Ladies and Gentlemen, here it is! The final chapter of Sweet Revenge. It has been a long, rough road, filled with Writer's Block, computer troubles, and lack of time. But at last, it is complete. The chapter title is a quote from Decimus Junis Juvenalis. In Latin it says, "At vindicta bonum vita jucundius ipsa hempe hoc indocti." which means " Revenge is sweeter than life itself. So think fools." Catchy, isn't it? Well, I'll let you get to it. It is time to discover what fate has in store for our beloved A Knight's Tale characters, which I do not own by the way. Just thought I'd get a little disclaimer in there. Anyway! Read on!
Chapter 26: Revenge is Sweeter Than Life Itself. So Think Fools.
The air was filled with electricity on the fateful afternoon where more than one person's destiny would be decided. Word of the fateful joust between the world's two finest knights had spread across the land like wildfire. Everyone within a day's travel, nobles and peasants alike, showed up to witness the outcome. The marquis's small stadium was bursting in capacity, everyone wanting to get a glimpse of the knights, and hopefully, the Black Prince.
But word also got around, much to the crowd's disappointment, Prince Edward would not be in attendance. He had openly voiced his disapproval of the match, saying that he had not the stomach to condone his two best knights competing against one another for the hand of a lady. It would be a no win situation for everyone. It was obvious to Edward that he had underestimated the animosity between Adhemar and William. Never would he have guessed that their rivalry went so deep as to cause them to ignore their prince's wishes. Prince Edward had made his discontent known to all by leaving in the early morning.
Nevertheless, the spectators were eager to watch the joust. The air smelled of roast meat and sweet wine, laced with an undercurrent of excitement. The sun was shining brightly overhead when the trumpets began to sound.
As the two knights entered the arena the cheers turned to a giant roar of approval. One clad in black armor, the other in silver. They rode side by side, their attendants trailing behind them. Neither of them wore helmets. Both raised their arms in greetings to the crowd as their names were called fervently. They did not look at one another.
Both knights halted in front of the nobility's platform. Seated there were Jocelyn and her father, Chrisitana and several of the marquis's close allies and advisors. William and Adhemar bowed their heads to those seated on the platform and then separately to Jocelyn's father. William sent a smile and a nod to Jocelyn who was seated at the right hand of her father. She smiled back and winked at him. Adhemar incline his head deeply in a gallant manner. Jocelyn rewarded him with a cool stare and frown.
The muscle along Adhemar's jaw clenched at her insolence. Within the hour she would be his intended yet she showed him nothing but disdain. She was far to willful for her own good. A lady in her position should not have the stubborn streak of a peasant. Or a blacksmith. Adhemar started at the thought. He forced it from his mind when Jocelyn's father stood to speak.
" Lords, ladies, knights and common folk!" Marquis Henri de Vaudemont called to the crowd. " I welcome you to this grand event. One of these two knights, Sir William Thatcher, or Count Adhemar of Anjou, shall walk out of these lists a loser. The other shall stand in triumph, as the champion of the people and my daughter's intended."
Lord de Vaudemont continued to rave about the importance and great honor of this event.
" Let me assure you Adhemar," William muttered through his clenched teeth. " This match will end in the same manner the World Championship did. With you flat on your back." He sent a hard look over towards Adhemar. " And me in Jocelyn's arms."
Adhemar met his stare with a look of indifference and a snort. " Do not make promises you cannot keep, Sir Thatcher. It isn't becoming of you." He held the younger knight's gaze. " Allow me to assure you," he repeated William's words in a mocking tone, but his voice hardened for the rest of the statement. " You shall not bear me to the ground this time." Adhemar stated firmly, with little emotion in his voice. " That is a promise that I intend to keep. " William's eyes narrowed. Adhemar blinked lazily and turned his attention back to the marquis.
" Count Adhemar, Sir William Thatcher," Marquis de Vaudemont addressed them both. William's attention snapped back to Jocelyn's father. " To your positions!"
" Let us dance you and I," William said, his tone was filled with challenge.
" Yes," Adhemar replied confidently. " Dance we shall." The other knight's words did not throw him like they had at the World Tournament.
The crowd cheered as both men turned their mounts and went to opposite sides of the stadium. Germaine and a few squires awaited Adhemar at his end. The Count reined his horse in at his starting mark. A squire climbed up onto a stool to make last minute adjustments to his armor. Adhemar's eyes were level as he trained them on his opponent's end. William sat atop his charger, looking deep in thought. His attendants stood off to the side with a lance ready to set in his hand. His herald moved to the center of the jousting arena to work over the crowd with one of his usual eccentric introductions.
William sat on the back on his horse, eyes darting between his herald and the object of his affection, Lady Jocelyn. The younger knight was as tense as Adhemar had ever seen him. The pressure he was under now was far greater than it had been in London at the World Tournament. Today the young man risked his honor, reputation, and future all for a woman. Adhemar's forehead creased a bit. If love truly existed, then William loved Jocelyn. If love was doing anything for a person, no matter how difficult or crazy, love is what was between the two of them. It was madness. But was it really a weakness as Adhemar's father had believed or was it bravery? To be so committed to a person that you would do anything for them, no matter what the risks or odds were, was it foolhardy or was it courageous?
Adhemar's squire lowered the steel helmet over his master's head, temporarily impeding Adhemar's gaze. Adhemar flipped the visor up and squinted down at William's end, no longer pondering the younger man's deeds, but studying his actions and the actions of those around him around him. William's herald was out in the center of the lists, calling out loudly to the spectators who hung on every word that sprung forth from his lips. The stocky attendant with light brown hair, the older and wiser looking one of the group, was lecturing a distracted William. The attendant hit Thatcher's metal covered shin to get his attention. Thatcher glanced abruptly down at him. From the other side of William's brown stallion, the red headed page handed Thatcher his helmet. William grasped it and lowered it over his head. The redhead stepped up on a box and latched the leather strap beneath his master's chin. Adhemar's forehead creased even more deeply with a frown. Attending to Thatcher's armor was not the redhead's duty. Adhemar's eyes darted back and forth, scanning the area near William and his crew. No Kate. Adhemar sharply turned his head.
" Germaine!" he called curtly.
" Yes, my lord?" Germaine stepped quickly to stand beside his master's horse.
" Where is she?" Adhemar demanded.
" Who, my lord?" the herald questioned.
" Kate," he replied. " She is not with Thatcher's crew."
Germaine looked over in the direction of the group Adhemar spoke of. His eyes searched for a certain petite dark haired blacksmith.
" I don't know," he turned his gaze back up to his master.
Adhemar let out a short, thoughtful breath, pressing his lips together. Just then, the stadium erupted in applause as Chaucer finished his gallant introduction of Thatcher. Adhemar's eyes scanned the stadium. His jaw clenched and unclenched. He glanced back down at his herald.
" Find her," Adhemar commanded Germaine. " Go."
Germaine looked surprised. " But my lord, you joust in a few moments. Surely afterwards,"
" Afterward it will have been too late." Adhemar cut him off. " Afterward I will have no time to concern myself with her whereabouts." Germaine raised an eyebrow. Adhemar let out a frustrated sigh. " I just want to know why she's not with Thatcher and his men." he answered his herald's unasked question. " Go." he commanded once more.
Germaine stood still for a moment and then nodded. Turning, he hurried off into the background to do his master's bidding. After his herald disappeared, Adhemar turned his eyes back to the battleground before him. Chaucer finished taking his bows and headed back towards his master. Lord de Vaudemont looked to Adhemar's end and the Count held up a hand in a signal of his readiness. The marquis looked over to William who copied Adhemar's gesture. As Marquis de Vaudemont nodded to the flagger below him, Adhemar motioned for a lance, which his prepared attendants placed readily in his right hand.
The flagger stepped out into the middle of the arena, holding his lord's banner high in the air. Adhemar inhaled a deep breath as the man looked from one knight to the other. The stadium fell silent in anticipation. There was a tension that rippled through the air, dense and heavy. Adhemar gripped the handle of his lance tightly. His horse stomped and chomped at the bit in its mouth. The gnashing of its teeth on the cool metal bit and hooves striking the packed dirt floor echoed throughout the lists.
The flag dropped. Adhemar dug his heels into his stallion's sides and the black beast shot forward like the cork from a bottle of wine. Adhemar lowered his lance so it was perpendicular to the ground. The world around him seemed to be in slow motion as his opponent neared him. He aimed the tip of his lance at the center of Thatcher's breastplate. The distance between their charging mounts lessened and lessened. Adhemar locked his arm and braced himself just before his lance met the metal of William's armor. He felt his lance strike his opponent and shatter simultaneously as he was hit on the left shoulder with the tip of William's lance. It bounced off of Adhemar's armor unbroken. A cheer rippled through the crowd, accompanied by a groan. Lord de Vaudemont grinned widely at the prospect of a lead being established so early in the match. Jocelyn swallowed hard and straightened in her seat. Roland, Chaucer and Wat all flinched, but shouted encouraging things to William as he approached on the back of his brown charger.
Adhemar slowed his mount, pulling heavily on the left strip of leather, causing his horse to pivot about and trot back to his end of the lists where his attendants waited. Germaine burst out of the crowd and ducked under railings that held the spectators back away from the jousting field. He rushed up just as Adhemar pulled his mount to a stop. He put a hand against Adhemar's armored shin, his shoulders moving up and down with labored breath. Adhemar flipped his visor upward and looked down to his herald.
" Well?" he demanded impatiently. Germaine huffed, trying to catch his breath. He opened his mouth to answer, only to close it again, inhaling another deep breath of air, having lost it in his haste to discover Kate's whereabouts. " Where is she?"
" She's…" Germaine's shoulders slumped. His breathing was back to normal, but he was reluctant to give his master the news. Adhemar's eyebrows arched in anticipation. " She's…".
" She's gone," a vaguely familiar voice cut in, finishing the sentence that Germaine was having trouble with.
Adhemar's head turned sharply in the direction of the voice. Thatcher's herald, Geoffrey Chaucer graced his line of sight. The tall, lanky herald strode leisurely forth.
" What?" Adhemar said in surprise. " Gone? Gone where?"
" She left early this morning with Prince Edward," Chaucer replied, halting beside Adhemar's stallion and patting it on the neck.
The horse snorted and danced to the side, throwing its head. Adhemar did little to correct it, his thoughts were instead on Chaucer's words.
" Beautiful animal," Chaucer observed. He raised his eyes slowly upward to measure Adhemar's reaction. The Count was staring in front of him blankly.
" She left," he breathed his voice containing something akin to disbelief.
" Of course she left," Chaucer said softly with a shrug. " What reason had she to stay?"
" Thatcher," Adhemar answered immediately.
" William gave her his blessing, as did Wat, Roland, and I," Chaucer interjected.
" But why?" Adhemar demanded. " He needs her armor."
Chaucer's expression turned thoughtful. " Because when you care for something, you must let it go. Like a bird in a cage, Kate needs to spread her wings." His voice was gentle but confident. " A better opportunity will most likely never come for her. To make armor for the future King of England is an honor that none of us would have her pass up."
Adhemar's chin tilted down towards his chest, his forehead furrowed deeply in thought.
" My lord," Germaine interrupted his master's thoughts.
Adhemar looked down to his herald. Germaine motioned to where the attendant to the left of Adhemar's stallion stood with a ready lance. Adhemar clenched his jaw and reached down to grasp it in his hand. Turning his head back to face the center of the arena, his eyes fell on the flagger, who was making his way out to the barrier that ran down the length of the lists. Adhemar glanced quickly to where Chaucer stood next to Germaine, then moved his hand to shut his visor. The visor swung down to cover his face with a metallic snap.
Adhemar gathered his reins in more tightly, bringing the horse beneath his to an alert attention. The flagger, after glancing from one end of the lists to the other, raised and quickly brought the flag down. Adhemar urged his mount forward with a sharp kick. The horse broke into a gallop, bringing Adhemar closer and closer to his opponent. Adhemar lowered his lance, aiming it at the same target as before. He held the solid wooden weapon steady as his enemy's figure loomed near. He locked his arm just before impact. Thatcher's lance hit his left shoulder, but to counter it, Adhemar rolled his shoulder back, causing the lance to glance off unbroken. Adhemar's own lance struck Thatcher's breastplate with a resounding metallic crunch, the wood splintering, shards flying all around them.
The crowd groaned at the solidity of Adhemar's blow. William's body had been forced by the force of the impact to bend backwards over his mount's rump. He straightened slowly in his saddle, but remained unseated. Adhemar could hear his shout of anger and frustration as they passed one another on the way back towards their posts. He felt a slight satisfaction at Thatcher's rage, but it was overshadowed by a growing sense of unrest in his being.
Adhemar approached his end of the lists at a brisk trot, the black stallion beneath him prancing, adrenaline coursing through both of their veins. Adhemar reined the enormous mount in sharply and flipped his visor up, his eyes focusing directly on Chaucer. Thatcher's herald stood casually beside Germaine with his arms crossed over his chest. His expression was pained at William's trailing score. Adhemar's expression and gaze were hard as he stared at the herald.
" What are you doing here?" Adhemar demanded. " Are you here as a ploy to distract me? If you are, it will not work. You can go back to your master and tell him I said so."
Geoff was taken aback by the sudden venom in Adhemar's tone. He allowed a careful pause before he replied. " I came over to see the man Kate fell in love with."
" How do you know that she loves me?" Adhemar demanded. " She told you, she did?"
" Not in words," the herald replied. " Any fool could see it by the way she looked at you."
" You commoners and your preoccupation with love," Adhemar shook his head, his voice rasping with frustration and disgust.
" As I said, I cam over here to see the new Adhemar. You can imagine my disappointment at having encountered the old." Chaucer declared. Adhemar's disgust was mimicked in his tone.
" Life is disappointment," Adhemar drawled. " Get used to it."
" No," Chaucer argued. " Life is what you make it, nothing more, nothing less. You decide, you choose what life is going to be, what path your life will follow. Choose wisely Adhemar, or your life will be exactly as you said, disappointment. Disappointment, loneliness, and regret, until the day you die."
" My lord!" Germaine cried. " They are about to drop the flag."
Chaucer turned to his fellow herald. " Germaine, I believe you missed your introduction."
Germaine looked to Adhemar, whose expression was filled discontent thoughtfulness. Adhemar gave a nod. Germaine's face lit up and he sprinted towards the middle of the arena.
Adhemar turned his attention back to Chaucer.
" Be gone, herald!" Adhemar hissed his command. " Your words are senseless."
" The path your life follows it entirely up to you, Adhemar," Chaucer said simply. " Do you choose revenge or love? Winning or losing? Jocelyn or Kate?"
Adhemar was silent. Kate. Images of Kate flashed through his mind. Kate working in the forge in London where he first spoke to her. Kate's defiant expression in the inn when she stood up to him. Her friendly expression during their dancing lessons. Kate standing waste deep in the pond, her face lit up with delight at her newly acquired ability to swim. Kate's crushed expression as he denied her love. Adhemar repressed a sigh. Kate.
Germaine had made his way out to the center of the arena. His eyes were wide as he took in the size of the crowd around him, all eyes in the stadium were centered on him. He swallowed and cleared his throat.
" Lords and Ladies," he began in a shaky tone. He cleared his throat again. " Everyone!" he shouted in a firm tone. He spun around in a full circle to face all angles of the stadium. A small cheer went. Germaine's confidence strengthened. " I believe I missed my introduction." He took a deep breath before continuing. He extended an arm towards his master's end of the lists. " The man you see before you has weathered, endured, and triumphed in countless battles, tournaments, and conflicts. His bravery and determination are unquestionable. His skill and strength unmeasurable. But today he is faced with the most difficult challenge yet." Germaine paused. His eyes scanned over the crowd, who were silent, straining to hear his words. " With that said, I would like to present my lord to you. I will not name his lineage, for in a matter like this, his sire and ancestors have no importance. Here he is, a brave man, an honorable soldier, and a good friend. Count Adhemar."
A loud cheer rang up after the herald's final words. The roar of the crowd was deafening, surprising Germaine. Chaucer turned his attention from Germaine's speech back to the black clad man in front of him.
" What shall it be, Count Adhemar?" Chaucer's voice called over the din of the spectators. "Decide quickly. Its nearly time." The herald warned. He looked over to where Germaine was making his way back over to them. Chaucer took one more meaningful glance at Adhemar, then turned on his heel and strode back across the field towards his master and friends. Along the way he clapped Germaine's shoulder as they passed one another.
" Well done," he said meaningfully to Germaine, who nodded back, his eyes sparkling with awe.
Adhemar's eyes darted back and forth, focusing on nothing, but thoughtful. Thatcher's herald had no business sticking his nose into other people's business. But Adhemar could not shake a nagging thought in the back of his mind. When you care for something, you must let it go. Chaucer's words echoed in his head. Adhemar's brow furrowed deeply. Kate had done just that, loved him and let him go.
Kate. She brought out everything good in him, everything his father had deemed a weakness. She had seen the best in him when no one, not even his own father, had been able to. She made him better. In his deepest desires and wildest dreams he could never have hoped, or even thought that he would find someone like her. But to lose? To ruin his chance at revenge against an enemy who had humiliated him? Was Kate worth all of that? The sacrifice of everything he had worked towards all of his life? Adhemar shook his head uncertainly.
" Adhemar," Germaine addressed his friend, bringing him out of his deep reflection. Adhemar met his herald's gaze. Germaine put one hand on Adhemar's foot in the stirrup. " One more broken lance and you win." With his other hand, Germaine took the black wooden lance from a nearby squire and handed it up to his master. He smiled softly up at his old friend and shrugged. " The only way you can lose is if he knocks you from your horse." Germaine patted his friend's foot and took a step back. Adhemar's eyes shot to Germaine's. The heralds gaze was heavy with an earnestness that caused Adhemar pause.
Adhemar watched Germaine back away, registering his words. The herald's lips twitched slightly upwards as he nodded encouragingly at his master. Adhemar gripped the lance in his right hand, testing its weight. He turned his head to look down the field at his opponent. The muscle that ran along his jaw pulsed as he clenched and unclenched it. He watched as Chaucer reached the opposite end of the lists and gave William's horse a pat on the neck. He exchanged a few words with William and the men, then sent a level gaze over his shoulder, straight at Adhemar. Adhemar lifted his chin in a gesture of pride. Chaucer's expression fell slightly, his chin lowered somberly to his chest.
Adhemar's eyes fell upon the flagger as he walked out into the center of the arena for the third time. The set of Adhemar's jaw was firm and determined, his green eyes as hard as steel. His stallion shifted restlessly underneath him. Adhemar gripped the lance firmly in his hand. The flagger glanced from one end of the field to the other, then raised the flag vertically into the air. After a moment's pause, the arena so silent a mere pin drop could have been heard, the flag sliced through the air.
Adhemar jabbed his horse's sides with his heels. The ebony charger reared up , his hooves ripping through the tension laden air, then when its front feet met the ground, took off in a streak of black. Adhemar urged his horse to go even faster. He lowered his lance and held it steady, aimed directly at William's heart. The two opponents neared each other. Each thundering stride brought them nearer to one another.
"Damn you father," Adhemar whispered, his words drown out of his own ears by the shouting of the crowd and the thundering of his stallion's hooves.
Moments before impact, Adhemar suddenly jerked his lance wide and pulled up on his mount's reins to slow it slightly. William, startled by Adhemar's sudden moments, faltered in his own aim. His lance merely brushed Adhemar's the shoulder of Adhemar's armor.
Adhemar, beneath his visor, rolled his eyes heavenwards in disbelief. With a low groan he loosed his feet from the stirrups of his saddle and rolled backwards off the rear of his stallion.
The crowd was silent. They could not believe what had just transpired before their eyes. Marquis de Vaudemont was on his feet in shock. Jocelyn was beaming and had already left her seat in the stands, rushing towards William in pure elation. Wat, Roland, and Gunther were standing, open-mouthed in disbelief. Germaine, grinning from ear to ear, rushed out to where his master lay flat on his back, staring up at the sky. Chaucer ran out towards Adhemar as well, whooping happily.
" You did it!" he cried jubilantly. He reached to where Germaine was helping his master to sit up. " You don't fake very well, but you did it all the same!" Chaucer smiled, his eyes dancing.
Adhemar sat up and leaned backwards onto his hands, looking up to Germaine and Chaucer. " Not very believable?"
" Not in the slightest," Germaine said frankly, his lips still spread in a wide grin.
" Well, you might have fooled Jocelyn, but she is blinded by love. I think you'll have a much more difficult time convincing William." Chaucer added, his eyes moving to where William, having leapt from his horse, was marching towards them, his face angry. He ripped off his helmet and threw it to the ground. Jocelyn trailed after him, looking happy, but confused.
" What the hell was that, Adhemar?" William demanded when he'd neared. His face was pulled into a scowl.
Behind him, Wat and Roland came jogging up to stand between Chaucer and William. They were looking completely and utterly baffled at what had just transpired.
Adhemar adopted an innocent look upon his face and shrugged. " You unhorsed me." Was his only reply.
" What are you trying to pull? My lance barely glanced you! You threw the match! It was obvious! " William shouted angrily at him.
" Well it wouldn't have been if you had struck me properly and if you would keep your voice down!" Adhemar argued back.
William's mouth snapped shut, his expression smoothing. He regarded Adhemar as though he'd never seen him before in his life. He let out a breath and ran a hand through his blonde curls. Shaking his head in utter astonishment, he glanced around the stadium and then trained his eyes back on Adhemar.
" Why?" he could only ask. " Why would you throw the match?"
Adhemar thought a moment before replying. His eyes fell thoughtfully to the ground in front of him. One corner of his mouth twitched slightly upwards. He slowly raised his gaze up to William's.
" For love," Adhemar answered gently.
William opened his mouth to reply, but closed it when Adhemar's words registered in his brain. His brow furrowed in confusion.
" But why should it matter to you if I love Jocelyn and she loves me?" William asked.
" I care not for the love you and Jocelyn share, but for the love in my own heart," Adhemar replied.
" You love Jocelyn too?" Wat asked from over William's shoulder, scratching his head in bafflement. " Then why would you throw the match?"
" Not Jocelyn, you idiot," Chaucer elbowed his redheaded friend. " He loves Kate."
" Kate?" William repeated.
" Kate?" Roland, Wat, and Jocelyn echoed in surprise, their eyes were wide, and mouths open.
All eyes turned to Adhemar, who was still seated on the ground.
" Yes," Adhemar confirmed. " It's true. I love her." He smiled softly at those three words. "I love Kate." His voice was filled with a quiet awe.
Silence followed his declaration. They were all stunned.
" Well, that explains a lot," Roland observed, breaking the quiet.
William glanced over at his friend in surprise. " What do you mean? It doesn't explain anything!" He turned his attention back to Adhemar. " Why did you let her go then? Does Kate even return your feelings?"
" She went to him last night," Chaucer chimed in. " I saw her with my own two eyes." He looked to Adhemar to continue the story.
" She came to me last night and told me of her feelings," Adhemar sighed, shaking his head. " I refused her. I turned her away. I would not admit to myself the sort of feelings I had towards her. Now she is gone." Adhemar gave his head a violent shake. " I was so intent on taking revenge against you that I did not pay heed to what my heart was telling me. But I have come to realize that, despite my former beliefs about love being a weakness, there is nothing greater, more courageous than following one's heart." Adhemar regarded William with a steady gaze, which William met.
" You were following your heart in London, William, and I now know that there is no dishonor or weakness in that." He continued. " The revenge which I have sought against you seems trivial when juxtaposed against the love I bear for Kate. And, while I cannot offer you friendship, I will offer you a truce. The hatred I have held for you means nothing to me anymore. I only want Kate and her happiness. If that means that we must get along, then I say, so be it. A truce."
William regarded Adhemar warily. He glanced about the circle they had formed around Adhemar. All eyes had turned to him. William thought for a few moments. He and Adhemar had quite the history together. He had, after all, attempted to defeat him at any cost, even kill him. This was the man who tried every underhanded manner possible to see to William's downfall. William looked down at Adhemar with a wrinkled brow. But Kate loved him. She would not give her heart to an evil man. She must have found whatever good was hidden within Adhemar. That was enough for him. He extended his hand down towards his former enemy. Adhemar stared at William's proffered hand for a few moments before he slowly reached up and grasped it with his own. William hauled Adhemar off the ground with some difficulty.
" You need some lighter armor, Adhemar," William observed with a chuckle.
" I tried to convince your blacksmith of the same thing," Adhemar replied with a slight grin.
" Maybe this time you should try asking politely," Wat declared, eyeing Adhemar warily, as though he were uncertain of Adhemar's sudden change of heart.
A slight laugh rippled through the group. William still grasped Adhemar's hand in his own. He gave it a firm shake. Jocelyn stepped forward to William's side and grasped his other arm, holding it tightly to her with a wide smile gracing her features.
" Well man, what are you waiting for?" Chaucer exclaimed! " Go and get her!"
Adhemar glanced at Chaucer and then back to William. William released his hand and clapped him on the shoulder. Adhemar gave an appreciative bow of his head and then motioned to Germaine to follow. Still grinning widely, the herald turned to follow his master. Together the two men hurried out of the lists to take off Adhemar's armor and ready their mounts. William turned to Jocelyn, his eyes were imploring. Jocelyn rolled her eyes and shook her head.
" Go on," she sighed in exaggerated exasperation. " Tell Kate I said hello."
A small smile spread over her lips as William planted a quick kiss on her forehead and motioned to his friends to follow. Together the group of men exited the arena to prepare to ride with Adhemar and his herald. Jocelyn watched them go, smiling after them.
A short time later, a group of six riders set out from the manor of Marquis Henri de Vaudemont at a thundering pace. The prince and his company had gotten a large head start. They would have to ride hard to close the distance between them and Edward and Kate. As twilight threatened before some time later, the group of six topped a hill. Below them, traveling on a road through the valley, was Prince Edward's entourage of a dozen men, a carriage, and a wagon.
Adhemar brought his horse up sharply as they came to the top of the rise. The prince's entourage was just below them. William and the rest of the gang halted their mounts near his. Adhemar gripped his reins tightly in his hands, his knuckles whitening. His stallion, sensing his nervousness, danced sideways. Adhemar used his firm grip to rein the rebellious horse back into order. He took in a large breath as he gazed down the knoll at the royal caravan.
" Don't tell me you're getting cold feet now!" William called from his horse.
"No," Adhemar insisted immediately. He stared down at his hands. " I just don't know what to say."
" Tell her the truth," Roland offered.
" Tell her you were a jackass," Wat chimed in.
"And that you're sorry," Chaucer finished the thought.
" Apologize?" Adhemar recoiled.
They all rolled their eyes.
" Just go!" Germaine directed his master and friend.
Adhemar took a deep breath. He looked down to the valley. Setting his shoulders he gave a determined nod and urged his horse forward. His mount took off into a gallop and together they flew down the slope, closing the distance between them and Prince Edward's entourage.
* * * * *
Kate stared listlessly out the window of the Prince's carriage. Edward rode out with his men, leaving Kate to her own devices. She wished she too were out riding, anything to distract her from the thoughts that flooded her brain. Thoughts of him. The sun was starting to make its way beneath the horizon, casting a slight glow over the land, first pink, then a pinkish orange. Kate let out a long breath. It would be over now. The crowds will have dispersed and the nobles, and the victorious knight seated next to Jocelyn at banquet. Perhaps they were dancing.
She let out a moan of frustration. The image of Adhemar dancing with Jocelyn stabbed her brain. She couldn't get him out of her head! Her heart felt heavy, what others would call broken. Kate moved her gaze from the horizon down to her hands which were clasped in her lap. It was a grief that would pass. She'd been though it before with her husband, the sense of loss and loneliness. True, this time was different, but she would make it through. She had to.
Kate sighed. One thing was for certain. She did not regret a moment of it. Every word, every glance, every moment with Adhemar was in her heart for always. Their time together had been rocky, but she felt all the stronger for it. He had taught her, unknowingly, how to love someone's faults along with their attributes. He was not perfect, neither was she, but she loved him all the same. She always would.
" Approaching rider!" a call came from a lookout at the back of the convoy.
Kate's head shot up. She moved to window of the carriage and pushed aside the heavy velvet curtain. A single rider on a black horse was galloping down a soft, green rise. The sun was beginning to set, casting a glow over the land. Kate's breath caught in her throat. The carriage had begun to slow, the driver and guards preparing for a possible attack.
Kate flung the door of the carriage open wide and leapt from it while it was still moving. She ran towards the horseman, shouts of warning called to her back. The rider was still coming at a fast pace when they neared one another. Pulling up on the stallion's reins, he jumped from the slowing charger's back as he reached her. Kate stopped in her tracks, several yards from him, and let Adhemar come to her. He walked slowly to stand toe to toe with her.
They stood there, silent, their chests rising and falling with labored breaths.
"I lost," he said.
" I'm glad," Kate stated simply, her voice slightly breathless. Her eyes passed over his form from head to toe. " What are you doing here?"
" I realized that we aren't even," Adhemar answered. Kate's forehead furrowed, her eyes searched his questioningly. The corners of his lips turned upwards slightly. " You gave me your heart. I have come to give you mine."
Kate's eyes widened in surprise just as her face broke into a wide smile. Adhemar returned her smile with a grin of relief, as he exhaled the breath he'd been holding. Kate threw herself into his arms. Adhemar gathered her close and simply held her tightly to him, as though he were afraid she would fly away.
" Well I guess you said something right," Chaucer called as he and his four companions on horseback strolled leisurely past.
Adhemar could only grin at them, Kate laughed and shook her head after them. The group of men stopped a few yards away and dismounted. William, Roland, Chaucer, Wat, and Germaine turned around to face Adhemar and Kate.
" Adhemar is yours, Kate," William smiled softly at her. " With our blessing."
Kate returned his smile, her throat constricting and heart swelling with affection for her friends. She glanced back to Adhemar, her eyes shining with joy. Adhemar smiled down on her, his eyes searching her face as though he were memorizing it. He then moved his eyes to regard William and his men.
" I thank you," he said slowly. " All of you."
They all nodded in acknowledgment of his appreciation.
" Kiss her already!" Germaine insisted impatiently.
Kate, her cheeks flaming, let out a lilting chuckle. Adhemar lowered his gaze to her flushed face, then his lips followed suit, descending to her soft mouth. Her breath caught when she felt his lips brush softly over her own. They both paused for a moment, his lips hovering a scant inch over hers as though waiting for Germaine's voice to interrupt them. Together their lip's curved upwards, slightly laughing at themselves. He lowered his lips to hers once more, this time lingering longer. His kiss was surprisingly gentle, but firm all the same. His mouth was warm over hers as his lips parted hers. She let out a sigh and surrendered to his kiss as he held her tightly against him. As his next kisses became more urgent, more demanding, she felt her knees weaken. She reached up and put her arms around his neck to support herself with one hand burying itself in the black curls at his nape. Adhemar's hands pressed into the small of her back, holding her against him.
William, Roland, Wat, Chaucer, Gunther, and Germaine stood off to the side, observing the kissing couple that stood before them. On their faces were soft, sentimental smiles. Wat let out a long sigh. After a few moments Prince Edward strode over to stand amongst the onlookers. Without taking their eyes from Adhemar and Kate, the men acknowledged the prince's approach with waves of their hands. Edward stopped to stand next to William, taking his cue from the rest of them. After a few more moments, Prince Edward, eyeing the couple before him, spoke up.
" Why is it, do you think, that at the end of all our adventures, one of my knights ends up in a passionate embrace with a beautiful woman?" the prince asked, his question directed at no one in particular.
" I don't know what to make of it," Roland shook his head.
" Well, one thing is for sure! It'll certainly boost moral!" Chaucer grinned.
Everyone, including the prince and Kate and Adhemar laughed, the sound of their amusement carried across the valley.
" Perhaps we should return to the estate of the Marquis de Vaudemont," Prince Edward suggested when the laughter had died down. All eyes went to him.
" But I thought you were heading back to England," William said in confusion.
" And lose the chance of attending your wedding?" Edward said. " I wouldn't miss it for the world."
" Thank you my lord," William grinned.
The Prince turned his attention to Adhemar. He and Kate stood side by side, one of each's hand entwined in the other's.
" Count Adhemar," Prince Edward began. Adhemar inclined his head. " I trust you will not object to my extending the relief of your command of the free companies for a little while longer."
" Not at all, Your Highness," Adhemar replied with a smile. He glanced down at Kate. " Not at all."
" I suspected you wouldn't. And I'll have you know I shall expect an invitation to your wedding as well." The prince's lips curved upwards, the corners of his eyes wrinkling.
" Consider it done," Adhemar replied, his eyes glowing in a manner and with an emotion they never had before.
The prince nodded in satisfaction, then turned and began to walk back towards his royal entourage. William walked over to Adhemar and Kate. He bent his head and bestowed a kiss upon Kate's cheek. He then raised his gaze to Adhemar and clasped him on the shoulder with one hand. Adhemar inclined his head to him. William then turned and followed the prince, leading his horse along the way. Roland, Wat and Chaucer all came and kissed Kate's cheek under Adhemar's watchful gaze. Each one of them shook his hand. They then followed the path that William and Prince Edward had taken. Germaine was the last to approach. Kate raised herself on her tiptoes and kissed Germaine on the cheek. The herald's eyes widened in surprise. Adhemar released Kate's had, enabling himself to give Germaine a warm, friendly embrace.
Germaine's mouth fell slightly open with surprise. Adhemar stepped back.
" Forgive me Germaine," he said softly. " I have not been nearly as loyal and good a friend as you have been to me."
" To us," Kate amended.
Germaine regarded then for a few moments. His eyes filled with unshed tears of joy. He grinned.
" What are friends for?" he said, his voice wavering with his attempt to shrug off his sudden rush of emotion.
Adhemar clapped him on the back. Germaine turned away slowly, and followed the rest of the men. Leaving Kate and Adhemar all alone. Kate turned towards him, wrapping her arms around his waist. Adhemar looked down at her, his hands moving to trace the lengths of her arms. Kate's eyes searched his.
" It's you," she whispered after a while with a sort of wonder. " For a moment there I was afraid I was dreaming."
" It's me," he said, reassuring her. " Get used to it, my love, because it's going to be me for the rest of our lives."
" Is that a fact?" Kate asked teasingly.
" That is a promise," Adhemar replied, lowering his head to nibble at her earlobe.
" I'll hold you to it," she warned with a soft smile.
Adhemar lifted his head to gaze down at her. He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her of the ground, spinning her around. She shrieked with laughter. He lowered her back to the ground and claimed her lips in a lingering kiss that left her breathless.
" You bet your arse you will," he whispered with a grin as he pulled his mouth from hers. She let out a laugh. He reached down, grasped both her hands and raised them to his lips.
Together Adhemar and Kate turned and followed their friends back towards the prince's entourage. Kate had both arms about Adhemar's waist and he held her securely at his side with one arm. With his other hand he led his horse. Adhemar looked down at his Kate affectionately, drinking in her happy features in the orange light of the setting sun. Sensing his gaze, she titled her head upwards to look back at him. Her eyes sparkled with love and laughter. Adhemar gave her waist a tender squeeze.
He smiled softly to himself. Losing wasn't all that bad after all. He glanced down to the lady at his side. Sensing his gaze, she tilted her face up to look into his. He winked at Kate, his lips curving even further upwards. Revenge may be sweet, but loving Kate was far sweeter.
* * * * *
Well, there you have it. It's over! I can't believe it! So what did you think? You might or might not be amazed to hear that I have had this ending planned from the very beginning. I'm thrilled that I made it to the end! I want to thank you for sticking with me and reading all the way through. And for all of you that have submitted reviews, another thanks is due. Your reviews kept me motivated and made me feel like my writing was important. Thank you so much, everyone who is reading this. Thank you. As for my next fanfiction, I'm not sure what it will be. I think I might actually focus on writing an original work. I am, after all, a Creative Writing major. I probably should start writing more original stuff, but we'll see. Once again, thank-you for making my first fanfiction on fanfiction.net a wonderful and rewarding experience for me. Ta ta!!!