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Henry's Journey

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And a month later he was in London again, after a shorter campaign than they'd dared hope for.  Thomas (deserted by his ally King Charles, who saw no reason to risk a single man-at-arms on his behalf, having gained France's freedom three years ago) was caught between Henry, Bedford and Erpingham in the east and Gloucester, Westmoreland and Exeter coming up from the west.  He lost his judgement and gave battle without waiting for his own archers to come up.

‘It took us half an hour to defeat him,' said Henry, not quite believing that even Thomas could be so reckless, ‘but he died bravely in the end.  I'm glad about that.'

 They were half-lying propped up on pillows in Henry's great bed.  The night before, Jehan had fulfilled his promise of Qurgan; and had woken that morning with Henry's solid weight sprawled half across him for the first time in far too long.  Now he had an arm around his lover, letting him talk himself out.

‘He'd have lost the country to someone else before long.  It's just as well it was me, and not - ach, you know what I mean.'  Henry was too fired up to be entirely tactful.  ‘The rest of his faction will go to trial.  Not too many death sentences, I hope.  I don't want to divide the country.  But we'll have to see what the courts decide.'

Jehan was too relieved at the way things had turned out to do anything other than nod.  Henry went on, hardly drawing breath, ‘And I've called a meeting of the Privy Council for next week; you've got a seat on it - ‘

‘You're like one of those juggernauts we saw in India.'

‘My true vocation.  And of course you're on the Council.  You were always wasted as a herald.  So, you'll be advising me on foreign affairs as well as trade.'

‘Oh.'  Jehan looked away.  ‘France.'

‘Treaty's already being drawn up.  You can take it to Charles yourself if you like, as my envoy.  You have to be able to travel to France to see your family. so we may as well start as we mean to go on.  We can take the line that you knew that the order you refused to follow couldn't possibly have come from him.  You were acting to preserve his chivalrous reputation by rescuing me.  That'll save his face, and Thomas can take the blame for the rest of it.'  Henry shifted against him, still close in the circle of his arm but looking out of the bedchamber's windows where the pale light of a February dawn was growing.  ‘Now, this Privy Council meeting next week.  Have you thought that trade policy through?'

‘I'll need to talk to your City financiers, but the basics are there, yes.  If the Lord Mayor and the guilds don't want to put up the loans I can talk to the Merchant Venturers, or the Italian bankers.'

‘Last resort.  Parliament say they're pleased to have me back.  I'll get what I can out of them, though they never did give me enough, whether for defence or anything else.'

‘We were lucky, then, in France, though you did a lot with a little.'  There was no longer any point in skating round their history.

‘Mm.  That isn't what you said last night.'  Henry turned back to him with a grin.  But now Jehan had to say his piece before he was completely distracted.

‘Henry.  Wait,' and his tone brought Henry up short.  ‘I'll sit on your Privy Council, and I'll get your new trade policy started.'

‘But.'  Henry had sobered, his face closing down, anticipating hurt.

‘In Copenhagen, those weeks I spent locked up.  Yes, my idea, I know.  But I'm a wanderer by nature.  Mignon, I can't stay in one place forever, even with you.  I wouldn't be me any more.   I'll always come back, if you'll have me on those terms.  But stay in London, even in England, for the rest of my life?  I couldn't do it.'

And Henry, though pulled up in mid-seduction, thought this through carefully, and understood.  ‘Remember what I said in Malacca?  That I'd take whatever you can give me?  I stand by that.  But you don't have to stay cooped up here.'

Jehan slumped in relief; he'd been dreading making the choice between Henry and himself.  He would have made it, and gone desolate back into the world rather than deny so great a part of himself; but now he did not have to.  Of course he should have guessed that Henry, of all people, would comprehend his restlessness, because by now he shared it, in part.

He became aware that Henry was talking again.  ‘- and we'll need trade contacts abroad, with the Merchant Venturers and the Hanseatic League. You can go to Portugal to talk to my cousin the prince - he's interested in exploration - and back to Denmark, to Philippa, to see if we can reopen the routes to Greenland.  And do you remember the stories Olaf used to tell us about the lands further west?  The world's a big place, and England - and France - are so small.  Jehan, London is so small!' 

He surged up out of the bed, pulling Jehan in his wake, flinging on a robe and barely giving Jehan time to do the same before throwing open the doors to the balcony and leaning over it, as though he'd take flight up into the cold air. 

Out over the Thames the sun was rising red through coal smoke and river mists, and Jehan could see him tracing its path back around the curve of the world, following their great journey from the wide lands of the east, where they could never go again.

‘Nowhere's got everything, Henry.  Every time I go away, I'll miss you, and maybe you'll be wishing you were back on the road with me.  But think on this.  Perhaps your London's small now, but it needn't always be so.  It'll take work, that's all.'

‘If I've got work to do, and you come back to me often, I can be content, even here at the edge of the world.'

‘I'll be here more often than not, and I'll always come back to you, sweet friend.'

They smiled at each other a little sadly, and then they turned and went back inside, to the warm room, and breakfast, and the day's work.