Title: Turning of the Seasons
Summary: The future didn't turn out as planned. Adhemar married Jocelyn and she has died, leaving William Thatcher's son behind. Adhemar must decide where to go from here.
Pairing: Adhemar/Christiana, Will/Kate
Disclaimer: 'A Knight's Tale' is property of Columbia Pictures. I make no money from this work of fan fiction.
Notes: Prince Edward was feared as a soldier and in one battle, he had 3000 civilians slaughtered. History paints a slightly different picture of him as the movie and here, I'll merge them slightly. It was documented the Prince Edward's behavior, in the years before his death in 1376, became different from what it had been. This fic will include a depiction of a downward spiral of irrational behavior.
On a side note: I'll admit it: I'm a shameless Adhemar/Christiana 'shipper!
The thin wailing cry of a newborn rang about the twisting corridors of the large manor house. The man, his face haggard and weary, stood over the swaddled child, staring almost sadly at it.
A defeat that turned into a victory had just as quickly become a defeat once more. The prize he had managed to snatch from his adversaries' grasp was a prize no longer, her body cold in the bed of the grave. All that remained was this small baby that he knew for a certainty was not his.
Jocelyn had taken a malicious delight in announcing to him that not only had she gone to Thatcher's bed, but that their times together had born fruit. She'd known she was pregnant on their wedding day and taunted him with it. She'd been as deliberately cruel with her knowledge as he himself was on occasion.
He should send the child away; pen a letter for Thatcher to come and take the child, yet was strangely hesitant to do so. In his own way, Adhemar had loved Jocelyn and the child was all that was left of her. The boy had her turn of the eyes and the set of the chin was definitely hers. A handsome boy, he had to admit.
His gaze lifted, found Christiana curled in the chair in the corner. She mourned as though her sister had been lost. Likely she had considered Jocelyn a sister and vice-versa. Jocelyn had treated the woman as such. She'd not slept since Jocelyn died during the birth two days earlier, nor had she taken more than a few bites of food. There were deep shadows under her eyes and a puffiness to her face that constant tears brought about.
Turning, he left the nursery room, striding down the hallway and into the master's chambers. It was here that Jocelyn died, her last words asking Christiana to make sure Will knew she'd loved him with her final breath. She'd had no words for her husband; the man who'd swallowed his pride to take tender care of her. She'd ignored the man who'd not demanded she rid herself of the child or demanded she join him in his bed. No words for him at all. She'd ignored him.
He was not her choice, so therefore, he meant nothing in her life save a necessity. Would that he could have dismissed her as easily. Impossible. He'd wanted her so badly that the need had engulfed him, only to find that sometimes, getting one's desire was a hell unto itself.
Adhemar had not wanted to touch her while she was sullied with Thatcher's child. He'd promised himself that once the child was born, then he'd have Jocelyn for his own. Then, she'd finally be his and his alone.
But she had died instead, having never been his at all.
It had never occurred to him that she might die in such a normal thing as childbirth. No, no ordinary death would befall the vivacious Jocelyn, only one of high drama. Death had come though, and the only drama was the promise she'd extracted from Christiana before simply closing her eyes and releasing her breath.
She was gone.
He had to face it and move on; find a new wife. It was not easy to do either. There was the child to deal with. Jocelyn had not lived long enough to even know she'd given birth to a son, much less express a preference in his name. Adhemar had picked the first name he could think of during the baptism. Christopher. It was a good name and sturdy. Thatcher surely wouldn't object to it. If, by chance he did, it would be easy enough to change the name later.
A decision had been made, Adhemar realized with a jolt, wondering if he ought to attempt to get some sleep. The boy would be taken to Thatcher. He and Christiana would load Jocelyn's belongings into a wagon and set out. Thatcher could have all her things if he chose. There was no possession among them that was dear to Adhemar; no trinket from him that she'd accepted save her wedding ring.
Jocelyn always refused gifts from him. He supposed it was one more way for her to reaffirm that he wasn't her choice for a husband. He'd been unlucky enough to be in the same room with her when her father informed her of his decision. She'd come to Adhemar and raked her nails viciously across his cheek before any had thought to restrain her. He'd stayed still, letting the blood drip down his face, showing no emotion as she called him names no true lady should know.
From behind him came a slight noise, the scuffing of a shoe on the floor. Christiana was in the open doorway, staring at him. He stared back and couldn't quite find it within himself to reprimand her for not looking away as she should. She was a good woman, calm and the sort to accept her lot with grace. He'd become fond of her these months, as fond as he could become of anyone.
For example, he knew she'd had a sweetheart in Thatcher's group, whether the redhead or the dark hared man he didn't know. Jocelyn had given her the chance to remain with them and Christiana had chosen to come with her mistress. She'd performed her duty as both a servant and friend. Over the past months, he'd caught the tail end of several of her interactions with Jocelyn on the subject of himself. She'd pleaded with Jocelyn to accept where she'd ended up and let Sir Will go. Obviously, she'd wanted to keep a peace in the household, yet Jocelyn had ignored her counsel, provoking him whenever she had the chance. Eventually, Christiana had given up, remaining silent and wincing when her mistress needled him.
"You look tired, my lord. You should rest." She smothered a yawn with slender fingers.
He snorted. "Look who's talking. Rest yourself. I'm perfectly fine with little sleep. In battle I barely have time to rest anyway."
"There is no battle here. Not any longer." She cocked her head, as though listening to the baby cry, though there was no cry sounding now. "Am I to be sent away now?"
"Not right this second." Adhemar licked his lips and went to sit on the edge of the bed. "Do you wish to be sent away?" The leg that had been injured in that last joust with Thatcher ached fiercely and he rubbed the muscles along his thigh, fingers digging, seeking to relieve that ache.
She hugged herself and when she spoke, her voice broke with anguish and tears. "Please do not play games with me, my lord. Speak it plain. She is the only reason I was here."
Did she want to stay? He decided he wouldn't mind if she did. The maid's presence had always been pleasant. "I play no games. Should you wish to leave, I shall see you arrive safely at your destination."
Christiana swallowed hard. "Going is not my decision, my lord. It's yours and I've nowhere else to go."
"Perhaps Thatcher...." He trailed off, noticing that she flinched slightly at the name. A twinge of curiosity at her reaction shot through him, dying quickly under the weight of weariness.
"Nowhere," she repeated, dropping her gaze.
With a long sigh, he got up and crossed to her. "I've no plans for you to leave." He brushed his fingers along her arms in a brief touch. "Go and rest. I order you to."
Over the course of the next week, Christiana found herself Adhemar's constant companion. He made every effort possible to draw her from her depression and she eventually realized that his efforts were also to make himself feel better. He bullied her into eating and ordered her to drink a drugged wine at night so that she'd sleep.
During the previous months, Jocelyn had used her as a go-between so that she herself wouldn't have to speak to him any more than necessary. Christiana was therefore used to his company and his whims, yet now she noticed another side to the man, one she'd not previously comprehended.
He was lonely.
He had money, riches and power, but the lifelong companionship of a woman was missing. Jocelyn had certainly not given him any time of day unless he'd forced her to. Even then, she'd made it clear her thoughts were elsewhere.
Christiana understood all that and willingly spent her time with him, partly for him and mostly for herself. Her days were occupied by standing over the swaddled babe and wondering how giving life could result in death or sitting by herself and wondering the same thing. At least by keeping his company she could turn her thoughts elsewhere.
Elsewhere. Like to that attraction she held for him, a thing that had slowly crept up as the days had flown into weeks. Thoughts of her failed romance with Roland had slipped away. It had not taken long for her to find herself staring at Adhemar in the hall and admiring the way his hair curled at his neck or tumbled across his brow. She'd watch him from the window as he trained in the courtyard, pretending to Jocelyn that she only sat at the window for the afternoon light on her sewing. Each time Jocelyn would send her to him on an errand, she'd had to take deep breaths to calm herself before going before him. Eventually, she'd been able to deal with her growing feelings and retain composure. This was where she stood now.
She made her way towards the stable. Spring lay full upon the land, wildflowers beginning to color the ground about the manor walls. The rich scent of freshly tilled earth filled the air. It had been a long time since she'd gone riding and the Count had asked her to come along with him to inspect the cottages outside the walls. He'd been vague in the definition of what he hoped to accomplish with the outing. It was his right to be so, even if it was a trifle irksome.
Germaine greeted her. "Beautiful day."
"I thought so."
He motioned her inside the building. "He's waiting for you."
An odd light in the man's eyes made her pause. "Is something wrong?"
Germaine cast a glance over his shoulder. "I hope not. We shouldn't keep him waiting."
The morning began well. Only three of them set out and Germaine trailed behind, his horse hampered down with a basket. Christiana didn't ask what was in the basket, assuming it was medicines or something of the sort, but as time passed, and they didn't stop, her curiosity got the better of her.
"My lord," she asked.
"What's the basket for?"
An amused glance her way. "It's our food."
Oh. He planned on a picnic meal outside. She made a little nod, noting in a distracted manner than they were going nowhere near the cottages. In fact, they were moving away from the cluster of them. Her heart beat somewhat faster for a few seconds before she shook all thoughts of him seducing her from her head. If he'd wanted to seduce her, surely he'd have done so a long time before now. Besides, Germaine was with them.
Later, she would recall how very naïve that thought had been. There were different sorts of seductions and the enticing of mind and emotion did not necessarily require privacy.
"Tell me of yourself," he demanded quietly as Germaine laid out their picnic lunch.
Christiana's gaze met Germaine's for a brief second and the herald shrugged as if to say 'humor him'. "What does my lord wish to know?"
Adhemar settled himself on the blanket, motioned for her to join him. "Tell me of your family; how you came to Jocelyn's service."
Christiana sat and wondered just where to begin that story. There were several places, but the best telling, she decided, was from the death of her parents. "They took me in as a ward when my parents died." The action was not a happy one in the beginning, for Jocelyn's family -- her father specifically -- resented her for a reason she'd never discovered. He'd plundered the land that was for her dowry and made her a maid for his only daughter.
Monies had been set aside for Christiana's dowry as well as the land, the coin better protected. He could not touch it. The man constantly told Christiana that if Jocelyn tired of her, she'd be tossed in the street. Fortunately, Christiana and Jocelyn had become friends, the tension Christiana felt eased greatly by that friendship. In Jocelyn's company, Christiana was happy and content. Had been so.
"A ward," the man across from her asked, watching her intently.
"Then...you're rightfully a lady."
He'd grasped the crux of it quick enough. "Technically. In all practicality though, I'm a maid and have been for nearly as long as I can remember."
"How interesting." The last word came out with a sly cast, as though she'd given him a great weapon in some way. Although Christiana tried, she couldn't imagine what that weapon could possibly be.
The picnic was restful, as restful as time in his presence could be. He casually entertained her with stories of life as a soldier, even calling upon Germaine to enter the conversation, which the herald did after a startled glance.
And there, it began, the slow seduction of her mind and emotions.
He was not a bad man, she thought, not like we all decided him to be. He's simply lonely. Over the next few weeks, her status in the manor made a curious change. By small increments, Christiana found she no longer worked, unless being Adhemar's companion was considered work. Well, with his mood swings, she supposed that should be the case. She became used to this arrangement and when he once more invited her on a picnic, Christiana didn't hesitate to accept.
Inconsolable was the best word to describe how Will had reacted to the news of his beloved Jocelyn's forced marriage to Count Adhemar. The lovers had been so certain that nothing would separate them after the joust that they'd made all sorts of plans for their life together.
Kate rolled onto her side and contemplated the still sleeping Will. A ray of sunlight fell onto his form. She couldn't help but admire the way light and shadow wrapped about his body. His skin took on a golden cast under the light and shadow sculpted the muscles. Long curled lashes rested on his cheeks and, in slumber, he lost the hard edge that knowing Adhemar had brought about. Asleep, she thought with a tiny smile, there is still an air of innocence about him.
Raising up slightly, she rested on one forearm, her glance going about the room they slept in. Prince Edward had remained generous to Will, seemingly as disappointed as Will in the final outcome. Kate remembered Edward's facial expression mimicking Will's. If Jocelyn had been English, or a resident of Aquitaine at least, Edward could have intervened and used royal influence. She was French however, so his hands were effectively tied.
Immediately, Edward had invited Will to return to Aquitaine with him. He needed an honorable man at his side he'd insisted, and Kate supposed there was truth to that. War had broken out -- again -- with France soon after they returned, King Charles lending his support to the people Edward was ruling over. The taxes, it was explained away as. Edward had levied unreasonable taxes upon the people to pay debts for his part in helping Peter the Cruel return to power in Castille. He raised taxes to pay his debts and the people had appealed to Charles for help, which the monarch did without hesitation.
With nowhere definite to travel to and no way to earn a fortune aside from his skills with lance and sword, Will had jumped right into the life of a soldier. A title did not bring money into a purse. Action did. The only wrinkle in his life now, was her.
Kate returned to her back, transferring her gaze to the ceiling. Working her job in an army was far different than doing so on the tournament circuit. The main reason for that, was how few women traveled with the army. Kate had never considered herself naïve before, yet the doings of this army in it's off-time opened her eyes even more.
At first, the men were courteous, kind even, speaking to her with respect. She suspected her status as Will's friend had much to do with that. Then, as the small group met up with Edward's larger forces and kept moving, more men added daily, that began to change. The men pouring in to serve were a rough lot, given to fighting amongst themselves and behaving much as she recalled hearing that Count Adhemar's men had behaved.
Edward didn't notice. Either that, or he no longer cared. He'd begun losing control of his temper. Occasionally, the warm and compassionate man Kate remembered from tournament disappeared completely. In such instances, men hid rather than be in the Prince's path.
Roland and Wat took turns guarding her at all times. A woman fair of face and figure was greatly desired among the men and she'd lost count of how many propositions she'd refused as the days and nights sped by. They were becoming bold now, one man assaulting her while she walked to her work tent. Edward, in one of his rational moods, had sent the man to route.
He'd helped her from the ground, brushed dirt from her clothes. She'd actually witnessed the change that came over him. He'd stared at her, then cocked his head, his hands grasping instead of brushing, eyes on the huge rent in her bodice. Instinct had caused her to ignore the change and thank him for his help before hurrying away. Since then, she avoided the Prince. While she liked Edward, she'd no desire to become a royal mistress.
It was becoming difficult to work and Kate wondered how soon until she too -- out of self-preservation -- would have to kiss Will goodbye for a final time and hurry away. She didn't want to go. However, when he spent more time protecting her than going about his duties, it was clear that she was a hindrance. Kate would rather leave than see him killed in the camp over her, a growing likelihood.
She could put up quite a physical fight if she needed to, but would be no match for one of these seasoned and rather mercenary knights. She already knew she was no match for even slim Wat. He'd demonstrated that just the day before. In seconds, he'd subdued her, over and over, his voice choked with emotion as he described what could happen to her. A sobering experience.
Kate hated being helpless. She hated the whole feeling that her life was out of control and at the mercy of another. Luckily, her husband had been a good man and she knew Will was as well.
Speaking of Will. She glanced to her left at him. He was waking. Finally. She watched him stretch and open his eyes. He gave her an out-of-focus stare before blinking and grinning sleepily.
"Well, good morning."
"What's good about it," she asked playfully.
"You're here." He rolled onto his side, hand lifting to stroke her cheek. "That makes it glorious, Kate."
Yes, she decided. She'd greatly regret the necessity of leaving this man when the time came for it.