‘You think this is hard work? You should try getting a giraffe to go on board.'
Henry, who had been a king not so long ago, kept a firm grip on the headstall of the horse he was leading towards the gangplank, and squinted round in the bright Arabian sunlight for the next person in the queue waiting to load the animals. Jehan, who had been Herald Montjoy, took on an inward expression as he did the double translation, from Arabic to French and from French to English, and then he said ‘Camelopard.'
The horse jibbed again at the gangplank and Henry turned his attention back to it, although since it was perhaps the twentieth he'd led on board that day his own temper was fraying. But when they were back on the docks, and had found they had time for a breather while a line of slaves took stores aboard, he said to Taqi, ‘Tell us about the giraffe, then.' The man obviously wanted to be asked, and Henry had perforce re-learned the art of getting along with people in the six months or so since catastrophe had overtaken him.
- - -
The start of their journey was still hazy in his memory, and he'd given up hope of ever finding out some of the details. His sudden, near-fatal illness while consolidating his gains in France had left him stranded, isolated from his youngest brothers and uncle, and his enemies had taken the opportunity with a vengeance.
It was no surprise that among the enemies in question was Dauphin, now King, Charles, but that Henry's second brother Thomas, Duke of Clarence, should turn traitor had shocked him beyond all measure. Not that he'd ever trusted Thomas, who had always been flighty, unreliable, his father's favourite and with an inflated notion of his own importance as a result. Thomas had been ‘invalided' home after Harfleur had fallen because of his known sympathies with the French royal party.
No, Henry had never trusted Thomas, but he had never thought he was capable of turning his discontent into action. But that was what had happened, with Thomas in London, Henry barely alive and the rest of the family scattered and unable to come to his aid in time. Lapsing in and out of consciousness, Henry had found himself in rapid succession captured, deposed and his marriage annulled. There were blurred memories of non-stop pain, darkened rooms, people coming and going, and one person who was almost always there and seemed less than happy about it. It was Montjoy who had handed him a letter, written in his sister Philippa's unmistakable hand, which brought the news that Katherine had taken their child (apparently trusting neither Henry's brother nor her own with the boy's life) and got clean away into Wales, and then, entirely unexpectedly, to Philippa in Denmark. Henry had lain back on his pillows, laughed and then wept, and suggested that a stalemate had been reached, and what was King Charles going to do about it?
The answer came soon enough. Presented with a fait accompli, neither of the new kings was eager to quarrel with Philippa, that very capable young queen, or her warrior husband Eirik. Katherine and the prince would be safe where they were. But Henry was told that his choices were exile, if he went willingly, or worse if he didn't. So he went, wondering vaguely if this was what his enemies had hoped for, but quite unable to think his way through the problem, and had found himself on a barge sailing downriver to southern shores, taken rapidly further and further from his friends, with Montjoy travelling with him to take news of his continued existence back to them when he had left the country.
Then, after a long period of movement, and more pain and disorientation - Henry couldn't remember much about that - there was, suddenly, a stir of people outside his door, voices raised and then lowered, and then Montjoy had got him with extreme haste onto a ship (for apparently they had reached a port) and again his memory failed him.
In a little town on a small, dusty, windblown island he'd recovered enough to ask what had happened on that last day. Montjoy said simply, ‘I was given orders that I couldn't follow,' and had refused to say any more. Henry, whose former life already seemed a little distant, had gone straight back to sleep. He still wasn't sure how many times over he owed his life to Montjoy.
He owed his life also to the fact that the infirmary where he'd spent the next fortnight had a Greek physician in residence. Grimly learning to walk again in the sheltered cloister, with Montjoy's arm under his and with long rests on every available bench, he tried to express a necessary gratitude. Montjoy, unfamiliar without his tabard, his face unreadable as it had ever been, would accept none of it. Henry gave up, and resumed his walks, now crossing the cloister between herb beds and cistern, and then outside in the orchard, Montjoy still watchful and uncommunicative at his side. Henry was always too shaky at the end of these sessions to do anything other than fall onto his bed and wait for the pain and exhaustion to pass, and there at least Montjoy seemed prepared to leave him unguarded.
It was from the window of his narrow room that he looked out one afternoon and saw Montjoy sitting on a bench looking out over the orchard. Normally so imperturbable, the Herald slowly lowered his head into his hands for a few moments in a gesture of utter weariness: then straightened up, scrubbed one hand across his eyes, visibly braced himself and appeared at Henry's door minutes later with no sign that he'd ever given in to a moment of human weakness. Henry, knowing that he could not mention the matter, simply carried on with his walks that day but with rather greater diligence. He had no idea what had caused Montjoy's brief vulnerability.
At the end of another fortnight he was walking, on sunny days, to an old fort on the headland and back and still making no progress with the wall of silence which Montjoy had erected around himself. An enquiry about money received the answer, ‘I've got enough to last us for a while yet.'
That got no satisfactory answer, either.
- - -
On the day the physician looked him over and pronounced that in her opinion he was well enough to travel, Montjoy sat down with him and began dividing up the money.
‘You can't stay here. It's too close to France and England. Denmark's out of the question. Your sister's protecting the prince, but if you went there you'd be putting her, and him, and the whole kingdom in danger. So you'll have to travel on. But I don't know who would take you in. You might have to work your way after a while.'
Henry looked at the pile of coins and made no move to touch them.
‘I need to know what happened before I can make any plans. You've been very close-mouthed all this time, Montjoy, but you'll have to tell me now.'
Montjoy got up abruptly and went to stare out of the window, his back firmly turned to Henry. ‘I've been trying not to think about it. And I've got no proof for any of this. But your sickness came very close to the old King's, and at a very convenient time for anyone who wanted to take your throne. And not only that but three months ago I had to take a dispatch to Rome, to the Pope. I don't know what was in that message, or in the reply he sent, but - ‘
‘The annulment,' Henry could hardly get the words out. ‘I never did understand the grounds for that.'
‘The grounds that Rome owed France a favour after the ending of the Avignon papacy, as like as not.'
‘But I was always loyal to Rome!' exclaimed Henry, and then got himself under control again. ‘Go on.'
Montjoy gave him a not unsympathetic look. ‘Anyway, they hadn't expected Queen Katherine to flee Thomas, and take the prince with her. I think it was Captain Fluellen who got her away -'
‘He was always a good man,' said Henry, and he had to smile a little at the thought of his friend; but he privately doubted that it had been entirely Fluellen's doing.
‘So with the prince safely with your sister, Thomas' plans were going awry. I'd already been told to escort you to a port, into exile, but somebody must have thought he could curry favour, or maybe panicked at the last moment.' Henry appreciated the fact that he put it that way; so much more palatable than ‘Someone, possibly your brother, must have decided to dispose of you.' ‘And that was the order that I couldn't follow.' Montjoy seemed inclined to lapse into silence again.
‘Why weren't we both killed?'
‘Oh, I told them that I'd had my suspicions all along, and had got word out to the other heralds. There are a dozen of them out all over Europe now, and it'll take time to track them all down and find out it wasn't true.'
Henry half-laughed, for the first time in a long while.
‘I couldn't come up with a better lie on the spur of the moment,' admitted Montjoy, turning away from the window. ‘But it means time is short now, which is why you have to move on as soon as possible.' He made a gesture at the piles of money, which Henry ignored.
‘Montjoy, you've given up a lot for me. Why did you do it?'
‘Not for you, for the sake of my own conscience. I refused to send a sick man to his death, that's all. And I was concerned for the good reputation of the heralds. I won't have us used in that way. No, I don't want your thanks. I haven't earned them. I'm not happy about any of this, I'm not particularly proud of what I've done, and I'd much rather it had never happened. But now we both have to think ahead. Do you have somewhere you could go, further away? Family, friends?'
‘You have my gratitude whether you want it or not. You saved my life, I'll probably never know how many times over.' That got a wry smile in acknowledgement. Many times, then. ‘As for the future, I can't think of anywhere I'd be welcome. With England and France both against me, no-one will want to take me in, apart from my sister, and you're right, I can't endanger her. And truth to tell, I've no wish to parade myself as an exiled king. I'll have to travel quietly for a while. That's no hardship. I haven't always lived in palaces,' and he'd reprehensibly enjoyed his months in Eastcheap, while Thomas had basked in their father's favour. ‘And you? What will you do?'
‘Lie low, for the present. I might go further east. I've been there before, and there are fewer people who would know my face, out there.'
‘No family waiting for you in France?'
‘No wife nor child. I've always been a herald, always travelled. It wouldn't have been fair to them. I have parents, and a brother, back in Picardy.'
Henry looked at him. ‘I came close to home, then, on that march from Harfleur to Calais.'
‘Yes, and did less harm there than our own armies in the civil wars. I was grateful to you for that.'
Henry looked down at the coins again, and stirred them with one finger. Gold, not silver. No omen of betrayal there. Henry needed a friend, and it was just possible that Montjoy did, too. He took a chance. ‘What say you we travel together, for a while at least?'
- - -
In Malta rumours confirmed what Montjoy, (or Jehan, as he'd learned to call him) had said, and Henry debated sending a message off to his younger brothers or sister, but doubted that it would get through. In the end the letter was sent to old Sir Thomas Erpingham at the last address he had for his brother Gloucester, and was terse in the extreme, but included praise to Katherine and an injunction to be happy, and a request to get word quietly to Picardy. Then they moved on in a hurry before the letter could be traced.
Henry still wondered occasionally if Jehan was sending messages of his own back to France. Trust came hard to him these days. But it would make no sense. Though the man obviously loved his country, as a herald he had always stood a little aside from the murky depths of politics. In any case he could have dispatched Henry, quietly and without fuss, at any time in the weeks of his helplessness, but had been a constant, protective (though uncommunicative) presence all that time. He was still uncommunicative, still protective, and Henry found his cryptic company immensely comforting. He would have been utterly lost without him. Jehan, if he knew that, made no attempt to exploit it.
The gold was lasting well. It turned out that Henry had a much better idea of how to make it last than Jehan, who had simply relied on the privileges of his office when travelling as a herald. Running a kingdom, financing campaigns, or even paying his way at the Boar's Head had given Henry a very clear idea of the value of money, and the mysterious ways in which it could disappear. Jehan had boggled slightly at the accommodation they sometimes found, but to Henry it was like a return to old times. ‘In any case they gave me enough to get rid of me, and keep me quiet,' observed Jehan as they sat over a cup of wine in a tavern under a citadel wall.
‘Or to send you a good long way. Where could we go from here?' Here being Syracuse.
‘More or less anywhere in the Mediterranean. Where do you want to go?'
He kept doing this, not attempting to direct Henry in any way, forcing him to make his own decisions, to take responsibility. Henry, still fighting a daily, sometimes hourly, battle with melancholy, would happily have let him take the lead and followed passively in his wake for the time being. Jehan did not allow passivity. Henry appreciated this, and resented it, in about equal measure. In any case it suggested that Jehan was not attempting to lead him into a trap.
‘How about Jerusalem?' This was said in an effort to get a reaction out of him. It was a very long way to Jerusalem.
A surprised smile acknowledged that Jehan hadn't been expecting this. ‘I've never been,' a faint noise of disbelief from Henry, ‘but there's no reason why not. Ships aplenty and they're used to Christians making the pilgrimage.'
‘My father went, while I was still a child. He often told me about it. He always wanted to go back, but never had the chance. I can go for him, perhaps.'
At last there was some point to their travels. Jerusalem it was.