Title: The Lamentable Truth of Planning
Summary: Nothing ever goes as planned. Will is unable to marry Jocelyn, but circumstances present him with Christiana instead. Jocelyn, meanwhile, is given to Adhemar.
Disclaimer: 'A Knight's Tale' is the property of Columbia Pictures. I make no money from this work of fan fiction.
Notes: Taking a break from a fandom can sometimes re-inspire when one takes another look at it.
All of the best laid plans of men had a tendency to go awry given time. This was a truth Sir William Thatcher was becoming quite familiar with to a regrettable extent.
"Marriage is a business negotiation."
He thought if he heard those words one more time he was going to be sick. For three weeks, he'd negotiated with Jocelyn's father and for three weeks, the man reiterated that single sentence. As if Will hadn't understood there was business involved in the process of getting into a marriage. Even the peasant class had negotiations to contend with. He wasn't ignorant of it.
"You can't simply marry for love."
Avery said it as though love was unthinkable, a rarity for sure, and something quaint to behold. Will's hope of having Jocelyn as his own faded by the day until she had once more become that unreachable beauty in the distance.
"This is a two-way matter, Sir William. If you take my daughter and her generous dowry, I must have something in return."
The man did sound sorry, though Will suspected it was his own imagination playing tricks on him.
"Have you soldiers under your command?"
He knew damn well not. Will schooled his features into a blank mask. A weariness descended upon him. Oh, how he was tired of this back and forth dance! He forced himself not to sigh, to shake his head instead.
"No, you don't, do you? You've little land, little livestock. The only things you do have are a pile of coins you've a knack at amassing and royal favor. Royal favor, however desirable it is, is fleeting, so that leaves only the coin remaining to your credit. Unfortunately, that good and honorable character you've displayed is of little use to me. As is the coin. Coin I have. What I, and my family, need are men. Soldiers to protect us and our lands, for I have few men myself. Simply put, Count Adhemar has men and the loss of the ones he has promised me from his forces won't hurt the combined strength of his Free Company."
Titles meant nothing. Discovering that his hard-won title was no help to him had been a difficult blow to bear. Without the land, livestock, and men that usually went with such titles, he was still no better off than he'd been before the title had been gifted upon him. Without any of that, he had nothing to offer a woman save a young husband with those things Jocelyn's father had mentioned. Coin, royal favor, and a good and honorable character.
Where was the golden land he'd dreamed of? Where was the promise of a better life? Money was the easy part, he'd found. Happiness came at a far higher price than he could pay.
"However," Avery continued, a pleased smile taking a firm stance on his face, "I do like you far better than I like Adhemar. It's just that…my daughter must go to the wealthier man for the reason I've stated. It has nothing to do with like or dislike, you see."
"She loves me," he said through lips that felt stiff and numb. He could hear a tinge of desperation in his tone. That smile seemed to mock him and he swallowed hard against a stomach that lurched with nausea.
Avery's gaze dropped for a few seconds, then returned to his. "Yes. And she can treasure that in her heart until her dying day as Adhemar's wife, giving him nothing but children and a perfect hostess when he requires one. I don't ask her to love him, Sir William, only to be a dutiful daughter and make a marriage that will protect her kin. If only you were the one capable of doing that, but you are not. This is purely business. There's no emotion involved. Jocelyn will eventually accept her life, as will you. She doesn't have to be the only woman you love."
His heart was splintering into tiny pieces inside his chest, like a lance shattered by an opponent's blow. Will could feel that aching and struggled not to raise a hand to rub the spot.
"Because I do like you, I've researched other options for you, considering all the while what you can offer in material wealth."
Will frowned. What was Avery saying? It certainly sounded like--
"For a certain class of girl, you're what she dreams and hopes of marrying. If you'd more in the way of livestock, or even a parcel of land, we could have found you much better."
Disbelief rose, mixed with anger. "You bargain for me after denying my suit."
"Yes, I do. I have said many times these weeks that I do like you. I'd much rather have you for a son than Adhemar, but we cannot change facts. You are important to Jocelyn and for that I would see you provided for as I would a dear son. She doesn't give affection lightly, nor do I."
The urge to stalk out and rage against the unfairness of life was a constant push in his veins, but he strangled that urge. Lesser nobles, as he was, didn't storm away from discussions with greater nobles. Unless one was Adhemar, of course.
"Will you listen?"
What choice did he have? Jocelyn was no more and he shouldn't leave in a huff. He could almost hear Geoff in his mind telling him to play nice and keep a potential ally. "I'll listen."
"I have an exceptional option to present you first. She's the daughter of a middle class merchant. Her father has gained enough wealth for her to be acceptable as a wife for a lesser noble. She was schooled as a lady with ladies and can read, write, and do sums, all of which would be an asset to your household as it grows. Never underestimate the learned woman." He glanced down at a piece of parchment on the table. "Her needlework skills are splendid, even praised as extraordinary, and you'll find her manners impeccable."
Is he offering a woman or selling a horse, his mind drawled with dark amusement. Avery indeed sounded as though he was trying desperately to sell a bit of horseflesh. Where was the catch?
"This young woman is discreet, prudent with coin, and…she comes with land. Not a huge amount, you understand, but enough that there is livestock already being taken care of there. No house. One would need to be built, but at the rate you're acquiring wealth I see no problem in that venture." He paused once more, as though to lay out the clincher for the offer. "She comes from a long line of women bearing plenty of sons. I believe the match would be excellent for you both."
"Does this paragon of womanly virtues have a name?"
Avery's eyes burned with an intense light. "Christiana."
Will blinked. "Sorry. Did you say…?"
"Christiana," he repeated, hurrying on before Will's mind could fully process it. "You look so surprised! Her father gave me leave long ago to negotiate a match for her if I saw a man who would appreciate her. She was trained with Jocelyn in readiness for such a day." The gleam in his eyes became challenging. "Can she not raise her station as you've raised yours? Can her -- what was it you said? Ahh, yes -- her stars not change as well?"
"Of course she can! Anyone can change their stars." But marry Christiana? He'd never looked at her that way and wasn't sure he could. He'd always noticed Jocelyn, not the maid at her side. "She loves another," he protested.
"Who? Your man?" Avery shook his head. "He's not an option. Her father wants her to marry up or equal in station, not down. Unless your man can do the same as you? Has he that ambition? Perhaps dreams of a shop of his own or something?"
No, Will knew better. It was Wat who dreamed of a business of his own, not Roland. Roland was content where he was.
"I see by your expression that he cannot. So, you are her option. You're the best man I've seen for her, and believe me, Sir William, I've seen plenty. Jocelyn wasn't the only maiden searching for a husband at tournament." Leaning back in his chair, he sighed. "All others are of wrong character to suit her and wouldn't show a concern for her kin. I believe that I could search the world over and never find another man worthy of her."
Worthy of Christiana, just not worthy of his own Jocelyn. Will tried not to let bitterness take a hold. "I don't --"
"If you choose not to marry her, she'll remain in my household and that will be the end of negotiations for her. I simply don't think I could find a better man for her."
That was unfair to Christiana. He could see Avery was serious however, that finality of the decision in his expression.
"Think on it a few days before answering. Really think. You would have an educated wife, one familiar with the rules of nobility, and, I daresay, one as pretty as Jocelyn. Christiana would be a credit to you. Consider her."
And with that, the meeting was over.
While Jocelyn had raged against the parental order to spend at least one month in a convent, Christiana had refrained from comment, packing their things in preparation. She'd been told to pack most of Jocelyn's wardrobe and those things that could not be done without. That meant, in her mind, that Jocelyn would not see the family home again as a single woman. She would be married straight from her time in the convent.
Christiana packed the same for herself, knowing without being told that, one way or another, she also would not be returning to that household. Nor would she be attending Jocelyn after the marriage took place. Why? Because she'd admitted her part in Jocelyn's seduction of Sir Will, for what else could she have done? Jocelyn's father had already known and to lie would have brought worse consequences. She only hoped she'd not be sent home in disgrace.
Avery had made it clear that he was disappointed in her. She'd been praised as a maid only to abuse his trust in her. She was lucky he didn't dismiss her straightaway, tossing her into the street as she'd heard happen to others. Her attendance of Jocelyn in the convent was only until he could decide what to do with her.
Now, two months into their stay, she wondered when his judgment was going to come. When would she be told her fate, or was he going to let her remain there for months, that wondering making anxiety rise up inside her? It was just like him to do so.
Christiana worked a tiny flower bud in pink silk thread, then sighed and tried to ignore Jocelyn's weeping. Her lady was taking their stay very hard. At first, she'd kept her hands over her belly with whispered pleas to God that she'd conceived, that she'd be allowed to go back to Sir Will, but as the days went by and her time arrived as it always did, she'd begun to weep.
A day had not gone by since that she had not wept as though her heart was torn from her chest. It went beyond theatrical. Jocelyn had always had a flair for the dramatic, yet she dabbled in them no more. Her tears and pain were honest. Christiana thought it might have been best in the end if Jocelyn had not truly loved Sir Will as she did. She would have born this more easily.
Like Christiana's own separation from Roland.
"He must have found you a match as well." Jocelyn's voice was husky and low.
A match? Not likely. Why would he recommend a maid to any man when he considered her untrustworthy? "Of course not, my lady. I'm here to cheer you up."
Jocelyn snorted, wiping her cheeks free of her tears. She'd stemmed the flow, though Christiana was well aware it was only temporary. "You kid yourself. We've both been sent here to make sure we bleed like chaste women ought to."
She carefully knotted her thread in the cloth and snipped the needle free. "My lady--"
"He's not giving me to Will is he? I wouldn't be here if that was the case. You hear things, Christiana. Tell me the truth. Who is he giving me to?" Fear danced in her eyes.
With one glance, she knew she couldn't bear to be the one to state the truth they both knew in plain speech. It would have to come from Avery himself. So instead, Christiana smiled a sweet, gentle smile and avoided the order as best she could without giving false hope. "This stay is to center your mind on God's vision for marriage. The good Sisters have studied that with us enough. That is why you are here: to prepare your heart and mind for the commitment of marriage. Nothing more."
The shadow of a smile, a mere ghost of what would have once turned her lips, appeared, that fear still lurking in her eyes. "A pretty lie," she whispered. "But today I choose to believe it. Thank you." With a nod, Jocelyn left the room.
Christiana set the needlework aside and pondered what the future could bring them both. She wasn't comforted by her thoughts.
Will went to Geoff for advice. Really, there wasn't anyone else to discuss this with. He could hardly go to Prince Edward about it even if the man had told him to consider him a friend above all friends. He found Geoff at home, causing much mayhem in Philippa's household. Once they were alone, he explained the offer, staring at Geoff, pleading silently with him to think of some way for Jocelyn to once more be Will's.
Geoff licked his lips, that familiar sad expression upon his face and his hands on his hips. An often used stance when he'd gambled and had heavy debts.
"No," Will told him. "No, you help me, Geoff. You're smart. You know how to…."
Geoff ran a finger along his upper lip in a thoughtful gesture, then turned to the window and peered out. Finally, he sighed and turned back. The sadness remained. "I'm sorry, Will. This is not a battle you can win. It's not a joust or swordfight. Her father and family have a need you can't meet. I was afraid of that for you…." He crossed his arms. "If the offer is genuine, marry Christiana."
There was a fresh tearing on his heart. "Geoff."
"Hear me out. Aside from Jocelyn, where else would you find such a woman, who knows the entire story and would not treat you differently than she already does? You know Christiana."
"She loves Roland," he reminded Geoff.
Amusement eclipsed some of the sadness in his eyes. "Yes, well…if that's what you want to call it, then we'll call it love. Personally, I'd use an entirely different word to describe what they had. Look, Will, if you consider it logically and in accordance to the unofficial rules of nobility, Christiana is very desirable for a wife for you. Since you cannot have Jocelyn, she will suffice and I believe, outshine other women available for you. Your station--"
"My station! Can I never escape those blasted words?"
"No, never. Impossible. Cannot be done." He sighed. "Station is everything for everyone at every stage of our lives. You have changed your stars, Will, and stepped into an entire new set of rules to live by. Jocelyn is not an option, but Christiana…." He shrugged. "Available. Snap her up before another man sees what a treasure she is. At this point, you have to think with your head and not your stubborn heart."
"I love Jocelyn, Geoff. I can't just betray that by marrying another woman."
"Few are allowed the luxury of love."
His lips thinned into a tight line. "My story is complicated and far different from yours. Will, you cannot have Jocelyn. Love the memory of her and marry the good woman set before you. Love may surprise you some day down the road and you could see Christiana in a far different light."
Life wasn't fair. Will was aware of that truth. Days passed. He thought of what Geoff and Avery had said. Christiana was a treasure without a doubt. Roland had even remarked such just a few nights earlier. Could he make a life with her though? Wouldn't her constant presence remind him of Jocelyn?
"It fades eventually, you know."
Glancing up, he found Kate sitting down on the ground beside him. "What does?"
"The pain of love lost."
Her husband had died, he recalled. Was it him she referred to or another? "Will it?" Did he want it to fade away into nothingness? If it did, did that mean the love was somehow less than it should have been?
"When the pain fades, you can look back with fondness at that love of your life. It's still there, but the sting is gone." She drew up her knees, wrapping her arms about them. "When my husband died, I thought I was going to die as well. We were traveling and he fell ill. The fever took him and I wanted to die too. I even prayed to follow him, but that wasn't my path. I never caught that illness. Not a sniffle. I had to keep going whether I wanted to or not. One day, I realized losing him didn't hurt like it had. I could remember him without tears." She turned her head, gaze meeting his square on. "Sometimes things happen we don't understand at first, yet in the end, it all eventually works out."
"I can't have Jocelyn, Kate."
"Who knows what the future holds in store for you?" She shrugged. "Did you ever think you'd be true titled nobility? Look at you now. Geoff once said that life is a journey, always headed forward through calm and storm. The course may change and the weather may grow fowl, but after every storm is a sweet freshness in the air."
"Do you still think of him?"
"All the time."
"Would you marry again -- if it wouldn't endanger your business?"
A faraway expression took root in her eyes. "Under that condition, yes. I won't marry though. My business is hard won and while I may love, I won't marry."
Questions rose. Kate had someone in mind and he was sure it wasn't Wat. "Aren't you afraid loving again would mean losing the memory of your first?"
She shook her head. "He holds a special place in my heart, like Jocelyn has in yours. That can't be covered over and forgotten. It's always there."
Will leaned back on his hands. "So you advise me to marry her as well," he extrapolated from her entire conversation. So far, everyone had been telling him to let go of Jocelyn, which still felt…disloyal. How could he let go of his heart?
Kate nodded. "I think it's the practical course. I'm sorry about Lady Jocelyn. I liked her very much."
"It feels wrong to contemplate marrying another, like I'm going behind her back to a tryst with another."
Without another word, Kate got to her feet, then bent and placed a kiss to his forehead before leaving. He had much to think on and wasn't sure he liked where his thoughts were taking him.
This course of action had been considered for a long time. While it pained him to leave good friends, Roland knew very well what conclusion Will would reach in the end. The hours of agonizing over Lady Jocelyn and Christiana had one ending that he could see. As Lady Jocelyn was meant for Count Adhemar, Christiana would be the one Will would marry. Even if he didn't yet know it.
The loss of Christiana didn't really pain Roland, not like he knew his friends assumed. Both he and Christiana had known their flirtations were only that and he'd been careful not to compromise her chances of marriage. A difficult resolution when in the moment, yet one he'd clung to. He wouldn't be the one responsible for her losing out on a decent marriage.
Eventually, Will would make the decision and marry her, but Roland planned to be long gone. He didn't want Will to wonder if his wife still flirted with his friend. That sort of wondering could tear a man apart. Besides, he had prospects of his own.
"I'm going with Princess Joan when she starts her journey back to Aquitaine next week." He timed the announcement for after they'd eaten, reasoning that with a heavy meal in the belly, many things seem less difficult. It was only him and Will in their camp, Wat having convinced Kate to take an evening stroll with him. Though Kate seemed impervious to Wat's affections, he kept them upon her in hopes of softening her towards him. "She offered me a place among her embroiderers and I aim to accept."
"You don't have to go," Will said, pausing in that tracing in the dirt he was always doing anymore. Geoff had left a small piece of parchment with letters on them and strict orders for Will to practice each letter every day. He'd been diligent in his study of them so far.
"I want to. She chose me. Besides, it'd be best if I wasn't here when you bring back your bride."
Guilt tread Will's features. "I've not agreed."
"You will. You know there are some things you have to do. Marrying her is one of them."
He tossed away the stick he'd been using to write with. His brows pulled down in anger. "Oh, I will? You're all so sure I'll marry her when all I want is Jocelyn back. Why must I even marry if I can't have her? Can you tell me that?"
"Because you need a wife who knows the noble ways. Look at us, Will. Without Geoff, without Lady Jocelyn. Which of us knows what you should do to avoid offending someone? Our knowledge only goes so far. Can Kate tell you the conversational topics to avoid this week? Can Wat tell you why you can't speak to Lord so and so? Can I?"
An explosive sigh left him. "Can Christiana?"
"Yes. She was raised with Lady Jocelyn. Use your head, William. She's an asset you need." Stony silence met the proclamation and Roland shook his head. "Sometimes I think God gave you the lion's share of stubbornness in the world."
Will said nothing.
"You'll do what you like, I've no doubt of that. Just make sure you've weighed all the options before you turn down that offer."
The marriage was inevitable. Roland knew it. Kate and Wat knew it at this point. Roland even wondered if Christiana knew. The only one who didn't know was Will. He turned to go.
"If you do marry her, Will, be good to her."
Roland decided to present himself to Princess Joan a little sooner than he'd planned. By mid-morning, he'd be with her at court.