Wednesday, October 9, 2013

King Henry V Gives an Ultimatum

A chapter much further along in the same Work in Progress:

All the gaolers had been whispering that Henry would soon leave England for Calais to plot with Emperor Sigismund and John of Burgundy to finish the defeat of the French. Charles could not hear the duke’s name without cursing him for his treachery. The talk of it only frustrated James, locked as they were in the Tower although James had come to prefer it to Windsor. The men-at-arms were always glad to give him a round with the sword. Wrestling was now his favorite though. And when Charles wasn’t cursing the treachery of the Burgundians, he was good company. James had promised him a new verse since it occupied the time to go over each other’s work. He frowned over what he had written:

Bewailing in my chamber, thus alone,         
Despaired of all joy and remedy,       
For-tired of my thought, and woe-begone…           

James tossed down his quill and ink splattered across the page. Where could he go with the verse except more of bewailing his estate? He had had enough of it. Perhaps in the bailey yard he could find someone who would work him until he was too tired to think, too tired to moan that he was a prisoner still—after ten years that had stretched out like a long black tunnel—dark days without end.

He jumped to his feet, took a deep breath and released it. Very well. To the bailey yard. The man-at-arms flinched when James banged open the door. James gave him a curt nod, knowing he would follow. Taking the steps two at a time, James plunged down the winding stairs and out into the smoky sunshine, through the bailey and into the practice yard. He slapped his hands on his hips. “I can beat any man here in a wrestling match” he shouted “Will any of you try to prove me wrong?”

“I can prove you wrong any day, Lord James.” The sergeant, one James had seen wrestling Berolt some time back, sneered. He worked his heavy shoulders as he strode toward James. James unfastened his doublet and tossed it aside. A murmur of anticipation was spreading through the grounds. He swung his arms to get the blood flowing.

The man stopped in the center of the practice yard in a half-crouch, arms cocked, a grin lifting a corner of his mouth. Moving around him in a slow circle, careful to stay beyond his reach, James said, “You ken my name. Wha’ is yours?”

“Adam,” he said, wheeling to keep James in sight. “Not that it matters when I have you pinned. I plan on making you eat dirt, Scot.”

Darting forward, James grabbed for an arm lock. Adam slapped his hands away and went for James’s shoulders. James let him close and Adam had him by the arm, using his hip to throw him to the ground. James grabbed him around the chest and took Adam down with him. They rolled as James used his powerful shoulders to throw Adam off. They jumped to their feet and backed away. “Make me eat dirt?” James jeered. “I’ll feed you horse shite first.”

Adam rushed in and seized James in a bear hug, lifting him off his feet. He squeezed and James thought his ribs would shatter. The man had more strength than any James had ever fought before. Desperately, he put both his hands to the man’s chin and pushed, forcing his head back. Adam grunted, squeezing harder but James straightened his arms, locked his elbows, and broke the hold.

James took a step back and Adam kept coming. He was burly and fiercely strong, but he wasn’t fast. They circled and James considered how to take advantage of the man’s slowness.

James feinted and Adam answered with a dodge. That gave James an instant of opportunity. He stepped in close, grabbed him around the waist, wheeled to behind him, and threw him over his own shoulder to the ground. He spun and jumped down on him to pin him. Then James grinned. “Shall I make you eat shite, Sassenach?” The man was growling and heaving his body but James had him pinned. The ring of guards who had gathered to watch were whistling and calling out for Adam to get up. “Throw him off, Adam. Have at him,” one shouted.

James had to force Adam’s shoulders down to win. Sweat dripped off his head and shoulders. James had his knees on the heavier man’s hips, a hand on each shoulder. Grunting, he put his full weight on his opponent’s pitching shoulders.  Adam slapped a hand on the ground in surrender.

“What is to do here?” a voice bellowed.

James looked up to find King Henry glaring at them, his mouth in a hard line. “Up from there both of you. Now!”

The watching guards had scattered like a flock of geese. James cuffed Adam’s shoulder and rose to his feet. He looked around and found his doublet. As he donned it, the king barked, “You. If you have nothing better to do than fighting our prisoners, I’ll see that your commander mends matters.” At his elbow, Beaufort looked on silently, dressed in flowing red robes of silk and reeking of some flowery perfume while the king’s guard’s looked on open-mouthed.

Adam was backing away, stuttering apologies and excuses as he went. Henry’s scowl at James would have flayed the hide from a boar, had one been there. As it was James laced his doublet and then bowed with a half-smile. “Were you seeking me, Your Grace?”

“God damn you, James. Playing at fighting with guards? You have more important things to think on.” He looked around the practice yard as though expecting some help to appear. “After all these years, have you gained no sense? You forced to hold you under harsh durance from your obstinacy and learn nothing.” 

Beaufort gave the king an unctuous smile and laid a pudgy hand on his sleeve. “I understand your disappointment in Lord James. It gives me no joy to see a nobleman play the ruffian. Yet you must remember your own dignity and the matter you came to discuss with him is serious. It is best discussed privily, do you not think, Your Grace?”

King Henry’s face flooded with color and he shook off his uncle’s hand. He turned on a heel and stormed into the White Tower, down the narrow corridor, and into the chapel, never once bothering to glance if the others followed. He stood for a few minutes seeming to stare at the watery light which filtered through the stained glass windows. When he turned, his expression was mild. “When my father allowed you at his court, I always said you were a fine hand with a harp.”

“His Grace does me too much honor. I dally with both harp and with sword.” James crossed his arms and grinned. “I am trying to convince your Constable of the Tower that we need a tennis court. I believe I would enjoy that as well as I do wrestling.”

“So you are happy enough to remain my prisoner. You will not seek your freedom? Are you truly so craven?”

“No, Your Grace.” James fought to keep the anger out of his voice and failed. “It is you who denies me freedom whether I would seek it or not. Have you forgotten?”

“Denied it?” Henry had the gall to look incensed. He pointed at James. “I deny you nothing. You deny it to yourself. Swear your fealty to me, and you have your freedom. I require nothing more. And count yourself blessed, because I am defeating the French even with Douglas and his followers from Scotland taking their side. Albany is too craven to do so himself, but thousands of the Douglas followers are in France.” Henry stepped closer to glower into James’s face. “I shall defeat them with or without your fealty.”

“The king is all kindness,” Beaufort said. “I have advised his grace against freeing you, but his conscience pricks him that he promised the late king.”

James slowly shook his head. “I cannot. You know I cannot.”

“I do not know that.” King Henry stepped even closer to him and spoke slowly, softly as though to a child. “Think, James. Soon I shall have France in my hands; after I shall not long leave an enemy at my northern border. But I would not lead my armies against a sworn liegeman. It is the only way you can save Scotland. The only way you will free yourself. I weary of waiting for you to see sense.”

To his amazement, James was sure Henry believed what he was saying. “You truly believe that my people would accept an English overlord? That they would nae throw me off if I did such a thing? Because I assure, you they would.”

“The French are coming to accept me, however much they have fought the idea of being ruled by an English king.”

“Have you terrorized them enough that they will in truth? Burning all the way to Agincourt… The slaughter of prisoners…”

A deep red climbed up from Henry’s velvet color until the deep scar on his cheek stood out bone white against his flaming face. “There was no slaughter!” When James just raised an eyebrow, Henry visibly took a deep breath. “You know naught of battle. I could not risk the prisoners rising in the midst of my men.”

James opened his mouth to ask if Henry had forgotten to have his prisoners disarmed that they would be such a danger, for James knew they had been disarmed, but from the look on the king’s face, decided that there was wisdom in silence. He snapped his mouth closed. After a pungent pause, James motioned around them. “Aye, it is true I know more of imprisonment than of battle. But I will not give away my kingdom. Not to any man on this earth.”

“God damn you!” King Henry shouted, the words roaring out of him as though he could no longer contain his ire.  “I am out of patience. Enjoy your imprisonment if you can.”

“So be it, if I must, but I will not kneel to you to give you my fealty.”

Henry’s eyes narrowed and he jabbed a finger at James. “Get out of my sight. Out! Run back to your cell like a craven.”

James turned on his heel. As he marched from the chapel, he could feel Henry’s stare stab his back. As he reached the doors he heard Beaufort say in his sleekit tone, “The Scots will be nothing for you to defeat, Your Grace. Now we must prepare for your departure to Calais.”

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Young King and His Enemies

As he bent over the book on his table, James lay down his quill and ran a finger across a bright illustration that filled half the page. A wheel held a woman in finery at its height but had flung a king in ermine and a ragged peasant onto the ground. Kings, princes and beautiful ladies awaited their turn on the wheel. He was chewing his lip and frowning over it when a sharp thud on the table made him jump.

The black-robed monk, Brother Odo, rapped the thin birch cane on the table again and James looked up into his piercing stare. The monk was a small man, no taller than James, slender and quick, with sharp features and threads of gray in his dark hair. The tonsure atop his head shone as though he polished it. James bit the inside of his cheek to stop his grin, which hurt less than that rod would have had it smacked his hand.

“You were not given Boethius to daydream over.”

“Aye, Brother. I only wondered wha’ the wheel meant.
“The wheel means a wheel. Consolatio Philosophiae is but a story that that Boethius wrote whilst imprisoned, as are you. Now you are to use your time more productively than staring at pretty pictures.” He pointed a narrow finger at a word. “Tell me what those four lines mean—in English.”

A word of his own Scots often earned James a stinging rap on the knuckles or sometimes a caning, so James sighed and examined the line the brother was pointing to. His Latin was mainly that of the church prayers and Boethius’s book made him struggle. He took a deep breath, and licked his lips. He could grow to hate this foul tome, though the illustration made him think--perhaps too much.

Who formed my studious numbers,” he translated aloud from the Latin,
Smoothly once in… happier days,
Now helpless in tears and sadness
Learn a mournful tune to.… to…” He sighed, bracing himself. “attollo… I don’t remember.”

“Raise!” The birch whistled when the rod slashed across James’s shoulders. “Learn a mournful tune to raise.”

It was only the sound that made James wince. The cane stung but was nothing to a blow from Gruffudd’s practice blade. His knuckles were skinned from sword practice the day before and his shoulders were bruised from being knocked from his horse riding at the quatrain. Besides, even Bishop Wardlaw said that the sting of a cane was a fine aid to memory.

Brother Odo made a disgusted sound in his throat and motioned to the parchment, much marred where James had sanded out errors. “Write it out. Cleanly, boy.” He thumped the cane down on the table. “I expect the next ten lines written out when I return in the morning.”

“Aye, Brother Odo,” James said, meekly keeping his eyes on the parchment until the door thumped closed behind his tutor.

Smoothly once in happier days

But there was no point in thinking of happier days. Those days were done, though later he would give more thought to that wheel. James thought Brother Odo might be mistaken about it having no meaning when it cast men from the heights to the depths. The tutor always wanted to talk about the translation of the words and never what the story meant. He suspected the monk had no imagination at all. Shaking his head, James closed the book. He would write out all the lines even if it meant burning down his last candle, but for now in the practice yard, he would find Gruffudd and William and perhaps some of the other prisoners and something fun to do. He jumped up, checked both in the corridor ways to be sure Brother Odo was out of sight and hurried down the narrow stairs, out into the sunlight.

He gaped at a line of riders streaming through the open gates, two dozen in polished steel. And there rode the earl of Albany in the middle with Master John Lyon who had brought word of King Robert’s death. James did not know the big man beside them, red-faced under his dark, wiry beard and belly straining against his embroidered doublet.

Orkney vaulted from his horse and tossed his reins to a sergeant who was muttering a protest which the earl ignored as he strode toward James. “Your Grace. I have news I would give you privily.”

The stranger was climbing heavily from the saddle. “He’s no more ‘grace’ than I am. Less than my lord father,” the man rumbled.

James looked past Orkney who was slowly shaking his head and took a slow deep breath. 

“Murdoch?” James asked Orkney in a carefully controlled tone. If he had ever seen his cousin before, James could not recall it.

Orkney jerked a nod.

Murdoch Stewart, earl of Fife, eldest son of the Duke of Albany, swaggered across the bailey yard. “If it isn’t my little cousin, James.”

Thrusting his trembling hands into his armpits, James narrowed his eyes at the man. “Aye. As was my brother, Robert.” His face felt scalded with heat. “Were you at Falkirk Castle when he was murdered? Cousin.”

Murdoch threw back his head and laughed, exposing trembling jowls under his beard. “Aye. And I was there when parliament voted that we had no fault in his death.” His laugh broke off like a snapping branch and he scowled. “Before the Battle of Homildon Hill when I was taken prisoner.”

James drew in a slow, steady breath and then another. He swallowed down the tears of fury at Murdoch’s laughter. He had no doubt that his brother’s murder was at least partially Murdoch’s doing, but screaming at him or weeping like a lass would gain nothing. “Well, my lord…” he forced the words out. “We are both prisoners now. Whether you think I am entitled to be ‘graced’ or nae. Our differences must wait until we regain our freedom.” A pulsing pain began to throb behind one eye at having to speak to the man he must acknowledge as cousin.

“My father will ransom me. You may be sure.” Murdoch glowered at James and then at Orkney and back to James from eyes that were bloodshot. “But do not expect him to agree to any ransom for you to be freed. Whelp.”

“Your father is not the only noble in Scotland,” Orkney said.

“But he is the regent.” Murdoch shoved past Orkney. “Bring my supplies. I am thirsty,” he called over his shoulder. A servant, who James realized had a badge of the Albany Stewart’s on his shoulder, hefted a tun of wine onto his shoulder and plodded after Murdoch. Orkney squeezed the bridge of his nose and let out a long breath.

“His being moved here from Nottingham Castle was part of my news for you. From wha’ I have heard he spends much of his time drinking so, I doubt his presence will be something you are forced often to suffer.”

“I suppose I knew I would see him one day.” James looked at Orkney’s thin lipped face. “Part though? You said that was part of your news?”

The bailey yard was raucous with noise, men-at-arms talking and leading away their horses to the stables and a couple of sumpter horses being unloaded whilst William and Gruffudd stood near the armory watching. Orkey took James by the arm and led him into a corner where a wall met the tower.

“My ransom has arrived. I was allowed to return only to bid you farewell.”

James felt his stomach lurch. Once Orkney left, he would be truly alone.

“Don’t look so, lad. William will remain with you and I convinced King Henry to allow you a chaplain, so Master Lyon will remain. He can arrange messages between us. Once in Scotland, I’ll do everything for you that I can. There is nothing I can accomplish here.”

“But my ransom…?”

“Albany has--” Orkney took a pained sounding breath. “He has stolen your lands. All your regality. You have nae funds for ransom, if King Henry would agree to it.”


“Henry has sworn you’ll be released is if you swear fealty to him. Fealty as King of the Scots.” 

Orkney scrubbed at his face with one hand. “If you agreed to it, I have no doubt he would give you an army to take Scotland. The damned English have done such before. The Balliols, Toom Tabard and his son, both of them, were put on the throne by English armies.”

“But—wha’ would that mean? If he put me on the throne? Would he throw down the Albanys?”

James’s heart gave a lurch at the thought of destroying his enemies. If they would kill him, why should he not use the English against them?

“It would mean that you owed King Henry obedience, and how much power true power he would allow you, I cannot say. All Scotland would be under his heel. And never—never would our parliament accept such an agreement. Nor would I.”

“So… I would be king at his pleasure and Scotland defeated. And make enemies of my few friends.” James tried to wrap his mind around the idea. “And if he didn’t like wha’ I did, wha’ then? If I did the best for Scotland and not for him?”

“If we already weren’t under their heel, we soon would be because there is no way we would win against him or even more against Monmouth. You would--” Orkney shrugged. “Probably you would lose your throne although he might let you keep it if you knelt at his feet.”

“He has put no such proposal to me,” James said. “Did he to you?”

Orkney nodded. “Though he says that you are yet too young to lead an army. But others might in your name in a year or two—especially once they have put down the rebellion in Wales. I told him no. Eventually, the demand will be put to you directly.” Orkney grabbed his shoulder and gave him a shake. “And you must tell him no.”

James swallowed. “Though it will mean they keep me locked up.”

“It will cost you dear, lad. But saying yes would cost us all more—including you.”

“But… How do I regain my freedom?” Too many thoughts were spinning through his head. 

In Scotland, I can work toward freeing you along with Bishop Wardlaw and the Lauders. You have other friends there as well. But you must take my oath.” Smiling a little, Orkney knelt on the ground and held up his clasped hands. “Take my hands between yours.”

He clasped his ink-stained hands around Orkney’s larger ones.  
“I do liege homage to you, my lord, James, king of Scots, and I will keep faith with you against all creatures, living or dead, and I will defend you and all your successors against all malefactors and invaders, as God help me and his saints.”
Blinking, James knew he should say something. He was sure he had seen his father do this, though it was long ago. James licked his lips and said, “I—I take you as my man and will keep faith with you and defend you and your heirs as is my duty as--as your liege lord.”

James raised his eyebrows for Orkney’s approval and the earl gave him a brisk nod of approval. He stood, and for a moment, he grasped James’s arm. “Do not lose heart, Your Grace. However long it takes, we will free you.”