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.
In his life, Adhemar had experienced many brushes with death. One could not live as a soldier and not, especially in these tumultuous times. He'd long ago come to terms with the possibility that he would die someday.
He just hoped it wasn't today. He'd very much like to continue living.
He kept his attention on Cheney as they slowly circled one another. To glance once more at Christiana was to lose his concentration and in a fight such as this, to lose concentration was to open himself to his opponent. He had no intention of making this easy on Cheney.
When had Cheney slipped over from being mildly annoying to holding a decent skill with a blade? It seemed impossible and yet it had occurred. His brother was proficient with a sword, using it with the skill of a master. Adhemar cursed under his breath. Cheney wasn't going to make this easy for him either.
They went about their fight with slow, deliberate care, sizing up one another and assessing skill. Adhemar felt sweat begin to trickle down his temples and ignored it. He had one definite advantage to Cheney: he'd actually fought in battle and killed. He'd rammed a blade into another man and felt the flesh give; felt the hot wash of blood upon him. Cheney, as far as he knew, had not that experience.
Steel met steel, an ache growing in his arms from the weight of his sword. As with the sweat, he ignored it, gritting his teeth to keep expression from taking his face. Cheney was not to know what he was thinking. A man's eyes could give away his intentions.
And that, was Cheney's mistake.
Adhemar took advantage, striking, letting loose some of the anger inside him. Cheney stumbled, lost his footing and barely missed sprawling in the dirt. Adhemar had the advantage and pressed it, not giving his brother a chance to regain his ground and, after what seemed as conversely hours and seconds, Cheney was flat on the ground, his sword out of reach, Damien's blade at his chest.
They were both breathing hard, sweaty and dusty. Adhemar's leg, the one injured months earlier, began to ache with a fierceness that irritated him. For a moment, he paused, pondering the bonds of brotherhood. How, he reflected, did siblings come to this pass?
"You won't kill me, Damien," Cheney gasped, daring to scoot up.
Damien simply moved his sword after Cheney. "And why is that?"
"Because somewhere in your mind you will always honor family ties, as ridiculous as the concept is. You won't kill me."
"I no longer call you family. A man tried to teach me about mercy once," he said, turning his grip on the handle and taking a deep breath. "I don't believe I took to that lesson." Raising his face from that of his brother's, Damien gave the sword a shove downward with all of his weight behind it. Cheney's cries slipped past his ears, an unintelligible din, and with legs that threatened to collapse beneath him, he made his way to the manor.
He barely reached his chamber before falling to his knees and burying his face in his hands.
It was Christiana who finally went to Cheney, watching over him as he breathed his last. She couldn't quite make herself touch his hand. Some part of her had to see him fade from life; know he was truly not coming back.
Marian had tried to keep her back, whispering her disbelief that the fight had ended with one son dead. Never had she thought that would happen, she'd said. Damien could have banished him.
He could have. But how long until Cheney became stupidly brave enough to ride in and start another fight? Christiana understood this. She understood the necessity of what her husband had done. And so she sat with the dying man until he breathed his last and his eyes turned glassy. She sat as the men returned to the manor and Marian was carried away, her grief in full swing. She watched the ladies return to the garden one by one and she watched the sun make it's way across the sky.
When she had done all of this, she stood and reached for the sword, only to have Germaine speak from behind her.
"You won't be able to remove it, my lady. The tip is into the ground, I fear. I will do it. You should tend to my lord. He'll need you by now."
With a nod, she took his advice, walking into the manor and up the stairs.
It was just one more duty that Germaine went about, this collecting of his lord's sword and the preparing of the body for burial. Men were even now digging a hole behind the garden for Cheney to be laid to rest in. Germaine did this duty because no other seemed willing.
Lady Marian was in her chamber, inconsolable with grief, her sobs ringing the manor and Germaine thought he could hear male sobs as well. He wiped the blood from the sword and carefully sheathed it, then set it aside. Cheney had miscalculated Damien, as he always had. Not that Germaine was surprised by it. That seemed to have been Cheney's lot in life: to miscalculate his brother.
He didn't doubt that the outcome of the ongoing struggle between those two could have been anything different than what had occurred. The end had come before Germaine had thought it would was all. He'd actually anticipated years more of Cheney pushing and Adhemar pushing back, then Cheney retreating to lick his wounds. It was a relief to have it ended.
Dipping a cloth into water a girl had brought, he wiped Cheney's face and in moments, was free from his task, as much as he could do himself was done. When the hole was finished, Cheney would be buried.
Germaine got up and made his way into the manor.
Yes, those were definitely male sobs. His lord grieved.
Thoughtful, he began to give instructions to those gathered in the Hall.
His mind wandered. That was all that could be said for the twilight state that took a hold of Adhemar as his sobs tapered away and tears would no longer come freely. He knelt on the floor for God knew how long, staring at the stones and not seeing them.
Cheney was dead and by Adhemar's own hand. He'd killed his brother, his own flesh and blood.
Those thoughts raged in his mind, turning in circles, around and around until they too, dried up. Gradually, his emotions settled and he was aware of Christiana there with him. She said nothing, nor did she try to touch him. Instead, she reached for the lute he kept by the bench and tried to play it.
She was extremely, wincingly bad at it.
His attention found a firm hold on the music. Damien found himself nodding his head in an effort to keep her playing in a steady rhythm. It didn't help. She played faster, then slower, her fingers never quite keeping the tempo. Despite it all, it was oddly soothing, not to mention touching that she should try to comfort him with music he liked. When she faltered on one passage, he looked up. His eyes felt hot and gritty. "You're improving," he said, surprised to find his voice raw and shaking.
"And you're lying," came her reply. With a small smile, she put the lute away and got up from the bench, her steps slow towards him. She crouched down before him.
He shook his head, then changed his mind and nodded. "Yes. You're horrible at it, Christiana."
Her tongue darted out, licking her lips. "I'm well aware of it." Her concern was etched in her eyes, her hands stretching out and cupping his face, thumbs stroking along his jaw. "Tell me." There was such an understanding light in her eyes that he wanted nothing more at that moment than to lay his head in her lap and let her fingers soothe his brow.
"He was my brother. We may not have liked each other, but we were brothers. You grieved for Jocelyn as a sister. I must have my grief now." A sigh escaped him. "When did he begin to hate me? What set him on that path? I let him run these lands because it was the thing to do. It was expected that I give him a chance to earn a home for himself. It wouldn't have been this manor. If he had shown he could take the responsibility, I would have gifted him with a place for him to take a wife and raise a family."
Her hand slipped into his hair, stroking, soothing. "I know."
"Instead, he abused what I generously gave him and wanted more. I suppose I'll have to write his intended, tell the girl she can remain in her nunnery."
Christiana scooted on the floor until she was beside him. One of her hands took his, the other keeping up an idle caress along his neck, jaw and shoulders. "I didn't realize he was set to marry."
"Yes. He wasn't pleased with the girl as a choice, but she was from a good family and her father would have made a powerful ally. Cheney didn't like to acknowledge that his choice of brides was already made and not solely by him." Cheney had not approved of the choice made for him, ignoring the girl. He wanted to be master of his own life, but when was a younger son ever allowed to be such?
When all sons that had come before him had died and he was the last remaining. Only then could he turn the hands of fate where he wished them. Only then could he have everything the eldest had been burdened with.
And there was the reason in a nutshell.
It was too bad, in a way, that Cheney would never know the troubles that came from the position of power in the family.
He gave in to the urge to put his head in her lap, and when his head was resting upon her thighs, he took her hands and pressed them to his face. "Just for a moment, Christiana. Will you rub my temples..." He paused. "Please?"
She gave a gasp, though at what he didn't know, and began to knead along his brow with a gentle touch. Damien closed his eyes.
How often had any person heard that word from him? And in question? Christiana could count the number of times she'd heard that word from his lips on the fingers of one hand. She couldn't help the gasp that escaped her at that softly spoken word and hurried to ease the tensions she felt there.
Long after the moment, she'd remember it. He'd asked her, not ordered.
Christiana treasured those few seconds.
He'd asked. If she'd had to explain, she couldn't tell how very much that tiny act meant to her. It was something few would have understood, so she kept it to herself, returning to the remembrance every so often with a lightness growing in her heart.
Too long had passed, Will wondering if Christiana would even remember the promise she had given them: shelter as they pass back through. Perhaps she would and perhaps not. They could only go to the manor and find out.
Will shifted in the saddle, glancing back at the wagon. His father dozed with gentle snores in the back of it amid their things. Roland held the reigns. They had prepared themselves well and fast for this journey, in hopes that it would be the last long one they need take. Will's title had already taken them through rough waters.
Title, hell, he thought. It was the manner he'd come to use, the ever present cloak of faint arrogance that had to be put on at all times to keep from being overtaken by others. After long months, Will had a good inkling of why Adhemar had behaved as though he had every right to do as he pleased. It was either behave that way or be trod upon.
Will heaved a long sigh. When had he become the man he was today? When had he begun to wear his hard won noble authority as his right, something no man could take from him even if his title was taken? Was there a single moment that he could pinpoint in time? No, now that he tried to think on it. It had simply happened, life wringing him out with it's trials and shaping him. He was a bit older, a bit wiser and very tired. He'd learned well what he needed to do and how to do it.
At the road towards the manor, they paused. Will stared down it, a million conflicted thoughts ringing about his mind.
Roland cleared his throat. "Do we go there?"
"She invited us to visit on our way back through."
"That's not what I asked."
He turned his gaze to his friend, sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "I know it's not"
Silence stretched between them, the only sounds were those of nature and snores until Roland spoke once more. "Christiana will understand. You know she will."
Will thought on that a moment. Christiana would never know they'd been through here unless they sent a message telling her. She'd never know what happened to them and that somehow seemed wrong. They could send word once they found Kate. Christiana, as Roland pointed out, would understand completely. She would accept their decision without question, with the grace Will had come to associate with her.
"We go on, Roland. To Italy." And Kate, he added silently.
They still had a long journey ahead of them.
The land was lush, flowers a mass of color everywhere Kate looked. She kept a close eye on Christopher, but honestly had no worries here. Christiana's cousin took good care of them and the household was quite taken with Christopher. He'd become the 'young master'. He was allowed to toddle about and terrorize the household as young children were bound to do if given little restraint. He was horribly spoiled and Kate herself was a major contributor to the spoiling, indulging Christopher when she honestly should not.
Kate had been allowed to take up her work again, something she found she held a bit dearer to her after her absence from the field. She enjoyed taking up her tools and plying them, working with the blacksmith in the village. Wat and Anne had married, a simple ceremony in the courtyard. They were expecting their first child and Kate heartily suspected Anne was further along than she'd told. Would the baby have Wat's temper? Or would Anne's gentle temperament slip forth?
There was no sign of Will or Roland behind them and Kate supposed that they truly had to let their friends go. It was the way of life that some journeys end when people least expect them to. She couldn't quite dismiss Will's vow to find her, however. In her heart, Kate knew he was alive somewhere. Wouldn't she feel it if he wasn't? She still held the hope to her breast, cradling it as though it was the most precious thing in the world.
She closed her eyes.
Dear God, please bring him back to me.
For months, she'd prayed that prayer every day. There was not a time when she didn't think of her Will. Despite her resignation to the loss of one more love, she hoped. It was with great anticipation that she greeted riders to this manor and great disappointment to find none were Will or had news of him, until she no longer met riders, preferring to stay with Christopher.
This day was no different, the sound of bells announcing a rider or possibly a group of riders was coming. Kate's ears slid over the sound as commonplace, ignorable. There was nothing to be excited about. So too, was the commotion she heard in the courtyard. Commonplace. Ordinary. Day to day living.
Footsteps came quick up the stairs. She listened. They were quick, searching and she expected to hear Wat's voice or perhaps one of the other men of the household
The voice... She turned her head, hands going to her mouth. Tears gathered in the corners of her eyes and she wondered if perhaps she'd fallen asleep and dreamed. If so, then this was a good dream and she didn't wish to waken.
Will stood in the doorway, Wat behind him dancing about with a silly grin, and there was Roland as well, helping Will's father down the wide corridor. On shaking legs, she stood. Her lips could not seem to form any words. Will was beautiful to her and she drank in the changes that had come over him since their parting. He wore a beard, the addition lending a hardness to his face that aged him, and he was, if possible leaner than she remembered, as though he'd neglected proper nourishment without her there to make him eat well. If there had been any boy left in him after the events with Adhemar, then that boy had finally gone, leaving before her a man fully grown.
He held out his arms to her. "Have I been gone so long that you've no greeting for me?" His voice trembled, the emotion riding those words taking restraint from her. Kate ran to him, throwing her arms about his neck. She welcomed his arms around her. The scents of leather and sunshine and all of the things she associated with him filled her nostrils and she was home. In his arms, she was content.
Will's mouth came down hard upon hers. She drank of his kisses as though they were water given to a woman dying of thirst. Kate drew back, threading her fingers in his hair. "You're really here. You found me." Her voice sounded breathless to her ears.
"I said I would."
There was a tug at her skirt and then another one, Kate looking down to find Christopher at her leg, demanding attention. Slowly, she released Will and bent, taking Christopher in her arms and lifting him up. Her heart ached with pride to be the one to introduce Will to his son. There was no doubt in her mind that he would love Christopher with the same passion he loved all of those about him. "This is Christopher, Will."
He stared at the boy, lips parted. Hesitantly, he stretched out a hand, brows raising in surprise when one tiny hand caught at his and curious eyes looked him over. "He looks like Jocelyn."
"I know." Kate had come to terms with that long ago and now that Will was back with her, she vowed to give him many more children. She touched Will's cheek, stroked it with her fingers. "Don't you ever leave me again, William Thatcher."
He smiled, eyes twinkling good humor and a hint of devilry. "I don't plan it, Kate. Not again."
She returned his smile.
Sometimes, journeys end when a person least wants them to and other times, a journey picks up where it left off. She looked forward to their continuing journey together.
We hope sincerely that this missive finds you well. By 'we', I mean myself, Kate, Wat, Roland and Anne. Roland and I debated a long while before deciding to not take you up on your offer of shelter on our way back through the region. I am sorry. It's not that we didn't want to see you again. I hope you know that. Roland insists you'll understand, but I still feel I should explain myself.
I had to find Kate. I couldn't take a moment longer. I couldn't dally while my heart was hundreds of miles from me. Does that make any sort of sense? I hope it does and again, we hope you're well. Even Adhemar. I am indebted to him and you for the care you both gave my son. Thank you.
Kate has blossomed in the Italian sun. She was even more beautiful when I found her than when I sent her to safety. The image of her in that room with her hair long and loose about her remains etched in my mind. Wat claims all she did was mope about for months, but I can't tell it to look at her. She's positively giddy these days. Her smile makes my mind whirl and I cannot believe she is mine again. I'd like to think I'm the sole cause of her happiness, but I should confess that I'm not. Apparently, Italy agrees with all of us. Are you ready to hear this? Kate is pregnant. It must have been right after we arrived and she is in glowing health. I look forward to the coming months. She's predicting we'll soon have a household of pattering little feet to care for. I can think of nothing else I yearn for at present.
Wat and Anne have married and Anne is looking ready to burst with their babe. Babies are everywhere and Italy is the perfect place for us to raise them. We will not, none of us, be returning your way. Italy is our home now. I wish I could claim we would see you again, but unless you travel here, I don't see that possible.
Christopher is a delight to me, although sometimes I do wish Jocelyn had lived to raise him. I see her in him, Christiana. When he smiles, it is her and when he laughs it is her as well and I find I am nostalgic for the past. Not all of the past, mind you, just what was pleasing.
Your cousin Francesca has been a good friend to all of us and I am learning the ways of this people under her husband's tutelage. The truth of it all didn't bother them in the least. They took everything we had to say in stride and didn't blink an eye. I'm happy here. My father enjoys this land as well.
Write us if you care to and I'm sure Francesca has sent you a letter. Kate told me she'd said she would and if there's one thing I've learned of Francesca, it's that she does exactly what she says she will.
There is more to say and more to remember, but I believe I'll let it be for now. As the seasons turn around and around into years, we've enough time to write all we like.
Love from all,
Christiana re-rolled the letter and leaned over the arm of her chair to look into the wooden box that had come with the letter. Francesca had sent a shipment of various items with the letters. Francesca had written four times total. Christiana planned to savor the letters, to...
"Well? Aren't you going to read the next one?"
She looked up at the impatience in her husband's voice and giggled to find him swathed in strips of fabric that Francesca had sent. His mother was circling him, muttering about the colors not being quite right for him, but that the fabric was excellent quality. Marian's ladies were standing off to one side, their collective gazes indicating that Adhemar was at the end of his temper and ready to strike out. That wasn't the case. Christiana could tell very easily if her husband was about to yell and he was not going to any time soon.
"It's still in the box." When she shifted to stand from the chair, he strode forward, tripping over trailing fabric and throwing it all onto the floor, heedless of the dirty look Marian flashed him.
"Sit. You will sit from now until you give birth and I'll not hear another word of you doing anything more taxing than embroidering."
With a small smile, Christiana rubbed her slightly pregnant belly as she settled back into the chair. She wasn't anywhere near needing to watch what she lifted, but it was sweet to have everyone in the manor thinking she was. After Cheney's death, it had taken awhile for the manor to settle back down, yet once it had, she'd suddenly noticed the possibility of her current condition. Marian had immediately sung the praises of those vile drinks she'd been forcing on Christiana, while Damien strutted about.
Of course, Christiana had nothing to do with it. It wasn't, as she'd pointed out to Annelle, as though there had to be two for conception. Oh no, Adhemar did it all himself. They'd shared a laugh at it and a few more at the enthusiasm with which Damien threw himself into the role of prospective father.
He'd had a small, child-sized sword made and heaven help the person who suggested that Christiana carried a girl. It didn't matter in the end, she decided. He'd be happy with a boy or a girl and happy to continue making more. A boy would make him delirious and a girl would wrap him about her finger in seconds.
He knelt, fingers grasping the last letter in the box and holding it up to her. His hand lingered with hers before he returned himself to his mother's fussings. Damien stood still while Marian wrapped him in greens and browns and reds and did it all because Christiana had asked him to indulge his mother. With Cheney gone and an heir on the way, Marian had decided to remain with them. Truthfully, Christiana had come to like the woman. She was stubborn and contrary and so much like Damien.
As for Damien... Christiana adjusted her dress. He was still maddeningly infuriating, arrogant and smug, but he was hers. They had their troubles and disagreements, as any married couple did, but they were learning to deal with each other. It would be an ongoing process, something that would take their entire lives and Christiana was more than happy to take that time. A lifetime would not be enough time to fully know one another.
The letter was opened and read, pondered upon and answered and life, inevitably, went on.
'Greetings from Italy, my dearest Lady Christiana. And family of course. I cannot leave out Count Adhemar.
Imagine my surprise to step onto Italian soil with business for my king and hear of kinsmen in this region. Taking a well-deserved personal journey a few miles to the east, I sought out these kinsmen, thinking to bring them news of home. Imagine then, my greater astonishment to find William Thatcher greeting me and in Italian even! And the rest of this lot. Kate is, as always, a saucy wench and Wat assures me that I'm still a good for nothing scribe, so all is well in this life.
Such excitement and adventures since I've left you all, and none of them concerning me. I've led a staid and dull life these long, long months. For King and country I have toiled and toiled some more. I've hardly had a breath of thrill upon my back.
I'm saddened to hear of Jocelyn. I liked her very much. I am not, however, sad to learn that you are well and presumably happy. Perhaps if I'm in Anjou, I'll come by to visit you. Then again, I'm afraid my travels won't likely take me to you and I'm never in one place for long. My days as a carefree soul are behind me. It is with much regret that I say this. I do still feel the pull to set out on grand adventures. Alas, they must sweep by me now. I can only look on. Duties call me, as it seems to always happen in the end. We gain responsibilities as we grow, yes? We settle down into propriety of sorts and begin to truly live day by day and year by year.
If you feel the inescapable urge to reply to this rather short letter, you may send one to my home in London. Philippa keeps my correspondence and I answer when I'm there. I would enjoy hearing from you and learning of your own adventures. I would enjoy keeping up a correspondence.
You know, I'm afraid I'm addicted to the tales people tell of life; their sorrows, their trials, their happiness and triumphs. I enjoy watching life whirl those about me in her grasp, taking them to and fro and on a wild thrilling ride.
May your journey through this life be a blessed one.
Author's note: Writing Chaucer always puts me in a contemplative mood. As sometimes happens, and I've noted on other fics, this story ended what it never started out as to begin with. The original story of Adhemar and Christiana was darker and the side story of Kate and Will was actually a story all to itself. I did have a final love scene planned between Adhemar and Christiana, but felt the story really didn't need it (sorry, 'shippers), although it is fully written.
Hope you've enjoyed,