
People began edging toward the exit. The ceremony dedicating the new Jewel House would begin shortly outside on the Tower Green. The Archbishop of Canterbury ambled toward them. He was a short, stern-faced man with a receding hairline.
“This is truly a wonder,” the prelate said.
Albert nodded. “Quite right. The designers have done the nation proud.”
“Such a shame these are merely recent creations. What a sight the originals and jewels must have been.”
What the archbishop observed was true. Nearly everything surrounding them had been crafted in the 19th century or later, at a time when the Crown was forced to rely on wealth and ceremony to generate respect.
“Perhaps the monarchy did itself a great disservice when it chose luxury over power,” Yourstone said.
The archbishop shook his head. “If I recall, Parliament did not give much choice. The time of absolute rule had ended.”
“Nothing ever ends,” he made clear.
The archbishop smiled. “This nation has endured much. These jewels are just one testament to its greatness.”
He wasn’t in the mood for abstractness. “The true test of a monarch is the ability to garner subjects’ respect — without the need for props. It should not be necessary to don a robe, or wear a crown, for the people to offer loyalty. They should do that because a monarch proves worthy of their affection. The sole interest and desire of any king or queen is making sure the nation is well.”
He watched as Albert considered what had been said. This Saxe-Coburg was clearly a product of the modern age. He’d bypassed the customary tour in the military that most royal offspring endured, choosing graduate studies in politics and literature. The time of a king leading troops into battle had long passed. The 21st century demanded far more skills than filling out a uniform, and Albert was intuitive enough to realize that fact. He was the
And he agreed.
Which made this young man most dangerous.
He casually glanced at his watch. “I believe you are needed on the Tower Green.”
Albert nodded, donning the grin photographers had come to love. “Quite right. Shall we exit.”
They said their goodbyes to the archbishop, then left the Jewel House.
Yourstone was not staying for the ceremony, either. He’d come only to make sure that all was in place. So he watched as the royal contingent headed away, then he followed the pavement around the magnificent White Tower toward one of the gates leading out. A small reviewing stand had been constructed on the Tower Green, near the spot where privileged executions once took place. Two of Henry VIII’s wives lost their heads there, as had Lady Jane Grey, the seventeen-year-old who ruled for nine days as queen until Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter, had her head removed, too.
English history had turned on this spot.
As it would today.
Eleanor accompanied Albert. But she would depart in a few minutes, too.
Before 7:00 P.M.
His gaze focused on the White Tower. Its 100-foot walls of Kentish and Caen stone formed an uneven quadrilateral, defended on the corners by three square towers and a round one. Once the stone had been whitewashed, giving the building its name, but now it glistened a golden brown with an elegance that perpetual care assured. High above, the Union Jack fluttered in a light breeze. This ancient citadel was the symbol of the nation.
A place of pride and honor.
He walked through the exit gate and headed toward his waiting car.
Acolytes continued to prepare the reviewing stand. A small contingent of press was ready and waiting, including television cameras.
The royals had begun to take their seats.
His gaze shifted from the White Tower toward the northeast.
Another glance at his watch.
The evening sky was calm and clear.
But not for long.