Title: Trial By Fire
Summary: After 'Venus Revealed'. Adhemar must win over Jocelyn's friends.
Pairing: Adhemar/Jocelyn, Roland/Christiana, Geoff/Kate
Disclaimer: 'A Knight's Tale' is the property of Columbia Pictures. I make no money from this work of fan fiction.
Notes: In scholarly circles, if anyone is interested, there has been a debate over whether Chaucer and his wife were truly happily married. This debate stems from the few details known about their marriage. I've always thought the evidence leaned towards a happy marriage, since the attitude in his work towards the institution is rather favorable. However, for plot purposes, I'm taking a bit of a liberty with his marriage. This is for the Kate/Chaucer 'shippers. Here's hoping Geoff and Philippa aren't rolling in their graves!
They were married there in the Cathedral in Rouen, the same Cathedral where Jocelyn had first met Will. It hadn't changed much over the years. The ceremony was early in the morning, before the first mass of the day had been spoken, and was nothing fancy. There was no royalty present, no fanfare to announce that Jocelyn had remarried, only a simple exchange of vows before witnesses consisting of Thomas, Adhemar's children and men, Christiana and Miles.
Jocelyn had spent the past few days and nights in Adhemar's room at the inn. A trunk of her clothes had been delivered sometime during the afternoon she spent meeting Genevieve and Ana and Christiana had been put in charge of moving Jocelyn and Miles' belongings out of Thomas' house. Jocelyn didn't think she'd ever forget Adhemar telling Christiana he wanted her to be thorough in what was rightfully Jocelyn's property in her packing.
"Make certain Thomas has nothing left of your mistress to remind him he even has a sister. Take as many men as you need with you. He won't protest. If he does, have the matter brought to me."
Christiana had been bewildered that the responsibility was entirely hers and her judgment was going to be trusted. She'd nodded, but the 'my lord' in her reply had obviously stuck in her throat. Would she stay after the move had been made? Jocelyn certainly hoped Christiana would. In fact, she hoped her friends could all be persuaded to return, though it would be something of an uphill battle to convince them that Nicholas Adhemar was not the monster they thought him. Roland might give benefit of the doubt, but Wat and Kate? Jocelyn feared it would take much coaxing on her part to get them to return.
Adhemar tilted her chin up and bent, his lips brushing hers in a kiss that could barely be called a kiss, just enough to seal the vows here before the priest. He'd not touched her in a suggestive way at all since her breakdown days earlier. No kisses, no caresses, just hugs and embraces of the sort a concerned friend might give. He hadn't even slept in the bed with her, if he'd slept at all. Each night, he'd tucked her in and each morning she'd woken sprawled across the bed by herself, the sheets cold beside her.
He was being honorable in his own way she supposed.
As soon as the ceremony was completed and they were considered wed in the eyes of the church, Miles brought the girls over, Ana clinging to one arm and Genevieve the other. Jocelyn smiled. He'd taken to the girls as though they really were his sisters and they, in return, had taken to him. When Jocelyn, worse for the wear after crying that long while, had gone into the common room to eat that day with Adhemar, Miles had been wary of the girls and their claims they were to be his sisters.
He'd looked up at Jocelyn and asked with his usual forthrightness, "Do I really get sisters, mom?"
Adhemar had answered for her, crouching down so he was on level with Miles. "You certainly do. You get sisters and a huge house to run about in --"
Christiana had told Jocelyn about Miles meeting Adhemar outside the arena, so the spark of recognition in her son's eyes was no surprise. "You're that knight I spoke to. You're marrying my mother? Grand!" His enthusiasm was heartening to see and his response to the girls a joy. He'd turned his head to them. "I should properly introduce myself then. I'm Miles Owen Thatcher."
They'd curtseyed and given their full names to him in soft voices. Genevieve was the eldest and looked the most like her father. She had the same turn of the eyes and the same high, sculpted cheekbones. Despite being younger than Miles, she was nearly his height, a sturdy frame to her. Jocelyn had no doubt that Genevieve was Adhemar's daughter. As for Ana, it was harder to tell. There was not much of Adhemar in her in appearance save the thick black curled hair. Where her sister was tall and solid, Ana was tiny and delicate. Yet, her expression when she'd studied Jocelyn was pure Adhemar, cool and appraising and surprising for a child only five.
That expression was turned her way now, her arms releasing Miles and raising to Jocelyn. "Pick me up?"
Jocelyn did. The girl was light in her arms, resting her head on Jocelyn's shoulder and yawning loudly. "You're tired, aren't you, Ana?"
"She doesn't like to get up in the mornings," Nicholas whispered in her ear, herding the group of them over to the side to wait for mass. "Ana is my little slug-a-bed, aren't you poppet?"
The girl raised her head, peered at her father with a grin and buried her face again in Jocelyn's shoulder. Jocelyn felt a grin stretching her lips. The girl was endearing. Both girls, she corrected herself. Both seemed willing to accept Jocelyn as their new mother and Miles as their brother. This new life was off to a wonderful start.
The day was done and Jocelyn and Nicholas retreated to the privacy of the chamber. The children were all settled in for the night and there was nothing to interrupt them. Jocelyn faced him, swallowing hard. He was a stranger and yet he was not, this man who'd guided her into a healing state. "Well," she began, trailing off when no thoughts formed into sentences on her tongue.
"Well," he replied, nodding and crossing to her. He didn't seem to know any more than she what to say, so they stared at each other.
She took a step closer to him, wanting to stretch out her hands and place them on his chest, yet not knowing how to make herself move. She wasn't frightened or nervous particularly. She'd gotten to know him well enough in a few days to be fairly comfortable around him. Where to begin though? They were wed, husband and wife. Well, they'd be fully so by morning. The idea brought a warm flush to her skin, a warmth that she could feel creeping over her. She was ready for this.
He stepped close, the hands that cupped her jaw trembling the slightest bit. Why? Jocelyn tilted her head back to look up at him, meeting his gaze with her own. He'd always seemed so self-assured to her, not the sort to tremble when he touched a woman. It seemed out of place to her, but his eyes were full of hot promises and desperate need, the kiss he pressed to her lips reflecting both. Jocelyn slipped her arms about him, her hands flat on his back. She was determined to enjoy this, to feel every sensation --
He released her, unwound her arms from him and walked to the window, opening the panel wide. "Go to bed, Jocelyn." Nicholas' voice was unsteady, rough and velvet at the same time.
"Without you?" A confused frown pulled at her brow. He would follow her, yes? Once she was in bed, then he'd join her. He wanted to give her time to prepare herself.
Her hopes fell, crashed hard like a stone from a cliff onto the rocks below. She wanted him to join her, wanted more than anything right now for her new husband to take her in his arms and make her his. This would have to be sometime, now the proper moment. "Why?" She went to him, hand grasping his arm, trying to turn him so she could see his face. There were times, she'd noticed, when he forgot to mask his emotions and every thing he felt slid over his face. Usually that happened only when he was with his daughters, but Jocelyn had glimpsed emotion when he looked at her. What emotion that was precisely she didn't know him well enough to venture a guess. "Tell me why."
He kept his face turned away, refusing to answer. If he hoped she'd give up and go to bed out of frustration, then he had another thing coming. Jocelyn wasn't going to let him ignore her question. He was going to answer her if she had to stay awake all night to get him to do so. "Answer me, Nicholas."
At his name, he turned to consider her. Exasperation played on his features. "Because I can still see Thatcher's ghost here with us." Her hand was pushed from his sleeve, a grimace twisting his lips. "Can you imagine how it is for me Jocelyn? I want you even more now than I did back then. I have imagined this night so many times these past days; brought forth those imaginings to keep me company while you slept. I could have joined you in that bed. I couldn't. I wanted to so badly that I am aching, am still aching, but I can't."
He began to pace, energetic strides that carried him to the door and back in seconds. "Every time I touch you, I can see Thatcher right here in the room, his brow turned down in a frown, that voice inquiring how I can think of touching you."
"I am ready." She insisted. "I've accepted he's gone. I've accepted I must move on and...and...we married this morning. This morning I vowed to have you as husband. I went willingly to you. You've no call to feel guilty; no reason to feel Will would disapprove." She hadn't thought she'd have to coax him into bed.
He was nodding, heaving a long sigh. "I know. You may be ready, Jocelyn sweet, but I, apparently, am not." Coming to her, her took the fastenings from her hair, set them on the table, then ran his hands through the long length of her hair. She almost purred at how good the tiny caress felt. "I'll have to work through this myself. There is still much I need to reconcile with him."
She stilled his hands, staring up at him. "And how do you plan to reconcile with a ghost? Like I, Will forgave you long ago. We talked much those first couple years about that tournament season and decided that we could understand the 'why' of your behavior. Youth, Nicholas, can be a curse in some ways and we were all young then." He showed no signs of wavering from his decision to leave her alone, his expression gone shuttered. Jocelyn worked her fingers through his until they were entwined. "Besides, how do you think I can behave happily wed if I cannot consider myself wed?"
Jocelyn waited for his reply.
She thought she was being so very sly. He'd told the truth though. Thatcher's ghost had left Jocelyn only to transfer his attention to Nicholas. That was not to say that he didn't truly want Jocelyn. Oh no, he wanted her. Her nearness effected him to such a degree that he was shaking with need for her. It had been a long time since he'd allowed himself to feel so much for a woman. When he'd married Rochelle, he'd hoped to feel such grand, sweeping passion for her, but frankly, she'd left him cold. It was a miracle from God that he'd been able to stay warmed enough in their bed to get her pregnant twice. In the beginning, he'd had hopes and those hopes had died a quick death.
For this woman, though, he felt that passion Rochelle never inspired. The longer he was alone with Jocelyn, the more he thought that perhaps they could have more than that business relationship they'd discussed. He liked her. She would be a good mother to his children and, he thought, a good wife. She was already beginning on both accounts.
Genevieve and Ana seemed to like her. Ana didn't go to just anyone. In fact, she usually only wanted him or her nurse to hold her. She'd gone to Jocelyn that morning, raised her hands and asked to be picked up. Jocelyn hadn't hesitated, bending and picking up the girl as though she did so every day. The sight of her holding Ana raised his hopes. He could imagine, easily now, her pregnant, or holding a babe of their own. He greatly wanted to see both those things occur.
But first he had to exorcise Thatcher.
She had a point. How did he plan to reconcile with a ghost? There were things he should have said to the man when he'd lived; things he should have written. An apology for trying to murder him, for one. By all rights, he should have jotted that off straight away. He hadn't though. Why? His pride had hurt. Being beaten in that spectacular fashion had been almost degrading. His pride had been so beaten to a pulp that he'd been ripe for Rochelle's advances and the offer her family tendered to him.
Pride had always been one of his biggest sins.
Youth was a curse in some ways, she was right again. There was reckless brashness in youth that an older age didn't carry usually. He fervently prayed that sort of eagerness was gone from him. Her hands twined in his.
What did she mean she can't consider herself wed? "The vows are spoken. We're wed." He gritted the words out. She wasn't like Rochelle, he had to remind himself of that. Jocelyn would not seek out another man and mock her vows. It was an irrational fear and he knew it as such.
"I won't feel wed if you do not come to bed this night." She meant it too, an earnest light in her eyes. Did she really think marriage was defined alone by the sex act? That didn't make them married anymore than sleeping in the same bed or living in the same house would. What made them married were the vows, the affirmation before God and witnesses that they pledged to each other alone for the rest of their lives.
"It's the vows that wed us, Jocelyn, not what happens that night."
She licked her lips. "I know. The church won't consider us --"
"The church is not here with us."
"I'll have to confess that we didn't--"
"According to who? How is it the business of the church what we do this night?" He let go of her hands, untangled his fingers from her hair. "I've not seen waiting to consummate the vows listed anywhere as a sin in the Bible." As he spoke, her hands unfastened his coat and then his shirt, slipping inside the shirt to slide along his chest. "Jocelyn."
"It's too much like a rejection," she blurted out, gaze falling to watch her fingers trace patterns on his chest.
"I'm not rejecting you, you know that." Nicholas put his arms around her, drawing her close to him.
She clutched the fabric. "At least come to bed with me. Stay beside me. Give me an illusion if you must."
He wanted to refuse her, to hold fast to the exorcism he had to perform, for he knew that lying beside her would be a temptation he couldn't resist. To crawl beneath those sheets with her tonight was to toss his resolution to reconcile with Thatcher's ghost right out the window. He stared down into her eyes and couldn't say no. "Very well."
The smile that turned her lips was filed with delight, the happiness of a woman who's request has been granted. She really did want this night. That she was definitely setting aside the past in favor of moving forward caused a warmth to build in his chest. She set about readying for bed, practically tossing off her dress with an enthusiasm that was almost girlish. He moved slower, sliding naked beneath the sheets after blowing out the last of the candles.
Jocelyn nestled against him, putting her head on his shoulder. She ran her hand over his chest, feeling the crisp hairs beneath her palm. His skin was firm and warm, chest rising and falling with breathes that weren't quite slow enough to convince her he was unaffected by their proximity. She smiled under the cover of darkness.
This time, her seduction of him would not go awry.
She set herself to that task and was not disappointed.
How was he to reconcile with Thatcher?
Nicholas watched his wife sleep and contemplated that little problem. His resolve had gone the second bare skin had met bare skin, just as he'd thought it would.
She was his. Finally.
The realization though, didn't give him any real satisfaction. All that slipped through his veins was a content warmth. The reason? Quite simple.
Thatcher was still with them.
Tossing aside the covers, he got up from the bed and went to the pitcher and basin in the corner. Nicholas poured a shallow bit of water into the basin, then cupped his hands in the coolness and bent, splashing it on his face. A soft linen cloth was used to dry with and spread out before the fire to dry.
He needed to form a plan for exorcism. Having Thatcher here wasn't an option. He didn't need to be constantly reminded of what he had been in the past. Several ideas tripped about his mind and he considered each in turn.
Miles. He'd be a father to the boy and treat him as well as he could, walking the careful line of stepfather. He'd make certain Miles didn't forget his real father. That, he thought, along with caring for Jocelyn, would go far in sending the ghost away, but there was still more. There was always more, he'd found.
Thatcher's friends. Several had gone away after the venom of Thomas fell upon them. Jocelyn had already begun several letters to them, only to growl in frustration when the words she wanted wouldn't come to her. What should he do? Write them. He'd write them all in turn and invite them to come to see her and even stay if it would please all parties. She'd like that.
Nicholas sank into the chair before the fire, staring at the wall. He didn't particularly care if more people were added to his household now. Rochelle's family had coaxed many servants away soon after her death and his house was running well only due to the efforts of a strong core of loyal servants. There was room for more.
He knew Jocelyn's friends were peasants and he also knew they were well trained. The former didn't bother him as much as it once had and the latter was a fortunate turn of events if they would stay.
Yes, he would work to those two ends. Miles and Jocelyn's friends. And then he'd see where he stood with Thatcher.
Kate stared at the piece of paper her lover held in his hand. For just a moment, she wished her life had not turned out the way it had. It was hell to be dependant upon the goodwill of her lover's wife. Philippa didn't seem to mind the time Geoff spent with Kate though. Indeed, when Kate had arrived, the woman had practically thrown them at each other, insisting rather stridently that they renew their acquaintance. That is, when Geoff wasn't off on errands for King and country.
The happy and loving couple she remembered was no more and she had no idea what had come to pass that led them to live separate lives. Geoff wouldn't speak of it, the hurt that clouded his eyes when Philippa dismissed him from her presence almost more than Kate could bear. She wanted to scream at the woman and shake her, for how could she treat her husband with such coldness? Instead, she stood silent all the while, uncommenting and attempting to soothe the ache within him in the privacy of the small apartment she'd been given.
He spent much time with her and occasionally even seemed like his old self. He would laugh and joke, witty and often sarcastic quips flying from his lips with such ease.... She sighed, cutting a piece of apple he'd brought her and biting into the tart fruit. As much as she liked the rapport they shared and the time she laid safe in the circle of his arms, this letter brought news she'd never hoped to hear on many levels.
Jocelyn had remarried. The letter wasn't from her though, it was from Count Adhemar, the man she'd chosen to wed.
"Such a grimace, Kate. One would think you'd bitten into a squiggly worm with that bite." Geoff set the letter on the table and came to her, laying his arm about her shoulders and guiding her to her bed. They sat, Kate still holding the apple and knife, Geoff pressing tiny kisses along her temple and cheek. The beard he'd grown sometime over the years tickled and scratched at the same time. She didn't think she'd ever get used to seeing him with it. Personally, she preferred him clean shaven. "Did you?"
"No worm Geoff." Turning her head slightly, she gave him a half smile, pressing the last bite of the apple slice to his lips. He took it, chewed and swallowed, then sighed as well.
"You don't have to go. Jocelyn will understand. I doubt she even expects you to come."
If he was trying to talk her out of going, then he was doing a poor job of it. He knew damn well that she never broke a promise unless forced to and she'd promised Jocelyn she'd return if the woman needed her. It's what friends did and Kate had taken the chance to befriend Jocelyn long years earlier. It had taken awhile, but they'd worked out the class barrier between them, something Will had been delighted to help with. Jocelyn's friendship had given Kate the chance to frequently indulge in the feminine side of herself. She'd been able to talk of women's things, something being in the constant company of men didn't bring about.
"I do have to. If nothing else, I should go to have my curiosity appeased. Why did she marry him, of all people?"
Geoff glanced away with a pensive frown. "I've heard rumors over the years about him. Whether they're true or not, I've no idea. He married, had children and was not happy. It happens to the best of us." His teeth dragged along his lower lip and he took the apple from her, turning it this way and that. "I've been here too long. Philippa needs time from me again."
Kate took the apple back and stuck the knife in it before setting it on the floor. Getting onto her knees beside him, she ran a hand through his hair, ruffled it. She could almost guess what he was going to say and the idea was both joyous and sad. Joyous for she'd have him to herself and sad because, for every minute they were together there'd be ten times that in parting.
She loved him, loved the writer, the poet, the chronicler of life. She'd loved him longer than she'd care to admit even in the most hidden part of her mind. It still amazed her that he'd professed to feel some bit of emotion for her, a declaration he'd proclaimed many times in the night and during the daylight hours.
Would he understand the other reason she must leave, that underlying real reason that plagued her thoughts in unceasing torrent? Kate thought perhaps he would. Philippa would not always be so generous to her husband's mistress. There would come a day when Philippa would realize the love she'd once felt for Geoff hadn't died and then Kate would need to be far from this place. Kate didn't want Philippa for an enemy, not that woman with her high court friends.
"I'll go with you. See you settled."
Yes, he understood. It was there in his eyes and in the sad tinge to his voice. Their time together was coming to an end.
The letter didn't surprise Roland, not really. He'd known it wouldn't take Jocelyn's brother long to wed her off. Jocelyn was still a handsome woman and age had only increased her attractiveness. She was still a prize, even after a decade. Nor was he surprised to find Adhemar had been the lucky man.
Gossip was a way of life at court and with Princess Joan's entourage, he'd heard more than his share of gossip about the man. It seemed he was unable to remain out of public eye despite secluding himself at his home. Not his desire or his fault, but rather his dead wife's doing. She'd done her best to spite Adhemar and nearly succeeded in breaking him financially, if all rumors were to be believed.
Laboriously, he again made out each word of the letter, glad Christiana had taught him to read over the years. He was slow in reading, but it was a skill he enjoyed having. Of course, he'd never bothered with writing, just the reading.
Roland set the letter aside and picked up the dress he was embroidering for the princess. She hadn't needed another person in her household, least of all a man with four children with him, but she'd accepted him there most graciously, giving him a job embroidering her clothes. He had a home and all the children were well. Missing, was Christiana.
She'd be with Jocelyn still. Should he go and risk losing favor with Joan? Yes. She'd known straight away about his promise to Jocelyn and agreed that if that day came, he could leave and she'd not be angry.
The day had come.
Getting up, he decided the dress was done. He'd take it to her and broach the subject while there. In minutes, he was with her and she and her ladies were admiring the work he'd done, just as they did every time he brought a finished dress.
Joan looked up. "This is absolutely beautiful, Roland."
"Thank you, my lady." He hesitated, but the princess was a keen observer of people and quietly told her ladies to give them a minute. One by one, the women moved away to give a semblance of privacy. There really was no such thing here. Every word they said was heard by at least two or three people and he knew that by the time he reached his rooms, the news of his leaving would have already spread about the home.
"Now," she began. "Does this look of uncertainty on your face have anything to do with the letter that arrived for you?"
"Yes, it does."
"Lady Jocelyn or your wife?"
"Lady Jocelyn." A sadness came into Joan's eyes and he went on. "She's remarried and her husband says she needs her friends with her. She's lonely. I promised I'd go if she needed me, like we all promised. I can't ignore the letter."
Joan nodded. "I know." A sigh slipped from her. "I am forever losing good men and women around me. Be safe in your travels, Roland, and come back if you can. You and Christiana are welcome here."
By the following morning, he, and the children, had set out.