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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning
Chapter 270 - April 1139

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Before Plantagenet - Chapter 270
April 1139 - County of Devon, Kingdom of England



Guilhem d’Anjou wished he could ride with his father.

It was expected, after all. He was the crown Prince of Aquitaine and England. His great-grandfather had been one of the greatest lords in the Kingdom of the Franks. His grandfather had forged a kingdom. His father had expanded that realm.

And when Guilhem was king, he knew he would be in the saddle, at the head of knights. Why not get to it now, sooner rather than later?

Especially when his father’s opponents would be the heathen armies which had invaded England, the homeland of Guilhem’s mother. The ones who had driven her from her keep in Lydford, and harried her to the shores of Brittany.

It would be the future king’s duty to drive them back to the sea, if not destroy them outright, and improve upon the legacy his mother’s side had left him.

So it was easy for Guilhem to imagine his enemy as he stood on a grassy field, a stiff spring breeze blowing in his face - a refreshing wind given how hot he was under his mail and leathers.

He did not ride a horse on this day, standing with a sword in one hand and gripping a shield with the other. By his side were more boys, some a few years older than the 11-year-old prince, others some years younger. All armored. All armed. All ready to move forward against their enemies.

It was an enemy that was outmanned, out-equipped - some of them didn’t have armor or shields. Was it aslo out generaled? That would be determined soon enough.
His heart racing, sweat running down his cheeks, Prince Guilhem raised his sword arm, and, in Occitan, barked out the order to move forward.

It was easy for the prince to imagine moving forth against the heathen scourged which plagued his future kingdom. But the reality of what lay before him was quite different - he did not march his men against the Fatimids today. Instead, his opposition were the people he was to rule.

The site was some miles south of Lydford, where the army of King Geoffrey prepared to move against the heathens who held the old Saxon burh. On the southern outskirts of Geoffrey’s camp was a grassy field where around 40 boys had gathered - none older than 15 years - eager to prove a point in a relatively impromptu melee that had drawn observers on all sides of the field.

It had begun with some boasting by someone - Guilhem wasn’t sure who - about who was better in a fight, the Occitans or the Saxons. It had devolved into this, with the boys eager to settle their rivalry on the field of battle.

It was a fight that would have been impossible when they landed in Cornwall a month before but the English numbers were bolstered in recent weeks by the arrival of some households to join the King and Queen as they marched against the heathen invaders.

Both the Duke of Kent and Duchess of Mercia had summoned some more of their household guards and servants to join them. The Duke of Somerset, who had remained in his lands while Lydford was sieged, now came himself with his household, though not his wife and daughter.

But that still wasn’t enough to equal the numbers of the Occitans, who were mostly made up of the squires and pages who accompanied the Aquitaine knights. And that had some of the English unwilling to engage in the fight with numbers uneven. Undeterred, the Occitans had conscripted some of the servants, whether they hailed from England or not, into their enemy’s ranks to force their counterparts to put up, or shut up.

They had decided to put up. And now it fell on the Occitans to actually make them shut up.

Which presented the prince with a small problem - the highest ranking noble boy or teen was given the honor of leading their respective groups. In both cases, that was Guilhem. But who would he go with - the boys of his father’s kingdom, or the boys of his mother’s?

It made a lot of sense for Guilhem to lead the English, given they were a motley crew of Saxons, Normans and Occitans. Not only could he communicate with them all, was that not his future as the king of two realms?

However, Guilhem knew the Occitan boys. He had spent much of the past few years with them on campaign. He ate with them. Drank with them. Grew with them. He could not fight against them now.

Thus the English side was led by his cousin, Ælfsige of Kent, who at 15, was among the oldest to take part. There was some debate whether he should even take part, given his age, but the Occitans were confident, and felt their victory was assured regardless.

They might have been right. It was not going to be a fair fight - not only did Occitans boast more boys who were trained to fight, they also were given better weapons. Everyone had to use dull practice arms, but the Occitans had their pick of them, while the English were left to take the scraps. The richest among the English had no problems, but when it came to the conscripted servants, they were given sticks, no shields and no armor.

Ælfsige arranged his forces defensively, with those with spears forming a spear wall, or a “wall of dull points” as nine-year-old Savarics de Perigord called it. It was meant to blunt an Occitan charge given most of Guilhem’s men were armed with swords, which had a shorter reach than spears. But Guilhem simply ordered his men to advance with shields up in two groups at their flank, hoping to open up gaps which his better armed men could get into to fight up close and personal. A well drilled unit of knights probably would have handled the prince’s advance easily. But their opponents were not well trained knights.

The “wall of dull points” quickly became more akin to a group of tree branches sticking out awkwardly - branches that could easily be brushed aside by Guilhem’s men. The servants boys were bludgeoned and in some cases bloodied - Guilhem smashed one in the nose with the pommel of his sword. Soon the servants broke, running in all directions, bringing the Occitans into battle with the English backbone of their opposition.

That fight promised to be more even, man-for-man, but was still uneven because of the Occitan numbers. It was only a matter of time before Guilhem emerged from the battle triumphant.

“Cousin!”

Ælfsige shouted out at Guilhem as their compatriots battled. “Face me!”

Guilhem smirked, eager to get at him. Bludgeoning servant boys was one thing - taking down his older cousin, the heir of a duchy, his future vassal, was another.
Moving aside from his group and alone, he took a few cautious steps toward Ælfsige. But he was taken aback when Ælfsige charged him.

His shield raised, Ælfsige slammed into Guilhem. Four years his elder, Ælfsige was taller and a little sturdier than Guilhem, and the price was knocked off balance by the force of the impact. It was stronger than Guilhem had ever faced when he sparred and he stumbled backward, falling onto his rear with a thud.

More importantly, he was at his cousin’s mercy.

“Yield!” Ælfsige ordered.

Wide eyed and looking around for aid, Guilhem tried to slide himself backward on his rear, unwilling to turn his back to his cousin to stand.

Thankfully for the prince, aid came.

Savarics charged forward slamming into Ælfsige despite his smaller stature. And with him came another two boys who proceeded to pile onto the heir of Kent, pinning him to the ground. Guilhem scrambled to his feet, found his sword and hurried over.

“I… think,” Guilhem said, breathing heavily, “it is you who should yield, cousin!”

Ælfsige, still struggling against the three boys holding him down but unable to get free, cursed: “It’s not fair! You had them interfere!”

“Enough!”

The thundering voice of Berard de Perigord put a halt to the melee - enough so the boys loosened their grip and Ælfsige got free. Though he did nothing else, except stare as the advisor to King Geoffrey came up to the group. He was not alone, joined by Duke Holthere of Northumbria and Duke Æthelsige of Somerset, as well as a knight dressed in full regalia - mail, helmet and even a mask.



“The prince has no honor!” Ælfsige complained to the Saxon lords. But it was Berard who answered.

“If that had been a battle, you would be captured or dead all the same,” Berard told him. “Do you think your father would care for such excuses?”

Ælfsige’s eyes darted toward the Saxon lords. But they remained silent. The teen’s head dropped.

“The prince and his men have won this melee,” Berard declared.

There were cheers from those gathered. A few scattered jeers were heard too, but Guilhem could not see where or from who they had come from.

Ælfsige frowned at Guilhem before leaving with Hlothere. Æthelsige, however, remained with the prince and the others.

“A fine show,” the Duke of Somerset said. “Attacking the flanks was a wise strategy. You learn well.”

The prince smiled. “It seemed the best way to break their spear wall.”

Berard shook his head. “You must be careful, my prince. That was reckless.”

Guilhem’s stomach sank. “You think I should have kept my group together?”

“Your strategy was fine,” Berard said. “But you were baited into attacking an enemy that had the advantage in size and strength. You would have lost if not for aid - and you may not always have help in the middle of a battle. Remember, the objective is to win. Do not fight unless you are confident of victory.”

Guilhem’s pride was wounded. But he nodded.

“Father,” Savarics began. “Was it dishonorable for me to interfere?”

“No,” Berard said. “A few years ago, there was a tournament in Toulouse. In the melee, a group of knights announced they were not taking part. Then, at the end, they joined and easily bested their exhausted competitors. They were not seen as dishonorable… but as cunning.”

“This wasn’t quite the same,” Guilhem said.

“No, but there is less honor in war than many wish to believe,” Berard replied. “Might usually makes right in that people will usually find reason for why the winner deserved victory.”

“No one understands that more than the king,” Æthelsige added.

Guilhem nodded. He wasn’t sure how much he liked that thought.

“Savarics,” Berard said. “Fine work. You protected your prince. Just as you shall protect him when he is king.”

“Thank you father,” Savarics said, through a grin that went ear to ear. “I could not let Ælfsige win.”

“No you could not,” Berard said. “For it would have endangered the victory the men had won. Your bravery is commendable. But remember to treat the boys tonight. That goes for you as well, my prince. They performed a heroic deed. Your father and your grandfather would make certain to reward them.”



Guilhem again nodded. And he would, though his mind was still on his mistake - one that likely would cost him any chance of seeing action when the real battle happened in the coming days.

He had hoped the melee would prove to his father that he was ready to ride forth - to battle the heathens and fulfill his legacy as the true heir of the Stawell family.
It was a legacy that Guilhem knew his father struggled to understand, despite his own prestige and bravado.

That was not to denigrate the Angevin line. Demons and devils according to some, they nonetheless had become one of the pre-eminent families among the Kingdom of the Franks, before their merging with the de Poitous allowed them to forge their own path in Aquitaine.

His father had worked to bring an end to the misconception of their family’s evil. But the Stawells were already the first family of Christendom.

Guilhem’s great grandfather, King Ælfmær, was the most powerful lord in Christendom to answer the Pope’s call to the defense of the Holy Lands. And he did most of the work - it was why his son Thoeæd, Guilhem’s grandfather, had been made the first Christian King of Jerusalem, after all.

Even if Thoræd had failed to hold many of the gains, his contributions could not be denied. And currently, Guilhem’s cousin Æthelfirth was the King of Jerusalem, and fighting to hold back the heathens once more. It made him both a friend and rival - a man who fought for similar goals and battled for the same legacy.



That was the dual battles Guilhem knew his mother Queen Ælfflæd fought now - even if his father could not understand it, the prince could. It was their legacy. Their calling. Their purpose on God’s earth. He had chosen them. Guilhem’s family had answered… and so would he.

But now, he would likely have to wait a while longer, especially if Berard spoke to the king about that near defeat to Ælfsige.

Nervously, the prince asked the advisor: “You won’t tell my father I was nearly defeated will you?”

Berard smirked. “I’m not too worried about that.”

“Next time choose your foes better,” came the muffled voice of the knight behind them.

Guilhem’s eyes widened as he turned around in time to witness the knight remove the mask, revealing his father’s face. King Geoffrey had a wide grin on that face as he stared down the prince, while Guilhem felt flush. He wanted to sink his head into his armor, like a turtle, but there was no escape now.

“Ah,” Somerset began. “A knight this time.”

The king’s smile faded and his gaze became a glare at the Duke of Somerset. It was enough for Somerset to bid farewell to the group and sheepishly slink away.

“You watched the whole thing?” Guilhem asked. “Why did you hide yourself?”

“I did not wish to add any pressure to you,” Geoffrey replied. “I wanted to see how you would act normally. And now I have seen.”

Guilhem shrunk is head further in, feeling as if that judgment had not been positive.

“As Berard said, your strategy was fine, but you were baited into a foolish decision,” Geoffrey said. “Foes will often make appeals to honor when they have nothing else. Don’t bother with such things.”

“Honor is not important?” Guilhem asked.

“Honor by itself will get you little,” Geoffrey said. “And there are many roads to achieving it. Your cousin had but one road available to him. He convinced you to walk that road, when you had others to choose from.”

“Yes father,” Guilhem said. Quick answers, and perhaps he will drop it, the prince thought.

“But you are young yet,” Berard told him. “Your father made mistakes at your age too.”

“Oh I seem to remember taking down boys older than me,” Geoffrey said. “Your brother for one.”

“The Duchess of Dauphine probably would prove a better fight,” Berard said with a grin.

“Well, you can only beat who faces you, and I have beaten all I have faced,” Geoffrey replied. Guilhem again drew his father’s gaze. “Through careful planning and measured choices.”

Guilhem knew enough to understand that wasn’t entirely true - Leyre had not gone well. But he understood that might have been his uncle Alias’ fault more than his father’s, and so he let it be.

They made their way to the king’s command tent, which despite its larger size than any other in the camp, was rather cramped these days.

In Iberia, the king shared it with Guilhem, a few servants and sometimes Prince Alias. Here, the queen was added to the mix, along with her ladies, though Margo and Prince Geoffrey remained in a manor home to the south. Berard and Savarics also took up residence within, in order to allow the advisor to be with his wife Lida, one of Ælfflæd’s ladies.

And when they arrived, it was the ladies who were busying about the tent, directing servants as they set up tables, readied drinks and other decorations all under the watchful eye of the queen, Duchess Adelise and Duke Osmund.

“All this for our return?” Geoffrey asked. “You outdo yourself, my dear wife.”

Guilhem saw his mother eye his father. He knew at that moment this was not for them at all, not that he really thought much of it to begin with.

“My cousin Aevis will arrive soon,” Ælfflæd said. “We must be ready for her arrival.”

Guilhem had heard from his mother previously that the duchess would be the latest English lord or lady to rejoin the king and queen. But he had not known when that was happening.

“Your cousin comes now?” Geoffrey asked. “Well… that is unfortunate.”

Ælfflæd’s gaze narrowed. “Why?”

“Because I have a meeting of my war council,” he answered. “It would be a disruption to have you meeting the duchess at the same time. Aevis will have to wait.”
Guilhem frowned. It was true that his father had planned a meeting today, especially since they expected battle in the next few days. But he had not specified a time.

“It is rude to keep such an important vassal waiting,” Ælfflæd argued. “Especially as she has come all the way from Lancaster, taking risks trying to avoid the heathens.”

“And my war council is to ensure I do not risk defeat against the same heathens,” Geoffrey said. “One of these is far more important than the other. I should hope you can figure which is which.”

“I just can’t figure out why you did not conduct your meeting before,” Ælfflæd said. “Or not call it for now. I cannot make my cousin arrive any earlier but you have all your commanders here.”

“My commanders are making their preparations,” Geoffrey said. “And your son was fighting in a melee with the boys, besting the heir of Kent.”

“He lost?” Osmund asked.

Geoffrey nodded. “Fought well, for what it’s worth.”

Guilhem lowered his head while Osmund’s frown turned to a small smile. “I shall have to commend him, then. It is no small thing to earn your king’s praise in defeat.”

Meanwhile, Ælfflæd’s eyes had widened. “You didn’t tell me of a melee! I would have watched!”

“Ah so your cousin could have been made to wait for that,” Geoffrey said.

Guilhem hated this. But he was hesitant to get involved. He had occasionally voiced opinions during his parents’ disagreements… and it had gotten him told to stay out of it by both of them.

“Your pettiness knows no bounds,” Ælfflæd said.

Geoffrey rolled his eyes. “Your ignorance is just as boundless. We are to fight shortly. You may not understand this, given you are not a warrior, but it is important to maintain routines when a battle is near. Do you want us to suffer defeat? That would hardly be good for England, would it?”

Guilhem suspected his father was being petty. But he wasn’t sure he was wrong. Defeating the heathens was their main goal here. Do that, and everything else would fall into place.

Ælfflæd, meanwhile, simply replied with an exasperated grunt. Her narrow gaze told the story for the prince - they were headed for another day of discord.

“Fine,” Ælfflæd said. “I will find somewhere else to greet her.”

“Give my regards,” Geoffrey said.

The queen clapped her hands and then ordered the preparations stopped, in order for them to be moved outside, in the open, between the tents of Duchess Adelise and Duke Osmund. She then left with them all but not before giving one last nasty glare to her husband.

If Geoffrey was fazed, he did not show it, ordering the servants to fetch him and the others some drinks.

“Could you have let her meet Aevis?” Guilhem asked.

“It is an unnecessary delay,” Geoffrey said. “Aevis is worthless. I have no time for her.”

Berard cleared his throat. “What your father means is… if Aevis brought men, she would have been properly entertained. But she doesn’t. None of these English lords do, even as we defend them. It is most disappointing.”

Geoffrey nodded. “They’re performing. My father may have enjoyed shows, but not until after a battle. If your mother and her vassals wish to play court, then they can do so after the important business is done for the day.”

It was a wise enough explanation. But something did nag at Guilhem - he believed Aevis was different than, say, Duke Æthelsige of Somerset. She was family, and he knew his mother valued her. “But isn’t meeting Aevis important? She is a duchess. And family.”

Geoffrey rolled his eyes. “She is a duchess… who only can bring a few thousand men to a fight. In Aquitaine, she would be the weakest duke or duchess in the realm.”

“Besides Alias,” Berard noted.

Yes,” Geoffrey said. “Besides Alias, who has only recently been raised. The point is, Aevis is nothing. Your mother treats her well because she is a cousin. Which she can do, but I will not rearrange my plans to suit that.”

It seemed reasonable enough. Still, Guilhem knew his father sometimes showed preferential treatment to his friends and relatives. Why should the queen be punished for something similar?

But while Guilhem debated pushing the issue further, the Dane Knud entered the tent, and Guilhem’s urge to speak evaporated entirely. Knud wasn’t the largest of men, but he had a blunt, fearsome reputation, enhanced by the fact he was a known murderer. Guilhem remembered his mother complaining that his father should have banished the Dane ages ago, but Geoffrey was attached to his old mentor.

“I see the queen is upset,” Knud said.

“She wished to host her cousin,” Geoffrey said. “Here in the tent. I told her I have more important things to deal with.”

Knud smirked. “That is too bad. I saw Adelise was with her. The Norman sisters reuniting would have been fine entertainment.”

“They’re liable to fight each other,” Geoffrey noted. “With the way Adelise has been speaking of her.”

“Exactly,” Knud said. “I say let them. No weapons or armor. Let them wrestle it out in the mud.”

The grin that formed on the Dane’s face sent a chill down Guilhem’s spine. And while Berard seemed uneasy at the quip, the prince was horrified to see Geoffrey had a smirk of his own on his lips.

Yet as much as he wished to say something, it seemed foolish. Did he really need to defend the honor of his mother’s cousins?

“All right,” Geoffrey said. “Might as well get on with it. Knud, send for Toumas and Rogier to get this meeting started. I want to know where we stand.”

Where they stood was in a place Guilhem did not expect. And for that matter, neither did his father.

Based on what the queen had told them, and their own scouts, Geoffrey had expected around 3,000 men to oppose him as he moved against Lydford. He had assumed they were in for a siege, with an attempt to starve those men out of the burh.

“I will not assault those miserable walls again,” the king had sworn to his commanders before.

But when he arrived at the tent, Rogier, handling scouting duties with Mayor Frederic still away, reported the enemy was not holding up in the town.

“The bulk of their forces have marched out to meet us,” Rogier told the war council after his arrival, which he had said was delayed by Aevis’ arrival in the camp. “They have linked up with an additional group - our scouts say Mameluke mercenaries.”

“How many?” Geoffrey asked.

“Around 1,000,” Rogier said. “It gives them no more than 3700.”

“We have nearly twice their forces,” Berard noted. “Unless our counts are off.”

Duke Osmund, who had returned for the council meeting as the queen’s representative, shook his head.

“They had 3,000 or so when they attacked Lydford,” Osmund said. “Our men saw that one group - but that was it. So I would be surprised if they had more than 4,000.”

“Then why would they fight?” Toumas wondered. “They would be beaten in a day when they could last in Lydford for months.”

“There is more,” Rogier said. “The Caliph of the Fatimids is with his men.”



“That makes even less sense then,” Geoffrey said. “Why would he risk himself against us in battle?”

Knud shook his head. “They have no more help coming.”

“What do you mean?” Geoffrey asked.

“Holding in a town or keep is worthwhile if reinforcements come to your aid,” Knud said. “Otherwise, it would be a death trap. We would starve them out and all would fall to us, or die. The Caliph as well.”

“They could make for his escape,” Toumas said. “Escape as Lady Ecgwyn did. Or the queen herself.”

“We know of those passages now,” Geoffrey realized. “No… they would be trapped.”

“So they fight, because if they sit in Lydford, they are certain to lose,” Knud said. “They fight us, they may well lose, but they can escape. And if they win… well…”

“They will not,” Geoffrey insisted. “I expect if this is truly their number, they will do as our enemies in Iberia did and feign retreat, hoping to bait us. I have heard since that it is a popular tactic of heathens in the Holy Lands. I imagine it is where our enemies in Iberia learned of it.”

“So caution?” Berard asked.

“It is more about avoiding recklessness,” Geoffrey said. “We advance together. No riding off too far. We have the men. We have the numbers. We have the advantage. If we are not foolish, that will be enough.”

Everyone gathered nodded their heads in agreement.

“Rogier,” Geoffrey continued, “post extra sentries tonight. I do not want to be surprised. If they do not attack, we will move north and give battle. Knud, you shall have our right. Berard, you can have the left. And Rogier, you shall have the reserve.”

Berard grinned. Guilhem knew how much having a flank meant to the advisor - Savarics had been talking about for days how his father could not wait to prove himself there when the opportunity arose. And with the king still having a limited staff - Mayor Frederic was away and cousin Ancel insisting Duke Foulquesson was not quite up for this campaign - Berard now had his opportunity.

With that, the meeting was dismissed and the commanders made their way from the tent, leaving the king and prince alone.

“Are you concerned father?” Guilhem asked.

“I am confident,” Geoffrey said. “I would not attack otherwise. No one should attack unless they are confident of victory.”

Guilhem frowned and nodded, wondering if that was another dig at his decision earlier.

“May I be excused?” he asked.

“The meeting is done, so yes,” Geoffrey said.

Guilhem nodded and moved to leave the tent. But at the last moment he heard his father’s voice.

“Guilhem!” Geoffrey called out. The prince turned, sheepishly, becoming pinned by his father’s gaze. “Well done on your victory today.”

And suddenly, a weight was lifted off the boy’s shoulders. A smile broke through.

“Thank you father,” he said. “And I will not make the same mistakes again.”

….

For Guilhem, the English lords and ladies were mostly mysteries. The exceptions were Adelise and Aevis.

He remembered they visited his mother when she was in Angouleme years before. Ælfflæd claimed they had become more sisters than cousins - her only real family now that her older sister was left in Swabia, her elder brother dead, and her half-siblings, all younger than Guilhem, residing in Wiltshire, unlikely to meet her given the circumstances.

It was enough that Ælfflæd referred to the pair as “Auntie Adelise and Auntie Aevis” in his presence. Guilhem had no reason to doubt their closeness. In fact, he had reason to suspect they might grow closer still, since he had heard talk he might find himself wed one day to Adelise’s daughter Avelina.

Duchess Aevis had insisted that such talk was premature - especially now that she had a pair of twin girls of her own. It was true that Avelina was but a few years younger than Guilhem, but Aevis was quick to point out that there was no rush - men often married women many years their junior.

Guilhem didn’t know. It wasn’t that he didn’t think anything of women - he was starting to feel his heart race when he looked at some women. It was embarrassing at times, since it happened around both Ana de Perigord, his father’s lover, as well as well as both his “Aunties”. All of that was improper for a variety of reasons.

But his prospects at this point were not yet women. Aevilna was just a girl and Aevis’ twins were babes. He could not yet think of them in that way. And so he did not. Though, he supposed, if Avelina grew to look like her mother, perhaps he would not mind her at all.

Either way, he made his way to the area between the tents of Duke Osmund and Duchess Adelise, where he found his mother in the middle of greeting Aevis.
The location was hardly luxurious. The grass had been torn up by men marching back and forth and rain from last night had left the ground at his mother’s feet muddy. A blanket was laid before her, in order to minimize the chances of the queen’s attire being sullied by it.

All the other English lords who had been in the camp, Adelise, Hlothere, Æthelsige and even Osmund, straight from the war council meeting, were in attendance. And Guilhem’s arrival was not unnoticed, for his cousin Ælfsige glared at him. More importantly, the queen herself rose from her throne.

“Is that my son?” she asked.

Guilhem blushed and made his way forward, coming up beside Duchess Aevis, who smiled warmly at him.

Ælfflæd grinned as well. “You escaped your father’s war council?”

“It wrapped up quickly enough,” Guilhem said. “I wished to be here to greet Lady Aevis.”

The Duchess of Lancaster brought her hands to her chest. “I am flattered my good prince! To make such an effort on my behalf - I shall be the envy of all the ladies of England.”

Guilhem blushed. Her over the top response was made even worse by her holding out her hand to be kissed, which the prince nervously did. He felt his heart race again.

“Come,” Ælfflæd ordered him. “By my side.”

He did as he was ordered, moving to the right of his mother, and doing his best to stand tall and puff out his chest. At least, still dressed in his armor from the melee, he felt he gave the appearance of a warrior, if not the aura.

It was a bit of a change from his father’s courts, since every word spoken was in Saxon. Guilhem understood most of it, though even now there were still some words and phrases which left him confused. And while with his mother, he could ask her to repeat, such a thing was not possible in this scenario.

Given Rogier had mentioned it when he arrived at the command tent, Guilhem guessed it had been going on for a while. While that didn’t preclude it from running for a while longer, in this case, it ended not too long after Guilhem had arrived.

The nobles and men dispersed, leaving Ælfflæd, Guilhem and the Norman sisters and the four moved to Adelise’s tent. Guilhem suggested they go to the command tent, but Ælfflæd did not want to - the prince guessed because she was still angry with his father.

“How was your journey?” Ælfflæd asked Aevis once they had settled, the sisters taking a cup of wine and the queen a mug of ale.

“We were careful,” Aevis said. “We traveled further east and then hugged the coast. So there were no real problems, besides being mindful of brigands. How are you? I heard you had a difficult trek to escape Lydford. We were all terrified for you.”

“I’m sure you were,” Adelise said. “Sheer terror.”

Aevis turned her gaze toward her sister. “You doubt my words?”

“I doubt terror was on your mind as you gathered your knights near my lands in Mercia,” Adelise replied.

“Adi,” Ælfflæd said as she raised her hand.

But Aevis waved the queen off. “She can accuse me all she likes. I readied my men in case the heathens continued north. As I said, terror.”

“Prudent,” Ælfflæd said. “Are those men still ready? We can use all the help we can down here.”

“I have kept them in Lancaster,” Aevis said. She turned her gaze again to Adelise. “For defense.”

The bickering of the sisters was not new to Guilhem, at least in concept. He had, however, rarely seen it in practice. And it did not end with that line of questioning.

“Your timing is curious, sister,” Adelise said.

“What is curious about it?” Aevis wondered.

“You have had months to join us,” Adelise said. “And now that her husband lands in England, you make your way to her?”

“I could offer nothing to the queen in Lydford that I could not also offer in Lancaster,” Aevis said. “Meanwhile, I have two daughters who did need me.”

“Do I not have children?” Adelise asked. “Does not Hlothere and Ealflaed? Or Osmund? But we are to abandon them and you are not?”

“Your boys are nearly grown,” Aevis said. “Your daughter is with you. Uncle Osmund also has his son with him, and his wife with his younger boy. I can’t speak to the Duke and Duchess of Northumbria. It is not quite the same as having two twin girls who are not even a couple of years old. I nursed them myself until recently!”

“Ladies,” Ælfflæd said. “Enough of this. Aevis, I understand your desire to stay with your daughters… and to avoid the risk of being captured by the heathens. Adelise, I admire your bravery under such circumstances. But that is in the past now. Our enemies wait in Lydford. We must focus on them.”

Guilhem’s heart raced, realizing he had information to provide. “Actually, mother, the heathens do not wait in Lydford. They have moved south, and father expects to battle them nearby.”

The brows of the three women rose. It was Duchess Adelise who spoke first.

“Truly?” Adelise asked. “I would not have expected them to give up such a position.”

“The Dane believes it is because they have no aid coming,” Guilhem explained. “So they would be trapped and unable to escape.”

He paused and then snapped his fingers. “Oh! And the Caliph is with them! So they don’t want to risk him falling into father’s hands.”

Ælfflæd scratched her chin, a small smile forming on her thin lips. Adelise joined her apparent pleasure over the situation with a smile of her own.

“Things have gone from treacherous to fortuitous,” Adelise said. “If Geoffrey can capture the Caliph…”

“It might well force him from the war,” Ælfflæd said. “And without him, surely Aquitaine’s men could practically walk into Acre with little resistance.”

“God smiles upon us then,” Aevis said. “The trials and tribulations you have suffered were for a purpose.”

Ælfflæd nodded but Guilhem saw Adelise narrow her gaze.

“Have you anything else from that meeting?” Ælfflæd asked. “I wished Osmund to tell me but you already bring me good news. Perhaps you have more.”
Guilhem shrugged. “Father is cautious. But he is confident of victory.”

“As am I,” Adelise said. “Your father has seen success everywhere he has fought. Why would now be any different?”

Guilhem nodded. He knew Leyre had been a problem, but his father had won. And Pau was, from what he’d heard, a masterclass. If King Geoffrey had shortcomings, they were not on the battlefield.

Adelise smiled at the prince. “And I hear such talents may run in the family. You won your melee today?”

Guilhem grinned. And his mother began to applaud.

“Brilliant,” she said. “What was the fight?”

“Occitans against Saxons,” Guilhem said. He realized then his exploits might not be as welcome with his two “aunties” as they would have been in his father’s tent. His voice lowered a bit. “I er… led the Occitans to a victory over cousin Ælfsige.”

“So that’s why he looked so unhappy,” Aevis remarked. “Poor boy, bested by someone four years his junior. Then again, it is no shame to lose to a future king.”

Guilhem slowly nodded. But inside, his heart raced. He wondered if Adelise knew of his near defeat to their cousin… but if she did, she did not mention it. Instead, it was Aevis who continued.

“Winning melees at your age,” she said. “Is true battle far off? Perhaps a fine reward would be accompanying his father in this upcoming fight.”

His mother blanched. “I do not think him ready for that yet.”

“I am 11,” Guilhem protested. “I would be honoring our family’s legacy, as you do.”

“I appreciate your dedication,” Ælfflæd said. “But there will be plenty of time for such things in the future. I’m certain your father would agree.”

“I think he would be a fine addition to the king’s knights,” Aevis added.

“In time,” Ælfflæd said.

“What time better than now?” Aevis asked. “He can ride, I’m sure. He knows how to hold a lance. The heathens attack his mother’s home. It would be such a dashing tale. Those Occitan bards would sing it about it for years to come.”

Guilhem’s eyes widened, thinking about that type of glory.

“Cousin,” Ælfflæd said. “My son needs no tales of him at 11. He can have plenty of tales sung of him when he is 16. Or older.”

“I can do it mother,” Guilhem insisted. “If you tell father it is fine, then maybe…”

Ælfflæd laughed. “Oh, then he would tell me I was a mad woman to risk you so. And in this case, he would be absolutely right. Perhaps he will let you watch the battle, though I'd prefer you remain here. But you will certainly not fight in it, God willing.”

Guilhem frowned, but despite Aevis raising his hopes, he was not surprised.

“And that is quite enough suggestions out of you, cousin,” Ælfflæd said to Aevis.

“I spoke my opinion, that the prince is ready,” Aevis said. “You and his father may disagree.”

Adelise smirked. “Spoken with all the confidence of a woman with no sons.”

“I shall have sons in time, God willing,” Aevis said. “And when they are ready, they will fight.”

“I doubt they will be ready at 11 years,” Adelise said. “The prince is not firing a bow, but wielding a lance! He is growing, but not a man yet.”

A frown came to the prince’s face. He knew it was right. But he didn’t have to like it.

Ælfflæd must have noticed it, for she looked to her cousins and said: “If you would give me a moment with the prince?”

The sisters nodded and made their way from the tent, leaving mother and son alone. Ælfflæd sighed softly once they were out of earshot.

“You just wish to grow up so quickly,” she said.

“I just want to fight as grandfather did, and great-grandfather,” Guilhem said.

“They were older when they fought,” Ælfflæd said. “Men grown.”

“Do you still think me a child?” Guilhem asked.

Ælfflæd smiled. “You shall always be my child. But I know you will be a man soon enough. Your time will come, but be patient. When you are king, or a lord of your own lands, you will be able to ride forth, banners flying and all that.”

Guilhem’s brow rose. “When will I be lord of my own lands?”

Ælfflæd sighed. “I… I do not know. I cannot offer you anything but Lydford, and I do not think you are ready to be King of England yet. It would have to be a fief in Aquitaine and that would be up to your father. Has he said anything?”

Guilhem shook his head. “No. He says he will find me something in time. But he never says what. Or where. Or when.”

“He is in no rush to send you out on your own,” Ælfflæd said. “That is all. With your father’s ambition… and our shared desire to see you ready for England and Aquitaine, it will come. I swear it.”

Guilhem sighed and nodded. What else could he say? His mother and father promised him he would become a lord one day. He could not demand they do it sooner. And he was going to be a king of two realms one day. His mother was right - his time would come.

“Now, I am very happy you came,” Ælfflæd said. “And thrilled you won the melee. But I must have a little time alone with your aunties.”

“Of course,” Guilhem said. “I will head back to father’s tent.”

Ælfflæd sighed again. “I will be there as well soon enough. It is still expected he sees Aevis, even if he does not care enough to greet her properly.”

Guilhem bit his lip. After all, he knew his father didn’t care about Aevis at all.

….

That night Guilhem did remember to give a portion of his meat pie to the boys who had helped him. They were grateful, and declared him the greatest and most generous prince in all of Christendom. It was over the top, but much like with Aevis, Guilhem couldn’t help but smile.

Despite his excitement over the potential battle the next day, Guilhem was tired enough after his exertions to sleep well. That was good, since he was forced to be up early the next morning.

“Get your armor,” Geoffrey told him as he stood over his cot.

Guilhem’s heart skipped a beat. “Am I… Am I to join you in battle?”

Geoffrey grinned. “Not yet. But you will ride with us north. I wish for you to see the battle - from a safe distance of course. But after your melee I think it is time you see how things work in a real fight.”

Guilhem nodded so quickly he actually felt a twinge in his neck from it. But he could not wipe the grin from his face - even if it was not being put into the fight, it would be the closest he’d ever been. And he couldn’t wait.

He put on his armor as quickly as possible, getting some help from the servants, grabbed his helmet, sword and shield and hurried over to his father. The king, already fully dressed, was waiting.

Guilhem wished to say goodbye to his mother, but did not find her in her cot. Perplexed he went to his father, wondering if he knew where she went.

“She went to her cousin Adelise’s tent,” Geoffrey said. “But there is no time. We go now.”

“It won’t take long,” Guilhem said.

“Do you wish to come or not?” Geoffrey demanded. “We must move. I want my men in position, with a little time to rest before engaging the enemy. If we start too late, we will lose the light.”

Guilhem lowered his head. He didn’t want to leave without saying to his mother… but he also didn’t want to be left behind or cause his father’s plans to go awry. So he dropped it and made his way out to his horse.

He stepped on a small stool to mount it and then took a long look at the camp, hoping his mother would come out before he departed. But once his father started forward, Guilhem sighed and moved to join him, praying the next time he saw the queen, he would be able to regale her of tales of a great victory.

Even if he could not fulfill his family legacy today, he could at least witness his father do it in their stead.
 
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alscon

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As can be expected of the young Prince, he's quite ambitious to show what he can do. But his father is still lacking experience somewhat, so it shouldn't surprise him that he's not ready yet either.

What he is ready for is to offer a conversation topic. A reason for schemes. Someone to bicker over. But his time will come.

Geoffrey and Ælfflæd have found their way to communicate now. I don't expect that to change any more. Too far gone to repair the relationship once again.

The Caliph leading his mamelukes all the way to England - a bold move. Let us see if it works out for him, or if the Aquitain expectations come true.
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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Now this is an important battle. Three heads of state involved, and the heir to two kingdoms. If the caliph is captured however, I doubt Geoffrey will bother going all the way to the Holy land. Hell just force them to hand it over quick.
 
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Midnite Duke

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Guilhem follows a family tradition of favoring older females. Is England officially a vassal of Aquitaine? Is Guilhem a subject of his mother?
 

codie

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Interesting, if Geoffrey can capture the Caliph the war may proceed more quickly, but if something were to befall Geoffrey England and Aquitane would both be in danger... Great chapter!
 
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Guilhem follows a family tradition of favoring older females. Is England officially a vassal of Aquitaine? Is Guilhem a subject of his mother?
They're the same kingdom rank, so they can't subordinate each other. However England is clearly dominated by Aquitaine, if only in universe.

Guilhem is probably a subject in England's Court. Usually true if both spouses are of the same rank, though G can easily get him back by giving him a small piece of land and taking it away. Or becoming his guardian.
 

guillec87

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They're the same kingdom rank, so they can't subordinate each other. However England is clearly dominated by Aquitaine, if only in universe.

Guilhem is probably a subject in England's Court. Usually true if both spouses are of the same rank, though G can easily get him back by giving him a small piece of land and taking it away. Or becoming his guardian.
Elf can be a tributary Queen, England might be a tributary kingdom, but do not recall that you can do it peacefully... so, no... in-game there is no subordination
 

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Elf can be a tributary Queen, England might be a tributary kingdom, but do not recall that you can do it peacefully... so, no... in-game there is no subordination
Good point yes, G can do that if he's feeling like a right prick but hed have to divorce the queen first. Mutual non aggression pact automatically with marriage. Allaince is optional but clearly in place here (hence the war).

Indeed, what with the game being as it is, G can probably tribute anyone around him and win. He could probably take the HRE down to tributary if needs be. Aquitaine is pretty powerful, and if its a matter of numbers, the mercenary costs will quickly be paid back by HRE taxes.

If this wasn't an AAR, it's what I'd be doing to Germany.
 
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Bullfilter

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Interesting to get a chapter from Guilhem’s perspective. He seems fairly responsible for his years, but there’s already an Angevin obsession with the women, even at this early stage.

However, this next bit gave me some pause...
Guilhem lowered his head. He didn’t want to leave without saying to his mother… but he also didn’t want to be left behind or cause his father’s plans to go awry. So he dropped it and made his way out to his horse.
Surely this little passage was not in here by accident. I wonder if something is up with either Elf, or ... this is the pre-battle equivalent of the GI showing the best gal photo to his buddy before hitting the beach on D-Day. :eek: “I am sorry, my liege. The flanking move by the Mamelukes caught us by surprise. The Prince’s dying words were of you and his mother, who he lamented never saying farewell to before he rode out this morning.”
 
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JabberJock14

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As can be expected of the young Prince, he's quite ambitious to show what he can do. But his father is still lacking experience somewhat, so it shouldn't surprise him that he's not ready yet either.

What he is ready for is to offer a conversation topic. A reason for schemes. Someone to bicker over. But his time will come.

Geoffrey and Ælfflæd have found their way to communicate now. I don't expect that to change any more. Too far gone to repair the relationship once again.

The Caliph leading his mamelukes all the way to England - a bold move. Let us see if it works out for him, or if the Aquitain expectations come true.
The last two characters in this story - the two Geoffrey's - have had this notion of living up to (or surpassing) a parental legacy. Guilhem gets the added fun of having a pair of legacies to live up to! It's only natural he's anxious to get started on it. And it's not just the lack of experience - there's also the legacy of tragedy befalling princes for being pushed into the limelight that also hinders here - Geoffrey and Ælfflæd both lost brothers who would have been kings, after all.

Oh you don't know how you right you are when it comes to conversation topics/schemes. See this upcoming chapter for more!

Yeah, Geoffrey and Ælfflæd are going to have this rather... clear disunity in their words. Their actions will be a touch more complicated because their larger goals are ultimately quite similar - to secure themselves as the rulers of England. Their disagreement will likely be in method, but the unifying aspect of that end goal is important.

I was pretty surprised when I saw it. And did I want to capture him. Just think of the gold... :D

Now this is an important battle. Three heads of state involved, and the heir to two kingdoms. If the caliph is captured however, I doubt Geoffrey will bother going all the way to the Holy land. Hell just force them to hand it over quick.
The stakes are certainly high for those involved. The next chapter will give a pretty big hint toward Geoffrey's long-term plans in this war as well. The king could probably survive a defeat here in terms of manpower, but there's more to it than that. After all there's also the mystique of Angevin invincibility, as well as the legacy of the previous English king's failures in defending England.

Guilhem follows a family tradition of favoring older females. Is England officially a vassal of Aquitaine? Is Guilhem a subject of his mother?
He does, though I think it's only natural for him to think women older than him are attractive at this point, given his age. If they're women and not girls, then they're going to be older than him. ;)

England is not officially a vassal of Aquitaine. It makes things rather... annoying since I have absolutely zero influence over their actions. Not even suggestions! :mad:

Guilhem *is* a subject of his mother. He and Margo are both technically in his mother's court, though Guilhem is currently a ward of his father. That means he goes where Geoffrey goes - but I do NOT have control over his marriage options. Which also makes things rather annoying.

These are reasons why I did get forced to take control of Ælfflæd at a point in the near future. I'll explain when it happens, but basically, it was the only way I could do three diplomatic actions that Geoffrey himself should have been able to do, but due to game mechanics, could not.

Interesting, if Geoffrey can capture the Caliph the war may proceed more quickly, but if something were to befall Geoffrey England and Aquitane would both be in danger... Great chapter!
Yeah, it's a big if on both fronts. Geoffrey's *always* going to be leading troops in battle - it's just who he is - so that risk is going to be ever-present with him. Battles in CK2 are more dangerous than in real life, so that will always be something that looms over his reign.

Capturing the Caliph would be interesting because it wouldn't end the war - the Sheik himself would be the only way to end it. But... it certainly would be pretty nice for the war score, or provide a nice bump to Geoffrey's treasury.

They're the same kingdom rank, so they can't subordinate each other. However England is clearly dominated by Aquitaine, if only in universe.

Guilhem is probably a subject in England's Court. Usually true if both spouses are of the same rank, though G can easily get him back by giving him a small piece of land and taking it away. Or becoming his guardian.
Correct - England is an "equal" of Aquitaine, but is dominated in universe. There is a way to eventually correct this... but it will take time.

Guilhem is a subject in his mother's court. But that's just because of the weird nature of CK2's engine. He and Margo both ended up in his mother's court when she became queen. But when Prince Geoffrey was born, he ended up in Bordeaux and remains under his father's control. As noted above, I can influence Guilhem with the guardianship, as well as Margo if I choose. But unlike with their younger brother, I have no say with their marriages, which makes no sense.

I also am not sure I can give Guilhem land unless he's in my court.

Elf can be a tributary Queen, England might be a tributary kingdom, but do not recall that you can do it peacefully... so, no... in-game there is no subordination
Yeah, it can't be done peacefully. So Ælfflæd + tributary could not be done in one step. Or really at all. I think it would have required Ælfflæd to become queen, Geoffrey to die, and Guilhem/Geoffrey/Margo going to war with England to make it a tributary.

Good point yes, G can do that if he's feeling like a right prick but hed have to divorce the queen first. Mutual non aggression pact automatically with marriage. Allaince is optional but clearly in place here (hence the war).

Indeed, what with the game being as it is, G can probably tribute anyone around him and win. He could probably take the HRE down to tributary if needs be. Aquitaine is pretty powerful, and if its a matter of numbers, the mercenary costs will quickly be paid back by HRE taxes.

If this wasn't an AAR, it's what I'd be doing to Germany.
I suppose that is also an option too. Not that I'd take it. Too many things could go wrong there. Especially with England, where like... half the lords have a claim on the throne.

You're right - I probably *should* have started going down the tributary route. I really wanted to add to territory, so I didn't tribute states nearly enough. I did figure a big fight with the HRE was coming eventually though. (But I may not have been right!)

I will say that as it turned out, there was a rather nice event which happened which gave me the inch I needed to kind of run wild. That event eventually made me realize how broken a certain mechanic could be.

Interesting to get a chapter from Guilhem’s perspective. He seems fairly responsible for his years, but there’s already an Angevin obsession with the women, even at this early stage.

However, this next bit gave me some pause...

Surely this little passage was not in here by accident. I wonder if something is up with either Elf, or ... this is the pre-battle equivalent of the GI showing the best gal photo to his buddy before hitting the beach on D-Day. :eek: “I am sorry, my liege. The flanking move by the Mamelukes caught us by surprise. The Prince’s dying words were of you and his mother, who he lamented never saying farewell to before he rode out this morning.”
I did mention that the eventual heir ends up picking seduction. So... got to lay the groundwork for that and if I didn't, then it would be clear Guilhem wasn't the heir! ;) But he does offer a different perspective of the world, specifically one where Aquitaine and England are truly together. His views will differ than his parents. Plus it allowed be to present a different view of battle.

There was a reason I did that, because I did want to do something with this battle. You'll see how sinister it was soon! But yeah, I realize how ominous that often seems.

To all - I expected this upcoming chapter wouldn't be too hard since I wrote the majority of it last week, but it wasn't easy. Thankfully, it is done, so it should go up later today. It continues from the prince's perspective as he gains some lessons in war and the peace...

Part of these chapters are set up. Honestly, I had to address things going on in England because some rather important events happen there in the next year of game-time. I couldn't do that with Geoffrey's perspective, but Ælfflæd's perspective also blocked important parts of Geoffrey's angle - since they are about to fight an important battle. Guilhem is the best character who can do both.

Hope everyone is doing well during these difficult times. I am appreciative you all are able to find the time to read and/or comment, and am thankful for your commentary and feedback!
 
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Chapter 271 - April 1139

JabberJock14

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Dec 3, 2015
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Before Plantagenet - Chapter 271
April 1139 - County of Devon, Kingdom of England

The stillness was almost unnerving.

Prince Guilhem sat on horseback, while on a hill that provided a nice view of the field below. A field that had small, gentle hills of its own, and could, at any moment, become the site of a brutal battle between armies Christian and heathen.

The sky was overcast, blocking most of the early afternoon sun, which was likely a relief for the thousands of men before the prince. To his immediate front stood the men of Aquitaine, infantry and archers neatly arranged into large blocks, with knights and light cavalry sitting to the rear and flanks.

Across from his countrymen, well within view, Guilhem could see the heathen army, amassed in a narrower front, halfway up the many slopes of the small hills. Similarly, they had their infantry forward and their cavalry to the flanks and rear.

Breezes would blow through, rustling the grass. But beyond that, the two armies remained static… and had been for a while now.

Nothing seemed able to break the stasis. Heathen archers had come forward on occasion to pepper the Aquitaine army with arrows. But the Aquitaine archers, who held greater numbers, simply returned the favor, and both sides would retreat back to their respective lines with few casualties. And then the stillness returned.

Some men stood, choosing to lean on their shields, spears or in some cases, fellow soldiers. Others sat, their shields and weapons close by. There was some talking, but it was quieter than any field that had upwards of 10,000 men on it should be - so quiet the only sound the prince could hear was his heart thumping in his chest.

That had been building since this morning, when the pace of the day thus far began to eat at him.

Despite the early start, and hurried exit from the camp that had been forced upon him, the march north to Lydford had been slow. Frustratingly slow for the prince, who dreamed of his father smashing the heathens and winning a great victory.

At their slow pace, Guilhem feared the heathens would simply escape. And he had made his fears clear to his father along the road - fears which the king had simply dismissed as irrelevant.

“Our men aren’t Roman legionaries,” Geoffrey said.

Berard, who had been riding close by, came up to them then. “The infantry, your father means. Our knights are better than the old Empire could have managed.”

Geoffrey nodded. “Yes, the Roman Empire at its height could boast the best infantry in the world. They had to rely on auxiliaries for any cavalry worth a damn.”

“And our infantry is not as good in a fight,” Guilhem said. “I learned that, father. But why can we not move faster?”

“It is not just in a fight,” Geoffrey said. “The Roman legionaries were, at least by the height of the Empire, professional soldiers. They were well trained in every manner of war - formations, marching… everything. These infantry… despite their service to us in recent years, are not that.”

“So they cannot march faster?” Guilhem asked. “They have before.”

“When there was no enemy present,” Geoffrey replied. “I do not know what these heathens plan. They are at a disadvantage - they could try to ambush us. I need my men moving deliberately, close, so that we can form up as quickly as possible. And I do not want any group getting too far away from the others. No one isolated.”

The exception to that was the small groups of scouts Geoffrey had sent out under Rogier d'Uzes to search for the enemy presence. At first, they returned little, but after a while on the road, Rogier reported back they had discovered the heathen army in position a few miles up the road. Their numbers indicated close to their full army was in the field, and they were preparing to fight.

Geoffrey remained cautious and ordered Rogier to keep his eyes on the enemy and bring word should there be any hint of a withdrawal. But none came.

So a few hours later, Geoffrey, Guilhem and the commanders took their position on some high ground which overlooked the enemy position. And despite the king’s doubts, the heathens had indeed remained to fight.

Their arraignment on the field - along a line of hills that were none too steep - left the commanders suspicious of possible trickery.

“There is no strength in their position,” Berard noted. “Some elevation on the hills but it’s more of a gentle slope rather than a steep incline. We could flank it with our greater numbers in time.”

Guilhem saw his father’s eyes focused on the right of the enemy position.

“The hill looks to be most gentle on their right flank,” Geoffrey said. “And to their right and rear is a wood line, which will provide cover for their men. If they are to spring an ambush on us… that is where it is to come from. I trust you will be ready, my friend?”

Berard took a look at the trees and then nodded. “I won’t let this become another Leyre.”

“Ready yourself,” Geoffrey said. “I wish the men to rest for a bit before we begin our assault.”

He had not been kidding. Geoffrey had let Aquitaine’s men form up along some of the hills, giving them slight elevation, and then told them to remain in place to regain their strength after the long march.

It was in that position where both armies now sat, with Guilhem wondering when the battle would begin, while praying it would soon. They could not just wait forever, could they?

“How much longer before we attack, father?” he asked.

Geoffrey kept his eyes to the field, not turning toward the prince. “When I think we are ready. I would prefer they get impatient and attack us, but for now, I am content to sit until I know more.”

“How much more?” Guilhem asked.

Now Geoffrey turned his gaze on the prince, which caused Guilhem to sink his head between his shoulders in a futile attempt to hide.

“When I am ready,” Geoffrey said. “When I think our men are ready. In the meantime…”

He looked toward Rogier. “Cousin, take some of our scouts and ride along their line. I want to see if we can confirm that ambush.”

That did provide Guilhem some action, but did little to calm his fast-beating heart. As Rogier’s men rode near the enemy lines, the heathen archers would harry them with arrows, hoping to pick off a few. They did not, as Rogier never let his men come into real range of the enemy.

Then the enemy light cavalry came forth as well. Guilhem wondered if perhaps a fight was about to begin, but the heathens simply shadowed them.

“Could we just attack them?” Guilhem asked.

“I do not want to commit them yet,” Geoffrey said. “I want to see what they are doing. And I trust Rogier. He will get himself out before any trap is sprung.”

Rogier did continue to move his men toward and from the enemy lines, especially in areas where archers were few. On occasion, they even closed enough where weapons could be thrown at the riders, though few took the opportunity and none hit. When the enemy appeared to be gearing up to attack, Rogier moved his men away, and the heathens declined to pursue.

As Rogier rode near the trees Geoffrey had suspected of concealing the enemy, the shadowing heathen cavalry moved toward the rear of scout cavalry. And it drew the king’s attention.

“They are hoping to trap him in between their ambush,” Geoffrey said. “In a pincer.”

“If they spring it now it will be wasted,” The Dane Knud said.

“But my cousin will suffer a terrible price,” Geoffrey said. “Let us pray he rides out of that mess.”

Guilhem wondered if his cousin might bravely sacrifice himself to spring the trap early, thus depriving the heathens of their best chance of victory. His heart racing even faster now, the prince could not take his eyes off the scouts, waiting, wondering and fearing for what might happen.

Rogier must have sensed the danger, for he and his light cavalry increased their pace, riding away from the treeline but also looking to not crash into the heathens shadowing them.

The heathen light cavalry suddenly veered off, and Rogier rode off and around them. They were safe.

Once Rogier was on his way back, Geoffrey smiled and said to the others: “My cousin believes God rides with him. When he does things like that, I think he is right.”

Guilhem, breathing a little easier, his eyes turned back to the main battlefield, where again the archers had come forward for the heathens. But their Aquitaine counterparts answered, with the trade of arrows leaving far more of the heathen archers dead than Geoffrey’s.

“We fare better than in Iberia,” Berard noted.

“They’re not trying,” Knud said. “Token shows. They want us to attack.”

“Then we shall make them wait a little longer,” Geoffrey said. “In fact, tell the men to start shouting and taunting them. Let the heathens know they face the strongest army in Christendom.”

Knud laughed. “I like your thinking. I will see to it done.”

Guilhem knew he probably should join in on the laughs the commanders were sharing. But he was nervous. He had expected the fight to begin. Why was it taking so long? Wasn’t his father taking a risk by waiting like this? Could the heathens still not escape? Or was this always what happened before battle?

Then a surprising sight took Guilhem’s mind off the delay for a moment. And the shock was not just with the prince.

Riding up to the rear of the king’s army was a set of men on horseback. Their banners revealed them to be English lords, with Mercia, Kent, Somerset, Northumbria and Lancaster all represented. The Stawell banners flew as well… with Ælfflæd, in full armor, riding at their head.

As they came closer, Guilhem could see the Norman sisters with her, also dressed in armor. All of the lords present, and the Dukes of Northumbria, Kent and Somerset were there, had mail. But that was expected… the queen’s presence in mail was not.

“I was not aware you had formed a contingent of shield maidens,” Knud joked as he rode up to the king’s side.

Wide-eyed, Geoffrey replied: “Nor was I.”

Guilhem shared his father’s surprise and he had to admit it was a strange sight. He’d never seen a woman in armor before. So he could not have envisioned his mother in such attire.

He supposed there wasn’t anything special about the armor itself - the mail covered her from nearly head to toe, with a yellow and blue tunic draped over her torso, and falling down to her knees. The mail suit actually covered her head, with an opening for her face which was a bit flush.

The strangest part was seeing his mother and father like this. They were dressed the same - something he had never seen before. There was, from a distance, nothing to tell them apart.

He wondered if there would seem something odd about his mother dressing this way. But she was a queen. This was her war. This was her legacy. It may have been strange. But it also felt appropriate.

“Husband,” Ælfflæd said as she and the other lords joined them all.

“Why are you dressed like that?” Geoffrey asked.

“This is a battle for England’s safety, against it’s invaders,” Ælfflæd said. “It is only right that I am here.”

“Are you planning to ride with me and my knights?” Geoffrey asked.

“I am not,” Ælfflæd said. “As I am not trained with a lance.”

“Then armor is just for show,” Geoffrey noted.

Ælfflæd narrowed her gaze. “It is for protection. Just in case.”

“In case of what?” Geoffrey asked. “Do you expect the worst? That I will be forced into a retreat where you would have to fend for your life?”

Adelise urged her horse forward. “I suggested it, my king. Forgive me if you construe it as an insult. It was not intended as such.”

“And that is why the three of you are dressed so?” Geoffrey asked. He looked them up and down before turning his gaze to the other English male nobles. “She cannot wield a lance but I would hope you all can. Will you all be joining in?”

The Dukes of Northumbria, Somerset and Kent all looked apprehensive. And the king rolled his eyes.

“Aquitaine is to fight, alone,” Geoffrey said. “And our blood is to spill while you watch. Pathetic.”

Guilhem couldn’t help but agree. His mother and aunties were one thing. These lords were another. Where was their bravery? Where was their devotion to Christendom? Where was the willingness to fight in a war England had itself started?

Geoffrey turned back to the field and moved his horse forward. The commanders followed and Guilhem joined them. The English came in behind and they all watched the Aquitaine men shout insults at their enemy.

After a few minutes of that, and after Rogier returned with his scouts to join the reserve, Geoffrey looked to his commanders and ordered them to their positions. They would advance as a solid group, though that mass of men would have the king, Berard and Knud looking after a section each. Rogier, returned from scouting, had the reserve, which he kept within a stone’s throw of the prince.

“Good luck father,” Guilhem said. “May God guide you to victory.”

The king nodded and then joined his knights as they moved forward. The bulk of the army, save Rogier’s reserve, headed down to engage the enemy.

Again Guilhem wished to be with them, but even if he was to remain here, his heart was in his throat. It should be a victory. But what if it wasn’t? What if a stray arrow struck his father… what if the heathens had a bigger ambush planned than what the king had suspected… what if?

“How do you feel?”

Guilhem turned back to see his mother next to him. It was still strange to see her in full armor atop her horse, but given his nerves, he was glad to have her close by.

“I will be fine,” he told her, even if he wished to vomit.

“Have you seen a battle before?” she asked. “Did your father let you this close in Iberia?

Guilhem shook his head. “He said this was a reward for the melee.”

Ælfflæd nodded. “Ah. Well it is my closest encounter on an open battlefield myself. So we can experience this for the first time, together.”

The way she put it made him blush. Somehow, he never expected this experience to be alongside his mother of all people.

They all settled into position to watch the action unfold. However, Guilhem did notice his mother fidgeting in her saddle.

“Are you alright mother?” he asked.

“My word, this is so hot,” Ælfflæd complained. “This armor. How does anyone wear this in battle?”

“I imagine if the alternative is riding into a fight unprotected…” Adelise began, “It is better to be uncomfortable than dead.”

“I imagine it is less uncomfortable for men,” Aevis said. “They do not need to have their chest binded to fit into it.”

Guilhem had to resist a grin. His mother and aunties were many things. But warriors… they were not.

Their attention returned to the battlefield, where the action had begun in earnest. Geoffrey’s archers had moved forward and their counterparts came forth to engage. The skirmish, however, proved brief as the Aquitaine men got the better of the heathens, causing the latter to fall back toward the enemy lines.

That did not stop Aquitaine’s archers from letting loose their arrows, and their barrage did seem to take a toll on the enemy infantry. Though their heavy infantry had shields many of the spearmen in the front had small ones, or none at all. It forced the heathens into a loose formation.

The sound of Aquitaine light cavalry came next, moving forward after a brief break in the archer volleys. But the heathens were drilled enough to reform their tighter lines, albeit in two blocks now, with one side opposite the Aquitaine left a bit smaller in size, causing the horsemen to break off their advance.

The cavalry returned to the lines, while the archers began to loose their arrows again. If they had unlimited ammunition, they might have won the battle themselves. But they did not, so once they ran dry, the infantry was ordered forward.

Guilhem watched with bated breath as the infantry marched forward, slowly. The heathens brought their archers forward quickly to pepper the advance with arrows, but they could only loose two volleys before being forced to fall back. Still the Aquitaine infantry raised shields overhead to block what they could.

Finally they closed the distance enough to where they could charge. The screams and shouts that Guilhem had heard earlier when they taunted the enemy were raised ten-fold as they ran forward and crashed into the heathen lines.

The prince knew that battles usually weren’t decided very quickly, and that now it would be a test of endurance as well as skill. If his father could maneuver his army into a flanking position, they could roll up the enemy. Short of that, if, with their greater numbers of men, they could outlast the heathens, they could break apart the opposition then get into their flank and rear.

But the heathen spearmen did begin to falter and buckle under the weight of the Aquitaine advance. They started to melt away, though in the center and Aquitaine right, the heathens heavy infantry filled the breach.

On the left, a gap had opened between the two heathen blocks of infantry. And suddenly, Guilhem saw his father’s knights come forth and then charge forward into the gap. The prince watched in awe as the men moved in small cohesive groups, each one with several men acting in unison. One group slammed into the heathen spearmen flank, followed by another.

It sent the heathens on the Aquitaine left into a flight, though Geoffrey did not take his knights to pursue. Instead he pulled his knights out and positioned them to attack the flank of the central block of men. But horses could not run forever - they had to rest before charging again.

Guilhem wondered if Rogier would take his reserve and join. His cousin did motion for his men to move, with most of them heading toward the battle. A group of 20 light cavalry remained behind, presumably as an extra guard for the prince. But they may have also been part of the group that had already exhausted their steeds riding around the enemy flank.

Meanwhile, Berard led the pursuit against the enemy right. Guilhem would have normally expected an aggressive chase, but the Perigord man was deliberate. The threat of ambush clearly influenced his thinking, and, to Guilhem’s surprise, the Aquitaine infantry stopped moving forward and instead veered to the right. But the Aquitaine cavalry at Berard’s disposal, knights and lightly armored men, did not join them. Instead, they formed a perpendicular flank, covering an attack from the direction Geoffrey suspected the ambush to come.

The infantry made their move onto the flank of the enemy center, while Geoffrey made no move with his own cavalry. Guilhem would have guessed the combined attack would have been enough to roll up the enemy entirely. And he wasn’t the only one to think it.

“Why does he not attack their exposed flank with everything?” the Duke of Somerset asked. “He could destroy the enemy in one swoop.”

“He moves cautiously,” Osmund said. “He is wary of a trap.”

“So he will let a grand opportunity go begging?” Somerset replied.

“Wait,” Ælfflæd said as she pointed toward Berard’s men. “What’s that to the north?”

The group shifted their gaze further north, above where Berard had his cavalry positioned. Coming down in significant numbers - larger than what Berard had present, was a group of horsemen and camel riders.

“The ambush,” Guilhem said. “Just as father warned about.”

“It is good to see someone has a concept of strategy,” Duke Hlothere told Somerset, who frowned in reply.

But as much as he wanted to be proud of his father for seeing through the enemy plans, Guilhem was now concerned about the attack itself. Berard brought his forces forward despite being outnumbered - they would be at a greater disadvantage if they remained stationary.

The heathens were leading with their camel riders. Guilhem had learned camels could cause problems in horses, so it might mean the Aquitaine riders would have issues maintaining their cohesion. Sure enough, as the two sides charged, some of the horses pulled up or fought their riders, causing the heathen attack to be even more effective.

Berard himself, viewable because of his banners, wasn’t in the first wave, but instead moved in the second. His was an attempt to intercept a flanking force of horsemen, which was successful in its purpose. But it was only a delay - his men were outnumbered.

“If they lose the cavalry fight…” Osmund said. “It could turn the battle.”

“What of my husband’s knights?” Ælfflæd asked. “And the reserve?”

Guilhem’s eyes widened. His mother’s question was a good one. And sure enough, the answer for both groups was “moving toward where Berard fought to hold on.”

While the infantry continued to engage the enemy flank, Geoffrey had moved his own knights out of his position on that flank. Instead, he moved around the rear of his forces and into position to get involved in the cavalry melee. Likewise, Rogier had maneuvered even further around the enemy position, moving his light cavalry at a gallop, with his knights trotting behind.

Though Guilhem suspected it would tire their steeds out, it turned out not to matter. Rogier’s light cavalry dismounted, held their spears and walked forward at the heathen camels.

Meanwhile, Geoffrey readied his knights for a charge of the horsemen, where Berard himself fought. The horn sounded and all sides of the Aquitaine counter-attack moved at once - the dismounted spearmen running forth to slam into the camel-riders and Geoffrey and his knights launching into the horsemen.

Further north the heathen infantry did regroup. But Rogier had ridden his knights, who were still mounted, into a position to watch them. And it pinned the infantry in place - they would not advance as they could not advance on the current melees without exposing their flanks to the knights and could not advance on the knights, since they’d never catch them.

Guilhem’s eyes shifted back to the melee, where the shock of the counterattack had already done it’s work. The camel riders and heathen horsemen began to break and ride out as fast as they could. Some were cut down as they did, others knocked off their horses and captured. About half did get away, however, fleeing toward the infantry.

“Rogier can destroy them,” Osmund noted. “He just has to intercept them as they run.”

But Rogier did nothing. He had his knights remain in place, and simply watched as the enemy cavalry fled back to the infantry, which turned and ran.

Across the battlefield, the heathen front was disintegrating. Their lighter infantry had already fled and now their heavy infantry was doing the same.

Guilhem waited to see if his father would order his men to charge and hit the fleeing enemy. But he did not do that either.

“Why do they let them run?!” Somerset snapped.

“I… I am unsure,” Ælfflæd said. “Guilhem, did your father say anything about this plan?”

Guilhem’s heart raced as he heard his name called. In truth, there wasn’t anything specifically about this moment… except that his father had been wary of an ambush. But that trap had been sprung and been dealt with. He could pursue… right?

“Father was… worried about a trap,” Guilhem said. “Perhaps he thinks another might be waiting.”

“That is craven,” Aevis said.

“I don’t see you there, sister,” Adelise replied. “Perhaps you would like to ride down with your men and lead the pursuit.”

Aevis glared at her sister but said nothing further.

Meanwhile, Geoffrey did let loose a bit of his light cavalry to ride down stragglers. But he kept most of his army together and pulled the wings back into one cohesive unit. The heathens had fled - soon Guilhem could see nothing but their captured, wounded and dead.

The battle was over. And with a broad smile on his face, Guilhem could now fully appreciate that his father had won.



…..

Despite the victory, Guilhem wondered what type of reception his father would get when he returned.

In his mind, the king was a hero. He had swooped in and saved England. It was his duty, yes, but many men had tried and failed to live up to such weighty responsibilities. So why not hail a man who did as he had promised?

But he saw the frustration with many of the English lords over Geoffrey’s seeming unwillingness to launch an aggressive pursuit which might have destroyed the enemy and captured the Caliph.

“Perhaps he wants them out there, in our countryside,” Somerset speculated. “As a reminder that we need him and his knights.”

“I pray that is not the case,” Aevis said. “But… it has crossed my mind.”

To that, Guilhem was not certain how his mother would react, given the icy nature of his parents relationship. But the queen shook her head.

“My husband has won this battle,” Ælfflæd said. “The two of you have more than enough men to launch a pursuit of your own.”

“Not here,” Somerset noted.

“No, not here,” Ælfflæd replied. “But in your lands. It would do Christendom a great service, would it not?”

To that, Guilhem smiled. Sometimes he worried these lords looked at his mother as an easy mark to roll over. But here she showed the backbone and the skill she often did when battling his father.

And in this case, it seemed to work, as both Somerset and Aevis said nothing further.

It continued in that vein when Geoffrey returned to their group, with Berard riding alongside. Guilhem had wondered if any of the lords would dare question his tactics, but not one did. Instead, he received congratulations from some.

“Masterful,” Hlothere of Northumbria said. “My king, I have never seen the heathens whipped so badly. Certainly not on these shores.”

That did draw a small glare from Ælfflæd, and Guilhem guessed she did not like the implication that her father had never managed anything like this. Though Guilhem had to admit the duke wasn’t wrong.

“It was a fine victory,” Adelise said. “How did you know they would ambush you?”

Geoffrey grinned. “They arranged themselves too openly - it was clear they tried to bait us. So we were ready for them.”

“Ah,” Adelise said. “A concept that is lost on some.”

That drew glares from Somerset and Aevis. Ælfflæd moved her hand in front of her lips, but Guilhem thought he saw his mother smirk.

“And Sir Berard,” Ælfflæd said. “Your bravery in the face of such danger is to be applauded. I will take pleasure in singing your praises to Lady Lida.”

Berard smiled. “Thank you my queen. It was nothing but my duty.”

“My king,” Osmund said. “What do you plan next? Will you chase the Caliph and look to capture him?”

“I will retake Lydford,” Geoffrey said. “It’s loss cannot be allowed to stand.”

“And then?” Osmund asked.

Geoffrey glared at the Duke of Kent. “When I take Lydford, you’ll find out.”

Then he looked over the group before saying: “Guilhem with me.”

The prince glanced back at his mother, before urging his horse forward. Once he was beside his father, who watched him every step of the way, the king turned his gaze back to the English.

“Duke Hlothere, Duchess Adelise,” he began, “you are welcome to attend the celebrations in my tent with my commanders and knights when we return to camp.”

That implication was clear - Geoffrey was pleased that those two had defended him against his critics. They were rewarded - the others were not.

“And what of me?” Ælfflæd asked.

“You’re the queen. It’s expected you would be there,” Geoffrey told her. “We did just defend England, after all.”

But not ride with him now, Guilhem wondered. The prince, however, said nothing.

Geoffrey then turned his horse and started off with his men. The prince quickly urged his horse to follow, riding up alongside his father.

With a grin on his face, Geoffrey asked him:“Did you get a good view on the battle?”

“Yes,” Guilhem said. “I was able to see most of the battle, especially on our left. Sir Berard fought well.”

“He did,” Geoffrey said. “Backed up his talk after Leyre. Not that I had much doubt.”

“The English lords did,” Guilhem said. “They didn’t know why you weren’t more aggressive.”

Geoffrey smirked. “Idiots. Were they shocked then the ambush came?”

Guilhem shrugged. “I think they did not like being proven wrong.”

“And what did your mother think of all that?” Geoffrey asked.

“She thought you were right,” Guilhem said. “And she even questioned Auntie Aevis for doubting your strategy.”

Geoffrey’s brow rose. “Perhaps she has more sense than I thought. Or maybe she learns.”

Guilhem wasn’t sure whether to be pleased his father was semi-complimentary to his mother, or disappointed he still thought so low of her.

“Have you any questions of how the battle played out?” Geoffrey asked him.

The prince shook his head at first. But then he stopped and thought about it. “Was the reason you didn’t pursue after the battle more because you were concerned over an ambush?”

Geoffrey shook his head slightly. “It crossed my mind. Overextending myself to chase down the enemy… it is not worth it. They have been weakened. They are in enemy lands. Should I throw our men forward at them in a chase? Or should I simply retake Lydford and rest our men?”

“You wished to destroy the enemy in Iberia,” Guilhem said. “And the Caliph is here.”

“In Iberia, the Navarrans were home,” Geoffrey said. “They could be easily supplied. They could take refuge in their towns, villages and keeps. The heathens can’t do that. They will find no aid. The presence of the Caliph does not change that.”

A grin formed on Geoffrey’s face. “And if it gives the lords reservations about rising against us… then all the better.”

Guilhem’s eyes widened. The English lords suspicions had not been wrong after all.

“You want them to fear the heathens?” Guilhem asked. “Are we not all united against their threat?”

“We are all united until they are not,” Geoffrey said. “You saw that before the battle, when they did not ride with us. Make no mistake, those lords would turn on us the moment they saw some weakness.”

“Would we not show strength by crushing the heathens then?” Guilhem asked.

“That’s what you just witnessed,” Geoffrey said. “Our point was made. The English lords know our strength. But we will not weaken ourselves further. We will retake what is ours. And then we will let them handle the rest.”

A chill ran down the prince’s spine. “You plan to abandon them?”

“I didn’t say that,” Geoffrey said. “I just… will let them win the war. If they can.”

“And if they can’t?” Guilhem asked.

“Then they will lose,” Geoffrey said. “Or eventually the fighting will peter out. I won’t let England fall, or have too many raiders so that the lords see no benefit to our presence. But I will not go to the Holy Land for them. Nor will I chase the heathens across the Isles. I will fight them in Lydford. I will fight them in Aquitaine. But I will not fight them anywhere else. That is what the lords want, so that we weaken ourselves enough in their defense that they can rebel against us.”

“You can’t know that,” Guilhem said. “If we work together with them…”

“You’re young,” Geoffrey told him. “You think kindness and friendship can win them over. It won’t. And even if it could, your mother annoyed her lords by attacking in the first place. No. They see us as invaders. As tyrants. As demons. They put on a face, and as you saw, it is not even a good one.”

“Perhaps Somerset,” Guilhem said. “But not all of them.”

Geoffrey chuckled. “All of them. Hlothere is a coward so he blows as the wind does. Adelise is a snake - she would murder a child if it would further her goals. They happen to be aligned with us for now, but that is the key - for now.”

“Auntie Aevis thinks well of mother and me,” Guilhem said.

“She’s not your aunt,” Geoffrey told him. “And she is not to be trusted. Aevis may speak better than her sister, but she has never supported your mother. Not truly.”

“How do you know?” Guilhem demanded.

Geoffrey eyed his son. “Watch your tone. Remember who you speak to.”

Guilhem lowered his head and slowly nodded. He doesn’t wish to answer, so he goes to tone.

“You think your mother hasn’t spoken to me about what happens in her court?” Geoffrey demanded. “You think I haven’t worked to fix my mistake of letting England out of my gaze?”

Guilhem, surprised his father had continued, said nothing. He had little he could say.

“And make no mistake,” Geoffrey continued, “she wanted you in battle because she wanted you dead. Not because she thinks you are ready.”

Guilhem’s eyes widened. “How did you know about that?”

Geoffrey chuckled but shook his head. “As I said, I am done letting England escape my gaze. Your mother… her vassals… I meant what I said in Iberia. Never again.”

Guilhem could not hold back a frown. He really didn’t like the idea of treating his own future vassals and subjects with heavy suspicion. And it would have been upsetting enough on its own, but the king continued.

“It would behoove you to pay attention as well,” Geoffrey said. “They have no love for you, as I said. You are seen as an Occitan invader.”

“I am as much Saxon as I am Occitan,” Guilhem said.

Geoffrey chuckled. “My boy, you dress like me. You wear your hair like me. You like to bathe. All decidedly unSaxon things.”

“Mother bathes!” Guilhem said. “And she is very Saxon.”

“Your mother enjoys our fineries, wine excepted,” Geoffrey said. “And they don’t exactly view her as true Saxon either. Not that it matters anyway. The lords simply use it as an excuse, and it is an easy one to reach for.”

Guilhem shook his head. “I am the heir to a legacy. A legacy as the protector of Christendom. It is why they stayed loyal to my grandfather.”

“And murdered your uncle,” Geoffrey said. “And then forced his son, your cousin, from the throne. These lords and ladies are snakes - not interested in Christendom beyond how it will help them grow more powerful. They care nothing for your family’s legacy.”

“Could someone not say the same of you?” Guilhem demanded.

“They already do,” Geoffrey said. “And they are right in that I care nothing for that legacy. I will bring a new dawn to Christendom, to be sure. But I will do it in my own way, and not follow in the footsteps of a man who’s ego walked him straight into the mouth of the heathen scourge.”

“Mother…” Guilhem began, instinctively, since she came to mind.

“Your mother does as her father did,” Geoffrey said. “Only she has me to save her. I have. But I will do nothing else. And if you know what’s good for you, should you ever end up in my position, you will do as I do, not as they did.”

Guilhem frowned and shook his head. His father was too cynical. He was wrong. He had to be.

“You don’t hear me,” Geoffrey said. “But you are young and, God willing, you will have time to grow past your naivete. And lucky for you, I am here to help you do it. I was not so lucky with my father. My aunt was forced to teach me while I sat on the throne.”

“I thought you spoke well of Aunt Agnes,” Guilhem said.

“I do,” Geoffrey said. “And she was an excellent teacher. But she should not have had to be one. So be grateful your father does not think you too young or stupid for the truth of what awaits you.”

Guilhem had seen many sides of his father - joy, confidence, frustration and anger. But this was different - he had never really spoken ill of the old king Geoffrey before… and certainly not with this level of bitterness.

Between that and his outright distrust of all the English lords and Guilhem wasn’t sure how to feel. So he said nothing on the long slow trot back to the Aquitaine camp.

….

For once, there seemed to be a shared joy between the people of Aquitaine and England.

The celebrations in the command tent were happy - toasts to the king who would drive the heathens back to the sea. Most were coming from the Occitans present - the commanders, knights, guards and women were mostly from Aquitaine after all.

But the fact that Duke Hlothere, his wife Duchess Eaflaed and Duchess Adelise were present, along with a few of their retainers, gave the whole thing an air of cooperation Guilhem felt had been rare. It made him more optimistic over the future, hoping that this would be one step toward proving his father was wrong.

As celebrations went, they were a bit tamer than Guilhem had seen in Iberia. The presence of more women, specifically the wives of many of the high-ranking men present, was the likely cause.

But it was to a point. Even if the lords could not enjoy camp-followers and women brought in from the town, their wives would suffice.

It was to be expected, after all. The wine and ale flowed freely, and inhibitions soon dropped, for those who could enjoy such things.

That was not Guilhem. He was too young for the women present, even if a few tried to draw his attention. He partook in the wine, but the ale almost made him vomit, which drew the mocking ire of Duke Hlothere, saying he would need to toughen up his stomach if he was to handle his Saxon lords.

Such talk made Guilhem uneasy, as the insecurities over his weighty future propped up. He watched his father handle this without a care in the world. He knew his mother had greater problems, but she put on a regal enough face that he could forget it unless he really thought about it.

He figured he would be able to in time. But what if I can’t, kept coming to mind.

It made him want to escape, and when he saw his father pull his mother to his lap and begin to sloppily show his affections to her, Guilhem decided to make good on that wish, slipping from the tent. He didn’t know just how far his parents would go, but he didn’t really want to see it.

“Why are you leaving?”

Guilhem had gotten a little bit away when he heard Savarics’ voice behind him. The boy was dressed in a tunic and cloak - he had not been permitted to ride to the battlefield due to his age and thus had not put on his armor. Meanwhile, the prince had yet to take his off, still prideful over his proximity to such a great victory.

“I… I don’t think it’s very fun,” Guilhem said. “I thought I would celebrate with… the other boys. We’ll have a party of our own. A proper celebration for our victory in the melee. And… maybe we’ll invite the English boys too. Since we’re all one kingdom here.”

“Even your cousin?” Savarics asked.

“Yes, even Ælfsige,” Guilhem said. “He is sore… but maybe I can work on that. I must. He will be my lord one day. I do not want him to hate me forever.”

“What if he does?” Savarics asked.

Guilhem frowned, reminded of his father’s dire predictions. “I will make sure he doesn’t. Come on, we will find him first. Then we’ll round up the others.”

The arrangement of the camp made it so most of the English tents were close to one another, away from those of the Aquitaine lords. The noise was less than in the Aquitaine portion, though some of the men there were spilling over onto the English side, bringing their celebrations with them.

The pair wandered toward Duke Osmund’s tent, but Duchess Aevis’ had been placed along the route Guilhem had previously taken toward it. And it was from that tent where Guilhem heard his father’s title spoken. It piqued his curiosity enough to investigate further.

The prince motioned for Savarics to follow him to the side of the tent, where the pair found some barrels to hide behind. Then the prince peaked his head out, where he could see the shadows of Aevis and another man. But more importantly, he could hear them clearly - which revealed the man to be the Duke of Somerset.

“Pathetic show of subservience,” Somerset said. “Can you believe he thought them genuine?”

“I don’t think Geoffrey did at all,” Aevis said. “But he wanted to show them that he appreciated that. And show us that our complaints will have consequences.”

“So he just means to break us in like dogs?” Somerset asked. “That doesn’t bother you?”

“No, because I can see the larger picture,” Aevis said. “There will be time to placate Geoffrey. And better opportunities for it to have a far greater impact.”

“Such as?” Somerset asked.

“A few different things come to mind, the forefront being marriage options,” Aevis said. “Though I suppose that might be problematic for you these days."

“Your mother tell you to bring that up?” Somerset snapped.

“I haven’t spoken to her,” Aevis said. “But it is easy to imagine her anger. She’s isn’t here after all… after you disinherit your child by her.”

“I didn’t disinherit her,” Somerset said. “I merely declared my son my primary heir.”

“Your bastard,” Aevis said. “Over my legitimately born sister. My uncle is not happy either, given you’ve devalued his son’s marriage to her.”

“Let Osmund cry into his ale over it,” Somerset said. “It is not for me to let his family hold most of the south coast if his grandchildren gain Somerset.”

“Then you should have found another union,” Aevis said. “A more beneficial one. Like to Prince Alias.”

“I did not want my daughter anywhere near that demon spawn,” Somerset said. “If you want that, perhaps you can surrender your daughters to them. Maybe Prince Geoffrey?”

Guilhem’s eyes widened. Demon spawn?! He had heard some spoke of his family in that way - though never directly in earshot before. That the Duke of Somerset would say such a thing... and that Aevis would say nothing to correct him!

“I have no problem giving one of my daughters to the prince,” Aevis said. “But such a thing would not suit me. It is too slow - things move too quickly for me to wait a decade and a half for such influence. No, I think a prince is key… but not that prince.”

Guilhem’s heart raced. Where is she going with this?

“Prince Guilhem? He will have a wife long before your children are of age,” Somerset said.

“They will be…” Aevis said. “But they are not the only option.”

“What others?” Somerset demanded. “Has your mother come to demand my daughter?”

“No, as I said, I haven’t spoken to her,” Aevis said. “However, if my husband dies soon, I am young enough where I might be able to convince Ælfflæd to allow me the prince as a husband. Any son I would have by him would inherit Lancaster… that is not something my sister can provide.”

Aevis wanted to marry him? His heart raced as he began to imagine it. She was... pretty enough, he supposed. But she was a lot older than him. And...

“Your husband is old, but is he near death?” Somerset asked. “I know many men who lived into their seventh and eighth decades.”

“If I can convince Ælfflæd and Geoffrey of the value of such a union… things perhaps can be sped up,” Aevis said. “It is not as if people in this land are averse to such things. Just look at our former king.”

Guilhem blanched. Did she mean... she couldn't....

“Yes…” Somerset said. “I suppose they might be amenable to such a thing. But, that is the problem. Your plan has far too many ‘ifs’. And your sister will not stay put throughout this. She will get wind of your attempts to woo Ælfflæd to your side. She will try to block you.”

“I can outmaneuver Adelise,” Aevis said. “She is far too blunt for such delicate talks.”

“She is blunt, but effective,” Somerset said. “Especially as her true audience has no love for any of us.”

“You underestimate my cousin, and her son,” Aevis said. “They want peace. They want us to be strong. To be one.”

“Geoffrey wants us as serfs,” Somerset said. “And the prince’s loyalties lay with his father, no matter his sympathies for his mother.”

“That is why I will win his loyalties,” Aevis said. “He’s a boy with the blood of adulterers in his veins. I bat my eyes, speak sweetly and he will do as I say. And his father I bribe with the promise of more lands for his family.”

The prince's heart skipped a beat... She... she was pretending?

“Your lands in their hands,” Somerset said. “The end of your family as you know it. You wonder why I legitimize my bastard son? Because I will not let that happen.”

“I will have nothing if I do not,” Aevis said. “Adelise will take Lancaster, then kill me and my children. I save my daughters by having sons by the prince - it is an easy choice.”

“And the rest of us?” Somerset demanded. “While you save yourself?”

“Will benefit by having the Duchess of Lancaster as the future Queen of England and Aquitaine,” Aevis said. “With a young, inexperienced husband, whom I can properly mould into a good king. One who favors the right people.”



“You have a great deal of confidence in your powers of persuasion, my dear,” Somerset said.

“I have won friends among Saxons, Normans and the Cornish,” Aevis said. “I have both the queen and Duchess Ecgwyn who count me as friends. I position myself as the great unifier among them, the only one who can manage it. With your support in pushing the queen and king toward me and away from Adelise…”

That I have no problem,” Somerset said. “It is the other bit. The implicit threat that you will fracture the realm if you do not get this. That only you can keep Cornwall, Essex and Northumberland from rebelling. Geoffrey will never accept that.”

“He doesn’t want another war,” Aevis said. “If I offer him peace, and the chance for his grandsons to inherit Lancaster… as well as possibly Mercia? I think that something he would be unable to turn down.”

“I think you are too confident,” Somerset said. “But I will lend my support to you… for you having influence over the prince is far better than his mother. Or Adelise.”

“Thank you,” Aevis said. “And rest assured, I have more irons in the fire. I would be a fool if I only had one plan in mind.”

“Oh? What are the others?” Somerset asked.

“Now, now, I can’t reveal everything,” Aevis said. “Just know there is more than one way to get England back into the proper hands.”

“When you put it like that, I almost believe you,” Somerset said.

“You’ll need to sound a bit more convincing than that if we are to woo my uncle Osmund,” Aevis said.

“Or just need a few barrels of ale,” Somerset replied.

“Well let us go then,” Aevis said. “While he smarts from being excluded from Geoffrey’s tent. I imagine he is most displeased that my cousin was either unwilling or unable to fight for him.”

Guilhem remained crouched, frozen in place, even as his muscles screamed for release from the position. He could not believe what he had just heard. The plotting, the derision… the animosity…

Yes, his cousin, he couldn’t think of her as “auntie” at the moment, wished to marry him, but it was due to control. To squeeze his mother, her cousin and his father out of influence in England. And if that did not work then…

She has other irons in the fire.

“Sir Rogier!”

Guilhem’s eyes widened and he glanced back from where he and Savarics had come. There, he could see the side of a man. And while his eyes could not confirm it was Rogier d’Uzes, his ears soon did.

“Duchess Aevis, Lord Somerset,” Rogier said. “Good evening.”

“What are you doing here?” Somerset asked. “So far from the king’s tent?”

“The celebrations were not for me,” Rogier said. “I decided to get some more air. I think it is a fine evening for a stroll.”

“Into the English camp?” Somerset asked.

“It is all one camp and one cause, Lord Somerset,” Rogier said. “To banish the heathens from these lands.”

“And we are grateful for your aid in that,” Aevis said. “You deserve much praise. Such bravery to ride out there ahead of the king, probing the enemy.”

“I do my duty,” Rogier said. “Whatever the king asks, I shall do. It is my duty as his subject. But also kin - Duchess Aevis, I know you understand what it means to have a cousin who is like a sibling to you.”

“That… I do,” Aevis said. “That I do.”

Guilhem was listening intently, but Savarics tugged on his arm, motioning to leave. The prince wished to stay, but realized it probably wouldn’t be good to be caught there eavesdropping, so he crept away in the shadows, making his way around a neighboring tent. There they waited for the conversation to end and the Duchess and Duke to make their way away from Rogier.

The d’Uzes man watched them go before turning his head and leaning back to glance at the area where Guilhem and Savarics had been. His eyes lingered, and the prince slowly realized something.

Rogier is looking for us…. He knew where we were. And… he was covering for us with Aevis and Somerset.

He could have run. Or run to Osmund's tent... where Aevis and Somerset would be. No, he preferred the protection of his cousin.

“Cousin!” Guilhem called out.

Rogier spun around and then hurried over to the prince and Savarics. He exhaled upon reaching them.

“You two take chances,” Rogier said. “I don’t think the duke and duchess would appreciate you spying on them.”

“But what could they do?” Savarics asked. “If they harmed us…”

“Never give your enemy the opportunity to,” Rogier said. “Come.”

The d’Uzes man pointed them back toward the Aquitaine side of the camp and the boys lowered their heads, following meekly.

“Did my father send you to look for me?” Guilhem asked.

“You never left my sight,” Rogier said. “Besides when I spoke to the duke and duchess. One can never slack on their duties. Even here, in camp.”

Guilhem’s shoulders slumped. Another lecture from his father would be coming. And possibly his mother as well when she heard of it.

But then another thought occurred to him.

“Father will be interested in what I heard,” Guilhem said. “And mother as well.”

“He might be,” Rogier said. “It was why I let you listen. What did you hear?”

Guilhem recounted what Aevis had said - about her desire to marry him, to potentially murder her husband, to gain influence for England’s benefit, to present herself as unifier and that was potentially one of many plans. He had been excited at first, but by the end his voice had trailed off to the point Rogier had to ask him to repeat the last part what he’d said.

By the time they returned to the tent, the full weight of it all had again set in. Aevis, who earlier in the day he had defended, wanted to use him. Perhaps he could resist her wiles, but it was clear she was interested in power and nothing else.

Her show the day before… the flattery, the affection… it was all for influence. All for power.

And it did not take him much imagination to realize what the other options she worked on might well be - especially if Somerset was so willing to refer to the Angevins as demons… and Aevis made no attempt to correct him.

My father… was right… was all he could think.

He dreaded that conversation, but when Guilhem returned to the tent, it was clear it would not be that night. Geoffrey was not overly interested in what Rogier had told him. Instead, the king returned to the celebrations and, as he took Ælfflæd to his cot, even if it was behind a screen, the people inside the tent vacated it. Guilhem was among them, staying by Rogier and Berard, who discussed what the prince had learned.

And the yet the prince was far away from them, at least in mind. His confidence was shaken, his world turned upside down.

That night, Guilhem laid in his cot, eyes open. He had started the day with grandiose dreams of watching his father crush the heathens. He ended it… feeling miserable about everything.

He was a great deal less sure about his future at this moment. His stomach churning, his thoughts refusing to stop, he was wide awake in the darkness, hearing the stillness of the camp, the fires crackling an owl hooting in the distance.

They had beaten the heathens, but they had not crushed them. That, apparently, was by design, for his father was willing to let the powerful Caliph of the Fatimids escape in order to keep the English under their yoke. If it came to a choice between maintaining power and helping Christendom… his father chose maintaining power.

But was Geoffrey wrong? It was clear now the English were plotting to escape their rule. It wasn’t surprising to Guilhem that some lords had thought it, even though he viewed himself as their eventual rightful king. Perhaps, if he’d heard Somerset talking to someone else, it would not have affected him so.

But it was Aevis. A woman his mother thought of like a sister. And yet, a woman who was actively trying to undermine his parents, especially his mother. At the very least, she was trying to stir things up against them. In the process, she sought to control him and turn him against his parents… if he was reading her right.

Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t. He didn’t know. And that was the problem.

He had been so sure he knew his fate this morning. To fight heathens. To restore Christendom to the Holy Lands. To bring England and Aquitaine together toward a greater destiny.

Now he was not sure of the former. He would likely engage them, but perhaps not in any grand campaign or crusade.

And England? It would not come willingly. They would look to push their influence any way they could - and God help them if they were denied it.

Unlike the heathens, they could not be kept far away. The large army he would inherit from his father would only provide a small comfort. The English would always be there. Always with him - and it was in a way that his father, once again could not fully understand.

They were his cousins. His aunts. His uncles. His grandparents. His ancestors. His forebearers. But they didn’t see him that way.

He was an outsider. A demon. One that might be controlled and caged. But a demon nonetheless.

And against that, Guilhem knew that he could not look outward. To be safe he would have to look inward, as his father had warned he must. If he was to do anything about his potential enemies in Jerusalem, whether they were heathen or his Christian cousins, he would have to deal with his lords at home.

But how?

He was afraid he already knew the answer. And it was an answer that he suspected was going to keep him awake for many nights to come.




Note: Few pictures this time around, since not a whole lot has changed. I didn't have a lot for the battle of Lydford, but the Caliph did one of those CK2 tricks and managed to not be in the battle and then teleport to his army again sometime after the battle, which denied me the chance at capture.

I did throw the realm tree in at the end so you can see the vassals relationships with Elf... and as you can see... it is not... good. And that -20 she gets with EVERY lord and lady because Guilhem is being raised Occitan with Geoffrey as his guardian? That's where that rant by the king about Saxon culture and how they view Guilhem came from.
 
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Ooo. We live and learn. And G is not going to the holy land after all. Though the Queen may have to...
 
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Midnite Duke

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English royalty, the snake pit of Christendom. Doubters, just ask a Viking. King Geoff sounds like a man nearing the end of a long journey rather than a man beginning his prime. Power does age a man rapidly.
 
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guillec87

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such a nice chapter!! I did really enjoyed it, and now I see why it has to be from Guilhelm's perspective... It could not be another way... and also like the Realpolitik lesson he got from his future Saxon / Norman vassals...
 
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Guilhem is going to need therapy for anxiety now that he realizes he's inheriting an entire country of people who'd prefer he were dead. I literally laughed at Aveis' gamble on the the demon family's infamous propensity for older women! But she's seriously overestimating herself if she thinks she can measure up to, or surpass, past influential wives, mistresses, and dalliances.

Geoffrey was pretty unflappable despite the English lords' goading. I feel like the Iron Duke or Geoffrey I would have levied a much harsher punishment for an accusation of cravenness, for opposite reasons.
 
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The battle went well, and all the experience Geoffrey has by now acquired in his favoured field really showed there. The Aquitain army might truly be the strongest of Christendom under his leadership, especially with the HRE both excommunicated and splintered all the time.

The Saxon specialty is another, and Guilhem has seen a mere facet of it now. That may help his relationship with his father, seeing him as being the party in the right, but it remains a fact that the snake pit of England hasn't lost its venom under Aquitain dominance. Not at all.


And I do find it fascinating that Aevis is yet another of the Hervé-type characters. By that I mean that they are actually dumb, but highly qualified in one field, which makes them very useful and beloved in Hervé's case and potentially dangerous in Aevis'.
 
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To be sure, England is very lucky the Queen is technically in control. If G2 was, he has the power, reach and will to just revoke all the current landowner titles and execute/throw them all in prison. And if they try to revolt, they will lose.

Indeed, if G3 comes to power whilst G2 is still alive, he may well push for his son to do that. Or to do it as soon as he has Aquitaine as well.

England may whine, but they are playing a dangerous game. G2 does not need them, and G3 will not need them specifically. If I were Aqutiane, I'd tribute war the HRE, and then use them to turn England into North Aquitaine. Remove all these Lords, good and bad, and replace with occitans. Then convert the whole culture.

G3's other problem is, as ever, the family reputation. If he can learn the lessons of restraint before puberty, perhaps he will act as a restoration of piety in the public view. Surely st some point, one of the House has to try for that.
 
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To be sure, England is very lucky the Queen is technically in control. If G2 was, he has the power, reach and will to just revoke all the current landowner titles and execute/throw them all in prison. And if they try to revolt, they will lose.

Indeed, if G3 comes to power whilst G2 is still alive, he may well push for his son to do that. Or to do it as soon as he has Aquitaine as well.

England may whine, but they are playing a dangerous game. G2 does not need them, and G3 will not need them specifically. If I were Aqutiane, I'd tribute war the HRE, and then use them to turn England into North Aquitaine. Remove all these Lords, good and bad, and replace them with Occitan. Then convert the whole culture.

G3's other problem is, as ever, the family reputation. If he can learn the lessons of restraint before puberty, perhaps he will act as a restoration of piety in the public view. Surely at some point, one of the House has to try for that.
do you imagine in-game terms what that would mean? to revoke all Duchies and some counties? the opinion's handy cup would be just terrifying... and I do not see Guilhelm going such a thing... just being aware of the kind of vassals he has should be more than enough... of course, should he inherit England first... he would be very dependant on his father's armies...
 
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do you imagine in-game terms what that would mean? to revoke all Duchies and some counties? the opinion's handy cup would be just terrifying... and I do not see Guilhelm going such a thing... just being aware of the kind of vassals he has should be more than enough... of course, should he inherit England first... he would be very dependant on his father's armies...
Oh at this point, Aqutiane is bulletproof in terms of gameplay. The only reason there will be any struggle is cos of role-playing and lack of cheese. If so desired, tribute all the kingdoms neighbours and have them deal with any revolts so you don't even need to use the Royal army. And once that's set up, none of the vassals matter at all. Most ck2 money now comes from well-developed private family holdings, and tributaries if you have them.

If G2 were so inclined, he could rule over most of europe in a few years just by using the tributary war system. And, going full game cheese for a moment, he can tear England away from the queen and give it to his son himself. After hes stripped all the titles of course, so the kid doesn't have the opinion mallus.
 
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Midnite Duke

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Elf and Geoff are in a no win situation with Guilhem's studies. Send him to Oxford (or Cambridge) and all of Geoff's subjects are upset. Send him to the Sorbonne and all of Elf's subjects are upset. (What is a top uni in Aquitaine region? This would be better choice than Sorbonne (Paris)).
 
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