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Thread: The Machiavellian Adventures of Princess Eleanor

  1. #41
    "Ask and ye shall recieve." Yes, just so. I am open to requests as long as they fit my story and characters.

    How do you think the story will go? I think I can guess: the princess and Fulk fall in love, right? But the question is, what would they do?
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  2. #42
    The innkeeper and his wife were astonished at the transformation in their noble guest the next morning. Eleanor had swapped her finery for a plain, simple light grey dress and, thanks to Fulk, her hair was neatly braided and coiled under a wimple. She was nothing more than a well-dressed townsperson, or perhaps a rather poor noble. “Well I hardly want to be robbed a second time, do I?” she said angrily at the look on her hosts’ faces. “You.” she glared at the innkeeper; the man froze in fear, “Go help my man on with his armour.” The man shot off; he didn’t know the first thing about armour but he would have offered to serve as archbishop of Canterbury if it would get him away from his guest.

    That left his wife alone with Eleanor and the poor woman didn’t know what to do. She did not want to offend their rich guest; she did not know of anything suitable to say, but she couldn’t just ignore her either. Eleanor solved the woman’s dilemma for her by holding out a small pouch of money, “I believe this will settle my account.”

    The woman unlaced the pouch and tipped the money into the palm of her hand; it came to twice what was owed. “Thank you, my lady.” she said reverently, dipping a deep curtsy.

    Eleanor ignored her, going to stand in the doorway, watching as the stable boy brought their horses round, saddled, laden and ready to go. “I always feel those unfortunate enough to encounter my aunt Adelaide deserve compensation for suffering her loathsome company.” she thought to herself, “God knows I wanted to charge for enduring her on the single occasion we met!”




    The goldsmith’s apprentice looked up at his customer, a warrior still in his mail hauberk with his hand resting comfortably on his sword hilt, and sucked his teeth, “Gonna cost you, take it from me. If you go wandering off with just that ring you’re gonna get kicked in the balls and told ta get stuffed. Whatcha need is this here necklace” he whipped out a small teardrop of clear crystal set on a gold chain, “to show off your wealth and all, aye, mayhap a few other choice items too. That’ll see you home and dry, take it from me.”

    Fulk drummed his fingers on his sword hilt, biting his lip to stop a smile. Taking advice on getting engaged from a brat of indistinguishable, but young, age, what a surreal experience. “I don’t think so, the ring will do.”

    The boy shook his head, tutting sadly, “Look, I’m a nice chap, I like to see the hero come out on top.” He winked and nudged Fulk with his elbow, just as he had seen his master do when running this sales patter, “So I’ll cut you a deal, that there ring and this here necklace for just the five shillin’s nine pence. Da necklace’s special, it were brought in from some far off land and all. One of a kind, she’ll love it, trust me.” While the necklace was undoubtedly fine it did not look either special or unique.

    “The ring, just the ring, and only the ring.” replied Fulk sternly. He did not want a necklace, especially not at that inflated price. He might be spending the crown’s money but he was still leery of paying more than he had to for anything.

    The boy scratched his head, unable to figure out what was wrong. This line almost always worked for his master. “Now see here, if you wanna get kicked then that’s your business-”

    “Exactly; the ring, now. I’m a busy man.”

    The boy didn’t miss a beat, “-but I’m a family man and all so I’m not wantin’ ta see that, I’m on your side.”

    “Oh goodie.” muttered Fulk.

    “Aye, so if you’re not gonna help yourself I’ll help ya from the goodness of my heart.” He placed a hand over his breastbone, as pious as a saint. “Looky here, that ring’s a bit small like, you’ll want something a tad grander-” he pushed the ring Fulk had chosen to one side and plonked down a new one.

    “No.” replied Fulk pushing the new ring, a gaudy affair with a pair of clasped hands engraved on it, back across the counter and placing his own choice back in the centre, “She’ll like that one, it will suit her, so if you’ll sell it to me…”

    “So ya really wanna get turned down, fine, fine.” the apprentice shrugged, “So maybe you don’t like her or sommat? Yeh, ya wanna get turned down, right?”

    “Call me confident; I know plenty you don’t. The ring…?”

    “Confident? Huh?” The boy lost the thread of his sales patter, his face screwed up as he laboriously tried to work out what his customer meant. Why on earth would he be confident? The master always said gold worked with women, no gold meant no chance, and this armoured customer had very little gold. Recovering with some effort he continued his pitch, faltering and disjointed, “Er…oh yeh, so how’s about the ring and the necklace? I’ll let ya have it for four shillin’s.”

    Fulk headed towards the door, “I’ll go elsewhere, thanks.”

    “No!” yelped the boy, panicking. This was his first customer and he’d been dreaming about telling the goldsmith of his first sale ever since his first day in the shop. He could practically see it, the master patting him on the head and saying “Great work, Edwin. I’ll let you keep a third of the sales fee, you’re the best apprentice I ever had and you’ll be journeyman within a month.” and then he’d reply, “It were nothin’ master, honest.” and the goldsmith would look awed and say, “Then you’re a natural, my lad! You’ll go on to be the best goldsmith, nay the best merchant in the town! They’ll make you mayor and shower you with riches and everyone will love you! I’m so proud you’re my apprentice!”. Now that dream was within reach and crumbling from under his fingertips. He pursued Fulk, stopping him just as he began to open the door, “Look, see the ring’s only two shillin’s and I’ll chuck in the necklace for free. How’s that for fair?”

    Fulk stopped; not a bad offer at all, even if the necklace wasn’t quite free. It appealed to the inner bargain hunter.

    The boy didn’t wait for him to answer; he could feel his dream coming back to life, “One shillin’ ten pence?”

    One free necklace and a reduction in the ring’s price, an offer too good to refuse. “Deal.” The money changed hands and Fulk left the shop, carefully stashing his purchases in his belt pouch. They were both fine items, but what was he was at a loss as to what he was going to do with the necklace, but it would be foolish to refuse. Doubtless the goldsmith would not be best pleased when he returned.

    In the shop the boy had a broad grin on his face; his first sale and on his second week in the shop too. The master would be so proud.




    Only a fraction of what I had plenned but I'm busy.
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  3. #43
    Fulk arrived back at the townhouse they were working from with a large bundle tucked under one arm, the fruits of a successful shopping trip. Trempwick had sent an agent to rent it weeks ago; it was in a quiet part of the town and the neighbours had been informed via very careful gossip that it was for a certain lady Eleanor, who was far too miserly to hire servants to take care of the house when she wasn’t in residence. Too miserly, for that matter, to even hire servants in the first place.

    “It came free with the ring; I thought you might like it.” mumbled Fulk to himself as he opened the door and entered the building. “No, she’ll ask why I thought she might like it.” He shut the door and began to wander very slowly through the empty, almost bare building, still muttering to himself, brows locked together in deep thought. “How about, I got it with your money so you keep it. No, she’ll ask me what I expect her to do with it. It will look nice on you – no, definitely not, I like being alive. Maybe, I got this free with the ring; it was an offer too good to refuse, so here you go. Don’t ask me what to do with it, sort that out yourself. No, it’s kind of abrupt. Ok, what about the goldsmith said to give it to someone I like.” Fulk paused at the bottom of the steps leading up to the second floor. “Um, no…no, just no.”

    He decided to leave any mention of the necklace until he could think of a way to explain it without inviting her to do something detrimental to his health. He would mention it, of course, as soon as it was safe. He certainly wasn’t going to keep it for himself; stealing from a royal assassin and her spymaster mentor was not an activity conductive to a healthy lifestyle. And anyway it would be dishonourable and Fulk was very much an honourable man, as he frequently told himself in defiance of that bothersome little voice in the back of his mind.

    He clattered noisily up the stairs; the last thing he wanted was to be accused of sneaking up on a certain knife wielding, bad tempered princess. At the top he pushed open the door to the house’s pokey little solar. It was the best furnished room in the house; kitchen, main hall and the single bedchamber were all but bare. Even so this room was hardly a beacon of excellent interior decoration; it had a table, three chairs and a straw stuffed mattress, which Fulk had discovered to be lumpy and uncomfortable. He was not looking forward to a good night’s sleep, or more accurately he was looking forward to one but knew it wasn’t too likely. That was the problem, Fulk reflected, with working for a princess. She always got the best bed and he couldn’t even claim to be gallant because there was no way a simple man at arms could lay claim to the best in order to offer it away.

    The sight that greeted him raised a smile. Eleanor was sat hunched up sideways in the biggest chair, her shoulder and side leaning against the back of the chair and a rolled up cloak stuffed under her head, fast asleep. Fulk tiptoed across the rush-strewn floor and peered down at her. “Isn’t she just adorably cute when she’s unable to kill, maim or threaten you?” he commented in a mischievous whisper. Sleeping or not he didn’t feel like pushing his luck with further remarks in case she woke up.

    He retreated, pausing by the table with the ring in his hand. He tossed it up and down a few times, then put it back in his belt pouch, deciding that he didn’t want to miss her reaction.





    It was early evening, some time shortly after 7 o’clock according to the church bells, when Eleanor appeared in the kitchen looking for Fulk. “I knew you’d follow your nose eventually.” he said, gesturing idly towards the iron cauldron hanging above the fire.

    “Cooking, are we?”

    “If you like.” shrugged Fulk. He’d actually trotted across to a nearby tavern with the cauldron under his arm and brought enough stew to fill it because he didn’t fancy any more of his own cooking. He reasoned that he wasn’t lying; the stew was still above heat and therefore cooking, and since he was sat nearby observing it that made him the cook.

    Eleanor watched with mild interest as he stood, uncovered the pot and began stirring at the contents. “I should learn that.” she decided suddenly, “I have no idea how to prepare food that is not lethal.”

    “Your cooking that bad, oh culinary disastrous one?”

    She glowered and yawned, a strange combination. “No, and I do suspect you have boiled your brains along with our dinner! I meant that my education extends as far as adding hemlock and other unorthodox flavourings.” Eleanor yawned again, cursing herself roundly for dozing off in the first place. She might not have got much sleep the past few weeks but that was little excuse. “Cooking is not regal; it is practical and therefore unnecessary. If you ever want to remove the royal house from a country simply remove their kitchen staff and prevent them for hiring replacements. A bloodless coup; you simply wait for them to starve.”

    “I’ll remember that if I ever need to take over a kingdom.” Fulk replaced the lid on the stew pot and returned to his stool find it was occupied by a tenant he couldn’t evict. “Please do sit down, your wide-awake royalness.” he said ironically.

    With an irritated sigh Eleanor vacated his stool and sat on the table instead, “Happy now?”

    Fulk bowed deeply before seating himself. He hadn’t expected her to move, “I am forever in your debt, oh gracious one. So, you want to learn how to cook from an old soldier used to burning stuff over a campfire…” He rubbed the bridge of his nose, and pulled a face “This should be interesting.”

    Eleanor smothered yet another yawn, “Not half as interesting as my next request. I want to learn to use a sword. I refuse to be as defenceless as they seem to want; knives are all very well but they have their limits. I will not die because they want to keep me ignorant.”

    “If you’re serious-”

    “I am. Deadly serious.” said Eleanor grimly; an effect ruined by the fact she looked half asleep still. “With you around things will be…different this time.” Fulk frowned quizzically, opening his mouth to speak. She waved him into silence, “Yes, yes, you get to hear a long boring story if you really want.” She hoped he didn’t want; it was not a story she much wanted to share.

    “Nothing you say is ever boring, oh source of enrapturement.”

    Eleanor ignored his light humour, recounting her tale emotionlessly, briskly as if it was in no way connected to her. “I had a sword once, actually two. They both belonged to my eldest brother, Stephan. One was a gift, a wooden training sword. The other was steel, smaller than a normal sword because it was made for a growing boy. As you might imagine the crown prince’s blade was the best to be found in the realm, fill in the details of how fabulous it was for yourself. I shall not go into details of how I acquired the steel; I had been under Trempwick’s wing for a good year or thereabouts and I had learned rather a lot. Swords are not now, nor ever have been, part of Trempwick’s plan for me. Let us say that when he found my new treasure he was displeased. No, then again let us not say that at all. Instead we shall say he was livid, furious, raging. You can hide nothing from Trempwick; he sees right through lies, he learns you in the same way others learn poetry so he can always predict what you will do, he always finds you when you run. Do you know any of those old legends where they ritually kill a sword when the hero who owned it died?”

    “Yes, a few. They bend the blade or snap it clean it two so none can use it.”

    “Trempwick murdered my brother.” Fulk started at this revelation but Eleanor studiously ignored him and he took the hint not to inquire further. She continued, barely missing a beat as the unsaid discussion on murder only took moments to complete. “He made me murder my brother’s sword. No, not murder - slaughter, mutilate and desecrate. He threw my wooden sword on a fire and forced me to watch as it burned to ashes, which he then scattered on the wind. Do you know how to destroy a steel sword of the best quality? You smash it into stone over and over with all your strength, bending, chipping, mangling, and shattering the blade. The damned sword was nearly as tall as me; it took so long to ruin it, hours I suppose, and all the while he talked.”

    She could hear the spymaster’s mocking voice even after all these years, turning the whole thing into a parody of a fencing lesson. “No, keep your guard up, Nell. Don’t hack, slash, dear Nell. Oh dear, Nell, you will never make a swordsman at this rate. Come on, dearest Nell, put a little energy in or you will never pierce armour. What are you doing, Nell, cutting crops or sword fighting? I have seen ploughmen with more grace, dear Nell. Yes, yes that swing was rather good, sweetest Nell, try again and put more strength into it.” It had been the moment where ‘sweetling’ was replaced with ‘Nell’. The spymaster’s reaction had been more violently uncontrolled than any she had ever seen from him before or since. Why? She had never been able to decide, the possibilities were too numerous and plausible. It could be because she had outwitted him, however briefly. It could be concern for her safety as he had insisted. Perhaps simply to assert his authority. Or maybe even because he was bored and the idea amused him. It was probably all of them, and more as yet unthought of.

    Bitterness seeped into her voice and the cold glint of repressed anger replaced the sleepy half awake look her eyes had sported. Her foot was swinging slightly in a manner that put Fulk in mind of an angry cat’s tail twitching. “In the end all that was left was a twisted mess and my aching arms, and even that was not enough. No, he dragged me off to the nearest blacksmith, threw the bits of sword into his furnace and made me watch as it was melted down and forged into a misshapen iron ingot. And still it was not enough; my sword rests at the bottom of a lake. Those two swords were all I had left of a brother who is stricken from the records. Trempwick was not just making me destroy items, he was making me erase the last remaining traces of Stephan’s existence, making me destroy my memories of him too.”

    “What will you do if you are discovered again?” demanded Fulk, “This sounds dangerous!”

    “We will keep this secret, I think perhaps we can manage that. And if not” her face went hard, “I shall obediently do exactly as he demands, behave just as he expects and make him think he has won. And then I shall go get another sword and begin again. You need not worry, you will be quite safe, and I shall survive.”

    “Let me guess, if I refuse you’ll just try and teach yourself?”

    “Am I so predictable?”

    “Let’s just say I’m getting to know and appreciate some of your finer points.” Fulk got up and started ladling the stew out into two bowls, more for something to do than out of any desire to eat. He had lost his appetite; his mind teemed with questions he knew he shouldn't ask, especially about the murdered brother. “Well, looks like I’ve got myself an apprentice.”

    “I do have one question though.” Eleanor frowned, “Why didn’t that dragon just eat Alix? In your stupid story, I mean. Why go through all the rigmarole of fighting and trying to lose in order to get rid of her when one gulp would have solved the problem without risking more than an upset stomach?”

    So, more than an unspoken request not to ask; she was removing his chance to continue the subject. Interesting, it only increased his curiosity. “Because, contrary to popular opinion, damsels are not particularly tasty or succulent.” He finished dishing out the stew and put the lid back on to keep the remainder warm. As they sat down to eat he threw something towards her with no warning, “Here, before I forget.”

    Eleanor caught the object quite neatly in the only way she could with her hands full – in her bowl. She fished the ring out and put the bowl down on the table, then set about cleaning the metal on the hem of her dress.

    “I do hope you like it.” said Fulk neutrally, pretending to be very busy with his food. “Although quite why I say that I’ve no idea; it’s only a disguise, after all.”

    “I think I would prefer a slightly less spectacular delivery.” Eleanor examined the ring closely, holding it in the palm of her hand. It was a simple gold band, rather thin. The only decoration was a twist worked into the metal itself, the front part twisted, the half that would rest on the inside of the hand left plain. Hesitantly she slipped it onto her left ring finger. “It fits.” she said, a touch of surprise showing.

    “Of course.” replied Fulk, plainly amused. “I measured your finger, remember?”

    “You got your own disguise?”

    “Of course; it took ages to find somewhere selling ready made clothes that could pass as a noble’s but I did.”

    “Then tomorrow we shall snoop around the abbey as planned.”

    “So, what do you think?”

    “Quite a lot.” returned Eleanor matter-of-factly, “But on what particular subject do you want the benefit of my knowledge?”

    “The ring!” Fulk looked woeful and injected a touch of martyred patience into his voice; “I trudged up and down for hours searching goldsmith after goldsmith to find something suitable and I bargained as if my life were at stake. What do I get for my troubles? Nothing but surprise at a job well done; quite frankly I’m insulted!”

    “Poor dear.” Eleanor leaned over and patted him on the head, nearly losing her balance and falling off the table in the process. “It is the best wedding ring I have ever had; satisfied?”

    “You’ve only had the one!” exclaimed Fulk.

    “Yes, I do not wish to create a habit out of collecting them.”





    Er, delays this time caused by a wedding, specifically Culad and Margaret's. Erm, yes froggy has been working on that in some fine detail, creating the appropriate religious stuff for the ceremony, planning a feast Irmilian style, peppering the scene with notable nobles from Verdere, and finally setting down just what did happen (and go badly wrong) on that rather famous night. In detail. :blushes: Um, it's no longer rated PG, let's say that much :blushes more: Damn, you'd be shocked at how much planning goes into Culad the drunken 15 second wonder! :blushes a hell of a lot: Still a work very much in progress but pulling together nicely, which is more than I can say for the cast of that scene; they are managing to upset each other perfectly to plan :grins:

    So all in all it's nice to escape to Fulk and Eleanor's considerably less, er troubled existence, even if the damned ring keeps reminding me of a certain other couple, and the need to pair Donchad (due to be renamed) and Nuala off sometime soon. This segment isn't too bad but I feel the last part of their sword conversation could use more work, it kind of slumps when Fulk gets involved and only recovers part way through the ring bit. On the positive side I do love “Isn’t she just adorably cute when she’s unable to kill, maim or threaten you?” and Fulk's neat rejoinder on her cooking.
    Last edited by frogbeastegg; 25-08-2004 at 22:43.
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  4. #44
    The next morning Fulk stood in the kitchen, feet planted slightly apart, back straight, chin up and hands clasped at the small of his back like a soldier under inspection. Eleanor paced slowly around him, inspecting him from every angle. “Well?” he asked, turning his head to follow her. “I’ll do?”

    “Not if you talk like that.”

    “Bah! I’m supposed to be a big tough noble knight warrior chap; I’ll skin anyone who complains!”

    “Oh dear, and I thought we were going to remain low key.”

    Fulk neatened up his French while she continued to scrutinise him, “Is this better, oh elocutional one?”

    “I suppose it will do. Fortunately we are only pretending to be minor nobles; you would never pass muster at court,” she removed some of the precision from her own speech, “I’ll have to tone my language down to match yours, or else it’ll only look out of place.” Toning down, possible and easy, a very versatile disguise, and such a waste of all those hours of being yelled at by Trempwick for not speaking properly.

    “So, that’s my disguise sorted, now how about yours?”

    “Oh that is very easy; I just go with what will be expected. You will have the privilege to see my perfectly behaved and boring noble act, with all that entails. Since I am going to be spending much of the day in the company of monks, behaving impeccably and generally being bored out of my mind I think I shall do something scandalous and morally bankrupt this morning to make up for it,” she grinned at Fulk and announced with relish, “I am going to have breakfast.” Eleanor lifted the lid off the iron pot hanging over the kitchen fire and set to work stoking the fire up from the embers it had burned to overnight.

    “Glutton! Two meals a day is all anyone needs, one at midday and one in the evening. Even the richest in the land abide by this; you are a sinful creature, weak of morals,” accused Fulk mock sternly. He matched her grin with a hopeful one of his own, “Is there enough for me too? What can I say? You’re a corrupting influence, and the devil works best in groups.”





    A monk must be patient, modest, self-sacrificing, and ready to help any who needed him. As Brother Prior met his guests he discovered an entirely new meaning in his vocation; self-sacrifice did not include dealing with situations like this, no, instead it meant nice, tame things like the occasional fast. Normally he was only too happy to deal with nobles, but this pair? Well, the man was rather dangerous looking and he had a sword that was exceptionally serviceable, instead of the usual decorated toy most nobles had for everyday wear. The woman looked like she had been backhanded across the mouth, so either she was completely amoral and therefore dangerous to monks, or the man had a very bad temper. All in all it looked like a job for Father Abbot, and so the Prior excused himself and exited the scene as rapidly as his dignity would let him. As soon as he was out of sight he started running, sandals flapping and his cassock billowing out behind him, running as if all of hell were on his heels.

    While he was away other passing monks gawped shamelessly at the spectacle of two well-dressed nobles being left to stand in the middle of the church’s aisle. Fulk resisted the urge to drum his fingers on the hilt of his sword and strike up a conversation with Eleanor to pass the time. Drumming fingers was bad manners, and Eleanor was doing an unbelievably good job of being boring and proper, so any conversation would consist of him saying something and her agreeing respectfully. At first it had been nice having a princess padding along slightly behind him, agreeing with everything he said and generally not trying to kill him, but that soon wore off. Fulk was disturbed to find he actually preferred the less demure edition of Her Royal Shortness. He decided it must be something to do with prolonged suffering making him immune, just as drunkards slowly became accustomed to alcohol.

    Relief finally arrived in the shape of an elderly, harmless looking man; the abbot. The man fitted the stereotypical image of a kindly old grandfather to perfection; his hair snowy white and wispy around his tonsure, his face wrinkled like an old apple, his smile compassionate, his posture ever so slightly stooped, his eyes twinkly. Fulk idly wondered if he kept a stash of sweets hidden about his person to give out to young children.

    Fulk aimed a half bow in the abbot’s direction, “I am Sir Fulk.” ‘Sir Fulk’, those words summoned an echo of a rash boy making an angry vow, “I will be a knight, with or without your help, faithless bastard!”, an echo best forgotten and buried so deep down it could no longer bring forth the poison that belonged to it. Best not to use ‘Sir Fulk’ again unless he could not avoid it.

    He saw the abbot looking politely at Eleanor, waiting to be introduced. A sense of devilry came over him; he’d had enough of this tedium, thanks, and he was sure she was equally fed up. “This is my wife, Eleanor.” Now if that didn’t put an end to the peace nothing would. Fulk briefly wondered if he was being entirely too provocative for his own good here.

    “Brother Prior said you had business?” said the abbot. Even his voice matched the grandfather image, soothing and mild.

    “Yes,” interjected Eleanor in her politest, most dutiful tone, “We’re here to inquire about a tomb for my husband.”

    Well, she was back, if only in a politely ominous kind of way. To battle! “And one for you, my dear. I would not wish to be lonesome.”

    Eleanor inclined her head, “As you wish,” she turned to the abbot, “A spot nearest the altar would be preferable.” The insinuation was clear to Fulk but the abbot only nodded benevolently and smiled. The closer you were to the altar the closer you were to God, and therefore you got a helping hand on the way to paradise, or in other words Fulk wasn’t going to get there on his own merits. What a nice, subtle way of saying “Go to hell!”.

    “I don’t feel that is necessary, dearest,” He claimed her hand and patted it comfortingly. If you’re going to hang for a sheep then you may as well swipe the whole damn flock, “But then perhaps for your sake it might be best.” Oh dear, she had that look again, the one that he had only seen when she was running about knives in hand and about to kill someone. He rather liked it. Oh dear.

    “Ah,” the abbot’s face light up, a mass of wrinkles well worn in place by constant smiling. “Then perhaps you will accompany me to my office where we can talk in peace?”

    They followed along behind the abbot, Eleanor pacing at Fulk’s side, her hand resting on his arm, the very picture of a respectable noble couple. Fulk bent his head and said quietly to Eleanor, “Don’t laugh in church, it’s not becoming.” She wasn’t laughing – yet. Now there was a goal to work towards; one laughing princess when she’d set her mind firmly on decorum.

    “I am going to kill you later, “ replied Eleanor amiably.

    “I’ll look forward to it,” he answered, not the least bit perturbed.

    If the abbot overheard their whispered conversation he gave nothing away.





    This part is about as short as the titular princess. In addition to a lengthy powercut I've had a few other unexpected distractions and so my writing time was cut back. Still, I do rather like this bit; I love it when they're arguing.
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  5. #45
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  6. #46
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    never ceases to amuse, amaze and entertain... still damm great work there!

    and dont worry about your book not being PG... you'd be surprised at how litterature that ISN'T rated PG or lower that will get sold...

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  7. #47
    Rhialto, reading and the weekend, a match made in heaven in my eyes.

    PB-DK, losing the PG tag is mostly more of a help than a hindrance; there's a lot I wouldn't mind doing but the other site I post at has an unspoken PG rule. The only problem is with one aspect of the PG rating: sex. I have never written a sex scene before (let alone a bad one), I usually skip sex scenes in books so I don't know how to write them, and I don't really want to enter that field either. :sighs: But I gain huge amounts by adding the scene and lose a lot of opportunities if I leave it out. For the most part I'm sticking to my usual, subtle approach, but there are maybe 3 occasions where the extra detail is very beneficial. Now leave me to do blood soaked fighting, swearing, foul tortures, misery and general grimness and I’m ok.
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  8. #48
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    "speak softly and carry a big stick!" guess it works in writing too

    keep up the good work froggy!
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  9. #49
    Second Lieutenant igaworker's Avatar

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    I need more!!!
    I've upped my standards. Now, up yours!

  10. #50
    I took a new approach to reading this aar, of your other ones I have read, and thoughly enjoyed mind you, it killed me to wait for an update so problem solved let the writter write it before you say something, but I couldn't wait so I read it all with reckless abandon and I must say it is good. Thanks for writting it, and now on to my coustomary "your an idiot questions" were I ask something stupid that everyone else knows, what is an Irmilian style and what does elocutional mean?

  11. #51
    The abbot’s office was plain, as befits a man who has taken a vow of poverty. However, as so often was the case, there were traces of wealth and luxury. A small, fancily bound casket stood on a dedicated table off to one side. Nearby a large, iron bound and locked chest stood on the floor. The abbot’s seat was a great, high backed almost throne with ornately carved banded decoration along the edges. The great desk was no plainer. Two chairs were provided for guests, and they were far closer to the quality found in homes that could afford something grander than a simple stool; not as ostentatious as the abbot’s chair but still pricey considering the wood and labour that went into them.

    They seated themselves and Fulk began to explain what he wanted, “I would like a nice warrior effigy for myself, and of course a matching statue for my wife, one with her likeness at prayer.”

    “The specifics belong to the craftsmen, not us, but I can foresee no problem with a tomb of the type you describe,” said the abbot, “I presume you will want an inscription? It would be good to have an idea of what you intend, and if you wish the church can act as intermediary between you and the craftsmen. This would reduce your burden and cares.”

    “Yes, I’d like that,” confirmed Fulk, “I’d like something recording my greatest deeds like…”

    “Your grand construction projects,” supplied Eleanor gracefully, “such as your expansion of the manor’s cattle sheds. You did a wonderful job there, I consider it to be one of your greatest achievements.”

    “I was thinking of something a bit more martial, darling.”

    “Well, how about your stunning single-handed arrest of three armed men?” Eleanor frowned, as if struggling to recall something, “Now who was it?” her face cleared, “Ah yes - the coroner and his escort. You were so brave, I was so proud of you.”

    On the note of that supposed spectacularly incompetent gaff Fulk launched a swift counter attack; if he was going to hang for a sheep he might as well swipe every fluffy white animal that said ‘baaa!’ in a fifty mile radius, “But let us forget my own epitaph; we shall consider yours. I thought something like ‘Dearly beloved of Fulk, was always dutiful, polite, obedient, pious. A shining example to every woman in the land.’”

    “I had expected a simple ‘I try my best’ and nothing more,” demurred Eleanor.

    The abbot smiled inoffensively and drew a cross in the air, “Indeed, you are both good examples of Christian virtues, my children.” Both Eleanor and Fulk looked at him blankly. “Will you be requiring nearby spaces for your children’s tombs?” enquired the abbot.

    “Currently I’m rather lacking in the heir department,” said Fulk stoically.

    “That’s because your barber cut too close to the pudding bowl he’d stuck on your head,” interjected Eleanor solemnly.

    Fulk choked as he tried to maintain his serious façade in the face of an onslaught of laughter. Damn it, she was the one who was supposed to end up laughing! Once again the abbot proved he was either a brilliant actor or entirely oblivious, “I shall ask the brothers to pray for you, that you might be blessed with a son.”

    “Yes,” Fulk aimed a rakish smile at Eleanor, “remind me to take advantage of those prayers tonight, oh beloved mine.” She went a bright pink, opened her mouth to say something, and then closed it again, blinking a few times in rapid succession as she did so. Having won that battle Fulk returned to the skirmish currently running on the abbot front, “So, how much will this tomb cost me?”

    The abbot named a sum. Eleanor’s eye ticked, “We can’t afford that.” The abbot and Fulk stared at her, Fulk with an expression of mild surprise, the abbot with nonplussed but endearingly grandfatherish shock. She forced an ingratiating smile and aimed it at Fulk, “You said this was for my benefit; I can’t justify spending so much on me.”

    “Consider it a gift, my precious.”

    “You’re far too kind, my lord, but I couldn’t possibly accept in good conscience because…” her mind worked frantically, thinking ahead while she was still talking, “It would be very close to vanity, and so imperil your own soul.”

    He knew that they had enough money, so she must have another reason for wanting to save cash. In the hopes of winning points to put towards saving his neck later, and since it was her money, Fulk played along, “For your peace of mind then, I’ll not bother,” he turned to the abbot, “How much for two plain slabs with just names and a simple epitaph?”

    The abbot named another, substantially smaller sum, and Fulk reached to the purse he wore at his belt. Before he could take out so much as a shilling Eleanor piped up, “Shouldn’t we have witnesses for the contract?”

    Fulk took her cue; this wasn’t what they had arranged, but he would follow as best as he could, “Yes, we should have witnesses to see the money handed over, to check the contract you’re about to draw up. I think four’s a good number.”

    “I am not sure that is necessary…” the abbot wavered.

    “I’m not accusing your or your abbey of corruption,” said Fulk reassuringly, “but these things should be done properly.”

    “As you say.” The abbot rose in a cacophony of creaks and clicking joints, and shuffled towards the door, “If you’ll be so good as to wait here I will find suitable parties.”

    The door closed and Eleanor waited a few seconds, giving the abbot time to get clear. “Guard the door,” she ordered. She grabbed one of the trailing ends of her girdle and turned it over to the plain, undecorated back. A lock pick was secured in place by two loops; she pulled the pick free and headed over to the fancy chest. It was the work of moments to bypass the simple mechanism. As soon as she saw the contents she cursed and shut the casket again, replacing everything carefully. “That one has a book,” she explained to Fulk as she started work on the iron chest. This lock took a little longer, but once again it soon sprang open. This chest was full of parchment, rolled up and tied with a leather thong. The thong had the abbey’s crest stamped in wax at the end. It was possible to open each scroll without breaking the crest, but the seal proved the documents to be official. Eleanor rummaged through them, searching for something that looked less than official. Each time she found a likely candidate she untied the thong, rolled the first part out, scanned it, then cursed, re-rolled it and put it away.

    She soon ran out of likely scrolls and shut that chest too, “Where is it? Records have to be here…” her eyes lighted on the fancy casket once again, “Why would an abbot want a copy of Beowulf in his office?”

    “He wouldn’t,” replied Fulk, crossing over to the casket and trying the lid. It was locked again but Eleanor soon had it open. Fulk pulled out the book, holding it reverently. It was a beautiful piece; there was silver work all over the sturdy cover, and opening it to the first page revealed a delicate scribe’s hand and plentiful illustrations. He brushed a fingertip over the text, caressing the illuminated first letter.

    “Falling in love, are we?” inquired Eleanor. Fulk flinched, nearly dropping the book. He stared at her in uncomprehending shock. She nodded at the book, “The book, you lackadaisical object.”

    “It’s Beowulf,” he said sheepishly as if that explained everything.

    Eleanor smiled, “You know most sword wielding types would be perfectly content to rip the silver off the cover to sell before tossing the book itself on a fire. I am not sure if your interest makes you special or deranged.”

    She took the book off him and began flicking through the pages. Bits of loose parchment were soon falling out, records of extra rents, ‘gifts’, and other corrupt dealings, with one small bit of parchment stuffed between random pages. Eleanor stopped when she had found three notes, “We cannot take too much or the theft will be noticed.” She grabbed the scraps of parchment and stuffed them in Fulk’s hand, “Here, hide these.” While Fulk secreted the evidence between his tunic and shirt Eleanor replaced the book and refastened the casket. Job done they checked the room looked identical to how it was before, then sat back down and waited.

    The abbot was gone for a long time; when he finally reappeared he had the prior, and three lay servants with him. He seated himself wearily, and began to write out the contract. Fulk reached into his purse and counted out the required amount, his heart aching with each shilling he placed into the abbot’s lined hand. They could have done a lot with that money, and now he knew they weren’t going to steal it back again. The abbot placed the money safely to one side, pulled out a piece of parchment and carefully wrote out a contract and receipt in a spidery hand. Finally he pushed the parchment towards Fulk and held out his quill, “Now if you’ll place your mark…”

    Fulk took the quill, holding it as if he were unfamiliar with writing. Laboriously, with much spattering of ink and a split nib, he scratched an x at the bottom where the abbot indicated. Literacy was a rare skill, one liable to make him stand out in the abbot’s memory.

    The abbot took the contract back and scattered sand over the wet ink. He then asked each of the witnesses to make their own marks next to their names; most people knew how to recognise their name when it was written. When the last ink had dried the abbot unlocked the iron bound chest with a key from a draw, then he rolled the parchment up, tied it with a bit of ribbon, sealed it and placed it in the chest.

    A few generic pleasantries later and Fulk and Eleanor allowed themselves to be ushered to the gate, back out onto the street.




    The front door of their townhouse closed, Fulk held his breath for a few seconds before expelling it noisily in an exaggerated sigh of relief. “I’m still alive! Glory be!”

    “I have no idea why you sound so surprised,” replied Eleanor tartly as she headed up the stairs towards the solar, “I really do not.”

    Fulk followed after her, left hand resting on the hilt of his sword and a confident spring in his step, “I believe it has something to do with the death threats, oh merciful one.”

    “Do you really think I would cut you down here and now?” asked Eleanor, politely incredulous.

    “Well, I did wonder if I should have worn my mail.”

    “I do not give in to fits of temper, unlike certain people with crowns whom I have no desire to emulate, so you are quite safe now, oh fortunate one.”

    Fulk grinned, “I knew it – you’re just a soft, fuzzy thing with a warm heart.”

    “Not at all,” Eleanor assured him cheerfully, casting her wimple off onto the solar’s floor. She began to unpin her hair as she talked, casually throwing each removed pin so it stuck point first in the nearby table, “I wait, biding my time until the moment is perfect to exact my revenge. I will wait years, decades even, if need be.”

    Fulk watched as another hairpin dug into the table, “Would buying a load of expensive gifts for you help my cause?”

    Eleanor tilted her head slightly, thinking, “I have no idea, no one has ever tried to bribe me before. Why not try it and see?”

    He pulled a pin free of the table and tested the point with his finger. It drew a bead of blood, “I think I’ll save my cash and stake my life on you being too fond of me to kill me.”

    “Fond of you?” she arched an eyebrow and paused, one of the two plats half undone, “I think not; I barely even like you. You do realise that it is now a matter of honour to prove you wrong?”

    “Me and my big mouth,” said Fulk sardonically, “but I still don’t believe you, little princess.” He tossed the purloined hairpin back at the table; it bounced on impact and skidded to a halt.

    “I am too old to be little.”

    “You’re too short to be otherwise, oh miniaturised creator of empty threats.”

    “We shall see, shan’t we? But I will not kill you-”

    “See!” interrupted Fulk gleefully, “I said you liked me.” He pulled their evidence out of his tunic and placed it on the table, then went and sat down in the best chair, sprawling his legs out and looking very self-satisfied.

    “I do not believe in waste; if you are going to die then you can die being useful, rescuing me from a dragon or something.” Eleanor grinned evilly, “But you would be surprised what the average human can live through without much trouble.”

    “I think you like me too much to seriously hurt me,” said Fulk smugly.

    “I most certainly do not like you, you woolly eared oaf! Try listening for once; I shall say it again slowly for the benefit of your dawdling wit – I. Do. Not. Like. You. Not even slightly, in any way, shape or form. At all. Got that?”

    “I hate you too, oh brightest star in the sky.”

    Something in the way he said that made Eleanor look at him; their eyes met and for a long moment neither of them moved. Fulk was the one who ended it, wrenching his eyes downwards, “It’s Friday, so that means fish. If you want I’ll teach you to cook griddled sardines.”

    “Yes,” Eleanor’s voice shook slightly, “Yes, you buy the fish and I will go and…and hide the evidence.” She grabbed the scraps of parchment and vanished into her room.

    “Jesù…” whispered Fulk, closing his eyes and resting his forehead in the palm of his hand, “Damn it…”




    Once again a slow update, scenes like that last one are so hard to get right, and I have been distracted by a lot of real life stuff recently. I have a few more scenes to do before this part is really finished; basically you should consider this part, the previous one and the next one as one single bit. 61 pages in and the story is about...one quarter to one third complete.

    So the heir/hair joke is as old as time, but it's still funny.

    A big stick? :hides aforementioned stick behind her back and looks innocent: I talk quietly, but a big stick?

    igaworker, here you go. Enjoy.

    Zeno, good to see you again Neither of those questions is stupid.

    -Irmilian style: in my book Culad is an Irmilian, i.e. someone from the country of Irmilic. Red Hand went fantasy. A wedding in Irmilian style simply means a wedding that fits the world I have created, with vows that fit the new religion, traditions that fit the background, food that works for the new culture etc.

    -elocutional: I think I get credit for inventing a new word there. It's derived from elocution, as in the art (study?) of speaking properly. Think of Eliza Doolittle in that play I have forgotten the name of... I simply wanted a word that worked as "person who insists on others having perfect elocution and possesses that upper class way of talking" and I thought the link to ‘elocution’ would be enough to make it make sense. I end up doing this a lot with Fulk and Eleanor, inventing words that are faint twists on real ones.
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  12. #52
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  13. #53
    Second Lieutenant igaworker's Avatar

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    Ask and you shall receive. This is far and away my favorite AAR, great job froggy.
    I've upped my standards. Now, up yours!

  14. #54
    Looks like Fulk may be pushing it a a little, good update

  15. #55
    GunslingAAR coz1's Avatar
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    Been a while since I caught up, but the preceding updates have been worth it to read through. I very much liked the scene in which Ealnor tells Fulk about her brother and the sword. I easily saw her trying to destroy the blade in my mind. Very well written. And this last update does provide a bit of light on what they are up to at the moment. Nice descriptions of the monks and their attempts to get at one another were even better when trying to hide it under a ruse of being nobles. Excellence continues!
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  16. #56
    Fulk poked the charred sardine on his trencher with a forefinger, “You did this on purpose,” he accused. It was not a happy sight; a burned fish on a slice of thick, coarse textured, stale bread with a small dollop of stewed mushrooms and onions next to it.

    “I did not,” protested Eleanor. She removed the spine from her own, nicely cooked fish and put it on the edge of her trencher, “If I were going to singe anything on purpose it would be you, not the poor, innocent fish.”

    They had come to a mutual, unspoken agreement to act as if that spark had never happened. Business as usual; it saved a lot of awkwardness.

    Fulk muttered something about cruelty to men at arms and kept peeling the burned skin off, revealing mostly edible fish underneath. “You are just like king Alfred,” he accused.

    “What?” asked Eleanor, perplexed.

    “You don’t know the legend?” Fulk scooped up a mouthful of fish and popped it into his mouth, chewing cautiously at first, then swallowing with apparent difficulty, “Well,” he sighed, giving his verdict on her first attempt at cooking, “it could be worse, it could be-” his eyes bulged and he grabbed his throat.

    “What’s the matter?” Eleanor dropped her eating knife and spoon and watched him anxiously.

    Fulk kept choking and gurgling for a few seconds, then made a miraculous recovery and grinned, “Where’s the point in working for an assassin if I can’t make the occasional joke about being poisoned?”

    Someone is asking to be poisoned for real,” she said haughtily. She speared a mushroom on the end of her eating knife as if to illustrate the point.

    “Sounds like fun,” another bit of Fulk’s fish vanished, “Now, a quick lesson in king Alfred for ignorant royals. He’s the one who burned those cakes; you see the resemblance? Like you he was sat about daydreaming instead of minding some unfortunate, hard working poor person’s food and he let it burn, again, just like you.”

    “I was not daydreaming, I was fretting; there is a difference,” insisted Eleanor. Her shoulders sagged and her head went down, “I did try but I have never cooked anything before, I really did try so hard. It has been such a horrible day,” her voice trembled slightly, “and you were so…”

    “It was just a joke,” said Fulk awkwardly, “all of it. I don’t think you’re a beacon of feminine virtues, and I don’t hate you; I like you a tiny bit in a grudging kind of way. Feel better?” She buried her face in her hands and burst into tears. “Oh Christ,” mumbled Fulk, rubbing the bridge of his nose, “Come on, don’t cry, I’m useless at crying people.”

    The noisy tears switched to triumphant laughter, “No one has ever been stupid enough to fall for that act before!”

    “If I kill you will anyone complain?”

    “I think you might have a spot of trouble under the ‘wasting of crown property’ law, and you would be jumping to the head of a very long queue. There are a lot of people who have a prior claim on my head.”

    Fulk drained half his cup of wine; he studied her over the rim, “I might get a reward for doing the realm an outstanding service.”

    “Yes, you might. I had better chose an epitaph; I have two options, Trempwick’s short edition or your more elaborate one. You know I was half expecting you to start comparing me to a rose.”

    “A rose?” asked Fulk, “My dear floral themed delight, if you were a rose you’d have entirely too many thorns and a caterpillar would be crawling about ready to give anyone sniffing the flower a nasty shock!”

    Eleanor dimpled, “It makes me interesting.”

    “Yes, suppose that is one way of putting it.” That did not sound complimentary. The overcooked sardine looked as if it agreed with him.

    “If you were a plant you would be pondweed.” She had grabbed the first unglamorous plant that came to mind.

    Fulk’s eyes focused far off into the distance, “Pondweed is honest; it’s clear what it is and it pretends to be nothing else,” he said quietly. His eyes focused back on her; he smiled tentatively, “I think I’d be happy with pondweed.”

    “Are you saying you are not those things already?”

    The smile grew wistful, “I’m saying … there are worse things to be than boring old pondweed, although by the time you find that out …” He nodded very slowly, barely moving his head, “Yes, pondweed will suit well enough.”

    Oh how very curious, and he still hadn’t answered her question. Eleanor filed the information away for future prying.

    “While we’re on the subject of honesty, I’ll remind you of your nice promise to take a few days holiday. Since we didn’t do that before we got here we’ll delay in going back.”

    “I do not think that is a good idea.”

    So, she had never intended to keep her word; slippery little blighter, wasn’t she? Well he would not give up that easily; decent bodyguards did not allow their employers to wander around in the sort of state she was currently in – exhausted, obviously in pain, and with a collection of injuries that were still at a very fragile stage in their healing where lethal infection could set in. Pride might work as a fuel source but it only lasted so long and tended to be costly in the long run. “Do you really want to go back and tell your Trempwick that you didn’t do that shopping he was so interested in because you fell asleep?”

    “Not as such…”

    “So, we stay here, you do your shopping and then we slowly wander back in a week or so.”

    “I can say it was to avoid suspicion from the abbey; if we remain here then we have nothing to hide.”

    “That’s the idea,” said Fulk encouragingly, “it sounds better than the truth.”

    “Which is?”

    “You’re nearly dead on your feet.”

    “I am not!” Fulk plainly didn’t believe her. “I am not,” she insisted again, “I shall prove it.”

    “Oh golly, a half dead princess wants to arm wrestle with me,” Fulk showed his fangs, “I quiver with fear, your royal very batteredness.”

    “Not arm wrestle, you lack witted chunk of sputum, sword fight.” She abandoned her food and stood up, grabbing Fulk’s platter out from under his nose and placing it out of his reach. She gestured at the table, “Move this out of the way.” With that she disappeared from the room.

    Fulk heaved himself to his feet and started working the table over from the middle of the kitchen to a corner, “I wonder if she does this to Trempwick?” he mused, “Poor devil, suffering year after year of this, it’s little wonder he’s gone eccentric.” He paused in his war of strength with the table, “If he went crazy because of her then where’s that leave me in a few years? Either unemployed or gaga.” He set to the table again, “I should have stayed with Aidney, a lot less trouble all round.”

    Eleanor returned several minutes later with the pair of wooden swords Fulk had picked up that afternoon along with the fish. She threw one to him; he caught it deftly. She took up position with the other, trying to remember the little she had learned with Stephan than a decade ago. Fulk held his own sword in a single-handed grip with the point trailing by his feet; he wasn’t on guard, he just stood there with an irritating smile, waiting. Nettled by his obvious contempt for her skills Eleanor swung. The blades clacked together and hers went pin wheeling through the air.

    Fulk rested the point of his sword on her collarbone, “Dead.”

    “Er, it has been about fourteen years since I last did this,” said Eleanor as she went to retrieve her weapon. As soon as her hands closed about the hilt of the sword she flung herself back towards Fulk, hoping to gain the advantage of surprise. He parried her wild swing, then caught the blade of her sword in his hand, twisted it from her grip and threw it away.

    His blade levelled at her neck again, “Dead.”

    Her mouth twisted a few times as if she were trying to bite back a particularly choice insult or two, or perhaps as if she couldn’t think of any insults at all, much to her annoyance. She retrieved her sword again and stepped back, on guard and waiting. Fulk swung his sword lazily at the floor, scuffing up the rushes. He started whistling as he swung at the floor, the blade tip weaving back and forth in idle forehand and backhand cuts. Abruptly he changed targets and lunged; the point of his blade went right past Eleanor’s guard and hit her under the solar plexus with barely bruising force. “Dead,” repeated Fulk once again, “You’re not very good, are you?”

    Eleanor recovered and brought her sword around and down. She was fast but Fulk was faster; once again he parried, this time rapping her leg as her guard went wide, “Legless.” He didn’t stop there, reversing his swing to catch her on the shoulder, “Armless.” Finally the blade rested on the top of her head, “And very dead.” Eleanor said something that wasn’t very regal. Fulk’s eyebrows shot up, “Where did a delicate princess like you learn a big, nasty word like that?”

    “From a certain bad-tempered arse in a crown,” growled Eleanor. She stepped back and planted her fists on her hips, no mean feat since she was still holding her wooden sword.

    “Nice to see you respect your noble father,” said Fulk wryly. With no warning he jabbed her lightly in the stomach with his sword, “Dead. You want to try fighting instead of posing and swearing; I always find that helps.”

    “Right,” snarled Eleanor, taking her sword in a two-handed grip and stepping back until Fulk was only just in range, “Someone is going to get hurt. A lot.”

    “Don’t worry about that,” Fulk airily dismissed her concern with a wave of his hand, “I’ve got good control, so you won’t collect more than a gentle bruise or two.”

    “You … you … utter bastard!” spat Eleanor.

    Fulk only grinned, “I can’t help what my parents did. Running out of good insults, are we? I know, it’s so hard to think when you’re dead.” Her eyes were blazing again; damn, he liked that.

    Eleanor started circling slowly, watching him warily, this time intently focused. Spotting the change in attitude Fulk took up a relaxed, one handed guard and moved to keep her in front of him. As she neared the table she lunged, then leapt back as he parried, and grabbed a mug of wine from the table. She threw it into his face, simultaneously moving in with a downwards cut. Fulk had been expecting something like that; he managed to avoid most of the wine and blocked her attack. He raised an eyebrow as she skipped back, not giving him the chance to lean his weight on their locked blades and force her to the floor, “You cheat, my beacon of virtue, and I hadn’t finished eating my dinner!”

    She didn’t reply, instead hurling the nearest sardine at him. The fish was an unimpressive missile at best; it broke up in the air and rained down on the floor with a soft splatter. The trencher, then the other sardine, another trencher, and finally the last cup followed the first sardine in its airborne attack. Fulk dodged some of it, blocking the rest with his free hand. “You’re messing up my clothes,” he protested as a slab of stale bread with vegetables still clinging to it thunked into his forearm just in front of his face.

    He stepped rapidly to one side, away from the slippery mess on the floor, then moved in. She just managed to block his cut at her flank, flung herself out of the way of a second cut, and barely blocked a third. As she blocked Fulk grabbed her sword arm in one hand and carefully twisted just enough to get her to drop the training blade. Eleanor punched him with her free hand; he cast away his own sword and caught that hand too, then transferred his grip so both her wrists were caught in one fist. He smiled down at the defenceless princess, “I win.”

    Eleanor disagreed; she kicked his shin. She tried to wrest her arms free, without much success, and kept up the barrage of kicks. Fulk struggled to keep his grip while trying to dodge, “Look, just give up and admit defeat.”

    “Burn in hell!”

    “Now isn’t that nice,” muttered Fulk, wincing as yet another kick landed on his abused shin. Deciding enough was enough he changed his grip on her wrists, pulled her in close to him, turning her around so her back was facing him. Then he wrapped an arm casually around her throat, the other keeping her hands firmly prisoner. “Surrender?” he asked, confident she would, after all her arms were pinned, she was trapped, and he could cut off her air at will. Anyone sensible would admit defeat; if this were a real fight then he had won.

    Sense and Eleanor were apparently old enemies; she sank her teeth into his upper arm and stomped on his instep. With a howl that was more reflex than reaction to real damage Fulk let her go. She sprang away, then barrelled back in again, ramming him with her shoulder. Fulk let her knock him off balance, grabbing her in a bear hug as he fell over. He landed on his back, rolled over so she was trapped on the bottom. She went berserk, using every trick available to her as she tried to claw her way free. He braced his weight carefully so he wasn’t crushing her, but kept her firmly pinned down. “Give up, damn it!” he demanded.

    Her attempt to stick her knee in his groin failed, and Fulk jerked his head back so her head butt missed. Somehow she got an arm free and started thumping him in the back, “Get the bloody hell off me!” She punctuated her request by entwining her fingers in his hair and pulling.

    “Surrender,” he repeated again, bracing his left forearm across her chest, freeing up his right to grab her free hand. He grabbed her wrist and slammed her hand to the floor, pinning it down, “Before someone, such as you, gets hurt.”

    Eleanor glared up at him, then tried to bite his nose. As long as he kept his face out of range the worst harm she could do was deafen him with a lot of loud complaining. The fight left her, “Alright,” she gritted out, “you win.”

    Fulk got nimbly to his feet and extended a hand to help her up. She ignored it, getting up on her own. “Don’t be a sore loser,” he chided, earning himself a foul look.

    “I did not lose,” retorted Eleanor, contrary to what she had said earlier, “The idea was to prove I am not half dead, not to try and win a fencing match against someone with the advantages of height, weight, experience, training, and reach.”

    Fulk rolled up the sleeve of his tunic and linen shirt and examined the tooth marks on his arm, “Look at that,” he insisted, pointing at the barely visible marks with a finger. The thick wool of his tunic had protected him well, “Just look at that! It looks like I’ve been attacked by a wild animal!”

    “Do you want fishing out of that lake of self pity before or after you drown in it?”

    “I thought I’d have a good swim about, care to join me? Lake Self-Pity is very picturesque and the water’s nice and warm.”

    “I suppose I might be persuaded to paddle about in the shallows, and say that that was embarrassing.”

    “Yes, it was,” agreed Fulk. He tussled his hair to shake out any rushes that might be stuck in it, then started dusting himself down to remove the copious bits of debris clinging to the wool of his clothes.

    Eleanor ignored the bits stuck all over her own clothing and retrieved the two swords. She was trembling slightly; she was thankful Fulk either hadn’t noticed or had decided to say nothing. The day had been trying enough without having to find excuses to avoid explaining why she had panicked. A fear of being crushed by some idiot climbing all over her was not the kind of thing she wanted to talk about, now or ever.

    Fulk misinterpreted her silence, “You didn’t do so badly,” he offered kindly, “You actually did quite well at the end.”

    Wonderful, thought Eleanor, she had done better through blind panic than through strategy and half remembered basic lessons. What an accolade. She would have to remember that in a sticky spot where her life was at stake; when in danger panic and act like a prat for best results.

    Fulk watched her, concerned, “You will get better; I’ll soon have you handling the basics of sword fighting with ease.” Silence. “You’re not going to have me executed for winning, are you?”

    “No, for that kind of pettiness you need my sister, Matilda,” Eleanor forced a smile, a thin, tight lipped affair which looked more angry than reassuring, “I suppose I did not realise just how vulnerable I am. No knives, no … chance.” And that had potentially nasty ramifications that blew a hole in her emergency marriage avoidance plan. By the time she had opportunity to do away with her unwanted husband without a crowd watching she would be literally naked and defenceless. The first possible opportunity after that was … too late. She remembered how vulnerable she had been, how easily she had been totally immobilised, and felt sick. “Add hand to hand combat to the list of subjects you are teaching,” she nodded firmly, “Yes, I am promoting you to master of arms.”




    Gosh, that's the busiest this topic has ever been Thanks for the comments, everyone
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  17. #57
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  18. #58
    Yes, indeed, excellilent. (Unlike my spelling)

  19. #59
    They remained in town for ten days, finally leaving for Woburn when Eleanor collected her new clothes from the dressmakers. They managed to make the trip back in just one day, an impressive feat considering the time of year. They left the town just before dawn and arrived at Woburn late in the evening. The sleepy-eyed groom appeared and took their horses, but otherwise the manor remained still. “Leave the baggage to the groom,” she directed Fulk when he moved to collect some of their stuff, “Trempwick will be inside and he will expect a report now I am back.”

    “Your Trempwick’ll be asleep by now if the rest of the household’s any indication.”

    She frowned, “He is not my Trempwick.” She entered the manor and started to head towards the solar, Fulk dogging her steps without asking. They made their way through the dark, unilluminated corridors with the aid of a candle lit from the embers of the main hall’s fire. When they arrived in the solar they found that room was also dark and unoccupied. The only light came from the dying fire in the hearth. “He will be here,” said Eleanor, “Poke up the fire, we could use the light.”

    “Afraid to met a spymaster in the dark, Nell?” inquired a voice from the shadowy corner where a door led into the main bedchamber.

    “Not at all, master. Incidentally you should be wary of sneaking up on armed, decently trained agents; it would be unfortunate if you had an accident.”

    “Is that a threat, dear Nell?” Trempwick stepped forward into the flickering semi-circle of light provided by the fire, giving Fulk a cursory look in passing but keeping his focus on Eleanor. He was wearing only shirt and hose, his tunic, shoes and other clothes removed; he must have been about to go to bed. “I do have great faith in your abilities, dearest Nell, I do strongly doubt you would ever so much as harm a hair on my head by accident.” He turned his attention to Fulk, a condescending sneer, “Run along, little chain mail man, run along off to bed. This is far above you.”

    Fulk stood his ground, “You don’t pay my wages, and I’ve not sworn myself to your service. It’s not for you to dismiss me,” he replied evenly.

    Trempwick turned and took a step closer, “Do you know who I am?” he demanded softly, dangerously, “I am the king’s own spymaster and close confidant, a knight and lord in my own right, ex royal tutor and mentor to her Highness, princess Eleanor. I am one of the highest in the land. You are nothing.”

    “I’m her Highness, princess Eleanor’s personal bodyguard, her sworn man, and I think you’ll find she outranks you.”

    Trempwick glanced over his shoulder towards Eleanor and said with forced levity, “Dear, sweet, innocent, happy little Nell, if you insist on keeping this pet of your I shall have to insist on you teaching it some manners; if you will not I will. Since you have been most foully remiss I shall fill your little pet in on a few little, tiny, but somehow critical details.” He turned back to Fulk, “She does not pay you; I do. I do. Has my beloved Nell neglected to tell you she is quite literally penniless, and everything she owns is paid for from my treasury? I pay for everything, food, clothes, expenses, pets.” He took a step closer, his bare toes just brushing the tips of Fulk’s muddy boots. He stabbed Fulk in the chest with his forefinger, “So off you go, go polish your helmet or bluster about in your armour, bodyguard. You were hired to fight, there is no fighting to be done here.”

    “I see,” said Fulk, still not budging, “but you forget I took that oath to her, not you.”

    “Nell, tell your pet to go away before I have him put down.”

    Another of his tests, and she did not have the time to carefully examine all the options. Fulk was risking his life to give her a chance to make up her own mind, or perhaps he was just trying to get up Trempwick’s nose; the two men appeared to have established one of those accursed male rivalry things. Who to choose, Fulk or Trempwick? The possibilities, the interpretations spreading out from this supposedly simple choice were too many to count. Eleanor moistened her dry lips with the tip of her tongue, “Actually, I would prefer he stayed. He was part of this mission, it is only right he sees how it is tied up.”

    Trempwick reeled back as if she’d slapped him; he almost looked … hurt, as if he considered it a betrayal. It only lasted a half second; the spymaster stepped back from Fulk and gestured him to a stool with an elaborate, mocking bow, “Your seat awaits, bodyguard.”

    Fulk collected the stool, it had previously been used as a foot stool rather than a seat, and carried to over to Eleanor’s chair. He settled himself at her side, his legs stretched out as if at lazy rest but remaining alert and ready to move. Eleanor pulled their evidence out of its hiding place, tucked behind the straps securing her right dagger to her arm, and handed it over to Trempwick. She then sat down herself, leaning back in the chair. Trempwick smiled slightly when he was that, “Feeling better, are we?”

    “Yes, much better, thank you, master.”

    “Good,” he exclaimed, “but a pity about poor Cedric, he was a good archer.” Trempwick slapped the scraps of parchment against his palm several times, frowned, then said to Fulk, “I suppose I should thank you for doing your job well.” It sounded as if it nearly killed him to say that. Fulk merely inclined his head in acknowledgement, not making a fuss about his apparent victory over Trempwick.

    The spymaster read the evidence. When he was nearly finished he looked at Eleanor over the top of one sheet, “Any fuss when they were discovered missing?”

    “No, as we discussed previously the monks could hardly start a hue and cry over stolen records of illegal dealings. They sent out feelers to see if we were still in the town; our continued presence must have allayed their doubts about us, we were not bothered or watched beyond that.”

    “You managed to get your pet to play a nobleman with few problems?”

    “Yes. The ruse made the whole process much easier.”

    “Mission complete and successful. Well done, dearest Nell.” He laid the parchment to one side, crossed his legs, and clasped his hands around his up-drawn knee, “It is gone nine o’clock at night, so you will forgive me if I keep my enquiries about your shopping brief for now; you managed to get what you wanted?”

    “Yes, new clothes tailor made in the old style with loose sleeves.” Or in other words proof his training had stuck; her wardrobe was replaced with yet more clothing suitable for hiding knifes and other tools in. She had considered carefully all the possible implications of each style and garment she had ordered, from fashionable tight sleeves that left nowhere to keep a knife, to a long cloak that would nicely hide a sword or full sized dagger. She was confident Trempwick would find nothing she didn’t want him to know.

    “Good,” Trempwick stood and stretched, his muscles cracking, “I had fears of presenting a princess dressed in rags to her father on his next visit.”

    “That would be entirely his fault,” said Eleanor, “He is the one most responsible for ruining my clothing, and he is also the one who sold off my inheritance and dowry to fund his French war without replacing them with an income from his own purse.”

    “Very true, sweet Nell, but the idea is not to tell him that.” Trempwick clicked his fingers at Fulk, “You, pet, keep what you clothes you got, wear them. If you insist you are a princess’s man then you had best look the part. If I see you looking less than immaculate again I shall be rather upset.”

    “I only have one set of new clothes, and my armour’s not suitable either,” said Fulk, sitting up and giving the spymaster the courtesy of his full attention, “I’d be happy to look the part but I’ve neither the money nor resources.”

    “Then I shall get a tailor out here,” snapped Trempwick, “And of course I shall have to pay for this. My generosity does not extend to armour, but clothing I shall provide. Now shoo, the both of you.”

    Together Fulk and Eleanor exited the solar and headed back towards her room. Fulk went and grabbed a pallet from the main hall, by the time he got back to her room Eleanor had vanished inside. Technically he didn’t need to sleep outside her door since they were in a safe, if not glowingly friendly, location but it had become habit. He had just settled down when the door cracked open, “Look, if you insist on sleeping there you can leave the dratted pallet in here during the day,” said Eleanor, “It will save you from going and fetching one.”

    The door shut again so she missed Fulk’s quiet answer, “Great, now to do something about the damned draft in this corridor!”

    A few minutes later the door opened again, “Where is the point in being a princess if you do not abuse your rank?” she asked Fulk. She didn’t wait for him to answer, instead grinning and saying, “Fancy a bath? I do, and since it will wake the entire household and cause a lot of work boiling water you may as well have one too.”

    “Well, you are a princess,” replied Fulk, “and I’ve got to look immaculate as your man, and we have been travelling all day.”

    “Exactly, in any decent noble household we would have been offered a bath the instant we arrived, and the two of us managed well enough when we were in Elstow,” her manner changed from cheerful to dour, “These servants are lazy, neglectful and discourteous. They are barely even competent. I think it is about time I started sorting things out in this grim dump.”




    Small bit, but every little helps, right?

    Thanks, PB-DK and Zeno

    EDIT: :wonders quietly if anyone can spot what Trempwick is doing with Eleanor's name:

    And Zeno, you should have seen my spelling a year ago. Honestly I could barely spell anything. Practise, and a good spellchecker to highlight mistakes go a very long way.
    Last edited by frogbeastegg; 05-09-2004 at 17:31.
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  20. #60
    Eleanor gave the manor’s servants a cheerful pep talk first thing in the morning before setting out with Fulk to an area of empty grass where they could try to kill each other without an audience. Since it would be easy from Trempwick to find out about the sword fighting they practised hand to hand instead.

    “Dig your thumb in just there,” said Fulk, indicating an area on the inside of his wrist, about an inch down from the joint and in the middle of his arm, “It hurts like hell, often disables the hand and is easy to do from almost any angle.”

    “Like this?” asked Eleanor as she applied gentle pressure.

    “Yes, I’d offer to wrestle with you so you can check you’re able to find the right spot in more strenuous circumstances but you’re still healing, even if you are a lot better.”

    “Oh not that again,” groaned Eleanor flinging his hand back down, “I think I shall demote you to royal training dummy!”

    “Well, well, now this is an interesting conversation,” commented a voice off to one side. Neither of them had noticed Trempwick’s appearance, a worrying fact in itself. He kept his right hand hidden behind his back; he was holding something, but what?

    Eleanor turned, grinding her teeth and forcing a smile, “Master.”

    “I presume there is a reason for your sudden interest in running a household, dear Nell? Perhaps you plan on retiring?”

    “What would I retire to?”

    Trempwick came closer to them, including himself in their group instead of remaining aloof further away, “Dearest Nell, I am afraid I shall have to steal you away and talk to you about why my poor cook is in tears; apparently you sacked him.”

    “He cannot cook,” explained Eleanor. At least Trempwick did not seem upset, either overtly or in one of his many assorted acts.

    Trempwick offered her his arm; she had no real choice but to accept it. With the princess on his arm Trempwick pulled his right hand out from behind his back; it held a small stick, “I have not forgotten about you, bodyguard. This will keep you entertained while Nell’s absent.” He threw the stick in the opposite direction to the one he intended to walk in, “Fetch.” He started walking, only to stop one step later when he noticed Eleanor wasn’t following him, “Come,” he barked.

    Once again he’d forced her to choose, yet again she had no time to consider all the options and outcomes properly. With an apologetic glance towards Fulk she joined Trempwick, placing her hand back on his offered arm and walking at his side.





    Fulk watched them leave, saw her looking up at Trempwick as she walked, saw her walking close to him, saw her leaning to hear what the spymaster was saying. His fists clenched, nails digging into the palms of his hands. He paused, recognising consciously what he was doing. He forced his hands open and mustered a laugh, weak and hollow sounding. Jealous of something far beyond his reach, something he didn’t even want.






    “You like him,” accused Trempwick the instant they were out of earshot. Eleanor looked up at him. “No, more than that, dear Nell, more than that.”

    “You are wrong.”

    “No I’m not,” he said it so quietly she had to lean in to hear, so quietly it was more a sigh than real words. “To any who knows you, really knows you, it is clearly evident.”

    Eleanor could have kicked herself; in a flash she understood the pet jibes, the choices he’d forced, the squabbles he’d created. All a way of seeing how she’d react, a way of testing her as much as of testing Fulk. A neat trap and she’d walked blindly into it, once again out-manoeuvred by Trempwick. “There is a small spark,” she admitted, “and it will be stamped out.”

    Trempwick stopped, looked up at the sky, at the grey winter clouds. He seemed older somehow, his face more lined, more haggard. Finally his gaze returned to earth; the sparkle, the keen life in his eyes that was always present no matter the disguise was gone. “I think I am becoming an old man, dear Nell. It is a rather disturbing thought. Even a year ago I would never have…” his shoulder rose and fell, “Ah, forget it. It is no matter.”

    Eleanor stood, knowing she wasn’t dismissed and that leaving of her own accord was generally only a good idea if she felt like a few interesting days of being subjected to Trempwick’s creative and uncomfortable ideas. The last time she had done that Trempwick had kept summoning her at all hours, day and night, day after day for no purpose at all except to keep her standing around on increasingly sore feet until he got bored and sent her away.

    “Let me send him away.”

    “No,” she replied instantly.

    The fact she didn’t even consider the request was not lost on Trempwick; his head bowed, “You do not know what you are getting into,” he looked at her with a kind of desperation, “Yes, that spark might die away, but if it does not? You will be spending your life right next to someone who does not share your feelings, you will be left looking at what you cannot have,” his voice cracked just perceptibly, “It’s hard, you have no idea how hard.”

    “It will die out,” her hope, her fervent belief. She focused on it, not paying too much attention to her mentor.

    “And it only gets worse, when you see them fall for another. You do not stop caring then; it only hurts all the more.”

    “It will die out,” she repeated again, her belief rock solid. It had to be. “I am not my sister.”

    “Oh I do hope not; even I would not be able to save you from our beloved sovereign if you were that imprudent.”

    “No, I doubt you could.” Since for once they were being honest instead of dancing around the real topic, hiding everything behind an illusion, playing what Trempwick called ‘agent chess’ she decided to finally bring out the ghost who had been stood unmentioned between them for all these years. “I would not be such an easy kill as Stephan; I would fight.”

    “I had no choice!” bellowed Trempwick. He took a steadying breath, and continued in a more normal voice, “No choice. He had to die; there was nothing to be done, believe me I had tried. I sent the best after him – I did it myself. He did not even know what happened. It was all I could do for him.”

    “And doubtless that is great comfort to you, master.”

    “About as much comfort as the knowledge Aidney was a traitor is to you; none at all. For what it is worth, Eleanor, I am sorry, sorry about everything. No, not everything; only the things that matter and you can supply those as well as I, so I shall not waste my breath and your patience listing them. I do not regret our little venture, not in the least. I was not so terrible, was I?”

    This was a side of Trempwick she had never seen, never suspected existed. He appeared very sincere, almost needy, and she found herself saying, “No, not so bad.” Recovering slightly she added dryly, “Although there were times I contemplated killing you.”

    “You hate me,” he said sadly.

    “Yes,” she agreed with quiet passion. There was a pause, then she added with equal conviction, “No.” Another pause, “I am not sure. You killed my brother; you saved my life more times than I care to count. You cared for me like a … father; you made me a murderer.” A hot tear ran down her face, closely followed by several more. She turned and walked hurriedly away, wiping her eyes on the back of her hand.

    “Nell…” Trempwick called after her. She started to run. He stared after her, worried. “What to do? Two evils, but which is the lesser?”








    Ok, it appears no one can get all of what Trempwick's doing; one person managed two of the four facets. This does not bode well for most of the other subtle stuff

    Question: Trempwick did two things in that second paragraph, two important things that were not clearly stated, only inferred. What were they? Come on, this one's pretty obvious and together they add a whole new dimension to this tale...
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

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