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Falcon-Gentle

Chapter Text

 

Falcon-Gentle

Disclaimer: Not mine, Shakespeare's and Renaissance Films'.  Not making any money out of this and no offence intended.

Warnings: Non-graphic descriptions of hunting.

Thanks as always to my beta, Fiona Pickles.

-x-

            An eagle for an emperor

            A gyrfalcon for a king

            A falcon-gentle for a prince...

            A peregrine for an earl...

            A lanner for a squire

            A merlin for a lady...

            A goshawk for a yeoman...

                        Boke of St Albans, 1486

 

The castle of St-Quentin was all but still, this close to midnight.  Somewhere up on the walls, and in the armed camp beyond, were sentries, bored but watchful; Henry could hear their tread above the courtyard, and the whicker of a horse, over in the pasture.  A dog barked in the town hard by, but the people had long gone to their rest, content at the end of another day's work.  This evening it had seemed to him that he was the only person in the world awake and active, with just the falcons for company; not true, of course, but Montjoy's return from Ghent had been a much-needed reminder of that fact.

Crossing the lantern-lit courtyard in a fine mist of rain to the range of outbuildings which contained the mews, Henry took the opportunity to consider the herald, who was now managing the gyrfalcon tiercel with the same air of careful concentration which Henry now realised had been employed on himself more often than not.  So many times he'd been fully occupied with the message; challenge, negotiation, surrender, and had no time to see the messenger; liked him of course, since it was apparently impossible not to like him - and abruptly pulled up his thoughts there, since it seemed he had made up his mind about the Herald a while ago without even realising it.

Only a few minutes before, in his private quarters, he had made the gift of the tiercel.  It had been an impulse, a response to the truth before his eyes, that the bird would tame itself to Montjoy's hand and no other.  It was a royal gift and no mistake, and would be noted by watching eyes here and elsewhere, and conclusions would be drawn, given his own history with Lord Scroop; he would have to protect the Herald from wagging tongues and accusations of disloyalty as best he could.  And that meant that though the hawk now gave him an opportunity to spend more time with this quiet and impressive man, he would have go slow and careful in furthering their acquaintance.  Patient as a falconer, in fact. 

But the Herald liked him, he thought; perhaps always had, through insult and rain and war.

He opened the door of the mews in the corner of the courtyard, and the serjeant-falconer stood up as the king came in, herald in his wake.  The mews was quiet, lit with just a few candles, the half-dozen or so other birds sitting quiet on their perches down one side of the long, low room.  Henry's great-grandfather had taken thirty falconers and a hundred or more birds with him on his campaigns; Henry was less concerned with show.

'We have found someone who can manage Loki at last, Geoffroi,' indicating Montjoy who stood a little apart, with the unhooded tiercel nervously alert on his fist.  Montjoy had decided not to hood him, saying that he should associate the hood with quiet and calm at first, not change and movement: which flew in the face of all that Henry knew, but seemed to be effective.

'I'm very glad of it, Sire,' and Geoffroi did not add 'surprised' though it was evident in his voice; Montjoy was still wearing his tabard with the lilies of France plain upon it.  But he bowed slightly in acknowledgement.  'I thought we'd never find someone who could handle him; wild and wilful to a fault.  It would have been a pity to let him go.  He'll make a brave hunter, with the right falconer.'

'Well, he's Montjoy's bird now.  But then, he never was mine, I think,' and Geoffroi seemed a little taken aback; giving a man the use of a hawk was one thing, the gift of a gyrfalcon was quite another. But a falconer would understand that a bird had to go to the right man for it.  They were no respecters of rank or dignity.

He waited for the man's 'Of course, Sire,' nodded at his response, then took Montjoy with him down the line of resting hawks to two empty perches at the end of the mews.  Here he put Freya, the white gyrfalcon, down, and stood back to watch as Montjoy did the same to Loki, waiting until he had settled before hooding him.  They turned back to find Geoffroi watching the proceedings with a professional eye and an air of 'you'll do.'

'Good night, Geoffroi, guard them well,' said Henry, and went back out into the cold night air.

He turned just outside the doorway to speak to the herald, but in the light of the lantern set over the archway he realised how exhausted the man looked, and changed his question to, 'I was forgetting that you've had a long ride today while I've been sitting in a warm room.  I shouldn't have kept you up.'  Seeing the demurral on Montjoy's face, he added, 'Go, get some rest.  Can you be here tomorrow about three?  Good, we'll take them down to the river and get them used to the outdoors.' 

'I will be here.  Good night to you, my lord.'

Henry watched as the herald re-crossed the cobbled courtyard to go in by a turret stair, and then finally took himself off to his own solitary bed.

-x-

The next afternoon Henry crossed the courtyard again, with a couple of trusted attendants, Bartholomew and Floyd, in his wake, and found Montjoy already in the mews, Loki on his fist, talking quietly with the under-falconer on duty. 

'Good day to you, Herald, Robert,' Henry greeted them briskly, and went into the mews and picked up Freya, who seemed pleased to see him.  There were men who would have nothing to do with their birds except to take them from the falconers just before loosing them.  Henry was not of their number, and most especially not where a royal lady like Freya was concerned.  She should know who her lord was. 

'Well, Herald, let us be off,' he said as he came back, and they left the castle, on foot, by a sally-port to be out of the busy courtyard as soon as possible.  The guard there saluted, and swung the door to behind them, and they followed a little path which went sideways down the hillock on which the castle stood.  Across the roadway leading up to the bridge, the tiercel glaring and starting from time to time at real or imagined slights.  The first time this happened, Montjoy glanced at Henry for permission before stopping to allow him to settle, and thereafter the entire party came to a halt every time he went to bate.  They made a slow progress to the old tourney-field, deserted and rather forlorn under gloomy skies, and beyond it to the small river fringed with alder and willow-trees.  Here there were few people in sight and Loki looked distinctly happier; Montjoy actually smiled.

'I walked with him a few minutes this morning, while it was quiet,' he admitted, 'but I didn't think he would take a journey as long as this so well.'

'I saw you, going out of the courtyard,' Henry had been on the way back from arms-practice with his brothers John and Humphrey, Thomas being away on a mission to Austria, 'and you should surely have been asleep at that hour.  You had a long journey of your own yesterday.'

'The roads are good, this last stretch of the journey from Ghent,' for that was where the Duke of Burgundy currently had his court, 'and I slept soundly.'

'Hm,' said Henry absently, busying himself with unhooding Freya, stood quiet while she glanced about her (he was picking up good habits from Montjoy) and pointed.  'If we take them over there, we can let them see downriver.'  Past a row of pollarded willows, with just a few yellow leaves still hanging on their branches, and the river spread out before them into wide wetlands, glinting silvery here and there, and busy with wildfowl.  Both gyrfalcons, being well-fed, ignored this abundance of prey, but Henry observed, 'This would be a good place to fly them at duck and heron.'

'I have hunted duck, but not often.  I've rarely had the chance to fly a falcon bigger than a lanner.' Montjoy, ever the diplomat, falling easily into conversation.

'Yes, tell me, where did you learn your skill as a falconer?'  asked Henry casually, still surveying the watery scene before them.

'My grandfather had several birds over the years.  We'd stay at his manor sometimes when I was a child, and my mother had merlins, too.  Grandpère said I should learn the art properly, and had me flying a goshawk every day for a fortnight.  After that, everything else seemed easy.'

'Yes, it would!  I've flown goshawks from time to time.  Good hunters, but I was always glad to hand them back to the falconers at the end of the day.'

A gust of wind blew in across the marshes, bringing a scatter of raindrops with it.  Both men turned their backs on it to protect the birds.

'Best take them back, I think,' said Henry, and began to lead the way back towards the palace, heading for the roadway that led up to it.  Floyd hurried to open a gate in the wattle fence between it and the river-meads for them, and they went back up the little sloping path to the sally port, their expedition over for the day.  In the mews, they put the birds back on their perches, and Henry said, 'That treaty.  We'd best look at it again today.  How about this evening?' and at the Herald's nod, went back in to his apartment, feeling rather more contented than he had done for a while.

-x-

The next day, and the day after that, they carried the hawks around quiet areas not far from the castle, in a snatched half-hour each afternoon.  Henry rather suspected that Montjoy was doing the same early in the mornings too, for Loki was being manned more quickly than he had expected.  It was fortunate that Freya did not require such attention from her master, for Henry had troops to marshal and reports to hear, and all the minutiae of  planning for a winter campaign.

The strategy against the Philip the Wolf was being drawn up.  This man, a minor noble said some, a renegade mercenary said others, had established himself in the Ardennes, and descended from the hills periodically to terrorise decent peasant folk both in eastern France and the borders of Burgundy.  Nothing had been done about it before Henry had won his campaign in France, the French nobles being too concerned with their own private feuds, and the Burgundian lords apparently considering such things beneath their dignity. 

Henry, however, would brook no such goings-on.  Having won the kingdom in fair battle he would defend every village of it.  His intelligencers were out, rewards offered for news of the Wolf's whereabouts, and his campaign almost ready.  The Duke of Burgundy had allowed that as many knights of his own as wished might join him, though to be sure the pickings would be slim.  Even a few knights of eastern France had joined the muster, having grown tired of the Wolf's depredations on their homeland, and the inertia of their own lords in the matter; hence Montjoy's presence on Henry's staff here at St-Quentin.  But it would be Henry and his warlike kinsmen, and his English archers, who would form the bulk of the force.

-x-

Two days later, the accord with Burgundy was ready to be taken to him, and that afternoon Henry went to the mews a little early.  Finding Montjoy already there, with Loki sitting in a civilised manner on his fist, he asked, 'Will he let me hold him now, do you think?'

He moved in close behind Montjoy's arm, bringing his hand up next to the Herald's, and nudged Loki's legs gently.  The tiercel stepped back onto his fist, and they manoeuvred the leash across between their gloves.  Not for nothing was the art of falconry an accepted aspect of courtly love; it gave endless opportunities for closeness, of which he hoped to make full use.  Montjoy had frozen for the barest fraction of a heartbeat as he got in close; Henry could have sworn that even his breathing stopped for an instant.  He carried on talking, but to the tiercel this time; 'There, my lord fire-god, so you'll let me hold you if your master wills it?  Take Freya, Montjoy, if you will; we'll try flying them on the creance.'  Montjoy turned away and picked up the King's falcon without difficulty, regarding her with an appreciative eye, and collected the long line, wound on its stick, from the rack of equipment by the door.

They went down to the deserted tourney-ground again, Henry's guards following at a little distance, and hearing the noise of the troops from the marshalling-ground on the other side of the castle as they went.  Shouts drifted across the intervening space.  There was his uncle Exeter's voice, made small but somehow not diminished by distance, keeping the men at their practice.

Loki had a wary eye both on his master and his new handler, but behaved himself well enough.  With one bird on the rails of the lists and the other on the creance, they made intermittent progress at training them to fly to the fist.

'If you wish it, I will fly him for you while you take my reply to the Duke, to keep him fit,' said Henry.  'He is still your bird, you understand.'

Montjoy gave him a surprised look, at a loss for words for a moment, before saying, 'Thank-you, sire.  That would be a kindness.'

'It would be a pity to interrupt his training,' said Henry easily, which was true.  It had been the point of his carrying the bird, after all; that, and the opportunity to get close to the Herald, of course.  'Take Freya now; I'll carry his lordship back.  He may as well get used to me,' and with only an indignant squawk or two from Loki he did so. 

-x-

The next morning he saw Montjoy ride out of the courtyard in the half-light of dawn, back in the blue tabard and white cloak of his office, and smiled, remembering other times when he had seen the Herald so arrayed and generally carrying an insulting message; wondered at how far they had come towards friendship since then, and wondered how far they might still go.

-x-

Montjoy was back a few days later, and Henry, who had quietly arranged for him to be brought up to his study straight away, looked up with a smile as he came in.  'Well?'

'The accord is signed, and the Comte d'Alsace says he'll send infantry to the campaign against Philip, too.'

'A pity he did not see fit to do so before.  Never mind, the more men we have at our disposal the quicker we'll have the Wolf out of his lair.'

'And his grace of Burgundy has sent you a pair of peregrines.'

'Indeed!'  Henry's eyebrows rose.  'And you rode back from Ghent with two falcons?'

'He gave me an escort.'  Montjoy sounded faintly irked.

Henry, though, was not so displeased.  'That was a courtesy,' extended perhaps both because of Henry's interest in falcons, and perhaps also  his increased interest in his herald; maybe word had filtered quietly through to Ghent.  He wondered briefly whether there had been other marks of respect; was he seated higher at table, perhaps, or given better accommodation than before?  He could hardly ask, but he could continue to give his own marks of favour.  'Have you eaten yet?' he enquired, and as Montjoy shook his head, said 'Nor have I.  Stay a while; I'll have a meal sent in, and you can tell me what the Duke was thinking, as well as what he said.'

And Montjoy took the same chair he had occupied, that first evening when Henry had given him Loki, but with less diffidence this time.  Henry smiled again, and called in a page to arrange for the food; plain fare, but welcome, he hoped.

Among the things that the Duke was thinking, it transpired, was that it would be a good plan to hold a grand tournament at his capital of Dijon the next spring, and should Henry and his kinsfolk wish to attend, they would be made most welcome.

'Who knows how long this campaign might take?'  said my lord of Exeter, when this news was conveyed to him.  'But it's worth bearing in mind, nephew; half the nobility of Christendom will be there, and you may as well show your face too.'

His youngest brother Humphrey and my lord of Warwick, seemed partial to the idea too; something to be considered, then, once Philip had been tracked down and defeated.  And also to be considered was the Duke's request that Montjoy King of Arms should be allowed to come to Dijon beforehand, to help with the organisation of so great a festival.

-x-

The next afternoon, after several hours spent checking supplies of arrows and horseshoes and wagons, he allowed himself half an hour at the mews at the usual time.  There was Montjoy, of course, talking to Loki with an expression of unguarded liking on his face which he almost recognised, but could not quite place. 

Henry greeted Geoffroi, and said, 'Show me these new peregrines.'

A true pair, and they looked very small after the gyrfalcons.

'Fine birds, Sire, but one of them's damaged a feather; see.' The tiercel, a handsome bird with steely-blue plumage, had broken a pinion, perhaps unsettled at his journey and his new surroundings.

'I've another ready to imp in,' continued Geoffroi, and he gestured at an array of feathers, saved from other birds' moults, laid out on the work-bench under the window, with a bowl of brine and an imping-needle lying ready in it.

'I'll see if I can remember how,' said Henry. 'Montjoy, give me a hand, will you?'  And the herald left Loki and came over.  'He knows you better than me or Geoffroi.  Hold him for me, if you will.'

Montjoy walked quietly round in front of the peregrine, then his hands flashed out, neatly imprisoning wings and talons.  An indignant squawking arose.  Montjoy angled his arms away so the hooked beak could not reach his wrists, and opened the fingers of one hand slightly, allowing Henry to draw the wing out of his grasp.  Henry carefully cut the damaged pinion above the break, and matched it with the replacement; picked up the imping-needle from its bowl of brine, and pushed it into the stub, then slid the new feather onto its other end and drew one finger slowly down the feather to knit the webbing together. 

This action was rather wasted, because the peregrine made determined efforts to escape the while, and Montjoy, trying to hold him still without damaging him, did not notice because he was half-laughing, half-scolding.  'He's strong for his size!' he commented, and fell abruptly silent; Henry smiled, at his own foolishness and at Montjoy's confusion, and let the wing fold back against Montjoy's fingers.  The repair was invisible, and soon the needle would rust into place and set it firm.

Now he took hold of the bird's leash - 'Ready to let go?' and Montjoy nodded; they both whipped their hands out of the way.  The undignified squawking stopped abruptly, and the peregrine gave them both a resentful glare.

'We'd best stay out of his way for a day or two,' remarked Henry.  The peregrine turned its back on them, and Geoffroi came forward to tie the leash to one of the legs of the bench.  Montjoy, Henry noted, looked as ruffled as the bird.  He took a moment to enjoy the sight of a ruffled Herald, and then turned away to pick up Freya.

-x-

The next day they took the gyrfalcons down to the tourney-field again, and risked letting Freya off the creance.  Without the trailing weight of the line, she flew uncertainly for a few minutes, before gaining confidence and speed.

'Ah, she's so quick,' said the Herald appreciatively as she circled up, swift and beautiful, into the grey sky.

'She'll be able to take geese and heron when she's fully trained,' agreed Henry, and began to swing the lure for her.  'Best not let her get too tired, first time out.'

Freya made a couple of half-hearted passes at the lure, then decided she needed a rest and angled in to perch on the roof of one of the stands; miscalculated her landing, and toppled off the roof-ridge to tumble down the further side in a flurry of wings.  Both men doubled up with laughter, and tore round to the other side to pick her up if necessary.  But she had scrabbled back up to the roof-ridge, and now sat with her back firmly turned to them.

'Oh, she doesn't like being laughed at,' gasped Montjoy.

'She'll be on her dignity for a while.  Come on, we may as well be comfortable while we wait.'

Montjoy picked up Loki from where he was sitting on the rail, watching the proceedings with a distinct air of superiority.  Together they climbed up into the stand, while Henry's guards waited stoically down in the lists.

Henry looked out past the castle to the marshalling-ground where he could see his troops, ready to depart as soon as they had word of Philip's whereabouts.  He could see archers practising at the butts, and men exercising their horses.  Soon they would grow stale, and doubtless fall to quarrelling amongst themselves, but he could not risk leaving straight away and running short of provisions. 

'This campaign,' he began, and gestured at the small figures, 'it's not the sort of thing I'll need a herald for.'  Montjoy, suddenly sober, turned towards him, but said nothing.  'There'll be no courtesy about it; he's a brigand, nothing more.  We'll aim to destroy him once and for all.  So there's no need for you to be present.'

'I understand,' said Montjoy, 'there are some situations where a herald is simply not needed.'  He wasn't looking at Henry now, but down at Loki.

'Well.  There's surely no need for you to endure a winter campaign along with the rest of us, as there's no work for you to do.  So.  You may stay here if you wish - the hawks will be here - or you have perhaps family.  I would not keep you from them.'

'My father's manor is too far away to make the journey in less than a fortnight,' said Montjoy uncertainly; where was it then, down in the Languedoc, or furthest Brittany?  He would find out at some point, but for now...

'I mean a family of your own.  I have never asked if you have a wife, or children.'  And he should have done, before he had let himself grow so close to the man, though he had always had a feeling that the herald was unattached.  He looked round at Montjoy, uncertain now himself.

'No, I have none such.  The position of King of Arms takes me too far afield, and when I was but a herald at court I had not the income to support a family.  I am a third son.'

Did he live chaste, then, as Henry had since he became king?  Or did he take his pleasure in some other way?  Travelling so far and so often he would have plenty of opportunity, and surely there could be no-one who would not leap at the chance to lie with Montjoy King of Arms..! Certainly not Henry King of England.

But then he glanced again at that grave, reserved face and those clear grey eyes, and simply could not imagine Montjoy in licentious abandonment.  Though Henry's body certainly liked the notion, but only if it were with one man, and only if true affection were its basis.

He dragged his mind back to the here and now.  'So.  There's another thing you could be doing.  There's the Duke of Burgundy's tournament, that he'll be holding down at Dijon.  You know he's asked me for your presence there? The biggest tournament for years, and he needs someone with experience and authority to help organise it, and you have both a-plenty.  Therefore, should you wish it - and only if you wish it - you may go to Dijon when we depart on campaign, and spend the next months in comfort while we're roughing it up in the hills.  And he has issued an invitation to all of us, if we should be finished with the Wolf by then, to attend the tournament and festival; not quite in my style, I must admit, but it's the sort of thing I have to do from time to time.  So we might meet again there, after the campaign.'

He fell quiet, leaving the Herald to make his own choice. 

The Herald was silent for a few moments; then:  'I have been to Dijon a few times; it's a most pleasant city.  And a tournament held by the Duke should be worth seeing; and to have a part in it... If you are sure that I can be of no further use to you here or on the campaign, your majesty, I'll go to Dijon and willingly.'

That was not quite the answer Henry had hoped for; quite what he had hoped for he did not know.  He could not say outright, I wish you to come on campaign with me, though there will be no work for you to do other than to warm my bed. Nor could he say, but this parting will perhaps silence any talk about the king and the herald.

He shot Montjoy a glance, and after a heartbeat's pause, the Herald continued, 'And I will trust that God will send you a swift victory, and look to see you come safe to Dijon.'

It was said a little formally though, as if Montjoy had decided to step back slightly from the camaraderie that had grown between them over the falcons.  Now what did the man expect, wondered Henry, resignedly; protestations of undying friendship, an outright statement I will miss you?

No, of course he didn't expect either, though both would have been true.  'I will look forward to it, then,' perhaps a shade too heartily.  And feeling that he had handled this conversation maladroitly, and wishing to be done before he made a complete hash of it, he changed the subject abruptly.  'Well, shall we see whether Freya is ready to come down yet?'  and got up and led the way out of the stands, sunk in sudden gloom.

In the early hours of the morning, news came in that Philip had fallen on a village away up in the hills, swept it clean of stores, butchered those who tried to resist and pillaged a small priory close by; and Henry and his forces departed at dawn, hot on the trail of the Wolf.

-x-

Chapter 2 follows shortly.

Chapter Text

Part Two: Burgundy

It was a swift-moving, hard-fought campaign in the icy weather of winter and early spring; down through the Ardennes and the hills of Lorraine, hard on the heels of the brigand who had held sway over this easternmost part of France for far too long.  But they cornered him in his lair finally, and smoked him out, and now the last stronghold had been reduced and they were winding up the campaign.

They were fifty miles from Dijon, and the Duke of Burgundy, whose knights had done sterling service in Henry's support (not that they had really been needed, but there was no need to make that plain) had sent word that the tournament that was to be held at his capital was now explicitly in honour of Henry's victory.  The thought of a week or so spent in that most prosperous and sophisticated of cities was an enticing one to some.  But...

'I should not leave while there's work to do here.  There may be some of his followers still to hunt down; I won't have it said that I left a job half-done.'

The Duke of Exeter sat back in his folding chair, a cup of wine held half-forgotten in one hand.  A blast of wind shook the tent, and numerous small draughts found their way under, and round, and through its canvas.

'See, nephew, no-one will say anything of the sort.  But Burgundy's a good ally, and wealthy, and it won't hurt to go and stay at his expense for a while.  Get yourself seen by knights from all over Europe.  Remind them of who you are.'

'If anyone needs reminding they must be dead!'

'Yes, yes, but it doesn't hurt to keep yourself in the forefront of people's minds.  You've had a hard campaign,' and that was certainly true; he had not spared himself. 'Let my lord of Bedford and myself stay here.  We can finish off what needs to be done here.  You and my lord of Gloucester can take your ease for a while.'

John was nodding; this kind of stubborn, methodical work appealed to his nature.  'We can do what's left, brother.  Get you some rest, and we'll have all done by the time you're ready to return to England.'

'I've a mind to Dijon, I'll admit,' put in Humphrey.  His sling was an annoyance to him; it was his left arm that was broken and he was, to put it mildly, a nuisance in the camp at the moment.  'Leave these two warriors to finish the job.  We'll sleep in soft beds and eat the best food, and watch everyone else do the fighting for a change.'

'It sits ill with me to let others do the work...' but Henry was wavering.

'We know that, my lord,' and it was rare that Exeter sounded patient, but in a good cause he could do so.  'Just this once, though.  Or do you say that Bedford and I are not capable of finishing the job?'

And in laughter at this absurdity, the matter was decided.  Henry and Humphrey would go to Dijon, and the dukes of Bedford and Exeter would stay put.  

'What do you think of the prize he's giving for the champion of the tournament?' asked John, when this was settled.

'An eagle!...  A sparrow-hawk is more traditional, but you can trust Burgundy to go several times better than anyone else.'  An eagle, an Emperor's bird.  Henry, of course, as conqueror of France, had as good a claim to be called 'Emperor' as any ruler in Europe.  Maybe it was a device to get him to take part in the tournament, which would bring in any number of contestants hoping to deprive him of the title.  'Though it's no concern of mine.  I've never jousted, never will, and that's an end to it.  What's the point, after all?'

'You'll watch, though?' Exeter again.

'Yes, and see who's in alliance with whom, and what sort of mood there is.  And we can do it in comfort, too, if I know the Duke.'

'Aye; and you'll be there too, I hope, my lord Salisbury?'  Exeter was looking round at the tall, hawk-faced Earl; older than the royal brothers, he might, perhaps, be a restraining influence.  

'With your leave, Sire.'

And after a little more discussion, it was decided that the addition of the Earl of Warwick and his train would swell out Henry's escort nicely; and that settled, my lord of Exeter stated, with finality, that he was going to bed, and Salisbury following his lead, the party broke up.

Burgundy was, of course, an ally worth cultivating, and it was certain that he saw Henry in much the same light.  Between them they could impose a peace on all this part of Europe, with themselves  in a pre-eminent position, holding sway all the way south to the Mediterranean.  Not a bad result for a year or two of work, and if Henry had little time for the pomp and pageantry of a tournament, it would at least be at Burgundy's expense.  

And of course Montjoy was at Dijon.  The unlikely friendship that had begun - when?  Over the falcons, or before that? - was something that he had missed in the few free moments during this winter campaign, without even being sure if he had the right to do so.  He had not had any reason to send a message since the last conversation that had ended in a minor key, in the draughty stand at the old tourney-ground.
   
Well, well, he mused, there was something to be said for a week or two of easy living at Dijon, tournament or no.


A day, and a little more, of riding down through the hills of Lorraine where the Wolf had run at last, and then into the rich landscape of Burgundy, through vineyards neatly tended and waiting for the spring, and little towns with patterned roofs and prosperous inhabitants.  The sleet of the uplands transformed itself into sharp showers.  Henry discovered he was glad not be to sleeping in a tent.A number of travellers going the same way, knights and squires tricked out in rich garments, indicated that the Duke's tournament would be well-patronised; some of them had fought in the campaign.  There were quite a few ladies too, well wrapped-up against the blustery weather, some of them in a state of high excitement and wearing the colours of favoured knights.... 'Some of those knights are ladies, I think,' remarked Warwick, peering at one particularly colourful procession as it crossed a bridge.  The knights were slim, to be sure, and their armour and weapons were finely made to the point of delicacy.  'A pretty sight...'  He waved and blew kisses, and peals of girlish laughter were his reward.  Coming up behind, waiting in the scant shelter of a churchyard wall, were a group of knights dressed as ladies.  'What, no kisses for us, my lord?' called one, falsetto.'Nay, not for such loathly ladies!'  'Alack!'  An attitude of despair, then more laughter, from both groups this time. 

Well, well, it was a time-honoured custom, and one which his own father had recounted from his days as a famous tourneyer - though he had declared he had never personally followed it (though Uncle Exeter had got a strange expression on his face when he had said this.)  And now Henry had to admit to himself that excellent wine, warm inns and good food  - he had drawn the line at snails - were having a mellowing effect on him.  He surrendered finally to the holiday mood; it had been such a long time since he had really relaxed; he laughed along with the rest.  Cross-dressing was one thing he had never attempted even in his wildest days, though.  Perhaps, even then, he had been a little staid.

Once across the bridge, they were into the town-lands that spread before the walls of Dijon.  There was evidence of good husbandry everywhere; fields with wheat just beginning to spring up, sheep clustered in their folds, bee-hives well-protected against the cold.  Carts rolled ahead of them towards the city, loaded with produce, and there were pack-mules too.  No-one would go short in Dijon for the next couple of weeks, that was for sure.

The gate was hung with banners, and the guards, resplendent to a man in the Duke's livery, held the lesser folk back to allow Henry and his train to enter first.  Into the warren of streets, the houses looming high, close on either hand.  People crammed back to let them past, their swift remarks in the patois of Burgundy difficult for Henry to follow, hard though he'd been working  at his French.  But their smiling faces told them all that he needed to know; that the man who had hunted down the Wolf was welcome in Dijon.  Someone tossed flowers, and his horse Boreas snorted, but he'd experienced worse in his time.  Bright cloths had been draped from the upper windows of some of the houses to give a holiday atmosphere; many of the townspeople seemed to be dressed in their best.  The riders in Henry's train, with him in their midst, held themselves a little straighter.  The Burgundians among them positively preened.  Everyone was smiling.

They passed a little square, with a tableau of children costumed as wolves and lions.  The biggest lion, with a golden crown on his head, pulled down the wolf-leader as they passed, with fearsome growls which were drowned out by cheers from the  crowds.  Henry laughed at the blatant flattery; 'Give them some money,' he said over his shoulder, and Warwick tossed some small coins to the children.

The sweet singing of young girls drifted from a crossroads ahead.  At every inn were small forests of banners, and shields hung over the windows.  The Duke's tournament would be well-attended.  A few knights, come in from Germany or Switzerland too late for the campaign, were lounging in front of one of them, and banged their wine-cups on the table in front of them, and called out challenges, the veterans making lofty or mocking replies.  

A brightness between the houses up ahead showed where the street gave onto the main square.  Here were the ducal palace and the church of Notre-Dame beyond, and the Guildhall with its glorious patterned roof.  The stands were going up in the square, the tap-tap of hammers like echoes to the horses' hooves.  Down the open space between the lists went Henry and his train, to the gate to the palace courtyard, which stood open to receive them.  Musicians atop it struck up an air as they passed through.

'I feel like a Roman Emperor,' he remarked in an undertone to Humphrey, riding beside him, who snorted with laughter.

The riders came to a halt in a group at the foot of the broad shallow stairs of the Palais des Ducs.  At the mounting-block was a cluster of grooms, again in the Duke's livery, and at the top of the stairs, ready to greet him -

A most magnificent figure, straight and tall, dressed in severest black save for a glorious cloak of pale cloth-of-gold, looking down on them like a carven angel on a cathedral façade.  Henry blinked up at this vision for a moment, feeling suddenly rather travel-worn after his days in the saddle, looked again -

'Montjoy!'  And he dismounted and started up the stairs, hands going out to greet him, and then he remembered protocol and caution and pulled them back.  But he could not help smiling, caution be damned.  He had long considered Montjoy to be the most naturally dignified person he knew, and this raiment suited him to perfection. 

'Your majesty is most welcome to Dijon,' and there was that familiar slight bow, and for a mercy his voice had all its remembered warmth.

'King of Arms,' responded Henry, with full measure of warmth of his own.  'We are right glad to see you.'  The title, which he had never used to Montjoy before, seemed the only way to address him; Montjoy looked so much more the king than he did.  And at the back of his mind he wondered if he could ever afford to clothe his heralds thus, even for so great an occasion, and had to conclude, reluctantly, that he could not.

'His grace of Burgundy requests you enter and be refreshed; he awaits you within.'

'It will give me pleasure,' said Henry as a groom came to lead Boreas away; behind him his followers were dismounting, unregarded. 

'Then, if your majesty will be pleased to follow me to the presence-chamber...'

'Is all in train for the tournament?'  He could not keep up this formal language for long, not with Montjoy, even though he was clad in that - his eyes strayed sideways to it once more - breathtaking cloak.

'Once they heard of your victory, your majesty, they made haste with the preparations.  It's all but ready, now.'

'Well, lead on, though between you and me,' confidentially, 'my hope is for a few hours' rest.  It was a cold campaign, up there in the hills - you were well out of it - and a two days' ride here.'  He fell in by Montjoy's side rather than be formally conducted by him; he was treading a fine line between care for the man's reputation as a loyal Frenchman, and a wish to repair the slight distance which he felt had grown up between them.

But in the past months Henry had defeated the brigand in the hills who had preyed on a part of France for a few years now; surely that would count for something, both with Montjoy and his compatriots? and in any case here in Burgundy they were on neutral ground, as they had not been in St-Quentin.  And he was pleased to be back in Montjoy's company; smiling slightly.  He could not help it.

'The first-night feast is set for tomorrow; you and yours will be dining with the Duke and his family tonight,' Montjoy hastened to reassure him. 

A small, intimate occasion of twenty or thirty persons, no doubt... ah, well.

They were passing through hall after hall of a magnificence that put even France to shame, and made his own plain dwellings seem very dull.  He regarded it all with a charitable eye - a king could, after all, afford to be tolerant of a mere duke's ostentation - dismissed it, and glanced again at Montjoy.  The man looked tired, and no wonder, if he was closely involved in organising a great occasion for this court.

'What's this I hear about an eagle as a prize for the tournament?  Have you seen it?'

'Why, yes,' said Montjoy his face lightening a little, 'traded in from the East with all her furnishings.  I've never seen an eagle so large.'

'I've never heard that an eagle was a deal of use for hunting.'

'She's taken wolves, they say, and roe-buck.'

'No wolves left to speak of in England - and one less in France now!' said Henry; no harm in pointing out that he had done France a service.

They had come to massive double doors, flanked by more liveried servants, and beyond them was the Duke's presence-chamber, filled with his nobles, all decked out in glorious apparel.  There was a sudden sound of trumpets from a gallery above.  Montjoy stepped away from his side as he entered the hall; Burgundy and his Duchess rose from their thrones to greet the victorious king, all his courtiers bowed, like corn rippling in the wind.  The Duchess curtsied, and the Duke made a leg. 

'My duty to you, King of England!'  Burgundy came forward, and took his hands.  'You are right welcome here.  We have heard with joy the tale of your victories.'

'Not mine alone, noble cousin,' responded Henry, 'we must give our thanks to God, too.'

'True, and we have done so, every day in Notre-Dame, since the news reached us.'

That seemed a little excessive - surely the palace chapel would have done? - but it was like the Duke; pious, but publicly so.

'I and mine will be glad to attend the Masses,' and that was true enough.

'Welcome, fair cousin!' That was the Duchess Margaret, smiling, taking his hand in turn.  'We are joyful to see you here and in good health.'

Henry raised her hand to his lips,  'I had no thought to be other-where,' and was rewarded by a twinkle in her - remarkably shrewd - eyes.

'Our tournament, cousin?  You will attend that too, I hope?'  She tucked his hand into her arm, and patted it.  'Mayhap ride in it?' 

'Nay, ask me again tomorrow, your grace.  I'm but new come from campaign and my thoughts are on rest, not battle.'

'Well, that's natural enough.'  She was conducting him to stand before the fire that burned in the great hearth, with a space left free of courtiers all around it; they were half-turning away to converse amongst themselves, but all had a weather-eye upon the great folk.  Humphrey, Warwick and Salisbury formed a group of their own not too far distant, but a little knot of Burgundian lords and ladies was moving towards them in welcome.

'There will be knights in plenty to contend in the tournament,' observed the Duke, 'and his grace of Clarence has come here, to make meeting with your majesty, and we have hopes that he will take his place in the lists.'

Thomas!  Henry felt his hackles rise; his next brother, always his nearest rival, whether for glory or their father's affection... So Thomas had an eye to the eagle, to the emperor's bird, had he?

'Is my brother here now?  I had not seen him.'  Of course Thomas would have been at the Duke's right hand; but still his eye ranged casually around the hall.  There were some faces he knew, and some he did not, and a few Frenchmen among the knights, even; and beyond the glittering courtiers, in the shadow of the gallery, another Frenchman standing a little apart in a golden cloak.  But no Thomas.  'I would greet him.'

'He's but these two hours come from Germany, and would not appear in all his dirt, but he'll be at the banquet tonight,'  said the Duke.

'I will look forward to it.  But now, cousins, my brother is not the only one to be travel-stained and weary...'

'Of course, my dear lord,' said the Duchess graciously.  'Till tonight, then,' and Henry was able to make his escape.



This banquet took place in a chamber small by the standards of the palace, but decorated with an almost overwhelming richness;  tapestries on the walls, a blaze of candles, and the Duke's arms and Henry's repeated in abundance.  The Duke and his immediate family still at home were all here; his son the Count of Nevers and a couple of daughters, and Henry and his noble companions.  A bishop or two rounded out the numbers at the high table. Below the dais were two other tables with lesser nobility and officials, among them Bourgogne and Montjoy Kings of Arms and Franche-Comté Herald.  None of them wore their magnificent cloaks, Henry was sorry to note, but each was clad in black, with a brassard bearing the device of his office.

At Henry's right hand was Thomas.  New in from the Empire, with no trace of the journey upon him.  Henry, fresh from a hard-fought campaign, looked down upon him.  He had dispatched Thomas to the court of Duke Albrecht, ostensibly with a proposal of a crusade against the Ottomans, actually to remove him as far as possible from the Aquitaine, where he had ambitions of his own.  Their placing next to each other was intended as a courtesy, no doubt.

'Your majesty,' and Thomas bowed, and so did his friends further down the table, 'God has smiled upon you this past month.'

'No, good brother, He has smiled on all who live in this corner of the world,' replied Henry, smiling himself.  'How does our cousin of Austria?'

'Well, my lord, though he's beset with cares.'
   
'Indeed, with the Ottomans at his gates he could hardly be otherwise.  We'll send him our support for his new campaign.  You'll lead our men, I trust, brother?'

'With a good will, sire,' responded Thomas promptly; he must have known this was coming.  'When we return to England I'll set about calling up our forces.  And in the meantime, with your leave, I will bide here a week and fight in our cousins' tourney.'  Here he inclined his head politely towards the Duke. 

'You'll do well, I am sure, ' responded Henry pleasantly.

The Duke said, with evident enthusiasm, 'You'll put all our own knights on their mettle, cousin.  Will you joust, or fight with swords, or ride in the mêlée?'

'Oh, I'll joust of course,' of course; it gave the best chance of glory, 'and maybe enter the sword-fights.  I've a mind to your eagle, my lord Duke, to speak the truth.'

'Then look to your arms, my lord, there are many here who would say the same!' said the Duke pleasantly, and Thomas smiled and bowed, before turning politely to the lady on his right.  His eyes flicked coldly towards Montjoy as he did so, sitting a little way further down the chamber.

Henry considered this for a brief moment before giving his attention to the Duchess, who was describing the theme of the tournament to the table at large.

'His most Christian majesty, Prester John, rules a realm of wonders far away in Asia.  We have tried, in our own small way, to bring something of that magnificence to Burgundy.'

And she went on to tell of the legendary king's dominions and the people he ruled over.

'Will you be taking your part in the pageant, my lady?' enquired Humphrey, from the other side of the Duchess.

'Yes, I will be representing the Empress of Cathay, and my daughter the Lady Jeanne will be the Queen of the Amazons,' and a young woman with a plain but pleasant face further along the table nodded and smiled, 'and the eagle is one of the Yllerions, the lords of birds from the land of Prester John:  sent to our tournament as a prize for Europe's most renowned knight!'

Well, no wonder Thomas wanted the bird... Henry felt his resolution not to take part in the tournament waver for a moment.

'The viewing of the helms will be tomorrow morning at ten; will you be there, my lord?' asked the Duchess; and Henry found himself replying yes.

                                     

This event took place in the cloister of the church of Notre-Dame behind the palace, co-opted as ideal for the purpose.  Here were hung up the arms of the contestants, banner and shield and helmet, and here, it seemed, all the nobles in the palace had congregated.  The place was a blaze of colour and a surge of movement.  There were young men, standing idly boasting (and where had they been when Henry had been on campaign?); pages darting here and there, and a long train of fine ladies in silk and velvet, laughing and chattering and making eyes at the youths, who preened like parrots. Little dogs scurried among the silken skirts, jewels flashing on their collars, their sharp yaps cutting through the talk.Conspicuous among these splendours was a tall figure in black and gold.  Henry, processing around the quadrangle in the company of the Duke, with the Duchess and a couple of her ladies following, saw a pair of young knights in anxious conference with him, fair-haired youths both.  As they drew nearer, the press parting before them, one of them was saying, 'And in the third quarter there's a field checky, but I can't remember whether the baton is vert or azure.'
'That happens more often than you might think, sir; blazons can be all too complicated.'

Someone had, apparently, forgotten what his own coat of arms looked like.  Henry's eyes met Montjoy's for a moment.  Neither of them gave so much as a twitch of a smile, but there was shared amusement in that look.

'I'll find it out for you, my lord, when my duty here is done,' continued Montjoy, and the fair youth was all relieved thanks.  Perhaps fortunately he had not noticed the approach of king and duke, and he and his friend went blithely on their way.  Montjoy bowed fractionally to the two rulers, before making a note on a tablet he drew from a scrip.  But as he did so, another group of men jostled him, apparently by accident, and passed on their way without apology.  Henry would have stepped forward hastily, but the Duchess was there, with one of her ladies, and spoke with cold formality to the knight; a  royalist Frenchman, Henry thought, and one who had been in Thomas' orbit before the Agincourt campaign.  Henry caught a few of the Duchess' words; 'the ladies will judge', and the knight made an ungracious apology.  The moment was past before he could intervene.

The Duke, with some ceremony, conducted Henry to a door in the cloister wall, said, 'And here, cousin, is the prize for the tournament, the eagle Zenocrate, brought in from the land of the Tartars.  Is she not magnificent?'

He stood aside to let Henry pass, and the Duchess followed in her turn.  Beyond, in a quiet courtyard, there sat, on a gilded perch, the biggest eagle Henry had ever seen.  She was hooded in purple and gold, with silver bells of unusual and intricate design upon tail and talon.  Her feathers showed the bloom of perfect health, her beak was a butcher's blade, her claws gleamed dully like iron.  Behind her stood the Duke's falconer, dressed not in the Duke's own colours but in black and purple and gold.

'Truly, she's sublime,' said Henry gravely, and the hooded head turned towards him and the golden feathers on her neck rose slightly.  'A fit prize for whoever is champion at your tournament.'

The Duke smiled at the compliment, but: 'We cannot persuade your majesty to take part?  It would set the seal on the occasion.'

'Let those who doubt their own courage fight in the jousts,' replied Henry evasively.  'I doubt not mine.  Some other man may take the prize.'

'Ah, that's a pity,' mused Burgundy.  'Well, will you at least take her up?'

Thus invited, Henry simply could not refuse, and he responded, 'Why, that I will do gladly,' and approached the eagle.  Her falconer, who had been standing in as self-effacing a manner as possible for someone dressed so magnificently, came forward and gave him a heavy gauntlet. He drew it on and took up the jesses before bringing his arm up behind the perch.  As she felt the touch on her legs, she stepped backwards onto his arm, and shifted those iron talons about a little until she felt steady.

What a weight!  Maybe three times as heavy as Freya, and she was large for a gyrfalcon.  The hooded head was on a level with his own.  He braced his elbow against his side, and regarded the eagle.  Useful or not as a hunter, she was a most beautiful bird.  He cocked his head at Burgundy; the man was an accomplished diplomat to be sure.  Time to upset the apple-cart, and he knew just the way to do it.

'With your leave, cousin, I would have my herald Montjoy see this fine lady; he's a most skilled falconer.  Will you send for him?'  And this would get Montjoy out of the quadrangle.  Henry had not much liked that little incident with the French knight.

Burgundy bowed acquiescence, and sent an attendant to fetch Montjoy, who appeared moments later and bowed formally to them.  Henry nodded, smiling, to him; the Duke and Duchess watched, with pleasant expressions. 

Henry said easily, 'Herald.  This is a fine bird, is she not?'

'I have never seen her like, sire, your graces.'  Montjoy was regarding her with appreciation.

'I find I wish to see her unhooded.  Will you take her, and unhood her?'

He was aware of a moment of reaction from the falconer, a flicker across his features, and Burgundy, for once, appeared completely taken aback.  Henry, rather pleased, said, 'Come, take her,' and because it would not be good practice to pass her between them on first acquaintance with her, he placed her back on the perch, drew off the gauntlet and gave it to Montjoy.

The Herald stepped forward, pulled on the gauntlet, and picked up the imperial eagle with a smooth assurance that Henry was sure he didn't feel.  He murmured something to her; she cocked her head and the great talons flexed and relaxed.  A gentle caress over the back of her neck; Zenocrate, apparently falling completely under Montjoy's spell, let her feathers fluff out.  Then, finally, with a neat and economical movement, he removed her plumed hood.

She gazed around, seemingly unperturbed to find herself with a new handler, the fierce dark eyes taking them all in with quick turns of her head.  Montjoy regarded her in his turn, standing utterly still and quiet now, letting her settle.

Henry took a few moments to appreciate this sight, which was well worth the seeing; Montjoy in midnight black and golden cloak, with an equally impressive eagle upon his arm.  For sheer magnificence, the sight was hard to beat.  And then Zenocrate roused all her feathers, and settled down, apparently well content to be where she was.

The Duke's falconer was eyeing Montjoy assessingly, and exchanged a brief look with his master, as if they were equals, as in matters of hawks they surely were.

'She likes you, Herald,' remarked the Duke, in good humour.

A glance at Henry for permission to speak, which he gave with a smile, and Montjoy replied, 'She is a queen among birds, your grace, and your tournament will be the more famed for her presence.'

'Do you not wish to keep her for yourself, cousin?' enquired Henry mildly.

'Our tournament will be the most renowned in all Europe for years to come,' replied the Duke, 'and with that I am well content.'

The interlude seemed over.  Montjoy hooded Zenocrate and returned her to her perch, and at Henry's signal fell in behind the Duke's party as they passed back through the door and completed the circuit of the cloister.  Henry was just congratulating himself on having got Montjoy under his wing again without being too obvious about it, when his eye fell on a particular banner and shield among those set out on display; the arms of his least favourite brother, which annoyed him all over again.

'Come see the lists, if you will, cousin; they've almost finished building them,' said the Duke, 'with your leave, we'll let the King of Arms return to his duties here.'

'I will stay also,' put in the Duchess, as a burst of giggling rose from the ladies of her train, across the cloister, where a group of knights dressed in gowns and hennins had insinuated themselves; those same they had met at the bridge yesterday.  There was some determined flirting going on, by the looks of it.  'Come, Montjoy, let us take note of these knights,' and collecting him up in her wake, she made a bee-line for the commotion.  That was a considerable courtesy to Montjoy.  What was going on here?

                                       

The Duke took Henry back through the magnificent halls of the palace, through its courtyard and under the great gate to the main square of Dijon.  Here the lists were nearing completion.  A double-fenced enclosure for the mêlée stood to one side; though it took up the most room, it was reckoned less noble than the joust or the sword-fight, so had less prominence.  Stands reared up between it and the long, narrow jousting lists and the square for the sword-fight.  Carpenters clambered about on them, and there was the sound of hammers and cheerful whistling.  The Duke's party climbed up into the most nearly-completed stand, and surveyed the square from this vantage point.  A smell of sawn wood filled the air. A line of carts snaked from one of the side-streets, each of them filled with earth and reeds.  Half a dozen of them stood by the mêlée enclosure, and a couple by each of the smaller, with men perched in them, shovelling the contents down onto the cobbles.  At the windows of the buildings enclosing the square, women were letting long cloths unroll into bright swaths of colour, talking and laughing amongst themselves, and with the stall-holders setting-up below them.  A group of minstrels, accompanying themselves on gittern and lute, were singing a ballad.  A pie-man was doing a brisk trade.
A busy, prosperous scene; the tournament would make inroads even on the Duke's fabulous wealth, but it was true that it would be talked of for years to come, and judging by the number of people milling about in the square, it would bring plenty more money into the Duke's coffers.

A long wagon had somehow threaded its way through the narrow streets, and on it lay a single huge pine-tree. 'See, they're going to raise the tournament tree,' said the Duke, smiling.

There was a manoeuvring of the cart, to get the end of the trunk over a solidly-built timber footing, and some  business with ropes and winches.  Then a shout from the foreman - 'Ready!' and with very little fuss, the tree rose smoothly into place.  The branches shook out as it did so, and in a few minutes, to the accompaniment of a cheer from most of the watchers, the tree stood proudly at the centre of the square, taller than all of the buildings surrounding it.  A gang of carpenters came forward and started to slot a supporting framework around it, with a thump of mallets as they drove the wedges home. 

'Well, that's done,' said the Duke with satisfaction, 'the hangings and shields will go up next,' and a swarm of small boys climbed agilely into the branches, each carrying an image of the Sun or Moon nearly as big as himself, and fixed them to the branches where they revolved slowly, sending off dull gleams in the soft light of an overcast sky.

Now Bourgogne King of Arms approached the tree with three shields, of purple and gold and black, under his arm.  A boy hoisted them swiftly into the lower branches of the tree, to polite applause from the Duke and his party.

'Gold for the joust, purple for the sword-fight, and black for the mêlée.  A pity we cannot tempt you, my lord!' 

Henry drew a breath to make final and rather sharp demurral when he saw, among the little knot of heralds waiting by the tree, a pursuivant wearing Thomas' familiar arms.  The man stepped forward, with supreme confidence, as soon as Bourgogne had finished - of course he would insist on precedence here - raised his staff of office and struck each of the shields in turn. Joust, sword-fight and mêlée...  Thomas was seeing himself in tourneying, if in no other way, as his father's successor, perhaps.

Bourgogne King of Arms noted the entries down.

So. Thomas was fighting in the mêlée, as well as the joust?  That was almost too much of a temptation to resist.

                                       

'You can't fight in the mêlée!'Humphrey was pacing back and forth across Henry's bedroom, its glorious view across the city roofs towards the Alps completely ignored.  Apparently he and Warwick had been debating taking their part in the festivities, for Humphrey had a silk veil around his neck and Warwick, left behind in the ante-room, was still wearing a taffeta over-gown.
'Why ever not?'

'You've always said you thought tournaments were a waste of time.'

'Jousting is, certainly.  We've proved those skills are useless, time and again, and single combat isn't much better.  But I have realised that mêlée fighting is good practice for battle.'

Humphrey cast him a look of barely-masked irritation.  Henry gazed back at him blandly.

'Everyone knows you're better than Thomas.  You don't have to prove that!'

'Oh, really, brother.  He won't prove any different.  Do you imagine that he could?'  Henry was smiling now.  A small devil, that had slumbered since the Boar's Head days, was now prodding him on.

'You've just finished a winter campaign in the hills, and he's been taking it easy on a diplomatic mission!'

'So, he'll be out of practice.'

'Uncle Exeter won't like it!'  This, with a slight air of desperation.

'And he's fifty miles away, and just for once, Humphrey, I mean to enjoy myself.'

Humphrey threw up his hands.  'If he takes you prisoner, don't come to me for ransom.'

'No, I won't.  Maybe I'll take him prisoner, had you thought of that?'  Humphrey, caught off-balance by this, grinned involuntarily.

'Take heart; my fortune's big enough to pay off a ransom,' continued Henry.  'I won't beggar the kingdom if I'm captured - which I won't be,' he added quickly.  'But everyone else is enjoying themselves - that veil suits the colour of your eyes, by the way, where did you get it?' - Humphrey glanced down guiltily at the silver-embroidered gauze, which he had forgotten about - 'and why shouldn't I? Especially if I can make Thomas look foolish in the process.'

'Well, you have a point,' conceded Humphrey, with bad grace.  'I should be the one to do it, though.'

'He'd make mincemeat of you, little brother,' said Henry, with wicked intent, and when Humphrey bridled, added, 'because of your injury, I mean.'

'Wait till it heals, and we'll see if anyone can make mincemeat of me!' snorted Humphrey.  'Well: if you must.  I'd be glad to see him take a fall, I must admit.  Will you enter in your own name?'

'Of course,' said Henry.  'Our father may have hidden himself in battle, but not me.'

And thus Henry's clerk, Ranulph, was sent to strike the black shield in the name of Henry, King of England.

                                       

Warwick and Salisbury found out about this rather late in the day.'My lord King,' said Salisbury, 'we cannot be easy about this.'  He was doing his best to be correct, but there was a look in his eye which said, 'You're too old for this,' and even Warwick was sober-faced.'It's a mêlée, not a war.  Nothing can go wrong, apart from a broken bone or two.'
'A broken head, and your brother crowned king!  Or your majesty taken prisoner, and an impossible ransom demanded.  There are French knights upon the opposing side, as well as the Duke of Clarence.  Sire, I most earnestly advise against it.'

'No-one will take me prisoner, my lord; the French had a cart ready-painted for me at Agincourt, and look what came of that!'

'The Duke of Exeter will not like it,' and everyone in the room nodded wincing agreement.  Why did everyone hide behind Exeter's probable reaction?

'The chances are, if he were here, he'd be first to enter the mêlée.  No, my lords, my heart's set on this; it's a festival and I will have my share of the revels.  And maybe make a few captures of my own, had you thought of that?'

From their expression, it was clear they had not, but no-one dared say as much.  Salisbury and Warwick glanced at each other; Salisbury said, 'By your leave, then, sire, we will ride in your train.'

'Very well, but be quick about entering your names; the teams are almost made up,' said Henry, with finality; that much of a concession he would allow.

                                     

Sitting between the Duke and Humphrey (who was mercifully dressed in cote and leggings, not gown and veil) in the main stand as the jousting got under way, Henry surveyed the lists with a certain amount of cynicism.  But he could not be seen to ignore Thomas' challenge, so he would have to watch all morning.

Each challenger was brought into the lists by what could only be described as a damsel, leading her knight by a golden chain.  The watchers cheered as each pair arrived and the knights mounted up.  Bourgogne King of Arms, clad like Montjoy in black with a golden cloak (but appearing rather less distinguished, to Henry's eyes) cried each time, 'Laisser-les allez!' and the pairs of horses charged down the lists, to a rising tide of chanting and cheers from the crowds. Sometimes both lances splintered, sometimes a knight was unhorsed or would reel in his saddle after taking a hit to helm or body.  The lesser heralds were keeping score.  In the ladies' stand close by there was much knowledgeable discussion of style.  Behind Henry, Salisbury was no doubt keeping note of who cheered for whom.Now Thomas appeared, led by a damsel dressed in green and gold, and leapt to the saddle,  all shining armour and prancing steed.  Humphrey leaned towards Henry, and murmured, mock-admiringly, 'Just look at the size of his lance!'


Henry was hard put to it not to laugh.  Thomas' lance was indeed bigger than anyone else's.  Did he realise what he was trying to say with it, or that it conveyed the opposite impression from the intended one?
 
But then the horses readied to begin their charge down the lists, and the hooves pounded and clods of earth flew, and Henry settled to watch, mentally cheering on the opposing knight with his shield of vair quartered with blue dragons.

Alas, Thomas unseated him on the third pass, and threw a challenging look in Henry's direction, before trotting his horse round the lists, almost visibly puffed up at the crowd's cheers.  The same happened to the next knight, Joachim of Saxony, and the next, Sir Florian, a strapping youth from Flanders.

'Well, my lord, if you are to have as much success in the mêlée, the prizes will all go to England!' remarked the Duke jovially. 

Humphrey, on Henry's other side, raised his eyes to heaven, but made no comment.

                                       

That evening there was a pageant and feast in the Great Hall of the palace.  Bourgogne King of Arms cried out, 'Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye!' and as the room fell quiet, he declaimed a tale to the  assembly of how Prester John himself, hearing of the splendour of the court of Burgundy and the zeal of its knights in the service of God, had sent the eagle Zenocrate, one of the Yllerions the lords of birds, to the West to be the prize of Europe's greatest knight.  Now the door at the end of the dais opened, and Eudo the falconer came in, with Zenocrate on his arm, regal even though hooded, and there was a quiet buzz of appreciation; it was the first time most of the guests had seen her.   Eudo took her once round the hall and out again, and the musicians struck up an air, and the pageant proper began - a parade of the Magi, Prester John's ancestors, and seven kings of his realm, and a representation of a jewelled river (this last a length of heavy blue silk, carried at a run before the dais, to great effect.)  And then at last the feast began, and after it the dancing, and finally, when the ladies allowed it, they were permitted to depart for their beds, or in many cases, other people's beds.
...Henry found himself rather wishing he had stayed in the hills.

                                      

The next day, while the jousting continued behind them, the Duke's party watched the sword-fights.  Henry was rather more interested in this, and cheered Warwick on when he disposed of two Italians and a Swiss count, and groaned when he was floored in his turn by a Savoyard.  But there were several knights who might be offered a place in the coming campaign against the Ottomans; late that afternoon he dictated their names to Ranulph.No sign of Montjoy all day.  It was Franche-Comté Herald who officiated at this event.  Montjoy King of Arms had his own duties, for it was he who was in charge of the mêlée tomorrow, and though that was a lesser contest than the joust and the sword-fight (Burgundy's own heralds officiating at these) it involved the most planning.  No wonder the Duke had wanted his assistance and expertise.Henry caught a glimpse of his tall figure as he descended the stairs to the feast that evening, but before he could catch his attention, a bevy of damsels went past, dressed as Amazons but rather more decorously, in green gowns and with silver bows, and silver circlets on their brows.  Their leader was the Lady Jeanne, carrying a golden bow and with a golden crescent moon on her forehead.  He made a reverence to her; there was a flurry of curtseys from her fellow huntresses, and when they had gone, his herald had vanished.The pageant that night, as well as the Amazons (actually rather a fine sight, he had to admit, hunting a unicorn with some panache) consisted of a parade of centaurs and a party of children dressed as pygmies and mounted on tiny ponies, battling more children dressed as cranes who had come to steal their golden corn... how much was all this costing the Duke?


But before the feast began, the Duchess, robed in yellow as the Empress of Cathay, stepped forth as Burgundy's herald prepared to announce the name of the man who would bear the Veil of Mercy tomorrow in the mêlée.  She held the scarf, embroidered with gold thread and glinting with jewels, across her outstretched forearms, and Bourgogne cried out 'Montjoy, King of Arms!'

And Montjoy stepped forth from under the gallery, and Henry had to work hard not to let his jaw drop.  He was wearing black half-armour, breastplate and helm, and carried a blunted spear with as much assurance as he had carried his herald's white banner.  The golden cloak trailed on the floor behind him as he paced gravely down the hall to the duchess, and lowered his spear.

'Bear this veil tomorrow to any knight we ladies command you to, that he may withdraw from the mêlée at our word and with no stain on his honour,' and she laid the Veil across the spear-head, and he replied, 'My lady, I will,' raised it for all to see; and the assembly cried 'Yea!'

This was an enormous honour, usually given to a knight of renown, who would ride through the mêlée to the rescue of a combatant in extremis.  Henry applauded and for once it was genuine, he was smiling and his heart was in it; Montjoy bowed towards the dais once more - my God, he looks wonderful in that armour, thought Henry, and at once fell to worrying what would happen to the gentle Herald in the press of the mêlée.

Of course, he had been in the battle at Agincourt; Henry had caught sight of the white cloak there  a time or two. Surely, he would be safe here at Dijon, under the eye of half the nobility of Europe.

                                       

Late the following morning, Henry, Warwick and Salisbury mounted up at the foot of the stairs to the main entrance of the palace, ready to ride to the mêlée.  Henry's cuir-bouilli armour felt strangely light, as did the whalebone sword at his side, but Boreas was familiar under him, and they turned away towards the courtyard gate, accompanied by their combined train, every one of them wearing Henry's swan badge on their sleeves.  Across the cobbles, and through the gate he could see the main square, full of spectators, for word had got round that a king would be fighting in the mêlée and the whole town had turned out to enjoy the show.  There was a loud hum of talk; laughter and intermittent cheers.  There were people at the windows of the buildings surrounding the square, and even a few boys up on the roofs.  'Nothing like making fools of ourselves in public,' Warwick was muttering to Salisbury. 
'You might make a fool of yourself; I've got no intention of doing so,' responded Salisbury robustly.

Henry wished he shared his confidence; he was beginning to have second thoughts about this business.  But of course he could not withdraw; for one thing, Montjoy was officiating!

Once in the square proper he could see groups of men approaching the lists from several points, the crowd parting before their retainers.  Heralds were there too, boasting of their masters' achievements - had Montjoy done that, as a young man, he wondered?  He could hardly imagine it... There was Thomas, coming out of the yard of the biggest inn, opposite the palace, on a grey horse, the only other one besides Boreas.  Insolence, but absolutely typical. 

They paused before the double fence, and Henry's squire handed him shield and lance.  Into the lists now, forming up into close-packed ranks with himself in the first line.  Before him was a rope that stretched across the enclosure, then an open space, then another rope and beyond that the opposing knights.   Warwick and Salisbury were just behind him.  The gap in the fence was being closed now, the solid timbers dropping into place with thuds that sounded even through the noise of the crowd.

He scanned the line of knights beyond the further rope.  Thomas and Sir Michael Vauncey, who had gone with him on the mission to Duke Albrecht, and a scattering of French royalists, and Austrian knights among others he could not recognise.  This was going to be a grudge match and no mistake.

A trumpet called and all the spectators hushed, with just the sound of horses shifting, their hooves falling soft on the earth that covered the cobbles.  Montjoy, resplendent in his black armour, rode out into the lane-way between the two teams.  Four men with axes took up positions at the fences, ready to cut the ropes. 

Montjoy looked all round, checking that all was in place; his eye did not even catch Henry's.  Then, having satisfied himself, he filled his lungs and shouted, 'Be ready for the ropes to be cut, be ready for the ropes to be cut, be ready for the ropes to be cut, you who are committed to this; then ride into battle and do your best!'

Henry checked his grip on his lance.  All around him were small movements as men were doing the same.

'Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Hear Ye,' continued Montjoy formally, and an absolute silence fell, except for the chirping of birds somewhere up on the roof-tops.

'My lords.  The judges require: that none of you gentlemen tourneyers beat another with the point or back of the sword, nor below the belt, as you have promised, nor strike nor draw unless it is permitted; and also that none of you beat anyone more than anyone else, unless it is someone who, for his sins, has been singled out for this.

'Moreover, I advise you that when the trumpets have sounded the retreat and the barriers are open, if you stay longer in the lists, you will not win the prize.'

Another pause, for the space of half a dozen heart-beats.

Montjoy raised one hand, and gave a final call: 'Cut the ropes, and begin the battle when you wish!'

His hand fell, he left the enclosure as the axes thudded down on the ropes, and a roar went up from the crowd.

Henry rode straight for Thomas, and Thomas rode straight for him. 

And then it was just a stream of fleeting impressions.

A storm of hooves, battle cries, the splintering of lances.  His own lance broke on someone's shield.  A rider lunged in front of him, grabbing at the bridle of an opposing knight.  He could no longer see Thomas.  Two grappling figures rose up, one with the other in a headlock.  A squeal from the ladies' stand.  The smell of sweat.  A massive blow on his shoulder.  His shield was gone.   A helmet, spinning on the ground.  He was dealing savage blows with his whalebone sword; there was Thomas, his mouth open in a yell.  A stray gleam of sun in his eyes.  He ducked his head, sat firmer in his saddle.  Yells from the crowd.  Forward!  As he raised his head he caught a glimpse of a golden veil, carried high on a lance-point.  A splintering crunch to his left and behind.  Had the fence given way?  The press was easing a little.  A body on the ground before him, black-clad...

Wait.

Off his horse and astride the fallen man, swinging his sword with both hands now.  Boreas was whirled away into the mêlée.  Thomas was there, but falling back before his furious blows, stumbling as a loose horse barged into him.  Henry snatched his sword and sent it spinning out of the lists.  Straightened to find the fight thinning around him.  Two burly men with staves arrived at a run, and here was Warwick too, all three helping to protect him.  He flicked a glance down at Montjoy - ah, he was moving, God be praised!

Two wrestling figures staggered by, but otherwise it was all over bar the shouting.  Trumpets sounded, from the top of the gate to the palace courtyard, and even these last two combatants ceased their struggle.  He lowered his sword, wiped the sweat from his face, and stepped back from astride the Herald.

Broken lances and swords lay all around.  Salisbury came panting up.  A score or so of knights were on the sidelines.  A good few ransoms there!  He resisted the urge to kick Thomas, sprawled in the dirt before him, and bent over Montjoy, who was blinking and stirring slightly.

'Can you sit up?'

Montjoy levered himself up, tried to stand, and staggered.  Henry caught him with one arm around his waist.  'Lean on me,' he panted.

Women's voices, concerned or indignant, sounded overhead.  He looked up.  They were almost directly in front of the ladies' stand; a cluster of solicitous faces looked down at him.  So much for his hopes for keeping his affection for the Herald under wraps; he had given himself away right royally!  But he put the best face on it that he could, and lifted one hand in salute; to a pleased chorus. A few of the younger ladies cheered. Then he put his arm more securely around Montjoy's back - Montjoy now looking distinctly green - and began to pilot him carefully out of the lists.

Humphrey met him  in the narrow gap between the men's and ladies' stands, sputtering with indignation.  'Did you see what he did?'

'No, I just saw Montjoy here on the ground.'  No need to ask who 'he' was.  He helped the Herald to sit on the stairs.  A doctor appeared out of nowhere.  Two of the Duchess' ladies-in-waiting came down from their stand, preceding Margaret herself.  A few moments later, the Duke arrived too, stepping carefully around Montjoy.

Henry could hear a buzz of talk and comment from the spectators, and there was a noise of horses being led away.  Doubtless there were negotiations going on between captors and prisoners; the ransoms were bound to be spectacular.  Glancing round, he saw a working-party clearing up the broken fence and collecting shattered lances.  A gleam of gold on the ground might have been a fallen veil.

But here in the gap between the stands, they had a little breathing-space.  He needed it as much as anyone, now the fury of the fight was draining out of him.
 
He looked back at Montjoy.  The doctor, who had been peering into his eyes, straightened up.  'Infirmary,' he said abruptly.

'But the records of the mêlée...' protested Montjoy weakly. 

'Bourgogne can do that,' said the Duke briskly.  'He was here the whole time, even though the mêlée isn't his event.  Away with you, now.'

The doctor called over two of his attendants, and Henry said, 'Go, Montjoy,' who nodded, and then looked as though he wished he hadn't.  The attendants picked up a stretcher; Montjoy looked at it in horror, tried to walk, reeled, and allowed himself to be lowered down upon it. The little party left the narrow space.

Henry looked after it for a few moments, then wearily turned back to the Duke.

'Did you see what happened, my lord?'

'Well, the ladies will be the judge of that,' replied the Duke, and glanced up the stairs opposite, where the Duchess was descending. 

'Brother, you should get yourself seen to,' interjected Humphrey, 'your face is all blood.'  Henry wiped a hand across it; was the blood his own?  'Go, you'll affright the ladies.'

The ladies had, for the most part, seemed to take the bloodshed in their stride; but it was as good an excuse as any.

'Cousin, I'll take my leave; my duty to you, madam,' he added to the Duchess, who nodded impatiently.

'Be off with you,' she said, reminding him inescapably of his grandmother.  He smiled at her tiredly, and with one of the doctor's attendants at his elbow, and Warwick (who had been hovering at the entrance to the narrow space) and a brace of squires behind, made his way to the infirmary, which had been set up in the Guildhall.

                                       

His appearance caused a mild sensation, but he had his own reason for going there and not to his apartment in the palace.  The said reason was lying on one of the beds, looking even more gaunt than usual, but in possession of his faculties.'Montjoy.'  Henry seated himself on the end of the bed, and let the attendants flutter around him.  'How goes it with you?'
'Sire.'  Montjoy was attempting to raise himself.

'No, no, lie there.' 

Montjoy lay back down, with obvious relief.  'They say that you stood over me, my lord; I cannot quite remember...'

'Do they?'

'Yes.'

'Maybe it's reparation for that time I threw you in the mud.  We'll call it quits, shall we?'  Henry was not going to allow Montjoy to thank him; altogether too embarrassing for them both.

A wan smile; but it was directed straight into Henry's eyes, and Montjoy's own eyes looked distinctly vulnerable for a moment.  'Very well.'  And a change of subject; 'They wish to keep me here tonight, but I should be at the feast; would you tell them, my lord?'

'No, I will not tell them.'  His squires had got him out of his cuir-bouilli armour, and he rolled his shoulders, feeling the soreness where he had been struck.  He lowered his voice.  'Between you and me, I would rather spend the evening here,' the words with you were not spoken, but Henry heard them anyway.  'Think yourself lucky to be out of it.'  And he took his leave, and back in his apartment he had his own hurts dressed.

                                       

The feast and dance were every bit as much of a trial as he had expected.  But when the prizes were announced, after the meal had been cleared away, he was to his astonishment named champion of the tournament.  He left his chair and went to be awarded his prize by the Duchess, standing at the edge of the dais; half-convinced that this result had been decided in advance as a compliment to the visiting king and not altogether pleased by the thought.  But no. 'For your valour in the mêlée, defending your friend,' said the Duchess to him privately, as he stood before her.  'We ladies are the judges, and that was a feat of arms more worthy than any in the single combat or joust.'
The ladies had taken full note of him and Montjoy... ah, well.

The Duchess beckoned to one of the young women ranged on either side of her; her daughter, the Lady Jeanne, dressed in elegant unfussy clothes which suited her plain looks to perfection.  At the Duchess' summons, she came forward, carrying a falconer's gauntlet, of purple leather embroidered with gold and black, glinting with topazes, which she now gave to the Duchess, who in turn handed it to him.   He bowed, kissed her cheek, and held the gauntlet up for all to see.  A cheer rang round the hall.

'Zenocrate awaits you, my lord,' announced Duchess Margaret, more publicly, and gestured to where Eudo had appeared on the dais, with the great eagle on his arm.  'And here, as we have adjudged you victorious in the mêlée, a jewel,' and the other damsel came forward with a sapphire ring on a black velvet cushion; how fortunate that he happened to be wearing blue tonight.  'You may kiss the ladies also, if you wish,' prompted the Duchess mildly, and Henry did so, to applause.

He returned to his chair at the Duke's right hand.  Next Thomas, sulky, went up to receive a diamond, for as he had hoped, he was the victor of the jousting.  Henry applauded with the rest, and handed his own prizes to his friends to admire.

And then there were more prizes; a ruby for the Savoyard knight who had won the sword-fights, toys for the children's races, and lengths of embroidered cloth for the ladies' archery and tossing the quoit.   More children, dressed as butterflies or bees, ran around to distribute jewels made in the shape of small golden feathers to the guests, keepsakes of the Tournament of Prester John.  Henry felt his low mood begin to dissipate.   People were enjoying themselves, after all, and it was Burgundy's money, to spend as he wished.  He had no idea what to do with the eagle... Montjoy had seemed to like her, though.

He was roused from his musing by the minstrels striking up for a dance, and made haste to lead Duchess Margaret out onto the floor. 

'Young man, you have your pick of partners,' she remarked.

'I am content.  And there are more accomplished dancers than me; the damsels will not feel the lack,' and this was true; he had no aptitude for the task.

'To be a king is to have many unpleasant duties,' she observed.  'You will dance with as many ladies as wish it, and only then may you depart.'  Those sharp eyes missed nothing, not even his unspoken determination to seek his bed - alone - as soon as he decently could.

'My injuries may perhaps be my excuse?'

'Should they trouble you excessively...'

She curtsied at the end of the measure, and he led her back to her seat, and looked around for his next partner.  'Lady Hippolyta!' he greeted Jeanne.  'Will you take the floor with me?'

Maybe at some point he would be able to sit and listen to the music - that at least he could appreciate - and perhaps get more news of Montjoy before seeking his rest.

And tomorrow, he would get to the bottom of what had happened in the mêlée.

                                       

The convention was that knights would stay for as long as the ladies wished to dance.  Since the ladies had not spent the day fighting, and it seemed unlikely that they would tire before dawn, he made an unobtrusive approach to the Duchess not long after midnight, and departed... his days at the Boar's Head were long past, and there he had not had to do anything other than drink and laugh with his disreputable companions.  It had been a few months of sheer self-indulgence, that time.But he would not be missed tonight.  Humphrey, for instance, was in his element, and the dancers seemed strangely mutable, knight-ladies and warrior-maids weaving their patterns on the dance-floor; wine flowing freely and musicians earning their keep and more so, up in the gallery of the Duke of Burgundy's feast-hall, this last night of the Tournament of Prester John.
                                       

He crossed the ante-chamber with Salisbury in tow, and a couple of guardsmen, pausing for a moment by the great doors that stood open to admit the chill night air.  He breathed deep a few times.  Out beyond the courtyard and across the square, dim in the moonlight, was the Guildhall and its infirmary.  It would be too late to go and see a sick man now, and his visit there at such an hour would be noted anyway.  He could send a page of course... with a message? What could he say?  Or some gift or other.  But he had nothing to send; he had travelled light from the campaign in the hills, and the very wine he drank was the Duke's.  He had won a sapphire that same day, of course, but it was too pointed a gift, and besides, it was rather fine, he thought, looking at the ring on his hand.  Well then, a note.They mounted the stairs and made their way to his apartment.  Here in his bedroom he sat and found he had no idea what to write; eventually he made do with: I trust you will pass an easy night, and I will hope to see you in the morning.  Trite, but it would have to do.  He signed it HR, gave it to a page to take to the infirmary, and went to his prayers.
These calmed his mind sufficiently that when the page, rosy-cheeked with cold, was admitted to his room, with a report that Montjoy was already soundly asleep, he was able to nod matter-of-factly, and be thankful that he had not crossed the courtyard himself.  So he retired to his bed, and disposed himself as best he could to favour his bruised shoulder.  He had taken far worse hurts in many a battle, after all.  The sounds of the revels in the sumptuous halls below drifted up to him, music transmuted to lullaby.  He slept.

                                       

The next morning he woke far earlier than the rest of the palace.  A profound hush lay over it, though the clock in Notre-Dame was striking seven.  His own servants, as he called for them, seemed reasonably alert, but as he descended the stairs, with Salisbury at his side and Ranulph in his wake, he saw barely a soul.  The guards at the double doors saluted him as they gave him egress.  Looking out across the square, he saw that it was likewise deserted.  All the shattered weapons had been cleared away, but the task of dismantling the stands and the lists had not yet begun.  The bright hangings flapped heavily in a thin breeze from the west.  All was quiet.He smiled to himself, remembering many a time when he had woken at noontide after a night at the Boar's Head. 


Briskly he crossed the square, Salisbury perforce at his side, and entered the Guildhall, crossing the stone-flagged ante-room to the door of the infirmary.  A young nun there gave him admittance, and directed him to a small room off the main hall of the infirmary.

It was a small but well-lit cell, quieter than the main room, and he found the Herald awake; he smiled, and Montjoy, though wan-faced, returned it.

Salisbury found a stool and brought it over for Henry, and then withdrew a little way.  Henry sat and closed his hand over Montjoy's wrist; it was said that a king's touch could bring healing, and though Montjoy looked better, anything that might help was worth trying.

Montjoy looked down at their hands, so nearly joined on the blanket, then back up into Henry's face; made no move to withdraw his wrist, though there had been a startled movement as Henry's grip closed upon it.  'My lord.  It is good to see you again,' and his voice was steady, but a little surprised.

'And you, also,' Henry kept his voice down; there were, after all, bruised and battered men in the other beds, and nuns moving amongst them.  'How are you feeling?'  It was the best he could do.

'Better, I thank you.  My head aches a little,' hurts like hell, Henry translated mentally, 'but they tell me nothing's broken.'

'Good, that's good.'  Henry squeezed that thin, sinewy wrist before withdrawing his hand, because after all there were limits to how long one could do such a thing.  Especially under the sharp eyes of  those nuns, some of whom looked as though they knew a thing or two.  'When you're able, we'll have you out of here and into the palace.'  The infirmary was plain to the point of starkness, clean and orderly too, but he wanted Montjoy to be comfortable.
 
Someone groaned softly, back in the main room, and a nun hurried past the door of the cell.

'Thank-you for your note.  I was asleep when it arrived, but I read it this morning.'

So his vision was alright.  Henry nodded, and smiled encouragingly.

'And I do not think I thanked you properly for what you did yesterday,' continued Montjoy.

'It was pure chance that I saw you, and with God's help was able to hold off the other fellows.'  He had relived it a time or two in his dreams last night; a most desperate few minutes of noise and blows dealt in all directions and swirling dust, standing astride Montjoy and trying to protect them both, until the assailants had been forced away and he had been left, sword-hilt clenched in both hands and feeling absolutely murderous.  He smiled again at Montjoy.  'The ladies saw it, and some of the gentlemen in the stands, but tell me what you remember of it?'

Montjoy, thus cornered, still strove to protect his attacker. 

'I was taking the Veil out to young Gottfried of Thuringia.  He was getting the worst of it, and his family isn't rich; he was fighting to try and win dowries for his sisters.'  Trust Montjoy to know all those details; was Gottfried the young man who had forgotten his own blazon?  'There was a  group of men fighting on foot and one of them barged into me.  Someone crashed into my horse from the other side and I fell.  There were hooves stamping all round.  I think one of them struck my back, and I thought I was going to be trampled.  Then a space cleared around me and you were standing over me,' a grateful look, straight into Henry's eyes, 'and I wanted to get up, but my limbs wouldn't answer.'

'What?  Can you move them now?'  Henry scanned the Herald's body, as if he could assess its hurts through the bedclothes. 

'Yes, though I'm trying not to!'  a wry response.  'And they say I walked and talked afterwards, though I don't remember it.'

'Often the way,' said Henry comfortingly, though he wasn't happy about it.  'And for now, you'll do what the doctor says, and you'll be out of here all the quicker for it.' 

And the doctor now arrived, a tall woman of middle age, and let Henry know without words that he might be king elsewhere, but her word was law in these rooms.  This was a skill that all doctors possessed; was it taught in training, or conferred upon graduation?  Henry smiled ruefully at Montjoy,  patted his wrist again, and left his bedside. He left her speaking quietly to him, feeling his forehead and peering into his eyes. 

Henry left them to it, and began to make his way around the beds in the outer room, Salisbury following rather laggardly, and their attendants with them. 

Arriving once more at the infirmary door, he glanced back into Montjoy's room; he was lying back with his eyes closed.  Henry looked round for Salisbury, who was now in conversation with the doctor.  A fragment of talk drifted back, 'If the infirmary needs anything the town cannot provide...'

Henry's eyebrows climbed.  Salisbury had done his duty nobly at the dance last night, but had confided in an undertone that all those damsels made him feel old.  So Henry busied himself for a few moments with making similar assurances to the elderly nun on duty at the desk by the door, and told Ranulph to make a note of this.

They went down the steps of the Guildhall and into the pale morning light.  Things were stirring at last; a group of workmen had started to dismantle the stands, and a line of carts was arriving to take away the earth and rushes that had covered the cobbles.  A small fire was burning briskly at the side of the lists, with a pot on a tripod over it.

Henry, devoutly glad that his duties that morning did not include shovelling soil, went briskly across the square at the head of his little train, crossed the courtyard and ran up the stairs to the palace, wincing slightly as the movement jarred his bruised shoulder. Back in his apartment he reckoned he would have enough time to deal with the dispatches from John before breaking his fast, and turned to the task immediately, Humphrey and Ranulph at his elbow.

                                       

About mid-morning there was a knock at the door of the apartment; it opened to reveal one of the Duchess' gentlewomen.  'Her Grace has a mind to go hawking in the meads by the river, and desires the pleasure of your company, and bids you bring Zenocrate if you wish.'That was interesting.  There would be little enough quarry this close to the town, unless she proposed to use bagged game; poor sport, that.  Humphrey, lounging in the window seat, had sat up, and Henry exchanged glances with him. 


'I'll be glad to; will you come too, brother?'

Humphrey's eye had already lingered on the gentlewoman; young, pretty, and with a merry eye.  'I'll go with you to make my duty to the Duchess, certainly,' he remarked, and offered the lady his good arm, making some little show of his sling.  Henry suppressed a smile.

A small procession wended its way down to the green meadow by the river.  Humphrey and Lady Phoebe appeared to be getting on well; Warwick was assisting another lady with her merlin's jesses, which appeared to have become hopelessly entangled.  Salisbury strode along alone, with a rather pensive expression on his face.  There was a bright little crowd of Burgundian nobility, and the Duchess was at Henry's side, with her merlin, Joyeuse, on her gloved hand.  And already waiting were the falconers with the bigger hawks, and Eudo with Zenocrate on his arm.  

As was fitting, she flew first, skimming just above them, her head turning this way and that as she searched for prey; an angel of death.

'She's a most magnificent sight,' acknowledged Henry.

'A bird fit for an Emperor indeed,' said the Duchess complacently, as Eudo replaced her plumed and gilded hood.  'Now, to the smaller birds.  Let's see how my Joyeuse files.'
 
She undid the swivel from Joyeuse's jesses, and held her high.  Up she went, ringing into the sky, and suddenly stooped after an early swallow, but lost it, and they had to swing a lure for her.  She made a couple of half-hearted passes at it, but then sped off to bathe in a pool at the river's edge.

'Oh, you bad bird!' exclaimed Margaret. 'Come with me, my lord.  I fear I'll get my gown wet if I try to pick her up.'

Ah.  'It's my pleasure, my lady,' said Henry gallantly, and gave her his arm.

Beside the river, the Duchess' manner changed.  'It's a pity, my lord, that Montjoy King of Arms cannot be with us for this morning's hawking.  He's a most accomplished falconer, I know.'

'I spoke to him this morning.  He's well on the road to recovery, and should be allowed out this evening or tomorrow morning, the doctor says.'

'That was Gisela?  You can have confidence in what she says; she's a fine doctor.  She was in my service for a while, and could have made a good marriage, but swore she had a calling.'  Hmm.  Salisbury might be interested to hear that; perhaps he could persuade her?  'So, you've spoken to Montjoy; and did he tell you what happened in the mêlée?'

'He was not very specific,' admitted Henry.  They were approaching Joyeuse now, passing under a group of alders.  The merlin was enjoying her bath, sending a shower of water-drops in all directions.  'I let it go.  If he can't remember, he can't, and if he doesn't want to tell me, for whatever reason, I can't force him to.  But,' he continued, as he stepped carefully down among the iris and king-cups that were burgeoning along the bank, 'you and the ladies can perhaps help me there?'

'Indeed.  I'll tell you.  We had a good view, and it was almost right in front of us.  And it was your brother of Clarence, my lord, who was closest to him when he fell.'

Henry crouched down, and carefully extended a hand to Joyeuse's jesses.  He had no mind to show the Duchess his face, but suspected she knew very well what his reaction was.  'Softly, pretty bird,' he said, and had the jesses and picked her up in one smooth movement; fortunately the little merlin was much tamer than his own fierce falcons. He turned back to Margaret, who was watching him with those astute eyes.  'I've seen Montjoy ride through a battle without falling.  It seems strange that he should do so in a tournament.'

The Duchess, very obviously a highly competent falconer herself, took the little bird from him, and wound the jesses around her fingers.  'So, Joyeuse, what do you have to say for yourself?'  But her voice was indulgent.  Henry scrambled back up the bank; his boots were caked with mud, but no matter, in a lady's service.

Who now continued, 'My gentlewoman, Petronelle, swears that the Duke of Clarence unhorsed him deliberately, and young Helga says the same.  I didn't actually see it myself; my eyes are not what they used to be' - a likely story, thought Henry - 'but Clarence was closest, that's for certain.  And that's why we awarded him no points for the mêlée, and that's what cost him the tournament, even though he won the jousting outright and did well in the sword-fights.'

'It'll cost him more than the tournament,' said Henry bluntly.

'Ah.  I thought so,' said the Duchess, giving him a sidelong glance and making no move to return to the waiting courtiers, who were conversing amongst themselves.  'I'll not be sorry to see it, I confess; too close to the French for my liking.'

Henry glanced at her, but then dismissed the suspicion.  He had seen Thomas within arm's reach of Montjoy himself, and Montjoy's careful silence was in itself eloquent.

'You'll need to get heirs of your own soon,' continued the Duchess matter-of-factly, 'unless you wish to risk having Clarence take the throne after you.  And for the life of me I can't see why you're so set on the French marriage.  Their king's mad; do you want that for your son?  For England?  I'll be frank, my lord; my daughter Jeanne is of good age to be married, and the proposed marriage to the Grand Duke has fallen through, and truth to tell I can think of no man I'd rather see her wed to than yourself.'

So, the reason for much of the Burgundians' activity over the last months, and small surprise at that.  'Your grace is very kind.'

She dismissed this, as she should.  'Kind?  Nay, England and Burgundy have many interests in common.  Think about it, King Henry.  We're a powerful court, and have been friends these many years.  Jeanne would be a queen, which is better than any of her sisters have managed.  And a daughter of Burgundy knows the rules of the game; as long as you give her sons and due regard, she'd make no complaint if your eye should stray.  Not all the French are to be despised, after all.'

A pause.  'What is your Grace's meaning?'  enquired Henry evenly.

'Oh, there's good and bad in every nation.  Your brother is proof of that.  And the Constable d'Albret was a gallant knight, though stern; and we ourselves have offered Montjoy a place at our court, as King of Arms of the new order of chivalry.'

Henry's world tilted for a moment.  'You offered my herald a place?'

'Why, of course.  There's none better in all Europe.  He would of himself bring renown to the Order of Prester John.  Don't look like that, my lord; he's no vassal of yours.'

'He made no mention of it!'

'Nor needed to.  Turned us down flat.  I wasn't surprised, truth to tell; nor was I surprised at your defence of him yesterday.  Well, Franche-Comté Herald will take the post; he's young, and it's a long step up for him, but he'll do well enough.'

Henry was still reeling internally, but smiling too; what a whirl his mind was in.  He could not articulate an answer.  The Duchess took pity on him, looking kindly on him as she began to lead the way back to the other falconers.

'Think on my offer of Jeanne, your majesty.  You've signed no binding treaty with France that I know of.'

'And Katherine of Valois?  Who will she marry?'

'Some more distant king, perhaps.  There are plenty to choose from.  Or you might consider her for one of your brothers?  At a few removes from the throne, the taint of madness matters less.  Now, my lord,' as they neared the others, 'I thank you for your help in rescuing my Joyeuse.  Perhaps,' in a whimsical undertone, 'she will forgive me for not letting her have her usual bath this morning.'

And Henry bowed her back to her ladies, and beckoned to Eudo, taking Zenocrate from him and hoisting her onto his own arm; a barrier between him and the world.

The Duchess had offered him a powerful alliance, though not the one he had been considering; and Montjoy too, with their blessing, should he so desire.  He was astonished at her admission that they had tried to obtain the Herald for their new Order - but who would not want him, in some capacity or other?  Maybe the Duke's peregrines had been a courtesy to Montjoy as much as a gift for a friendly king... And Montjoy had refused their offer of a high position, and had spoken no word of it to him.  Well, a gyrfalcon was a royal gift to be sure, but even so... Henry began to smile inwardly.  Zenocrate sat contentedly on his arm, and her feathers fluffed out slowly.

He would have to make sure that Katherine was not snapped up by some powerful duke of France, of course, or by the Scots, and the suggestion that she be offered to one of his brothers was a good one.  Both of them were pleasant enough young men.  But a Burgundian lady, from the most sophisticated and richest court in Europe, no doubt ready-primed by her mother as to what she might expect... none of them were great beauties, to be sure, but then neither was he.  It might answer.  She would have all the honour and affection he could give her, and maybe he could let her look elsewhere, too, once she had given him a few heirs.

He would make himself pleasant to her.  Perhaps the sapphire would make a suitable gift?  And sometime soon he would have to declare himself to Montjoy, a task which filled him with considerably more apprehension, since his affections were engaged; and how could a Frenchman accept such an approach from an English King without loss of honour?  And there was another task to be undertaken today.  Truly, being a king was fraught with difficulties.

                                       

'So, my lord Duke, I would ask for an explanation.'This time he was speaking not to Burgundy, that wily and accomplished politician, but to his own brother, Thomas, Duke of Clarence, who was none of these things.
Henry had disdained the props of power, the formal chamber, the high seat set against the dazzle of a window.  He sat at ease in a carved chair, to be sure, but it was no throne.

'It was a mêlée,' said Thomas, 'it is no surprise if a man is unseated, and a man who is no warrior.'

'And yet I was close by him when he fell, and I saw a man go to strike him.'

'In the heat of a fight any man may strike a friend by mischance.'

So someone, probably Thomas, had indeed struck Montjoy.

'A man most obviously not a combatant, carrying the Veil and dressed as the Duke's herald?'

'It is not the first time that a herald has been assaulted,' Thomas shot back.

Thomas meant to discompose Henry by his reference to his manhandling of Montjoy after Agincourt, but did not quite hit the mark.  Henry had made his apology at the time by his demeanour, and had made further reparation since.
 
'And you are telling me that he was assaulted in the mêlée?  How do you know that for sure?'

'You have just told me yourself, my lord king.'

'So now I will also tell you that there were witnesses who saw very clearly what happened.  What do you say to that, my lord duke?'

Thomas, seated across the hearth from him, gave him a look of contempt.  'That a more honest man would have spoken of it earlier.  Who do I have to thank for this?  That turncoat herald?'

'No man, brother, least of all the Herald.  I have given you one last chance for honesty yourself, and you have passed it over.  It was the judges of the tournament who saw it.'

'You'll believe the word of ladies?  They know nothing of the matter.'

'You may tell the Duchess what she knows and does not know, if you so wish, but I do not advise it.  Stick to combat against armed men in future, and you may redeem your name.  Heralds are no fit opponents for you.  And he's no turncoat; he does his duty, as should my brother.'

'Leaving his true lord when he saw which way the wind was blowing, and has been hovering round you ever since.  That's no right behaviour for any man.'

'I am his true lord since the surrender.'

And all dignity fell from the interview, and they were two squabbling children again, fighting for dominance.  'What else has he surrendered?' sneered Thomas.  'Is he your catamite?  He'd be no unwilling partner, I think, and you've ever had a taste for traitors.'

Henry slammed both hands down on the arm of his chair, and stood, in one violent movement.  Thomas' face froze, as he remembered that this was his king, and not just his brother and older than he only by a fraction.

'My lord Duke.'  Henry's voice was a fierce instrument of his anger.  'If we may speak of traitors, I would remind you of your oath of brotherhood with the Duke of Orléans, your open counsel against my march to my town of Calais, and your manoeuvrings in my province of Gascony.  Learn once and for all that I am your King and will brook no resentment or opposition from you.'

'You hold your kingship very dear, brother, and I wonder at it that you should give a king's falcon away, even to your new favourite.'  Thomas was stung to new recklessness.

'What?  Is that what this is about?' Henry could hear the incredulous note in his own voice.  'You're jealous because I gave him a gyrfalcon?'

'I am your next brother,' muttered Thomas sulkily, as if aware that he now looked silly.  'That bird should have been mine.'

'Good God!  You would have lost him the first time you flew him.  And so would I,' he added as Thomas flushed an angry red.  'Only the Herald could gentle him; not even Geoffroi could do that.  No, he was Montjoy's bird before I even made the gift.  If you want a gyrfalcon, Thomas, you may learn to tame yourself first.  In fact I think it would be well if you went on pilgrimage, rather than to Duke Albrecht's aid, and prayed for guidance as you go.'

'Pilgrimage?'  Thomas was incredulous.

'I do not mean Canterbury or Rome.  You will go to Jerusalem; and I think you will do well to visit the place where St George slew the dragon, too.  You have dragons of your own to conquer.'

A year's journey, there and back, if he were lucky.  Not quite exile.

'You may leave me now.  You will be on your way before I depart Dijon.  If you wish, you may tell anyone who enquires that it is in fulfilment of a vow,' not that anyone at the tournament would believe that. 

Thomas stared at him for long moment, his face slack with disbelief - how may my world be overturned in a moment, he was almost visibly thinking, but then he collected himself.  'My duty to you, my lord'; he bowed, and his voice was not quite steady.

'I expect no less of you, brother,' said Henry sharply.

And Thomas bowed again, and was gone.

So.  The year of Thomas' absence would give time for Henry to arrange a marriage, and with luck, there would be an heir on the way, maybe even born, by the time he came back.  He could never risk leaving the country in the hands of a man so given to rash impulses and petty jealousies. 

He went over to the window, and stared out of it to the distant mountains.  Duchess Margaret's proposal seemed to him to have its advantages.  The girl would be a queen, and would have all the honour he could give her.  Her mother was possibly even now telling her how things lay between him and the man he had protected in the mêlée.  Perhaps she had even seen the deed herself - had she been in the stand?  he could not remember - and had drawn her own conclusions; the Burgundian court was, after all, highly sophisticated.  And then, after she had given him an heir or three, he could let her have a lover of her own, if she so wished it.

Canterbury and Exeter could be his negotiators, he thought; not much would get past them, if they could refrain from in-fighting between themselves.  Maybe Westmoreland would be a better choice than Exeter..?

And though he could hardly do so while he was a guest of the Lady Jeanne's parents, before very long he would have to make his own approach to Montjoy - a matter of much greater trepidation to him.  For this man who had been his enemy would, if things went as he now hoped, become his life's companion.

                                       

But Dijon was not the place to make such a declaration to a French herald, and one who was not yet out of the infirmary.  A message came from Gisela, though, that he was ready to be moved to the palace, and Salisbury offering at once to come with him, he crossed the square once more, squires in tow  - all traces of the tournament gone now, and the cobbles swept clean - to the Guildhall.  Here the infirmary had emptied considerably, and the nuns and doctors were less busied, and Gisela had time to conduct them to Montjoy's bedside.His was sitting up next to his narrow bed, and looking a great deal better than on the last occasion Henry had seen him. 
'Well, Herald, this is better,' said Henry, 'the physicians have done their work well.'  He nodded at Gisela, and Salisbury murmured agreement.

'He will need rest and quiet for a day or two more, your majesty, but he may walk back to the palace with you now.  I will be here for a few days yet, and you may call on me if you need me.'

'That is good to know.'

Montjoy was beginning to look a little irritated at being talked across in this manner, so Henry added, 'Come, Herald, we'll be off to the palace.  Will you be able to manage the stairs to my lodgings?'

'Why, yes, sire, but I have my own room in the tower.'

Henry had made discreet enquiries; the room in question was several floors up, and reached by a twisting stair.  As good an excuse as any for getting the man safely under his eye; he wanted it to be known that Montjoy was under his protection from now on.  But he could not say so in so many words.

'Towers are out for you, for a while, I think,' and he glanced at Gisela for confirmation, 'my apartment's on the first floor, and the stairs are wide.  There's a room you can have, and the servants can bring your things down.  Should you wish it.'

Montjoy said slowly, 'I thank you, your majesty.'

Henry decided to take that at face value, and smiled and said, 'Good, that's settled.  Doctor, we'll be on our way; cousin, are you with us or will you stay a while?'  And he managed to leave Salisbury in the infirmary, and they made their careful way back to the palace and up the broad stairs to the apartment.

                                       

Two days later, Thomas departed, with many protestations of all that was proper on either side.  Henry and his party came to see him and his entourage depart from the great square, which was full of the normal traffic of the day.'Good fortune attend you on your way, brother,' said Henry correctly, and Humphrey added, 'Aye, go well,' and Thomas nodded abruptly, shook hands with each of them and, to appropriate remarks from Warwick and Salisbury, mounted up and led his retinue down one of the crooked streets of Dijon. 
And Henry and his party heaved a collective sigh of relief as soon as he had vanished from sight, and went back to the palace.

                                       

'Now, cousin, we have trespassed upon your hospitality long enough, and we have our own duties to take up again.  So we must depart, but will take with us fond memories of your grace, and your family, and your proud city.'Formal words in the informal setting of the Duke's cabinet.  It was another highly-decorated room, small and intimate to be sure, but if anything even more sumptuous than the public halls.  Henry had begun to long for the stone walls and wooden floorboards of his own palace; he was too plain a king for this court. 
'For our part, we would keep you here a while yet, noble cousin, but if affairs of state call you we would not hold you from them.'

'I thank you.'

'Have you taken thought as to how you will make your journey?  For I have barges on the headwaters of the Seine, not two days' ride from here, that can take you down to the sea.  They are at your disposal, should you wish it.'

A moment's consideration; 'Why, that's a very fair offer!'  Swift, smooth passage, right down to the sea; no need to ride through wind and rain, and travelling throughout the night; an excellent plan.  'I will take you up on it, I think.'
 

Chapter Text

Chapter Three: England

Their leave-taking took place at the end of the week, and was an altogether more elaborate affair than Thomas'. Half the Burgundian court rode with them, or so it seemed, a bright cavalcade of colour, musicians riding behind them and heralds before. Henry's own herald was at his side though, on a quiet horse, and this time he was not in black and gold or the blue of France, for he was not on an official mission, simply riding with his king. In his cream-coloured jacket and grey leggings he was a muted note among the Burgundian splendour, but to Henry's eyes a picture of simple elegance in all the sartorial cacophony.

The Count of Nevers was at his father's right hand, for the court was to travel on to that city after seeing them off, and alongside her mother on a white palfrey harnessed in green was Jeanne, whom he still addressed as Lady Hippolyta, which seemed to amuse her. She was chatting and laughing with her friends; must surely know what was planned for her, and seemed cheerful at the prospect. This alliance might turn out well.

So they came to the little river-port, and here the English party embarked on the Duke's barges which he kept here, and between wooded banks alive with birdsong they continued their journey, while behind them the Burgundians cried their farewells before turning away, going on to the Count's city of Nevers.

The Duke's own boat was as well-appointed as every other possession of his, with a long, low wooden hall hung with curtains on the deck which allowed travel in some comfort even in the uncertain weather of spring. Henry indicated that Montjoy should take his place in this, at the further end from himself and his kinsmen, for he had noticed that even the two days' slow ride from Dijon had drained his strength. So Montjoy lay in some comfort on a palliasse and dozed the journey away, while the Englishmen sat out on the deck in watery sunshine, or talked quietly (so fortunate his uncle was not among their number!) or re-fought the campaign at the table of the little floating hall. Never a chance for a word alone with the Herald, nor did he attempt it. Though among friends, he had no wish to make himself obvious.

So they had a quick passage down the Seine, travelling by night as well as by day since the moon was almost full; at first through the Duke's lands, and then through country which had been terrorised by Philip the Wolf. Finally they approached Paris, with more care; but here a contingent of English troops awaited them, and all was quiet. Indeed it seemed to Henry's eyes that trade was flourishing, and he attributed that in some part to his own firm rule that kept the nobles of France from their own private feuds.

At any rate, there was no trouble for the few days he spent at the Louvre, meeting with John and Exeter, who had finished their business in the hills of Lorraine. The French king was absent, in Rheims for the while, and his sulky son and marriageable daughter with him... he must consider
what to do with her; a sweet enough girl, and he would do his best for her. So he issued John and Exeter with instructions to keep an eye on the doings of the French court, and set preparations in train for his own return to England; couriers sent ahead, his flagship to be put in readiness for him at Harfleur, and his own retainers to travel with him. These last included Geoffroi the falconer, to take charge of Zenocrate, and to bring with him the two gyrfalcons and the Duke of Burgundy's peregrines, all come in from St-Quentin since they had left that town.

Montjoy disappeared for a few days into some fastness in the Louvre, and it might have been natural for him to remain there. But somehow, when the royal party re-embarked, Montjoy King of Arms was among its number, on the same barge as Henry, and sitting at dinner with him... all very correct and proper, the diplomat representing his country. Now there was music in the evenings, and games of chess.

At Harfleur things became a little awkward for a while as they disembarked on the quay, and the servants transferred all their baggage onto a ship that awaited them there. But the siege-works had almost disappeared by now, and Montjoy did not seem to see them at all, and the repairs to the town walls were almost completed.

Damn it all, thought Henry, the man was a herald and had doubtless seen many such sights in his time.

-x-

The next morning was cloudy, but the breeze was steady from the south-west. Henry came out on deck, gazed round at the grey waves and the pursuing seagulls, gave himself permission for one final day of holiday before taking up the governance of his realm again, and sent for Geoffroi.

'Will we fly at these seagulls, do you think, Geoffroi?'

The falconer took an assessing look at the sky; Henry could have sworn that he was smelling the air.

'The peregrines will give you the best sport, your majesty; they'll be sharp-set by mid-day. The gyrfalcons are ready to hunt now, though they'll not show to their best advantage against seagulls.'

'Bring the gyrs out, then, and we'll fly them after we've breakfasted. And Zenocrate too; she'll enjoy the fresh air.' And Henry went to rouse out his friends.

Freya and Loki, flown in a cast against the seagulls, had very little luck, the gulls jinking and diving to avoid them, then skimming low over the grey sea so the falcons could not stoop at them. Freya seemed to regard the whole business as beneath her; 'Give me fit prey!' she seemed to be saying, as she vaned high over the mainmast. But Loki, flying fast across the face of a wave, snatched a gull which had thought itself safe sitting upon the water, soared up with the struggling bundle of feathers clutched in one talon, and circled in to land on the forecastle.

Montjoy and Geoffroi crossed the waist of the ship, and climbed up to the falcon, approaching him slowly and with care. There was a quiet conference, and then Montjoy made a soft-footed approach to the tiercel, holding out a gloved hand with a scrap of meat upon it. He casually interposed it between Loki and his prey; at least it seemed casual, but Henry could appreciate the skill involved in that economical movement. Loki checked in his feeding for a moment, then climbed onto Montjoy's fist and tore into the bait; Montjoy whisked the gull away and stowed it in his bag.

All the watchers relaxed and applauded, and as Montjoy descended the steps of the forecastle, Loki half-extending his wings to keep his balance, one of the sailors took a bucket and cloth to clear up the bloodied rail.

The peregrines, smaller and defter, had better luck at noontime when another escort of seagulls had formed up around the ship, three more gulls being added to their total. Warwick and Salisbury flew these, by the king's permission, Humphrey lounging in a chair the while, his left arm not yet up to the weight of a falcon; and Henry laughed, 'I must find proper quarry for Freya; these small fry are beneath her dignity!'

'There'll be enough for her, and Zenocrate, in the New Forest when we dock,' said Warwick, with perhaps a touch of complacency; the peregrine tiercel had taken two gulls.

Henry looked across at the falconer; 'You hear that, Geoffroi? Will we get some sport there, do you think?'

'I'll make enquiries when we reach Southampton, my lord,' said Geoffroi, 'though we may struggle to find something for Zenocrate to hunt.'

'Ah, poor lady; well, maybe foxes, or roebuck perhaps.' But she was perched on her rail contentedly enough, enjoying the breeze in her feathers and regarding the proceedings with interest.

-x-

They sailed into the Solent the next afternoon, past the many-coloured cliffs of the Isle of Wight on one hand, and the New Forest on the other, and into Southampton Water in drifting rain as evening fell. Up on the tide to the very dock from which Henry had sailed to his attack on Harfleur, and all the while the bells of Southampton rang out to receive them, and Henry and his entourage disembarked and he walked through crowds of his countrymen (their cheers slightly muted by the rain) to his lodging at the Lamb and Flag.

Humphrey, Warwick and Salisbury had exchanged a brief glance when he had announced that he would stay here. This was where the conspiracy had been unmasked scant days before the expedition to France. It was here that he had lain with Lord Scroop for the last time before learning of his treachery; here in the private room on the first floor where Scroop had tried to cut his throat in a room full of witnesses; here that Henry had violently repudiated him and sentenced him to death. And since Henry had no intention of avoiding the place for the rest of his life, he would be staying here for the next few days, while he caught up with the work of his kingdom, and waited for the right moment to open his mind to Montjoy.

... Of course, the Lamb and Flag was also the best inn Southampton had to offer, and though Spartan by Burgundian standards, it would do very well.

The business of settling in went on almost till midnight, horses and hawks as well as men having to be accommodated. But the work went on quietly and efficiently, while Henry read the first of the reports that were awaiting him. And he took time to consider what task to give Montjoy, and decided on setting him to write the account of the campaign against the Wolf, for though he had not been there himself he could consult all the people who had been, and make a fairer job of writing it all out clearly than any of the soldiers, and he knew the country they had fought over well. But for now, the realm must come first.

Four days of thankless paperwork; even tournaments were preferable to this. A few times he took a turn about the antechamber to his apartment, where Montjoy sat at a table, writing the account of the campaign, and traced for him the details of its course on the map he had set out there. His kinsmen and counsellors nobly buckled-to and took some of the burden of business from him. Ranulph was ever at his side, and eventually the mountains of paper diminished, and the procession of petitioners disappeared. He turned to Southampton's own civic leaders, and spent a day in council with them, in the Guildhall over the Bargate.

Early that same evening, he and Salisbury returned from a formal dinner with them, to find the anteroom of the royal apartment empty but for Montjoy, sitting at the map-table with his papers spread before him, comparing the path of the campaign through the hills of eastern Lorraine with the list of dates he had made. And on the corner of the table, her leash tied to its leg, was Zenocrate.

Henry paused in astonishment at this sight; Salisbury, following him into the room, almost bumped into him. Montjoy rose hastily and bowed.

'We have a guest, it seems,' said Henry weakly.

'Aye, my lord; I went to see Loki in the mews, and Geoffroi said he thought Zenocrate should have more company; she'll be a rare handful otherwise, he says, when you come to hunt her. So I brought her up to spend an evening with me. I hope I have not overstepped the mark,' and there was, for once, a slightly nervous note in his voice.

'No, indeed,' said Henry warmly.

Salisbury suddenly recalled himself to Henry's notice; 'With your leave, sire, I will retire.'

'Yes, of course, Salisbury; sleep well!'

And Salisbury bowed himself out of the room.

Montjoy, who had looked ready to bolt for a moment, relaxed and laid down his pen. 'I trust your evening was a pleasant one, my lord.'

'Well enough, I thank you; the food was good and their musicians more than passable.' He had to turn the conversation; the talk at the dinner had run to thanks and praise for Southampton's part in the invasion of France. 'And I'm glad to see that you had good company too. How are the other hawks; recovered from their sea voyage, I hope?'

'Yes indeed, though some are in want of exercise. But Zenocrate and I have been making closer acquaintance. She likes this place, I think.' He ran the quill-pen down her back, and she regarded him with a fond eye.

'Did she let you carry her here, or did Geoffroi do that? If she's getting used to several handlers, that's a good sign.' This was like last year in the mews, when he and Montjoy had talked amicably of falconry, their awareness of the difference in station almost forgotten.

'She's decided she likes me well enough. Don't you, my lady?' He drew on a gauntlet (plain and well-worn, not the purple and gold creation that had come from Burgundy) and took up her jesses. She stepped back onto his arm, and regarded him with an approving eye. And then Henry watched, fascinated, as Montjoy tickled her talons; not something he would have cared to do himself.

'If she decides to bind on to your hand you'll just have to stay like that until she lets go. I'm not going to rescue you,' he stated, with conviction.

'She likes it, I think,' said Montjoy, but there was confidence in his tone. And indeed Zenocrate was watching his fingers, head bent forward and the feathers on the back of her neck slightly raised as if in disbelief; but she made no move to snatch or tear at the Herald's hand.

Henry began to laugh.

'Sire?' Montjoy raised his eyes from the eagle.

'I can't imagine why I thought anything else would happen.'

Montjoy smiled at that, held Henry's eyes for just a moment longer, then raised his hand to Zenocrate's breast. His long fingers ruffled the tawny down there. She craned her neck to watch in renewed surprise, but she accepted the caresses as her due.

Henry could feel the touch of those fingers on his own breast, and his heart thumping within it. Now, perhaps now was the time to speak. He took half a pace towards him and said, 'Herald - ' but there was a knock at the door, and he swung away quickly and called, 'Enter,' and Humphrey and Warwick came in, rather merry and full of good cheer. He could cheerfully have strangled both of them.

Montjoy said quickly, 'I'll take her back to the mews, with your leave, my lord; it's getting late.'

'Yes, of course, Montjoy, and get you to your rest. But we'll perhaps make time to go hawking tomorrow, since the birds need exercise and so do I; what do you think?' All the persuasiveness he could muster was in his voice.

'I would like that'; with a smile.

'About three o'clock, then. I'll see you down at the mews.'

And the assignation having been made, very plainly between just the two of them, Montjoy bowed to his king, and the king's kinsmen, and took his leave.

Well. That could have gone better; but it could have gone very much worse. Henry turned his attention to Humphrey and Warwick, who were occupied with some story of their own evening; not the serious affair his own had been, by the sound of it, though he could not quite follow their account of their doings.

-x-

The next afternoon, Henry found he had a few hours to spare after his business in the Guildhall had finished unexpectedly early, so he sent a message to Montjoy to meet him at the mews straight away if convenient to him.

In the long, low room, he spoke to Geoffroi and found that the only birds ready to fly were a pair of goshawks and some small falcons. Geoffroi had news that rabbits were becoming a problem in one of the Forest plantations, so Henry took up Hero, the great female goshawk, then looked round as the Herald's tall form blocked out the light from the doorway.

‘See, she's ready to fly,' as Hero glared at the intruder, ‘we can take them out to the forest and try for rabbits.'

‘Rabbits!' said Montjoy with a smile; back in France the nobles would never have stooped to such lowly prey, let alone royalty, but he had long become used to this king, and took up his falconer's bag and glove with a good will.

The horses were brought round, and with only Bartholomew and Floyd to carry Hero and Griffin, and a net-man with a terrier, they set off over the ferry and down flowery lanes towards the New Forest.

‘Ridiculous name for it, really; it's centuries old, but the name's stuck and I don't suppose it'll change now,' said Henry, happy to be out of doors and free for a few hours and in good company. They discussed hunting preserves in England and France in amicable fashion while they rode for an hour or so, stopping occasionally in the shelter of trees while a shower passed, crowded together; and Henry was very much pleased that when his knee brushed Montjoy's there was no drawing back on the other man's part. Twice they waited at the side of the road while a creaking wagon laden with timber went by (Montjoy politely not noticing the timber, and since the French undoubtedly had intelligencers at the shipyards it made no odds) and at last the patches of woodland joined up and they were in the Forest proper, with its carpet of last year's beech leaves and green, soft light. The little group of men turned down a ride and came to the plantation that Geoffroi had told Henry about.

Hero and Griffin, like all goshawks, were of a bloodthirsty nature, and set to work with a will. The toll of rabbits mounted, and Henry forgot the cares of kingship, as had been the whole point of the expedition, living in the moment for this brief while.

‘Not enough to feed everyone in the retinue, though!' observed Montjoy, surveying the limp carcasses.

‘We'll leave them at the village on the way back. The little pests have been feeding on their crops, as well as my trees, after all,' said Henry, contented and in benevolent mood.

Hero, loosed at another rabbit which made a lucky escape, spied a magpie and shot off after it, into a brake of holly bushes around a stand of noble beeches. There was a threshing among the branches and Henry and Montjoy, nearest to the fight, ran across the glade and plunged in amongst the hollies as another heavy shower began to fall.

Arms held high to protect his eyes, Henry surged through the bushes and saw Hero, as she scuttled among the branches of the trees in hot pursuit of the magpie, catch her jesses among a tangle of twigs in the lower boughs. She was brought up short, yelling blue murder, and the magpie, cackling triumphantly, made its escape.

‘We'll have to get her down before she damages herself.' Henry stared up at the commotion. ‘Geoffroi will give us reproachful looks otherwise.'

The shower turned to heavy rain, but they were dry under the canopy of new leaves. Henry went the few paces back through the hollies and waved to the attendants who were making their reluctant way across the glade; ‘No, we can manage, stay where you are,' and the young squires did so with grateful acknowledgement.

Congratulating himself; at last! Henry returned to Montjoy, who had circled the tree and was staring up at the goshawk from the further side. ‘This is the easiest way up, but we might still need the horses to reach that branch. If we could stand on a saddle - '

‘Give me a leg up and I'll see if I can reach her,' said Henry; this was much better than council meetings.

Montjoy gave him a rather odd look, but bent and cupped his hands. Henry put his boot into them, but as lightly as possible, and scrambled up his tall herald, reaching for small handholds, and so into the first fork of the tree.

From this vantage point he could see the men loading the rabbits into bags in desultory fashion while apparently exchanging insults, and under the canopy in the other direction, the edge of the farmland, hazy in the rain; then, shifting about, the cause of his sudden ascent, giving him a wild glare and well and truly caught.

‘I'll have to cut her jesses,' he called down, and set out crabwise along the wide, smooth bough.

Montjoy, below, was looking up at him, obviously trying not to tell him to be careful, and Henry, with memories of climbing siege ladders with seemingly half the world shooting at him, suppressed a grin. He reached Hero, settled himself securely, and pulled off his jacket.

‘Are you ready to catch her?' he called down.

‘Yes,' Montjoy's voice came up through a thin screen of young leaves.

He flipped the jacket over the hawk, wrapped her securely in it, cut the jesses, and dropped the protesting bundle to Montjoy, who caught it neatly and took it back to the base of the tree where they had dropped their bags. Henry, looking down at Montjoy's bent head, realised that he had been forgotten for the moment, for he was fitting new jesses, gingerly extracting each massive talon from the canvas jacket, working with extreme care to make sure that his hands were not seized in an unbreakable grip. The swivel went on next, then the leash, and Montjoy had her securely tethered to an exposed root a moment later. He unwound the jacket and Hero emerged, ruffled and shouting but apparently undamaged. Then she hopped up onto the root, went very much on her dignity, and began to preen herself. Montjoy stood up and surveyed her with a proprietary air.

‘I'll need your help to get down,' Henry reminded him mildly from the fork of the tree; though it wasn't strictly true.

Montjoy looked up, startled, embarrassed at being so remiss, and held up his arms.

Well now! thought Henry. I'll take that as an invitation.

He slid down the smooth bole of the tree and into Montjoy's embrace.

Close contact between their bodies all the way down, thighs meeting chest, arms instinctively encircling his torso, surprise and laughter on his herald's face as it came into view in his downward rush, then Henry pretended a stumble as his toes touched the ground and his own arms tightened around Montjoy's shoulders.

The other man staggered slightly, and they ended up leaning against the tree-trunk, half-laughing and breathless.

Neither of them moved.

The moment stretched out.

Montjoy, with Henry's arms still firmly clasped about his shoulders, was supporting half Henry's weight and looking up into his face.

Now there's a change, thought Henry, and then Montjoy's face became very serious all of a sudden. Henry tightened his embrace (one arm crushed uncomfortably against the tree,) let the rest of his body settle against Montjoy's, and looked the question.

‘I ...yes,' whispered Montjoy, and Henry bent his head and kissed him, while a sudden patter of raindrops fell icily on his coatless back and tree-dust got in his eyes; but this barely registered as Montjoy's mouth moved gently under his and they moved their heads slightly to get the angle right. The arms around him went from a strong support to a tender hold as Montjoy gathered him in, hands sliding across the damp shirt. Henry tried for a deeper kiss. Their bodies moulded closer.

It was very good.

Henry, coming up for breath (and using the movement to disguise the fact that his boot-heel had at last found purchase on a solid tree-root) said ‘Do you know how long I've been waiting for that?' and Montjoy, smiling against his mouth, said ‘No. Tell me,' which of course left Henry with nothing to say, because he honestly didn't know himself.

‘Ah. Later,' he said, and kissed him again, because kissing was much more important than talking at the moment.

A series of squawks from Hero brought them back to the world; she had spied a pheasant, strutting in its burnished spring finery through the grass at the Forest's edge, and it shot away with an alarm call.

This reminded them that they too should be wary, so, reluctantly, they unwound from each other. Henry's chest felt very cold, missing that close lean warm body. With a sigh, he stepped down the last few inches to earth. They exchanged a rather shy smile, and Henry put on his jacket.

It was still raining hard, but that wouldn't last long. Looking out through the gap in the holly bushes, Henry could see shafts of sunlight walking across the strip-fields in the wake of the heavy cloud. A church spire, rising up beyond a patch of woodland, was touched with gold at its tip.

‘We could make a run for it, or we could wait,' said Henry, gazing out at the scene.

‘Wait,' said Montjoy fervently, so Henry went back round the beech and a few paces through the hollies to signal the squires that no bones were broken, before returning to the sheltering tree where his herald was waiting for him.

He drew him down to sit on the carpet of crisp leaves (now seeming a brighter copper than they had a few minutes ago, and the canopy of new leaves a fresher green) took another careful look across the sodden fields, empty of labourers, and leaned them both back against the tree-trunk.

‘Well, Herald, how shall we pass the time until the rain stops?'

-x-

A quarter of an hour passed, though to be sure he could not keep a strict account of time, before the rain slackened. There had been a confusion of foolish murmurings; 'I thought you would never...' and 'I feared everyone knew' and 'Shh, they'll hear...' and laughter stifled by kisses, and though the rain was heavy Henry felt as though they were bathed in sunshine.

But finally the rain slackened. Heavy cloud began to lift, the sky lightening, and birdsong started up all around them. Out across the field, skylarks were mounting up. Henry extracted himself from his herald's close embrace and clambered to his feet; Montjoy doing likewise, they brushed the copper leaves from each other's clothes. Then Montjoy picked up Hero, who had been sitting hunched up on her tree-root, her feathers sticking out at odd angles but with her eyes alert. Heavy raindrops were falling through the canopy. It was indeed time to go; and so Henry shouldered off through the holly-brake, holding back branches so that hawk and herald could pass through unscathed. Across the open glade the other men, who had been lounging against tree-trunks of their own, sprang to full alertness when their king appeared. Good lads, thought Henry; they knew when to be blind and deaf, and when to be aware.

'We'll be off now, while we can.' There was a business of holding horses and mounting, the squires holding the horses and the King rather wishing he could hold the Herald's hand. Love in springtime, not something he had experienced before. In the watery gleams of sunlight, raindrops glinted like crystals here and there.

Down the ride and back towards Southampton, and across the common they started a small stampede of the wild ponies of the Forest, the foals running startled towards their mothers, then, realising the horsemen were no threat, continuing their gallop with whisking tails. But here out on the open common the weather closed in again, this time in good earnest. Henry halted the group in the scant shelter of a spinney of birch, and they gazed out across the vista of bracken and cropped grass.

'This won't do,' he announced, 'the birds will suffer.' Both the goshawks were looking rather put-upon. 'We can stay overnight at the hunting-lodge at Beaulieu, and send a message on to Southampton. Jake,' this to the net-man, 'the quickest way to the village!'

So they swung the horses' heads round, and as the rain-clouds lowered they forded a stream and entered a narrow ride that led to the hunting-lodge, a little removed from the village. Bartholomew cantered on ahead, the rest of them following at a more sedate pace.

The lodge loomed through the trees after half an hour's riding, and a plume of smoke was rising from its chimney; the caretakers were earning their pay! Henry sighed in contentment; being a king had its advantages, after all. There was a stir of activity in the yard as they dismounted, a couple of hostlers taking their mounts to their stables, and Henry and Montjoy went through the narrow door, shedding their rain-soaked cloaks, and into the lodge's dimly-lit hall, where the fire was beginning to burn up on the hearth and two women were setting the table with a linen cloth and pewter dishes.

Such a contrast with the luxurious court of Burgundy.

'That's a most welcome sight, Dame Agnes!' Henry said cheerily, as the housekeeper made a courtesy before him; Montjoy gave him a rather surprised look, but maybe his own king did not know his servant's names.

'And so are you most welcome, your majesty!' she replied. 'Will you wish to eat now?'

'Why, yes! And we can pay our own way, too; there's a sackful of rabbits somewhere around,' and he glanced back at Jake, who had just come in, and who grinned and held up the bulging bag.

'They'll do for tomorrow, sire, if you're still with us, but for now I have something ready for you. Please to be seated,' and with another bob she went through the door to the offices. Henry would never know the sudden shifts to which the housekeeper of a royal hunting lodge might be put, but Dame Agnes had urgently called in a favour from her sister at the Crown and Anchor in the village, and she and the maid returned through the door with a tureen of something that steamed enticingly, and a crusty loaf of that morning's baking.

The fire was burning up merrily now, and the goshawks were on perches in a warm corner, Jake's terrier was curled up with one eye on her master, and there was good ale and good food to be had. All the men set to with hunters' appetites. There was a holiday atmosphere; they were all eating at the same table, but Henry and his herald were sitting together at one side of it, and from time to time their thighs brushed, and Henry would smile down into his plate. The rain drummed on the roof, but it was Dame Agnes' son, not they, who was riding to Southampton ferry with a message from the king, and the king's silver in his pocket. All they had to do now was to get themselves dry, and warm, and fed.

Tales of hawking and hunting kept them occupied through the fruit and the cheese, and Montjoy, hearing for the first time how Henry had once run down a deer, turned astonished eyes upon him.

'It was in my wilder days,' admitted Henry, 'I couldn't do it now.' It had been a long pursuit through the woods, and at the day's end he had driven his dagger into the spent beast's throat, a quicker end than the dogs would have given it... where did the years go?

But that was of little moment now, because here he was away from the court and in good company, with Montjoy the herald sitting close beside him and looking at him with open admiration, after that tale. Both of them were smiling a lot now, but in an atmosphere of good cheer that was, after all, only natural.

There was a sharper flurry of rain against the windows, and a draught came in through the shutters and set the candles to guttering. The talk ceased for a moment.

'Time we turned in,' said Henry, who had been impatient for this very moment, though now it came to it he felt rather shy. Who would sleep where, and how could he suggest what he wanted? But they could not sit here all night.

Two sets of stairs, one on each side of the hall; one to the servants' quarters, where his attendants would sleep. Montjoy King of Arms was, of course, entitled to climb the other stair, and at his sign followed in his wake; but in the ante-room to the king's solar, Henry turned awkwardly to him.

'My chamber's here,' gesturing at a solid oak door, carved with linen-fold panelling, 'there's another one across the way,' and he indicated another, less ornate door. 'You don't have to...'

Montjoy looked at him with equal uncertainty. 'Dear king. I'm so tired and chilled, I don't know if I can do anything. I am not a young man,' this, apologetically, in a barely-audible murmur. 'But if you wish to have me by you, just for sweet company's sake...' But then he could speak no more, for Henry's arm wound urgently about his waist and he pulled him swiftly through the carved oaken doorway, and once through it kissed his herald, and kissed him again, because it had been altogether too long since they left their beech tree, and then they shed their still-damp clothes and tumbled into the plain and simple bed, for even with a bright fire burning in the hearth it was too chill to savour the sight of each other.

And here they took refuge against the cold in each other's arms amid linen sheets smelling of lavender and rose-petals; here Henry kissed his herald again more leisurely. This time, instead of tree-dust and rain, he tasted spiced pears and mulled wine, and it was equally as good. Montjoy held his head just so, and kissed him back, and they laughed softly, and quite suddenly fell towards sleep, for neither of them was up to anything more that night.

-x-

It was a slow awakening, and at first Henry thought he'd dreamed the night before, and steeled himself for disappointment; but there was a warm, rangy body in his arms, a hand clasping his, and hair tickling his nose. So he let his eyes open a chink, slowly lest he be disappointed. No, it was true. Montjoy the Herald of France had lain in his arms all night.

He made a soft, pleased noise, and his bedfellow stirred, and stretched a little; turned his head on the pillow, blinked at him in sleepy surprise, and smiled.

'Good morning,' said Henry, and shifted to accommodate Montjoy as he squirmed around in his grasp, the better to embrace his king.

'Not a dream, then,' murmured Montjoy, against his neck.

'No,' replied Henry, 'it's real as daylight, real as morning,' and kissed behind his ear to prove it. 'Are you content with that?'

'Yes, I am content.' An arm curved around his back, and a hand stroked, almost wonderingly. 'So often I've woken and been disappointed, and now it's real at last.'

Really, they were like a pair of besotted young lovers. Henry caught him in a great bear-hug.

'Often... how often? A long time? Tell me, herald!'

'Too long, great king,' evaded Montjoy, and they laughed again, and for a while thereafter they did not speak.

-x-

Dozing a while in the wreck of the bedclothes, they were woken again by, it seemed, all the birds of the Forest singing as one; mistle-thrush and blackbird, lark and cuckoo, and the drumming of a woodpecker. Dawn-light slipped in through cracks in the shutters. Henry got up, pulled them back, and glanced out at the scene below. Springtime in the Forest, and bluebells were beginning to haze its floor. He peered through the glass as a movement caught his eye; a bow-shot away, or a little more, were small shapes stepping delicately between the trees. A thought struck him.

'They told me in Southampton that the last of the Forest Courts is being held in Lyndhurst this week,' he said, climbing with haste back into bed, for the dawn air was fresh and chill. He pulled the covers up about his shoulders, before taking his herald's hand between his own, 'Now. It seems to me that it would be correct for the king to put in an appearance there, and since he is already in the Forest, it would surely be pointless for him to go back to Southampton. So, what say you we arrange to meet the entourage at Lyndhurst, and have us a few days' holiday here at my lodge, and maybe have our hawks sent to us? There are roebuck waiting to be hunted, and we can try milady Zenocrate at them.'

'I should not take you from your duties...' but Montjoy liked the idea, he could see.

'My duties are done for a few days, and then we'll on to London. But I would take a little while with my herald first; I've waited patiently enough for him!' An exchange of besotted smiles. 'And then when we get to London - if it would please you - I'll revive the office of Marshal of the King's Hawks for you, and you'll sit at table with with me and share my bed and none can say a word against it.'

He waited, for Montjoy seemed taken aback, and Henry was suddenly nervous; had he gone too far, too fast?

'You wish to keep me by you? Even though you must marry soon?'

Serious now, for he could see Montjoy's uncertainty, Henry said, 'Yes, I most surely wish to keep you by me - if you wish it too. And I must marry for the good of the kingdom. I cannot have Thomas inherit it. But who I will marry is a matter of debate - '

'They are saying Burgundy has offered you his daughter, though I do not know whether that's the truth;' uncertainly.

'Are they, indeed? Well, I do not know myself for sure. But it would be a good match, and while I'm sorry for your Princess Katherine, we can find someone else for her who can be good to her, and maybe love her wholeheartedly. Which,' and he held Montjoy a little away from him, and gave him a meaningful look that actually had him blushing, 'I cannot.'

'And the Lady Jeanne? What of her?'

'If I mistake not,' a trace of a laugh in his voice, 'her mother has already told her what she can expect. A crown, and honour and respect and friendship; oh, the Burgundians are the last word in sophistication; made me feel like a complete clod by comparison! Maybe she'll even be glad that there'll be no other woman to be her rival, no little FitzHenrys to threaten her children. So, that being the case, dear herald: wilt thou stay with me?' And he put all the persuasiveness and charm at his disposal into the plea.

'That being the case, dear king: I will. For I could not have done so if you had married Princess Katherine. I watched her growing up. I sometimes felt I was all the father she had.' Montjoy glanced away for a moment. 'I could not have gone to her husband's bed. That's why I snatched at the here and now; if all I can have of you is these few weeks...' he looked back again, and Henry held his hand the tighter, for comfort, though he was smiling.

'You can have all you wish of me, dear herald, until I'm wed, and then all we can manage thereafter. And if you would like it,' he continued, with an obscure feeling that this was something he should do for the girl, even though he had not quite jilted her, 'we can look about us for a husband for Princess Katherine, a good man who can give her true affection, but who will make no claim upon the throne.'

'That would be a kindness; she was shown so little affection as a child. It was little enough I could do to ease her life...' He fell silent, looking off to the window but, Henry was sure, seeing it not at all.

'We'll find her someone close at hand, then, and keep her by you, for both your comfort.'

Montjoy turned back to him, with a grateful smile. 'I thank you. For I must always be a Frenchman, in some little corner of my heart, you know.'

'I would not have it otherwise. I have found love in the enemy's land, and I will embrace him as he is, and his people with him, if they give my beloved the honour that is his due. I would not have you cut off from your own country because of your place in my heart.'

Montjoy looked surprised. 'No-one will question my right to give you my loyalty or my love, after you defended me in the mêlée,' he stated, with a herald's authority.

And there it was, the answer to the question that had so vexed Henry; how could the Herald come to him, as a Frenchman, to the English king's bed and heart, without loss of honour? It had happened in an instant, as he stood over the man and defended him against his own brother - who had a thing or two to learn about honour - and the action had been pure instinct on his part, not a result of calculation or scheming.

He seized Montjoy in a bear-hug, and kissed him again. 'Good; that's as well - for them. And I can find work for you to do, my herald; I saw how you did your part in that tournament, and I've no-one here who can put on events like that. I will have to cut a dash among the courts of Europe from now on, though it's not to my taste; if you can do the work for me, as well as being my envoy, I'll be in your debt.'

'Gladly, for the most part...' and Montjoy paused, and then, seriously, 'but may I ask that you send me abroad for your marriage? I do not know that I can be present for that, or not with a cheerful heart, anyway.' He smiled, ruefully, asking for understanding with his eyes.

Henry tightened his grasp on his hand. 'I would go with you, if I could, but I cannot be absent from my own wedding!' An attempt at good cheer. 'And we'll have a few months to ourselves, at the very least, before that happens. Well, shall we call it a bargain, Herald?'

'Yea, my king.'

He shook their joined hands; the bargain was sealed. 'Good. That's settled, then.'

There was a hawk's shrill cry from below, and a flapping of wings and a soft chiming of bells. Someone was carrying Hero outside, for her morning bath, no doubt. Henry and Montjoy smiled at each other.

'They hunted well, yesterday, but I caught the greater prize,' said Henry.

Montjoy cocked his head; 'Am I not a hunter too, in my own way?' and his fingers loosed Henry's and crept across his chest, ruffling the hair there as they had ruffled Zenocrate's feathers two evenings ago.

Henry drew a sudden breath. 'The most peerless of peregrines. Which makes me your quarry.'

'You always were, even though I was sure I was flying too high.'

'And now you've bound to your prey...' Henry caught Montjoy's questing hand, pressing it close to his chest, and whispered seductively, 'Well, milord Marshal of the King's Hawks, if you are a peregrine, a Falcon-Gentle for a prince, which hawk am I?'

There was a sudden smile in Montjoy's eyes, and in his voice too. 'Why, my lord king, you are a goshawk.' Henry, who had confidently expected to be told royal gyrfalcon or imperial eagle, blinked at him in surprise. 'For they are not easy to manage... but they're the best hunters of them all.'

 

END

 

 ETA Author's note: I confess I'm not really comfortable with the future-adultery scenario I've set up here; but Thomas was still alive and being a pain in this fic, which meant that Henry had no choice but to father heirs of his own. Since my brain breaks every time I try to imagine Montjoy climbing into bed with his princess' husband, I've suggested a different scenario altogether, which I hope works for most people.  Feedback on this subject is particularly welcome.