|Won't Be Long 'Til Summer Comes
Author: Renee-chan PM
"His eyes gave away his answer mere seconds before Ulrich spurred his horse into a gallop and Edward's heart leapt to freedom as though driven by those same spurs. He took his lance and dove into the joust, full of joy and freedom such as he had not known since he was a bare slip of a boy." Edward saves William, and in so doing, saves himself, as well. (Ed/Will, Will/Joc, Ed/Joan)Rated: Fiction T - English - Friendship/Drama - Words: 8,178 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 1 - Published: 01-01-13 - Status: Complete - id: 8862504
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: Won't Be Long 'Til Summer Comes
Fandom: Knight's Tale (2001)
Pairing: William/Edward, Jocelyn/William, Joan/Edward
Word Count: 7,148
Warnings: Slash, mucking about with history
Originally written for lalaietha for Yuletide 2012.
Disclaimer: Knight's Tale does not belong to me. Originally it belonged to Jeffrey Chaucer - not the one in the movie, the real one - and then Brian Helgeland got ahold of it and created this wonderful movie for us. So. Not mine, I promise I'll put everyone back where I found them when I'm done. ^_~
Summary: "Their eyes met across the field, Edward unable to contain his disappointment, Ulrich unable to hide the conflict in his heart. The current code of honor among knights would demand that he withdraw, that he wrap his lord in the same padding and unwanted protection that the other knights did. However, as his herald raced to put up the white banner, as his squires tried to pry his lance from his tightened fist, his own honor - that code of conduct with which Edward had become so fascinated - clearly gave him a different answer. His eyes gave it away mere seconds before Ulrich spurred his horse into a gallop and Edward's heart leapt to freedom as though driven by those same spurs. He took his lance and dove into the joust, full of joy and freedom such as he had not known since he was that bare slip of a boy."
December 20, 2012: I have to say, Yuletide is sometimes kind to me in ways I don't expect. I actually offered this fandom after trolling the DYA letters and finding this request because I wanted to write it that badly. ^_^ So, needless to say, I was pleased as punch to find it in my Inbox on November 2nd. I think I've had this story percolating in my brain ever since I first saw the movie however many years ago. I've always been fascinated with the movie's Edward (who completely stole the show for the 10 minutes he was in it) and the depth of understanding and loyalty he and William develop for each other in that minimal amount of time has me going all gooey at the knees every time I rewatch.
I love these characters and how supportive they are of one another and I am so glad I got to play in their world. Also, as my recipient said, "the more the merrier," so Joan and Jocelyn play fairly large roles in this, as well, because they are amazing women and would certainly have had opinions on what was going on and deserved a bit more of the spotlight. ^_^ (I have more to babble about, but I think I'll leave that for the "after" notes so as not to annoy everyone who just wants to read the story. ^_^)
Won't Be Long 'Til Summer Comes
That man sat a horse like no man Edward had ever known. He sat a horse as though he were a mere extension of the beast beneath him or as though the horse were a mere extension of himself. He sat a horse like he was born to it, like he belonged there, like his soul recognized the rightness of that joining, regardless of training or circumstance. He sat his code of honor and conduct, his sense of right and wrong, the same way - as though he were a mere extension of them or they a mere extension of him. From the first moment Edward had seen him tilt, from the first moment he'd seen that code of honor in action, he'd been hooked - completely, unashamedly, without a chance of contestation - for there, in Ulrich, he'd found what he'd never thought to find outside of himself in these troubled times... a true knight.
Well... the beginnings of one, at least. Ulrich was untested, unblooded, had never rode against a true enemy in battle, never killed a man. That was equally as obvious to Edward as the man's skill and code of honor. And in this time of unrest, to see a knight so skilled and yet so innocent was a rare thing, indeed. It had piqued Edward's curiosity. So, he waited, he watched, he listened. And in the end, he couldn't keep from touching.
Joan smiled as she smoothed down Edward's collar, a twinkle in her eyes and a smirk hidden in the corner of her lips. Edward caught at her hands as she moved to smooth yet another nonexistent wrinkle, and gently kissed her knuckles, "Cousin... I am not one of your children to be pushed and primped and preened to your satisfaction. You will drive me mad with your incessant fussing if you continue refusing to tell me why you fret at me so."
Another demure smile was her answer. Edward laughed as she freed her hands to turn him from her and smooth yet another wrinkle from the back of his tunic. The feel of those delicate, yet firm, hands on his back where he could not see them sent a shiver of ghostlike might-have-beens down his spine. Those strong hands belonged to a cousin, never more. Joan was another man's wife and a woman in love... a woman happy. He would do nothing to diminish that happiness and so pushed such ghostly imaginings from his mind whenever he could, indulged them in privacy when he could not. This time he merely turned, caught her hands again and said, "Enough, my lady. Beneath my armor none will be able to discern if my shirt is wrinkled or not and even if you start it out in this pristine state, I guarantee you that by the time I am through, it will resemble nothing like its cleaner former self. Why this unnecessary concern for my appearance? What troubles you?"
This time Joan's smile was sadder, somehow. She clutched Edward's hands in hers and said softly, "I know well how you must risk yourself on the battlefield, cousin. I have long since accepted it, though I have worried over it since we were children. I understand, too, your fascination with this strange, new knight, for he fascinates me, as well." When Edward raised an eyebrow at her, she sighed and continued, "What I do not understand is why you must risk yourself in the joust. You may meet him some other way - at banquet, in the stands, even go to his tent and speak with him there. Why this? Why put yourself so unnecessarily in harm's way?"
"Because, my lady, while I may meet him in any of those ways you have described, I can not know him in those ways," said Edward. "The only way to truly know a man, to truly understand what drives him, is to meet him in battle. A joust is a poor substitute for that brutal circumstance, but it is the closest I can come with Ulrich. I must touch lances with him, must see if the truth of the man comes even close to its seeming."
Joan frowned, pulled her hands away, and Edward readied himself for her next attack. It was short and to the point. She said, "Then let another knight meet him on the jousting field. Send Adhemar. It's why you introduced him to the tournament circuit, is it not - to test against knights that you would have for your own companies? Let him fulfill his purpose."
Edward sighed, ran a hand through his hair, "I would. I have... and I thought it would be enough." He turned from her, then, began setting out his armor, unable to explain why he needed to do this in person in a way which would satisfy her.
The firm touch of his cousin's well-known hand on his shoulder paused Edward in his preparations as she finished his thought for him with a sigh of her own, "But there is something different about this Ulrich, isn't there? There is something in his spirit that is kin to your own... a way of looking at the world, perhaps?"
"Perhaps," Edward said. "When a thing seems too good to be true, it often is, Joan. I know this as well as I know my own name, but I have seen Ulrich fight. I have seen him in pursuit of love. I have seen him amongst his men. Poor substitute that it is, I need to know if his honor will hold in this test of battle against an enemy he can not defeat... or if it will crumble at the first challenge. If it does hold... I would have him for my own. England needs men such as he far more than it needs men like Adhemar. I need men such as he - men that I can trust at my back."
And that was all the explanation Joan needed. She leaned forward, gently kissed Edward's cheek, "So be it, then, cousin, and Godspeed." Her earlier smirk edged back into the corner of her smile, "From what I have seen of this Ulrich, you may well need it."
That joust proved a better test of Ulrich's honor than even Edward could have hoped for. Even when there was no benefit to be had in showing mercy, Ulrich showed it, understood it in that same natural way he sat his horse - as though it were as intrinsic to his nature as breathing. Again and again, Edward tested him, as Colville and through Adhemar. Again and again, Ulrich rose to the occasion. Only rarely did he show conduct unbecoming a knight, and even then his actions kept strict adherence to his own code of honor, even if they did not keep to the currently understood code of chivalry. He fascinated Edward. He puzzled Edward. More than anything, Edward wished to understand him, to understand what drove him, to understand where this unshakeable sense of honor came from.
When Edward decided to enter the tournament at Lagny-sur-Marne, to face Ulrich, again, Joan called him seven kinds of a fool and refused to accompany him. She cited her husband, her children, whatever legitimate responsibilities she could to wash her hands of her beloved cousin's folly. He suspected she was right, that his ruse could not remain a ruse much longer, that even the knights who only rode at tournament were bound to recognize him eventually. Unfortunately for Edward, "eventually" came one match sooner than he would have liked.
Facing a knight across the jousting field, it was sometimes difficult to know who you truly faced. In spite of what shield was displayed on the lists - armor did a wonderful job of protecting identities along with flesh - one had to rely on honor to know that one's opponent was who he claimed to be. However, if one had rode with a knight before, fought with a knight before, there were clues that could give that knight away... and Adhemar's free companies had rode with Edward many times before. Something in Adhemar knew Edward - it was something in his seat, in his movements, in his posture - and he sent his herald to discover the truth. Once he had it confirmed, his next action was a foregone conclusion - he withdrew. And Adhemar withdrew before no one. Word spread quickly from there.
Therein lay the difficulty in the knights of today. They were barely passing acquaintances with honor, nothing more. On the surface, protecting one's liege-lord was the highest function of a knight - to keep one's prince safe from all enemies being the highest form of service. Edward's father might be comfortable with that understanding and that arrangement, but he had Edward to fight his battles for him, now. He had the luxury of staying protected in his palace, giving his own honor the same barest nod that his knights did even after a lifetime of defending it. This form of honor, this farce of loyalty, did nothing more than make mockery of the true purpose of a knight... the true purpose of a prince. A prince was a prince because he protected his people, not the other way around. He stood on a battlefield between his country and its enemies. He put his life on the line to hold what was his.
His father had believe that, too, once. His father had been brave, a conqueror. His father had ruled early and ruled well. No more. His father was old now, and tired, and happy to rest on his laurels and be protected. In truth... perhaps he had earned the right to such ease. He had fought well and remained true to his honor his entire life - and that with no good example to follow in his own father - but Edward was young and refused to accept such ease for himself. He had not earned it and he had no wish to earn it for many years to come. He wished to be like his father had been - young, brilliant and brave. For if a prince's true purpose was nothing more than to supervise a governing body that was well capable of acting on its own without such supervision and to produce heirs that would fill that function once he was dead... then a prince was nothing more than prized breeding stock, nothing but a stud trotted out at parades to look becoming and good for nothing more than that.
The part of Edward that had been raised a knight, that had stood on that battlefield and protected his country since he was barely a slip of a boy, refused to give in to that fate. More and more, though, he found that the attitudes of his knights and their perversion of honor, prevented him from acting as he must more and more each year. And this... this was the final straw. Now, his knights would make him as a child, incapable of making decisions for himself. They would take the very right to keep to his own honor out of his hands. That was intolerable... and it was unavoidable.
Edward rode off the jousting field defeated in ways he could not even bear to consider, feeling the trap of a gilded cage closing around him as he walked. He had but one last hope for escaping it, he feared... and that was Sir Ulrich. They met on the jousting field later that day, once the furor surrounding Adhemar's withdrawal had died down, and Edward felt hope rising in him when Ulrich settled into the saddle. Surely, he must know who "Colville" was by now. Surely, his men had found out. Surely, he chose to ride, chose to respect his lord's wish to risk his own life on the joust if that was what honor demanded. Surely...
No. Ulrich's herald was even now desperately trying to halt the match, was racing to Ulrich's side as though the hounds of hell were at his heels... was even now telling Ulrich who he truly faced in the form of Sir Colville. And there it was - the swift glance, the shy of his horse as the beast responded to his master's distress. Ulrich had been prepared to ride against Colville, had not known who it was he faced across the field, when he readied himself for this joust. Now that he knew, now that he surely knew...
Their eyes met across the field, Edward unable to contain his disappointment, Ulrich unable to hide the conflict in his heart. The current code of honor among knights would demand that he withdraw, that he wrap his lord in the same padding and unwanted protection that the other knights did. However, as his herald raced to put up the white banner, as his squires tried to pry his lance from his tightened fist, his own honor - that code of conduct with which Edward had become so fascinated - clearly gave him a different answer. His eyes gave it away mere seconds before Ulrich spurred his horse into a gallop and Edward's heart leapt to freedom as though driven by those same spurs. He took his lance and dove into the joust, full of joy and freedom such as he had not known since he was that bare slip of a boy.
They met in a great clash of armor and lances, each scoring a near perfect hit on the other... a perfect draw. They came back together in the center of the field, and it was Ulrich who revealed himself by calling Edward by his name, showing that he had known well and truly that it was his prince he faced in this joust... and still he had ridden. Edward could stand it no longer, removed his helmet to reveal his face. The sole purpose of his ruse had been to test Ulrich, anyway, and if the man now knew who he was, there was no point in continuing that useless deception. No one else in the crowd mattered. The words they spoke were few, near meaningless, as they sought deeper answers... and found them. They were kin of spirit, Edward and Ulrich, and even Edward could not have said why. As Joan had said, they saw the world in much the same way, he and Ulrich, kept to the same outdated code of true honor, but that was not all of it. Having fled the confines of his own cage often enough, Edward got the sense of a similar one about Ulrich. What it was or how Ulrich had become trapped in it, Edward did not know... but he intended to find out.
Jocelyn startled out of her reverie with a distracted, "Yes, my lady. I apologize," and picked up her needle to continue working on her section of the tapestry.
Joan smiled and reached out to still the other woman's hand, "Jocelyn, it's me to whom you speak. Something is clearly preying upon your mind. Will you not share your burden with me?"
Jocelyn laid her needle down once more, clasped her hands over the tapestry in her lap and said, "What only ever troubles me, Joan? It is nothing more than the usual."
Joan settled back in her chair and arched an eyebrow, "Jocelyn, again, I remind you to whom it is you speak. The majority of Edward's court may be convinced that you care for nothing but the latest fashions and the handsomest knights, but I know different. I know you and have done since we were children. Some knight has caught your eye, I've no doubt, but you'd not be this distracted if that was all it was. This is something more. Will you not unburden yourself to me, my friend?"
"And what of you?" Jocelyn shot back, "Have you not had your eye on a handsome knight of your own?"
This time Joan's smile held a dangerous edge, "Be careful of your words, Lady Jocelyn. I may be your friend and cousin to a king, but I am also a married woman and have eyes for none but my husband... and you are trying to change the subject."
Jocelyn's lips turned up at the corner and she bowed her head briefly, "As you say, my lady. Perhaps we both long for men we should not." She turned away, her hands starting to pluck at the threads of the tapestry in her lap. After a moment, she sighed and said, "I have recently learned that Count Adhemar intends to enter into negotiations with my father for my hand." Her lips parted in a small sneer and she spat out the name like something vile, "Adhemar. He cares for nothing but conquest - conquest on the battlefield, conquest on the jousting field and conquest in the bedroom. Would that my opnion mattered! I would marry not for conquest, but for love. Do you not feel the same, my lady?"
"What makes you believe that I did not, Jocelyn? I challenge you to find a single man or woman who would claim I do not love my husband," Joan answered.
Jocelyn smirked, "No, I don't believe I would take that challenge, my lady. I am not fool enough to bet against you... but I would challenge you to deny that though you love your husband, you may also love another... for you do - do you not?"
Gazes met across the tapestry, blue eyes and brown, measuring, weighing... understanding. Eventually Joan broke the impasse by saying, "Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein is a fine specimen of knighthood. Would you not agree?"
Their gazes met for another moment, their faces all seriousness, but Jocelyn ruined the moment by laughing, "I should know by now not to match wits with you, my lady. You have eyes like a hawk and you strategize even in your sleep." Picking up her needle, Jocelyn began placing neat rows of stitches in the tapestry, "Yes, damn your eyes, Joan, I yearn for the knight from Lichtenstein. I burn for him. He is like no other knight I have ever met, nor do I think I will ever meet another like him. But, Adhemar..."
Joan leaned forwards, placed a hand over her friend's and smiled, "You are not the first to express such sentiment for young Sir Ulrich, Jocelyn." When Jocelyn looked up once more, Joan smiled, "Edward has taken note of him, as well. You compare my eyes to a hawk's, Jocelyn... Edward has the eyes of an eagle and those eyes have landed upon Sir Ulrich." At Jocelyn's raised eyebrow, Joan said, "He sees in Ulrich a code of honor like unto his own. He grows bitter with the knights of the tournament circuit, even with the knights who ride to battle with him. He seeks to reinvigorate the knighthood, to give them new purpose - as he seeks, himself. Ulrich may be a key to that. Given the hopes he bears for Ulrich and the affection I bear for you, dearest Jocelyn, do you truly believe your father's negotiations with Adhemar a threat to your future happiness?"
The two women looked at each other, smiles in perfect harmony, and Jocelyn bowed her head once more, "I am once again grateful that my lady has ever a care for my happiness... and hope one day that your own happiness may be a match to mine."
They clasped hands upon it, Jocelyn and Joan, then turned back to their tapestry with hearts lighter for having been unburdened.
In spite of Joan's clever intentions and Edward's fascination, only months later, it all fell apart. Determined to beat Ulrich and win back Edward's favor by any means necessary, Adhemar did what no knight should ever do. He resorted to underhanded tactics to beat an opponent. True, he won, but there was no honor in that victory - to win because your opponent was unable to fight. It left Edward disgusted and gladder than ever that he had disbanded Adhemar's companies and pulled him home from the field of battle. He did not want such dishonor representing him on any kind of field. And now it remained to decide what could be done, if anything, about this information that Adhemar had unearthed. It could not be quieted - too many had heard the news already... Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein was not of noble birth, was not a knight at all, but a peasant by the name of William Thatcher.
Edward fell heavily into his seat, the wind knocked from him as surely as if he had fallen from his horse. He turned to look at Joan, ever-faithful Joan, always at his side whenever he had need of her. Well, he had need of her, now - her quick wit, her nimble mind, her ability to see beyond a problem to a solution. He asked her, "How is such a thing even possible?"
Joan stepped up beside him and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. He quickly covered it with his own. She said, "He must have been servant to a knight, learned what he could by watching and then had his patents forged. Such a thing is not unheard of, my lord. Peasants will try anything to escape the poverty into which they are born-"
"No," Edward said, "That is not what I meant." He pulled Joan around until she stood in front of him, "What I meant, dear cousin, is this: how is it possible that one so lowly-born understands what it is to be a knight better than any truly-born knight I have faced? Can you tell me that, Joan? How is such a thing possible?"
Joan settled gracefully to the floor, Edward's hand still clasped in hers. She shook her head, "I don't know, Edward. But even if I did, it would matter not. No matter how noble his heart, his body is still that of a peasant. He can pretend to knighthood all he likes... and he will still never be one."
Edward pulled his hand from his cousin's grasp and rose from his chair to begin pacing, a frown settled firmly on his lips, "You speak of things you do not fully understand, cousin." Edward shook his head, "William Thatcher may be a peasant by birth, but in every other manner that counts, he is a knight. His honor, his loyalty, his skill... I would dare any man to face him on the field and deny that he is anything but what he appears to be - a knight. No true knight would so dare."
Joan bowed her head, "Edward... I do understand, but what I have so poorly explained is that it matters not what is in the man's heart. The law is very specific on such matters. To impersonate a knight... Edward, in many circles, such fraud would be considered treason - your father's circle amongst them."
Edward closed his eyes and reached out a hand to brace himself against the wall. If his father found out... His father was generally a benevolent man - the queen was a gentle soul and she liked him so - but none could forget the Plantagenet temper he still carried. It was swift, violent and completely unreasoning. If this news reached the king's ears before Edward could decide what should be done, the matter would be taken out of his hands and William would be doomed to a traitor's death before Edward could intervene.
Only one thing was certain. Edward would intervene. Already, Edward felt a responsibility to William - a loyalty. He couldn't explain it, but he knew it was there, just as he knew that William's loyalty to Edward matched it. William - nobly-born or no - roused deeper feelings in Edward than any man he had ever known. He would be damned if he allowed the boy to be killed for refusing to deny the very qualities for which Edward so admired him. He could have run, today. That he did not was telling. It was the honorable thing to have done... it was the knightly thing to have done.
Joan's voice interrupted Edward's thoughts, "Cousin... I can hear your mind working from here. What great plan are you hatching?"
As Joan spoke, Edward's lips stretched into a smile at last. He returned to Joan's side, took her hands in his to raise her up and kissed each of her cheeks, "How well you know me, Joan." His smile widened, "Cousin... the solution is so simple, it's a wonder it didn't occur to us right at the first." He laughed, "William Thatcher is not of noble birth, but as prince of this land, can I not confer favors and titles where and when I will?" At Joan's worried frown, Edward hastened to add, "It will have to be done carefully, of course, but if it is, none will question it. None but my father would dare, and if it is done carefully enough, he will have no need." Edward beamed another smile at Joan, this one full of mischief, "What say you, Joan? Are you well pleased?"
Joan squeezed Edward's hands, her eyes twinkling, "I see that you are pleased, cousin, and this alone would be enough to please me, but I find that I have grown rather fond of young William, myself... and I like even more that you will have such a skilled and loyal companion at your side when next you ride to battle."
Edward's gazed softened, "Dearest cousin... do you worry for me when I am away at war? I would not have you worry."
Joan stepped back, lowered her gaze to the floor, "Of course, I do, my prince. Your wishing I would not will not affect that. You have been dearer to me than even my brothers, ever since we were children... and if I have been the same to you, I beg you not to press me to dwell more on the matter." With a deep curtsy, Joan took her leave, leaving a very bewildered Edward behind to prepare the remainder of his plans alone.
In the end, it hadn't taken much - a small sum paid here, a promise of leniency on another matter there and, when necessary, the threat of having angered the crown prince if his orders were not carried out - and William was not only a free man, but a knight in truth. And Edward knew from the moment William knelt before him after being released from the stocks, from the moment he agreed to follow Edward's request - not even an order - that he joust, though it must have cost him much in the way of pain to comply, that William would be his man for life. William would follow his orders, carry out his wishes, not just in letter but in spirit, as well, even if it cost him his life to do so. That amount of faith and loyalty was humbling. Edward had never yet seen its like, nor did he think he ever would, again.
So, William followed him - in heart and in body. From that day on, there was not a battlefield on which Edward walked where William was not by his side. There was not a celebration he attended that William was not in the corner, raising a glass to his sovereign and keeping a watchful eye for any signs of danger. He became Edward's shadow, yet more... for he cast his own light.
That was not to say that they never disagreed, that William accepted every one of Edward's orders without comment or complaint. That simply was not in the man's character. William needed to see a reason for everything. He needed to know why this battle, why this arrest, why this ball, why this decision. Of course, as he followed Edward longer and longer, he became more able to answer those questions on his own, but there was one matter in which William would never cease questioning and it was grossly inconvenient even at the best of times - like now. They had just won a difficult battle and were kicking back in a local tavern. William's squires were occupying a table in the corner and William had come over to join Edward, loathe, as always, to see his prince sitting alone. They'd drunk in companionable silence for quite some time, but as one tankard melted into two and towards three, Edward could see the questions beginning to pile up in William's eyes and good-naturedly resigned himself to having this discussion yet again.
"Edward-" William shook his head, "No. My lord," he enunciated carefully, "I wish you could hear yourself as I do. Do you not listen to the words you speak?" AT Edward's perplexed look, William gestured broadly with his tankard, "Your words are those of a man in love! Edward... my prince... can you not hear it?"
Edward could not help but smile. Four years of the man's constant company had not lessened his charm nor his passion for his no-longer-newfound knighthood. On the field and at court, William's loyalty and discretion were absolute and he would tolerate not even a harsh word spoken against the prince. And four years of the man's company had also not lessened Edward's admiration for him, nor his pleased befuddlement at how conveniently William could forget Edward's rank as soon as he had a drink or two in him. Quick as he was to defend Edward's honor and intelligence to any and all comers, William was just as quick to treat him to the same rough care and disrespect his squires showed for him. He was far too free with his speech, far too quick to tell Edward exactly what was on his mind... and G-d help him, Edward loved him all the more for it. Just now, he seemed intent on fixing the one problem in Edward's life that had been thus far eluding him - Edward's continued bachelorhood. It was not that Edward had not had his share of dalliances - he had, and had the bastard children to prove it - but he had yet to find a woman worthy of sharing his throne.
Edward squinted across the table at William - who was still waxing poetic about the love he heard in his prince's voice - pulled the other man's cup closer to peer into it, then turned his gaze back to his own cup. He let out a soft huff of laughter and said, "What I think, my firend, is that I'll have some of whatever it is that you're drinking. It is clearly more effective than whatever is in my cup."
At William's frustrated noise, Edward shook his head, dropping the pretense of light-hearted banter, "She is a woman who has been twice married, borne several children and is my dearest cousin and friend, besides, William. There are some rules that even royalty may not break."
William reached across the table to take Edward's hand in both of his and said gently, "Yes, my lord, that is true... but perhaps they may be bent."
The open love and admiration in the younger man's eyes was almost more than Edward could bear. There were times that Edward thought that no one had ever cared for him as deeply as William. Four years after that fateful tournament and there was still an unbreakable bond between them - prince and vassal, commander and knight, master and servant, savior and saved - and were it not for that bond, Edward would have lost his life more than once. But this... William was a man in love himself. Jocelyn, his wife, was a beautiful woman and, more than that, clever, witty and as passionate as William himself. Bringing about their match was the one worthwhile reward that Edward had been able to bestow upon his friend and he was glad of it - doubly so because Jocelyn was not only passionate and clever, but she was understanding, as well.
One of Joan's dearest friends, Jocelyn had known Edward all her life, as well. She cared for him, perhaps not as deeply as Joan or William did, but strongly enough for that. She saw in him the same thing William did - a man alone, a man unwilling to settle for less than the brilliant example of love set forth by she and her husband. And she felt his loneliness as keenly as she had once felt her own - the loneliness of one loved not for who he was, but only for who he or she appeared to be, valued for beauty or rank, but never for self. Yes, Jocelyn knew what it was to sit up on that pedestal, made of stone and so very, very alone. And so she gave them this. On campaign, when away at joust, sometimes just because she felt he needed it... she would send him William.
William... for all his former hardships, he was still so innocent in his love, in his passion. He saw a friend in need and wished nothing more than to reach out and comfort, to help. And with Jocelyn's understanding permission, he would be for Edward whatever the prince needed, steadfast and sure in his loyalty, even in this strange new arena. Edward could have had more, if he wished it. Jocelyn had pulled him aside once, told him in no uncertain terms, that he was welcome in their bed whenever he wished to be there... but that was a line that Edward could not - that Edward would not - cross. He felt guilt enough for taking William away from Jocelyn during campaign after campaign after campaign - he would not infringe upon their time together when both were at home, would not come between them in their own bed.
...but he could have this. Seeing that gentle understanding in William's eyes, the need to hold him, to protect him in the only way the prince would allow, Edward gave in once again. Pushing both tankards to the side, he tightened his grip on William's hand and drew the other man to his feet. He came willingly, happily, as eager for this reaffirmation of their bond as Edward. He led William from the tavern amidst knowing smiling and salutes from the man's squires, took William to his tent and loved him, worshiped him, long into the night.
As William drifted off to sleep beneath him, Edward's head pillowed on his chest, Edward could not help the weary sigh that escaped his lips. As often as he told himself that this time with William was enough, that he needed no more than this to be happy, in his heart, Edward knew that William and Jocelyn were right. He needed more. He needed a wife, someone of his own to love. And his heart knew precisely who his perfect match was - he could no more fool it than he could fool William. And just perhaps... just perhaps William was right. Those of royal birth might not break the rules... but just as had been the case with William's elevation to knighthood... sometimes rules could be bent. Smiling at the thought, Edward pulled William closer and settled down to sleep. He would turn his mind to the question in the morning, and perhaps in so doing... achieve his heart's desire.
In the end, the rules proved more pliable than Edward had ever believed possible. Joan was not only amenable to his proposal of marriage, she was overjoyed by it. Had Edward had any idea that she felt as strongly for him as he did for her, he would have put them both out of their misery as soon as she could, in good conscience, put away the black after her second husband's death. Thank G-d that he had friends who saw him more clearly than he did, himself. Thank G-d that he had friends who cared as much for his happiness - perhaps even moreso - than they did for their own.
With Joan on his side, they devised a plan so simple that it was devious - they married. They married in secret and enjoyed each other as husband and wife for as long as they could before the truth became known. Once it had... suffice to say that the king and queen were resigned to the matter. By then, Edward's father cared not who he married, so long as he married someone - and most importantly, Joan was family and had proven that she could bear sons. It was a simple matter of gaining dispensation for their marriage from the Pope, after that, one that he gave as eagerly as he gave them their penance for having wedded without consent to begin with.
Life thereafter was happy - happier than Edward could ever have dreamed it could be. He had Joan at his side on the throne, and she bore him children - sons and daughters enough to rival his own siblings, and he had William at his side on the field - and a more steadfast companion and loyal knight he could not have created if he tried. They made jokes in later years, of how well they were managed, Edward and William, by their wives and later their children. Joan and Jocelyn were women to be respected and, on some level, feared - even Edward dared not cross them when they joined ranks in favor of a course of action.
Though they griped about it over a tankard of ale in the tavern or over battle maps on the field, secretly Edward knew that William felt much the same as he - that he would not have his life any other way. It was what had made them friends, above and beyond any sense of obligation - they saw the world in the same way, approached it with the same sense of honor and loyalty. And they both appreciated the strength and cleverness of a good woman.
Edward sometimes thought that were it not for they two - William and Joan - that his life might have fallen to disaster, but each time he made a decision, if even one of them did not like it, they joined forces against him, pleaded and cajoled, pushed and bullied until Edward eventually gave in to their demands. He wondered sometimes, who exactly was running this country - the older he got, the more convinced he became that it was, in fact, William and Joan, and not himself. And as his father had when he began reaching a certain age, so too did Edward find that he did not mind letting another hold the reins for a time.
It was the combined actions of William and Joan that kept him and England out of what could have been a disastrous war in Spain. It turned out to be a long, expensive and fruitless campaign for those who became involved, many perishing of malnutrition and illness for years to come. Edward shuddered to think that such a fate might have been his. He might never have lived to see his children grow up. He might not even have lived to see himself on the throne.
But live, he did. William and Joan would not have dared let him do otherwise. Their love kept him safe in ways he could not have imagined on that long ago day when he stood in a town square and proclaimed to any who would listen that William Thatcher was indeed descended from an ancient royal line... that he was, in fact, the knight he had defrauded others into believing he was. And in every action, every thought, every word, William continued to prove the words that Edward spoke that day - so much so, that Edward, himself, came to believe him. How else could a man born a peasant feel so much like a brother?
So, yes - William kept him safe and loved him enough to allow him to protect his own honor. Joan loved him with all the passion of a love denied for far too long and gave him so many healthy children that his own royal line would be secured for many years to come. And Jocelyn, beautiful Jocelyn, she took care of them all, ever watchful, ever planning for the future and safety of their combined brood.
Already, William's eldest daughter - a bright young girl named Philippa, for Edward's mother - was approaching marriageable age. She was as beautiful as her mother, yet as fair as her father... and Edward's eldest living son had had eyes for none but her since they were children growing up together. Joan liked to tease him when she saw them secretly walking hand-in-hand, that so too had their own love affair began. Pippa and Richard... they would be a good match. Pippa had her mother's quick wit and clever mind and her father's inate sense of honor. She was as well-balanced a choice for Richard as Joan had been for Edward, as Jocelyn had been for William.
It now only remained for Edward to convince William of that. He would protest, of course, stammer and stutter and perhaps even blush, at the thought of his daughter - one of six and no brothers in sight - becoming a queen. Of course, Pippa was too lowborn. William had a title, had lands, as did Jocelyn, but if his daughter was to be a queen, he would need a greater income, a greater household, perhaps even an official position at Court. Edward would enjoy that - having his friend's peasant-born practicality on his side at Court. William perhaps would not... but he would do it. For Edward. For his daughter. For England.
Now it only remained to break the news to him. And again, it was Joan and Jocelyn who took the initiative. With matching twinkles in their eyes and mischief in their smiles, they sent Edward and William on their way to spend some special time together. And after they had enjoyed that time, after they reaffirmed the vows and bonds that joined them together... then Edward would break the news to his friend that Edward's long-ago prophecy was about to come true, that William was about to become the father of his very own royal line.
A Count... that should do quite nicely. Count and Countess Thatcher... William would squirm, of course, but Jocelyn would like that. Well, thanks to their ladies, Edward had William to himself for a week to convince him - he intended to make the most of it. Poor William had no idea what was about to hit him, but just as he'd known the very first day that he had seen the man joust, William's honor would hold him aloft throughout... would hold them all aloft.
Tossing a grin and a wave over his shoulder at Joan and Jocelyn, Edward kicked his horse into a gallop.
William was barely a pace behind but right at his side - where he belonged... and where Edward intended to keep him for as long as he lived.
A brief note on timelines:
(OK. For anyone who's not an English monarchy/history nerd, feel free to skip this information because it really doesn't matter. However, if you're as detail-oriented as I am and this stuff interests you (and I suspect, from my recipient's letter that they may fall into this category), read on. ^_^)
In short, the movie timeline does not match up with the true-to-life history timeline. Not even close. My recipient was kind enough to offer me the freedom to "treat history with the same light anachronistic hand as canon," and for the most part, I did… but when I can make things work… I like to. ^_~ According to those in charge of the movie, it was intended to be set during the 1370s, during a period of time when Jeffrey Chaucer went missing for about 6 months and thus could have been involved in the events of the movie. If this is true, then Edward and Joan are already married during the movie and have been for ten to 15 years. This is all well and good except for two things:
1) Adhemar is called away to fight the Battle of Poitiers halfway through the jousting season… and that battle took place in 1356.
2) Edward dies in 1376 (circa the time of the movie) of a disease he contracted when fighting in Castile in 1367 (before the movie would have taken place and thus an event already in motion during the movie).
So… I made an executive decision that the movie did not, in fact, take place in the 1370s, but rather in 1356 - before Edward and Joan marry (and thus when she is still married to her second/first/second (^_~) husband) and before he goes to fight in Castile. That opened up a world of fix-it possibilities and I took them gladly. ^_^
Also, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my recipient. I wouldn't necessarily call myself a medievalist, but I do have a long-standing interest in the history of the English monarchy as a whole. Normally I tend to hover in the Tudor period and beyond, though, so this was a wonderful opportunity to explore the Plantagenet time period more than I had previously and I, quite frankly, geeked out about it. So, thank you again, and I hope you enjoyed the fruits of my geekiness! ^_^