|Pretence of Strength
Author: WhiteHare PM
Jonathan is a talented juggler and a passable tumbler. He has a volatile temper, a chip on his shoulder, a Torenthi best friend and a terror of Deryni. Mainly OCs although some canon characters appear later in the story.Rated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy - Chapters: 26 - Words: 66,407 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 3 - Updated: 06-18-11 - Published: 06-02-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7044027
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
This fic takes place during the latter stages of Brion's reign and the early part of Kelson's. It is mainly OCs, so if you don't like OC stories then steer clear. In the latter stages we see Alaric, Duncan, Derry and Randolph, so you will get canon characters, just not for a while. This only got written because Jonathan wouldn't flaming shut up and leave me alone.
All characters and settings belong to Katherine Kurtz. I am just playing in her Universe for a while.
So if you do read it and enjoy it, I'd appreciate a comment or two, but if not, at least I had fun (mostly) writing it, and that's the main thing for me.
"The strength of women is the pretence of weakness. The weakness of men is the pretence of strength."
Desse, June 1118
"Damn you, Jonathan. What the hell are you playing at?" Fintan wheeled away in frustration, then spun back to shout, "Keep your damn fool eyes on the ball. This is our last run through and you're making stupid mistakes. What the blazes is wrong with you?"
Giggles pealed from the edge of the common and Fintan followed Jonathan's gaze to two girls, sixteen or so and passably pretty. Fintan rolled his eyes – how typical of Jonathan to be distracted by them. "They are lady's maids from some fancy house, street rat. Way above you. You stand more chance with that serving girl from the Barrel your eyes were all over last night. What a shame my hands were all over her first." He leered, his hands suggestively tracing the female form in front of Jonathan, who clenched his fists in frustration.
Then a torrent of abuse escaped Jonathan's lips as a second ball, the match to the one lying in the dirt, flew through the air with deadly accuracy and hit him on the shoulder. Fintan could hit the mark when he wanted to, thought Jonathan ruefully – that was going to leave one hell of a bruise.
"Randall, he's paying more attention to those bloody girls than he is to practising. When are you going to get shot of this useless makeweight?" Fintan's voice took on the whining tone that set Jonathan's teeth on edge.
The members of Randall's troupe had been sniping and snarling at each other all morning. All week it had been unseasonably hot for early June, and after a long sticky night a heavy oppressive start to the day had done nothing to improve their tempers. They had all thrown their tunics into the cart and Jonathan had stripped off his shirt too, irritated at the way it clung damply to his chest. Thunder rumbled ominously in the distance and their tempers were as thunderous as the weather.
"Makeweight yourself," growled Jonathan, "it's not because of me we have to keep the routines simple, but because of some crap fellow from the backside of nowhere who can't keep time to save his life."
Reluctantly he dragged his attention back to his work, although he was still aware of the girls watching him. He could feel their gaze on him as they whispered behind their hands. Jonathan was used to attracting attention – as a child his black hair and brown-black eyes had excited rumour and speculation, especially since there was no man in their household. But now he used his colouring to his full advantage, knowing that he stood out in a crowd and caught the eye of the local girls, especially displaying a torso that was starting to tan the deep nut brown of summer. That proved a sore point with Fintan however, and had done nothing to improve the already strained relationship between them as the taller and broader Fintan often lost out to Jonathan's exotic good looks.
"For God's sake put your shirt on, man. We'll have half the lady's maids and kitchen girls in town making excuses to go to market so they can stop for a look and no-one will pay at the show later. At this rate we could charge a farthing a peek and we could all get drunk as lords tonight on the proceeds." With his sandy hair and freckled face the best Fintan could hope for from a sunny day was a good dose of sunburn, and he was thoroughly envious of the attention his rival was getting.
"Could we ask more if he took more off?" said Robin Brett, the Lendour man, leaning against the wagon and watching the banter develop. He was usually Jonathan's sole protector in the group, but had a gleam in his eye as he joined in the teasing.
"No way," laughed Fintan. "They'd cough up to see his chest, maybe, but no woman in her right mind would pay for a sight of Jonathan's braies. Have you seen the state of them?"
The rest of the troupe sniggered, while Jonathan felt himself blushing to the roots of his hair, the reddening noticeable despite his olive skin. The nearest to him in age, Fintan had made it obvious that he loathed Jonathan from the day he had joined the group, making him the butt of his jokes, and Jonathan generally obliged him by reacting. Jonathan's many run-ins with Randall, the new group leader, often arose from arguments with Fintan, in which Randall could be counted on to take Fintan's part.
But Jonathan was far from a makeweight, and Fintan knew it despite his name-calling. He was a passable tumbler - wiry and strong - but a skilled juggler. He had loved it from the day he had first seen the troupe, then led by Randall's uncle Jackson, perform in the same spot on the common at Desse. Jackson had seen the potential in the scrawny urchin who had placed a precious coin into the collection and spent his evening practicing basic skills in an attempt to impress him.
The lapse in concentration had brought him to Randall's attention yet again. "Fifty push ups, you." Randall glared over at him. "That was your mistake and it wasn't a difficult move. If you can't catch the balls how are you going to manage with the knife routine, even if they are blunted? And it's you keeps pressing me to have us use fire, for heaven's sake. You need to keep your mind on your work and pay less attention to the scenery."
Jonathan dropped to the dry, parched ground. Fifty was excessive for a dropped ball, but he knew better than to object when Randall's voice took on that sort of tone, and he needed his job.
The troupe leader went over to the girls, pitching his voice so that Jonathan could hear every word. "Good morning, ladies. As you can see, your presence is distracting my employee. If you'd care to come and see him perform we will be in the market square at noon – you might want to stand where he can't see you, though, if you would like him not to make an ass of himself." Jonathan couldn't tell whether the fire in his cheeks was from the embarrassment, his anger or his exertions.
Randall's shadow loomed over him and he looked up into the irate face of his troupe leader. "You need to shape up, Jonathan, and that right fast. A pretty girl comes into view and you start to think with something other than your brain - and that part of you doesn't make good judgements." He threw Jonathan's shirt at him. "You might want to try the bath-house. The girls there do more than hand out towels, if you get my meaning." Randall headed back towards the group's lodgings, striding out despite the heat.
The others howled with laughter again and Jonathan sat for a few moments, gritting his teeth in resentment and humiliation before putting his shirt back on. He and Randall had not seen eye to eye since he joined the troupe, and it was worse now that Jackson rarely came with them any more. Jackson at least had stood up for him – had seen something in Jonathan that Randall clearly did not.
Jonathan sat in the dust and scowled at Fintan. "Thanks for that. He'd only have given me twenty if you hadn't called his attention to the lasses over there." He wiped the sweat from his forehead and spat fiercely into the dirt.
"You got off lightly as it was, you gutter filth," said Fintan, planting a sly kick into Jonathan's side.
His anger erupted with its usual suddenness. Jonathan snatched a handful of dust from the ground and lashed it into Fintan's face, launching himself from the ground to grab the other man round the legs and flooring him with a grunt. They grappled, throwing punches where they could, until the others managed to pull them apart. Fintan sat wiping away tears that streamed from bloodshot eyes.
"Pack it in the pair of you," said Robin, barely restraining the struggling Jonathan. "You know Randall doesn't hold with brawling, however great the provocation. Calm it down there, Jonathan, or you'll find yourself left behind when we go. You need to get that temper of yours under control and learn that you can't solve everything with your fists. Randall's losing patience with you, son."
"Like I care," Jonathan growled defiantly, "I don't need him – I don't need any of you."
"So bugger off then," retorted Fintan, nursing a rapidly thickening lip, "I'd not shed any tears if you left. You'd have finished up at the end of a rope if Jackson hadn't rescued you – thieving scum."
"You see?" snarled Jonathan. "How likely am I to be able to reason with that meat head? Maybe I should just ask him nicely to leave me alone? Yes. That might work." He muttered a curse, shrugged Robin off with a toss of his shoulders and strode back to the wagon for his tunic. He snatched it up and stalked off, not favouring Fintan with even a glance, as he headed for the dockside to stare at the sea and brood over the events of the morning.
Seagulls wheeled and screeched overhead, and the deck hands shouted as they shifted cargo from the ships to the land. Jonathan always used to come here as a child, he remembered, the comings and goings of the merchant craft of endless fascination to him. He sat on the bollard that gave the best view of the river, tapping his foot in agitation as he thought about what had just happened.
Jonathan looked down the river, watching two rowing boats tow a merchant ship clear of the wharf and out into the deeper channels and promised himself that he would see more of the world than Randall was likely to show him. In the same way that he had outgrown Desse and had wanted to see more of Gwynedd, now he wanted to see Fianna and Nur Hallaj and even Beldour, places he had heard of in the tales told by the sailors in the Desse taverns. Travellers' tales, for the most part, but enough to spark his curiosity.
As he had many times before, he wished he were accomplished enough to set up on his own, and brave enough to leave the group and travel by himself. The truth had to be acknowledged however, and he just wasn't ready for that yet. Despite his proud boast earlier, he did need them – the security that being part of a group gave him and the knowledge that Randall had money set aside to keep them through the leaner winter months. So for now he had to put up with Randall and Fintan, and work hard until his circumstances changed.
Jonathan reluctantly left the docks in time to return for the performance. He knew that Robin's comment about him being left in Desse was probably not far from the truth, and he didn't dare push Randall further than he already had that day. He tried to keep his temper, heaven knew he did, but it was hard with Fintan goading him all the time and a fiery nature that didn't take much provocation.
When Jonathan arrived in the market square, Randall was in animated discussion with a stranger - Torenthi by his looks, and a little older than Jonathan, maybe by three or four years.
"Who's he?" Jonathan sidled up to Robin, who although considerably older, had proved a useful ally in the past.
"After a job." Robin shrugged. "Says he juggles mostly. I don't know. Randall seems interested enough but the fellow doesn't seem the type somehow – too well-spoken." He raised an eyebrow at Jonathan. "I think he might be your replacement, lad."
That was enough to focus Jonathan's mind. He went through the performance flawlessly, despite the many distractions amongst the audience, and received a pat on the back from Robin and even an arm round the shoulders from Randall as they finished, although Randall's eyes narrowed as he took note of the livid bruise on the young man's cheekbone.
The stranger joined them afterwards as they adjourned to a nearby tavern to count the takings and down several ales to quench the thirst that the heat and the performance had caused.
With the money safely counted and stashed away in his belt pouch, Randall eventually cleared his throat and indicated their visitor. "This is András. He says he juggles and is looking for a troupe to travel with. We never replaced Brogan after he left and András is coming along with us for a while, so we can see what he knows and how he fits in with what we do. Fintan, I want you to take care of him, show him the ropes." Fintan grinned and nodded, holding his hand out for András to grasp briefly. "Jonathan..."
Here it comes, thought Jonathan. This is where I get told I'm surplus to requirements.
"...I want you to work him through the juggling routine and get him up to speed with it." Randall looked seriously at Jonathan. "Can I trust you with that?"
Jonathan glanced across at András, who returned his look with a steady gaze from his dark eyes. The man had a confident air about him, as if born to better circumstances than Jonathan and the rest, and he had obviously impressed Randall already. A glimmer of a smile crossed the Torenthi's face, and he nodded to Jonathan. Jonathan returned the gesture cautiously, wondering if he was being called upon to train his successor. "Welcome to the troupe, András. Let's see what you can do."