The Tale of the Forgiven Knight
'I used you somewhat unchivalrously, there on the battlefield.'
Trying to read Montjoy's expression Henry could only see the familiar, carefully-neutral mask, and that not clearly in the candlelit gloom. The window of his solar here in the citadel at Calais gave on to stormy twilight; it was going to be a rough crossing of the narrow seas tonight.
But he was uncomfortably aware that before he could embark there was a duty to be done. It wasn't often that he admitted himself to be in the wrong, but he had acknowledged it - to himself - almost immediately. Battle was one thing, but an attack on an enemy herald was another matter entirely, unknightly in the extreme. He knew that his self-justification, given as soon as he had seen the distress on Montjoy's face, had been a half-made thing, hasty and inadequate.
So, hearing that Montjoy had ridden into Calais to witness the surrender of the paroled French prisoners from Harfleur, he had requested his presence in his private apartment. Now the apology had to be made again, and properly.
And as he had expected, Montjoy made a diplomatic reply. ‘You had provocation, my lord. I saw the dead boys in your baggage train. Afterwards,' after Henry had thrown him to the ground, shaken him to within an inch of his life, the only Frenchman within reach but unarmed, unarmoured, an envoy!
A man he'd liked from the start. Well, at least he'd had the presence of mind to drop his sword first.
‘One of the boys I knew from my own younger days. I was angry, and you were close at hand, that was all. I knew even at the time that you were not to blame.'
‘That was the boy you carried across the battlefield?'
‘Yes.' He looked into Montjoy's eyes, trying to reach the man behind the mask. ‘I am sorry for what I did.'
‘Thank-you, my lord,' said Montjoy simply. ‘I have not had an apology from a king before.' Was that an attempt to lighten the mood?
‘Nor needed one, I think.' A fierce gust of wind shook the window, and the candles nearest to it flickered and went out.
A sign, perhaps, that something more was required of him.
‘Would you give me the kiss of peace?' he asked abruptly. And now he knew he had surprised Montjoy, for he went very still and he had no ready answer. In the silence that fell in the room then, Henry could hear the boom and swish of the waves crashing against the harbour wall.
‘Very well,' and of course Montjoy had no choice in the matter, but perhaps he would understand that the request was sincerely made. They moved toward each other, and Henry reached out to take the Herald's hands between his own in a gesture that was half that of a king accepting fealty and half one of reassurance; and drew him close.
He barely had time to feel slight amusement as he saw Montjoy realise that he would have to stoop his head for the kiss - hadn't he noticed the difference in their heights? - before there was a soft stir of warm breath against his cheek, and Montjoy's mouth was on his. His heart thumped. His hands tightened on the other man's for an instant, and felt them turn slightly and grip back. He could no longer hear the noise of the storm.
Warm lips in a light, formal kiss. Good God. No wonder the ritual was so rarely performed these days. He had not realized its power. Had Montjoy? Quite possibly; he would have arranged for this act to take place in the past... And then the moment was over, too soon; Montjoy's mouth was leaving his, his hair brushing soft against Henry's temple as he stood back. His eyes were wide and dark as he looked at the English king, the man he'd just kissed. Henry loosed his hands, their fingers brushing awkwardly as they parted. He already missed the warmth. There was nothing that could be done about that.
He turned aside, searching for something to say, and his eye fell on his cloak, tossed across a chest. He picked it up, and found what he was looking for.
‘Here.' He fumbled with the cloak-pin, got it loose somehow, and passed it across to Montjoy. ‘It was my father's, and it's my badge too. If you should fall foul of the English soldiery again, show them this.'
The Herald looked down at the little enamelled swan with its gold crown and chain, and tipped it in his palm to examine it more closely. His instinctive movement of protest had been stilled almost at once. He undoubtedly knew that this was part of the apology, an undertaking that he would not be harmed again.
‘It is a precious thing,' he said quietly. ‘Thank-you,' and he closed his hand gently on it. Did he mean the swan itself, or the thought that went with it? Both, probably. Then he looked up. ‘I should go. I have to start for Paris tonight.'
‘And I for Dover.'
‘You'll sail in this storm?' There was a note, almost, of concern in Montjoy's voice. At any rate, it was more than politeness.
‘Storm's passing, I think,' and indeed the roar of wind and surf had eased slightly.
‘Then I'll take my leave of you, my lord.' Montjoy gave the brief inclination of the head that Henry remembered from their first meeting - no change there, even after all that had happened in the months between - and they went their separate ways.
A few years later, when Henry found himself (suddenly and unexpectedly) kissing the Herald again, it was much, much better, slow and deep as they stood close-locked in each others' arms. Then, when kisses no longer seemed to be quite enough, they began hesitantly to undress each other, and Henry's fingers encountered the small white and gold swan, hanging on a chain beneath Montjoy's shirt.
‘I had to keep it safe, and secret,' whispered Montjoy, when Henry looked up with a smile, touching it gently; but then Henry's hands slipped further under the shirt and the swan was forgotten for a while.