They bore within their breasts the grief that fame can never heal-
The deep unutterable woe which none save exiles feel.
The Island of the Scots – W.E. Aytoun
The marble was cold under his stocking-ed feet as he slid along the long hall full of glittering glass and chandeliers.
"Ha! I went further!" He turned to boast, breaking off with an unceremonious thump and landing hard on his rear on the floor. He sensed Aiden coming to a quick stop shortly behind him but didn't dare look back. He stared up anxiously at what, or more precisely, who he had collided with.
She only smiled at him and offered a hand to help him up. A pair of attendant girls snickered from behind their hands.
"Are you enjoying yourself Robin?" She asked quietly.
"I'm sowy! We just...I..." He looked helplessly at Aiden who stood respectfully silent nearby.
"It's alright Robin." The Queen bathed him with that motherly air that always delighted him. All memory of his real mother had been fading like smoke over the last few months since coming to live in the palace. He liked to think she must have been a lot like Queen Marie, and he would do anything to earn that pleasant expression from her. "Is this your new friend?"
Aiden came forward and bowed with childish awkwardness. "I'm Aiden m'um."
"You have to say 'majesty'!" Robin hissed with a touch of panic. Queen Marie didn't seem to notice.
"Your sister is not with you today?"
"She's having a sword lesson with Miss Lia."
"Mademoiselle, not Miss!" Robin urged again between his teeth.
"I see. And your cousin?"
"He's too old to play with us." Robin supplied quickly, unsure what less than appropriate thing Aiden might say about the unpleasant older Scots boy. Aiden made a face as if he certainly would have phrased it differently given the opportunity.
The sound of a bell at some distance interrupted them.
"Well, I suppose it is time for lunch." Queen Marie smiled at them both. "Robin, would you like to walk with me?" She asked, anticipating his delighted agreement. "You may run ahead Aiden."
"Yes'um, thank you. My sister will be looking for me now."
Queen Marie and Robin walked quietly for a moment. "You and Aiden McKannin look very much alike."
Robin looked up at her with a slightly disgruntled expression although he knew it was true. In fact he had willfully avoided the barber to purposely enhance the similarity, but he didn't like the Queen to remark so. Something like jealousy pricked him, besides, he was much better behaved. Queen Marie caught his look and laughed slightly. "Robin, don't be deceived by their difference in manner and nature. They come from a very different place with very different customs and etiquette. Still, they are very important to the Crown, that of France and to Scotland. Also, they have much to do with the current negotiations with their country, which has always been our ally against England who threatens us now. I greatly appreciate your befriending them. In the evenings you may come and tell me all the things you seen, heard and done each day. Perhaps you will learn something about them that would be helpful to the King. That would please me very much."
Robin felt like he would burst with pride.
"At the same time, be sure to enjoy this time you have." Marie paused. Wondering how to explain to a four year old that, despite the decadence and privilege royalty and nobility enjoyed, childhood in the palace was a lonely world that often left one feeling they were living someone else's life rather than their own. She looked down at his expectant, innocent face full of adoring devotion and sighed. "They have every right to their childhood Robin. I am afraid they have a dark future ahead of him which, thank God's grace and the King's kindness, you shall be spared."
Robin studied her face. There seemed to be a shadow across it as if she knew something which wasn't particularly pleasant. The ominous allusion to the future worried him, despite her assurance that he would be safe. Being orphaned, he was reticent to grow too closely to others quickly, although he greatly needed to fill the void the loss of his real family had left. Previously only the queen had really broken through his self-protective barrier, but somehow Aiden and Aewen had become terribly important to him in just the few weeks they had been together. Now was Marie saying something bad was going to happen to them? When? Adults always talked about the future, but it was impossible to know if they meant next week or next century. How could Aewen and Aiden be important to the boring arguments the men spent day after day debating about soldiers and supplies and weapons? Weren't they just children like him? They certainly acted like it. Actually, they acted more like children than he did sometimes, and he was younger than either of them. What made Queen Marie worry so much? He wanted desperately to understand. It was frustrating to be so little and helpless. All he could do was trust her and follow her orders. He looked down at the marble floor, steeling his tiny shoulders with determination.
"You can count on me Queen Mawie."
"I knew I could Robin. You are a very good and brave boy."
"You're too close again." Lia reminded as she let their swords slide across each other to the hilts and shoved the younger girl back. Aewen nodded once, concentrating as she watched Lia's movements. Swords clashed again with a flurry of action.
Aewen came in with a thrust angled just a bit too wide. Lia's blade flew across, neatly pinning Aewen's and forcing the arm down, immobile.
"You're doing very well." Lia assured her, seeing the girl's dissatisfied expression. She knew Aewen was mentally analyzing each move that had just taken place. She wouldn't trap her a second time like that. She wiped sweat from her brow just as slow clapping from a lone observer surprised them both.
"Oh, Master!" Lia smiled at the aged man who had been her fencing instructor since she had been barely old enough to lift a sword. He nodded once in greeting and walked over to them. He smiled in a fatherly way, although Lia knew how less easily that smile now came in the seven years since his only son had died in the war of the Austrian Succession. He had been a long time bitter about the needlessness of the loss, and he had aged more in those seven years than the twenty previously, but still he was the greatest swordsman in France, if not of anywhere, and even in the hardest of times, he had not abandoned his favorite pupil, Lia, and later D'Eon as well.
"A unique stance." He observed of the Scots girl. "Crowding the blade can be an effective technique if you are trying to prevent your assailant from using his full strength. However, it is also likely that you might do a great deal of damage to your opponent when only a little would be sufficient, wasting time, and effort."
"Back home there is not often a time when only a little damage would be desirable sir." Aewen answered with measured respect but a tinge of pride.
"Left handed." Teillagory observed. "That always makes a match more interesting."
"Why don't you have a bout with her Master? She does have a natural skill." Lia suggested. Teillagory looked at her as if she must have lost her senses. Lia smiled brightly, almost with a girlish giggle, making Teillagory reluctantly concede.
He and Aewen stood across from each other, saluted, and then sprang to action.
He was, of course, easy on her, allowing her to expose her strengths and weaknesses to his practiced eye.
"There is a great deal of talent present." He agreed when enough time had passed. "But there is also a great deal lacking in discipline. There is too much of herself and her emotion in her fighting. Seems to remind me of someone else, eh?" He smiled at Lia as he made a final tiny switch of the blade that sent Aewen's blade flying. The girl managed to suppress a gasp, but not an expression of narrow eyed frustration.
"I seem to recall another young girl who..."
If Teillagory had not been the exquisitely accomplished swordsman he was, he might have had more difficulty dodging the eight inch blade that barreled narrowly past his shoulder and plunged into the wall behind him.
"Master!" Although she sounded alarmed, Lia did not seem overly surprised by Aewen's unexpected action. Teillagory only quietly examined the tiny slit in his coat shoulder and looked at the girl.
"What's this? A hidden tooth?" Surprisingly his voice held not even the trace of anger.
"I'm sorry Master Teillagory, I...Aewen! You shouldn't of!"
"No harm done." Teillagory said, watching the girl as she stood determainedly still, but also a bit like a lost child. "Go girl, get that knife and show it to me."
Aewen hesitated, needing a stern look from Lia to impel her to compliance. She returned quickly with the dagger she had thrown. She held it up but did not offer to hand it over.
"I see. All is clear now. The close stance. You are more familiar with fighting with this than the long sword. May I hold it?"
With another quick glance at Lia, Aewen finally gave in.
"A Scottish dirk. Daggers of this sort are no longer seen on the mainland, we've largely replaced them with the main-gauche. Quite a beautiful blade. They have developed it into a unique weapon. What sort of wood is this hilt?"
"Rowan." She answered. "It represents protection and strength. It's a holy tree, of the old gods of my people."
Teillagory nodded. "Then it must be that they watch over you."
A young nervous woman interrupted them. "Excuse me, Mademoiselle Lia?"
"His Majesty...he says they are ready to continue...?"
"Oh!" Lia hurried to put away her gear and headed for the door. "I'm so sorry, I have to go, the negotiations had been held up but now...I'll see you both later." She rushed out with the much relieved girl Freia at her heels. After watching her go Aewen retrieved the sword she had been using and wiped it down before returning it to its place in the rack to the side of the room. Teillagory waited until she had finished and returned to him.
"I understand that Scottish men will swear on their dirks, it is a very solemn vow."
"That is so." She looked at him, a little suspiciously.
"The man who brought me the news of my son's death was of the Royal Ecossais. Not the French soldiers bearing the official record. The warrior that had actually served with him where he died on that blood soaked hill that was lost. He had been wounded himself and it had been at great cost to him that he had come to me. I asked him why he had done it and why he refused compensation for his deed. His answer was he had sworn on his dirk to my son that he would do so. He had lost the dagger in the fighting and could not show it to me, although he honored the vow as if it had been on his life. I would have liked to have seen it. Thank you, for showing me this." He handed it back, watching her tuck it quickly into its hidden sheath.
"I am sorry for throwing it out of anger at you sir." It was unclear if her repentance was for disrespecting the weapon or him, but he well recognized the aspect of a youth who had been born to bear the sort of heavy burden that required a sword. It was just as well she respect the blade more than man.
"It is understood, from one warrior to another, but you must learn not to loose yourself in battle my child. Concentrate on the assailant rather than your own feelings, or you risk loosing your life as well."
She nodded thoughtfully.
"Lia is likely to be a long time at these talks. Tell her if I do not see her this afternoon I will return after visiting D'Eon."
He walked past towards the door.
He was surprised by the urgency of the tone and turned back towards her.
"The soldier, the Ecossais...his name. Do you remember?"
"Och...I see." She replied softly.
"You were hoping for...?"
"My father, Mckannin. I am told he fought in Flanders. That was where your...?"
Teillagory nodded and looked up at the row of flags and banners along the ceiling. His eyes came to rest on the white cross on a blue background that represented Scotland. Next to it was the banner of the Ecossais. So many lives lost, so many tattered, broken lives left behind.
"I'm sorry child." He paused. There was nothing else that could be said. There had been nothing else anyone could say to him seven years ago. "You will give my message to Lia?"
He paused outside the door. A father who had lost a son. A daughter who had lost a father. How fresh the wounds still were so many years later. He heard her humming softly in the room, probably nursing her own private pain. He recognized the tune dimly. Maclachlan had sung it frequently enough before disappearing one early morning.
Save my soul from evil Lord
And heal this soldier's heart
I'll trust in thee to keep me Lord
I'm done with Austria...
Music was magic for the Gaelic peoples, Maclachlan had told him once. In the old days before the poets came, all people used it. It could heal or it could curse. It could bewitch, salve a broken spirit, or lead a lost soul home.
It had not been able to heal the bitterness that had taken root in his heart. With a deep sigh he walked down the corridor leading out of the palace. The Duc d'Orleans would be waiting.
Although Durand had managed to get himself into the center of trouble far more frequently than was good for him, he would not have ordinarily involved himself in investigating what sounded like a developing street brawl.
It was no doubt the sound of voices shouting in English that aroused his curiosity. Not that Englishmen were rare these days. To the contrary they seemed to be everywhere one turned, flexing their military and political muscles. They had subdued Scotland, most of Ireland, and now they were hard at work on France.
There were three of them, their bright red and white uniforms as showy as their cocky manners. They were however very young, no doubt their first tour of duty and full of their own importance. Two held back a bit, but the other was red faced with fury as he shouted. His target was only a few yards in front of him, and although her tone was deliberate and subtly sharp, her face was pink with anger as well. She struggled to keep a small boy behind her despite his struggles to join in the fray. Periodically he hurled his share of insults at the gaudy Englishmen.
He saw Durand first. Twisting unexpectedly in the opposite direction he broke free and went running.
"Sir Knight!" He shouted delightedly.
"AIDEN!" Aewen spun, clutching for him. It was her undoing. The angry English boy grabbed her arm, twisting it.
"Jacobite scum! Get the little brat!" He ordered his two friends.
Merde! "Get back Aiden!" Durand ordered, rushing forward and drawing his sword. Stupid apprentice sword that it was. Never mind, they might have the better weapons, but not the greater skill.
The soldier let go of Aewen and drew his own sword. It snickered in its sheath, glistening blue-grey steel. His friends turned from chasing Aiden and returned to join in. Durand quickly disarmed the first soldier and turned to the others. Somewhere just barely on the edge of his field of vision he saw something moving fast and heard the slick grating of the sword being retrieved from the pavement. A wave of copper hair, a shout, and then an ominous impact. Someone cried out. Durand disarmed one assailant, but the other backed off, looking aghast past Durand's shoulder. He turned to look.
The first English boy had retrieved his sword, intent on attacking Durand from behind as he was occupied with the other two.
Something had interfered. He stared down at a spreading crimson stain oozing from his left shoulder from which the wooden hilt of a large dagger protruded. He gasped for breath, pointing an accusing finger first at Durand and then at Aewen. He seemed speechless as shock folded him to the ground.
"Bloody Hell!" One of the other British boys shouted, taking off at a run, the other still seemed too flabbergasted to react.
"Dieu! What have you done!?"
Aewen looked surprised at his reaction. Aiden bounced up to them, peeking at the unconscious man.
"Did you kill him sissy?"
"This man was from the embassy..." Durand explained slowly, a little thrown by the five year olds easy manner.
"So that makes him free to insult and harass whoever he chooses?"
"No...But...there are special repercussions for harming representatives of a foreign country. It was only necessary to disarm them, not to..."
"I represent a foreign country too." She said with a quiet, icy tone that stopped Durand's argument dead. Since meeting her he had done a little research on the situation in Scotland. The British suppression had been little less than genocide of the Highland tribes and wanton destruction of their lands. Kill or be killed had become the normal course of daily life for those who wanted to defend their homes and lives.
"I only did disarm him anyway."
Yes, but permanently?
She retrieved her dagger, causing the man to moan and stir. "See, he's already coming around."
"And you too Sir Knight!" Aiden tugged at their clothes. "Did you see him sissy? It was just like Sir Lancelot coming to rescue you!"
A shrill whistle split the air.
Quel desastre! "That idiot that ran away has notified the police!"
Aewen instinctively grabbed Aiden as he jumped victoriously around them.
"Get out of here!" Durand ordered.
"Go! I'll take care of it!"
"It's my doing." She declared defiantly. "I won't..."
"Do you want Aiden mixed up in this?"
She clutched the boy to her. He had known that would convince her. She gave a little nod of grateful understanding and started off.
"Wait, I'm in the third order battalion, I work at the stables most of the time."
She nodded again, a smile flickering across her face before she and Aiden quickly vanished.
Providing I'm not court marshaled now. He thought as three police officers filed into the alley.
It wasn't helpful that along with them was his superior officer, Sir Reginald. The older man did not look pleased as he surveyed the scene. An officer examined the Englishman's wound where he was struggling to sit up.
"What's this?" Reginald growled.
"The Englishmen sir, they insulted France." Durand replied, standing at attention.
"I see. That must have been some insult." It was a leading statement, Durand knew.
"I...I wouldn't dare to repeat it sir!"
Durand glanced down at the seething Englishman. Go ahead, tell them a girl knocked you on your derriere! He dared silently. The soldier seemed to get the message and turned away, red faced with anger.
"Durand, these soldiers were from the embassy." Reginald was speaking.
"As a knight of France sir, I am sworn to..."
Reginald sighed. He knew Durand well enough to know he'd get nowhere reasoning with him. One of the police gave him a sympathetic glance and approached Reginald.
"Really sir, one apprentice against three armed men? Surely it was self defense. The report will reflect that determination. The boy had no choice."
Reginald thought darkly. "Are there any other witnesses or conflicting stories?"
"No sir." Another officer piped in. "The English refuse to comment actually."
"Mmm-hmm. Very well. Take them away back where they belong and get that one patched up."
The police and the English soldier left. The Englishman who had fled had not returned and the third had remained silent throughout the police interview.
"Durand." Reginald spoke when they were alone.
"Let me see your dagger."
He hesitated, then drew his main-gauche and handed it over. Reginald gazed at it, turned it over in his hand.
"It's clean." He handed it back, waiting.
"Sir?" Durand managed to get out. No, Reginald was not just any fool, as skillful as he knew Durand was, he knew that was not Durand's work. They both knew it.
"I'm sorry, I don't quite follow." Durand added levelly, meeting the older man's eyes. It seemed like eternity before Reginald spoke.
"Report to the stable master."
1) This takes place six years after the treaty of Aix la Chapelle, the treaty that ended the war in which Teillagory lost his son. It was considered by most as a farce and a failure, no doubt explaining the bitterness Teillagory expresses when visiting his son's grave in the Anime. Also as a result of this treaty, France was forced to recognize Hanoverian (English) rule over Great Britain as a unified sovereign nation, officially severing ties with Scotland as a separate realm.
2) The song quoted in the scene concerning Teillagory is, again, from Niamh Parson's Heart's Desire album. Also, again, the song is originally referencing Bonaparte's time period. (The actual line is: I've done with Bonaparte) but the feeling of hopelessness and sacrifice for a lost cause is the same. The song is of especial relevance in this story because it is from the point of view of a Scottish or Irish exile settled in Aquitaine, a exceptionally beautiful part of the Southwest of France, which welcomed Gaelic exiles and soldiers who could no longer return home.