A/N gosh, I've not uploaded for millennia. Sorry for this short chapter, but it is key for part of the story and I thought I would write it from a different angle. Please review!
Disclaimer: I don't own Braveheart.
Chapter Nineteen: Dirty Dealings
Watery sunlight poured into the counsel chamber, illuminating Longshanks' gray beard and the contours of his lined face. He was restless; pacing up and down the hall, forming plans and schemes in his mind, but each felt as futile as the next. Never, had he encountered such a scoundrel. The heathen was like a parasite, sucking all the grandeur from his reign. Suddenly, he heard the murmur of a gown and the dainty sound of footsteps. Isabella appeared, wearing an expression of fixed politeness.
He stopped pacing.
"Ah, my son's loyal wife returns unkilled by the heathen," he asked in gravelly tones. "So he accepted our bribe?"
Isabella fought to smile. "No, he did not."
The smile on Longshanks' face vanished, to be replaced with a very ugly expression indeed. It was what he feared. "Then why does he stay?" he mused, more to himself. "Bloody Scotsman. My scouts tell me that he has not advanced."
The slant on Wallace made Isabella smile. "He waits for you at York," she said baldly, suppressing the derision she longed to hurl at the old King. "He says he will attack no more towns or cities, if you are man enough to come and face him."
She gauged the old King's face closely, expecting to see it blanch with fury to be challenged by a simple 'heathen.' However, Longshanks gave a steely smile, revealing yellow teeth. "Did he?" he leered, wandering to his table where a large map was placed before his councillors. They cast the King looks of covert apprehension. "The Welsh bowmen will not be detected arriving so far around his flank. The main force of our armies from France will land here to the north of Edinburgh. Conscripts from Ireland will approach from the southwest to here."
In the shadows, Isabella's young husband appeared looking pale and confused.
"Welsh bowmen, troops from France, Irish conscripts," he said. "Even if you dispatch them today they will take weeks to assemble."
Isabella focused on her hands, but grudgingly agreed the young prince had posed a valid point. Duly, she dreaded the answer, especially when Longshanks smiled again with predatory glee.
"I dispatched them before I sent your wife," he answered.
Isabella snapped her head up. She couldn't believe her ears! Such dirty dealings! What kind of a King are you, if you can not even call yourself a man, Longshanks? Wallace could outsmart the enemy through cleverness, but this sly, wicked monstrous King was in a league of his own. Isabella glanced at Nicolette. The maidservant smiled gently, to placate the anger writhing within her lady's chest.
"…So our little ruse succeeded," Longshanks continued, dragging Isabella from her thoughts. "Thank you. And while this upstart awaits my arrival in York, my forces will have arrived in Edinburgh behind him," suddenly, he turned to Isabella and she fixed her expression to submissive politeness. "You spoke with this Wallace in private? Tell me …" he paused, moistening his lips. "What kind of man is he?
The question caught Isabella off guard. As her shock ebbed away, she realised - with mounting horror - how the king had used her.
"A mindless barbarian, not a king like you, my lord," she lied.
My Lord. Bile coated her throat at these words. She eyed Longshanks closely, praying her answer would suffice. Fortunately, the old king merely nodded.
"You may return to your embroidery."
"Humbly my Lord," she replied, with subtle indignation.
Dipping a stiff curtsey, she turned to leave but Prince Edward called: "You brought back the money, of course?"
She froze, her cheeks aflame and feeling disgusted at the selfish greed the young prince possessed. "No," she answered. "I gave it to ease the suffering of the children of this war."
There was an outbreak of laughter, but no-one laughed harder than Longshanks.
"Ha! That's what happens when you send a woman!" he guffawed in wheezy tones. He supported himself against the table, thumping his chest violently.
Isabelle waited for the mirth to subside, though she noted the fast decline in Longshanks's health. Even though she did not wish anyone dead, Isabella hoped the old King would become too weak to face Wallace … Then, she would tend to her pathetic, weak-minded husband.
- - - -
"Dogs!" exclaimed Isabella quietly. "All of them … filthy, English dogs!"
Isabella was sat in her chamber before her vanity table. Her cheeks were flushed with anger, and consoled in the presence of her handmaiden, Nicolette who stood close.
"Is there anything we can do, Miss?"
Isabella looked at her pale reflection for a moment. Silently, she turned to Nicolette, her eyes bright. "We must warn Wallace of Longshanks' scheme," she said in a voice throbbing with emotion. "Longshanks cannot win."
Doubt clouded Nicolette's face.
"That is too dangerous, Miss."
Isabella sniffed. "I am well beyond caring … If you think you can win, you can, Nicolette, faith is necessary to victory."
Nicolette bowed her head. "I have the same faith you share for Wallace."
"I know," Isabella swept from her chair and embraced her handmaiden. She was more of a friend than a servant - a light in these dark times. "I know," she said in a strained whisper. "I wish there was something I could do …"
"Perhaps we should wait," Nicolette offered, patting her lady's shoulder. "We don't know what the King will do next … so … my lady?" she looked at Isabella, but the princess was deep in thought. Her eyes were focused on a scroll of parchment, lying on a desk. "My lady?" Nicolette prompted, though she vaguely knew what her mistress had in mind. It was a foolish idea. "My lady," she said, as Isabella crossed the room to sit before the desk. She uncorked a bottle of ink with a flourish. "My lady, what are you doing?"
"A moment please, Nicolette," Isabella murmured as she feverishly began to scratch away on the parchment. Nicolette could only hover, wringing her hands in thought. A few minutes passed, and Isabella motioned her handmaiden to come hither.
"Nicolette, do you love me?"
Nicolette stared; the French princess' beautiful face had an infectious, blazing look to it. The candlelight haloed her dark head.
"You know I do, my lady," Nicolette answered. "How can you say – ? "
"I was just testing," Isabella cut in, smiling tremulously. She pressed her fingers to Nicolette's, subtly placing a thin scroll of parchment into them. "Will you take this to Wallace on the morrow?" Her voice was a whisper, wraithlike, but Nicolette caught each word. "Will you?"
It was what Nicolette deemed. A dangerous, but brave idea. She didn't know how much more of her mistress's despair she could stand.
"Oui. I will, my lady."