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Thread: The Machiavellian Adventures of Princess Eleanor

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    The Machiavellian Adventures of Princess Eleanor

    Small note: Like Dragon this is not based on a game I have played, more on a potential game I would love to play, and know that CK can provide; all the main elements of the story are there in the game, including the princess with intrigue skills and selective heir issue.

    This will be rather long and updates will be random, this is something I am writing for relaxation while working on my book. Sometimes it is nice to write in lower quality English and have your characters do silly things. I should be able to do a minimum of one update a week, probably more.

    I should warn that it does take rather longer to get going than I would like; the beginning is very necessary background but it is kind of boring. Just wait until our princess grows up...

    This is...character and plot based, with comedy, mush, intrigue, big events and tragedy mixed in. It is not as serious or demanding as Dragon, in many respects it is more like Red Hand, except it will not be turned into a book

    The Machiavellian Adventures of Princess Eleanor

    The realm of England in the year of our Lord 1337


    England 1325: The royal palace at Waltham, Essex

    In a patch of empty grass less than half a mile from the royal palace two children were playing outside in the summer sun; one a boy, short for his fourteen years, with sandy hair, the other a girl of nearly six, her jet black hair bound up into a thick braid and coiled at the nape of her neck. They were both dressed in rich clothes, and spoke the educated French of the noble classes.

    “Come on, Nell, you’re not even trying.”

    Eleanor looked up at the sandy haired boy and pulled a face, “Princesses aren’t supposed to do swords, we’re supposed to look pretty and dance and stuff.”

    “And you hate doing that, dear sister.” Stephan grinned and raised his wooden sword to the en garde position, “You always say knights get to do the interesting stuff, well now’s your chance to do some fighting.”

    “But you’re older and bigger and stronger and you’re a squire now” replied Eleanor uncertainly, scuffling up the soil at her feet with the tip of her wooden sword.

    The boy rubbed his pug nose and shrugged, “If you are too scared…”

    “I’m not scared, Stephan!” Eleanor drew herself up to her full short height and glared at her brother’s chest, “I’m nearly six now and I’m not scared of anything!”

    “Prove it.” Stephan looked down at Eleanor and raised an eyebrow. She stepped back a pace and struck an imitation of her brother’s pose, holding the sword gracelessly in both hands. “Now try lunging at me.” invited Stephan, “That’s an easy move for beginners.” Eleanor lunged forward clumsily and Stephan easily parried the blow, “Good.” he said encouragingly before slowly attacking to her left. Eleanor stepped back, tripped on the hem of her dress and fell over. Immediately Stephan closed the small gap between them, limping with his twisted right leg “Are you alright?”

    Eleanor nodded, dabbing at the mud on her clothes, trying to scrape the worst of it off, “Now I’m going to get in trouble; I’m not supposed to get covered in mud because it’s not elegant”

    “Don’t worry, you’ll wriggle out if it same as usual” said Stephan confidently, “Just burst into tears and wail about it being an accident”

    Eleanor giggled, “That always works. Since I’m all muddy…” she threw her sword down and began pulling out her hairpins, then untied the end of her plait, loosing her hair into a dark mass that reached almost to her waist, explaining as she worked, “If I’m going to be yelled at for being undignified I’ll let my hair down, I hate wearing it pinned into a proper lady’s style.” She picked her sword back up and brandished it at her brother, “Come on then! Bet I win in the end!”

    Stephan laughed and swung his sword slowly enough for her to block and easily dodged her counter stroke, making it look much harder than it was, “One day, Eleanor, you’re going to be a better with a sword than any knight.”

    Eleanor’s eyes went wide, “Really?” she gasped.

    “Of course, why would I lie? I’m your brother, and I always tell you the honest truth.”

    Her confidence boosted by Stephan’s praise, Eleanor threw herself into a wholehearted attack, raining clumsy blows down on him, which he easily blocked.

    King William, sixth of that name to rule England, sat brooding in his private chambers, waiting for his spymaster to arrive. He went over his decision many times, as he had been doing for days now; his mind was made up, it had to be done, but that did not make things any easier.

    A knock at the door preceded Trempwick’s appearance; the spymaster entered and knelt before his king, “Sire, you summoned me.”

    “Yes, a matter of great import has arisen, or should I say I can no longer delay.” William began to speak, his heart heavy as he finally faced that which he had delayed for so long, “Stephan is…a good boy, he has great potential and is my firstborn son and therefore my heir; it is a shame, then, that his leg has mended badly. But for that fall he might have made an excellent king.”

    “Sire? Am I to understand…?”

    “Yes, kill him.”

    “Sire.” Trempwick chose his words with equal care; William was well known for his foul temper, “Sire, the boy only has a slight limp-”

    “No.” interrupted the king, “No, I am a king first and a father second, the good of the realm must come first. I cannot remove my son from the succession, but nor can I let a cripple rule – how would he lead an army? Who would ever respect him? He walks with a limp and has trouble riding; he could not even travel the country on royal progress to keep his vassals in check. I have two more sons, I may yet have others; I will not – cannot leave my crown to Stephan. As long as he is alive he can contest my succession, reducing the realm to civil war between brothers; he has been raised to expect the crown, he thinks of it as his already, he would never accept being passed over.”

    “He is just a boy.” Trempwick felt obliged to make the protest; he knew it would do no good, but he needed to be able to tell himself he had tried, that someone had spoken up for the doomed boy. He may have worked his way to spymaster over the dead bodies of rivals, all of whom had died in perfectly unsuspicious circumstances of course, and he may arrange assassinations on a regular basis, but he still needed something to salve his conscience from time to time.

    William’s eyes hardened, he leapt to his feet and advanced on the spymaster; despite his short stature the king was an intimidating man, heavily built and a famous warrior, “You dare question me?” he hissed, “You think I have no idea of how to rule my kingdom, my kingdom, the kingdom I have ruled for nigh on eleven years?”

    Trempwick bowed his head, his interjection had only increased the king’s determination to kill his eldest son, “No, sire. I shall get to work as you command, immediately if you wish.”

    “Yes, get it done and over with; make sure none can suspect the death was anything but natural.”

    The royal nursey often resembled a battlefield more than anything, most of the children in this family had inherited their father’s famous temper, which lent those inevitable childhood squabbles a rather loud edge. The nurse assigned to care for the royal children had long since gained the ability to block out and ignore the ear splitting noise her charges created when quarrelling, arguments such as the one going on now.

    “You broke it!” Matilda flourished her necklace at Eleanor, displaying the snapped gold chain; “You broke it, you stupid, clumsy, idiotic-”

    “I didn’t!” yelled Eleanor, “Why would I want your stupid necklace?”

    “Because you’re determined to ruin my wedding! You are jealous of me-”

    “I’m not! What have you got that I don’t? Nothing!”

    “Beauty, seniority in our family, a sense of decorum, brains, a nice large dowry, a fiancée who is heir to the German emperor.”

    “I don’t care!” Eleanor’s face was going red, “I don’t care – I like being plain, I don’t care if I’m muddy, and I don’t want to get married!”

    Matilda laughed scornfully, “Good, because no one will ever put up with you; you shall end up in a nunnery.”

    “No I won’t.” Eleanor’s denial didn’t have much energy behind it; she had been worrying about that herself, there were only two paths open to women of her rank, and she didn’t like either of them.

    “Yes you will, unless father finds some poor dope who is utterly desperate for your tiny dowry and loathsome company.” Matilda smiled her best superior, smug elder sister smile “I will be an empress one day, you will remain a grubby little girl who speaks like lower nobility, looks like shabby minor royalty, and acts like a churl.”

    The nurse was rather surprised when prince Stephan entered the nursery; he was now far too old to live here, he slept in the main hall with the other squires now. She was rather pleased he had arrived though, as he usually managed to break up his arguing siblings, restoring peace before she got a headache; for this reason alone she encouraged him to visit regularly, something he was already inclined to do.

    “What is going on here?” Stephan crossed the room to join his two sisters as quickly as his limp would allow him. “I could hear shouting half way up the staircase.”

    “She broke my necklace, I am supposed to wear it when I arrive in Germany-”

    “No I didn’t!” shouted Eleanor, balling her fists up and trying not to cry, “You blame me for everything, I hate you!” she pushed her sister as hard as she could, then ran off, slamming the nursery door behind herself.

    Stephan sighed, “You should try to be nice to her, Tilly.”

    “Why? She is a disgrace to our family; I was never like that, and nor were Rowena and Adele.”

    “She is our sister, and she is only five; you are eleven, you should look after her.”

    “She broke my necklace, I leave for Germany in a week, and she broke it.” Matilda was furious to find her eyes filling with tears, “This marriage is important, father is relying on the alliance it will create, and it’s all going wrong already.”

    Stephan put his arm around his sister, “You will be alright, Tilly, I know you will; you will be a credit to our family, you have no need of a necklace to make an impression.”

    “I do wish…I did not have to go to Germany now. I want to be empress and all, but…it is so far away.”

    Stephan waited a few hours before going to search for Eleanor; when she didn’t want to be found she was very good at hiding. He could tell she had been waiting for him; she was in the first place he looked, the great oak tree out in the meadows where they had been sword fighting earlier. He sat down in the shade under the tree, waiting for her to drop out of the branches and join him.

    It took a while but eventually she did; she began pulling up blades of grass and tying them in knots before throwing them away, “I didn’t touch her necklace, Matilda always blames me. I saw nursey playing with it.”

    “Really?” Stephan couldn’t help doubting that a wet nurse would ever dare do such a thing.

    His doubt showed in his voice, Eleanor leapt to her feet, “She did, I saw her.

    “I believe you.” replied Stephan hastily, he wasn’t sure if he did, but he didn’t want to upset his baby sister again, “Honest, I do.”

    Eleanor studied him from under lowered eyebrows, “Alright.” she said, and sat back down. She knew he didn’t believe her, but it was the truth; no one ever believed her. She felt compelled to ask a question that had been bothering her all her life, What am I supposed to do?”

    “What do you mean?” asked Stephan, smiling slightly.

    “I’m the seventh and youngest of the family, everything I can do someone else can do better, and I’m none of the things a princess should be. I’m not pretty, or graceful, or nice, or gracious, and there’s not much left over for me as a dowry so I’m a poor princess too – Matilda was right.”

    “Contrary to what they would tell you none of your sisters were born as ideal princesses either; when you are older you will be every bit as regal as them.”

    “I don’t want to be a princess.” confessed Eleanor guiltily, “I’d rather be a really rich peasant, then I could start my own business and not have to marry anyone or be a nun or anything What can I be if I’m not a princess or a nun?”

    Stephan laughed and said kindly, “You can be Eleanor, and I think you are quite good at that.”
    Last edited by frogbeastegg; 14-07-2004 at 10:16.
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  2. #2
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    Somehow I foresee Eleanor posing as a knight one of these days. She has a bit of Joan of Arc in her it seems, though perhaps without the visions.

    You've been quite busy lately, eggy. I hope the book is going well and I am pleased to see this story begin. It sounds quite entertaining. Rest assured I will be following.
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  3. #3
    “Stephan, I’ve got something to tell you.”

    Stephan looked down at his sister and ruffled her hair, disturbing it from the already unruly hairstyle, “Not now, I’m late for my tilting practise.”

    “But it’s really important.” she insisted earnestly.

    “I’m sorry, Nell, but it will have to wait; if I hurry my arms master may not notice I’m late, I would rather not spend all morning doing handstands in full armour. I’ll meet you under the oak tree this afternoon, if I’m all in one piece!”

    Eleanor stared after her bother’s retreating back, “Brothers.” She had just spotted a way to avoid being either a princess or a nun and he was more interested in hitting things with swords; well, he’d just have to hear about her plan to become an independent countess later, if she still felt like telling him, since he was obviously not interested.

    Eleanor waited under the tree all afternoon and half the evening; she only gave up and returned to the palace when the sun began to set. She entered the nursery; it was empty aside from Nursey, “Where’s my brother?” asked Eleanor politely, “Where’s Stephan?”

    Nursey gave her a slightly wobbly smile and said in a kind, concerned voice Eleanor could immediately tell was false, “He’s gone away to a better place, don’t be sad.”

    Eleanor frowned slightly, not understanding but starting to worry, “Where’s my brother?”

    “Stephan is dead, Eleanor. He drowned in the river while swimming this afternoon.” Nursey gathered her resisting charge into a hug, “Don’t be sad, he’s gone to heaven now and he’s with God and his angels now; he’ll be very happy there.”

    Eleanor stared at her nurse in shock, fighting her way out of the embrace, “No! You’re lying!” she shouted, Eleanor’s lip started to tremble and she blinked back her tears.

    Nursey let her go, “Your father is so upset he has banned anyone from mentioning Stephan; he never existed, you have two brothers now and that is all you ever had.”

    “He existed.” replied Eleanor defiantly; she ran from the room, tears pouring unheeded down her cheeks.

    The months passed; Matilda went to Germany and married the heir to the throne. The new eldest son, Hugh, began to be groomed as the new heir and he showed great aptitude for his lessons. The third and final son, John, continued to work hard in the training grounds, but all could see his interests lay in more gentle, scholarly pursuits; king William prayed daily that nothing would happened to Hugh, leaving the unsuitable John as his sole heir. Rowena spent all her time learning Danish for her upcoming marriage to the brother of the Danish king; she had been moved away from the royal palace to a convent so she could concentrate better. Adele was engaged to the Spanish king, a man of some thirty-six years to her seven. The queen, their mother, died of a fever shortly after Stephan drowned; William did not remarry. Eleanor’s sixth birthday came and went, and she began her formal education; there was a problem, however. Each and every tutor left within a month of his or her arrival, swearing the young princess was a hopeless case. The litany of complains was long and varied.

    “No, no, no, you step to the left, princess, not the right.” Sir Chundleton gestured to the small group of musicians to stop playing, “A pause, if you will”

    “I don’t see the point.” Eleanor’s eyebrows drew together into a frown that was promising great things for when she was older, “Step left, step right – what does it matter?”

    “It matters, a very great deal, your highness. If you go one way and everyone else goes the other you collide.”

    “So? Dancing does nothing and it’s boring.”

    “It is the melting pot of cultured society.” lectured Chundleton, his charge’s lack of interest in anything he tried to teach was bad enough, but her unusual dislike for dancing was something he couldn’t even begin to understand, “It is one of the signs of civilisation, it allow nobles to mingle freely and without suspicion, you can even flirt with a chosen favourite while dancing.”

    Eleanor curled her lip, “Disgusting.”

    “Start the dance again, from the very beginning; you will not leave until you get it right.”

    The musicians began to play, and Eleanor resentfully started to go through the steps that had been drummed into her; Sir Chundleton was not pleased, however, “Stop, you’re doing the wrong dance!”

    “Really?” Eleanor had always done a good line of fake innocence, but now she was excelling herself, “They all seem the same to me.”

    “That does it!” Chundleton ripped the hat off his head and threw it down on the floor, “That does it – I quit!”

    “I am master Bufflemore; I do not tolerate noise, mess, unruliness, tardiness, untidiness, bad manners or any other misbehaviour.” the plump little man waved his cane through the air to emphasise his point.

    Eleanor looked at her latest tutor, weighting him up; he had only just arrived, this was their first meeting and already she could see a way to remove him. “I understand perfectly.”

    “I will teach anything, as any good tutor would” the cane whipped past Eleanor’s nose, “but I have a special interest in teaching mathematics.” the cane swooshed past Eleanor again; she threw her right arm up to intercept it, gritting her teeth at the pain as she caught it, twisting her arm to divert the cane away from her body, then bringing her right hand down to grasp it just above where Bufflemore gripped the wood. Before he could react she disarmed him; she crossed the small room in several rapid steps, paused next to the window, treated her stunned tutor to her best smile, then tossed the cane out the window.

    Master Bufflemore stared at her, his jaw gaping wide open in astonishment; his mouth flapped a few times before he managed to speak, “A killer…. I quit!”

    “Would you like some cake, lord Alfreton?” Eleanor held out the tray with bits of cake on, knowing her current tutor wouldn’t be able to resist. As she predicted he took a slice and ate it with relish, before taking another and finishing that too. Eleanor put the tray down beside him and sat back down at the table, thankful that she and her tutors always ate in the nursery instead of the main hall like everyone else.

    Alfreton yawned, covering his mouth with one hand, “I’m so tired, I confess I always seem to be tired since I arrived here.”

    “Perhaps you are sickening?” asked Eleanor, her concern very convincing even though she knew the cause of his tiredness was the poppy juice she had been lacing his food with. Lord Alfreton made no reply; he slumped forward onto the table, snoring gently.

    From her very comfortable seat in on a roof beam in the palace’s small throne room Eleanor listened to the search, enjoying herself greatly; they could never find her if she didn’t want them to, and she certainly didn’t want Monsieur François to find her and start yakking away in his stupid foreign languages again. French was what the nobility spoke, along with the newly fashionable English previously only spoken by the lower classes, and she was word perfect in both of them, she didn’t need to know Latin or any other language thank you very much. As she started to eat an apple she had stolen earlier she heard Monsieur François declaring out in the adjoining main hall, “I quit! She is quite impossible.”

    “Princess, I demand you pay attention to your studies.”

    Eleanor smiled politely at her latest tutor, Sir Toryn, “But, as you keep telling me, a princess is only of lesser rank when compared to a king, queen or prince; you cannot demand I do anything, you’re only a knight.”

    Toryn chewed the inside of his lip, wondering just how she managed to absorb the parts of his lessons that would allow her to cause trouble, but ignored the rest, “Then I request it.”

    “I don’t feel like studying today, sorry.”

    “As your tutor I strongly advise-”

    Eleanor put on her best regal pose, perfect posture and careful pronunciation and all, “You may go; I think I shall take some air, alone.” Sir Toryn had no choice, by the rules he had been so carefully trying to teach her he had to obey, he dropped a bow and marched out the door; Eleanor couldn’t help grinning, she could get used to this.

    coz1, Eleanor is...utterly unique, I have never written another character like her, some of them showed flashes of similarity on occasions but none could ever be anything like princess gooseberry.

    She has a rather long history outside the story; this is actually my first proper story rewritten, cleaned up, polished, expanded, altered and generally made over into something very different and far better than the original in every possible way. Out of everything I have posted so far only two scenes were in the original in a vastly cut down and badly written form, the scene where she learns Stephan is dead and the scene where she is sword fighting with him. They also appeared in the wrong place, they were used as flashbacks midway through the story to set up background I didn't think I needed when I posted the very first part.

    When I wrote the original Eleanor I had never even heard of CK, but it fits the world so well it is now rather hard to believe this didn't start in the same was as Red Hand or Dragon.

    The book is progressing well enough, I have been doing a lot of work on background details but I expect to get writing in earnest soon. Building an entirely new world is slow going sometimes; laws and so on are easy to set down, but drawing out a map of my world is a pain. I have a few of the early scenes written in my best style which is far better, and therefore more work intensive and time consuming, than the style I use for AARs.
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  4. #4
    King of Spades Jestor's Avatar
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    Hahahaha I have to say, I find this michevious imp of a princess absolutely hilarious, especially the way she handled each of her tutors

    One thing I must ask though... how do you find the discipline to write? I can't count the number of people over the years who have this notion that I have some writing talent, yet when I set down to produce, I can never furnish anything beyond a pretty paragraph or three.

  5. #5
    I think in my case it is more a matter of discipline not to write. I used to find it very hard to put pen to paper; I couldn't spell and I believed I couldn't write anything about anything, after all I'm dyslexic and my first couple of years at school killed my dream of becoming an author because I was told repeatedly I couldn't spell etc and therefore couldn't write. It is easy to destroy a child's confidence. The story of how I got writing again is a very long one that I'll spare you unless people actually want to know, but suffice it to say my journey began almost exactly a year ago. Now I can spell, my grammar is good, and I know I can write.

    When I hit on a good story and set of characters they are just there constantly; currently I have dreams where I see Culad, Margaret and the other characters from Red Hand, as well as seeing the characters from Dragon, and Eleanor and Fulk (aka the duo) from this. When I have nothing to do, standing in a queue or something, I start going over what I have, planning scenes and looking deep into the futures and pasts I will probably never even write. Given a request or need I can usually come up with spontaneous dialogue for any of my characters on a particular subject within a minute. Stick me in front of my PC and let me write and I will do so, often at a furious pace; the only time I have problems is when I can't think of the words I want, I have not had writers block since I first started Red Hand, and that is the first story I wrote where everything pulled together and started to go right. I plan scenes before I go to sleep, I wake up in the night with ideas I write down, I go over dialogue and think up conversations between assorted characters just for fun while doing other things like cooking - basically if I hit on something good it becomes impossible not to write it down, but if I can't write it as I want it gets very frustrating; that is why the original Eleanor was abandoned and a significant part of why Red Hand got destroyed and turned into a book.

    I couldn't stop writing if I wanted to. I have three very different styles; the very fast and cut down style I use for my Vicky AAR, the more detailed but cut down style I use for this and Dragon, and my best, most polished style I am using for my book. Each style takes a different amount of time to write, I can do a part of Newbie in 15 minutes, but a part of this story is closer to an hour.

    The only time I can’t actually write is when there are other people in the same room; for some reason I am deeply sensitive about people seeing my unfinished work.
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  6. #6
    King of Spades Jestor's Avatar
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    I think the amount of time that it takes you to write is a big key... because I tend to be the sort who just writes down whatever comes to mind and who almost never edits. Hence, my posts in Golden Fish are just written as I go along, with the subsequent errors included, namely a bitchslapping by the Redundancy Fairy that makes me cringe when I spot it after rereading once I've posted. As far as my own styles go, they're largely dependant on whatever mood I happen to be in at the moment. They can range from the plain minimalist nature of Hemingway all the way to the delicious lyricity of Nabokov, who remains my favourite author, though F. Scott Fitzgerald is the one I feel closest to.

    And this too, is a write as I go post, written in as long a time as it takes me to type it
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  7. #7
    The next morning Eleanor didn’t even bother wasting time on Sir Toryn, she simply vanished after breakfast, slipping away unnoticed. She made her way across the empty grasslands away from the palace towards the oak tree where she spent a lot of time, thinking and dreaming, planning to become a countess or something else that enabled her to remain single and stay away from nuns. Sometimes she even went through a few practise routines with the wooden sword Stephan had given her, she had learned the basic exercises by watching the squires and pages training; she wasn’t improving much, not without someone to instruct her. There was no one to teach her; she couldn’t let anyone find out that she had a training sword in the first place because they would only take it away and she’d get in trouble. A beating was easy enough to survive, but the sword would be hard to replace and she would gain nothing; it was better to keep working alone, trying to remember what Stephan had told her. Besides, it was highly unlikely she could find anyone willing to teach her anything anyway.

    In the middle of the morning her peace was interrupted by a rather whimsical query; “What are you doing up there?”

    Eleanor peered down through the branches of her tree and saw a stocky man with dark hair, brown eyes, and a long, hooked nose looking up at her. The man looked amused, “Yes, I can see you princess. What are you doing up a tree at this time of day; don’t you have lessons?”

    Eleanor shrugged, “I don’t want to learn what they teach so I don’t go.”

    “You will need to know those things later, when you are grown up and married.”

    “I won’t marry.”

    The man seemed amused, “I can’t see you as a nun; of course you will marry, what else could you do?”

    “Don’t laugh at me.” commanded an indignant Eleanor, “I won’t marry and I won’t be a nun, so there.”

    “I doubt you will have a choice, princess.”

    “I wouldn’t cooperate, no matter what they did; I’d die rather than give in.” said Eleanor solemnly, with deep, unshakable belief.

    The man considered pointing out that many had said that about various things, but they usually changed their minds when put to the test; instead he asked, “Just what are you so afraid of?”

    Eleanor dropped out of her tree and drew herself up to her full, short, height, “Nothing. I’m, not frightened of anything at all, ever.”

    “Then why this strange determination to avoid marriage?”

    “None of your business.” Eleanor chewed her lip, thinking quickly, “You’re Trempwick, the spymaster, aren’t you?”

    The man hooked his right thumb through his belt and leaned back slightly, he raised his eyebrows and asked mildly, “Now how do you know that?”

    “I know loads of things.” Eleanor dismissed his surprise without further thought, she was used to people being surprised that they had underestimated her, “I want to know how Stephan died.”

    “Who’s Stephan?” returned Trempwick with a faint, polite half smile.

    “You know, everyone knows even if they pretend they don’t – it’s silly!”

    “You should be careful who you say that to, it’s dangerous.” Trempwick could see she wouldn’t leave the matter be so he offered the standard explanation, “He drowned, simple as that.”

    “No.” Eleanor shook her head, “No, I know he didn’t.”

    “Why do you say that?”

    “He wouldn’t drown, he could swim too well, and he wouldn’t have been in the river in the afternoon because he promised to meet me; he always kept his promises. I don’t see why we can’t talk about him anyway because mother died and we can still talk about her, loads of other people die and we still talk about them, so that makes him special.”

    There was a long pause before Trempwick spoke, this time deadly serious with no trace of his former good humour, “A piece of advice, princess, and you’d do well to heed it; don’t repeat that to anyone, whatever you think or feel about your brother, hide it.”

    “I already do, I pretend like everyone else; I hate it but there’s nothing else I can do.” Eleanor seemed much older than her six years as she admitted; “I can only fight so many wars at once. I just wanted to know if I was right…and why.”

    “Even if, and that is a very big if, you understand, your suspicions were correct what difference does it make? He’s dead, and now he never existed. Good day, princess.” Trempwick patted her on the head, rather patronisingly she thought, and walked away towards the palace.

    Eleanor was acting on a hunch when she decided to spend the afternoon of that day sat on her beam in the throne room; she suspected Trempwick and her father would be meeting here and she wanted to know what they were saying. She liked to listen to the business of state; all the wars and intrigues were far more interesting than anything they’d let her learn. Today though she was hoping they would say something about Stephan; her encounter with the spymaster earlier had only increased her suspicions, and her determination to find out why her brother had been killed, there was no doubt in her mind about that, Stephan had been murdered. She might not be able to do anything about Stephan, not even keep insisting that he had existed, but she could at least find out as much as possible; she had to know the truth, she owed him that much.

    The king and the spymaster entered the room together; the king immediately began wandering aimlessly about the room, unable to keep still but lacking the energy or need to pace about. Trempwick stood by the door, “Sire, how may I serve?”

    “I am not sure.” William paused for a moment, “I have a problem, I must solve it, but none of the solutions are…satisfactory.” he sighed and began walking again, this time slightly faster, “Another one has quit; Sir Toryn would rather join my armies in France than stay here, and you know how the war with France stands at the moment – boring, inglorious, unprofitable, with no battles, just small raids on towns; in short the kind of place a knight would choose to avoid, and yet he would rather be there than remain as royal tutor.”

    Eleanor had been surprised to find they had met to talk about her, she was even more surprised by how sad her father sounded; he must have realised how unhappy she was, maybe now he would listen to her and let her be a countess, because then she’d be happy and he would too.

    “Thirteen tutors, thirteen in just over seven months.” the king sounded more than sad, tired almost, “Do you realise what that is doing to the reputation of my dynasty? Thirteen tutors leaving here with tales that are less than complimentary, tales that are spreading rather too rapidly, and rather too far.” William began to talk faster, became more animated; pacing up and down the room like a caged lion. To those who knew the signs it was obvious his temper was beginning to build, “You know I offered the king of France a peace treaty, which he refused? I demanded the surrender of Blois, its lands and castles to me, two thousand marks in tribute, and offered her in marriage to the king’s second son to seal the peace; now tell me what they refused on?”

    Trempwick knew it was a rhetorical question, but he also knew his lord wanted him to reply, “They balked at the marriage, sire?”

    “Yes! Surrendering the lands and paying tribute was acceptable, but that God cursed fool of a Capet said he would rather see all of France burned by the English than marry Eleanor to his son! He claimed it was on grounds of consanguinity, but, as all and sundry know, a payout to the Pope will get you special dispensation to marry cousins and other close kin; while there has been generations of intermarriage our houses are not so close as that. No, it was her, not the bloodline, not the fact we are distant family – I have asked others of suitable status, not as single one will consider her. So, I cannot marry her off.”

    Eleanor’s heart lit up, it had taken more than half a year and a lot of getting in trouble but it had worked – she was safe!

    “What about a nunnery, sire?” suggested Trempwick, although he suspected the answer.

    The king stopped pacing and stared at his spymaster, “Can you imagine the havoc she would cause in a sheltered community of holy women? I have nothing but respect for those who dedicate their lives to God, but their methods only work on those willing to follow the rule of their house.” William’s mouth twisted into a resentful smile, “I doubt having her head shaved would slow my daughter down much; none of her many problems are an excess of pride in her appearance, and if bread and water diets or beatings were going to work they would have done so years ago. She is remarkably resilient when she decides to be stubborn, I have to give her that much.”

    He resumed his pacing, waling up and down the room rapidly, his hands clasped at the small of his back, “So, not marriage and not a convent, what am I to do with her? She is destroying the prestige and reputation of this dynasty; she cannot be left as she is now. I…can see no future for her.”

    “Sire?” Trempwick was not sure he had understood his king, “You surely don’t mean…?”

    The king rounded on his spymaster with a fury born partly of desperation, “What else can I do? She has no use, I can think of no way to make her behave as befits her rank, and to be honest I am not sure it would be worth the trouble even if I could - she is the youngest of four daughters, I spent her dowry fighting the French, she will never be a beauty, her reputation is already so bad that the only people who might think her acceptable are those willing to grab any blood link to my throne they can; I will not parcel her out to some grasping knight with ambitions, it would only store up trouble for the future. Only weak kings will waste daughters like that; there is no prestige in such a match, nor any use, and I will not lower my family by marrying beneath our rank. What else can I do?

    There was something in this exchange Eleanor didn’t like, she couldn’t pin down what it was but her excitement had long since given way to a feeling like butterflies in the pit of her stomach.

    “Give her to me.” said Trempwick, “Let me train her.”

    “What?” asked the king, incredulous.

    “Sire, while many people mutter under their breaths there is only one I know of who has spotted the truth behind Stephan’s death – your daughter. All those complaints from her tutors indicate she has a natural flare for intrigue.”

    “A princess of the blood as an agent?! Never.”

    Trempwick smiled, a calculated, cold smile, “Precisely, sire. No one would ever suspect a thing, not if she is…competent. She would have access to places other agents couldn’t reach, she would be above suspicion; it has never been done before so none would expect it, just think of the possibilities.”

    “And what if she is not suitable? What if you are wrong, Trempwick? What then?”

    “We revert to your current plan and kill her. Better to try and get some use from her first, though, I think.”

    Eleanor was too horrified to make a sound; they were actually planning to kill her. Her eyes filled with unshed tears, she was used to being told she was useless and no one would want her, but this time it was different, this time it was not another fight with her more stuck up siblings.

    William began pacing slowly, deliberately, “I am not entirely convinced of her potential.”

    “Sire, if I may offer one final piece of proof?” Trempwick crossed the room until he stood underneath the beam where Eleanor sat, hidden in the shadows, “You had best come down right now, princess, or we’ll fetch you down.”

    Eleanor hesitated for a second before reluctantly working her way along the beam and dropping off onto the throne to break her fall. The king stared at her, his shock slowly giving way to his famous temper. Cursing and ranting at the top of his voice he advanced on Eleanor and slapped her so hard her lip split, the ring on his hand gouged a cut on her cheek bone; she was thrown to the floor by the force of the blow. She curled up into a ball, sheltering her head under her arms as blows and kicks rained down on her.

    Trempwick decided it was time to intervene before he lost his prize, “Sire, you’ll kill her! She is more use alive, don’t you see – if she can spy on you here then think what else she can do in your service!”

    William restrained himself with considerable effort, “You have a choice, brat; you die, you go with Trempwick and learn what he has to teach, or you stay here and learn from the next tutor I find for you, pending a diplomatic marriage. Choose.”

    Eleanor looked up, her face covered in blood and tears, but set into grim determination, her deep blue eyes cold; an echo of the expression on her father’s face, “I will go with him.”

    “So be it, but I will tolerate no more missteps; you will be useful.” William turned to his spymaster, “You can have the manor at Woburn; you will leave immediately. I do not need to tell you to keep this secret, concoct a decent lie to explain things.”

    Trempwick extended his hand to Eleanor; she got up stiffly, her many bruises, scrapes and cuts protesting loudly. She took Trempwick’s hand and limped out of the room with him.

    The Beginning

    Whew! One lengthy prologue, now completed.
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  8. #8
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    By the end of the second post I had a feeling that she was going to end up involved in intrigue. Very well handled. I had no problem believing that it could happen this way.

    The way to a woman's heart is through her stomach.

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  9. #9
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    Quite a powerful scene there, eggy. That William is one hard man. But it seems, so is Eleanor. I liked the introduction of Trempwick, and I too saw the intrigue coming and think it fits perfectly. Great intro. Now what does the story hold I wonder?

    Sits waiting patiently for more.
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  10. #10
    France: September 1337: Nantes castle, Nantes

    Fulk clattered noisily down the spiral staircase and into the main hall; he crossed to the high table where his lord sat idly playing chess against one of his household knights. Fulk bowed, “Sir, the sentry reports the princess’s carriage is in sight.”

    “It’s about time.” Aidney waved his knight away, leaving him to talk to his bodyguard in relative privacy, “She will be here soon?”

    “Yes, within the half hour.”

    “Excellent.” Aidney stood up and held his arms out to his sides, “So, how do I look?”

    Fulk hated it when his lord asked him that; giving fashion advice was not his strong point. He looked his lord over, circling around him to get the whole view, as he knew Aidney would demand.

    “Well?” asked the count impatiently.

    “You look very er, rich, sir.”


    “The orange of your tunic compliments the gold of your hair.” Christ, but he did feel stupid! “The, er, the cut of your clothes make you look very…um, they show off your muscles?” The further into this he went the more tenuous the ground under Fulk’s feet; he hated being made to feel like a lady’s maid. “You look like a count, sir, a very successful one at that.”

    The comment pleased Aidney enormously, “Then I look like what I am; not every man gets to marry a princess.” Aidney let his arms drop back to his sides and sat back down, “You will be well looked after when I this is done, Fulk, never you fear. I do not forget loyalty and good service, I may even knight you.”

    “Thank you, sir.” Fulk didn’t let himself feel the joy he should have; he would take Aidney’s word as real only when he was safely dubbed knight, he had learned long ago his master was free with promises he didn’t intend to keep.

    “Now, let’s have a look at you.” Fulk slowly turned in a circle feeling more like a prat than ever; the things he did because of that oath of loyalty. “I do still wonder if I should have had you wear your armour, Fulk, you do look rather more impressive in that than plain clothes.”

    “Impressive how, sir?”

    “Armour suits you, Fulk, combined with that nose of yours it makes you look quite dashing.” Fulk subconsciously rubbed the bridge of his nose; it had been broken and healed slightly crooked. Aidney finished his inspection, “I suppose you will do, it is too late for you to don armour now.”

    “Yes, sir. Will you wait outside to greet the princess?”

    Aidney heaved a sigh, “I suppose we had better; I don’t want to give offence, not until we are safely married, anyway.”

    Generally speaking when Eleanor was offered a choice between riding in a carriage or on horseback she went with horseback, when she was offered a choice between walking or travelling in a carriage she went with walking, and if she was ever in a position where she needed to choose between a carriage and crawling on her hands and knees she was certain she would pick the hands and knees. Now, as the carriage jolted and lurched along the muddy, ill kept roads, she wished once again she had been offered the chance to crawl instead. There was, however, one thing even worse than her mode of travel, and that was her companion; Edith. Just looking at the pasty faced, travelsick girl made Eleanor feel like strangling someone with her bare hands.

    The carriage lurched as it hit another rut in the road, Edith weakly fluttered a handkerchief in front of her face, “Oh, I shall be ever so glad when we arrive, my lady.”

    “I won’t.” returned Eleanor tartly, thinking of the purpose of this trip.

    Fortunately the girl misunderstood her meaning, “I know you are unhappy to have been taken out of your life of religious contemplation, mistress, but think on the many benefits you will gain. Marriage is a blessed state too.”

    It had been a long journey; Eleanor was tired and fed up, and couldn’t resist the opportunity to liven things up a little, “Blessed but second best, or do you not listen to our religious scholars? Virginity is the purest state; anything else is to become closer to Eve and her faults. Also remember that lust is a cardinal sin, and one I do not take kindly to being exposed to even inside the sanctity of marriage. Finally remember that the bible says ‘bring forth children in sorrow’, you can be assured the majority of that sorrow lands on the poor, unfortunate mother; men do not descend several levels from grace upon marriage, nor do they develop an alarming tendency to die whenever children are born.” she left out the bit about ‘go forth and multiply’ to see if Edith would mention that herself; she didn’t, much to Eleanor’s disappointment. The maid merely blushed and went silent; the tedium resumed.

    All these years of religious study and the subject remained both profoundly tedious and utterly useless, you couldn’t even use it to start a good argument with a travelsick drip who evidently held a very different viewpoint to the one preached every Sunday. Well, if Eleanor were completely honest with herself, she did have to admit the whole religious fanatic princess made for a good cover story; it was far better to claim she had spent most of her life in a backwater nunnery rather than to tell the truth.

    By the time they arrived at Nantes castle Eleanor was strongly tempted to order the carriage burned, unfortunately that would be classed as unusual behaviour, something she couldn’t afford. After making sure her wimple and veil were on straight Eleanor allowed herself to be helped out of the carriage by one of her guards; she waited, eyes demurely cast downwards, for Sir Aidney to come forward and greet her; he did so, bowing over her proffered hand and kissing it in courtly style, “Your highness, I am Sir Aidney. We have rooms prepared for you and the wedding guests are beginning to arrive; I thought we could hold the wedding the day after tomorrow.”

    “You don’t waste any time, do you?” thought Eleanor, “That will be acceptable.”

    Aidney offered her his arm; she took it and allowed him to lead her over to the man he had been waiting with. Aidney introduced him, “This is Fulk, my bodyguard and most trusted man.” Fulk bowed; Eleanor studied him closely from underneath her eyelashes. He was rather tall with the lean, muscular build gained from spending a lifetime practising for at least two hours a day in full equipment with weighted weapons. His glossy brown hair was cut in the most fashionable style, the same style the king wore; Eleanor couldn’t understand why it was such a favoured style as it looked like the wearer had had a bowl clamped on their head and the hair trimmed around it. His eyes were brown also, and they seemed to miss nothing. His nose crooked; Eleanor grudgingly admitted that he would probably be labelled as ‘handsome’, she would have to confer with Edith on that later, the girl took far more of an interest in these things than her mistress.

    “A question, if I may?” Aidney’s voice interrupted Eleanor’s evaluation of his man, “What colour is your hair?”

    It was a rather rude request, right here in the middle of the courtyard. Eleanor’s sense of propriety warred with her desire to ditch the wimple; the wimple quickly lost the battle and ended up snatched off and dumped in the mud. Aidney was obviously disappointed to find she had black hair instead of the fashionable blonde; for some reason that needled Eleanor, even though she had a lifetime of people lamenting the fact she had dark hair. “You want to know how long it is too?” she asked pointedly.

    Aidney flushed, “I think there will be plenty of time to find that out later. Let us go inside, I shall show you to your rooms so you can rest before we dine.” As they walked into the castle Eleanor watched Fulk surreptitiously; he moved with an assured grace and lightness of step she hadn’t expected. She decided that her initial impression was proving to be rather too accurate; he was trouble.

    Aidney personally escorted Eleanor to the guest room set aside for her and Edith; the maid made herself scarce with, Eleanor thought, an incredibly annoying and presumptuous glint in her eye. Her feeling of unease grew as Aidney shut the door to give them some privacy, “I know you spent much of your life in cloisters expecting to take holy orders but I am sure you will soon adjust.”

    “Thank you.” mumbled Eleanor; she might not be an expert on situations like this but she had a sneaking suspicion Aidney was not going to stay safely at arms length. Why was it Edith disappeared at the only time she could have been useful? Her misgivings were proven correct when Aidney grabbed her in a tight embrace and pressed a kiss onto her mouth; Eleanor went as stiff as a board, her main thought to work her left arm free before he noticed she had a slender dagger in a hidden sheath on her forearm. His grip was so tight she couldn’t move; eventually he took the hint and let her go.

    Aidney was no happier than she was, but for a different reason, “You’re supposed to…um, never mind, later.” He made his excuses and left quickly, leaving Eleanor alone in her room.

    She scrubbed the back of her hand over her mouth, “Disgusting!” She began to unpin her hair, wanting to get it out of the fancy style as quickly as possible. She held the first freed pin between her right thumb and forefinger and checked she was still unobserved, seeing that she was she threw the hairpin at an imaginary target on the wooden window shutters; it hit the imaginary Aidney right in the eye. She threw the rest of her hairpins in rapid succession, each one hitting ‘Aidney’ with unerring accuracy. When she ran out she commented quietly to herself, “Well, he just made my life easier, if a little unpleasant in the short term.” She started pulling her hairpins out of the shutter.

    Aidney entered his own private room with a flourish, “Statuesque, Fulk, statuesque.”

    “Sir?” asked Fulk, pouring a cup of wine for his lord; to his perpetual annoyance Aidney liked him to serve as squire as well as bodyguard, reasoning that since Fulk spent much of his time following him around he may as well serve food, pour wine and help him dress as well. That oath of loyalty was so hard to keep sometimes.

    “My bride.” Aidney sat down on his bed, rested his elbow on his knee then propped his head on his fist, sulking, “I have met friendlier statues; in fact I think a statue would be more...flexible when kissed. What do you think?”

    “I wouldn’t know, sir.” Fulk couldn’t resist adding, “I’ve never kissed a statue or a princess.”

    Aidney snatched his drink from Fulk’s hand, “You know what I mean; what did you think of her?” he didn’t wait for a reply, “I think that Alix will be quite safe in her townhouse, Sophie will continue to hold her place in my affections…Mahaut too; I may have to lose Douce though, then I can spend her jewellery budget on my new wife, a pity. I think it is a very good thing indeed that Eleanor comes with a promise that I can keep all the French land I can capture, and has royal blood, or I suspect I would send her back.”

    “Really, sir?” a nice generic comment that suited so many occasions, Fulk was very fond of it. He wondered whether to tell Aidney his princess had been wearing a knife concealed on her arm; it had been very hard to spot, even to his expert eyes, undoubtedly that was the reason she had been wearing an old style dress with loose, flowing sleeves instead of the more fashionable tight ones. Fulk decided to wait; this princess warranted further investigation before he could voice his suspicions, he would watch her closely.

    “Oh yes. The poets know their standards of beauty well; she does have blue eyes and curves, but she is so short I can see clear across her head! Black hair, I ask you, black hair!?”

    “I thought jet black, sir.” interjected Fulk, feeling honour bound to defend a much maligned hair colour he had never seen any fault in.

    “Have there ever been any great beauties in stories with black hair? I think not, golden is far superior and the poets know it.”

    “Guinevere, sir, she had black hair. I believe Helen of Troy did as well.”

    Aidney looked nonplussed, “Alright so there are some, what matters is that I do not like the shade at all. Now, as I was saying, too short, too dark, her skin is too rosy, it should be a pale white, like milk. All rather plain, really.”

    Fulk suppressed a sigh; his master was one of those dolts who let fashion dictate everything, including his taste in women.

    “And it doesn’t end there! She is nineteen, positively ancient! She is every bit as boring and stuffy as I had expected from an aspiring nun; I do doubt she could hold an interesting conversion.”

    “It’s not too hard.”, thought Fulk; an interesting conversation to Aidney was one that flattered him a lot, or that agreed with everything he said.

    “The final straw, Fulk, the final straw is her hips – I think my dreams of a large family just died. I suppose I shall have to get by with just a couple of heirs, assuming she doesn’t die on me.”

    “Really, sir?” Fulk didn’t particularly care.

    “Yes, Fulk, indeed it is so.” Aidney heaved a martyr’s sigh, “Royal blood and royal approval for my conquests, I shall just have to remember that. I shall forge myself a small kingdom with William’s blessing, and then one day, one sweet day, I shall have enough power to declare independence.”

    Letting her hair down proved to be a mistake; when Edith returned she took one look and started giggling. It took Eleanor a while to work out why, when she did she found herself once again lamenting the fact Edith was an airhead. “I let my hair down, me, myself, on my own while I was alone, despite what was said in the courtyard, so you needn’t get any peculiar ideas.”

    “Yes, mistress.” Edith plainly didn’t believe her. She busied herself unpacking Eleanor’s clothes, “You’re so lucky” she sighed, “Aidney’s so young and handsome.”

    “Is he?” asked Eleanor sceptically; she alone in the entire female population of Christendom seemed immune to the strange need to find people handsome or not. To Eleanor people just were, they had faces you could describe but she had yet to meet a face she wanted to keep looking at or would daydream about as so many others did. Quite frankly she couldn’t see the point in searching for one either, there were many more interesting things to do in life than spend time mooning over some twit with a bad haircut.

    “Oh yes, he’s very handsome, his guard too, though it’s a pity about the broken nose.”

    “Is it?” Eleanor couldn’t see why, the nose added a bit of personality.

    “It’s like a chip in the rim of a glass vase, it spoils the effect but you can still find the whole pleasing to the eye.”

    Now Edith had lost Eleanor completely, vases looked like vases, which looked like vases, they were all vase like, and a chip didn’t matter much. Eleanor gathered her courage, as much as she hated to ask this was rather integral to her plan, “How do you….um, I want to….that is how to…” Edith giggled, and Eleanor felt herself go a deep crimson, “flirt.” she finished so quietly the maid could barely hear.

    “You don’t know?” Edith couldn’t believe her ears. Eleanor went an even deeper shade of beetroot; her maid took pity, “Of course, nuns are hardly going to allow you to learn things like that. See, I told you he was handsome.”

    Eleanor wondered if she could stab her maid with a hairpin, ‘accidentally’ of course.

    Things are warming up...

    The intrigue is there in the title, 'machiavellian adventures'.
    Last edited by frogbeastegg; 14-07-2004 at 20:12.
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  11. #11
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    I believe I see a little of it, so far. Somehow, I have this niggling suspicion that something occurs between Eleanor and Fulk - but maybe that's just me. It seems some time has passed. Is that all we get to hear of Eleanor's "education" with Trempwick? If so, oh well. I felt that had some promise to it. Still, it seems Eleanor is now thrust into her duty and we shall see what comes of it. So far, so great.
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  12. #12
    As she sat next to Aidney at the high table during dinner Eleanor only listened to his endless self-promoting talk with half an ear. She suffered through five courses, hearing all about his grandiose plans, his past deeds of note, his incredible skills in all arenas of life – if Aidney was correct about Aidney than she was engaged to a demi god who was about to become king of the world inside of a decade. She had to admit she did have a few small doubts as to the validity of that.

    Something Aidney was saying pricked her attention, she started to listen properly, “-not very happy about this match, are you?”

    Concern, how…touching, “Why ever do you think that?” she replied neutrally.

    “You were dragged from your quiet life to be here; I am far beneath you, a poor match for a princess. I get the impression you do not like me much.” He sounded as if he couldn’t quite believe that last part.

    “I do not know you well enough to form an opinion.”

    “Bluntly put I want to know if you are going to be difficult; I want to know if you are going to make this wedding awkward. It would be…unfortunate if this wedding became legendary for the wrong reasons.”

    Eleanor put her dining knife down and looked him in the eye, “I admit I do not want to be here, I also admit to promising I would die before I married anyone, but time and age has…shown me the error of that statement. I can promise I will do as I was bid, and I will say my words as taught.”

    “Good, I can assure you I will not be a mere count for much longer, why I…” Aidney continued his recounting if his plans, telling her just how far he planned to rise; Eleanor tuned him out once again. She might have guessed his concern was purely selfish in nature.

    Fulk watched the princess closely during the meal, closely but very circumspectly; he didn’t want her to know of his suspicions. He could see no trace of knives hidden in her sleeves this time, but that didn’t make her harmless; she could have other weapons hidden about her person, Fulk had to admit the only other kind of concealed weaponry he could rule out was a boot knife, since she was wearing dainty shoes.

    He couldn’t fault her performance so far, she had played the part of princess so well that he would never have been wary if he hadn’t noticed that tell tale, barely visible distortion in the way her sleeve had hung earlier; whoever she was she was very well trained. She had the expected royal entourage, the rich clothes, the accent, the skills and manners; she even looked like the descriptions of king William’s youngest daughter. Someone had done their research and done it well, but why? Aidney was not nearly important enough to warrant such effort and expense.

    He was aware that, once again, she was watching him, and, if he where scrupulously honest with himself, she was doing a better job of subtle observation than he was. No matter how carefully he watched he couldn’t find anything more solid, and he would need indisputable evidence before he brought this to Aidney.

    She was most definitely trouble.

    He was watching her, that broken nosed man with the bad haircut…Fulk, that was the name; oh, he was very subtle about it, but it was more than enough to kill the tiny remaining part of her that suggested flirting to get what she wanted would be a good idea. Edith’s tutorial had been extensive, detailed and in-depth; it had also lost Eleanor by the third sentence. It was hard enough to follow vague instructions like ‘be nice’ without an attentive audience. She did what any well brought up princess would do in a situation where things were slipping ever so slightly out of line; she mentioned dear daddy, “I have a message to give you, from my father. In private.”

    “Really?” Aidney’s eyes sparkled, “Then I shall look forward to it. I shall pay a discreet visit to you tonight, you can tell me then.” he seized her left hand and repeated, for the umpteenth time that day, his courtier’s showy kiss. Eleanor starting wondering how many times she could scrub her hand before the skin started to peel off.

    Eleanor waited for Aidney to arrive, both impatient to get on with things and dreading the moment. She had sent Edith away with instructions not to come back until sent for; the maid had giggled and left with a knowing smile that drove Eleanor crazy, but she could hardly say she was going to give Aidney a secret, important message from the king. Eleanor had the feeling Edith wouldn’t have believed that anyway, the girl had an astonishing tendency to assume the worst.

    When he finally arrived he didn’t even bother to knock, stepping though he door and shutting it quietly behind himself. He aimed a grin at Eleanor that turned her stomach, and said, “It would hardly be a secret if everybody saw me arrive now, would it?”

    Eleanor poured two goblets on wine, took a sip from the one in her right hand and gave him the other, the one she had laced poison. She raised her drink in a toast, “To the future.” The wine was a dry vintage, not at all to her taste, but she forced herself to drain the goblet in one go, before pouring a refill. As she expected Aidney wouldn’t allow himself to be outdone and he too drained his goblet and held it out for more. Once he had a refill he waited for her to drink again, cursing him silently she did so, noting that her head was beginning to spin and her mouth was swearing never to forgive her.

    “So, this message?” Aidney drained his goblet again and reached for the pitcher of wine, pouring the last bit for himself.

    “My father says he recognises ambition and treats it accordingly.” she spoke slowly and deliberately, watching him closely.

    “That’s it?” Aidney frowned, “What does that mean?”

    “What do you think it means?” returned Eleanor coolly.

    Aidney’s fevered, and tipsy, imagination caught fire, “Promotion? More lands? Wealth?” he cut off abruptly, a hand going to his stomach, “Damn it!” he looked up at Eleanor, sweat beginning to break out on his forehead, “Are you well? The wine is disagreeing with me, a bad batch?”

    “I wanted to thank you for your welcome.” Eleanor rested her hands in her lap, each hand near the wrist of the other arm, “I was concerned I might like you; that would make this harder.”

    “Christ Jesus!” groaned Aidney, wrapping both arms about his abdomen as if he could squeeze the growing pain away. Realisation hit him suddenly and he staggered to his feet, “You poisoned me!”

    Eleanor was on her feet too, gracefully keeping out of arm’s reach of the stricken man, “The words I was taught and sent here to say: treachery and ambition such as yours are unforgivable-”

    The door was flung open and Fulk burst in, sword drawn; he had been sat outside, carefully listening with his ear pressed to the door. Much of what had been said was too muffled to be understood, but Aidney’s bit about poison had carried clearly enough. He kicked the door shut behind him, thinking to deny Eleanor an escape route. One look at Aidney told Fulk all he needed to know; there was nothing to be done for him.

    Within seconds of Fulk’s unexpected arrival Eleanor had ripped both her knives from their hidden wrist sheathes and took up her usual pose, trying to look far more threatening than she actually was, keeping out of range of Fulk’s sword. Aidney gave a final gargle and collapsed to the floor, dead or unconscious, it mattered not; if he wasn’t dead yet he soon would be.

    “Who the hell are you?” demanded Fulk, he kept his sword point aimed at her but made no other hostile moves; he didn’t want to kill her if he could possibly avoid it.

    “Exactly whom I said I was before.”

    “So I’m expected to believe a princess is an assassin?” Fulk snorted sceptically, “I think not.”

    Eleanor played for time, trying to think of a way to remove this latest threat; since she couldn’t kill him in a straight fight and he was too close for a thrown knife to be safe, it was a tricky proposition, “I was not needed to marry and my father deplores waste.” She could see he didn’t believe her, “Do you honestly think someone would waste their money setting up this elaborate charade just to kill that foul man? Granted the servants and escort were specially hired in France, but the rest is real; where else could I learn to act the part, except at the royal court? You must admit I do look quite a lot like myself too.”

    Fulk had to admit he hadn’t managed to think of a satisfactory answer to that question himself; he found both possibilities equally implausible, but what she said did make sense. Suddenly it became important to distance himself from his master, “I had nothing to do with his treachery.”

    Eleanor raised an eyebrow, “Really? Then why did you follow him instead of turning him in?”

    “I swore an oath of allegiance, loyalty until death – you know, the usual. Unlike many I keep my word, always.” he said that last with quiet pride.

    “A man of honour?” she threw her left knife up into the air and caught it hilt first again, showing off, again trying to look dangerous, “How very believable.”

    He watched her display with mild amusement, “You’re still alive and unharmed, aren’t you? I would call that honourable.”

    “I am alive, and will remain so, because you would die first.” she bluffed; it was quite convincing, though she was too short, too light and too poorly equipped and trained to win this fight she was obviously at home with her weapons and quick on her feet.

    Fulk considered, he wasn’t sure who would win; he was quite confident he would but he didn’t like having holes punched in his hide, and Eleanor looked capable of doing just that. He also didn’t want to kill her, “How old are you, girl?”

    “What has that got to do with anything?” Eleanor couldn’t see where this particular line was going; she fell back on her title to grab a bit of breathing space while she figured out his intentions, “My title is princess, not girl.”

    Fulk grinned despite himself; that reminder of her high status rankled as much as it amused, “You are obviously young, your Royal Highness, and generally young people don’t want to die. At twenty-five I think I still count as young, and I certainly don’t want to die. There is an alternative, your supreme majesty.” he wondered how she would take his mockery of her status; he found it strangely satisfying to warp her title like that, “I could swear loyalty to you; your path sounds an interesting one, and you will need a loyal guard for those occasions when things go wrong, occasions like just now.”

    “Your supreme highness?” repeated Eleanor, knowing he was mocking her but not caring; she had never liked her title anyway, “I can take care of myself; I do not require your assistance.”

    He hadn’t got a rise from her as he’d expected so he tried again with a slightly more fanciful title, “Are you sure, oh rose of a thousand years? If you end up in another situation like this you may need a brute with a sword.”

    “Rose of a Thousand Years?” Eleanor found his attempts to be insulting nothing but comical. She considered his offer, it would allow her to get away from here safely; she would have to kill him before she got home, Trempwick had been very specific on the ‘no witnesses’ part, but that would be easier to manage when his guard was down. “So be it, the job is yours, unworthy one.” She impulsively decided to play him at his own game, insult for insult.

    Fulk knelt and held his sword to Eleanor, hilt first; she put her knives back in their hidden sheathes and took the weapon. She held it out towards him, hilt in one hand and blade tip in the other; Fulk laid his hand midway along the blade, “I swear to follow, serve and protect you faithfully for the rest of my life, through hell fire if need be.”

    Eleanor gave him his sword back, “And I swear not to walk into hell fire, I would rather not get charred; I do have to look after myself, you know.”

    Fulk put his sword away and kicked Aidney’s body over into the shadowy corner of the room where it was least likely to be spotted, “Of course, oh serine one; as long as you do what I say.”

    “I am the princess here, sword for brains.” replied Eleanor sweetly as she dragged a set of packed saddle bags out from under the bed. She had set everything up for her escape before Aidney arrived, cramming her clothes, crown, weapons, tools and other items she needed to take back with her into the bags.

    “Yes, but I am the bodyguard, petal of silver.” He still hadn’t got a rise out of her; no matter, he would keep trying. Somehow it was important to him to make it clear he wasn’t going to respect her fancy family.

    “Not if I decide to poison your wine, you walking suit of armour.” That was an idle threat; while he had to die poisoned wine wouldn’t work, not after he’d seen her use the same trick on Aidney.

    “I don’t drink, most precious pearl.” said Fulk honestly, his mind supplying the not quite an insult automatically.

    “After travelling with me for a week you will!” Eleanor promised with a hint of a friendly smile. She shoved the saddlebags towards Fulk, “Now, to plan our escape. A pair of horses and a diverted guard will work nicely; we will travel to the port in Rennes. I was going to knock the guard out or something, but you can divert them with a false order or something.”

    “How was a slight, delicate little thing like you planning to lug those saddlebags down to the stables?”

    “With difficulty.” replied Eleanor, she shoved the bags at Fulk, “But since you are here and handy you can do it for me; I am promoting you to pack mule.” she walked out the door, expecting him to follow.

    “As you say, my regal encumbrance.” he muttered under his breath, before swinging the bags over his shoulders and setting off after her, making sure the door was closed behind him to delay the discovery of the body.

    What kind of something happening between Eleanor and Fulk, coz1? We do find out more about her training, it's scattered throughout the rest of the story.
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  13. #13
    GunslingAAR coz1's Avatar
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    Well, I seemed to have stumbled onto something. I sense a certain "Han Solo/Princess Leia" thing going on between them in that last post which only fuels my original thought. (Yes, yes - leave it to the men to throw Star Wars in there. )

    And I think you've got the right idea about her training. That was the way I was actually hoping for - scattering it, that is. Very nice.
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  14. #14
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    A very interesting story, I shall be keeping my eye on this.

  15. #15
    Han Solo and the princess, coz1? Not something I ever thought of, even though I am a retired star wars fan; but now you mention it there is a slight similarity. I think you are spotting the same thing I saw (and at the same place) in the original; a certain...spark or two between gooseberry and rusty.

    Lord_Robertus, thank you very much.
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  16. #16
    They left the main keep easily enough, almost everyone was asleep and the handful of guards on duty were posted on the walls and towers, not inside the peaceful keep. Once they got outside Eleanor ducked into a shadow to observe the patrolling guards on the nearby walls; Fulk gracefully followed, making far less noise than she had expected with his burden. “We have to get over to that tower” he indicated one set between the main gatehouse and the cookhouse, “my room is in there; I am not leaving without my armour and stuff.”

    “We do not have time to faff about with chain mail.” replied Eleanor in a furious whisper, “And how are you planning to carry it? You are decidedly not Sampson.”

    “I shall carry it on my back, your supremacyness.” He set off without waiting for her reply, knowing she would follow her saddlebags and whatever was in them that was so important; he walked across the bailey with nary a care in the world. After a moments hesitation Eleanor followed, matching his carefree step and trying to look like she had every right to be in this castle and wandering around after dark.

    They made it to the room without incident, fortunately Fulk’s somewhat privileged position has given him that rare luxury – a private room he shared with no one. As she looked about the tiny room Eleanor decided it was more a converted storeroom that anything else, simply furnished with a rickety looking bed and a pair of wooden chests. Fulk dumped the saddlebags down on the bed, which creaked alarmingly; his sword belt and cloak soon joined the bags. Fulk knelt in front of and opened the larger of the two chests, pulling out a mail hauberk, helmet and gambeson. “You can play squire, your superiority, or we shall be here until morning as I struggle to put my mail on.”

    Eleanor let out an exasperated sigh, “Of all the things I expected from this mission dressing a training dummy was not one of them.”

    Fulk pulled on his gambeson easily enough on his own; the rigidly padded tunic was cut in a very old style and reached to his knees and wrists, it had an impressive collection of rips and cuts that had been stitched up, and a few ancient bloodstains. He indicated she should help him on with the hauberk next, which she did, dumping the armour down onto his shoulders with scant regard for his well-being; Fulk staggered slightly under the sudden weight, “You’re not much good at this, are you?”

    “What did you expect, you overgrown rust pile? Not even I, with my rather unconventional education, got to play about with armour and dressing knights.”

    Fulk finished fighting to put his arms into the sleeve and jumped up and down a few times to settle the mail tunic down so it covered his gambeson, “I thought you might figure out it takes a pinch of gentleness, rather than dumping the full weight on in one go, your incredibleness.”

    Eleanor gave him an apologetic smile, “I did not suspect you were made of straw, sorry.”

    He muttered something she didn’t catch and reached for his sword belt, refastening it about his waist. He picked up his helmet, an old fashioned conical affair with only a nasal to guard the face and placed it on his head, lacing it securely under his chin. He had chosen to leave his mail coif down, so his ears would be clear; he didn’t anticipate any fighting anyway, it was just simpler to carry armour on his body than in a sack.

    Eleanor surveyed the full effect; he had obviously cared for his equipment well, but there was one slight problem that rather spoiled the image, “Vintage armour, you look just like my great-great-great-grandfather at the time of Hastings.”

    “I earned this armour; unlike you lazy nobles I didn’t buy it with money extorted from my lands, or inherit it from a relative.” replied Fulk frostily, he had always been proud to own his own armour, even if it was antiquated, but now he felt rather embarrassed of it’s age and he did not like that one bit.

    Once again her reaction was different to what he expected; “No, you looted it off the dead body of some lazy noble who did inherit it, right?” a small smile took the sting out of her words.

    “Actually he was another man at arms.” explained Fulk as he unhooked his leather satchel from the wall where it hung and checked the contents to make sure he had got everything, “To find the lazy noble you’d have to go back a hundred odd years. If he’d been a knight I’d have ransomed him instead; I could use the cash.”

    Eleanor noticed he was eyeing her thoughtfully, “You had better not get any ideas about ransoming me; it would be such a shame if I had to kill you, since we are getting along so well.” She knew no one would bother to pay her ransom, no matter the circumstances she was captured in; she simply wasn’t worth the money.

    Fulk grinned as he crossed the room to open the door, “I was thinking no such thing, oh suspicious one, I was wondering how much to demand as pay.” he opened the door a crack and peeked out, “Just the one guard at the gatehouse, we can get out easily enough if I divert him for a bit. We’ll have to walk though; horses would attract too much attention. You mind walking?”

    Eleanor thought of the carriage trip to the castle, “Not in the slightest, you should worry about yourself, crooknose; worry about whether you can keep up with me, not the other way around.”

    Fulk handed her his satchel, “I can see you are going to be an endless source of delight. Wait here, I shall send the guard away then return for the saddlebags, and you as well, I suppose.”

    “I should warn you, purely for the purpose of talking out aloud and not because I do not trust you, that if you sell me out I shall implicate you so deeply that you will hang for murder, not I.”

    “As I said, an endless source of delight.” he bobbed an ironic bow and left, walking across the yard, his armour jingling softly. Eleanor watched through a tiny crack in the door as he spoke to the guard, pointing back at the keep and gesturing firmly; the guard grabbed his spear and set off at a quick walk to the keep. Fulk headed back to his room, moving quickly but being careful to avoid suspicion; he pushed past her and grabbed the saddlebags, “Quickly, I told him I had seen a suspicious person wandering about near the rear of the keep, I also said I was going to investigate outside, so they won’t miss me for a bit.”

    “So you do have brains in amongst the straw stuffing your head.” remarked Eleanor quietly as they crossed the courtyard once again.

    Fulk pushed the small door cut into the larger main gate open for her and ushered her through, “Oh yes, I have plenty of brains, precious object.” And that was why he still didn’t believe her when she said she was a princess; her explanation might form a picture that the pieces fitted but it was also a story so unlikely that even the bards hadn’t thought of it and used it for a story.

    Sorry, just a small fragment of what I intended for the next part, I was going to cover her entire trip home, but I have been too busy to write much of this and my Vicky AAR; Red Hand calls. I shall try to get the rest of the trip written and posted sometime soonish.
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  17. #17
    They passed the night in a small dry-stone walled, turf roofed Shepard’s shelter about a mile and a half from the castle; it was too dangerous to travel far at night. After dumping the bags in the corner nearest the doorway Fulk settled down in the far corner out the draft of the open doorway; still in full armour and wary beneath his relaxed appearance.

    “So…” began Fulk in a conversational tone, “Now you’ve killed Aidney and everyone knows who did it, what next?”

    Eleanor laughed softly, “I did not kill him.”

    “Yes you did, I saw you do it.”

    “No, some impostor who claimed to be me killed Aidney; I was safe at home in my tiny little manor, praying and behaving like a good religious recluse while awaiting a worthy marriage. No one will ever believe I was even here; what princess would ever consent to marry a mere count, and what king would waste his bloodlines on such an inferior match? A princess as an assassin, well you will admit it is a tale better suited to a fireside yarn.”

    “But your escort, they will all swear you were here.”

    “An escort hired near the port where I landed, hired by the captain of my ship, which was a private vessel and gave no name. Believe me I would never allow someone like Edith to work for me, I was hard pressed to tolerate her presence for the few days it took to get to this point.”

    Fulk had to admit her reasoning was very sound; even though he had seen the pageantry and the murder he found it impossible to believe she was the real princess Eleanor, if he couldn’t believe that then why should anyone else? Finding out the truth was going to be difficult, and this particular line would get him nowhere.

    He pulled his helmet off and placed it on the beaten earth floor next to him, leaning back into his corner, “Goodnight, oh incredible wonder of wonders.” He shut his eyes and pretended to sleep, remaining alert for the slightest sound that might hint she was going to poke him full of holes.

    Eleanor didn’t even bother to pretend to sleep; every time she shut her eyes she could see Aidney’s contorted features as he died. It was not a pleasant image, regardless of how much she had disliked the man. When she could sit still no longer, when the first light of dawn peaked through the open doorway, Eleanor pushed herself to her feet; Fulk’s hand instantly shot to his sword hilt and his eyes snapped open.

    She cocked an eyebrow, “Sleep well?”

    He released his weapon and relaxed again, “Very well, all things considered. You?”

    “Like the dead.” She tried not to think of Aidney. “There is a town within an hour of here, we shall stop by there and buy a couple of horses and some supplies. I will wait for you in the church with our bags while you do the shopping; if you betray me I can claim sanctuary, you” she began ferreting around in one of her saddlebags, “get most of my money to go shopping. I think that handles our slight problem with trust; I need the money and you need your belongings.”

    She found what she was looking for, a small leather drawstring purse, and tossed it to Fulk; he caught it deftly and immediately opened it and began counting the contents, “There’s not nearly as much as I expected here.”

    “You were expecting boundless riches? It will buy us two decent horses, some food, and passage back to England; that is all we need.”

    A voice at the back of Fulk’s mind suggested that yes he was expecting boundless riches actually, thank you, and that was why he had been so quick to throw his lot in with her. He squashed the voice as soon as it appeared; he was a man of honour, she had obviously needed help, following her promised to be interesting, and it gave him reason not to kill her. That was why he had chosen her path, not money or thought of reward.

    As she waited in the church for Fulk to return Eleanor began a careful, surreptitious inspection of the contents of his bag, trying to determine just what kind of a man he was, looking for a clue that may suggest a simple way to kill him. Most of the items where what you’d expect from a soldier, bandages, medicines, spare clothes, stuff to clean his armour, needle and thread, a small purse with barely any money in it, a small iron pot, spoon and eating knife; nothing much interesting or useful.

    One item, however, stood out; a book, not particularly fine or lavishly illustrated, but a rarity none the less. Where would a simple man at arms learn to read, and why would he want a copy of ‘King Arthur’ anyway?

    Eleanor put everything back how she had found it, with more questions than she had discovered answers.

    That night they were once again camping out, this time under the stars due to the lack of both funds and a convenient hut. Fulk crouched next to the fire he’d built, stirring the pot of stew that was their dinner; he looked at Eleanor out of the corner of his eye, she was checking over her wrist knives for rust. Satisfied that she’d be able to hear him he quietly began to sing a catchy song currently popular in Nantes.

    “The queen of Spain
    She had a knight
    Her lord husband
    Did get a fright
    When he-”

    A rock bounced off his back, interrupting him before he could get to what was widely considered the good part; the missile did no damage because he was still wearing his armour. He turned to see Eleanor tossing another stone up and down in an obvious threat, “That is my sister you are referring to.”

    “Sorry, I didn’t think.” mumbled Fulk apologetically, returning his attention to his stew. So even an oblique reference to the English royal family got the correct response you’d expect from someone claiming to be princess Eleanor; interesting. Time to push things, just to see what happened, “I never believed the rumours anyway, I just like the tune.”

    She scrubbed at an imaginary rust spot on one of her knives, “So now I am stuck with an aspiring minstrel? Just what I always wanted.”

    “If I were a minstrel I’d add a verse or two about the queen needing rescue from her prison, that’s always popular with an audience. The lack of such a verse makes me think the chap who wrote this version was a rank amateur.”

    “No one will save Adele, she will rot in that lonely castle until she dies, knowing her children are scorned and their parentage doubted, ruining their futures and all because she had to dally with some drip in armour. She always too naive to see those stories she liked so much would never work in the real world. We always told her that, Stephan and I, but she never…” Her voice caught in her throat; she ducked her head and scrubbed enthusiastically at that rust spot.

    Fulk watched her work while absently tending to the food; her reaction had been realistic enough, but that last bit was either a very cunning lie acted out superbly, or the honest truth. As he regarded that forlorn, unhappy figure the hair on the back of Fulk’s neck stood up and he began to wonder if perhaps she could be whom she said she was.

    As they sat under the tree in a small copse at the end of their second day on the road trying to shelter from the driving rain, Eleanor smiled and told Fulk nicely, “This is entirely your fault, you know, if you had not spent so much on the horses then we would be in an inn right now, warm and dry with decent food.”

    “Sorry, oh righteously furious one.” He had given up on trying to upset her with his elaborate titles right about the point he had figured out that she actually liked it; now it had become something of a contest to see who could find the most ridiculous insult, a game of wits. “In my defence I did think a princess would have more money, and you’ll admit they are good horses.”

    “Let us hope they do not catch a cold, or they shall lose that advantage.” she replied dryly, casting a glance over to the animals tethered under another nearby tree. “If you rust in place I will not rescue you, you know; I shall leave you here to meet whatever fate rusted men at arms usually encounter.”

    Fulk wished, for the umpteenth time since he had left the castle, that he could take his armour off just for a few minutes, but he couldn’t risk it; she might use the opportunity to carefully plant a dagger in his ribs. He yawned, he hadn’t slept since the night before Aidney’s murder; he needed to find a way to make a truce he could trust with Eleanor, before he keeled over dead of his own accord.

    With some effort he dragged his mind back to their conversation, “I do wonder why you chose this instead of some plush kingdom and marriage.”

    “I did not exactly choose.” she frowned, her dark eyebrows forming two gracefully arced lines, “But then again perhaps I did, in a way. Regardless, this is vastly preferable to the alternative.”

    Fulk couldn’t believe his ears, “What? You’re joking, right?”

    “No, not in the least.” she met his unbelieving eyes and raised her chin slightly, “I once swore I would die before I married anyone, now I see the error of those words; why should I be the one to do the dying? For that matter why should anyone die at all? My life would be as good as over anyway, so I may as well run away instead, and see how things turn out.”

    Fulk was tempted to laugh but he suspected she would take offence if he did, “Unless they take holy orders almost every single person in Christendom gets married, and many of them even like it; what makes you so different?”

    A legion of reasons crowded forward, poised on the tip of her tongue but she swallowed them again; some were too embarrassing to reveal, others no one would understand, still others were too private, and then there were the ones she couldn’t even put into words. She grabbed the single reason most likely to satisfy his curiosity and end the line of questioning without revealing she didn’t want to talk about it, “Would you relish the prospect of spending the rest of your life in perfect obedience to someone, subject to their every whim, with no way out except death, knowing your hands were neatly tied by law, church and society so you could never even disagree unless they let you?” Fulk shook his head. “Then why should I?” she asked.

    She expected him to launch into the usual speeches about man’s superiority being stated in the bible, about things always being like this and not in need of changing, about her changing her mind later after she’d been married and had several children, but he didn’t, he just shrugged his shoulders and admitted, “A fair point, though it appears many don’t mind.”

    She offered a bit more, both from gratitude for his understanding and to see just how far it went, “By law there are two groups who get that kind of power, husbands and fathers; the father is sadly inevitable but the husband is not.”

    Fulk chortled, “I bet your meetings with your dear papa are very interesting!”

    Eleanor’s hand went to her cheek, her index finger absently tracing the barely visible scar under her eye, “Yes…you could say that.”

    Fulk reached for the bag containing their food and pulled out a loaf of brown bread, “Would you like some hard, nasty looking cheese with your stale bread, oh delicate blossom?”

    “I suppose I shall, or you will finish it off yourself, you bottomless pit of a stomach.”

    The trip home is now splitting into three parts because I'm so busy with Red Hand; once again I'll try to get the rest of the trip done ASAP.
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  18. #18
    GunslingAAR coz1's Avatar
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    Well, it's very enjoyable that's for sure. There conversations are quite fun to read. I am having a good time with the little game of one-upsmanship they are playing. And the underlying mistrust is handled deftly. Not too much, but just enough to let us know it's there. Quite nice.
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  19. #19
    Somehow, most likely through sheer exhaustion, both Eleanor and Fulk dozed off while battling to keep awake and alert, wrapped in their damp woollen cloaks with their backs leaned against the trunk of the tree for maximum shelter from the incessant rain. Eleanor’s rest didn’t last for long, shattered by yet another vision of the dying Aidney; now, as she looked at the sleeping figure of her unwanted bodyguard, she found herself wondering how he would haunt her when she finally killed him too.

    She had decided to wait until they were safely back in England, travelling alone was never a good idea and he had proven himself to be useful enough. She was beginning to wish he would stop being so, so…likeable! He had to die, there was no avoiding that, and yet it was nice to have someone to bandy wits with, someone who didn’t insist on the painful formality she’d never liked.

    She noticed Fulk’s hand was still wrapped limply about his sword hilt; the corners of her mouth quirked into a tiny smile, it was time to put an end to this endless state of mistrust before they both died. She stood up, stretching out stiff muscles, then cast about for a stick. Picking up a nice long dead branch she stood over Fulk and prodded him softly with the end, “Wake up you hay stuffed hauberk!”

    Fulk was awake instantly, staggering to his feet and half drawing his sword; Eleanor tossed her stick away and said, “If I were going to kill you I would have done so by now, it is just as easy to prod someone with a blade as a stick and your armour offers you very little protection.”

    Fulk let his sword slide back into its sheathe, “Fair point, but I’ll argue my armour makes it hard for you to poke me full of holes.”

    “You have a rather low opinion of me then, I think, or you would not imply that I need to resort to such crude methods to remove you from this existence.” Eleanor slowly drew a single hairpin out from her damp, dishevelled and now lopsided hairdo and deliberately, so he wouldn’t mistake the action as a threat, threw it at the tree, “Add a certain poison to the pin and whomever you hit tends to die in a rather distressing collection of contortions; as long as you have exposed skin I can turn you into a pincushion at leisure.”

    Her hair listed some more, one of the two braids had escaped sufficiently to sag down and tickle her neck; with an irritated tut Eleanor set about loosing her hair before it collapsed of its own accord, secretly very glad to finally have an excuse to be rid of the fancy style Edith had insisted on working her hair into days ago which she had kept because without a maid she had no way of taming her hair into a respectable style. For the rest of the trip she could leave it loose without having to explain herself to her unwanted companion. As she worked she kept talking, “I suspect if you were going to kill me you would also have done that long ago, though in your case there is nothing sophisticated about hacking someone down with a dirty great sword.”

    “Again, a good point. You are suggesting a truce, then?”

    “Well we do need to sleep sometime, as you so nicely demonstrated.” she didn’t mention she had dozed off too, that would remain a secret; thank heaven for small mercies. “If we keep jumping at shadows sooner or later someone will get hurt.”

    Fulk broke into a twisted grin, looking at Eleanor’s hair, “It’s a damn good thing Aidney didn’t take you up on that offer to see how long your hair is – he’d have had a fit it’s so short!”

    “Hardly short.” It was true; it did reach down to the middle of her back.

    “To him it would be; I’ve got to admit I’d have loved to hear his reaction.”

    Eleanor wondered what Aidney would have made of her collection of scars, “So, a truce then?”

    “Yes, why not?” Fulk rolled his aching shoulders several times, the mail of his armour softly clinking, “Now, perhaps you’ll help me remove my armour, though it’d be nice if you were more careful in removing it than you were in putting it on; being injured in battle is one thing, being injured by your squire’s ineptness is another entirely.”

    Eleanor leapt at the chance to learn something Trempwick had decided she didn’t need to know; skills like flirting and armour removal might not seem like much but in an existence as precarious as hers having a few unexpected skills could be critical. She hid her enthusiasm behind a wry smile, “Then you had better teach me to play a squire’s part; I only hope you are a better teacher than you are watchman, or I shall end up removing your ears along with your hauberk.”

    Fulk proved himself to be in possession of an eye that missed nothing; he spotted her interest, “Heaven forbid, oh indecently eager one, and did no one ever tell you playing with armour is for boys?”

    “Incessantly; now do you want that armour removing or are you too much of a coward to risk my aid?”

    “I suppose I shall endure and suffer bravely.” He held his arms out away from his body, “You start with the sword belt, since I’m lazy and determined to make the most of this opportunity to boss about royalty.”

    “Like this?” asked Eleanor innocently, yanking the belt so tight Fulk made a rather peculiar sound somewhere between a gasp and a protest; she flicked the fastening of the buckle out of the way with her thumb nail and released the pressure on his stomach, whipping the sword away before he could even catch his breath.

    “I thought you’d promised not to kill me!” he grumbled.

    “And I thought you were a big tough soldier.” she replied as she placed the sword on the ground out of the way.

    Getting the mail hauberk off was easy enough, Fulk simply bent over with his arms above his head while she pulled at the shoulders, pulling the armour off his body until the weight of the freed portion was sufficient to drag the rest of the tunic off without human intervention. He could have removed the padded gambeson on his own, as easily as an everyday tunic, but he insisted on her help as a matter of form. Finally he stood in the clothes he had been wearing before they fled the castle; looking down at his tunic Fulk saw it was a creased, rumpled mess. He should have taken it off before donning his armour, but it was rather too late for that now.

    He flexed his shoulders and stretched his own cramped muscles; his whole body felt wonderfully light, “We’ll reach the port today, about mid afternoon by my reckoning. Now, let’s see about breakfast.”

    As soon as they arrived in the port town Fulk found a horse dealer and sold the two horses, leaving them to carry their bags on foot through the tightly packed, narrow streets until they reached the docks themselves and found a ship bound for England. As they passed through the market place they noticed a large crowd gathered about in a large circle; they were cheering someone on, then there was the crack of wood on flesh and a man’s voice bellowed, “Next!”

    Fulk craned his neck, trying to confirm his suspicions, “Sounds interesting, let’s go see; if it’s what I think…” He started to elbow his way through the crowd, the princess following in his wake and protesting that they didn’t have time to waste. The crowd began to cheer someone one, but almost immediately there was the sound of a blow and the bored voice calling, “Next!”

    They arrived on the outside of the circle; Fulk pushed some people out of the way so they could see. A man stood in shirt and hose holding a wooden sword, his left hand propped on his hip as he harangued the crowd, “Not a single man with guts left? How about a boy then? Someone, anyone with a spot of bravery, or is this town packed full of cowards? I’m here as champion, offering a purse of nearly seven shillings to any who can best me, and I’m only charging tuppence a fight, you can’t say fairer than that. It’s not a death match, it’s not even to the point of collapse, merely to the first blow, the very first hit that touches flesh, and yet none have the guts to step forward now; you’re all pathetic! Cowards! Spineless!”

    Fulk didn’t wait to hear more, he started unbuckling his sword belt, “How do you feel about a nice purse full of money so we’ll be able to stay in inns for the rest of the trip?” He didn’t give her time to respond, he thrust his sword into her hands and dumped his bag at her feet, “Stay here and hold these, this won’t take long.”

    He stepped forward, drawing the attention of the man; he flipped him a coin and held out his hand for the wooden sword the fighter’s accomplice handed him. He swung it a few times experimentally, gaining a feel for its weight and balance; the fighter didn’t wait long, he began a powerful overhand blow aimed at Fulk’s shoulder. Fulk parried the blow easily, swinging his opponent’s guard open and rapping him of the wrist with the tip of the wooden blade. The fighter howled and dropped his own sword, clutching at his numbed wrist. The crowd cheered, glad to see someone finally defeat the obnoxious man who had been casually beating townsfolk all day.

    Both accomplices ran forward, one shouting, “You broke his wrist, you bastard!”

    “I can’t help my birth” retorted Fulk, “and that wrist’s not broken, I’m not an amateur like you. Now, give me my money and I’ll be on my way.”

    “You cheated!” the fighter’s face was red with pain, humiliation and fury, “You cheated! I challenged the townsfolk; you’re a soldier or mercenary and didn’t declare so! I’m not giving you a penny!”

    “You challenged easy pickings.” returned Fulk easily, moving slightly to keep all three men in front of him.

    Eleanor didn’t like the way this was going, she had no interest in seeing if Fulk could defeat the two accomplices and escape with the money. As Fulk and the men argued she looked about and spotted a pie seller with a half empty tray of meat pasties. She left the pile of bags unattended for a few seconds while she swiped a pie when the seller’s head was turned, then threw it with unerring aim at a woman in an expensive dress.

    The woman screamed as the pie exploded over the rich fabric, and started looking about for a culprit; she started yelling at some children, who protested their innocence loudly. The situation grew worse as the children started throwing mud, figuring that if they were going to be yelled at then they might as well be guilty. A gallant young man stepped in to protect the lady, and he too got pelted. A mudpat missed and hit a merchant, he sent his bodyguards in to exact revenge, and a couple of apprentices joined the fray, protecting the children; the situation rapidly spiralled out of control into a full-fledged brawl.

    In the centre Fulk decided he was done with persuasion and advanced threateningly on the accomplices. Now that the audience was no longer focused on them they felt able to beat Fulk up without intervention or later trouble with the law, they both attacked him together, raining powerful but clumsy blows down on the man at arms. Fulk defended himself easily, but they kept him too busy for him to counter attack. Suddenly a handful of mud hit one thug in the face, blinding him. Fulk didn’t waste the opportunity; he smashed his sword into the remaining man’s knee, disabling him before punching the blinded accomplice in the stomach, knocking him to the ground. He snatched up the purse from where it had fallen, threw down the wooden sword and worked his way back to Eleanor, grabbing his sword and the saddlebags, “I presume the mud was your doing?”

    “I thought you looked like you could use some assistance.” Eleanor grinned, “You know I have never started a riot before, it was fun.”

    Together they fought their way out of the brawling crowd and headed down the closest street at a rapid walk.

    They were able to buy a private room in a good inn near the docks with part of the prize money and it was a simple matter to arrange two places on a ship leaving for Dover the next morning. As they sat in their room eating their dinner, a rather greasy stew that the innkeeper insisted was made from prime beef, Eleanor felt that at long last she had gained an excuse to pry into Fulk’s past, “’I can’t help my birth’ you said, so you are a bastard then?”

    Fulk grimaced, though whether it was because of the food or the question Eleanor couldn’t decide, “Fulk FitzWilliam, son of Sir William Destier and Emma, a common peasant from his fief. He was decent enough to give me his name; FitzEmma leaves no doubt as to my tainted birth.” Fulk sighed and set his spoon down, “To be honest he was very decent to me, to my mother too. He brought me up in his household, trained me in the skills of knighthood and used me as his squire. He even had me taught my letters and numbers, though he never did say why. I was to serve him and then his son after him, a livelihood guaranteed and set down in a binding contract.”

    “What went wrong?”

    “It’s hard to squire a dead man, and even harder to serve one who was never born.”

    As the ship left the port and set out into he open sea Fulk grew paler and paler; finally he clutched his stomach and with a mumbled, “Oh God!” ran to the side and was violently sick. Eleanor wandered over and patted him on the shoulder, “Feeling a mite ill?” she asked with the annoying confidence of someone who never gets travelsick.

    “Now I remember why I didn’t go back to England when the war ended!” Fulk began to take on a greenish tinge.

    “You are actually going green.” observed Eleanor with keen interest, “You will end up resembling a frog!”

    “I hate you.” whimpered Fulk. Whatever else he might have said was lost overboard along with the rest of his breakfast.

    When he finally ran out of stomach contents Fulk sat down on the deck and looked utterly miserable, shivering uncontrollably. Eleanor watched him from her spot at the rail near the back of the ship where she was surveying the waves; it seemed so unfair to let him survive this crossing, seasick and suffering as he was, only to kill him when they set foot on English soil. Eleanor wondered how the king and Trempwick would react to her bringing home a stray man at arms who knew too much; the likely outcome was not a pretty one, keeping him would prove…costly.

    She pushed away from the rail and moved to Fulk’s side, unpinning her cloak and wrapping it about his shoulders, “You will never know how lucky you are that you get seasick.” she commented softly, moving away before he could ask what she meant.

    A long delay and this is very rough, I just don't have the time to polish even a tiny bit, too busy with my book.

    As ever thanks for the commnets coz1
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  20. #20
    Alien Space Bat Judas Maccabeus's Avatar
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    Ah, mayhem. I'd hate to be one of those townspeople and have to clean up after that mess!

    While Thou Shalt Flourish Great and Free (Saxon England, pt. 3) (Started 11 October 2010)
    Scenario progress: Base maps complete, pops and diplomacy in progress.

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