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Thread: The Machiavellian Adventures of Princess Eleanor

  1. #1001
    “Whenever you are ready, your Highness.”

    By Eleanor’s preference, that would be never. By preference she would have had no part in this stupid game of slight and counter slight. The King of Scot’s amusement would only be increased by her dragging her heels; he’d be the victor if she showed how deeply this humiliated her. One hand resting lightly on her skirts so her rapid motion wouldn’t disrupt the flow of the material too badly, Eleanor took a decisive step forward, and kept on going until she was alone with Anne’s grandmother in the space curtained off from the eyes of the witnesses. Let him think she barely cared. Total nonchalance was impossible, and would be damaging in itself if they thought her so lacking in modesty as to be unaffected.

    So much for her promise to herself never to endure this again. If anything the testing was worse this time. The Queen Mother had cold hands, and there was the – justified - fear she might prod too hard and destroy the proof she was examining, leaving Eleanor in a position that could only be described as lousy in the extreme. Her demand for friendly witnesses hadn’t only been another of her return strikes against the king; if the worst happened she could call out and they would come and see the blood, and could then swear in her support. Strangely dislocated pain flared, seeming to come from nothing, a void where there was no feeling normally. And ended, before the sensation of unpleasant pressure could turn to one of tearing.

    “She is honest,” Anne’s grandmother pronounced. Eleanor didn’t care much for the double meaning of the words.

    Scrambling upright and off the bench, Eleanor righted her clothes, trying and failing miserably not to appear in a hurry.

    “Bloody hell!” exclaimed Malcolm. For once his voice didn’t swing high when it cracked, instead diving very low. “But she’s so old! What the fuck is she – some sort of nun!?”

    Knowing her face was flaming and equally aware that she could do nothing about it, Eleanor rejoined her witnesses. Anne and Hawise gave her sympathetic looks which only made her shame burn brighter. The Archbishop of Glasgow was – praise be! – too intent on the young prince to take any notice of her.

    “She is unmarried,” the archbishop said, “as she has proven. So all is as it should be.”

    The prince snorted. “There’s a world outside the cloisters, you know. A real one. Not some boring version dreamed up by a prudish old man who never even got so much as a damned kiss in his life because he was too arse-ugly to earn one and too weak to force one. Hell, even nuns have more fun than my cousin of England, it appears.”

    “Impious brat!” The Archbishop’s hand rose to his heavy crucifix.

    “Ah, well, I am the Nefastus. Devil spawned, red-haired, and all that.”

    “When you roast in hell you will learn the error of your ways.” With a bow the churchman departed.

    The boy muttered, “And when I’m king he’ll learn the meaning of poverty.” His roving eyes lit on Eleanor; he propped a hand on one skinny hip near his dagger hilt. “Well, just goes to show those stupid little tarts who sob they lost their maidenhead while doing something harmless like riding are lying little sluts after all. Or riding in an unorthodox manner. Or riding the groom.”

    Anne’s hand shot to her mouth. “Malcolm!”

    “It’s true. Or she’d,” he jerked his head at Eleanor, “be about to be shipped back to that Trempwick man. After all she’s supposed to have endured surely her maidenhead would have broken on its own if such things were actually possible.”

    “It is possible,” stated the grandmother calmly. “Some are more fragile than others. However, if the majority broke on their own we would not consider them to be the proof of a virgin.”

    “Really?” Malcolm tapped his fingers on his gold encrusted belt, affecting a pose of deep and philosophical thought. “How very fascinating. I should do a survey. How many maidens do you think I’d need for respectable results? Fifty? More? And, just as importantly, how am I going to measure how tough the barrier is-”

    “Enough, Malcolm.”

    The boy took not a blind bit of notice of his father. “I mean, I can’t just scribble down that number six took a lot of effort to get into, but number eleven was easy, can I now?”

    In a roar far more respectable than Eleanor had expected of him, the King of Scots ordered, “Enough, Malcolm!”

    “Enough?” The boy gestured at Eleanor, the motion jerky with anger. “Enough? We bloody well went far past enough long ago, like I said to you before you started this. Don’t like where this disgusting spectacle has gone? Blame yourself, you wretched old fool! Her sworn word should have been bloody more than enough.” The boy’s nostrils flared; all the air he sucked in was expelled in a single vehement sentence. “She’s fucking royalty, you bloody shit of a honourless whoreson!”

    The king matched his son’s noisy intake of breath. Unlike his son he didn’t need it to refill his lungs. “One more word and I shall have someone thrash you until you cannot stand for a week.”

    Malcolm spat at his father’s feet. “Someone. Never do your own work, do you?”

    “Considerably more than one word, Malcolm.”

    Lips contorted and peeled back from his teeth in what might loosely be termed a furious grin, Malcolm spat again. “You’re making one fat mistake after another, aiming for the wrong damned target. I’ve told you, we should-”

    “You will leave now, or you shall be dragged.”

    Anne leaned close to Eleanor and whispered, “Happened before now.”

    Fists clenched, right hand hovering midway to his dagger’s hilt, Malcolm spat a third time, turned on his heel and stalked away.






    On returning to her own suite of rooms Eleanor found unwelcome news. One of the guards posted in the antechamber tugged his forelock. “Prince Malcolm’s waiting within, your Highness. Wants to talk with you, he says, but no more would he say.”

    Fulk was away; she’d timed this debacle to take place while he was engaged in one of his thrice-weekly training sessions. What he didn’t know he couldn’t get upset over.

    “Stay alert,” she commanded. “Enter if you hear anything … unusual.”

    Anne said, “I doubt he would do anything dreadful here.” After a pause she added, “Probably. Anyway, I will stay with you, and Hawise.”

    Feeling considerably less reassured than she had half a minute ago, Eleanor went through into the solar.

    Malcolm sprawled in the best fireside chair, one of her borrowed books spread on his lap. He looked up at her appearance. “Ah. About bloody time.” He shut the cover of the book with a clap and dropped it onto the floor; the thud made Eleanor wince and wonder how she could explain any dents to the owner.

    Standing tight in at Eleanor’s right hand side Anne glared at her brother. “Aren’t you supposed to be off being beaten or something?”

    Malcolm waved a careless hand. “I’m the future king. Alwin and I’ve got an understanding. He likes having a future.” Pulling himself upright with the arms of the chair, the boy focused on Eleanor, quite seriously. “There’s how out of it the old man is. Doesn’t know. Like he doesn’t know that wife he hates likes him about equally, and has a lover. He doesn’t know loads of things.”

    Or he might, and find it judicious to allow things to remain as they were so long as all was discreet, thus preserving the status quo and avoiding public embarrassment. By his own declaration the king had not the least interest in getting children from the woman and preferred to have nothing to do with her.

    Malcolm’s hand rose, one finger aimed at Hawise. “She can piss off. What I’ve to say is for the right ears only. Anne can stay, I suppose. To protect you from the evil princeling.” He parroted the last bit in a stupid imitation of a child’s whining.

    Eleanor nodded at Hawise; the maid departed.

    Eleanor seated herself in one of the window seats, some distance from Malcolm and between him and the door. “What do you want?”

    “Oh, quite a lot, actually.” The boy ticked off points on the fingers of one hand. “The old man dead and myself in his place, my enemies lying slain in pools of their own blood, a few hundred women to play with, endless riches, Scotland made into the greatest kingdom in Christendom … And if you want more unusual and personal wishes,” Swapping to his other hand he counted, “A fine fully grown man’s body instead of this gawky thing, an end to this cursed bloody voice breaking, a proper beard just so I can shave the bloody thing off and make a fashion of not looking like a sleepy goat, a war in which to prove my valour and skill at arms and chance to do so without the old man holding me back and whining because he knows I’ll do better than he ever could.” The slender shoulders rose and fell. “There’s a load more, but I won’t bore you. No. I’m far more interested in sorting out this bloody disaster.”

    Anne said, “I did not think you did works of charity.” From the way the girl clung to Eleanor’s side she couldn’t tell if she were offering protection from her brother or seeking it.

    “I don’t.” Malcolm frowned, hammered at his chest with a fist, and belched loudly. “God damned bloody fish. Gives me wind. A plague on Lent, the church, God, and the whole fucking lot! But anyway, all this toying about my father’s doing serves no one, not even him, if he’d the brains to see it. It disgraces us, disgraces you, makes me sick right to my bloody core. And he’s going to keep at it as long as he can.”

    The King of Scots had made another ridiculous attempt at a treaty again after Malcolm had left. Eleanor had rejected it and countered with one of her own, demanding he do homage to Hugh as her brother’s vassal and make Scotland a client kingdom paying a punishing yearly tribute. This, predictably, had been refused, and the king had repeated a phrase Eleanor was beginning to loathe: that they would talk at the proper time. “I had thought that obvious.”

    “He won’t go to war,” Malcolm said bluntly. “Not personally, and not happily otherwise. He’s a craven. Lost what little heart he had back when your father defeated him and scarred his face. So you’re wasting your time. Me? I’ll go, and men will follow. My father won’t be able to stop me, not when half the lords support me, and they will, for they’re as sick of his cowardice as I. Given the chance of glory, battle and spoils they’ll come. You’ll have your army, and your ally. Hell, I’ll even swear to peace between us afterwards – I’ve other scores I can be settling. Denmark, for example; see how they like being pillaged. The piddly little islands which have fragmented away from our control. I could conquer some of Ireland. And I’ll bring down that Trempwick too; damned man needs to die for what he’s claimed about you. Except there’s this: I won’t do shit to help your bastard half-brother. I’m not helping some creature crawl where he doesn’t belong. Claim your rightful inheritance.”

    “The crown is Hugh’s by right. I will not take it from him.”

    “Damn you!” Malcolm pounded a fist on the chair’s arm. “Mouthing the same old dutiful crap! He’s a bastard, you’re the only one of your family around and suitable, so it’s yours. Take it! Hell, even if you don’t want to deal with me you’ll have a damned sight better time of it dealing with the old man if you’re his equal. He wouldn’t piss the Queen of England about like this. No. He’d be out to scramble for what he could, realistically, not stupidly like he is now.”

    “I have given him a week. At the end of that time I am leaving. He will not allow this chance to slip past him; whatever weakness England has now is but passing, and when all is right we shall remember Scotland scorned us.”

    Malcolm stood, pushing his hair out of his eyes with both hands. “So you’re still being stupid. Seems I’m surrounded by idiots. No matter. Maybe in a few days you’ll be ready to see sense. Because you need us. Oh, you might manage without us, but only if you want a civil war which drags on for ages and does damage it’ll take years and more to recover from. And then that’s before you consider the outcome; might be that the wrong party wins, mightn’t it now?”







    Such a delightful young man, that Malcolm

    Avernite: Hmm, to me Hugh is finally beginning to get better again. He started out alright, went GAH! inducing, and now evolution is beginning to bring him back to being tolerable. A few months ago in their time even the thought of using the Germans like that would have had him gabbering away for forgiveness. He’s getting harder, and angry.

    As for Nell, I would say I agree but then she would be unhappy with her frog. I know which side my bread is buttered on.

    Rhialto: Thank you. I am now fighting fit. Or would be if I wasn’t such a wimpy frog; I don’t have the muscle to fight.

    Igaworker: Ah, indeed. But the question is how high and at what cost?

    Phargle: Hehe! I admit I also smiled the moment Jocelyn vomited his way onto the page.
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  2. #1002
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    Go away with an aching head for a few weeks and look what I find! Wonderful! Actually, despite his terminology and obnoxiuos behaviour, Malcolm probably understands his people quite well, if not quite as well as he thinks. He also has a fairly firm grasp on things and might even know things about Hugh only Trempwick thought he knew. I think there are hidden depths to Nefastus. And I don't think there are just monsters waiting in there.

    Jocelyn. Ah well. The guy needs Mahaut around to keep him in line. Or something. I am amazaed he hasn't made vomiting into a spectator sport.

    Great updates! hope the food poisoning is getting better. DW

  3. #1003
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    Malcolm begins to remind me of Jocelyn, except offcourse that he also has a grasp of national politics instead of Joc's fairly local view.

    They could make a great team helping Nell win the throne. Imagine if Jocelyn came in while Nell is in Scotland...
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  4. #1004
    “We have hardly had two minutes together all day, even in company.”

    Fulk snuffed out the candle and turned from the wall. The solar was already mostly dark, shadows dancing with the pools of weak light around the banked-down fire and remaining few candles. The outer door was firmly barred, and Hawise had gone through to prepare Eleanor’s bed. He stood, waiting, uncertain as to what she had in mind.

    Eleanor took the end of her braid in her hand and started to toy with the ends of the ribbon. “There was an entire month were I did not see you, and then for weeks after that we had perhaps half of each day in each other’s sight, always with company. I was grateful for minutes then. Not now, not after entire days together, alone.”

    “We’re getting greedy. Always goes one of two ways; either you’re increasingly desperate for more, no matter how slight the scraps. Or you lose interest.” Greed led to foolhardiness. Foolhardiness led to mistakes. Tongues wagged in Perth’s palace already; they’d been on display far more than they had been in Waltham, pressed into situations where it was harder to hide what they should, and with people paying more attention. The knight was said by some to love his princess, purely in a suitably chivalrous way; the tale found favour, being so close to the romance stories so deeply in fashion. What the princess might think of her knight fewer seemed willing to speculate.

    With care not to make too much noise, Fulk shifted a bench to a comfortable spot before the fire, collected his cup of ale, sat, and patted the space at his side. Eleanor came to his side, head leaning on his shoulder and body loosely moulded to his. His spare arm about her waist, Fulk rested his cheek on her head.

    “Your training went well?” she asked.

    “Yes. We’re as ready as we can be for tomorrow, not yet knowing how the teams are formed. Your men will bring you honour, whichever team they are on.”

    “And my knight?”

    “He’ll do his all to bring you victory.” Fulk sipped his ale. They didn’t repeat their suspicions about the tournament. It was arranged, it was unavoidable, the purpose was obscure, and all that could be done was to remain alert and hope for the best. “Your own day?”

    “Oh … quiet.”

    “Really? What did you do?”

    “Nothing interesting,” she demurred.

    “Only, I heard my scholarly princess was involved in a debate on the nature and duties of kingship.”

    “Yes. It was not terribly exciting. It is an old debate, the positions defined and all the sides long since argued to tedium. I did not start it.”

    “Heart of my heart, I admit to being curious. For instance, I’d be gratified and in your debt if you could explain why there was muttering into the soup about the English princess calling the King of Scots a weak ruler, in a roundabout and very polite way.” Fulk gave the end of Eleanor’s plait a gentle tug. “You’ve been gooseberrying people again, haven’t you?”

    “If you wish to put it that way, yes, and for what must be the first time in my life I feel my father would have been proud. As diplomatic slaps go, it was a damned good one.” There was no mistaking the emotion in her voice – pride. “They thought to go on about how shabby and poverty-stricken England appears next to their lord’s splendour. Instead they were reminded of what they surely must know.”

    “Oh sour one, explain, please, and no trying to wiggle things so you look heroic while causing a riot.”

    “Explain?” Eleanor lifted her head from his shoulder and stared at him, blue eyes puzzled “You do not see it?”

    Fulk baked in a feeling he’d been more familiar with as a boy, the mortification of being caught ignorant of one of those adult things everyone who wasn’t a stupid baby was supposed to know. “No, heartling, I don’t.” That same inner child made him hedge, “Or if I do I don’t know it for the same thing you speak of.”

    “I had thought you would see all of this pomp for what it was from the start.”

    “Something to do with preference, I suppose.”

    “Yes, in part it is. Some do like showing off. But that is not the greater part. Really it is simple. The way this king behaves is the equivalent of you wearing full armour at all times, and having your squire follow you about leading your destrier, lest people not know you for what you are. The more a person must reinforce their status with such tricks, the weaker their position. My father was King of England; everyone knew that, everyone remembered that, and seldom did he need to rely on ceremony to reinforce that. Because he had the power; his hold was secure and his vassals obeyed. He did not need to make men grovel each time they met his eye to remind them he was their lord. We could be plain because our position was so strong, so stable.” Her head sank, she studied the toes of her shoes. “Or so it was. Our prestige has fallen somewhat.” She spitted him on a glare, as though she suspected him of thinking something she didn’t like one bit. “It will rise again. A year or two into his reign and Hugh will have no need of playacting. It started the same for my father, and my grandsire, and for all those who came before – there is always a time at the start when they must prove themselves and secure their hold. Hugh has a rougher time of it than they, but the end will be the same.”

    Fulk bit his tongue on his instinctive reply that Hugh was never going to be a match for the previous king. She knew it.

    Eleanor said, “I expect matters here will change when Nefastus is crowned. He will either catch his lords in his fist, or be torn to bits by them and left to rot without even a grave. This current king, he is sorely lacking in one of his prime roles – he is not a warrior, or a general, and he does his all to force his people to peace. Which suits many, and does good, but many of those with skill at arms are bored and restless, denied chance to win glory and spoils. There is a lot of private warfare here, neighbour against neighbour, and the usual raiding across our border. And he does not punish the troublemakers severely enough, either because he is too weak to press like that, or because he does not have the sense to. It is Nefastus who prosecutes harshly, which weakens the king’s authority yet further.”

    None of which Fulk really wanted to be hearing at bedtime on the night before a tournament. “Thank you. I think I see it now.”

    Eleanor nudged him in the ribs with an elbow. “And I did not cause a riot!”

    “Then you must be losing your touch, beloved mine.”

    She looked down her nose at him. “I hereby give you permission to grovel abjectly in apology, and then to kiss me.”

    Fulk bypassed the first and went straight to the second.

    Afterwards, she said, “I have been thinking …”

    Fulk let exaggerated horror cross his features. “Oh no! Not again!”

    “We could journey back overland. I could plant my banner and recruit on the way. Not all of the North will by loyal to Trempwick, and mayhap some of those loyal to me could be turned to use instead of fighting against me.”

    Fulk stared into the low fire, considering. He tossed off the rest of his drink, set the cup aside. “Who would lead this army? You can’t, not in the field. I can’t – even assuming nobles and lords would follow me – which they would not - I know only small forces and skirmishes. There is no one else. And think of the risk; your guard are good, and there are more of them now, but they are not enough to guarantee your safety in a wasp’s nest.”

    “You are right,” she admitted glumly. “There must be something. This cannot be a waste of time.”

    “It will not be.” A change of subject was in order; tomorrow might bring anything, and Fulk didn’t want to spend his night in gloom. “You’ll never guess what I saw today. A group of children were playing one of the usual knights and damsels games. Only, the lead damsel was taking the part of a certain princess Eleanor, beset by evil bandits trying to abduct her.”

    “What!?” There, mixed in with the surprise, was a tiny kernel of delight.

    “Oh yes. And the lead knight was calling himself Sir Fulk. Here’s the best bit, oh ‘loved mine. The ‘princess’ got tired of waiting for her knight, so she hit one of the bandits with her crown, pushed another one over, and ran off, leaving poor ‘Fulk’ surrounded by angry villains.”

    When their soft laughter died down they sat, doing nothing but savouring their time together.

    Eventually Fulk took his arm back. “Come on, off with you. We’ll both need our sleep for tomorrow, and my pallet’s not big enough for two, even assuming it were fit for a gooseberry, which it’s not – the straw seems to have been chosen specially for its itchiness. Damned devious bit of economy; makes the bedding for the lowly cheaper, and discourages them from sleeping overlong or entertaining company.”

    Eleanor stood, and waited, eyes cast downwards. “Tomorrow,” she said abruptly. “I would like you to carry my favour.”

    Fulk gave a courtly bow. “I would be honoured. I’ll wear it next to my skin so none see-”

    “No. I meant an open favour.” She placed a hand on his arm and looked up at him. “You are my knight, and my champion in this. No one will think it amiss.”

    Fulk bowed again, his heart swelling. “I would be most honoured.”









    I’m depressed. A massive delivery of books today, and not a single one is any good! :grumble: Usually when we get a massive batch of mixed books like this there are at least a couple of nice ones. But oh no, not this time. This time we get a load of yoga, gardening, repeats of books we already have which didn’t sell, repeats of boring and rubbish books we have already had which did (amazingly) sell, books based on TV history series and therefore full of dodgy ‘history’. Oh – and volumes 2, 4, and 12 of the Poldark saga, a series we stock no others of. Humph!

    [frog rant on sagas]
    Oh, I am so sick of these books! They all follow some insipid brat from Liverpool/Newcastle/some other nasty British city on her crap journey through life, inevitably involving an abusive father/mother/sibling/aunt, a first marriage which goes horribly wrong/an affair which leaves her pregnant and alone, and a drippy dream man who is entirely unreal and reads like a bad mishmash of ‘ideal’ man traits put together by a bunch of 75 year old spinsters after too much rum and rich tea biscuits, to whom the heroine gets married and lives happily ever after with after a lot of crap and forced so called obstructions. Oh – and the heroine usually has one of those names, like Lizzie, or Rose, or Annie, or Maisie, and in personality she is a cross between the stereotypical image of Julie Andrews on prozak and a piece of damp paper. And the cover art makes you cringe, featuring a bad painting of some random blank-eyed not quite human looking girl holding a prop, frequently a hat or a basket with flowers. Don’t get me started on the titles! If it’s not the heroine’s name (i.e. ‘Rosie’, or ‘Lizzie’) then it’s something ‘exciting’ sounding (‘A Mersey Duet’, or ‘Dancing in the Dark’), something quaint and hopeful (‘A silver joey’ (joey being slang for a sixpence, or so the cover claims)), or unholy combination of the name with something else (‘Lizzie’s song’, ‘Annie’s Wish’).

    Gah!

    [frog rant on sagas]


    Dead William: Hehe, Jocelyn does indeed need his women around to keep him in order! :tuts: What a mess.

    Hmm … maybe I shouldn’t say it, but it’s there in the story and not important to hide anyway. Malcolm makes a lot of guesses. Sometimes he is right, sometimes not. Often those guesses are spiteful, intended to shock or hurt, like his accusing Fulk of being Nell’s lover. As for why he acts this way, now that’s heading into the land a frog shouldn’t talk about, and should instead leave for the character to show … as Malcolm is showing. If you look closely and think.

    Avernite: Hmm, aside from the swearing I don’t see much similarity between Malcolm and Jocelyn, but I do see how they could appear similar to one who doesn’t know them as I do. :sigh: It’s such a shame! There’s so much Malcolm I simply can’t use or show in this story, and so he is always going to be a half portrait at best. Until and unless I can make him a POV, which I can’t here. It’s horrible having a character with such layers and potential, but only being able to use him in such a limited manner. Huh, and I barely even like the little rat.
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  5. #1005
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    Oh, Froggy, Froggy, Froggy! If Nefastus would make a good point of view, write it! Scottland is close enough and he wily enough to make it work. Even despite all the blather. The most Nefastus can do is get out of your control!

    Actually, I think I can see quite a bit of Mlacolm already, but I will hold my peace as yet. Must think a bit more. Layers upon layers...


    Very nice update! I see another Mahaut in that little girl with the crown...

    DW

  6. #1006
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    Well, how many really badmouthed people have we seen among the upper classes? I have seen but two, Joc en Nef, so of course I see them as similar for that.

    As to today's update, I see plenty potential for queenship in Nell raising her banner in the north
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  7. #1007
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    Egads, eggy! RL rears it's ugly head and I come back to play catch-up and find 30 some odd pages to read! Thankfully - all of them good!

    I think Eleanor should seriously think about what Malcolm said to her. She probably should claim the throne and take his assistance. Once he grows of age, he will seriously give Hugh trouble.

    And I still think Malcolm, Jocy and Fulk make a nice triumverate. And one both Trempy and Hugh would be forced to recognize.

    Great stuff and thankfully, I am now caught up again.
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  8. #1008
    Jocelyn raised a hand to cover his mouth as he yawned. Damned merchants! Alright, so it was more than decent of this Edward fellow to give him hospitality – generous hospitality at that - for the night simply because he turned up on the recommendation of a mutual friend in Normandy, yet there was this: it was only just barely dawn. Not only that but Jocelyn had arrived in Dover late last night, after a day of puking his guts out, after days of rushing about as fast as his horse could carry him. Breakfast was not what he wanted right now. Another four days solid sleep would be good. Damned merchants and their ungodly hours, bent of grubbing every last profit from the day!

    He reached for something to start eating, hand floating indecisively as he surveyed the embarrassment of riches spread on the table. Cold, all of it, naturally, and considerably more than a bit of bread and a cup of small ale or small beer. Bloody pretentious, honestly!

    His host smiled, spreading his own hands to indicate the table. “Do help self. Take what like.”

    What Jocelyn liked was a nice large chunk of cold fish pie, so he could bite it instead of betraying his thoughts as to his host’s ability to speak French. Damned lack, more like – his command of the language was wobbly, which, to judge by the man’s damned endless beaming and attempts to talk with his guest, no one had seen fit to tell him. Still, could be worse. Jocelyn had borrowed a monk from Caen, to play translator. There was good reason for this. England: God-benighted rainy dump of a county, was filled with people who couldn’t speak right.

    As if to demonstrate Jocelyn’s black thoughts, Edward waved one of his servants over and began giving quiet orders in Anglo-French. Anglo-French: so called, Jocelyn had long since decided, because the garbled mess was the old Saxon’s last revenge on their Norman conquerors, a revenge made all the more successful because the nobility didn’t realise what had bloody well happened, and thought it their own doing. Several generations ago this had been the same langue d’oil spoken in half of France. Somewhere in those generations the accent had changed, drastically. Half the words were altered. New ones were added. Meanings had altered. It was now almost as unintelligible as any other foreign language, and a standing joke in France itself, so bastardised had it become.

    Bastard – which reminded him. “You said last night prince Hugh was nearby?”

    “Yes.” A bit more Anglo-French to his servant – look, the man was just plain showing off! Alright, many of the people here spoke English and Anglo-French, but the latter was supposed to be the tongue of the nobility and gently born, not jumped up damned merchants and their doubly damned servants! Christ’s sweet bones! Did the man think he didn’t know that? Did he think he couldn’t see he was pretending to be a damned sight more important than he was?! – and the underling departed, and the man turned his attention to food and guest. “He leave yesterday. You go fast, you catch him if want.”

    God’s fingernails, where was that God damned monk!? Jocelyn wondered if it would be rude to fetch the tonsured slugabed down here to cease this torture of his native tongue. He surmised it would be. He wondered if he cared …

    “You have word for him?”

    Jocelyn bit off another mouthful of pie, chewed, swallowed, wasted a bit of time brushing a crumb off his sleeve, then finally deigned to respond. “I’m the Count of Tourraine. My lord has died; his heir is in this country. Why do you think I am here? To do homage, before it’s decided another man should have what’s mine, recently bestowed as it is. What’s going on in this country anyway? All I hear is trouble.”

    “Ah.” Edward’s eating knife returned to the table; he clasped his hands before him on the surface. “War. Fighting. Such troubles! No trouble here, only elsewhere. London. Wales. Other places.”

    “Fighting?”

    The wool merchant made a dismissive gesture. “Far off. Not here. None of ours there.”

    “But where? Between who? What numbers? What losses?”

    A shrug. “Wales. Nearer London. I care not – no business mine. I and family safe, I still sell cloth and make money, and in end I be ruled by whichever God want. Business for grand men, not merchants.”

    A medium sized and potent curse on the small-mindedness of bloody tradesmen! When they weren’t getting above themselves and demanding things and trying to squirm their way into the nobility they were being damned ignorant! Same the world over: profit, profit, profit, and sod the world. “But surely you must have some thoughts on it?”

    “For grand men,” Edward repeated. “Like you. Not me. I no fight, not hold land, not rule men. God will decide. Much same end for me, king or queen.”

    The door into the solar opened, and the servant returned with a large tray set with covered dishes. He placed it on the cleared edge of the table and set the dishes down amid the existing ones, taking the covers off each in turn. Hot food, steaming.

    Edward cut a portion from a large grilled fish and placed it on Jocelyn’s trencher, giving him the best. “I have deal with cook shop. They give hot food for breakfast each day; have person to be up extra early to cook it.”

    Well, there was some relief – Jocelyn had almost expected the beaming merchant to proudly announce he had his own kitchen, and didn’t need to buy most of his hot food from the cook shops like nearly everyone else in any town on God’s pleasant earth. Managing a smile which was only partly grimace Jocelyn tucked in to his fish. For a pretentious extravagance it was very tasty.

    As he ate his mind turned and turned again, many subjects passing through it. One recurred an awful lot: a wish that Tildis was here to see this. Might shut her moaning up. Better to be a proper noble, if a little rough about the edges in a charmingly manly way, than to be a commoner with too much money and a desire to emulate his betters matched with scant clue as to how to do it. Damned woman would have to agree there, contrary bitch that she was. Huh, and she could damned well shut up about her books and all in future – Edward had learned his manners and all from them, that was bloody obvious, being as he’d missed the little important bits here and there which no waffling load of text could teach. No, practical experience, there was the thing, learning from one’s elders.

    When the table was a deal emptier, Jocelyn asked, “Do you know much about the prince? Or the princess, for that matter?”

    “Not seen her. Seen him, once, from distance. Was golden, that made impression most. Good stature; carried himself like prince, yes. Not been closer. Heard he … reserved. Bit distant. Pompous, some say. But done well enough in things. Not great, not bad. Has potential, many say, though I no judge and am repeating only what I hear, remember. Has a child on way also, which is good. Is chosen heir, eldest living son, has been in line and known to be so for years. Hear also some other things. Things like he stop sister’s wedding to suit him, against father’s and her wishes, or against father’s wishes definitely. Say he rude to father’s old friend, who is trusty, and also same man who meant to marry Eleanor. Say he try to take her in hand, fight her wildness, or maybe just crush her, I cannot say; from what I hear is both – she rude, he too strict, and fighting like children except they grown and it more vicious and able to be more than hair-pulling and harmless stuff.” Edward shrugged again. “But this I know: King William, bless him and rest in peace, left prince Hugh as regent for us while he across the Narrow Sea. Trusted him, his ability, wanted to be seen to favour him. Chose him.”

    “And Eleanor?”

    Edward took a quick drink to wet this throat. “She, confusing.” Edward reached for a bit of bread, picked it up and set it back down, untouched. “Hidden, yes? Much of her life. Not seen much, not said much of. Contradictory. One she is a hellion, then she is prisoner, then she is good, then she is bad, then she a fool, then skilled and smart. She is overproud and wild, then she is cruelty mistreated and victimised, then she is but standing up for what is hers and trying to hold on. She in almost exile, she in training to rule, quiet, so bastard brother not kill her or something and can be sorted when she is strong and ready. She hated by father, she loved as best of all. She fight to avoid betrothal, then is announced as married to same man, in secret. One thing is solid – she poor, not have much lands, and them only new, which is very odd. Even where agree stories differ much. Example, she is beaten badly for that refusal to marry Lord Trempwick, very badly indeed, is brave as any knight and firm in her cause to avoid unwanted man, and go to church ready to fall down, so hard did she fight even though she lose and yet in defeat still refuse to give completely, so her being there and trying to be normal when fitter for bed and rest. Or, other story, she is hardly touched, and gives easily, because she soft and lacks heart to go with her bold words.” He chuckled ruefully. “You see why I glad God sort? Drive me mad to try! Good, bad, right, wrong – I sure neither is like I just say of them, but different again, making confusion more.”

    “Yes, agreed Jocelyn bleakly. He’d have to hope God gave him a hint or two somewhere in this … not that he was going to go against his dying lord’s express wishes, heavens no! Not unless it was God’s will, which it very well might be; one could never know the workings of the Almighty’s plan.

    By the time the food was cleared from the table Jocelyn’s party was formed up and ready to mount. Feeling highly stuffed, Jocelyn paid his courtesies to the lady of the house, and his host’s fifteen year old daughter. Thank God she’d been kept safely penned up away from him – it’d been nice to get a full night’s sleep. Not that he’d have been so uncouth as to allow her to seduce him, of course.

    Passing through the large front room which served as the shop on his way to the street Jocelyn saw a journeyman returning a roll of cloth to its place on the shelves. The colour, a delicate orangey-gold, drew him. Fingering the cloth revealed it to be a fine wool, light and perfect for summer wear.

    A spot of haggling later and a length of the cloth sufficient to make a dress was loaded onto the sumpter horse, and he was on his way, whistling a happy tune as he set out in pursuit of prince Hugh. Whatever he was, the man deserved to hear about the old king’s death, since it looked likely the silence which had muffled specific news from England coming to France had applied here also. Richildis would be pleased with his purchase. Not that he’d got it for her, or had any intention of so much as thinking of possibly trying to make the bitch happy, and it certainly wasn’t a peace offering, by thunder! No. If he wanted to dress her up so she looked nice so he could stare at her and appreciate her charms in a purely selfish way, that was entirely his right and privilege. Not that he wanted to stare at her, no matter how fine-looking she might be in any state of dress … or undress. He didn’t want to look at her at all, damned miserable creature that she was. Not when there were so many equally nice – better! – looking women in this world, all of whom were more than happy to smile at him and not whinge, and didn’t damned well complain about damned fake headaches every time he felt even slightly in the damned mood for a bit of fun, thank you very much! And anyway, it had been necessary to give his host something in return for his hospitality, which had been splendid, language problems and social climbing aside.

    Jocelyn’s whistling skipped a beat and went a little off-key. Now he’d have to get something for the children …








    One busy week over, another to begin. The next bit will probably take a while to write; tournaments and so on are busy, and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do it … there might be a lot there I want to cut out after writing it, and I’m not going to have much time to play until the end of the week.

    Also, I have the idea for another story forming, and it’s damned distracting, like trying to write and talk at the same time – you end up with both blended together, one intruding on the other into a mishmash of a mess. Something very different to the other ideas I have, set in Saxon Britain, but not anything to do with the usual Vikings/Normans/Romano-British/Pagan versus Christian/some famous historical figure’s fictionalised life stuff such settings usually attract. Not sure what it is yet; I have flashes of some things, and some loose ideas … a strong fort, on a hill, with wooden walls and several large timber and thatch halls. The inside of a hall, smoky and busy. A man, holding a spear and wearing a sword and a mail shirt, and one of those distinctly Saxon helmets with a boar as a crest, a plain man with a scar on his upper lip – he’s the protagonist, and not entirely a pleasant chappy. Don’t even know his name yet. The fragmented Saxon kingdoms, not yet united into one. And a … feeling. Well, shall just have to try and develop it in a controlled manner, so it doesn’t stunt and die, but doesn’t take over and demand to be written NOW. :sigh: As if I don’t have enough ideas already, enough stories and characters demanding varying degrees of attention I can’t yet give. If I’d known how dangerous reading that biography of Aethelred II ‘The Unready’ would be I’d have … read it anyway, and probably sooner. For all the troubles stories other than the one I am writing (Eleanor!) present I wouldn’t be without them for the world. It gives me hope that when this one is done I can indeed manage something else; I’m not a one story frog, and I can go on to something else without it being a pale echo of what I have already done.


    Dead William: Alas, Malcolm would make a good POV, but in his own story. In this one he has nothing to offer, except insight into himself and a bit of mostly unimportant behind the scenes Scottish stuff which people other than me are better off not seeing, until they appear at the relevant moments in other POVs … or moulder unseen because they do not need to be.

    Now, you should know better by now – mention something a frog is interested in, and she will go into a frenzy of curiosity and start pleading pathetically for your thoughts. So: Malcolm, tell me! Everything! Pretty please with sugar on top. As usual I am fairly desperate to know if things are working as I wish; last thing I want is a panto villain Malcolm.

    Hmmm …. :idea strikes!: If I knew that it wouldn’t harm anything (i.e. if people already had the right ideas) I might be persuaded to do a single Malcolm scene, outside of the story, basically his POV of one of the scenes which has already passed, likely the one where he meets Nell and Fulk for the first time. If it wouldn’t harm anything, and if people wanted to read it.

    Avernite: there’s the reason I see for people thinking them alike It’s good enough, working from something obvious. But to a frog even that is different, because I know that the language comes from two different roots. Besides, Malcolm is far cruder and ruder than Jocelyn

    Coz1: From my point of view I’m limping slowly along, managing in a week what I used to do in a day. 30 pages in maybe 3 weeks sounds better than I thought.

    Hehe, if Nell gathered Trempy to her side as well she’d have her own version of the four horsemen of the apocalypse! Dear Lord, the ideas that gives me …
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  9. #1009
    Field Marshal Avernite's Avatar
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    Apocalypse? Surely England could not start that, miserable rainy backwater of a country. They don't even speak proper langue d'oil

    Anyhow, nice update, I see Joc is gonna get in trouble if he goes to meet Hugh...
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  10. #1010
    In his dreams it had always been sunny, a bright and clear day. In his dreams he had always been a great knight, wealthy and powerful, well-known and well-loved, skilled and the best of all, invincible. In his dreams his parents had been there, watching proudly. In his dreams his lady had been the most beautiful in Christendom, golden and fair and the epitome of nobility.

    Fulk had stopped dreaming long ago.

    His heart was pounding, his hands shaking. He touched his spurs to Sueta’s flanks and began his advance up to the stand where the royal party seat, passing one of the pair of lower stands and the nobles in them.

    Eleanor was wearing deep red matched with white. He loved her and that made her more beautiful than any, and he was amazed even that much of the dream had come true.

    Over the years he’d practiced many sets of words, clinging to one set and then discarding them as the age he gained made them seem clumsy or uncouth, or simply plain. He’d had the perfect speech planned out by his seventh year, and changed it on average every month for the next seven. A portion of the previous night had been lost to that same speech, worried away on words instead of dangers. Words were important; he’d known it then and the knowledge had grown keener with the years.

    As he passed ladies watched, heads turning to track him, hope flickering in their eyes, only to dash into disappointment as he rode on past, not stopping to ask for their favour. That, too, had been a part of the dream, a disassociated part come from knowing that simply was what proper ladies and knights did.

    Before the royal box he stopped. Before Eleanor. In his dreams he’d never felt sick. In his dreams he hadn’t been reaching so impossibly far; it had all been a mistake - he wasn’t really a bastard, and his father was important and the king’s friend, and his mother a great noble lady, and his father’s wife was actually an evil witch who had cast a spell on them all and made them live a lie.

    Words. His tongue was frozen, his mind empty. His prepared speech was lost. The enormity of what he was doing was overwhelming.

    Fulk raised his eyes, slowly, following up the drapes of crimson fabric decorating the front of the stand. He saw a pair of arms, the upper half of a torso. A slender white neck. A chin. A nose. Then those eyes. He found his words, and didn’t say them: I love you; let me show the world.

    “Your Highness.” Fulk bowed in the saddle; his voice came louder on his next effort. “Your Highness, I fight as your champion. I beg you, do me the honour of granting me your favour.”

    Prince Malcolm muttered, “Sayth the worm to the lioness …”

    Eleanor rose. If there hadn’t been a gap of more than an arm’s length between each of the three royal seats Fulk suspected she might have contrived a way to stand on the prince’s foot, or similar. She removed her crown, her veil came free in her hand. Fulk nudged his destrier about so he could present his left arm to her without need for her to lean dangerously far over the waist high front of the stand.

    When the silk formed a white band about his bicep, Eleanor said, “Bring me victory.”

    “I will do my all.” Fulk started to ride back.

    Sueta had taken perhaps three steps when the first cheer went up. Soon the exuberance had spread to much of the audience, nobles and commons alike. That also had been part of the dream, and because of it Fulk understood the cause: here was a story come to life. For everyone’s amusement, a game played out with nothing serious behind it, like the Hunt, and the Black Knight, and so much else.

    When he regained his place with those of Eleanor’s men who were taking part in this tournament, one of the Scottish knights, the perpetually serious one called Waltheof, told him softly, “That was ill done, and dangerous. Any can see she’s marked for the prince, Christ pity her. He won’t stand so much as the thought of a shadow of competition.”

    Fulk continued to look in the direction he had been. “What competition could I be for a prince? None, for I am nothing. If her champion won’t bear her colours then none here will; she won’t grant them to another because of the significance it would be given. Many of lesser status than she will have their tokens out on the field; it would be shaming for her to be left out, and imply that she’s so much less than those others. It is my duty to guard her honour.”

    “As you say. And as I say.”






    When all was ready to begin, the King of Scotland stood. He held his hands in the air, an unnecessary gesture for silence; hush has begun to fall at his first movement.

    “We have heard the desires of our people, and have found it good to grant them. We do now decree that the two teams shall be national, and not chosen by lot. Forty per side as was previous, now to be chosen by the two leaders. In addition, in honour of their great and recognised skill, we do declare that the ransom of each leader shall be nine marks.” Malcolm the Elder planted his rear back on his flashy throne.

    Desires of his people? If he thought to fool her then he had failed – Eleanor knew there had been little such wish. This had been planned from the start. Now nothing could be done. In all honesty, Eleanor had to admit there was little more that could have been done –a bodyguard of the most trusted had been formed to guard Fulk’s back at all times; men in possession of appropriate skill and equipment from the force Hugh had loaned her, and what remained of Sir Miles’ tattered force had been used to make up the forty required, keeping the number of Scots to the minimum; those taking part had been trained rigorously. She had made it clear that her coffers – Hugh’s, in truth, since she’d use the money he’d granted to pay for expenses - would provide the ransom of any man taken when he could not avoid it, and that any captured after anything less than their full efforts to resist would pay their own ransom and depart her service.

    Nine marks. Fulk would be a very choice target; the sum was enough to tempt even the wealthy. Nine marks! Eleanor did some quick calculations. The potential strain of her other men’s costs was enough alone to make her worry sufficiently that she had laid claim to a fifth of all ransoms her men took; it was her right, and custom, and she’d taken it with thought only for the revenue, not for her rights or because it was fitting.

    Nothing remained except one thing so small as to nearly be a waste of time, a light alteration of something she had planned anyway. Eleanor kept a tight rein on her fury, and said to her host, “It does not suit me to find a new bodyguard at present. Less still when my present has proven himself efficient. I must hold faith in your belief that your men will not fall prey to the same base urges which have turned many tournaments of peace into small wars.” She produced a smile, self-mocking. “The fears of a woman! I confess, I should know better than to seek out disaster where none can happen. Your people will not dare disobey your wishes for a tourney of peace, or do the least thing which may bring shame on your name and reputation as a host.”

    Malcolm the Younger rolled his eyes. “What our cousin of England’s politely saying, old man, is that you’d better not be about to do something bloody stupid. And I’ll agree with her. I’ll not be known as the son of a man who didn’t respect the laws of hospitality.”

    If the King of Scots paid a whit of attention to either it didn’t show.





    It’s a beginning. The rest I want to keep together, but this works well enough alone. The rest I’m not likely to start writing seriously until gone Thursday. I know how I’m going to do it now.

    :shrug: Oh well, looks like no need for a special Malcolm scene here.



    Avernite: Hehe! According to his wife in numerous parts of the story, Jocelyn doesn’t speak proper langue d’oil either!

    Ah yes, Joss and Hugh, two opposites … with some deep things in common.
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  11. #1011
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    Ahh, a nice story of knights and princesses before going to bed. Has been a while

    Good luck to Fulk there, he's gonna need it
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  12. #1012
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    Jocy's finally in England and the contest is about to begin. Things are heating up.
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  13. #1013
    Hurricane Sergeant of Arms Amric's Avatar
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    Personally I think Fulk doesn't need luck....He's had that all through the story, in his own way. He'll manage as he always has...by the skin of his teeth...
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  14. #1014
    The trumpet blew; Fulk dug his spurs in, sending himself at a trot into whatever trap the King of Scots had prepared. His unit followed flawlessly, two men to either side of him, and Luke behind to guard their backs. Preserving the battle line, the other units matched his speed and direction. Or so he assumed – the lack of peripheral vision his great helm gifted him meant he could only see ahead.

    Distance closed. Fulk chose his target, a knight in burgundy and white with a griffin on his shield. Close now. Raising his battlecry, he dug his spurs in again and launched into the charge, bringing his lance down when a few heartbeats were all that remained before contact. The blunt tri-pointed tip of his lance rammed into the painted hide covering his opponent’s shield, slid, gripped; in the instant available before momentum took him on too far, Fulk flung his weight forward and heaved upwards with the lance, popping the other man out of his saddle. He’d thundered by before the other had lost his seat completely, turning Sueta and searching out another target for his lance.

    Alfred’s lance had splintered on contact; he was struggling to keep his seat and gain one of his auxiliary weapons as his luckier foe jabbed and pressed at him. Fulk lowered his lance again, commanding a burst of speed from Sueta. The coronal point smashed into the man’s back and flung him forward in the saddle. Tournaments à plaisance differed from battle and tournaments à outrance by virtue of having blunted weaponry, and a ban on killing deliberately and aiming at horses or unhelmed men. Striking from behind, ganging up – there was no dishonour in good tactics.

    Alfred drew his blunt, round-tipped sword as Fulk cast away his lance – it was too close for the long weapon to be anything but a hindrance now – and together they finished the task of felling their victim, leaving him for Luke to round up and add to the first prisoner.

    Together they turned and helped Thomas, who was under pressure from two Scots.

    Teamwork. Teamwork won tourneys. The side which grouped together and stayed together best always carried the day. On the intimate level, each unit had to work in unison, clinging together and supporting each other; the isolated or outnumbered man nearly always went down. On the wider level, the units must again support each other. With a limit of forty per team, Fulk had split his side into seven units, two possessing five men and the rest with six. The two smaller units were placed on the flanks, with stern orders to act opportunistically, swooping in to batter at enemy already engaged with the larger units, present a danger to the enemy flanks, and so on.

    Warned by a cry, Fulk brought his shield up and made Sueta sidle right. Mace met shield at a level with his ear. Twisting about to meet his attacker, Fulk continued to ward off blows with his shield. His bodyguard were all engaged, protecting the prisoners and swept up in the attack by a new enemy group come to lend assistance to what remained of the division devastated by his first charge. He dug his knee into his stallion’s flank, driving it around.

    Facing his attacker properly now, Fulk traded blows, warding with his shield and making conservative, controlled slashes with his sword.

    Fulk raked his spurs along Sueta’s flanks, driving the stallion into a sudden forward burst. Horse barged into horse, rocking the passive animal. As the mounts pushed and bit at each other, the men traded their strikes for punches with weapon hilts and shields.

    Whatever the King of Scots sought from this there was but one thing Fulk could do: fight. He was good at fighting. He did not envy Eleanor her place watching, waiting, wondering, helpless and unable to prevent what occurred before her eyes.





    Hands clasped in her lap, fingers laced together so tightly her knuckles ached, Eleanor watched as the melee rolled on. Her gaze never left Fulk, for fear that if she looked away for an instant she would lose him in the press of men and horses, all so similar in mail and coloured surcoats, arms painted on shields not always visible. Or that he would fall and she would not see. At every blow he took her grip tightened. At his every triumph her heart sped. She could be a widow by sunset. Tourneys were dangerous, and accidental death was not uncommon when the motives of all involved were as pure as fresh snow.

    The luxury of the royal box infuriated her, that she was so comfortably safe while he risked so much. She had a high-backed chair plump with cushions, the floor covered in carpets, an embarrassment of food and drink set out on a table at the rear ready for the three occupants to help themselves. She would be sipping cool wine as Fulk broiled in his armour, overheated by his exertions.

    A knight made his way to the safe zone ran about the borders of the fenced-in field, sagging in his saddle and weapon lost. Mounted men swooped down on him, beat aside his feeble defence and hammered at him until he surrendered. It did not take long; the man’s sword arm was broken.

    The King of Scots looked on, impassive.

    The third occupant of the box punched his thigh. “Bloody fool!” Malcolm cursed. “Wandering off on his own, wounded and unable to fight. Twat got what he deserved. Teams! It’s all about the teams!”

    The elder Malcolm replied, “As are most things.” He turned to Eleanor with a faint smile. “Is this not so? Teams in tourneys, and teams in battles, and teams on the stage of the world. Those who band together and do battle side by side defeat those who do not. Is this not so?”

    “It is,” Eleanor said.

    “Teams must be chosen wisely. There can be no weak links to hold the overall back. The individuals must compliment each other, and work to make a greater whole comprised of all individual talents. Incorrect decisions as to members can cost the overall; ransoms paid out detract from those gained. Leadership is vital. The most experienced should lead, and the younger and less skilled should endeavour to learn from him. In return for his wisdom and teaching, the followers grant him part of what is theirs.” The king lowered his hand from his beard, flicking away the split strands of hair which stuck to his fingertips. Placing his palms flat on the arms of his throne, he focused on the field once more. “Thus, you will render to me the castles between Alnwick and Carlisle, and the land for fifty miles to the south, and quit all claim to them in perpetuity. To seal the peace between our families, you shall marry my son-”

    “No,” interrupted Eleanor. “Again and again you set out the same nonsense, altering it a little here and there and placing it in a different order. I wonder at your seeming inability to put forth even one rational suggestion. Any would think you do not see the benefits the renewal of the alliance would bring you.”

    Malcolm the Elder curled his fingers about the ends of the arms of his seat. “As you will. We shall speak further when time suits.”





    A blade slapped Fulk across the shoulders, coat of plates reducing the stinging force, mail driving at his flesh to lend it a distinctive spice, gambeson taking away the many-toothed bite of the mail and soaking a part of the bruising energy.

    Sueta lunged and bit the neck of the destrier in front of him; the horse squealed in outrage and tore free, blood gushing. Fulk stabbed at the rider, catching him in the stomach just above the front of his saddle. Unable to help himself, the man doubled over, the sound of retching coming muffled from his helm. Fulk delivered a hit to the back of the unfortunate’s head, causing him to slump in his saddle, droop, and nearly fall.

    Fulk’s own helm rang with a strike to his head from the same one who’d struck his shoulders. Luke was busy fighting for his own skin, unable to claim the stricken man’s ransom. Commanding Sueta to kick out with his hind legs to ward off the one behind him, Fulk hit the failing knight again. “Yield!” He got no reply.

    Sueta landed back on all fours. Fulk rocked forward in the saddle, struck once more from behind, this time the pain burning a slanted line across his spine. Left no option, Fulk kneed his mount around to face his assailant, a man at arms wearing an outdated helm with just a simple bar to guard the nose. Turning, he saw the next blow coming, and flung up his shield. The defence didn’t come into place fast enough, and buckled backwards as the sword smashed down on the upper rim. The rap to his left shoulder sent tingles up and down Fulk’s arm. Seeking time to recover full use of the limb, he went on the offensive, raining cuts down one after another in a never-ending barrage that came from every direction.

    And then one blow got through, nearly spent and glancing. A few more attacks and the weakening guard failed again, and the hit to the man’s sword arm was more resounding. Outmatched, each little failure steadily cost the man at arms his nerve, until Fulk was easily dominating him. Hit after hit slammed into mail.

    “Yield!” shouted Fulk, anxious to be done with this one and return to his previous target before he recovered or was claimed by another. By arrangement each unit would share their prize money amongst them, but only to half the value, the other half remaining with the one who made the capture. He brought his sword down on the other’s right hand, sending his weapon flying. “Yield!” he demanded again.

    “I yield,” came the reply, yelped as Fulk raised his sword a third time.






    Prince Malcolm departed, crudely declaring a need for the privy.
    “He is not such a bad boy,” said his father. “A strong hand will do much for him. Someone to steady him, spend much time with him and educate him, and encourage him to a more refined path.”

    Eleanor refrained from saying that had been needful long before now, self-consciously aware that the same had been said of her frequently enough.

    “Given that firm hand he will be a fine man, and a fine king.” His eyes darted to check Eleanor was taking this in. “A fine husband.”

    Probably not. “For someone. Perhaps.” On the field Fulk was rallying his unit; Eleanor could hear him shouting “A FitzWilliam!” over and over. His men were close by, so close Eleanor knew it must be in preparation for an order.

    “You are older than he, five years, and of matching import, possessing spirit sufficient that you will not wilt before him. You could be that steadying hand, with success.”

    A delicate shiver trod a path down Eleanor’s spine. This idea needed killing until by comparison it made Julius Caesar seem a picture of rude health, and politeness had failed to do that. “There is no way on this earth, in heaven or in hell I will wed that vile little wretch. I would sooner kill myself, and do not doubt it would be the kinder fate, eternal damnation for suicide included.”

    The King of Scots reached over and pulled one of her hands from her lap, clinging to it. “Do not be fooled by what you have seen. The potential is there, and you could shape him. Imagine what it could mean – how many wives have the opportunity to mould their husbands so?”

    A sarcastic voice from behind them commented, “Lots, if you listen to the mad bitches. None, if you listen to their bloody husbands.”

    Eleanor was not surprised by the prince’s unheralded reappearance. It had been an elementary mistake on his father’s part; the din of the melee was such that someone in a pair of wooden clogs could make their way up the stairs of the box without them hearing. What she did wonder was how much he had heard – to be back so soon he must have acted like a particularly unsavoury drunk at a banquet and relieved himself on the outside wall. He may have been in time to hear her refuse him once again.

    Moving forward, Malcolm stared down at their clasped hands. His right hand clenched about the hilt of the sword he wore today in place of his more usual long dagger.

    The King of Scots said, “That was quick.”

    “I don’t make a damned ceremony out of pissing, unlike some.” Advancing another step, Malcolm seized his father’s hand and wrenched it away from Eleanor’s. Then he sat back down, hooking one leg over the arm of his chair so he could slump facing princess and king. A moment later he shifted to sit properly, pointing at the battle. “Look!”

    Eleanor looked again to the field, where Fulk fought perhaps for his very life. One armoured figure in white was half in half out of his saddle, weapon lost and shield awry as he clung on; another in a green surcoat pounced and started to herd him away to join the other prisoner her side guarded. When sufficient men had been captured to make the risky trip worthwhile they would be escorted to the recet and their name and the name of the captor recorded, the prisoner’s signature or mark made next to their name to bind them to it. Assuming they weren’t rescued before that – some would hold to their honour and admit the debt, many would not. Since they had just captured the captain of the Scottish team Eleanor doubted they would delay the trip for long.

    Fresh from defeating Sir James, Fulk wheeled his destrier about and crashed into another one of her men was engaged with. Two quick blows from him combined with the collision and the attacks from the other, and this man too went down – literally: he lost his seat and fell into the churning mass of hooves. The melee wrenched apart, men struggling to get their horses clear before they trampled the unfortunate. Eleanor started breathing again when a hand reached up to grasp the saddle of the riderless animal. One foot in the stirrup, body draped over the saddle, the man was escorted away.

    Eleanor expected Fulk’s unit to form up about the prisoners and take them to the recet now; always before three had been the designated number before guarding them became too much of a drain on manpower, and never before had they caught the eight marks of a leader. But Fulk was already laying into another fighter, battering him about the head relentlessly.

    “Jesù Christ!” whispered Malcolm. “He’s going to …”

    And the man yielded, helm twisted about so the vision slits no longer sat before his eyes.

    “Three!” The princeling’s face glowed. “Three in what can’t have been much more than a bloody minute! Including Sir James, who’s normally damned good.” He shook his head. “Bloody hell!”

    Royal beard suffered at royal hand. “Yes. He does have talent, does he not?”






    Fulk pulled off his helm and sucked in cold, clean air, nearly sobbing in his urgency to fill his lungs. However many air holes were punched into metal the great bucket-like helms never had enough for comfort. He held out a hand, a costrel of water was passed by one of Eleanor’s men who didn’t have the skills to fight with him and served instead in the recet, the safe boundary between inner and outer fences, waiting to refresh the weary and aid the wounded. Fulk swilled his mouth out with the first gulp, spitting out a stream of dust-filled liquid. He drained the costrel without pausing for breath, sword arm so tired it trembled and spilled trickles of water down his chin to mix with sweat.

    Handing away the empty vessel, he took stock of his unit. A change of horses, a drink, some air, and a few minutes of rest would do enough for the five of them to return to the field and fight on. Adam had been captured and they hadn’t been able to rescue him in time; now he sat on the other side of the second fence, out of the battle for good.

    Change of horses; Fulk dismounted, and allowed Sueta to be led away. Now he would have to use the mount he’d won from the Black Knight. If he’d thought the animal was like to be unfit or a liability he’d not use it, yet still the many hours of familiarity he had with Sueta weren’t there with Hengist.

    A quick glance at the royal stand revealed nothing; the three occupants sat as they had before, all seemingly at peace.

    Fulk’s breathing slowly returned to normal, the trembling left his limbs. His next lot of water he sipped, mixing it with a fistful of wastrelbread stuffed with a stewed mixture of chopped prawn, fish, vegetables and herbs.

    “How are we doing?” he asked the nearest non-combatant in Eleanor’s livery. It must be well, it must – he hadn’t been taken for ransom himself, narrowly skinning his way through several close calls. Others had been taken, including the one man from his own unit, yet by his count, from what he himself had witnessed, they had captured a few more than they had lost. It would be the last team standing which won, or the team with the highest winnings when the trumpet blew a second time if the battle were too prolonged.

    “By our count you’re ahead, slightly. You’re down three men to injury and eight to capture, to their two and eleven respectively. Then you’ve taken their leader …”

    Fulk nodded slowly, thinking.






    Jocelyn looked up from under his lashes at the golden man he knelt before. He was past his initial shock at discovering the would-be king had beard and hair cut nearly identically to himself; most Englishmen went clean shaven, and shorter hair had been the dominant fashion, thanks to the old king. The man had dressed carefully, down to the last and least detail everything matched his colouring, build, rank, and care too had been extended to ensure that while he was undoubtably princely he was not overstated. Getting that balance right must have taken plenty of faffing about, more than either under or over doing it.

    Hugh spoke. In bloody Anglo-French.

    Jocelyn made his reply in proper langue d’oil, like a civilised man. “Forgive me, sire, but I do not understand.” No harm in buttering the man up by calling him that, even if he was just a bastard, not the chosen heir and certainly not an anointed king.

    As it turned out Hugh did speak langue d’oil. He just didn’t seem to grasp the use of speaking it when confronted with a man likely to speak it and it alone. Maybe he was too damned prideful to be the one to bend first, preferring others to demonstrate their damned lacks? The old king had always fitted his language to his listeners. “I said, you may rise.”

    Jocelyn came smoothly to his feet, and found himself a good inch or so shorter than the man. “Thank you, sire.”

    Hugh’s eyes might be hazel – what colour had his mother’s been? His supposed grandparents? Could they only have come from bastardised blood? – yet they were nearly as unsettling as the old king’s famous deep blue. Probably because the man was staring, brows dragged in and down in a slight frown which caused a vertical line to appear above his nose. “You were the one to send the message informing us of my lord father’s accident.”

    “Yes, sire. Also the following ones, reporting his improvement.”

    “Improvement?” The word was so sharp it could cut, and mayhap it did, since the blood drained from Hugh’s face. “He is alive?”

    “No, God rest his soul. He died eleven days ago.”

    The … prince/king/usurper/whatever he was crossed himself. “God rest his soul.” Colour was returning, as well it might when a guilty conscience discovered it wasn’t about to be flayed for treason. “We heard naught after that initial missive, saving rumours, and they were contradictory, scores of which were entirely improbable. We sent messengers to discover the truth of my father’s fate, and not a single one returned. The doings of Trempwick, I fear. My father’s mistaken trust allowed him to build a comprehensive set of connections, which he has now placed at work against me.”

    Which did match what the old king had said on hearing … mostly. “We heard of events here on a tide of rumour.”

    The crease above Hugh’s nose deepened. His chin went down a notch, he turned half away from Jocelyn with a hesitant movement which brought his weight to rest on the foot he’d moved back. Picking up fluidity, the movement completed, bringing the man about to sit in the folding chair set in the middle of the hastily erected tent. “You claimed to have news of great import, hence this.” A hand indicated the tent, and, outside it, the army which had halted its march. The man made overmuch of it; Jocelyn had caught them when they were stopping for a brief rest and midday meal. “I would then presume this word is that news?”

    What was he meant to say, that the dead man had shunted this son aside at the end? Sixteen angels and a rancid turbot, there was a dangerous thing to say in the midst of an army! “Yes, sire, for the main.”

    “Then you will oblige me by telling all, now I am satisfied no more pressing matters demand my attention.”

    More pressing matters? Bloody hell! If his sons greeted word of his death so coldly Jocelyn would be back out of that grave in an instant to teach them some family love. “He made a recovery few thought him capable of, and if he had but rested for a month or so more then he may have lived. As it was he drove himself relentlessly, further than his body could handle.” Alright, so it was a lie, and a fairly fat one at that. Thing was, telling this man his father had been poisoned would be a pretty stupid move because it was highly possible he had ordered it. Make Hugh innocent and still it wasn’t a smart thing to mention – not when Jocelyn had been a close presence throughout the illness, recovery and final days, all of which had begun shortly after the old king met him.

    Hugh stared directly ahead for a long moment. Then he looked up, curiously vulnerable. “Did he leave a message for me? Anything?”

    Jocelyn nearly said no, but saw in time how odd that would look. The truth was impossible. And there was that vulnerability; Jocelyn remembered when his own father had died, how those final few words of approval from a father to his son had been so important. He’d been a boy then, elbow high to a grown man.

    As he searched for kind lies, Hugh said, “He had the coronation ring.”

    Christ on the cross and all His sufferings! “I don’t know what happened to it,” Jocelyn lied coldly. “There was looting, order broke down. It was all I could do to get my family to safety.”

    “Oh.” A pause. “You made hint of other business.”

    “Before his accident, the king your father made me the Count of Tourraine.” Jocelyn reached into the waterproofed bag he carried and produced the charter granting him the title, lands and rights, sealed and signed by good old King William of England, sixth of his name and damned unfortunate in his sons. “Also, there was a gift of lands in England, in return for my services against his enemies. I believe they are in the north.” He passed the pair of documents over.

    The callous bastard examined them. “Then you may do me homage for these lands. You are correct, the English manors are in the north, and are presently controlled by Trempwick.” The charters lowered to rest on Hugh’s knee, and Jocelyn found himself on the receiving end of a very intent expression. “I regret that at present I may lend you no aid in recovering them. However I do grant you my permission to bring your own resources to bear, and will consider any action you take against this man to be done for my good, and thus I shall judge it loyal in place of lawless. I do not overlook those who have been loyal.”

    The charters passed back to Jocelyn. Witnesses were summoned, important men. Jocelyn knelt, placed his hands in Hugh’s, and swore his oath. He hadn’t expected it to be this easy, or to gain as much. He’d expected to pay heavily for his privileges, and to have a lot of trouble over the English lands, the kind of trouble which dragged on for months, years, with no guarantee of success. Time had been spent preparing excuses not to serve in the royal army. No, he hadn’t expected the man to respect his father’s word so honourably; it was like some lord out of one of Tildis’ damned stories. Besides, everyone knew oaths taken under duress weren’t binding, and anyway there was no treason or dishonour in supporting the rightful heir if it came to that.

    When he stood, Jocelyn bowed. “Sire, your father bade me also to carry a message to your sister. He wished to ask her forgiveness for the sake of his soul. So, with your permission …?”

    “As doubtless you will have heard, my sister is in Scotland, on a matter of import for me.”

    “Sire, it was his wish.”

    The focus was unwavering; Jocelyn fought the need to fidget or something, anything to break the man’s scrutiny. At last Hugh said, “Then it is none of my place to stop you.”





    Foamy droplets of equine sweat scattered on the air behind the horses, scattering like faint snow; clods of churned mud rose from their hooves. Eleanor watched as Fulk’s tired unit enveloped two men who had allowed themselves to become isolated, four men easily overcoming them and taking them to the sidelines.

    Malcolm had shifted his chair so far forward he was able to fold his forearms on the front of the box. “Seven,” he said. He’d been keeping count of the ransoms Fulk took personally.

    It was an awe inspiring tally.

    The king asked, “He has been in your service how long?”

    “Around eight months,” Eleanor answered, not taking her attention from the little figure in blue who was Fulk.

    “And before that he was in France?”

    “Yes, with the Count of Nantes.”

    “Might I then enquire as to how you discovered him?”

    “When his lord died he returned to England. Trempwick hired him to be my guard; I believe it was also his hope that Fulk would spy on me.” Which was a mostly accurate sketch of events; lies were best kept simple, complex webs snared their weavers. This burst of interest was understandable; it made Eleanor nervous. Ay yet no trap had sprung …

    “His family? What stock has sprung such a warrior?”

    “I know very little, only that his farther was a minor noble and his mother a peasant on his estate.”

    Malcolm tossed a glance over his shoulder at her. “He’s good looking, isn’t he?”

    “He would be, were it not for that nose.” Which again was true enough; without the nose Fulk would merely be very good looking.

    Malcolm’s chin came down on his folded arms again. He sounded quite melancholy as he said, “And brave, and loyal, and mannerly, in addition to being such a fighter. Every girl’s dream, I’m sure, and every boy wants to be like him.” The boy’s body rocked as he violently expelled his breath in what might have been a sigh or an expression of disgust. “He’s perfect.”

    Eleanor suppressed a smirk; she could have added more traits to gild Fulk’s halo - and a few to knock it right off.

    This time it was easy to identify the boy’s expulsion of air as a sigh. “We’re losing. The fools let themselves get slowly scattered; they’re picked off, and many of their prisoners are bloody-well rescued. I told you I should have led, old man. It’s as good as over now.”

    The King of Scots clicked his fingers at his son. “Fetch me a drink.”

    Malcolm’s back went rigid. “What did your last slave die of?”

    “If that was your idea of sense, then pouring drinks is all you are good for. Your presence would have made no difference, save that you would be nursing bruises, same as all down there.”

    Very slowly Malcolm sat up. His lower lip trembled until he pressed his mouth into a flat line, staring at his father. Emotions warred across his face. “I’m not afraid of bruises.”






    Once again Fulk found himself heading to the royal box. He felt sick this time too, sick with fatigue, sick with relief – there had been no trap. This time he was required to dismount and make the final approach on foot; he did so stiffly, favouring his right knee. A shield had caught it and now the joint wouldn’t bend freely; it was swelling, the pain was beginning to make itself felt.

    He crossed the remaining distance, unable to hide his limp. Eleanor would be worried.

    When he knelt it was his left knee he lowered to the ground, going down slowly as his other bruises howled their discomfort. As he’d tell Eleanor as soon as he could, he was not badly hurt; in this kind of combat armour protected effectively against everything but bruises, breaks and freak accidents. Jesù, but there were always some spectacular bruises!

    The King of Scots deigned to stand, stepping forward to the very front of the box. “We do congratulate you on your victory, Sir Fulk, and express our heartfelt admiration for your talents which, to us, seemed something from legend. Truly indeed must you be the son of a great man.”

    “Thank you, sire.”

    “As leader of the victorious side, we do grant you space at our table tonight. We look forward to it very much. Yet now we shall allow you to retire, to tend your pains and make yourself ready.”

    “Thank you, sire.” Fulk needed to give himself a push from the ground with a hand before he could stand, as the heat of battle faded and left him with naught but fatigue and aching muscles; he managed it as attendants started to come forward to help.

    He limped from the field, past the first fence and into the recet. There he found a reception party, grinning and jostling. He didn’t walk another step; two of Eleanor’s archers tugged their forelocks at him, called him “My lord” instead of the lesser “Sir” for the first time ever, hefted him up onto their shoulders and carried him armour and all in a feat of strength, the others forming up into a draggling procession. A flask of mead was thrust into his hand. Someone had retrieved his shield and bore it ceremonially before him, displaying the scarred arms to the growing throng. Another paced ahead of the shield, shouting over and over, “Make way! Make way for my lord the FitzWilliam!”

    And so, amidst singing and celebration he left the tourney grounds, passed through Perth and returned to the palace.






    Insight came with all the warning of a slap. Understanding, that vital element was missing. When she saw Fulk being toasted as the champion of the day, Eleanor saw. There had been no trap – the point had been Fulk. As with the hunt. But why? What possible reason could Anne’s father have for making Fulk into an object of attention? Eleanor could see only a repeat of the hope John had once had, of stealing Fulk out from under her nose. The theft of a prestigious hero would sting much more, and reflect well on the king and poorly on her, who had been unable to hold him. Newly cautious of the King of Scots, Eleanor would not place any water in that theory.

    The meal was miserable. She knew she should be glad for his sake, as he was being fêted in splendid style. He had longed for such treatment, once, and given it up in disillusionment, accepting it as the unachievable it should have been, would have been if he hadn’t ended up in her wake in this incredible here and now.

    And yet. Fulk was seated two places lower on her left side, Anne between them. She could hardly see his hands, let alone the rest of him. She couldn’t talk to him, and hadn’t since she had bestowed her favour on him this morning. She was partnered with Malcolm the Elder, and he with Anne. She had no knowledge of how badly he was injured, saving that he limped and had lost a portion of his usual grace. And all the while the king droned on, reprising once again his tactless attempt to foist his brat of a son on her.





    I had wanted another pair of scenes to finish this off, but the heavens are against it. Literally – it started to thunder with no warning when I started to write them, causing my PC to reboot and lose me the sentence I’d written. Now, an hour later, it’s started to fling it down with heavy rain as if it’s about to thunder again, beginning as soon as I returned to the first of the pair. Oh well, I have lost the frame of mind required for that pair of scenes. It’ll have to wait.

    Looking back over all this I find I want it to be ‘wow!’ when at present it reads more like ‘quite good’. How to upgrade it from that to the desired I can’t see. I can think of plenty to add, which all is very nice ... until you read the whole and realise the extra bogs it down and ruins it.


    Avernite: Here you go, another bit to read before bedtime. Assuming you see it in time …

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    Amric: Nice to see you again!

    Luck? Fulk? When he’s been stuck with the gooseberry for so long?! How can that be luck? :froggy is kicked by her ever so harmless princess: He says it is pure skill :and now the knight has a go at frog bashing:
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  15. #1015
    Field Marshal Avernite's Avatar
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    Sorry, too late to read it yesterday, though I admit I went to bed quite early

    Nice bunch of scenes, Joc manages to slip past Hugh quite nicely.
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  16. #1016
    Second Lieutenant igaworker's Avatar

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    It sure would have been nice to see what Hugh thought of his meeting with Joce. Perhaps a scene with Hugh and WW (wonderful wife) musing over the daily happenings would work? I just think there has to be a ton of thought/doubt finding out about the Kings death.
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  17. #1017
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    I've been keepig an eye on this, froggy...just haven't said much. Everyone else seems to manage to say what I would say anyway...BTW, have you noticed I've started book II of the Great Detectives? Since you enjoyed the first one, I think you'll probably like this one too.
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  18. #1018
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    Hmmm, interesting scene. I do wonder what Malcolm the elder is planning for poor Fulk. Well at least hey came out of it somewhat richer than they went in. Still, dangers abound...

    The lack of the closing scenes is felt, I admit, it feels a bit unfinished this section, but I think the wow factor will be there once it is finished.
    I'd edit them in rather than make a new post though, I think.


    A pov from Hugh of Jocelyn would be nice, I agree. The more we know about Jocelyn from any point of view, the nicer it is!

    Stirring tales of knightly deeds and noble ransoms won! Lovely!

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  19. #1019
    First Lieutenant bigdan's Avatar
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    When you first brought Jocelyn in I wasn't really interested in him. Now I like seeing him in your updates and reading about what happens to him. Still I wonder if he's going to have any conflicts about announcing that William wanted Eleanor as his heir later. I just wonder what most people are going to think, especially Hugh, considering what all they've heard about Eleanor's relationship with her pops.
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  20. #1020
    Hugh was aware Alice was watching him, lying in bed and not asleep. She thought him brooding, and he must own there was a deal of precision in that.

    Confirmation had arrived. His father was dead. What had he felt? This new uncertainty burdened Hugh’s heart as had the old one. Grief, yes, in part, but not as much as he should have felt. He should be overwhelmed by sorrow. There were sentiments he could not quite classify, others which seemed close to one he knew but surely could not, could not be so. Relief. Guilt. And overall it was too quiet; his heart was too still.

    It was all most troubling. In addition, for a time he had allowed this mixture of sentiment to overrule duty, leading him to enquire about a purely personal interest instead of focusing on the details which affected the realm. Even now, with distance and time to cool him, he found that wrong part of him cared more for last words than for the ring which bound ruler to nation.

    “Will you sit there all night?”

    “I did mourn him,” Hugh murmured. “For more than a month now.”

    “Pardon, my lord?”

    Constance he need not have hushed himself to inaudibility with. At this moment her absence grew to an ache in his heart, a weak, shameful ache of a feeble heart for its balm … or of a half wanting the other part God had given it.

    Desired or not, Constance was not present and very definitely should not be. Her place was not with an army. He had a duty to Alice; it would be churlish to neglect it. Standing, managing a smile for her, he said, “It does not matter. I apologise. I did not realise time had passed so much.” It would be poor of him indeed to put her aside now, tired of her though he might be, or, indeed, to give any public sign that she was anything less than a cherished mistress. To thrust her into public attention when it was not of her choosing, to make her an adulteress and potential mother of a royal bastard, and then to discard her as unworthy of more than a few nights, that would be a most cruel disservice to a lady whose only fault he could see lay in being passive. It was always for him to start everything, in bed and out; her opinions for the main reluctantly given and carefully edited to obliterate anything he may disapprove of. It would be cruel to her on a personal level also to give any hint of anything but gentlemanly behaviour and good feeling towards her.

    A small internal debate raged as to whether he should call his squire to help him undress or whether he should let her do it. The latter was the correct action for a man close to his lady, yet it seemed grossly unkind to drag her from the warmth of the bed. In the end he took a middling course, undressing at the bedside so she could lend some token aid without rising.

    It struck him as most symbolic, that with his mistress he had naught but duty, yet with his wife more. He could not even follow tradition in that one simple matter, but needs must reverse it, making of himself an oddity. It was hard to lament.

    Settled in at Alice’s side, Hugh found he would be content to spend the night like this, with her drawn into the circle of his arms. Duty be damned. For one night let duty be damned. She was supposed to be here for his comfort; Hugh applied a savage twist to that concept in his mind, using it to crush down the parallel voice which pointed out that damning his duty meant he was derelicting it. She was here for his comfort and his comfort at present was to sleep with a companion nearby.

    Would it be too naive to hope that the Count of Tourraine had lied, and that his father yet lived? Hugh concluded once more that it would. From the injuries reported, from the silence of any one dominant rumour of a living king, even from Jocelyn’s presence here itself, nothing pointed to that hope being more than wishful thinking. To bend knee to one man while the former liege still lived was a base betrayal which would besmirch the betrayer’s honour for life and on into the next generation; a fool’s self-harming manoeuvre. This before the false announcement of a king’s death was added to the consideration.

    “You saw the Count of Tourraine?”

    “Briefly, my lord.”

    “What did you think of him?”

    “I hardly saw him, my lord. I would not know what to think.”

    “I desire a proper answer else I should not have asked. You have a mind; I require you use it.” Aware of how harsh he had sounded in his regrettable exasperation at her timidness, Hugh added more softly, “I will not be angered whatever you say, and it may be that you see something I do not. I ask for your help.”

    “He struck me as a little arrogant, moreso than is usual. Certain of himself. He’s handsome, and I’m sure he knows it.”

    Hugh grunted his agreement. To that he would have added slippery, out for gain; he had not missed the signs of things kept back, of lies, and the way his generosity in honouring swiftly his father’s pledges – it would be disgraceful in the extreme to do otherwise – had both surprised and made the man’s eyes light. Intelligence also, or so Hugh hoped. Intellect sufficient to recognise the noose newly placed about his neck and cause him to act accordingly. To break faith with his sworn lord, who had only treated him with exceptional generosity … If it did come to such a low level then he would serve as an expedient example to all others, no great loss as all had previously functioned without him at the higher levels, lacking friends in places sufficiently powerful to cause difficulty over his disposal.

    As for his message to Eleanor, it were as declared then God speed him and protect him on his way. If not, Sir Miles stood ready to ensure matters if Eleanor’s loyalty wavered. Time spent getting to know his new Count and forming a personal bond would have been advantageous, as would the addition of his entourage to the royal army. Yet who was Hugh to stand in the way of a request which could do his father’s soul some ease? For in truth that soul needed forgiveness. And what better way to let a traitor reveal himself than letting him run at will where the damage would be limited?






    Sat on a folding chair with his injured leg thrust stiffly out in front of him Fulk felt every bit the grizzled old commander as he watched Eleanor’s men train. Hardly how he wished to see himself for another score of years, minimum. He wouldn’t be joining them for a week or more; there was no serious or lasting damage, only enough to make him solidly uncomfortable, slowed, lacking suppleness. Eleanor had tried to insist he stay in bed, or rather in the pallet she had arranged on a pair of benches pushed together in the solar so he wouldn’t have to get down to floor level and back up again. He’d told her that doing so was not an option after his having witnessed her up and about in far worse condition.

    Ego only had a small part in it, praise be; Fulk didn’t like the idea of his maturity sinking so low that he’d be so petulant. Tomorrow they would set out for home, if the King of Scots did not offer something of worth for them to stay for. Lingering in bed may have offered some protection against whatever scheme the king had for him, or it may only have made him a plumper target, unable to react or anticipate as he would be.

    Some of those who had participated in the tourney were not in a condition to join the morning’s training. Those who were showed the signs of bruises, strains and tired muscles.

    A group crossed the ground headed in his direction. Malcolm and cronies, armed for practice.

    To Fulk’s surprise the prince waved his men to stay back and came to speak to Fulk alone. “You can send your bodyguards away. If I wanted you dead they’d do you no damned good anyway. Men should be able to speak alone, without a herd of ears prying in.”

    With a flick of his hand Fulk complied. “What can I do for you, your Highness?”

    The boy fiddled with the thong gathering his hair at the nape of his neck, making a pretence of tightening it. “Watch me fight. Then give your opinion.”

    “Highness …” Fulk lapsed, wondering what he could possibly say without getting his head taken off.

    “Please.” From the way it sounded and the way the boy’s mouth twisted about it, the word was not one given easily.

    Fulk rubbed at his knee to ease the soreness of it, every bit as much a pretence as the boy’s tightening of his hair lace had been. His rapid thought found ways in which refusing could endanger himself or Eleanor and few where agreeing would do the same. “As your Highness wills.”

    So he watched the boy go through his paces. He took the trainer’s position behind the solid quintain as Malcolm ran several passes with a lance, peering through the protected slit beneath the target to watch form the best possible position every aspect of the charges. He sat by as the boy fought a succession of his men in foot combat with sword, axe and mace. Finally he watched the prince in a single round of mounted melee combat against one opponent.

    Malcolm was drenched in sweat, breathing hard and red in the face by the time it was done. He came to stand by Fulk again, keeping others back so their words would be private. “Well?” he demanded eagerly.

    “On the whole, good, very, considering your years.” It was a diplomatic statement, truth insofar as the concluding comments were missing.

    “And?”

    “You will go on to do well.”

    “So I’m perfect?” Malcolm made a sound of absolute disgust. “I thought you might have had the balls to tell me a bit of honest truth.” The boy crossed his arms before his chest, a gesture Fulk saw as defensive which tried to be bravo. “Ah. But you’ll know that I’ll blind you or some such for saying anything bad of me. Huh. Alright, then I’ll swear that I won’t harm you for it. Except the Nefastus’ word’s bloody worthless.”

    Fulk studied the boy. He had to look up to do so, the difference in standing and seated heights sufficient to require that. Yet it wasn’t Fulk who fidgeted, ill at ease. “The way you fight,” Fulk eventually said, thoughtfulness slowing the speed the words formed at, “is …” The prince was aggressive, flinging himself into the attack, using his strength and speed to batter at his foe with hardly a thought for defence or tiring himself. When he came to his full growth and strength he would leave a wave of lopped limbs, cleaved skulls and bodies near cut clean through behind him on the field. “It is the way a man fights when something he values more than life and limb is at risk and in more danger with each passing second the enemy is not defeated. Or the way a man fights when he hates his foe to the very bone. Or the way he fights when no longer cares if he lives or dies, only that he take as many with him as possible in what would be called a glorious passing. Which is it with you, I wonder?”

    The boy’s eyes flinched away from Fulk’s; he averted his face to the beaten earth of the ground. “The way you fought when your princess was in danger?” he retorted. It had heat but lacked sting.

    There was no point in denying something which had several verses of a song devoted to it. “Yes.”

    With a small jerk of his shoulders Malcolm’s head came back up; this time he stared over Fulk’s head. He looped a thumb through his sword belt near the hilt. “Yeah, well so what? What does it matter why I fight like I do? And so what if you think it’s from rubbish like that – it’s not. What matters is that I’ll lead my armies to glory.”

    Something underlying the words, something in the defiance flung at the world struck Fulk as familiar. It came clear without much work; he saw a trace of himself as he used to be in the lad, back when he’d wanted to drown out his bastardy in a blaze of glory and make for himself the life he would have been born to had his mother only been of good birth and married to his father. “You’ll die,” he told Malcolm bluntly.

    “I won’t!”

    “Battle and real fighting is a more conservative art. You’ll tire yourself, or make mistakes, or leave yourself open at the wrong instant. That kind of fighting can’t be sustained at that level forever. Then too you’re arrogant, overconfident. Listen, your Highness, when I say that you’ll go one of three ways. You’ll die before learning. You’ll learn the hard way, perhaps from something small, perhaps from losing a limb or more. Or you’ll learn before you set foot on the field, while there’s still time.”

    The prince chewed his lower lip in the same way Anne frequently did when thinking seriously. He lowered himself to rest at Fulk’s side with both knees touching the ground and his heels providing an impromptu seat. “Which was it for you?”

    The boy’s insight surprised Fulk, and faintly pleased him. The acceptance of the point pleased more. “The second.”

    “What did you lose?”

    “Everything, saving my life and health, though it was a near thing and I took months to recover fully.”

    After a lengthy pause which Fulk took to mean the prince was giving his advice due thought, the boy said, “You were bloody amazing yesterday. Incredible. Not just fighting, but you had the strategy, the control over your men. The courage. Like some … Lancelot, or whoever. I’m sure there’ll be another song about it all.”

    “Thank you, your Highness.”

    “Anything else you saw?”

    “You close your eyes just before impact at the tilt. Most do. The best don’t. It’s instinct, hard to override. But splinters from shattered lances will tear through your eyelids if they’re going to hit your eye, so you gain naught by it and lose the last instant where you can aim and be sure your point is set true.”

    Sounding dejected the boy said, “They don’t tell me these things any more. They just say over and over how wonderful I am. Been that way since I got good; I know I’m that.” Malcolm drew a pattern in the dust at his feet with the tip of a forefinger. “I’ll give you twenty pounds a year if you’ll become my master at arms. You’ve a manor in England? I’ll replace it with one here, find you a nice heiress to marry too. Only agree to stay for long enough to train me.”

    Fulk shook his head. “Your Highness, I thank you for the offer but my word is given. I can’t.”

    “I’ll give you anything you want, within reason. You’ll be rich, powerful even – you’ll be close to me and have the ear of the future king, the honour of training the heir to a crown. You won’t get an offer like this ever again. You’ll be best off taking it.”

    “I’m sorry; I can’t.”

    Malcolm sprang to his feet, staggering as tired muscles battled the weight of his armour and the cramp induced by the way he’d been crouched. “You bloody stupid bloody jumped up fucking half-blood peasant shit of a nothing! Damn you! Blind bloody idiot! Fine. Stay with your whore of a princess – that’s what she is, maiden or no; I know there are ways. Drift about hoping she notices you if you want, spend the rest of your bloody life waiting and hoping she’ll let you near her bed – she won’t! No matter how bloody desperate she is she won’t stoop to something as low down as you! Only when she’s shut away in a nunnery and you’re begging your bread on the streets, remember this, and remember what you turned down. And remember it when I come to burn your fucking tiny little lands to ash!”

    With difficulty Fulk quashed his disgust, refrained from wrapping his fingers about the boy’s neck until he wrung out an apology, and sat as impassive as he could manage.

    “ I didn’t really want you anyway! I don’t care two shits for your useless advice!” Breathing heavily in ineffective fury, Malcolm stood glaring at Fulk. “Damn you!” he shrieked, and brought the back of one clenched fist across Fulk’s face.

    Fulk’s head whipped around with the blow, taking some of the force from it. Slowly he turned back, equally as slowly he rose. He towered several inches above the boy, several inches broader, in possession of the growth and muscle the prince lacked. “I don’t care if you’re a prince. Half this yard heard what you said, more saw what you just did. I’d be more than within my rights if I avenged myself, and doing my duty by my slandered lady.”

    As the colour fled the brat’s face he retreated a step. “You wouldn’t dare. You wouldn’t dare fight me.”

    “No,” confirmed Fulk. “That’s reserved for men. Children and women who give offence like that get beaten; way the world works, and you should know it. There is this small thing called ‘fame’. Presently I’ve got a lot of it. Which means I won’t be left a hapless victim to your tantrums. Not everyone now will turn a blind eye, and lie on your behalf.”

    “Whoreson bastard!”

    “Boy, you’re years too late to touch me with that. I suggest you leave, before I’m pushed too far.”

    Rather to Fulk’s surprise – and his immense relief – that advice was heeded, though not in any quiet style; Malcolm spat at his feet and stormed off, shouting abuse.

    Fulk sat back down; he was shaking like a leaf in a gale. “Jesù,” he muttered. How he was going to explain this piece of suicidal stupidity to Eleanor he didn’t know.






    The two scenes I would by preference have had at the end of the last part.

    Yay for Fulk! Poor Malcolm, rejected by his hero like that. :sigh: I do hate it when I don’t know which side to support.



    Avernite: Slipped like a greased eel … or like an eel that was let go because it smelled funny?

    Igaworker: Alas, time constraints. It would have been far better as intended, all in one piece.

    Amric: I’ve been trying to get a look for a while now, with no great success. I haven’t even found the post with the first story part yet. Just too busy

    Dead William: Hehe! I think Fulk’s horoscope presently says “Beware of situations which may present a threat to your future security. Avoid people with the letter ‘m’ at the start of their name.”

    Bigdan: mmm, Jocelyn has come into his own as I settled into writing his POV and as his events started to gather momentum. As for your questions, they are good ones. No more shall I say.
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

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