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Manning

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Manning

 Disclaimer:  Not mine, Shakespeare's and Renaissance Films'.  Not making any money out of this.  Aplogies to all concerned.

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It was late in the evening when the Herald was admitted to the King's study.  He was sleepy after a day riding back from the Duke of Burgundy's court, but Henry, who usually rose at dawn, still looked alert, sitting alone in the room at a large oak table in the light of many candles.

But tonight it wasn't the King who drew his eyes (and anyway he'd learned to control that, since the battle), but the two great falcons on their perches in the pool of candlelight.  One, pure white, sat calm and contented, her feathers ruffled out, watching him with intelligent interest;  the other, smaller and darker, was scrambling back onto the perch from which he'd just thrown himself, wings beating and eyes staring.

‘Quiet now, quiet now, you mad bird,' murmured Henry, moving to lift the bird back to its perch, but it redoubled its frenzy as he approached.  Henry stepped back instantly, watching it quizzically for a moment, and turned to Montjoy.

‘I've been trying to gentle that one for days, and got nowhere with him,' he remarked, and sat down again as the bird calmed.

The Herald, for once completely distracted from his duties and his own thoughts, forgot protocol and breathed ‘Gyrfalcons...'

‘Given to me by the King of Norway, though this tiercel is perhaps one of those backhanded gifts, like the tennis balls you once brought me.'  And the King smiled a little maliciously as they both recalled the embassy which had resulted in the smashing of the French chivalry in the mud of Agincourt and led to Henry's presence here in Rouen today, a year after the battle.  The Herald winced.

‘Ach,' the King made a ‘not your fault' gesture. ‘I won't be invading Norway because of it.  Twice the thrones, four times the problems, I've found.  What did Burgundy say?'

‘That if you want to move against Phillip the Wolf, he will cause you no problems during the campaign.'  He proffered the sealed scroll, and Henry took it, then searched on the table for another, saying ‘And the Armangnacs are still hell-bent on destroying each other... this is a draft treaty with Alsace, read it, and tell me what you think.'  So different from King Charles or the Dauphin.  He motioned Montjoy to a chair near the falcons.

The dark tiercel watched him warily, on the point of bating again as he sat, slowly and quietly, and started reading.

The room was still, and the palace settling down for the night.  He didn't even look at the tiercel as he read, but gradually let his left hand fall down from the arm of the chair, his fist lying, half-open, a little way in front of the bird.  It was so quiet that he could hear Henry's small movements, but he had got used to what the man's presence did to him, and continued to pick his way through the convoluted phrases of the treaty.

After a while he became aware of being watched, and glanced up, straight into the King's eyes.  Damn.  He'd avoided that for months - who knew what he might reveal? - but managed to put an enquiry into his own expression.

‘Stay there,' said Henry, and fished about on the desk for a falconer's glove, picked up a small platter of fresh meat from the window embrasure, and offered them both to Montjoy, moving slowly and quietly.  Montjoy, equally carefully, put the glove on and held out a piece of meat a little way in front of the tiercel, still not looking at it.  Henry nodded once, and they both returned to their reading.

A while later, he felt a tugging at his fingers, and then a weight as the gyrfalcon stepped onto his fist, but did not move, letting the bird feed its fill.  He heard the feathers fluff out as the bird roused - ‘when I rouse me in my throne of France!' Henry's voice sounded in his memory again.  Had he felt the attraction, even so far back, in the midst of his enemies, having delivered a challenge to war?  If he was honest he had, and that was pathetic as well as treacherous.  Treachery no longer, though, since King Charles' submission to Henry. He risked another glance at his King, and his stomach lurched because Henry's dark eyes (dark?  Surely they were usually blue?) were on him again.

‘It isn't just hawks that you do that to, is it?'  The voice was quiet, reflective.

Montjoy glanced back at the gyrfalcon, and again at Henry, utterly lost.

‘Well, I should know,' continued the King.  ‘You've done it to me often enough.'

He was feeling a little panicked now, completely unsure where Henry was taking this.

‘At Westminster, and before Agincourt.  And I was ready to kill you, there on the battlefield.'

‘But you didn't,' Montjoy managed.  Henry had dragged him off his horse, hands round his throat, screaming in his face.

‘You had me rational again within moments.'

‘That wasn't me.  You're a King, a leader, you would have controlled yourself...' He was floundering, and knew it.

‘You think the Dauphin could have calmed me down at that point?'  Now Henry was smiling, amused.

Montjoy was tempted to observe that the Dauphin couldn't calm anyone down, including the Dauphin, but bit back the remark.  He was a Frenchman, after all.

‘Well, no.  But I'm a herald, not a knight, and that's my calling.'

‘Worth a few hundred knights to any king who's lucky enough to have you.'  Montjoy closed his eyes for a second.   ‘The tiercel?  He's yours,' Henry continued.

Montjoy's eyes flew open.  ‘But that's a king's falcon!'

‘And I can't lay a finger on him without him panicking.  No, he's taken his pick, and chosen you, wise creature. Not mad after all; he just hadn't met you yet.'  He took up the pale falcon and hooded her, white teeth pulling the ties closed, smiling a little at Montjoy as he did so.  ‘Will the tiercel let you take him up?  Of course he will,' as Montjoy did just that.  ‘Bring him down to the mews with me now, and I'll tell the serjeant-falconer the new arrangements.  We'll be able to start training them tomorrow.'

‘The treaty?'  Montjoy glanced back at it.

‘Yes.  We'll look at that, too.'  And he opened the door, so that his herald could walk through it unimpeded with the half-tamed royal falcon on his fist.