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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

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frogbeastegg

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"Highness." Trempwick went down onto one knee as the bedchamber door closed behind him. "If I might, I would claim the reward you promised in return for my aid."

"Reward?" One boot on and reaching for the other, Fulk froze. "You promised him a reward?"

It was going to be one of those days, Eleanor could tell. "I agreed to listen to a request and give it fair consideration. No more."

Jamming his boot onto his foot, Fulk declared, "He owes you his life, swears fealty to you, and in general owes you the greatest of debts in return for what he's done to your family." He fastened the leather thong which kept the boot tight at the ankle with a decidedly ungentle yank. "He should be grateful for any chance to set foot outside his prison - never mind asking for more."

Trempwick's kneeling pose dragged his priestly robe askew, leaving his trailing leg half exposed. Lacking secular hose, his limb was bare and prickled with gooseflesh in the early morning chill. It made him seem oddly vulnerable; ordinarily he was so meticulous. Eleanor's eyes narrowed; was it a conscious addition to his pose? As quickly as the thought came she dismissed it - there was such a thing as too much paranoia. "True," she admitted. "And yet any leader worth a grain of salt knows that reward is half of what keeps men loyal."

Dressed, Fulk stood and shook his tunic to ensure it hung evenly. With a pointed look at Trempwick he reached for his sword belt. "That one had rewards and enough from your father. Didn't stop him rebelling."

Very mildly, Trempwick said, "Fulk, might I suggest you attend to matters more important than lecturing your wife? Or, at least one presumes you do not wish anyone to know you slept on the floor last night. In which case it would be advisable to finish concealing the evidence." The former spymaster pointed at the spot on the floor where Fulk had slept bundled up in his cloak. "The rushes are still slightly disturbed, as if they have been quickly kicked about to cover a disruption. And I can see a few bits clinging to the cloak you have so casually thrown over that stool."

"It was my own choice." Fulk drew his dagger and began to check the edge. "Decency. You wouldn't understand."

Truth be told, Eleanor hadn't made much sense of his jumbled declaration that she'd be sleeping alone until he'd said whatever it was he intended to. Something about temptation and making things still more difficult than they already were.

Trempwick did not know that checking his weapons was part of Fulk's morning ritual, and plainly took it for a threat. "I will not bandy words with you, half-man."

Fulk's hand slipped and he gashed his thumb. With stilted deliberateness he lowered the weapon to his side. "You were named nithing by our king for your treachery. A half-man is still half more than you."

Time to take control of the situation. Outside the room, the household was preparing for the day's travel. Hugh's court was but a half day's ride away, and Eleanor was determined to reach it today. "As amusing as this sparring is - and in all honesty it is not remotely so - my maids have still to attend to my hair, and I should like to eat before we ride out. Time is limited."

Fulk shrugged, and turned his attention to testing his sword's edge. Trempwick bowed his head in mute acceptance.

She addressed Trempwick, "Make your request."

Trempwick nodded curtly. He took a moment, then dampened his lips with the tip of his tongue. "I know I must go back to my imprisonment at Repton. I accept that. Almost I welcome it - I have seen what you intended me to see. I was a lord and am now nothing; the world have moved on and I am left behind, despised. There is no place left for me, none that I care for." For several heartbeats he went silent, unfocused and seeming lost. Then he gathered himself. "I have tried many variations, many different words and sets of words. None felt quite satisfactory and yet there was a certain pleasure in the exercise. I find that ..." Again he halted, shaking his head. "You do not wish to hear my ramblings." Under his breath he told himself, "Concision." Trempwick shifted, lowering his other knee to the ground in the humblest pose a petitioner could adopt. "Highness, by your request I wrote for you a life of your father. Were you displeased with it?"

Surprised, it took Eleanor a beat to answer. "No, I was not. It seemed a fair and balanced view of the man and his works." In truth the chronicle deserved a more appreciatory verdict; in reading it she had finally begun to understand the man who had been her father, seeing him as something more than the tyrant she had known. "Would that you had shown the man in life the care which was plain in the written words."

Trempwick's smile was a sad one. "Would that he had remained the man I had that care for." He filled his lungs with a deep, slow breath. "And my second work? My 'Princess'?"

The treatise he had taken it into his head to write for her on leading men, ruling, and sitting at the centre of a web. "Presumptuous." With a scowl Eleanor relented. "Useful."

"And the parts you have read of my current incomplete work?"

"Reasonable enough if one cares to read the history of my family." Feeling the pressure of time, Eleanor seated herself on the bed with her ribbons in easy reach, and began to work her hair into a single long braid. "Do these questions have some point?"

"I wish to write," Trempwick blurted. "To dedicate myself to it."

The rasp of Fulk's whetstone fell silent and Eleanor's hands fell still; both stared at the former spymaster.

Amazingly he blushed - there was no dressing it up with other, more generous descriptions. Eleanor could hardly remember seeing him so discomforted. Trempwick pursed his lips and hunched his shoulders a bit. "What? You make it feel so unreasonable!"

"It is so ..." Eleanor foundered. It was like hearing he had ambition to become a travelling minstrel.

"Unlikely," Fulk filled in for her. He ticked points off on his fingers. "Man enjoys intrigue. Man tries to take control of kingdom. Man fails and takes up scribbling with a quill instead." He closed his fist and winced as it placed pressure on his cut thumb. "Not the most natural of progressions, you must admit."

Trempwick cleared his throat with a dry little cough. "On the contrary, history has long interested me. Nell, you know that to be true. How many times did I try to instil the same love in you? It has much to teach people like us."

Eleanor admitted the truth of that with a nod and then wished she hadn't as it dragged her partially formed braid awry.

"For the writing itself, I admit I discovered that only because I had no recourse other than to sink myself into it. I found that ... Words are - I can play with them." Trempwick raised his hands as if weighing something in his palms, curled his fingers around the imaginary contents. "I can play with them, arrange and rearrange each time subtly changing what I am imparting, and find better ways to phrase the same, and - and there is a flow when I have the right words, this amazing feeling that ..." He looked down and then swiftly back up, meeting Eleanor's eyes with naked sincerity. "I have used this talent to manipulate, control, to apply my will, and it destroyed me. Now I have discovered a restorative use for them, and it - it makes my soul glad," he concluded simply. "No, it makes my soul sing."

Eleanor waited until she had completed her braid and tied it off. "I almost believe you are sincere."

"Highness, send me back to my prison, only let me have some works to research from. I have exhausted Repton's small library. Let me compose my histories and submit them to you for approval as I have thus far, and then should you find them worthy let them be copied and released so others can read them. Do me the honour of being my patron, and allow me to dedicate them to you."

Try as she might, Eleanor could not find a hidden dagger in this request. Everything he did would be closely vetted; there would be no danger of him sending messages or spreading poison to undermine Hugh's status. Should she feel like it, she could lie and tell him his work was in circulation when it ended up in a fire. A hand settled on her shoulder and interrupted her musing; she looked up to see Fulk standing at her side.

"Should this be agreed, I will be your patron," he stated. "Unless this is displeasing to my wife."

Eleanor cocked an eyebrow in askance.

"The full I will tell you later, as promised. For the sake of my soul, I intend to found a religious house." Fulk gave a crooked smile. "Thought we might as well get some worldly use out of it, so I'm intending to have a sizable school included. Locate and train the intelligent boys and then put them to use. Becoming a patron would tie into that very well."

"Your soul?" Eleanor enquired.

"Yours too, if you wish. I didn't wish to imply anything, oh gooseberry mine."

Eleanor snorted in amusement, and leaned against him. The contact felt so good. She said to Trempwick, "And the matter of Spain?"

Trempwick's face set and his voice resumed the controlled spymaster's tones. "I will render every assistance, whether you grant my plea or refuse it in entire. Despite how things fell out, I always strove to be a good friend to William and a loyal servant to your family. Vengeance is demanded and I would be most remiss if I failed to lend myself to your efforts."

The faint beat of hooves drifted in through the shuttered window; the grooms were beginning to saddle the horses and lead them out. Time was all but gone. Eleanor stood. "Raoul, you will not come with me to court. Today we part ways. Your disguise will not pass muster amongst people who knew you. Fulk, I must ask you to escort him safely to Woburn. Wait for me there."

"Had enough of being at court to last me for a while," Fulk said, touching his black eye.

Trempwick asked, "And my request?"

Eleanor retrieved her knife from the bedside and began to strap it into place on her forearm. "Will I find a dagger concealed in this request of yours?"

"You shall not, Nell."

Eleanor slanted him a look and pulled the second set of fastenings tight. "Naturally, I do not trust you."

"You trust me sufficiently to make use of me."

"Incorrect: there is no trust involved. It is a calculated risk." She drew the knife, checked the edges, and slammed it back home into its sheath. "I am what you made me."

"I have made you into a fine spymaster."

"And a more mistrustful, calculating, cynical person than you ever were."

Trempwick inclined his head. "But not so heartless, I believe."

Eleanor strapped on her second knife, checked the blade on it. "Books you may have, and write you may. Circulation, if you produce something worthy of it, though I will only permit that if you use a false name. I doubt my lord husband wishes to be seen as the patron of a traitor who abducted his wife."

"I don't," Fulk affirmed.

"And I will not allow people to think of you as something other than a failed traitor."

Trempwick knelt and bowed his head. "My most heartfelt thanks, your Highness. You will not regret this."

"If I do, I shall ensure you regret it far more," Eleanor assured him. She gave her husband a kiss, and left the bedchamber.

The man she needed to speak to was controlling access to Adele's chamber, ostensibly an honour guard. She gave Peter a tap on the shoulder and he obligingly leaned down so she could whisper her instructions into his ear. "You are to ride ahead at full speed. You will request audience with Hugh; make sure it is granted swiftly but do not cause a scene or allow any to form the impression that something out of the ordinary is occurring. You will inform my brother that Adele is potentially dangerous to us. That her imprisonment and poor treatment has broken her mind, rendering her unpredictable. That one minute she may seem perfectly normal, and the next she has screaming fits or makes wild accusations or threatens to weep. Tell him that I must speak to him before he sees her, and that is of the greatest urgency. Adele must be moved to a safe location as soon as she arrives, with companions who will not repeat what she says. I suggest she is sent to visit Constance with much declaration about the Queen being eager to meet her sister-by-law; that will appear perfectly normal. Tell him that she is planning something and I cannot be certain what, so she should be given as little chance to act as possible. Go, now."







The court was but a morning's travel away. So close. Adele's stomach refused to settle. Anticipation; nerves. The time was almost at hand. She'd never understood the way men restlessly checked and re-checked their weapons before entering a tournament - until now. "Eleanor?"

"Yes?"

"Hugh is very honourable, is he not?"

"He is."

"Deeply so?"

"Yes. You have nothing to worry about, he will do his duty by you and ensure you have a living."

Adele returned her sister's vapid smile. "It is so nice to know that someone will be concerned about my honour, after so long being scorned and slandered." He wouldn't have a choice, she would ensure that. Vengeance.

She would kneel before him, or perhaps they would embrace warmly. Yes, the latter. Then, as they parted she would say how pleased she was to be home after her trials. It would be good to talk about her brother's strength as a king and high honour. When the moment was right, a touch to that pit she kept sealed in her heart and the tears would begin to flow. Then she would declare that she wished to take the veil because ...

Adele smiled and began to hum, a lively tune which had been amongst her favourites in Spain.

"You sound happy, sister."

Adele laughed. "Oh! I am, dear Eleanor. I am! I am coming home and my brother is waiting. An honourable man so very different to our father, and he will make me welcome, and at long last the wheel of fortune turns so I rise after my fall." She laughed again. "Yes, today feels like a new beginning."

She remembered the smile when he tore her apart, would never forget it. Adele fought to keep her smile from revealing her upper teeth; even Eleanor would notice a feral snarl. She remembered his smile, and soon would return it with her own. England could not muster a thousand ships. A pity. A modern day Helen of Troy should be more impressive.










It's been that long? Gah! I've been working on a project dedicated to the memory of a friend who died and it's eaten up most of my writing time.

And so some mysteries are revealed, and some more hints delivered on other mysteries. Big hints, one of which surely has to give away the answer to its mystery. The other is pretty darn blatant if you are looking, and will give the strongest evidence yet for something which has been hinted at throughout the story.

Two more updates should finish this story off.



Avernite, you're correct. Trempy throughout the tale has been working towards winding down. Part of the reason Nell brought him along (according to her POV) was to rub his face in the fact that England has moved on; he's no longer significant, just a name of a failed traitor everything holds in contempt. He saw that, and also began to discover that he himself has moved on. He's let the spymaster persona slip and it's hard for him to get back into it; we see him wavering between that and his more relaxed self constantly. It used to be easy for him to brush off regrets and guilt because he was working to the greater good; now he knows his cause has failed and some of those deeds were for nothing, and it gives him trouble. And he sees how Nell has grown in the 3 years he has been locked away, most of it good and some of it very different to what he would have wished for her. Add to all of this a consciousness that he's becoming old by the standards of the day, and having trouble with aching joints and so on. Things like needling Fulk take energy and give ... what? He used to enjoy it but where's the point now?

I quite enjoy writing this older Trempy. The version of him in his prime has this lovely vigour to him which is also fun to write, whereas this one is more textured.



Chief, what's going to be a shame about Arthur?

Constance isn't Lady Macbeth! They both know Nell is an ally, she's more than proven it over the years. They also know she would prove very dangerous if she felt forced to defend herself.

It's more logical to say: "Hello, small group of trusted lieutenants. My sister's return brings some troubling news from Spain. I have reason to believe something is brewing (Just look at how they shoved her on a ship like a crate of cargo and sent her back with no warning or fanfare) so I want to expand operations there. I want to know everything about the country - including how much garlic the peasants add to their soup. Especially details like who has a grudge against the king and why, what his habits are, and so on. You have a year to settle in and get me info." and then later follow it up with a careful accident or trigger action by an angry noble with a grudge against his king, than it is to say, "Well guys, I'm off to Spain. I don't speak the language at all, don't understand the slightly different culture, and I have never been there so geography's a mystery, but I'm sure I will manage somehow. The close resemblance to my sister, their former queen, is obviously not going to be a problem at all. My husband doesn't like the idea of me gallivanting off to risk life and limb killing someone with my mid-rate skills but oh well, I'll just knock him out and tie him up so he can't follow me or stop me. I'm sure no one will notice that I have vanished in England, after all I am only the sister of the king and the husband of a controversial noble, living a life of travelling between fiefs being visible and inspecting things. My brother definitely won't notice I am, gone, despite me being his spymaster. Speaking of which, while I'm gone try not to let the network fall to bits, even though none of you know the full extent of it or how it all works." She's got time. The king doesn't need to die this year, or next or even the one after. So long as one day he is dead and no suspicion attaches to England.


Cunobelinus, he certainly thinks he knows a thing or two about Fulk. He's voiced some ideas earlier in the story too; he's added a few vegetables to the Fulk stew.
 

Avernite

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Nice to see an update, though I admit I'd like to see that court already.

I also think it'd be wiser to have Nell and Fulk attend court together, but well, may just be me.
 

Cunobelinus54

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Very keen to see how Adele will be recieved now, especially now that Eleanor has sent her message. Fulk escorting Trempwick ought to give us quite a few tense, hostile scenes...
 

unmerged(98221)

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More Eleanor!!!

I quit reading this thread a long time ago when the original story ended and I was poking through the forums for old times sake and realized that there was more Eleanor to read!

Frog, I never get tired of reading you. Thanks you so much and I can't wait to read more.