• Crusader Kings III Available Now!

    The realm rejoices as Paradox Interactive announces the launch of Crusader Kings III, the latest entry in the publisher’s grand strategy role-playing game franchise. Advisors may now jockey for positions of influence and adversaries should save their schemes for another day, because on this day Crusader Kings III can be purchased on Steam, the Paradox Store, and other major online retailers.


    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

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Avernite

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Update froggy, update! ;)

also, a very nice piece... I must say, Nell and Trempy had worked it all out a bit sooner than I, but it does make sense, somehow.
 

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The game is afoot! Poor Adele, no -one has ever fought a campaign to put her on the throne.

Trempwick is showing some nice human touches, Maybe it is not having the spymaster's job. That or just growing old.

Nefastus needs a bride ...
 

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Now there's an idea!! :D It would secure Hugh/Nell's alliance with Malcolm just as he is settling down from "digesting" his elevation to kingship. Though I'm not sure I'd wish it upon Nefastus to get Adele as wife... :p

I'm not sure he would wish it on himself either. He doesn't seem like the type to take such an offer well.
 

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"Tell me, what do you see?"

Adele made a show of looking around the castle garden. "Trees. Flowers. Grass. Sky." Walls on all four sides. A guard by the gate.

The priest smiled gently. "I was torn. I half expected you to answer with that, half with simply 'walls'."

Adele did not answer. It felt too much like a trap.

The priest reached up to touch the leaves on a nearby tree. He stroked them as fondly as he might the fur of a favoured dog. "The sky unnerved me. At first, and for some time afterwards. But plants, somehow they were different. Calming." With a smile that said he knew he was being foolish he confided, "Like friends."

"You asked for permission to speak to me in this charming setting. I had assumed you would have something of worth to say."

The priest released the leaves, and the branch sprang back to its natural position. "Here, we may talk with no one to overhear, observed though we are to guard propriety. Here, you may say whatever you wish - or need - without fear. We are but two fellow prisoners."

"You are eager to say that," Adele challenged, "yet so very reluctant to provide any substance to support the claim. You know my story; I know nothing of you."

"As to that, I respectfully beg to differ. I know very little of your story, I think. It is a lack I hope to correct. As for the other ..." The priest executed a proper courtly bow. "Ezio, at your service. Forgive me if I do not add my lineage or birthplace to my name; you will shortly understand why." Ezio seated himself cross-legged under a tree. "My story ... keeping it shorter in the telling is better, I think. It captures the essence. More words wound it somehow - some things are cheapened by expression as no mere language can contain them."

From her superior position on the garden's only bench Adele looked down on him. "How very poetic," she said contemptuously. Did this priest think to win her with half-told tales and excuses?

"Listen, then judge. Not the other way around. That is how people are condemned for crimes they did not commit."

Adele's heart skipped a beat at those harshly spoken words, setting off a medley of pains in a head still recovering from last night's wine. Could this man understand something of the injustice she had suffered? If she could convince him then he might in turn convince others, and then ...

"I was my lord father's heir. Handsome, well reared, all a knight was expected to be in my part of Italy. My future was assured." Ezio sighed. "Shortly before I was to be married, I fell in love, and not with my bride."

"How tragic," Adele muttered. How boring. A common tale of someone falling in love and still marrying their pre-chosen, practical spouse.

The priest looked at her from under his brows, a wry cast to his features as though he knew what she thought. "Yes, I married. But to the right woman, or the wrong depending on your view. I married my love, scorned my betrothed."

Adele sat up a little straighter. "You did?"

"I did, some weeks before my arranged match was to take place. We were very happy in our time together." Ezio clasped his hands in his lap and concentrated his gaze on them. "Then I had to tell my family what I had done. My father had barely begun to vent his rage - for she was deeply unsuitable, being of merchant's blood - when my betrothed's father arrived. Father - and brothers, and uncles. Quite a powerful family, and numerous, and vengeful." He looked up again, his eyes filled with pain and unshed tears. "I will not speak of what followed. My family was destroyed. And I, I was taken alive and thrown into a room converted to a prison at the favourite residence of my would-have-been family. A living reminder of what happened to those who crossed this family. And there I stayed until the father died, and his eldest son took the mantle. It had been years, and he wanted me out of the way. I was given a choice: church or churchyard." Ezio indicated his priestly garb with a wave of his hand. "As you see, I chose to survive."

Headache quite forgotten, Adele savoured the words. What love had this nobleman had for his mysterious low-born wife? He must have known the danger, even if he had under-estimated it. A child with a head full of stories would have recognised the danger. Stories - her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What happened to your wife?"

"I do not know," he answered simply. "Knowing the anger my decision would cause, I did not take her home with me. I thought to calm the waters a little first, spare her some of the storm. I like to think that she escaped notice, found another love, and lived - lives - happily in all safety."

"Your captors never told you?"

"They told me many things. I chose not to believe them. They brought no proof, and while there is room for hope I will hope with all my heart."

Somehow ... somehow it rang true. The way he spoke, the way he looked as he said the words - as though a piece were taking flight from his soul, pained and uplifted both at once. And, for all the resemblance to a romantic tale, it differed enough in ways that felt right. The heroes in stories always set out to discover what happened to their wife - or the villains brought grisly proof - took their vows because of whatever form of truth they found.

His voice broke into her thoughts, "You will not ask me the same question that all of the others privileged to hear my tale have asked?"

"And what is that?"

"Was she worth it?"

Worth it. The words echoed through Adele's head in twin voices. One man's voice, distorted by distance and dulled by the assembled crowd waiting to see him die, shouting "She was not worth it!" only he must have really said, "She was worth it!" and only the distortion made it sound otherwise. Another man, dismissive voice muffled by her head being buried in her arms, "All that bother, and so very not worth it."

"My lady?"

Adele came back to the present to find the priest regarding her with some concern. It appeared this was not the first time he'd tried to gain a reaction. "I am sorry. I find I do not feel well." Suddenly it was very important to go, to get out of here and away from all of this - the flowers, the openness, him.

He accepted his easily enough, though continued to look at her as though he expected her to faint. "Was it something I said? Did my story distress you? If so I apologise -"

She couldn't bear another word; she could hear him, that hateful, disdainful voice that first visit after the execution, "He told the crowd you were not worth it. I hope he was wrong, considering how much I have done to get you." Taking a moment to shut the voice out and centre herself, Adele managed to force a laugh. "No. No, rather too much wine and good food at yesterday's banquet. I fear I am no longer used to such pleasures."

"I understand." Ezio offered his arm. "Shall I escort you?"

They made it midway across the garden before Adele stopped, needing to shed part of the weight she carried before it crushed her entirely. He said he could help her, and she knew he did understand some things, and to shed a safe part of the burden could surely do no harm. Gripping his arm tightly she confided urgently, "We are damned. My entire family, past and future. Because of the first William. He drowned this kingdom in blood when he stole its crown, and drowned it again to keep it, and all those dead innocents went straight to God's side and He knows all. The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons - it is in the bible itself."

"The bible does say that-"

Adele cut through his careful platitude, "If you knew our history you would not doubt. None of us are ever happy for long. We have the temper of demons. And so many troubles - always, every generation since that first William's sons. All we can do is size the good when it is available, and beg God's forgiveness our entire lives in the hope that one day it will be enough and the punishment will end."

The guard was paying them more attention than before. Ezio noticed as well; he pressed her hand reassuringly and began to walk once again. "This we may speak of another time, if you wish, in the chapel and before God."






It's been a month? Seriously, where does time go!? Guess that's the result of the multitudes of bother at work, the lousy weather, and so on.

This was intended to be here yesterday. I got most of the way done and was having trouble staying awake; not been a well froggy at all since the middle of last week. Lousy working conditions have chipped away at my health this month, until I ended up nastily ill. How lousy? No heating in the middle of winter and deep snow. No hot water. Few functional lights. Open windows including one right next to my desk! Power cuts at random intervals. And other woes, like an annoying high pitched electrical squeal going constantly. Not for one day, not for two days, but for more than two weeks. Welcome to the civil service in a third world state, er - England. And then they make you fight to keep your job there, like some kind of sick joke. Fortunately, as of today my job is safe and I'm relocated to another - decent! - office.

If anyone's interested, I started a new topic in the EUIII section. It's not story based, and won't detract from this one. Rather the opposite - I hope. Having a completely different project (combination help thread, game report, and stupid comedy) will exercise different writing muscles and maybe get me more limber. If I knew what I was doing I might be dangerous: a clueless AAR.

Ugh. I need to go to bed. Getting hard to stay awake again.
 

Avernite

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Late to spot it, but nice update. Trempy's story is so fitting at times that I can accept that he has the right emotions, and Adele feels the pain.

It really felt like it made sense, and yet it is so tragic.
 

frogbeastegg

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"Well?"

Trempwick put down the records he had been reading, struggling to mask his surprise. Either Nell's movements were getting quieter or his hearing was fading. He had not heard her enter the room at all, though granted he had not closed the door. "God's blessed mercy, I am getting old," he breathed.

"What was that?"

Trempwick allowed himself a hint of a smile. It seemed youth and the ability to move like a cat didn't gift supernatural hearing. "How may I help your Highness?"

"You have something. I can tell." Nell settled herself next to him in the window seat and leaned forward with elbows on her knees. Scrutinising him. "When you last spoke with my sister you came back pensive. I could all but see your mind working over the pieces. Now you are occupying yourself with other things," she gestured at his reading, "and I know that means you are letting something settle."

"Quite correct." With that admission Trempwick's mind clicked back into sharp focus, the looseness his reading had allowed vanishing like mist before the sun. Too soon. He'd not yet found best way to put it to her. Utmost caution needed else he would doom himself.

"And you have not yet seen fit to inform me of whatever it is you have discovered."

Frowned at the tone of rebuke. "You did not inform me that I must come to you the very heartbeat I identified the possibility of something I could think about, dearest Nell."

"I commanded that you keep me well informed."

"And indeed I shall."

"I would know what you have found that is so worth consideration." She sat up. Those eyes cold. Suspicious. Not good at all. "I would know why it has taken you near all of the day to admit to me that you found something. Why you still do not tell me, so I may think on it myself." She leaned in, said softly. "A spymaster must know every strand of the web. Particularly when dealing with untrustworthy agents."

Not good at all. Summoned his own version of that chill regard. "A spymaster must know when it is best not to interfere with what she has set in motion."

She sat back. Cocked her head to one side. "An entire day, Raoul. What have you learned, and what are you plotting?"

No. It could not work like this. Would be requesting something ungrantable. Would further promote suspicion. Sat back. Relaxed his aggressive front as much as she had hers. "Beloved Nell, you make my position rather difficult. I have ... little to speak of. Unconnected details which begin to come together. I feel I am close to seeing a way. Close - not yet there."

"Then tell me these details. Give me a reason to be less wary of you."

Closed his eyes, slumped back against the wall. Let his mind loosen again. Let his thoughts wander, let them slow down, let things unrelated to the problem of Adele re-enter his mind. Trempwick let the inner spymaster go back to sleep; it took wilful effort. His hand stroked the records resting in his lap, the parchment's fine grain making his fingertips tingle. "I found these amongst the castle's stores. They relate to the original castle, do you know? They are the construction order. William the Bastard's mark is on them, his seal too. A great wooden fortification -"

Nell interrupted, "And I would care precisely why?"

Almost he laughed; why indeed? She had never been one for history. But then once nor, truly, had he. "I write a history of the Kings of England, remember? And here, in my hands, is one piece of that history. The start of one of the most important castles in this land. The mark of the first king of your line."

She scowled. "A dead man, a castle long since built over, and nothing at all to do with my sister."

"No," he corrected gently. "It has a little to do with your sister. The loosest, littlest bit." He arranged the parchment so that the seal and cross-shaped mark that was the illiterate William's signature were oriented towards her. "This." Reverently he touched the mark. "Him. Your four times great-grandsire. Your most famous grandsire, the man who took the crown in battle and held the country by the strength of his sword."

Nell spared the mark a moment of attention. "He is more a legend than a man."

"Yes." Trempwick rolled up the parchment with brisk, efficient movements. "And no. There is a man who may be glimpsed from time to time in records like this. In events. Hastings. The Harrying of the North. Think on what would cause a man to do such things, and there indeed one can see a shadow of the man who was your many times great-grandsire. An iron will. A great confidence in himself and those who stood at his side. A degree of justice, harsh and hard yes, but neither of those actions were taken without great provocation to him-"

"My sister," she promoted, though with less of her earlier severity.

"One great battle, the total destruction of the northlands, not to mention his many wars in Normandy and, later, against his own son. The deaths of many thousands, untold suffering for many thousands more. The English, for their treachery in giving their crown to another against William's right, had their way of life trampled underfoot. Some remains, much more was lost if earlier records -"

"My sister!"

This time Trempwick did allow himself a smile. "But you already know what was said in the garden, dearest Nell."

She betrayed no reaction. "She believes our family cursed by his deeds."

And in the back of Trempwick's mind the pieces came together with a click. He could see how to approach this. "You wish her to take vows. She believes there is a sin to atone for. The two may be made to work together. To prod her along the path, the unexpected revelation your knight so helpfully provided. And an offer of trade; guide her to ask for manageable things in exchange for doing as we wish." He let that sit for a heartbeat, then added quietly, "But Nell, it must be me who does this. I will prod, and I will guide. She will heed me in a way she will not any other."

She took a deep, slow intake of breath. "You expect me to allow this? To leave you a free hand and trust - trust! - that you do not betray me in some way?"

"A trade, dearest Nell." Trempwick set the rolled parchment to one side and extended his hand to her. "In return for managing your sister to your satisfaction you will give me something I value greatly. Something I want far more than a chance to try my hand once again at removing that ignoble bastard who squats on my dead friend's throne. Take my hand on it and I will consider myself bound."

"And what could you possibly value so greatly?" She regarded his outstretched hand as though it were a viper.

"That I shall tell you once our work is done."

"You know I will make no blind bargain."

"Naturally. So, I say this: you will promise to listen to my request and give it fair consideration, and you will grant it unless you find some grave danger in it." He extended his hand another inch or two towards her, insistent. "You will not deny me from spite. You will not deny me from suspicion. You will not deny me because you cannot understand why I would ask for this thing. You will not deny me, in short, for anything save a good reason."

"So you would ask for two gains from this."

"No," he said quickly. "No. What you offered me before, I no longer want. Occasional, limited access to correspondence - no, I do not want that. All I would have of this is what I will now request. Deny me that and I will take nothing."

"And why not simply tell me what you want now? Why make such a mystery of it?"

In this the truth would serve him best. "Because, my most dear Nell, you will view any bargain struck with me as one struck with the devil. Were I to simply state my desire you would dismiss it and search for something more hidden behind it. Whereas this way you may believe there is some honesty when I finally do ask."

She quoted a popular saying, "When one sups with the devil one should bring a long spoon."

Now to add the second truth to round matters off. "Should you choose to deny me I would be grateful to be spared the humiliation of keeping your company with the awkwardness of my having bared a portion of my soul to ill effect hanging between us. So best it comes shortly before we part ways."

Her eyes narrowed. "I mislike the sounds of this request of yours."

Trempwick set on hand over his heart and held the other up in an attitude of taking an oath. "I swear that I shall ask for nothing which will impinge on your honour, threaten the realm or yourself, bring harm to you or any you consider under your ward, place you in a difficult position at court or with your brother or husband, or otherwise knock apples from your little cart." He lowered his hand and once again extended it to her.

After a long gap Nell said, "I will agree to nothing more than listen to this request of yours. If you work to my complete satisfaction. I will deny it utterly if I see fit. And should you give me cause to think it the best course, I will still have you killed, so beware. I will see you dead before I permit you to use her as you tried to use me." She took his hand to seal the pact. "Knock apples off my little cart?"

Trempwick shrugged. "A turn of phrase which occurred to me and I found amusing." God knew he needed amusement from somewhere; there was none to be found in this work. Twisting a damaged soul to turn from the life she had dreamed of during captivity in favour of another kind of prison. He muttered, "Getting old."

Nell raised an eyebrow in askance.

"No matter." He rose. "I will say this: your sister and yourself have one main thing in common at present. Most disconcerting - trying, really. A trial"

She looked up at him from under her brows, amusingly wary. "And that would be?"

He took a moment to decide how to reveal this to maximum effect. "My dearest, most beloved Nell, simply, to those rare few with eyes to see, you both exude a degree of desperation for someone to be close to you. Though you hide it far better than she." Taking advantage of her stunned silence he brushed his fingertips across her cheek. "Simple human contact to keep the gnawing things at bay." He placed two fingers over her heart. "Things which gnaw there." Trempwick patted Nell on the shoulder and began to walk away. “Retrieve that husband of yours soon. I blame this high level of tetchiness – even for you and that is saying something! – on prolonged abandonment.”

Utterly flabbergasted she couldn’t managed any reply better than “Urk!”

He winked, tapped his fingers to his forehead in a salute, and sauntered off. Something impacted the doorway near his head as he passed through; he didn't pause to find out what.

Once safely away he slowed down. He let the trace of mirth drain away on a lengthy sigh. A trial indeed. One he cared for too deeply to allow her to sink into the bleakness that came from horror endured, the other he must cast into that selfsame abyss. It ate at him. His pace quickened, carrying him towards the castle's records and the reading he could find to aid his writing. His own answer to the gnawing now his friends were dead and Elgiva barred from seeing him again. No human contact left for him now. "Too damned old, and soft in the head to add to my penance," he muttered.






"The king will see you now."

Fulk had been waiting in attendance for so long that at first the words did not register. He looked up and found a page waiting with an expression of carefully concealed awe. "Now?" he asked stupidly.

"At once." The boy turned away and pulled open the door to the chamber where Hugh had been holding audience.

Rising from the wooden bench with difficulty - he'd been sat there since early this morning and had only moved to go to the privy twice - Fulk strode through the empty hall. He was the last person waiting for audience; every single other who had presented themselves today had been called in before him. Every single one had seen him, the king's brother-by-law sat there passed over as a mark of disfavour. They had avoided his company, leaving distance as though he carried a disease. When the light began to fade he was the only one left waiting, and only a minimum of torches had been lit to prevent his sitting there in total dark. He had passed the time reading the letter Eleanor had sent him from Dover, a message which had only reached him by the good fortune of his party running into her messenger on the road. She had sent him three words only, 'Mea maxima culpa' - my most grievous error. If this went well he would be able to go and find her. Then he would have something to say about those three words.

The door closed behind him. Blinking in the brighter illumination that filled Hugh's chamber Fulk made his obeisance and held it, thinking it best to act humbly.

"Rise."

Fulk did so, and waited.

Hugh positioned himself so they stood face to face, and clasped his hands behind his back. "I always endeavour to keep the man alive as well as the king," he said, almost conversationally. "I will not repeat my lord father's error and allow the crown to swallow those aspects of myself which do not belong to power and ruling. Sometimes it is difficult. The crown is demanding. To rule well I must be more and better than a man. Sometimes. To be impartial, to make difficult decisions. At other times it is the simplest thing in the world."

The next thing Fulk knew he was reeling backwards fighting to keep his feet, stars exploding across the left side of his vision. He clapped a hand to his face even as he raised the other into a defensive position.

"You arrogant churl!" shouted Hugh.

Fulk brought his hand away from his face; already he could tell he was going to have a stunning black eye. "I-"

Hugh brandished a finger. "Silence! Let a man have his say. Then we will come to the king and to your excuses, whatever they may be."

This would be the easier part of the interview, Fulk knew. Compared to what he had come to do his brother-by-law's rage was a mere rainy day. All the same it was not easy to stand passively.

"I told you when you married my sister that you had best take care of her. I told you, did I not?"

It seemed that an answer was required. "You did, and I said-"

"I expected better of you than this. I am gravely, deeply disappointed." Hugh clenched his fists and held them up before Fulk's face. "I tell you this, I would pulverise you if I did not know it would grieve her more deeply!"

"I can respect a man for standing up for his sister-" Fulk raised an arm to guard his face, thinking that Hugh was about to punch him again. Fortunately the other man didn't act on the impulse that a twitch of his muscles had betrayed. "I can respect it. I would do the same had I a sister of my own and felt she had been wronged." Again he saw that telltale indication that Hugh was tempted to strike him. Moving back a pace Fulk appealed, "Is it any more right to attack a man you know cannot fight back? You may say you act as a brother and not a king but this is no brawl on the village green!"

"That is not an argument I expected to hear from you."

"Or is it one you did not wish to hear?"

Hugh's lip curled with contempt. "You are not half so smooth when you are in the wrong and called upon it."

Tempted to show his brother-by-law precisely how smooth he could be, Fulk instead massaged his swelling eye. "Were we on the village green I would tell you that it is nobody's business to interfere between a man and his wife, least of all one who has no real idea what's happened. And if you came for me again I would break your nose."

"I had considered that option," Hugh said, his manner surprisingly friendly compared to before. "I understand that my sister finds the current set of your face to be attractive. She would have been terribly vexed with me had I broken it."

Fulk found himself grinning. "We wouldn't want that, would we?"

"Arthur is not yet old enough to assume the throne," Hugh said dryly. "I believe the man has had his say. Remember in future that, difficult as our relationship is and much as I deplore her many foibles, I will stand by my sister to the utmost in private family matters. As an elder brother should." He examined the knuckles of his right hand for damage. "Should the brother be called upon again I will nor restrain myself. Not for my sister's preferences, and not for your feeling that you cannot defend yourself." He lowered his fist. "I pray that is understood most clearly, and taken to heart."

Well, that meant there were a whole two occasions now where Hugh had acted like a brother Fulk could respect instead of one deserving a sturdy punch to the balls. The first, of course, being the time he'd told Fulk he'd better be a good husband.

"And now for the king." Hugh settled himself in the high-backed chair he'd been using as a makeshift throne. "On your knees, Alnwick, and explain what you mean by threatening to destabilise my realm."

Suppressing a groan Fulk lowered himself to his knees. "It is not easy-"

"Because there can be no good cause!"

"With respect, sire, that is not entirely true."

"Oh?" Hugh began to drum his fingers on the arm of the chair. "There is a sound reason for walking away from your wife, whom I remind you happens to be my sister, the only sister then present in England and the selfsame sister about whom a civil war formed in a treacherous bid to steal my throne? Because honestly I admit I was not aware of one."

When had Hugh become such a sarcastic bastard?

"After all," Hugh continued, his voice flat as a tabletop, "you have only announced far and wide that my royal sister is not good enough for you, a baseborn bastard. Thus throwing her into humiliation, and tainting the family as a whole. You have also ensured that everybody is aware that the marriage which moved her away from my throne is now endangered, and thus, I fear, sparked ideas amongst certain minds. Ideas concerning finding a new, more suitable husband for her." Hugh stopped tapping his fingers and pressed his hand flat on the chair's arm. "Yes, I would much like to hear this most excellent reason for recreating certain of the conditions which led to civil war a mere three years ago."

"It is a private matter, sire."

"When it touches upon the safety of my realm it cannot be."

Fulk would be damned before he discussed the details of his marriage with Hugh. It was none of his business. "Sire, I came here with a request-"

"You came here because I summoned you."

"I was already on the road when your summons found me."

"Very bold of you, to think of requesting anything of me having caused me so much discomfort."

"I have a solution to the problem which caused strife between Eleanor and myself. It needs your blessing."

Hugh left him to stew for a bit before saying, "Then get up and tell me. And I warn you, whatever you may believe to be the solution and whether I grant it or no, you will return to her and you will resume living under the same roof, to all intents and purposes a perfectly happy couple. Or I will have you destroyed and find her a new husband myself."

"The lack of an heir causes difficulty between us." Back on his feet Fulk felt better able to face what he needed to. Hard enough without grovelling on the ground.

"I will not change my decree. I will permit no child born of your mismatch to threaten my own."

"I did not come to request that." Fulk cast about for a way to make this bearable, then decided that the best way to pull an arrow was to do so quickly. "With your permission - and a decree to support it, make it legal - we could take a child not of our joined blood to be our heir. One close enough to be family, but one who under normal circumstances would not be considered in the line of succession."

Hugh's gaze pierced Fulk to his core, made the shame boiling there threaten to consume him. "And whose child would this putative heir be?"

It was the only way. To get Eleanor back he had to put the question of an heir to rest. It was too late to go back, much too late, had been too late since that night when he'd got drunk enough to stomach making a decision. Tense, almost shaking at the ignominy of it, Fulk answered and in so doing revealed his sin against his wife.










A couple of weeks ago I had this feeling that if I started writing and kept on going I'd finish the entire story in one go and manage to get it quite close to how it was meant to be. Unfortunately I was at work. By the time I got home the feeling had gone. I waited to see if it would come back; it hasn't. So we plod onwards.

Quite amusing how Hugh unbends enough to play big brother for a bit. Especially considering his attitude to Nell when they met at the start. Thing is, while it's rather unexpected for him to punch someone, it's exactly what you'd expect if you gave it a bit of thought. He's so concerned with doing the proper thing, and what else is a big brother meant to do when his little sister gets upset by a boyfriend? :p

NB: Elgiva was Trempy's long-standing mistress from the main story. Each time he went on what Nell dubbed 'a spymaster's holiday' he went to see her and spend some time with his guard relaxed, his mind free of plans, and no work to bother him. That's how he used to cope when the responsibility, stress, deaths, and what have you.
 

unmerged(58610)

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So Fulk has gone and fathered a bastard. That's not likely to endear Fulk to Hugh or Nell, for that matter.

Nevertheless Nell needs a child.

I do wonder if there was more to Trempy 's visits to Elgiva than just some r and r.
 

frogbeastegg

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I do wonder if there was more to Trempy 's visits to Elgiva than just some r and r.
Oh yes indeedy - he occasionally used to ask her for advice about Nell when she was a child. Wish I could remember how he phrased it when he told her about it in the main story (I wrote that bit years ago and I can't find the spot in the manuscript) as I recall it being rather funny. Something about his having little experience with children and none at being a girl, and his sanity being under threat with a princess belting around the place like a badly trained puppy. Then, when Nell had grown up and they were betrothed, he eventually consulted Elgiva for advice on how to win Nell away from Fulk. That was after his own tactics had failed ... and if I'm honest I'm half convinced he used her as an excuse to change his approach, as that's the point where he told Nell about her.

Elgiva also brews very good ale. :D

Mauger, Trempwick's old master at arms lived at the same little estate. Thus each visit allowed Trempy to practice his battle-based combat skills without it becoming wide knowledge. Mauger followed Trempy throughout his rebellion and died at Alnwick. By that point he was quite old; he'd been in Trempy's service since Trempy was a boy. The loss is keenly felt, though kept private.

Salcey was important to Trempy. On that little estate he was able to relax into being as close to a normal person as a spymaster can. When wading through the most unpleasant aspects of human nature got overbearing he could spend a few days there and recover some balance.
 

Avernite

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That Nell and Trempy part is really touching... to see Trempy recover his humanity, yet see Nell so devoid of hers in favour of duty. I like happy endings, so I hope Adele can find real happiness somewhere, maybe with Trempy in some faraway convent where noone will care too much.

And then Fulk... I thought he'd go and name one of Hugh's kids his heir... And then he comes up with that.
 

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Yeah, a new post! I was fearing we'd never see one.

And one with interesting twists in the making, as well.

More, we want more!!
 

Cunobelinus54

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For the past few months I've been reading this relentlessly and I think I can quite safely say that its one of the best AARs I've ever seen. Excellent characters, excellent plot, excellent update.
 

frogbeastegg

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Ugh. It's been an unpleasant few months. First problems at work, then the death of a very good friend. For a while I feared I had lost the spark to write at all. All this time I have been trying and failing to get anywhere. Then today ... it worked.

So if anyone is still reading, here's the next part.





"We might continue our discussion another time, you said. In the chapel. So here I am." Adele tilted her chin aggressively, expecting the priest to protest that now was not the time.

Eleanor's priest clambered to his feet, bracing one hand on the edge of the altar as if uncertain that his knees would cooperate. He made a reverence to finish his interrupted prayer and turned to face her. "Your Highness. I had expected you sooner than this. I had expected you on that same day as our interrupted discussion."

Adele waved a hand dismissively. The crossroads approached, that much she could tell, and it had taken more than a day to gather herself to the point where her purpose was once more cold. Safely cold. Rigid as ice. Like ice, able to burn without the blaze growing past controlling.

"Permit me to speak freely. Time runs short for you."

"Tomorrow we leave for my brother's court." Adele was gratified at how remote she sounded. As if nothing touched her. Regal.

"And from the moment you leave this castle's gates you must be resolved on your future else you risk control of your life slipping through your grasp once more."

Burn, he would burn! Burned by ice. Everything he had visited on her returned a hundredfold, a thousandfold. Him and all those who had aided him! "I am resolved."

Something flashed across Ezio's face, something Adele incredulously identified as irritation. "No! No, your Highness." He closed the space between them in several rapid strides. "You are resolved on dreams. Useless dreams at that! Marriage?" He laughed harshly. "Your brother will never permit it. Even should he do so, no one will have you. Even should some fool step forward, you will find no joy."

At each pronouncement Adele recoiled as if slapped. Something broke inside her. "No," she cried. "You are wrong. I will-"

As she backed down the priest advanced matching her step for step. "You are a known adulteress! No man worth considering will have you. You will bring no honour to your family, no alliance worth having-"

"Lies!" she whispered. "All lies."

Ezio flung one arm out towards the altar. "Then tell me so as part of confession, your Highness. For otherwise I do not believe you - the guilt lurks in your soul, it betrays you." He let his arm drop to his side. "You lie well. Not well enough to fool me."

Adele shook her head, hands pressed to her ears to blot him out. She'd faced worse and denied the charges. Much worse.

He pointed to the altar once again. "Lie to God. You have lied to man often enough. Finish it - lie to your creator. He knows all. He understands and is filled with sympathy for those who stray. But not those who lie to Him."

Adele snarled, "I will not be bullied!" She should leave. Walk out and have no more to do with this - this madman!

Suddenly the priest was blocking her exit. "I tell you again, your thoughts are not closed to me."

"I thought you an ally."

"I am. The kind you need most, the kind unafraid to drag you to reality while you might yet salvage something of your life."

"Reality?" She tried to laugh and aborted the attempt when it came out closer to a sob.

Then all threat from the man was gone, like a hunting hound slipped back onto leash. In the most normal of tones he asked, "Who raped you, your Highness?"

Her mouth worked and no sound came out. No words formed inside her head. Moments later his words ripped through her and she found herself staggering backwards, hand pressed to her mouth repeating, "No. No. No."

"More than once, I would guess. Your jailors?"

"No. No. They never - no one ever-"

"Someone else then."

Her knees felt weak; she leaned against the nearest object for support. His voice saying, 'You refused me. Me! And you a whore! Your lover is not fit to be mud on my boots, and you refused me. So I had to make this possible. It is your own fault, whore.' and his breath thick with wine and that swagger as he came towards her.

A hand caught her elbow; Adele's hand was up and her nails slashing for his face before her conscious mind had registered the fact. A hand locked about her wrist before she could catch skin. Very softly, gently, almost regretfully the priest murmured, "No more lies." He released her wrist and stepped back.

Adele realised that she was halfway sat on the altar, and that he must have caught hold of her to stop her from collapsing. "I do not lie," she said in a broken voice.

"Small details betray you, your Highness. You do well yet not well enough, not for those who have sharp eyes. Your reaction when that unfortunate touched your shoulder at the banquet-"

Like drops of water spilling into a cup it became too much and overflowed. "No. You misunderstand." She forced herself to raise her eyes, let his reaction be seen in full. Every last shred of disgust. "It is said I am an adulteress. No better than a whore. You cannot rape a whore."

Instead she saw ... boundless sympathy. "And so no accusation can ever be made. The perfect crime."

He had known that from the start. That was why he arranged for her fall. And from spite, because she had refused his advances. "No one will ever believe me."

"I do."

The undisguised honesty in those two simple words made Adele break down and cry.

"Others will. Those with eyes to see. But they will not be many. Highness, you were right to conceal your secret."

Adele started to laugh through her tears and could not stop. Accusing any man of rape would destroy her. Accusing her own son-by-marriage! The perversity of his lust would be thrown right back on her, his sin would become hers in the eyes of the world.

She became aware that the priest was cautiously shaking her shoulder and saying, "Your Highness, calm, I beg of you. Please, control yourself. Should anyone be passing and hear this ... mania they will wonder."

With an effort Adele bit down on the laughter and dug her fingernails into her temples, digging in hard. After a bit she felt able to say, "I want justice. Simple justice. And I want my life back."

"Highness, the first may be possible with some difficulty depending on who he is. The second? This is the reality you must face: it is impossible."

"All those years I dreamed-"

Gently he interrupted, "All those years you were imprisoned alone with this wound, trying to find a way to heal it with no help, no escape. Imprisonment itself for such a length would harm most people." He dropped into a crouch at her side so he could look up into her lowered face. "You might recover in some measure and pick up something of a normal life with the right husband and right setting. But you will not get that husband. You will get a man brought and paid for, willing to take you only for the benefits you bring. You will not get that setting. You will be flung back out into the world and expected to take charge of a household, to act the noble lady, to bear more children. And you will be surrounded by suspicion and gossip; your husband would never trust you."

Those cherished dreams were fracturing, falling to dust which slipped through her fingers until only a core remained. A burning core of ice. Revenge. He must be destroyed! "I want justice."

"And that might - might! - be possible, should your Highness only aim for that and nothing more."

Very slowly Adele lifted her head. Her eyes felt like they were on fire, her face was taut. "And whom do I request justice of? Given that I may not speak of the crime, have no allies, and now cannot even consider having a husband to take my side."

"Your Highness must make a trade. Your brother is determined to have you take vows; demand a price. A quiet, subtle price that none will know of."

Adele considered this for a very long time. "It is impossible. The man is ... highly placed. And Hugh - how could I tell Hugh?"

"Your brother is an honourable man. Family is something he cherishes, and duty, he will always do his duty by his family down to the very final detail whether he finds it agreeable or no. I believe he would see the truth when you tell it."

"Your belief is not enough. If you are wrong I will have nothing - nothing!"

Simply he replied, "If you do not try you will have nothing."

"It is too big of a risk."

"Speak of Hugh to your sister on during your journey. Learn what you can of him. Let Eleanor help place your mind at ease."

And yet, and yet, and yet ... she could twist the story a little, could she not? Use most of the story she'd planned on the journey to England. Demand her son-by-marriage's ruin as justice for her sons and her cruel, false imprisonment. No need to mention the ... rest. No need to reveal the lowest depths.

The priest interrupted her thoughts, "You need not fear he is out of reach either. Hugh's spymaster is excellent, truly one of the greatest to hold that position. Once the decision is made he could bring down ... oh, he could bring down kings! Slowly, yes. Steadily. It would take years in all likelihood. But sooner or later," Ezio clicked his fingers. "And those years would be filled with tiny misfortunes."

Kings - Adele's heart sped. Could that be coincidence? Surely not, not with this man. No, no, it must be. It had to be. How could anyone possibly suspect? The perverted creature would have been careful, careful not to besmirch his own reputation. "You speak as though you know this spymaster."

The corners of his eyes crinkled as the priest smiled. "I know him very well. The true spymaster, not the man officially granted that title. He is a cover, you see. The true man is quite paranoid of his security. Understandably."

"I find it hard to believe he is as good as you claim."

"You remember the famous Trempwick? Your father's spymaster?"

"He was considered very skilled," Adele recalled. "Dangerous."

"When Trempwick turned to treason this new spymaster brought him down quite handily. Without that help Hugh would have stood no chance and Eleanor would sit upon the throne this day, with Trempwick at her side dictating her every move."

Adele made a thoughtful noise to show that she had heard, but otherwise made no reply.

The priest rose from his crouch. "If I may offer some consolation, the church is not so bad a destination for people like ourselves. There is time and peace to heal. In time, there are resources. Influence in the right places can achieve a lot. You may be assured that your brother would seek to place you in a position of prestige; you would be placed in a comfortable location with access to the luxuries which make life bearable. After a time you will have chance to gather power if such is still your wish; abbesses can command considerable respect."

"But it will be so ..." Adele shook her head, at a loss for words to describe the drab tedium of a convent compared to her old court.

"Fine clothes, fine food, and fine music are still very possible."

Adele searched for an alternative for a long, long time. She found none.






Several hours later Trempwick made his brief report to Eleanor.

" Did she name her attacker?" she asked, drumming her fingers on her thigh as she worked through the implications.

"She did not. She said only that he was highly placed."

"I begin to wonder ..."

"Access to her was very limited," Trempwick agreed.

"A highly placed man, she said."

"Yes ..."

"One might almost think ..."

"Yes, one might ..."

"Especially in light of her fall. Considering who accused her."

"Yes."

"And there were those very few stray rumours."

"At the time I thought the reports were of a hopeless, meaningless infatuation. The variety every youth suffers, with a different object of desire each month."

Eleanor scowled. "How am I to kill the King of Spain?!"

"Painfully," Trempwick suggested, most seriously.










So there's the big Adele revelation. It might have had some impact if the story hadn't had a massive gap in posting. :(

Her husband's son by his first marriage was a similar age to her. After some years he developed an attraction to her. Adele had a lover by this point, the chap she occasionally references as dying. The prince approached her, got rejected, and attraction turned to spiteful hate. He knew about the lover - hence part of his certainty that he'd be accepted - and set about orchestrating Adele's downfall. A bit of real evidence and a lot of arranged testimony, one accusation from a dutiful son weeping for his father's shame and the cruel necessity of tearing his family apart like this, and that was it, Adele was done for. The king refused to see her because, as suggested in those brief thoughts Adele has of him, he cared for her very deeply and did his best to make her happy. She was able to manipulate him due to this, and shamelessly did so. Poor kingy knew he had to put her aside, the accusation was too public to be waved away. It's not in the story but he actually suspected her already; he'd chosen to turn a blind eye. And so off Adele goes to her prison, and along comes a triumphant prince. He lost interest rapidly, hence those flashbacks where Adele remembers someone saying she was not worth the bother she'd caused. From there she was left to years of imprisonment in spartan conditions and with no real chance to mentally recover.

Hence the vengeful, traumatised, marginally insane Adele of this story.

BTW, in case no one remembers, Nell and Trempy already decided to kill whoever abused Adele. They agreed on that in the same scene where they both figured out she'd been raped.
 

Incognitia

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Froggy, my short comment is: my God, that was worth the wait.

To go a little longer, that is a very powerful passage. The emotions you take Adele - and the reader - through are quite intense. Put that together with the image of withering away all Adele's dreams of a fine husband, and luxuries, and moulding her down into a small core focussed on revenge...gah.

Jealousy goes here:













.
 

unmerged(58610)

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Triumphant the saga returns!

Poor Adele has not put two and two together to fathom that Eleanor is Hugh's spymaster.

You're drawing interesting similarities between Hugh and Adele. Adele denies that she is an adulteress; Hugh that that he's not a bastard. They both use the Church as the public place where they do their denial.

I am not certain Eleanor knows that Fulk has sired a bastard nor, when she knows what fate she will visit upon baby, mother and Fulk,

Hugh will gleefully seize upon it as evidence of Fulk failing his sister, though quite how he expected Alnick to have an heir when he'd banned Eleanor from having babies, I don't know. I expect he was planning to have it fall back into royal hands in the shape of his son with a ready made in to the factional fights of the Scots royal family. Hugh will probably get too angry and demand Fulk divorce Eleanor and banish him. Fulk's an Earl in Scotland and England. Hugh, may remove from the English territory but not the Scottish. Messy divorce. There's always the Dowager Queen of England to console him! And the cruel wars in Scotland to let him work out his anger management. I quite like the idea of Eleanor being Countess of the English lands of the Earldom of Alnick.

The priest is wrong. There will always be suitors for a royal sister, even one soiled like Adele. There are certainly nobles to whom Hugh owes a considerable favour. Adele may even believe that she will have her life of glittering spectacle, until her new husband disabuses her of that illusion.

Meanwhile, unless the King of Spain has a very competent spymaster, we can start preparing for his funeral.
 

frogbeastegg

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I still have readers! Huzzah! I was very concerned that no one would be left; the wait between updates was abominable.

Incognitia, the credit goes to Trempy. He talked, I wrote.

It still feels flat in places to me. That essential froggy bounce is missing, kind of like the final few brush strokes in a painting which snap this bit of background into better shape or tweak the shadow over in that corner. Still, it's not bad and it's a far sight better than what I had before I posted!

From this point onwards it all gets easier. It's the downhill of the journey: scenes which live on their own without much work from me. I shall be writing the next scene tonight and don't see why I won't have it posted within a couple of days.

Chief, yep, Adele and Hugh have a bit of mirroring going on. In some ways Adele is the cracked mirror in the family; she reflects aspects of her siblings and distorts them. Hugh buries his illegitimacy related fears to protect his family. Adele lies through her teeth because she refuses to admit she did wrong. It's not like an admission will make her situation worse.

The priest is Trempy's disguise, if you recall? He's there at Nell's orders to bring the loose cannon into one they can control, one safely shut out of the way where she can pose no threat. The truth is optional.

Fulk's plot line has been badly damaged by the lengthy waits between instalments. Makes me a very sad froggy. There's a real good soup boiling away there, lots of chunky bits to seize on and chew. The break has meant it's ended up looking like a clear line because too much has been forgotten. Crushing - the story has lost one of its two major tension lines. It's probably going to make later things seem weird too. :(

When I read his sequence through start to finish in the manuscript it sings like a plucked harp string. It's probably one of the better bits I've written, so much going on, and so many quiet little ties between his own scenes and the parts where Nell references him. :sad sigh: All ruined because his last scene essentially stands in isolation in people's minds. Now people will only see it if they go back to the beginning of 'Third Sister' and read back through. I doubt anyone has the time for that.

Nell told Fulk to go and father a bastard they could use as their heir. She suggested it a couple of times, despite him telling her to never mention it again. Her mentioning it again was the final straw, the reason he lost his temper badly enough to slap her and walk away shortly before the story started. So if he has now complied, that's pretty significant. If he's not then something else is going on.

I'm sure Adele would be happy to have Fulk as a pet. She's heard the descriptions and thinks he's wasted on Nell. He fits all those idealised dreams about being worshipped by a handsome knight to a T. :D
 

Cunobelinus54

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Another brilliant update, this was a really emotionally moving scene. Seeing some of Adele's behaviour so far makes me really curious as to how she will react when she finally meets Hugh again and acquaints herself with Fulk. I may be completely misinterpreting the situation, but it seems Adele is happy to be able to ruin Eleanor's reputation (or so she thinks) and I'm interested in seeing where that might lead.
 

Qorten

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I am very pleased to see you continue frogbeastegg! You certainly haven't lost your mojo, even if it took a while to find it again after your troubles. A very good return to writing.
 

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Fantastic update Froggy! I'm delighted there's something to read and if I've partially forgotten the Fulk and Nell plotline, your update on this side of the story is certainly enough for me to be able to grasp the upcoming part - still upcoming, right?

Anyway, this is indeed, as others have commented, great writing, very moving, very tense stuff, and if you suffer from writer's modesty, rest assured: it is quite up to your standards. Will gladly come back in a couple of days to check whether the next update is already there. Otherwise, will start rereading GRRRRRR Martin's Ice & Fire series to kill the time before I can watch the HBO show that supposedly brilliant - so will have time to wait for some more of your own great Nell story.
 
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It's one thing to talk about the need for an heir, it's quite another for Fulk to actually do it. Adele wasn't the Dowager Queen I had in mind for Fulk. Hugh, after divorcing Eleanor from Fulk will hit on the wheeze of marrrying Eleanor off to the King of Spain -perhaps the emissaries from the King of Spain whispered in his ear, they wouoldn't want Adele's whisperings of rape to be taken seriously by her brother and armies sent in revenge. I'm sure Adele is capable of pulling at her brother's heartstrings.