Author's Note: This fic took a ludicrous amount of time to finish. It was written for kluminia for livelongnmarry (on Livejournal) and should have been done last NOVEMBER. She asked for a tribute to Heath Ledger in A Knight's Tale, so this fic took a few elements from that film that you might recognize. It's a non-magical AU, NC-17, of course. It ended up being almost 30k, so I'm posting it in pieces... Many hugs to kluminia for being so patient!!!
Harry tested the swing and balance of his blade, disguising his nervousness with activity. Behind him, he could hear the whispers of Ron, Hermione, and Neville.
"I've heard the King is attending today! What if Harry wins?" Neville's voice was hushed and nervous.
"He always wins," Ron said confidently and Harry smiled.
"But what if the King requests an audience?" Neville continued. "What if he finds out Harry's patents are forged? What if he discovers Harry is not really of noble birth?"
Harry heard a blow and a yelp. "No one is going to find out unless someone keeps blathering on about it!" Hermione snarled. "Now stop flapping your maw and help me with his shield. I want it to gleam."
Harry sheathed his sword and looked out upon the festivities. Tournaments always drew the best—and worst—of society's denizens. He grimaced as he wondered which group he would fit into. His current pretence as a knight of the highest nobility was nothing more than a sham. In reality, Harry had been a lowly squire until six months ago, on one fateful day when his master's charger had shied at a serpent. The great knight had fallen and cracked his helmetless head upon a stone. He had bled to death before Harry's eyes.
After half a day of panic, Harry had convinced his friends to undertake a dangerous scheme. Harry had taken up his master's armour and the mantle of his nobility. The deception was made easier when they stumbled across Neville Longbottom. The scribe had travelled with an unlucky party that had gotten themselves slaughtered by bandits.
Neville had survived due to the thickness of his skull and the haste of the bandits that had left him for dead. In gratitude for the hot food, clothing, and company, Neville had created false papers for Harry, who had immediately embarked on a tour of the countryside, attending tournaments and making a name for himself. It was, of course, a false name, as he could use neither his own nor his former master's name.
Harry mounted Dobby, the flighty stallion whose skittishness had killed his predecessor. He was a very strong mount, albeit he had a rather ugly face and floppy ears. As long as Harry paid attention he found no fault with the horse. He took up his shield and rode to his place in line. Ron's bellowing voice announced him: Sir James Godric Blackfell of Byzantium! He had chosen the name in honour of his father, a noble saint, and his godfather. The selection of Byzantium as a homeland was calculated—it would take months to send away for confirmation of Harry's noble birth, should anyone care to do so.
Harry rode before the king and dipped his lance in salute. King Lucius was an icy-looking man, haughty of feature with long silvery hair and cold eyes. His face revealed nothing.
Harry's gaze was drawn to the king's right hand, where a petulant-looking face glared at him. The fellow was obviously one of the royal princes, judging by his startling resemblance to King Lucius, as well as the crown of twisted silver that topped his platinum hair.
The prince made a comment, obviously derisive, and the king silenced him with a quelling look and a sharp word. Harry moved on to make way for the presentation of the next combatant, but the prince's face stayed with him. There was something indefinable in the gaze, something that defied the spoilt exterior.
Harry rubbed sweet-scented oil over his bruised chest. The thrill of victory was always tempered by the pain of battle. Hermione lamented the state of his armour while Ron and Neville toasted Harry's victory with several flagons of ale.
A head popped into their tent. "Sir James? His Majesty, the King, requests your presence."
"Thank you," Harry said. "I will be there anon."
When the squire disappeared, Harry glanced at his pseudo-servants. Neville's face was plainly terrified and Ron looked shocked.
Hermione clapped him on the shoulder. "You'll be fine, Harry. I'm sure he just wants to congratulate you on your victory."
"The money was congratulations enough," Ron muttered. Harry tended to agree. An audience with King Lucius probably did not bode well.
"Stay alert," he said and quickly tugged on his finest tunic and dragged wet fingers through his unruly black hair. He wished there had been time to bathe. "If you see soldiers coming this way… run."
Harry slung on a red cape and made his way briskly to the royal tent. He cooled his heels outside until the king's servants admitted him. Rather than sitting on the ornate throne in the centre of the tent, the king sat to one side on a cushioned divan and drank from a jewelled flagon.
"Sir James! Come in. Have a drink. You had an impressive victory today."
Harry was confused by the monarch's congenial attitude, but he took the cup and took a careful sip. It would not do to annoy the man. "Thank you, Your Majesty," he said simply.
"You are a careful fellow. And quite skilled. You must have seen many things, hailing from Byzantium."
Harry relaxed slightly, thinking he merely sought news or tales from far away. "Indeed, Your Majesty." It was true enough; Harry's former master had been relentlessly footloose. Harry had seen much of the wide world, from Ireland to Greece, although he had never actually made it all the way to Byzantium.
King Lucius laughed. "You will not reveal anything easily, will you? That is an excellent quality, in my opinion. Sir James, I would like to ask a favour of you."
Harry had been about to drink. Thankfully, he had not or he might have choked. "A… a favour?" He tried not to sound too suspicious, but kings did not ask favours. Kings gave orders.
"I would like my son Draco to become your squire."
Harry's eyes widened as he recalled the blond prince. "But… we're of an age. Would not an older man be a wiser choice?" Harry blanched when he realized he had just called the king's wisdom into question.
The monarch smiled and let his gaffe slip by without comment. "I have my reasons for not sending Draco to a more experienced knight, in part because I do not wish him mistreated. He is not as hardened as my other sons, being third in line, and his tongue is guaranteed to get him into trouble. As a younger man, you may have more patience with his outbursts."
"I… I don't know what to say, Your Majesty." In truth, everything in Harry was screaming to refuse, but he could think of no graceful way out.
"There will be compensation, of course," King Lucius went on. "There is a small town near Bristol that contains a well-maintained keep. The local villagers are occasionally plagued by raiders travelling upriver. Your responsibility, of course, will be to them as well as to my son."
Harry swallowed hard. "Thank you, Your Majesty. I accept the honour, of course."
"Excellent. Henceforth, you shall be known as Sir James Blackfell, Viscount of Tensbury."
Harry bowed low, torn between the thrill of having a title, lands, and a home… and stark raving terror at having the charge of a royal prince.
"I will draw up the paperwork tomorrow and one of my men will deliver you to your new home. I shall send Draco along in a few days' time." With that, King Lucius turned away and Harry made his salutations and departed.
~~ O ~~
Draco was livid. He was to be a squire. A squire! And no ordinary squire, no, he was to be squire to none other than Sir James Blackfell, an arrogant arse if Draco had ever seen one. He was surely an idiot to have survived so many tournaments. In fact, Draco thought all knights that competed in tournaments were completely addled. You would have to be the largest sort of imbecile to fling yourself at full speed toward a lance charging toward you borne by a mailed knight and a destrier.
Draco glared. Other than that, he knew nothing about Sir James Blackfell. He had seen him at the tournament, of course, just another swaggering knight in armour riding a lop-eared horse and covered head to toe in mail. Draco had a mental picture of Sir James already prepared. He would be a grizzled war veteran, of course, with long iron-grey hair and steely eyes. His fists would be the size of hams and he would doubtless be illiterate.
An image of the crusty Sir James tearing at a haunch of meat with snaggled teeth came to Draco and he shuddered. To be subservient to one such as that would be the worst possible torture. Well, perhaps not the worst possible torture. That would have been to give in to his mother's pleading and join the priesthood. She had harangued Draco mercilessly for the past decade to give up warlike thoughts and take up the cloth. Draco thought he might prefer to slit his own throat. Not that his faith could be called to question—he had beliefs in plenty. It was merely his liking for a decent bed, an occasional bath, and edible food that swayed him toward a more secular life.
As they topped a rise, the Keep of Tensbury appeared in the distance. Draco suppressed a sneer. The Keep was a single stone tower and hovered over a collection of hovels that could barely call itself a village. Once again, he wondered if his father had finally reached the idiocy of old age, even though he appeared to be a man in his prime.
Draco thought about putting his heels to his horse and making a break for it a dozen times as the edifice neared, but he decided it would be unseemly, and the good Lord knew Malfoys were never unseemly. Instead he set his features into a placid mask and rode resolutely through the gates that opened in the tall stone wall. At least it is not completely indefensible, he thought derisively.
Several people stood in the small courtyard, ostensibly to greet him. His eyes flitted over them, dismissing them one by one. There was a tall, gangly ginger-haired man—obviously a servant; and a bushy-haired woman with cold eyes—female; and a vapid-looking round-faced man whose eyes seemed permanently fixed on the ground—minion. Draco's gaze finally reached a black-haired man with brilliant green eyes and stern features. Draco nearly discarded him as a servant, but something in the stare drew him. For one thing, he did not look away, but met Draco's eyes boldly. Draco frowned. Perhaps he was the Castellan?
"Greetings, Your Royal Highness," the man said politely. "I welcome you to Tensbury. I am Sir James Blackfell."
It took a moment for Draco to process the fact that the man was not joking. He was the Viscount of Tensbury?
"If you care to dismount, my men will tend to your horses." The man turned to Draco's escort and spoke to the lead knight. "You are welcome to spend the night, of course. A meal is being prepared as we speak."
The leader of Draco's guard nodded. "Thank you, Sir Blackfell. We accept, although we must be off before dawn. His Majesty, the king, is sending a garrison for you. They should arrive tomorrow."
Draco scowled as he dismounted. This was his last official day as a royal prince. Tomorrow he would be considered no more than a lowly squire, in servitude to this… boy. He and the others entered the castle, which was just as dark and dusty as Draco had feared. The place was as barren as one of the bloody caverns the filthy Celts inhabited. There were not even tapestries adorning the walls. Luckily it was summer or he would likely freeze to death. He made a vow to write to his father about providing adequate accommodations.
Supper was a boring affair, reminding Draco yet again how much he despised the country. The food was barely tolerable, the wine was appalling, and the only entertainment was provided by Draco's new master, who seemed content to treat Draco with the deference to which his rank entitled him.
The seat at the head of the table had been left open, for reasons known only to the Viscount. Draco sat to the right of the empty seat and Lord Tensbury sat directly across from him. Arrayed next to the black-haired knight sat the gangly redhead, the mousy fellow, and—shockingly—the woman.
Draco's men sat on his side of the long table and seemed just as puzzled by the seating arrangement. The captain of Draco's guard kept up a remarkable conversation with Lord Tensbury, even slipping into Spanish at one point and prattling on about Barcelona and Madrid.
Draco smouldered with annoyance. So the prat was well-travelled and obviously intelligent. He was still not worthy to be considered Draco's master. Draco had an excellent time interrupting them now and again to point out inferiorities in Castle Tensbury, complain about the meal, disparage all things Spanish, and finally comment about the uncouth practice of allowing a female commoner to dine at the same table with the men folk—should she not be serving them?
At that, Sir Blackfell's green eyes flashed and he leaned across the table to speak in a conspiratorial manner that only Draco could hear.
"Enjoy your evening, Prince Draco," he said. "For tomorrow your guardsmen will be gone and you will lose the lustre of your title and become nothing more than my lowly squire, as per your father's instructions."
Draco sat back with a start. Was that a threat? The tone had been pleasant enough, but those eyes… well, they had an intensity that Draco found disturbing. He looked away, ostensibly dismissing the man as unworthy of notice, but in truth he had no idea how to respond.
He glanced at his soldiers, suddenly regretting their departure. Draco's father had planed well. Tomorrow the men would leave and a new contingent would arrive to assist Sir Blackfell in bringing order to his lands. None of them knew Draco, nor would they suspect his true identity.
When the interminable meal ended, the Viscount turned to Draco. "Your Highness? If you will accompany me to your new quarters? Captain, you and your men are free to bed down in the Hall tonight."
The guardsmen thanked him and Draco reluctantly followed the man up the spiral steps to the next level of the castle. A heavy wooden door opened to reveal a large chamber containing a huge bed and several large chests. A fire burned brightly against the outer wall and the chamber was pleasantly warm. The bed looked comfortable and warm and Draco realized he was exhausted after the long day.
"Tonight you may sleep in the bed," Sir Blackfell stated. "But tomorrow your pallet is there." He gestured to a small cot in one corner and Draco recoiled in horror. Certainly Blackfell was joking? He was a Prince of the Realm. Surely the man would not be crass enough to force Draco to endure such lowly accommodations?
Before Draco could demand clarification, the man lifted the lamp he carried and gave a half-hearted salute with it. "Goodnight, Prince Draco."
The door shut behind him as he left.