I swear by the light of the sun on the fields and the wind over the seas
For this day and every day to come, that I will
First, serve the realm and all its peoples,
Protect them and show them only wisdom and strength.
Second, love the lands in which we live,
Safeguard the creatures and flora that sustain us all.
Third of all, never waiver in my quest to honour these pledges.
I am the King of this Realm and all this I swear on my mortal life.
- The Monarch's Oath
A sea of trees swayed gently in the cool wind and the tireless birds of the mountain sang from all around. The sky was a brilliant blue, clear save for the faintest white feathers over to the South, where Mount Kinley loomed. Prince Jonathan of the House Archer, First of His Name and Heir Apparent to all Terra, halted his horse and turned to look at the view down the hill. From there he could see the winding trail down to the rolling fields and cosy villages of his father’s kingdom and beyond those, a distant spec on the horizon, the capital city. The summer sun gilded the tiny buildings dotted around the countryside and lit up the tiny spec that was the castle. It was a view he had seen many times, and one he felt truly did his birth-right justice. Despite this majesty he frowned. The Prince felt uneasy even though was unable to express why.
His cousin, Andrew George, Duke of Robin’s Valley, drew level with him. He didn’t say anything, taking in the view, though for a different reason than Jonathan. Andrew’s sister, Erika, was with the rest of the party who had also stopped on the trail, waiting for the Prince to return from the viewpoint. She was no doubt trying to encourage someone to spar with her in the pause. She and Jonathan had been fast friends since the day they’d met, boisterous children both; quick-footed and even quicker-witted, running circles around their nannies as they goaded each other into challenges and daring feats. As the pair of them were stubborn as mules, they’d clashed often and in spectacular fashion. Outside observers at Court had interpreted their spirited words to be heated arguments or lovers’ quarrels – in their later years. Andrew often encouraged such rumours, smile sharp but eyes sparkling whenever he teased the both of them. But in truth, though some tentative teenage overtures where made, there was never much romantic feeling between them. King Henry had been disappointed that no natural bond had formed, as he had initially planned to wed them. But then Fate had offered an infinitely more advantageous match. Jonathan turned back and re-joined the group, saying worriedly.
“We need to hurry if we want to meet them by the tenth hour, we have little time to waste as it is.” The others nodded and they began again down the trail at a quick walk. Andrew took his place beside Jonathan and said casually.
“We can always stop at Belles Town for the night if we can’t make it back to the city.” Jonathan frowned again.
“My father warned against that. The Vulcans would not be satisfied with anything less than Royal accommodations.” He glanced to his left, where one of his oldest friends was just behind him. They exchanged a humour-filled glance and the Prince laughed. “Just because you enjoy the…hospitality of Madam Ruby, does not mean the Vulcans will.” Andrew huffed a laugh, not at all offended by the implication of Jonathan’s statement.
“Maybe it would do those stuck-ups some good! Don’t you agree Charles?” Prince Jonathan’s First Knight, Sir Charles of the House Tucker pressed his lips together to suppress a laugh, aware of his Prince’s eyes on him. Though the Jonathan of old may have laughed along, circumstances had changed. Charles knew that they had to make an effort to get along with their Vulcan neighbours. He hummed, thinking of an appropriate answer when he was saved by an impatient, rapped voice calling from the back of the group.
“If we speed up then we won’t have to find out!” Both the Prince and Sir Charles wordlessly thanked the armsman. The Prince said loudly.
“Yes, good point Sir Malcolm, all due haste!” He kicked his horse and the group raced down the trail. Erika and Andrew fought their way to the head of the group, laughing and teasing each other as the others cheered. Jonathan considered ordering them to cease this revelry, but they weren’t yet close to encountering the Vulcans and it had been a long time since he had heard his party that joyful. The care-free days of their youth were fading; gravity and responsibility lay ahead now.
In a short time, they reached a large clearing. It was already occupied.
“Pinkskin!” The shout echoed in the space and Prince Jonathan and his party slowed, walking over to the group resting their horses by the small stream which wound around the edge of the clearing. The Prince was smiling as he came to a stop and dismounted.
“Shran! It is good to see you again.” They shook hands. Lord Shran was a head shorter than his counterpart and his skin was a white-blue, an evolutionary quirk developed to cope with the sub-zero temperatures of his homeland, Andoria. He and the rest of his race also had small antenna on their heads which would dance to match their emotions. After years of friendship, Jonathan could mostly tell his friend’s mood just by those tips alone. Now, he was excited but wary.
Shran announced to his group.
“Prince Jonathan of the House Archer, beloved by his people, young, fit and strong; throwing it all away to chain himself to a Vulcan.” Without deigning to address any of the claims made by his friend, the Prince smiled.
“It is good to see you’ve arrived here with your usual open mind and tolerance.” Grumbling, half in earnest and half in jest, Shran turned and introduced his party. Some Jonathan had met before, Shran’s personal guard, but there were a few new faces. One was Keval, Shran’s young nephew who had just come of age. He was the eldest son of Shran’s sister, who ruled their clan, making him second in line to a powerful family in Andoria. Despite this, he seemed shy and uninterested in forming allies, completely unlike his brash but clever uncle. Still, Jonathan greeted them all cordially and then turned to see his party had all dismounted, Sir Malcolm organising securing their horses to a knot of trees by the stream. He said to Shran.
“Andrew and Erika you’ve already met,” the humans nodded and Shran advanced, taking Duchess Erika’s hand and kissing it.
“My lady, your beauty still arrests me no matter how many times we meet.” Looking bemused, Erika mock-curtsied.
“Arrested all but your tongue I suppose.” He did not acknowledge her jest, merely bowing as she stepped back to make way for her brother’s brief bow.
“Shran.” Andrew shot a quick smirk to Jonathan as he moved on, but the Prince mostly looked confused before turning.
“Lady Hoshi has recently been appointed as Court Ambassador.” The Lady in question curtsied and said something in Andorian. The party seemed impressed, Shran’s antenna waggling as he replied in kind. But he then switched back to the common tongue understood by all.
“Ah, your keen ears and delightful manners will serve you well in this field, my Lady.” She smiled and inclined her head as the Prince went on.
“And you remember Sir Charles of course.” Charles walked up and shook hands with the Andorian Lord.
“Sir Charles, Lady Talas sends her regrets that she could not visit,” he grinned suggestively, “she was most looking forward to making your acquaintance.” The knight smiled, looking surprised but pleased.
“Why? Have you been telling her false tales about me?” Shran just kept on grinning, and though wary of that well-known expression, Charles just smiled back in his usual friendly manner. “Perhaps next time.” He indicated to the woman shadowing him. “I don’t believe you’ve met my squire, Hess. Finest apprentice-smith in the Capital and a keen swordwoman too.” Shran nodded, expression shifting to jesting.
“Perhaps you will share your methods, unlike your reticent master.” Charles laughed good-naturedly and waved the others over. Malcolm nodded stiffly to Shran; the pair did not shake hands, but the armsman did his introductions.
“My squire, Mayweather, born on the seaship Horizon. He could navigate by the stars alone.” Shran nodded at him and then turned back to the Prince.
“So, you threw over all the fine ladies of Andoria and Terra for a Vulcan.” Mayweather and Hess tensed but the others, who knew of Shran of old, kept still and relaxed. Andrew even smirked. Prince Jonathan did not rise to this, instead agreeing genially.
“It seems my Human Insolence has struck again.” It was an old joke, from their very first meeting in which harsh words had been exchanged. Once the two had gotten to know each other though, it had become a humorous remark they oft repeated. Sometimes, it was to remind themselves of how they were still friends despite their differences. The Andorian smirked and offered his hand.
“Jonathan.” The Prince took it and they shook.
“Shran.” The two shared another smile before Jonathan indicated behind him.
“Charles and Malcolm will escort you back to the Castle.” The Andorian raised an eyebrow.
“You are not yet wed and she already has you kneeling in supplication.” Displaying the level of consideration with which he took the comment by his expression alone, Jonathan gave another short nod and returned to his horse, calling out an Andorian farewell as he went.
“Strong winds until then.” Shran nodded and bowed deeply at Erika before leading his people to their horses. Jonathan noticed some mostly-hidden grins from his own people as they prepared to leave. But as he glanced at Sir Charles, he caught a glimpse of grief.
As he rode away, Jonathan fretted, turning the problem over in his mind again and again. He often worried about the inter-race relations; it was a huge concern at Court as the Human Realm was only recently unified (in comparison to their stronger neighbours) and could not afford another quarrel to escalate into a fresh Civil war. Though not in open war for many years, Andoria and Vulcan were always on the brink of some conflict, be it petty or deadly. The Terran lands were officially neutral but Jonathan’s family had been making in-roads in Andoria, befriending Shran only one of the avenues which they were pursuing, encouraging trade between their lands being another. Though militaristic in nature, the Andorian Court was fortunately not expansionist and once you had gained their trust, Andorians were loyal to the hilt.
At the same time, the Lords of the Silver Forest had been close allies with Vulcan for many years, trading had been established a few generations previously and despite cultural differences, relations were strong. In this new time of peace among all humans, no Terran land could openly stand against the Vulcans. In his wisdom, King Henry had taken advantage of the Vulcan Princess coming of age and pitched his son as a match. He’d risked angering the Andorians, but as the power in the region still remained firmly in human hands, they were willing to begrudgingly accept it. There were those forward thinkers in Andoria who saw cooperation with the Vulcans as inevitable. It was hoped by many that humans could act as a bridge between the other races. What worried Jonathan was the reason the Vulcan King had agreed to the match. He suspected the closeness of the Terran Capital to Andoria itself. Although all three lands shared borders, Andoria and Terra were separated by perilous mountains only locals, both human and Andorian, knew how to traverse. If Vulcans were to learn of the ways and to amass a sizeable force in the area, they would have a potential strong hold within striking distance. Was this a move part of a plan designed to position Vulcan powers in strategic places?
Shran seemed to have a similar suspicion and had taken the engagement as a personal slight. It had taken many grovelling letters and fine gifts before the Andorian Lord had deigned respond. So much so that Jonathan was surprised that his friend had consented to attend the wedding. But perhaps he should have known, Shran was a dramatic but ultimately a practical and sharp-minded tactician. He was also no fool, his mind sharp and quick to see opportunities for advancement, whether for himself or his people. Shran would take full advantage of his friendship with Jonathan to spy on any Vulcan plots against his people. And his sudden interest in Duchess Erika and mention of Lady Talas’ supposed interest in Sir Charles made more sense the more he considered it. Alliances through marriage between Andoria and a human Realm would even the playing field considerably. And grievances were always more satisfying to air in person. Jonathan held in a sigh, straightening in the saddle. For the moment, he put those thoughts out of his mind. He felt confident in Shran and Charles’ mutual respect to keep them from any diplomat incidents on the ride home. Though how he was going to cope when his betrothed entered the city and his life, he did not know.
“Why are you not accompanying your Prince to meet his betrothed?” Charles turned to regard Shran, thinking that he should have been expecting the question. Their Andorian friend was very observant and inquisitive by nature. He left no stone unturned, wanting to know and understand as much as possible about the world and his allies – and enemies – in particular. Some found his blood-hound tendencies highly irritating, but as he was also easily persuaded to share his knowledge, Jonathan and his party had grown to tolerate and even welcome it at times. Charles stated shortly.
“I’m not of sufficient rank. The Vulcans would hardly be impressed by the Prince’s low-born blacksmith greeting them.” Shran, offended on his friend’s behalf, exclaimed loudly.
“But you are an anointed knight of the realm! Raised to your position by the King himself! A close friend and Companion of the heir apparent.” Charles huffed and explained further.
“Firstly, knights do not exist in Vulcan’s peaceful realm…” Shran harrumphed at this joke about the Vulcan hypocrisy concerning violence. They preached peaceful methods to resolve conflicts even as they developed more sophisticated weaponry and trained ever more deadly warriors. These measures were supposedly only meant as deterrents, but Vulcan and Andoria’s bloody history proved the falsehood of that claim. Charles allowed himself a small smile at this before continuing as nonchalantly as he could, “secondly, Companions have no place in Vulcan’s sober, chaste culture.” Shran exclaimed.
“Aha! That’s why they’re so stiff and unyielding! They are suffering from frustrations of the flesh!” Laughing at the coarse suggestion, Charles found himself feeling slightly better. Shran’s outlandish gestures and exaggerated remarks made everything seem a little less serious and all-consuming.
“Indeed. They find any reminder of such carnal matters distasteful. My mere presence may offend them. The fact is, Lady Hoshi, Duchess Erika and Duke Andrew are much more appropriate to greet and accompany the Vulcan party. An Ambassador and blood relatives of the Prince respectively.”
“I am somewhat surprised at the Duke’s inclusion. I had heard that he was no friend to the Vulcans. Wasn’t there some sort of incident a few years ago?” Charles narrowed his eyes, seeing the dig for information. He kept his answer vague before redirecting the conversation.
“Ah, that was resolved a long time ago. You’ll remember that the Duke did not have the best introduction to your peoples either.” Acknowledging that his attempt had not been subtle enough, Shran shrugged and accepted the answer. Charles smiled, trusting Shran enough with a little information. “I suspect the Prince is hoping to mediate a functional relationship between the two. You know him; he starts as he means to go on.” Shran barked a laugh, having heard much of the Duke’s nature from Archer’s affectionate if exasperated stories.
“I wish him well.” Charles laughed with him. Shran smiled but then his expression became earnest. “So, Tucker, now that Archer is soon to be wed, have you yet decided on a wife?” The human’s jaw tightened and he did not answer. “If not then I strongly suggest you consider my fellow clanswoman Talas. She is fiery and adventurous; I believe you will make a fine match. How about another marriage for the good of all our peoples?” He went on, enthused enough with his idea not to notice how silent and still the human had become. “Why should Vulcans claim all the best humans? I can think of no one better to enter our clan than you.” Finally, Tucker unfroze enough to reply.
“I am honoured by your offer, Lord Shran.” Considering his words carefully, he continued. “But I would not want to be split between my duty to the realm and duty to a wife.” Shran conceded the point, he knew that all of the human Prince’s people were loyal to a fault. And he’d heard the implication that Charles did not want to be split between his kind and Shran’s. Though the reluctance did not support their peoples’ new cooperation, Shran was wise enough to realise that personal and national obligations were very different things. “Besides,” Charles went on, “I am not yet ready to settle down.” Lips twitching, Shran did not accept the dismissal of his idea easily, seeing an alternative option.
“Well if those are your only concerns, Keval,” he indicated to his nephew, “is looking for another Companion. He has recently come of age and has only one as of yet. Andorians are encouraged to have numerous Companions to aid in their navigation of the adult world. A human mate would be highly educational for him and for you as well. You should consider entering into an arrangement with him.” Charles followed his finger to observe the Andorian in question. He was a little taller than Shran, but still shorter than most humans, including Charles himself. He had strong, masculine features and was well-built. Of the Andorians he’d met, Keval was probably one of the most attractive by human standards. Charles had previously idly wondered what mating with one would be like and he considered the idea for a moment. But he knew that he just could not bring himself to do it.
“Educational does seem like the right term. But I am not sure what value I could offer one so young. He might look to someone closer to his age.”
“Pah! Do not speak to me of advanced age! You are still well within your prime.”
“I am still unsure of my use to your nephew. I only know of this realm and what my hammer can make.”
“Excuses, excuses, I am beginning to think you do not want to join my clan.” Hearing irritation creeping into his companion’s tone, Charles tried placating him quickly.
“Your Grace, believe me that is not the case.” He opened his mouth to say more but soon shut it again. He did not want to explain his true reason, despite their friendliness, and Shran noticed his discomfiture. His antenna’s twitched as he put his mind to the mystery.
“Prince Jonathan would support this plan, I know it.” Charles winced at this and Shran pushed the crack in the man’s composure. “He will soon renounce all others save for the Vulcan, what use…?” He trailed off as his human friend’s behaviour suddenly made sense to him. Ever the solider, he did not offer sympathy. Instead they rode in silence for a long while, listening to the birds and the low tones of their companions talking of idle things. Finally, Shran said.
“I still urge you to speak to Keval. There is traditionally more than one area of knowledge a Companion can offer.” Charles had regained enough composure to smile softly and jest.
“You just want to learn my forge secrets.” Shran spluttered theatrically, affecting offence. Cutting the act short, though he kept his smile, Charles conceded. “Very well, I suppose I can…open a dialogue with your nephew.” Grinning genuinely and clapping the knight on the shoulder, Shran crowed.
“Welcome to the Clan, Sir Charles.” Despite himself, Charles laughed. They continued talking of other matters as they continued down the narrow path, only wide enough to permit two or three to ride beside one another. Sir Malcolm rode up to them, calling.
“Riders approaching!” Suddenly Charles could hear them as well.
“The Prince?” Shran asked. Charles glanced at Malcolm’s face and did not question the suspicion he saw there. Whilst they were still in the King’s lands bandits and outlaws were few, but not unheard of. The armsman knew well how to discern different groups from the sounds of their approach. Charles grit his jaw and drew his sword, seeing Malcolm and Mayweather had already done so. The Andorians followed suit, one of them notching an arrow. The sound of hooves grew louder and Charles tried to discern how many there were. It sounded like a large party. Focusing his mind like Jonathan had taught him, he gripped his sword and narrowed his eyes as the first horse came into view.
“Where are they? It is not in a Vulcan’s nature to be late.” Erika asked impatiently. The party had arrived at the point where the mountain pass met the King’s Road. Lady Hoshi peered into the path ahead and wondered.
“Perhaps they met some trouble along the way, a loose shoe, a wrong turn.” The Prince shook his head.
“You have not met King Soval or his people, they plan for every contingency, every possible problem is anticipated and a countermeasure put in place.” Andrew snorted, affecting a bored look even as he theorised.
“They mean to insult us?” The Prince frowned.
“Possibly. But they agreed to the match, it would not be logical to offer insults.” Lady Erika pushed a loose strand of hair from her eyes and suggested.
“Perhaps one of us should ride ahead?” Just then, the sound of rapid hooves greeted them, but from the direction they had come. They all turned and the air drew more taught, Erika stating warily.
“A single rider.”
“Someone who is lost?” Hoshi piped up, not sounding convinced by her own suggestion. Andrew said grimly as Jonathan thought the same.
“Or a survivor from a squirmish…” The horse burst into view and Prince Jonathan’s heart skipped a beat as he recognised them.
“Hess! What is it?” The speed with which she rode, the serious set of her face, all told of something terrible. He refrained from bombarding her with questions, his thoughts now to his people and their possible fates. Charles…
“Ambassador Soval sir, he took the River Way and arrived at the Low Pass just as we did.” Jonathan’s heart stopped and spasmed in the same moment. No attack, no bloodshed. His people were still alive and well. But then he realised exactly the implications of the squire’s words. The Vulcan Ambassador was being greeted by his blacksmith, armsman and a party of thoroughly undiplomatic Andorians. But worst, his future wife would first meet his lover! Grimly, he gathered his friends and raced to see what he could salvage from the political comedy of errors. What a disaster this was turning out to be!
So this fic has been in the works for almost 2 years after I read Setcheti's amazing fic. It's very ambitious compared to the fics I usually write and I got sick of it languishing in my drafts so I've set aside time to finish it! It's about 80% done and I'm starting to post to give myself some extra motivation to finish it.
Unbeta'd so let me know if you see any errors and I would love constructive criticism in general.
Chapter 2: Trouble on the Road
“Soval!” Sir Charles saw that Shran was correct, recognising Ambassador Soval as he urged his great stallion closer, nodding to his personal guard as he passed them. Charles had only seen the Vulcan Lord once before, as a young squire lined up with the others as the Vulcan had swept passed. He could vividly remember the disapproval stamped all over that hard face and here it was, recreated almost perfectly. His heart was still thundering from the adrenaline of a potential attack and he tried to steady his breathing as the Ambassador came to a stop.
“Lord Shran.” He replied smoothly as another rider stepped beside him. It was a woman, young looking, with the typical Vulcan sharp-tipped ears, tanned skin and neutral sneer. Charles realised with a jolt that this must be the Princess. Behind her and the guards were three people whose dress were neither Vulcan nor human...were they Tellar? Realising that he’d let protocol slip, Sir Charles sheathed his sword. Advancing his horse a few steps, he raised his voice in his most respectful tone.
“Your Grace Ambassador Soval, it is an honour to welcome you,” he glanced at the foreigners, “and your guests to our realm. We did not expect you to come this way.” Realising that the Vulcans might read censure in his words, he added hastily. “We apologise for this oversight.” Shran grumbled at this but Charles did not pay him any notice, watching the Vulcans for their reaction. His anticipation of disapproval was met by the Ambassador’s dry words.
“Yes, although we were advised to proceed through the mountain pass, we deemed it too dangerous for travel this time of year.” Biting back an insistence that statement was untrue, Charles merely nodded placidly.
“I am Sir Charles, this is Sir Malcolm and his squire Mayweather, and my own squire Hess. We are part of Prince Jonathan’s Circle.” His companions inclined their heads in turn and the Vulcans gave them passing glances, clearly uninterested. Charles squared his shoulders and soldiered on. “You have already met Lord Shran,” he noticed the lack of change in expression from the Vulcan party, despite their races’ bloody history, “and his nephew Keval. They will attend the wedding as representatives of the Great Kingdom of Andoria.” The Ambassador barely acknowledged them before turning and introducing his own party.
“My charge, Princess T’Pol and our guards.” He indicated to the foreigners. “This is Ambassador Feezal and her husbands Physician Phlox and Tradesman Bogga, they are representatives from Denobula.” The Denobulans expressed their greetings with unnaturally large smiles. In the slight pause that followed, Charles trying to remember protocol, Soval considered Shran. “I would not think Andoria would bother itself with recognising this union, which does not concern it in the slightest.” Hiding any insult which he may have felt, Shran declared in that brash way of his.
“Whilst I might be disappointed with the sober proceedings and lack of revelry, it promises to be an important occasion. Andorians are always concerned with foreign affairs.” Charles cringed, trying not to let the awkwardness show on his face, feeling almost powerless to intercede between such influential men.
“How conscientious of you.” The Ambassador remarked sarcastically, but before he could go on, the Princess spoke suddenly.
“Ambassador, perhaps it best we ought not to linger out in the open.” Grabbing on to the logic, Sir Charles nodded and spoke more confidently than he felt.
“Her Royal Highness is correct,” the Vulcans turned from staring at each other to regard him and he forced himself to speak through the intensity of their scrutiny, “the city is still many miles away. It would be safest to continue on without delay.”
“Safest for them to give it up altogether.” Shran muttered so only Charles could hear him. Repressing a smirk and momentarily glad that the Andorian was there, Charles turned to his squire.
“Hess, ride back and inform the Prince of what has occurred here. Meanwhile, we’ll go on to the Castle.” Hess nodded at his careful wording, a twinkle in her eye warring with the concern on her face and she rode off sharply. Shran and his companions turned to continue on, the Vulcans following with the Denobulans behind them. Charles rode over to Malcolm and ordered quietly.
“Take the rear, but keep an eye on our guests as well as our backs.” Malcolm nodded his understanding and he and Mayweather moved to the back of the column. Sighing, Charles considered placing himself between the Andorian and Vulcan parties, determined and resigned to stopping any more insults from flying before they could reach someone with more expertise at handling delicate situations. But then he saw that the Vulcan guards had surrounded the King, two ahead and two behind. Vulcan guards were notoriously hard to provoke, even Shran shouldn’t be able to goad them. Sir Charles thought for a moment, then, feeling nervous, but deciding that he had observed enough of court proceedings to not do any more harm, walked his horse to draw level with Soval. He earned sharp glares from the guards, but they took no action. Charles addressed the Vulcan as humbly as he could manage.
“Your Grace, I apologise again for the confusion over the routes. The Prince was eager to welcome both you and your charge to our lands himself.” The Vulcan eyed the knight for a moment, as if weighing up whether it worth his time to respond. But then he inclined his head in acknowledgement. Charles nodded slightly also, sensing that he would not be garnering any favours by continuing with small-talk, but before he could retreat, the Princess spoke up.
“The road here was ill-maintained and precarious in places.” Charles turned to her, taken aback and then cursing himself for being surprised at the comment. “Perhaps your people should focus their efforts less on violent spectacles and lovemaking, and more on infrastructure.” Biting back his initial response and simultaneously wishing Hoshi were there instead, he breathed in deeply before replying as pleasantly as he could.
“I am sorry to hear that.” Her eyes narrowed at him and he added on hurriedly. “Your Highness.” Still struggling with irritation, he went on civilly. “I am sure that the Prince will be more than willing to listen any…observations you have to make.” Ignoring his words, she went on.
“What exactly is your role at Court, Sir…?” Gripping the reins tighter, he fought to keep his anger from his face. They all knew full well that she hadn’t forgotten his name in less than five minutes.
“Sir Charles. I am the Prince’s First Knight, sworn to the realm and the house of Archer.” Soval cut in, surprising Charles, who had assumed he wasn’t listening.
“I do not recognise your crest.” Swallowing, feeling the Princess’ and the Denobulan’s eyes also on him, Charles said evenly.
“You would not, your Grace, my house is relatively minor.” The Princess raised an eyebrow in response. The Ambassador tilted his head to her, in a gesture of subtlety which was not matched by his normal speaking voice.
“The Prince’s blacksmith, I believe.” Gritting his teeth at the condescending tone, Charles replied stiffly, not caring that the show had been designed to exclude him.
“I help create and maintain much of the Prince’s equipment. Though it is Sir Malcolm who oversees the forging of the Prince’s weaponry. He is the best weapons master in the realm, his blades are so sharp they sing as the Prince wields them.” The Vulcans wrinkled their noses at the description and Charles belatedly realised that perhaps speaking about Prince Jonathan practicing violence to the peaceful Vulcans was a mistake. Worse, despite his effort to redirect the conversation, the Princess picked up the Ambassador’s thread.
“I suppose the Prince must run into many troubles in the wilderness, if he requires his blacksmith to accompany him everywhere.” The way the Vulcans had said ‘blacksmith’, like it was a dirty word, dug underneath Charles’ skin; almost making him physically squirm from the pain and discomfort. He was struggling to think of something not incredibly rude to say back when the Princess added, very deliberately. “Or perhaps his equipment is simply ill-made to begin with.” Now aware that his anger was definitely showing on his face, Charles huffed out a breath and couldn’t help the impulsive remark.
“I hope you are not suggesting that King Henry allows his family to be serviced by unskilled servants.” The Ambassador cut in, his voice sounding bored.
“Be calm Sir Charles, her Highness is merely commenting on the inferiority of human practices. I know King Henry only employs the best craftsmen in your realm.” Far from being placated at this further insult, Charles bristled. Fortunately, the Vulcan’s words were enough reminder of how outranked Charles was. He swallowed and held his temper in check, merely nodding and saying stiffly.
“If you need any assistance on the ride, you only need but ask.” The pair eyed him a moment before turning to each other in clear dismissal. Still annoyed but relieved to escape, he fell back to draw level with the Denobulan Ambassador and her husband Bogga. He saw the other husband, Phlox, riding with Malcolm and Mayweather. At first glance, they had looked no different from humans, but now Charles could see round markings on the sides of their faces and their eyes were brighter than any human eye he remembered seeing.
“Ambassador, I hope the roads have not troubled you over much.” The Ambassador answered brightly with a large smile.
“Not at all Sir Charles, the journey has been most pleasant thus far,” her smile deepened, unnerving him with the impossible stretch of her lips. “Though it is infinitely more pleasant now we have met you and your companions.” Unsure of her intent with that comment, Sir Charles smiled warily.
“It is very kind of you to say. I must confess I have never met anyone from Denobula before, I am looking forward to making your acquaintance and I hope you enjoy your visit to our kingdom.” As he listened to the Ambassador talk, the knight tried not to look at the Vulcan party.
“So, you are a physician?”
“Yes, Mr Mayweather! That is correct.” The Denobulan confirmed pleasantly. “Alas I was not able to bring any of the creatures I use in my practices, but I relish the opportunity to learn from your own doctors. Sir Charles mentioned you are part of Prince Jonathan’s Circle. What are your roles exactly?” Sir Malcolm’s restless gaze continued its surveillance of the road and the surrounding woodland even as he answered.
“I am the Prince’s Master of the Guard and his weaponry.”
“Fascinating! What does that entail?” Lips bending a little at the visitor’s interest, the armsman explained proudly.
“I help train and lead the Prince’s guard, organise his security both in his Residencies and whilst travelling. I also maintain the Prince’s weaponry.” He smirked, glancing at the Knight ahead of them. “Though Sir Charles is the true master of the Royal Forge.” The Denobulan asked interestedly.
“Ah, I have heard of this. He is the Forgemaster?”
“No, there is another man who runs the Forge but Sir Charles has a way with the hammer. He can make the most intricate and useful contraptions; an inventor you could say. He made much of the Prince’s equipment: compasses, satchels, fire-makers and the like.” Phlox hummed in interest and Mayweather smirked as he glanced ahead of him.
“Somehow I don’t think the Vulcans are as impressed.” The others looked as well, seeing the knight falling back to draw level with the Denobulan Ambassador. His face was red and his posture tense.
“No, poor Sir Charles, he is perhaps not the most…deft-handed at Court politics.” Sir Malcolm commented wryly. At the Denobulan’s questioning glance, he remembered he was representing his Prince’s house to a foreigner so added quickly. “But his fierce loyalty to the Prince more than makes up for that.”
“Travis Mayweather. I am Sir Malcolm’s Squire and Royal Navigator. I grew up on ships, so I always accompany the family when they travel by sea.” His smile lessened as he admitted. “I am afraid I do not know much about your kingdom Mr Phlox.” Not at all offended by this, Phlox cried.
“Ah, not to worry, I would be pleased to educate you on my Realm. Firstly, Denobula is not a kingdom exactly…” He went on describing the land and its people: temperate climate though it could become humid in the summer months which was a problem in the crowded cities. The Denobulans were scientifically minded and highly advanced, even outstripping the Vulcans in some areas. When he arrived at the social intricacies, Mayweather interrupted.
“Forgive me if this seems impertinent, but Ambassador Soval mentioned that both yourself and Bogga were husbands to the Ambassador…Is it custom in Denobula to take more than one spouse?”
“Why yes! In fact, Lady Feezal is only one of my wives.” The humans exchanged a surprised look between them.
“Indeed?” Sir Malcolm managed.
“Yes, most people will have multiple partners. Our families are large and boisterous. We have a saying: Call out ‘homeward!’ in a marketplace and everyone will go home with you.” He chortled and then enquired curiously. “I trust it is not the same in your kingdom?” Sir Malcolm sniffed.
“No, we are typically monogamous. Though it is not unheard of for people to partake in informal relations with more than one other.” Phlox hummed.
“But I have heard that unlike Vulcans and my own people, humans partake in sexual relations with both genders indiscriminately.”
“That depends on your station.” Sir Malcolm looked as uncomfortable as he often did when intimate matters were raised so Mayweather took over the explanations.
“In general, men and women of the realm are free to lay with or marry who they will but for roles which require children, such as royalty, they must marry the opposite sex. Also, there are roles which do not encourage children, for example sailors on long voyages, where it is custom to take partners of the same sex. It is one of the reasons that an unmarried monarch’s Companions are of the same sex, to avoid the production of bastards which may threaten any Royal lineage.”
“Ah, yes Ambassador Soval did mention that the Prince has only taken male lovers and that his current Companion was male.” Mayweather was unable to keep himself from glancing at Sir Charles at this comment and the sharp doctor caught it. He made the connection quickly.
“Ah, I see another reason for the good knight’s troubles with our Vulcan friends.” There was a moment of silence before he changed the subject. “Have either of you chosen a life partner?” Both men shook their heads, though Mayweather took on a mischievous look as he said casually.
“No, but my master has no shortage of admirers at Court.” Sir Malcolm cut him a sharp look.
“Travis, you would do well not to tell false tales.” Eyes wide, the squire continued ‘innocently’.
“I speak no falsehood when I say my master turns heads whe’ver he goes. Many admire his prowess in battle and dark h…” He trailed off as the glare from his master became icy. Phlox laughed and the armsman just grumbled as Sir Charles called for a halt.
After some pleasant talk, though Sir Charles wished the Denobulans would stop looking at him so intensely, they reached the bottom of the hill. Sir Charles called a halt so they could rest the horses and, he hoped, wait for the Prince to save him from playing diplomat for much longer.
The Andorians claimed some stones arranged in the shade and Feezal reluctantly said.
“I will go on and get better acquainted to Lord Shran, though do not stray far, I wish to hear more tales of your lands.” Her husband accompanied her, much to Charles’ relief. Sir Malcolm approached, announcing he and Mayweather would secure the surrounding area. Two of Shran’s men volunteered to accompany them, Shran nodding in approval and Soval, over-hearing, ordered two of his own party to join. Ambassador Feezal, Sir Charles was pleased to see, did not offer to help as well. There were enough complex and delicate relations there as it was. He announced to the assembled group.
“Sir Malcolm will brief you on what to look for, this area is under the King’s protection so there are few dangers, but as I am often informed, it is always best to remain vigilant.” After listening to the armsman’s instructions, the group parted and moved to the edges of the clearing, Shran appeared deep in conversation with Feezal and her husbands, Keval reading a book next to them. Soval and Princess T’Pol were also talking, a little way away from the others. Their two remaining guards standing close by, stony as usual.
Left somewhat at a loose end and unwilling to engage in conversation with any of the remaining individuals, Charles walked back to the trail, listening for signs of his Prince’s approach. One hand resting on the pommel of his sword, he tried to keep his breathing deep and even. He had not had time to consider how the inevitability of the event was becoming more solid with every stage in the process. First, the announcement, then the planning of the ceremony, the excruciating discussions of the endless minutiae, up until he had mounted his horse that morning, it had all been distant. Now, in the presence of her, he could picture the moment of his heart shattering as the pair bonded themselves together in front of all of the realms.
“What are you doing?”
“Gods!” Sir Charles turned abruptly, his heart pumping fiercely. “How did you creep up behind me with those long skirts?” The Princess T’Pol merely stared back at him and replied dryly.
“I did not ‘creep’ as you put it. I simply walked. It was you who was not paying due attention.” Swallowing, trying to calm his poor heart, Sir Charles replied tightly.
“Then I apologise for my ‘inattention’, your Highness.” Seeing Malcolm continuing his circle of the perimeter from the corner of his eye, Sir Charles began to walk back to the others, in part to get out of his friend’s way, in part to attempt to escape her. The Princess, who was still observing him closely, unfortunately decided to join him. Further, she continued the conversation as if no offence had ever been exchanged between them.
“I am merely curious about my intended. One can learn much about a person through their servants.” Cursing how unprepared he was for this test of his pride and patience, Sir Charles pictured his lover’s embarrassed face in his mind to help him control his temper. He had promised to step aside for this…this…person for the sake of the realm and for his love. He would not make Jonathan’s life more difficult by losing his composure. Charles looked the Princess in the eye and saw the challenge there. Aha! A challenge he could deal with. Trying to unbalance him? Trying to force him into a political insult? He would show her. Smoothing out his expression, he replied pleasantly.
“Of course, what would you like to know, your Highness?” If she was disappointed that her efforts had been foiled so far, the Vulcan Princess did not show it.
“How long have you served the house Archer?”
“Almost ten years, your Highness.”
“And your ancestry?”
“My parents worked in the city mills, your Highness.” As she continued her questioning, Soval moved away from his remaining guards. Charles tried to keep an eye on his progress in case he strayed too close to the Andorians, but he was having difficulty concentrating as he had to respond to the quick-fire questions.
“How did you become a knight?” Ignoring the incredulous tone of her voice as she asked the question, he stated flatly.
“I was first an apprentice at the Royal Forge. During the Prince’s first tourney, his squire was injured by a loose stallion and I was called to aid him with his armour, among others who attended his weaponry needs.” Despite the situation, the memory made him smile. “I made some adjustments to his armour that he liked and he arranged for me to squire for one of his father’s knights, Sir Jeffery.”
“That history is incomplete, not all squires become knights.” Eying the Denobulan Ambassador leaning very close to Shran’s nephew, Charles replied breezily.
“If my story does not please you, I can tell another.” An edge entered the Princess’ voice as she replied.
“I asked you how you came to be in your current position, I am not interested in hearing tall tales.” Hiding a smile, he kept his tone light.
“I am not sure how you do things in Vulcan, but in Terra, when we ask questions, we listen to the answers without interruption.”
“I was merely trying to discern how such a rude and uncouth individual could have risen to such a rank.” He stopped walking and turned to her fully, his new resolve crumbling from her bald insults.
“And may I try to discern how I have been rude or uncouth? A diplomat I may not be, but I-”
“You have not observed the correct protocols, your speech is informal and betrays a lack of proper education and…” She sniffed dramatically, “you have an offensively strong odour.”
Charles’ face turned stormy and unable to help himself, he opened his mouth to retort, not even knowing what he was about to say. Thankfully, a shout rang out from the edge of the clearing.
“The Prince approaches!” Pulling himself away from the precipice of his anger and never more glad to hear Malcolm’s sharp and commanding tone, Charles joined everyone else in turning around. He was still breathing harshly and struggled to calm his heart rate and cool his blood which was warming his face and neck. This task was even harder as he could sense the Princess beside him, apparently calm and serene. The Ice Princess indeed. Jonathan appeared through the trees and as he approached, Charles backed away a respectful distance from the Royals. He felt shame rush in as he considered how close he’d come to failing his Prince. Hoping against hope that the Vulcans would not mention their conversations, he concentrated on appearing as innocent and unnoticeable as possible. Shran drew level with him and they exchanged an understanding look as the Prince reached them. Looking not at all harried and completely regal in his own right, Prince Jonathan dismounted and addressed the Vulcan guests respectfully.
“Your Grace,” he addressed Soval before turning to his betrothed, “your Highness, it is agreeable to finally meet you.” He made the Vulcan gesture with his right hand which made Charles curse himself for forgetting it. The Vulcans returned the gesture, the Princess saying neutrally.
“And I you.”
“I hope your journey has been well so far.” The Princess looked around at Charles pointedly before stating mildly.
“I was just relating our troubles to your…blacksmith.” Jonathan glanced at Charles, expression still but eyes crinkled in concern. Behind him, Andrew was obviously trying to hold in his mirth whilst Lady Hoshi cringed in sympathy.
“Well, I will be happy to hear any grievances you may have.” He breathed in deeply. “We will have some time before the ceremony to…get acquainted.” The party remounted and began to depart. Lowering his head as the Vulcans and Jonathan rode past, Charles gratefully joined Sir Malcolm and Mayweather at the back. Even though the two couldn’t help themselves from making many jests at his expense.
“The look on your face!”
“Good Sir, please never cool your temper, it would be quite disappointing.”
“Yes, yes, very amusing. I would like to see one of you two dolts try to do better!”
“Dolts?” Malcolm chortled. “Your tongue must be tired from tripping over itself.” Knowing he would not be able to match the armsman in wits whilst he was riled so, Sir Charles merely narrowed his eyes in response. Mayweather resisted laughing long enough to say in a consolatory tone.
“Fortunately it seems as though the wedding is still on.” All three looked over to see Jonathan talking with the Princess. Even from their position, they could see that the conversation was not a pleasant one.
“So what is she like?” Sir Charles tore his gaze away from the far-off couple and said shortly.
“As cold and biting as the winter wind.” Mayweather shook his head.
“I still cannot believe that the Prince agreed to marry her before their meeting.” Sir Malcolm answered in a knowing voice.
“Tis the way of the political classes, land and titles matter more than looks or character.” He stole a glance at the other knight and tried to give voice to Charles’ usual optimism. “But I have faith that our Prince’s natural charm and determination will thaw her Icy Heart.” They all looked back to regard the couple. Charles could not hide his displeasure at the sight but the others, well aware of the love between the Prince and his Companion, did not find this surprising. They refrained from commenting, seeing no point in treading the well-worn avenues of discussion that ultimately were futile. Instead they began to tell him of their conversation with the physician Phlox, whiling away the time until they reached the Palace.
Chapter 3: First, the Realm
Prince Jonathan watched his future wife being led to her new chambers and let out a huge breath. He had known that she would be dour and demanding – she was a Vulcan after all – but somehow he had still been surprised by her curt and judgemental comments. Princess T’Pol was both highly intelligent and brutally honest, not restraining herself from relaying to him both her observations and opinions about him and his species. Everything he had said had somehow been lacking or offensive, though when he’d tried to merely hum in response, she’d criticised him for speechlessness. Needless to say it had been a tiring ride.
His father suggested that the betrothed have their first meal alone together, in order to get better acquainted. The Vulcan Ambassador had balked at this suggestion, insisting that there be at least one Vulcan chaperone present. After some negotiations, Prince Jonathan, Princess T’Pol, her personal guard Y’cha and Sir Malcolm sat down for an intimate meal. In respect of the sensitivities of his betrothed’s people, there were only dishes without the flesh of animals, even though the Prince would have heartily enjoyed some red meats to restore the energy lost during the long day. Thankfully wine did not offend Vulcan sensibilities. Ignoring the thinly-veiled suspicion between the guardsman and woman at the table, Jonathan began attempting to grow acquainted with his betrothed. Although she did not reject any of his topics, her answers were usually short and to the point and she did not contribute much to the flow of conversation. The Prince was just starting to become frustrated by this as the main course arrived and the Princess suddenly commanded.
“Tell me the history of your house.” Blinking, the human Prince ventured.
“I was lead to believe that you are well-versed in human history.”
“I am.” Jonathan resisted the urge to glance at his guardsman to read his expression as his fiancée continued. “But it is often interesting to hear a history from a different source.”
“Well reasoned.” And after taking a sip of wine, he began.
“Long ago there were four kingdoms in the human realm. They quarrelled often and war had broken out. The fighting had been fierce and bitter for so long, many generations of humans raiding enemy towns, seizing and losing territory, bleeding the land the dry and causing so much pain. Blood was split on all sides. Eventually, my great-grandfather, King Jonathan of the Forrestland, managed to establish a truce, defying his people and losing his crown in the process. But he had remained firm and succeeded in convincing the other leaders to agree. All the four lands would be free to rule themselves, but in times of need, they would come together under the banner of Archer and recognise High King Edward’s authority. This was…logical at the time because the Arch lands was the only Terran land to have resisted invasion. Robin’s Valley was oft visited by Orion slavers from across the sea, the Gardener lands border Klingon territory having long fought them and lost whole towns to their raids and the Forrestland had relations with Vulcan. Peaceful though the relations may have been, the other lands were still suspicious of any foreigners.
Tentative at first, some seeing it as a respite to regroup and strengthen their position before continuing, the uneasy peace had endured with Archer lending soldiers and knights to beat back the Klingon raiders in the Gardener lands and establishing stronger border fortifications; re-directing rivers, building artificial valleys and sturdier castles. King Edward also sent weaponry and his armsman to train the common folk of the Robin’s Valley, so they could retreat to the hills and ambush Orion slavers when they came, deterring them from trying again. The King did not need to send aid to the Forrestland, though he ensured to strengthen their trade relations and preach tolerance of the Vulcan presence.
Throughout his reign, King Edward gained the respect of the nobles and common folk alike though it was not until Duchess Georgia of the Forrestland had inherited her position that all the lands finally committed to the treaty. The Duchess’ younger brother Maxwell had, against all odds, befriended Prince Henry of the Arch Lands from a chance encounter on the border of their lands. At her brother’s urging, Georgia had called her rival rulers and brokered the marriage pact.
My mother and Duke Andrew’s mother were the daughters of Duchess Georgia of Forrestland. My aunt Susan, the eldest, married into the Robin family whilst my mother, Teresa married Henry of the Arch Lands. The marriages formed an extension of the peace treaty between all three kingdoms. After decades of war, the sisters united the humans under the name Terra and their children sent to foster in each other’s kingdoms to strengthen the relations. As you know, compared to the neighbouring lands, the humans’ territories are small, so it does not take more than a few months to traverse the entirety of Terra. My grandfather would say that this aided the push for peace as the common folk were tired of fighting their neighbours.
Still, there are those who bicker over exact border markings and those, I am told, who mutter about laying with their ancestor’s enemies,” The Prince pretended not to hear his guardsman’s mutter: “especially the Gardeners.” The Prince coughed and continued.
“The general populace, however, commoner and noble alike, agreed that peace and stability were ultimately more profitable and holy than war.” He smiled and concluded. “Now, I could not imagine going to war against my cousins.”
The Princess T’Pol listened intently to the tale, eyes betraying no surprise at the events and glances at her guard indicated that the case was the same with her, or she was not paying attention. Both she and Sir Malcolm hardly ate, too busy watching each other beneath their lashes. If his armsman wasn’t so dedicated to his duty, the Prince might have mistaken his fixation on the Vulcan woman as sexual interest. But even though the knight was not chaste by any means, he always ordered duty before desire. Having come to the end of his tale with the Princess hardly reacting, Prince Jonathan took another drink of wine and said.
“So, tell me about your life in Vulcan.”
“My life in Vulcan is at an end, it would serve no purpose to relate such information to you.”
“On the contrary, your memories of childhood often inform who you are.” Although her expression did not change in any way, the Princess must have agreed with his statement as she began.
“I was raised in the Southern region of our lands. My father was often occupied with matters of Court but we shared evening meals where he would test what our tutors had taught us that day and tell us the family history. My mother is a scientist and oversees the Royal Academy of Sciences and Learning.” Jonathan had heard of this ‘science’ of the Vulcans which was similar to alchemy and forge-work. He did not interrupt and the Princess continued. “My sister T’Pau and I learned the arts of diplomacy among other subjects appropriate for heirs.”
“What’s your sister like?” Seeing her quizzical expression, he elaborated. “Do you fight often?”
“We often engaged in philosophical debates as children. Whilst logical, her arguments were often more extreme.” Jonathan nodded his head and managed.
“Oh.” Silence fell again and he held back a sigh. He couldn’t help but feel relief when his betrothed politely declined dessert and excused herself to meditate. Exchanging a glance with Sir Malcolm, Jonathan held back a sigh and tried to finish his meal.
The next morning dawned brightly in stark contrast to many of the castle occupant’s moods. The Prince and Princess had many long, boring meetings concerning political changes in their lands due to their marriage. Seemingly everyone else was concerned with wedding affairs, rushing around building wooden arch ways, embroidering table cloths and the like. Whilst Sir Malcolm still was not entirely comfortable with the number of Vulcan and Andorian guardsmen and women in the castle, he was satisfied that none would attempt an attack on any of the Royal persons. Taking advantage of a gap in his duties, he cajoled Sir Charles into sparring practice in the Guard’s Courtyard, inviting the Andorians to join them; hoping against hope to keep the two contentious factions away from each other. Shran was duelling with Duke Andrew and Sir Malcolm sparred with Sir Charles whilst Duchess Erika and Lord Keval watched and cheered. Once Sir Malcolm had disarmed Sir Charles for the third time, they called for a break and Sir Malcolm stepped back to assess the other match taking place.
“You fight well.” Keval praised, having approached shyly, his eyes making no effort to disguise their perusal of Charles’ panting torso. Having foregone his surcoat, the knight’s loose shirt revealed a sliver of hair-covered chest, glistening a little with sweat. Feeling unbalanced by this forward behaviour, Sir Charles forced a smile and nodded to Malcolm.
“Any credit must go to this poor man.” Malcolm, who had overheard, laughed good-naturedly.
“Come now, friend. You have learnt much since those pitiful efforts in the early days.” Keval laughed a little as Charles feigned offence, but his respect did not seem diminished. Sir Charles glanced at Keval’s sword strapped to his side.
“You fight much?” Keval smiled and deferred.
“A little. I am afraid I would not be much of an opponent against you.” Their attention was called by Shran disarming Andrew and crowing loudly. They applauded with the others, laughing at Andrew’s pouting, before Charles led Keval over to the training weapons store. He nodded at the sparring swords.
“Come on, a small match.” He tried for a flirtatious smile. “I’ll pull my punches.” Keval’s eyes lit up and he selected a sword, weighing it in his hands and trying out some swings. When they returned to the yard, Erika was now sparring with Shran, both of them throwing out jests and boasts. Malcolm was splitting his attention between them and Sir Zabel’s squire Marcel, who was duelling another Andorian. Charles and Keval talked idly until Shran disarmed Erika with a flourish.
“I yield, Lord Shran, please have mercy!” Erika mock-surrendered and he bowed back.
“That was well fought. You truly are the fiercest of the Prince’s cousins!” Andrew waved a lazy hand from where he was chatting to one of Shran’s female guards but otherwise didn’t respond. Taking the free space, Charles and Keval squared off. Charles felt numerous eyes on them and forced himself to concentrate on the fight, analysing Keval’s stance and how he moved. Keval had a stark advantage, having observed him fighting previously, an advantage which Charles felt almost immediately as Keval slipped under his guard several times. Had it not been for Sir Malcolm’s rigorous training, Charles may have succumb to the jabs and erred, but as it was he managed to hold his composure. He had known Shran as long as the Prince had and had been granted the honour of watching him fight over the years. Hopefully Keval had been learning the same tricks – and weaknesses – as his uncle.
Sir Malcolm watched his most troublesome student fighting the Andorian lordling, conscious that Shran was doing the same. Although he often jested about Charles’ fighting skills, he really had improved greatly under Malcolm’s instruction and his quick, nimble mind could make him a formidable opponent. It helped that Charles landed himself in trouble almost as much as the Prince, having to use his skills in perilous situations honed them fairly quickly, even if Malcolm’s poor heart nearly gave out on each occasion.
Keval was obviously well-trained, though he seemed less confident in his own skills. Malcolm thought bitterly to himself that the young man was obviously easier to protect and probably hadn’t ever fought for his life. The Andorian had picked up on Charles’ tendency to feint a low strike before aiming a high strike but once Charles had adjusted his fighting to compensate, Keval began falling back on practised manoeuvres. Manoeuvres which Charles was familiar with from his time watching Shran fight. Putting his knowledge and brilliant mind to the task, Charles soon managed to disarm his opponent to the cautious applause of the gathered audience. The two sparring partners shook hands, Malcolm noticing the strange tension between them. It looked similar to sexual attraction but wasn’t quite…
“Bravo, Sir Charles!” Shran’s loud voice interrupted his train of thought. He punched Charles good-naturedly on the shoulder as he said at a normal volume. “See, you do have things to teach.” Charles smiled awkwardly in reply, leaving Malcolm a little puzzled. The Andorians bid farewell as they left to change before dinner, Keval’s gaze lingering on Charles a long moment, as the humans replaced the equipment and swept the yard. Malcolm raised his eyebrows enquiringly but Charles shook his head so he didn’t broach the topic. Once they were done though, Charles clapped Malcolm on the shoulder.
“Thank you.” Malcolm almost refused to accept the thanks as their friendship had long past outgrown the exchange of favours; he tried not to think about the amount of times Charles had helped calm him after a skirmish in the wilds or distracted him from his dark thoughts by talking at length about inconsequential things. Instead he smiled warmly.
The following days contained last-minute adjustments to the decorations, ceremony and meal – most of them trigged by Ambassador Soval’s insistence that Vulcan’s traditions be observed. Jonathan hardly had time to think, let alone talk about anything of meaning with his fiancée. He was disturbed by Sir Charles’ distance; where once he was almost always at Jonathan’s right side, now he often had urgent tasks to complete on the other side of the castle. Instead Jonathan was spending time with his betrothed and her taciturn guards. He tried not to consider how accurate a reflection this new regime was of his future life.
The night before the wedding found the honoured guests and hosts gathered in the Lesser Hall for a more intimate meal than the Feast the next day. King Henry sat at the head of the table, Ambassador Soval and Lord Shran at either side of him as the most senior members of each race present. The Vulcan Princess sat next to the Ambassador, and her betrothed, Prince Jonathan across from her, which made for many awkward moments as their eyes met by accident. Both were undeniably curious about the other and given the closeness of the ceremony, their anxieties were only heightened. Jonathan was only partially proud of his discerning his betrothed’s ‘concern’ and not at all comforted by the knowledge that he was not alone in his nerves. Ambassador Hoshi sat on the other side of the Princess and tried multiple times, mostly unsuccessfully, to learn more about Vulcan culture.
Ambassador Feezal sat beside Prince Jonathan, her strange mannerisms and forward nature not unnoticed by the other guests. The Vulcans did not react, however, and Ambassador Hoshi had warned them that Denobulans were naturally more ‘liberal’ than other races and to not take offence. Duke Andrew was seated next to her and enjoyed the attention when it was shined upon him. His sister, seated across from him, would roll her eyes whenever she saw this. This left only Queen Teresa at the other end of the reduced table, a serene and regal presence, she often acted as intermediary if any potential quarrels began to brew. A mixture of human, Vulcan and Andorian guards were placed throughout the hall and outside it, their presence a physical embodiment of the tensions between the two guests seated by the human King.
The Princess T’Pol wrinkled her nose as she watched Duke Andrew tear into piece of meat; King Henry grinned wickedly at Shran’s question.
“Why, the great arguments of Duchess Erika and Prince Jonathan are famed in these parts!” The Duchess widened her eyes in mock-warning and the Prince huffed a laugh.
“Father, I believe you are mis-remembering again.” The King chuckled and exclaimed to the table, who were now smiling and laughing along.
“Mis-remembering he claims! Strange how he levels that accusation only when I point out his failings. Few as they are.” He added, smiling kindly at the Princess. Prince Jonathan took a sip of his wine and continued jesting.
“The Lady Erika and I have never quarrelled in earnest.” Almost all of the humans laughed at this blatant lie, the visitors showing either amusement and boredom. Duke Andrew smirked and remarked to the Vulcan Princess.
“You will need to keep an eye on the young Prince. He has a talent for courting trouble.” Throwing a quick glance at his fiancée’s reaction – or rather lack of a reaction – Prince Jonathan protested.
“Another falsehood! How cruel you are cousin to misrepresent me to my betrothed!” The Queen then addressed the Princess as much as the rest of the table.
“Do not worry my dear, that is exactly what we employ dear Sir Malcolm for.”
“Yes, do not concern yourself if you spy dear Sir Malcolm prowling the corridors, Your Highness.” Andrew advised playfully.
“The Princess has her own guards.” Soval interjected, the tone bland but the wording pointed. A tense silence fell upon them a moment before Shran declared sharply.
“Yes, we know much concerning the prowess of the Vulcan Royal Guard.” Many quick glances were exchanged among the humans before Lady Erika piped up.
“Did you hear, my Lords, about Shran defeating my brother in sparring practice a few days past?”
“Indeed?” Princess T’Pol asked politely. Her betrothed examined her a moment, trying to see if her interest was genuine or if she was merely aiding in the diffusion of tension. Erika was delightedly retelling the tale with help from Shran and protests from Andrew. When it was done and the laughter around the table started to fade, T’Pol spoke to Jonathan directly. “I should be interested to see you fight one day.” Soval snapped his head around, brow furrowed minutely though he remained silent. T’Pol met his gaze serenely and Prince Jonathan answered hesitantly.
“If it pleases, my Lady.” Another hush came over the table. Clearing his throat, King Henry changed the subject and the matter was dropped. Not long after, everyone parted to their respective rooms to be well rested for their duties on the following day.
Closing the door to the world, putting aside his concerns for how this would be perceived by his future wife and her people, Jonathan turned to see Charles sitting on his bed, watching him. A deep sadness clung to his frame and crossing the room, Jonathan vowed that at least for that night, he would reignite that happy spark in his lover’s eyes he’d grown to love. Their lovemaking was slow and intense. Each motion made with great care, each sensation being committed to memory, all their words heartfelt and whispered reverently into each other’s skin.
After, once they were both spent, they lay still for a time, letting the sweat cool on their skin and their breaths slow. Then Jon rolled onto his side and asked quietly, wistfully.
“Do you remember when we rode through the Silver Forest? When we camped under the stars we talked about what we would do if we had different lives?” Charles looked up at him and smiled a little.
“You were the Captain of the fastest ship on the seven seas.”
“And you were my first mate.” Jonathan remembered how touched he had been when Charles had immediately chosen a fantasy in which they were together. In all the years they’d had together, he had never doubted how devoted his lover was, how deep his passion, his loyalty, his love. As he gazed down at that soft, sad smile, he regretted for the hundredth time his duty to his people, his terrible burden. His life was not his own. He had learnt that as a child, but he had not fully grasped what that had meant until his father had announced the arrangement and he’d realised that he would lose the one person who meant the world to him. Looking back up at him, reading his thoughts upon his face, Charles whispered.
“First, the realm.” Closing his eyes and resting his forehead against his lover’s, Jonathan breathed in deeply. Perhaps the worst aspect of the whole business was Charles’ quiet acceptance. At first he had been as devastated as Jonathan, then he had pulled himself up in true Tucker fashion and had begun preparing Jonathan for this duties. Charles knew his place and, Jonathan had discovered with despair, he had always known it. The Prince had not realised how much he’d managed to blind himself to the harsh reality of their roles until Charles had looked at him and said sadly, this was always going to end.
Now, in his lover’s arms for what he knew to be the last time, Jon had to squeeze his eyelids tightly to stave off the burning sensation in his throat. He managed to choke out.
“I will always love you.” The answer was instant.
“And I you.” They held each other long into the night but when Jonathan awoke with the first rays of the sun, he was alone.
The ceremony was long and almost insufferable. Sir Malcolm shifted minutely in his seat. He would have much preferred to have been on guard duty or signing papers, or even shovelling the stables. At least that was honest work. Whilst he admired the elegant and form-fitting attire of some of the comelier ladies and dashing gentlemen, the Prince and Princess were especially pleasing to the eye, the fulfilling of customs and kissing of arses held no particular interest for him. As he was formally a guest, he had assigned his most trusted guards to maintain control of the security and keep an eye out for trouble. He could not help doing the same himself, but he had to appear as if he was enjoying the spectacle at the same time.
What made it worse was the shockwaves the occasion was sending through the established social circles. He wasn’t considering the ‘heart break’ of those ambitious nobles and their daughters or the xenophobic factions. He was thinking of the effect on Prince Jonathan’s closest friend and companion, namely, his former Companion. No longer required to perform his usual hosting duties, Sir Charles had very much been attempting to blend into the background of proceedings. To the majority of the guests this would not be unremarkable behaviour, but his friends knew better, though they were too considerate of his pride to call attention to that fact. Everyone expect Shran, but he seemed to be too busy grumbling and complaining about everything else to draw attention to it. Malcolm had caught some glimpses of his friend’s face and whilst not outwardly miserable, his expression was far from his usual joy.
It was true that the man’s exuberance had been an irritant when they had first met. Sir Malcolm had been new to Court. His family were sailors, members of the Royal Navy one and all. Except he had gone and squired for Sir Harris, throwing off family tradition and earning the sneers of courtiers. After impressing one of the King’s aides, he had earned a place at Court and had been assigned to protect the young Prince. Said Prince, already a keen explorer, had protested that he needed no escort as he already had Sir Charles and his cousins and old knight to accompany him on excursions. Sir Malcolm had started out on the wrong foot by suggesting, without much tact, that the cited parties did not, in fact, offer adequate protection for any member of the Royal Family, let alone the heir apparent. But after many long weeks travelling together, himself and Charles and reached a begrudging truce which, over the years, had turned into a strong friendship. Sir Malcolm hated the whole thing for hurting his friend, for tearing apart two people so visibly in love. But alas, there was nothing he, nor anyone else, could do.
“Your Highness, may I take this seat?” T’Pol of Vulcan raised her head to look at the source of the query. Ambassador Sato stood meekly by her side, evidently nervous in her presence but still eager to join her. Suppressing a sigh for what felt like the hundredth time that day, the Princess inclined her head slightly and prepared herself for more tedious small talk. Whilst her new household, subjects and family were all very cordial and accommodating to her needs, the uncouth Sir Charles not-withstanding, she had quickly grown tired of their incessant need to voice their every thought and comment on the minutiae of everything. She could see her new husband mingling with the minor lords, broad smiles and touches aplenty. He had invited her to join him, but uninterested in human politics, she had declined. His face had carried that pinched expression he often wore when speaking to her. She had not yet discerned what this signified but she had noted that he occasionally wore the same expression when reminded of something vexing, so the signs were not encouraging. The Princess told herself often to grant him the benefit of her lack of knowledge and experience with humans. Though she apparently would have many years to learn his expressions. She pushed down her dismay at that thought and forced herself to concentrate on Sato’s words.
“I have read that Vulcans fast before religious ceremonies.”
“That is correct.” There was a pause and the Princess belatedly realised that the human was expecting her to elaborate. Breathing in sharply, she proceeded to answer automatically.
Distantly, T’Pol wondered where Sir Charles was hiding. She had only caught glimpses of him during the ceremony and could not see him now. She had been meaning to enquire as to the particular sexual tastes of her new husband. Whilst the Princess’ sense of decorum baulked at the idea, the logical side dictated that the more pleasing she was, the more chance they had of reproducing. However, since their brief conversation on the road, she had not been able to procure time alone with him and had not been willing to summon him under the eyes of her protectors. She knew that Ambassador Soval would not agree with her intentions and so had left the matter. She considered asking the Lady Hoshi if she knew the knight’s whereabouts, but did not want the human Ambassador to glean anything from the enquiry. Humans were notorious at jumping to faulty conclusions based on incomplete information. Luckily Ambassador Feezal wandered over and T’Pol managed to extricate herself from the conversation. She caught sight of Sir Malcolm across the room and set herself the challenge of choosing a topic of conversation on her journey over to him.
“Here you are, sir.” Turning to see his apprentice handing him another goblet of wine, Sir Malcolm acknowledged it with a wince.
“Ah, thank you Travis.”
“I know you wish to remain alert, but this is a celebration after all.” Cutting the young man a side glance, Sir Malcolm acquiesced.
“Don’t feel you have to keep me company Travis, if you would prefer to talk to others, Lady Hoshi for example.”
“Alas, Lady Hoshi is attempting to converse with the Ice Princess.”
“Tis best not to use that moniker at so close a distance. You know what they say about Vulcan hearing.” Mayweather looked at the far-off figures then back to his master, suspicion on his face.
“Surely not!” Malcolm merely raised an eyebrow, taking a sip of wine. They spoke for a while about the festivities before Malcolm enquired.
“Have you seen Sir Charles of late? I’ve lost sight of him.” Travis looked around the hall.
“No, I have not seen him since the commencement of dinner. Best allow him time to wallow.”
“I would feel better knowing where he was wallowing, that man has just as much talent for landing himself in trouble as our dear Prince.”
“More! Well, I see Hess over there, perhaps I shall ask her if she knows his whereabouts.” Sir Malcolm’s lip twitched.
“Of course Travis, I am sure you would have no other business with our fair apprentice-smith, would you?” Ignoring the glare from his Squire, Sir Malcolm took another small sip and resumed his observation of the room. His heart nearly arrested on the spot as the Princess suddenly appeared beside him.
“Sir Malcolm.” She greeted neutrally. Regaining his composure, the armsman bowed.
“Your Highness.” There was a pause and then he ventured. “Uh, lovely ceremony.” She blinked at him and he stammered on. “I thought the Vulcan additions were…lovely.” After a beat, the Princess spoke without acknowledging his comment.
“Sir Malcolm, I would very much appreciate it if you could arrange for a tour of the castle armaments and Royal Weapons collection.” Taken aback by the request, his mind took a moment to focus.
“Yes, myself and my armswoman.” She stopped there, seemingly not about to provide an explanation for this desire. The armsman opened his mouth to ask for one but then closed it again, unsure if he would be able to do so without potentially causing offence.
“Perhaps the day after tomorrow, your Highness.” He suggested finally, to which she nodded.
“Whatever hour of the day is most convenient for you, sir.”
“The yards are quietest just after the midday meal-” She nodded again and cut him off.
“Acceptable. You will collect us from our rooms then.” Sir Malcolm managed to nod and bow before she was called away by the Queen. Slightly dazed, he was impressed and unsettled by equal measure. For certain, he did not envy the Prince.
Prince Jonathan was currently listening to Lord Tippet droning on about corn. He had a wealth of farmlands and somehow thought the Prince would be interested in hearing how Lord Tippet’s corn was superior to that of the next Lord over.
If a particularly tiresome Lord had kept him before, Sir Charles could interrupt under the pretence of monopolising his Prince’s attention. His reputation as insatiable and plain speaking earning him as much favour with the younger and good-humoured members of the court as it did censure from the elder members. His parents had warned him against alienating the more long-standing Lords so he and Charles had only agreed to utilise the tactic in emergencies. His new wife was no such help in that regard.
“Jonathan.” Turning, he was surprised to see his mother. “It is time.” His stomach twisting, he knew that there was nothing for it. Taking in a deep breath, he approached his wife and forced himself to ignore the good-natured and slightly lecherous shouts from the crowd as they realised what was going on. His lady wife almost glared at him, but rose as he neared her and took his offered arm. They left the Hall under the watchful eyes of their mixed Human and Vulcan guard, the sounds of the continuing festivities fading as they went up higher and higher in the Castle.
The chamber door closed with an almost ringing thud and the newly-weds were finally alone. The Princess had stalked in behind her husband and was now on the far side of the room, studying the tapestry depicting the founding of the house of Archer. The Prince found it hard to believe she was truly interested but made no comment. Trying hard to forget the previous night, Jonathan breathed in deeply and ventured.
“My Lady.” Looking uncomfortable, the Princess glanced at him before untying her dress and stepping out of it. Discomforted himself, Jonathan decided to emulate her approach and disrobed until suddenly they were both naked and still on opposite sides of the room. Slowly, trying not to appear predatory, he approached the bed and was relieved to see her mirror him. Seeing her study his body, after a moment, he did the same. She was as comely as the cut of her clothes had suggested and he hoped for a moment that she did not find him repulsive at least. Who knew what Vulcan males looked like underneath their robes?
“I do not believe I have complemented your beauty.” His wife swallowed audibly, eyes darting over his face.
“That is unnecessary.”
“Still,” he stopped in front of her, “it must be said. You are very beautiful.” She did not respond, just watching him. Slowly, he raised a hand and placed it gently against her cheek. T’Pol’s breath hitched and her lids flickered, re-joining breathily.
“You are not displeasing to the eye.” Holding back a laugh, he lifted his other hand to her face and leaned in.
“Well, that’s a relief.” And he kissed her. Her lips were soft, her breath warm. All thoughts of her reputation as an Ice Princess flew from his mind as she responded, kissing him back tentatively. Feeling stirring in his groin, he broke off the kiss and looked deep into her eyes. Seeing resolution and acceptance, if not enthusiasm, he took her hand and led her to bed.
Chapter 4: Greeting and Parting
Prince Jonathan watched his new wife pierce pieces of fruit with her fork and pop them daintily in her mouth. The sun pouring through the window lit up the silverware, occasionally sending a glare which hurt his tired eyes. Whilst he had not indulged the previous night, he hadn’t slept well and was feeling weary and out of sorts. The day before, he had requested that breakfast be brought to them in his – their – chambers but he was now regretting that decision. The awkwardness grated on him and he found himself desperately wishing for someone else to break up the long silences. He did not know whether it was appropriate to enquire as to how she slept, as they had shared a bed. Further, he was learning that T’Pol was not interested in what she would call ‘small talk’. Still, he felt compelled to break the silence.
“Do you have any plans for the day?” If T’Pol was irked by his question, she did not show it.
“I thought to inspect the library and gardens, as well as... get better acquainted with the servants who would be attending me.” Had he detected reluctance in her plans to interact with the humans?
“Ah, yes. I believe Elizabeth will be your primary servant. She is friendly and attentive by all accounts.”
“Friendly, indeed.” T’Pol muttered and Jonathan pressed his lips together to keep himself from smiling. This wouldn’t be so bad, he thought, they just had to find a rhythm. After all, his parents had built a solid partnership after only meeting a handful of times before their marriage. Surely, he and T’Pol could manage that as well. He watched her eat another piece of fruit before going back to his own meal.
Across the castle, Sir Malcolm was stalking down the halls with strident purpose. He had noted that two of Shran’s guards were absent from the morning meal in the guard hall. After speaking to his own men, he’d been informed that there was no sign of them in any of the public spaces of the castle. This made Sir Malcolm nervous. He confirmed with the guards outside the Tower that none had entered that way and climbed the stairs two at a time. Knocking sharply on the Prince’s chamber doors, he barely waited for permission before entering.
“Apologies your Graces,” he bowed to both of the Royals seated at the table, absently noting the breakfast items laid there, “may I speak with you a moment?” Registering his armsman’s urgent tone, the Prince nodded and rose. If the Princess was annoyed with the interruption, she did not show it. Outside the chambers, Sir Malcolm related the problem. “I thought that a polite enquiry from yourself to the Andorian Prince would go over better than one from me.” Prince Jonathan nodded slowly.
“I am sure there is a perfectly acceptable explanation.” Sir Malcolm fought to keep his scepticism off his face, knowing that the Prince rarely appreciated it. They went together to the guest rooms provided for the Andorian party, finding Shran up and breaking fast alone.
“Ah, they have accompanied my nephew, Keval. He has gone to seek out your blacksmith this morn.” Sir Malcolm did not find this explanation to be satisfactory, burning with the desire to express his scepticism but refraining for the sake of keeping friendly. Instead the Prince nodded.
“Indeed? Well I hope that meeting is successful.” They exchanged a few more pleasantries before the humans departed. The Prince gave his armsman a glance, silently asking if his security concerns were satisfied. Sir Malcolm nodded and did not voice the thought that he would be much happier once all the foreign parties had departed, sure that his Prince was already aware of it. Instead, he bowed and returned to his duties.
“Sir Charles?” The blacksmith turned, recognising Lord Keval at the door to his small invention room adjacent to the forge. He rose and bowed.
“Your Grace.” Keval smiled and waved a hand.
“Please, it is only my uncle who should be addressed so, and sometimes I think it is bad for his big head.” Smiling, Charles relaxed and beckoned Keval inside. “So this is where you work?”
“Mostly it’s a place to horde all of my hare-brained ideas.” He showed the Andorian some of his inventions, most of them unfinished but all of them apparently interesting to his visitor. Keval smiled widely.
“I can see why Shran wishes to induct you into our clan. Your skills are extraordinary.” Sir Charles blushed slightly, even as his skin itched. He had not been purposefully hiding from anyone but apart from the sparring session, he had been reluctant to volunteer to spend time with even his friends before the wedding. He had assumed, or perhaps hoped, that Keval had not been interested in Shran’s idea. The fact that the man had found him the night before he was due to depart for a tour of Terra with his uncle did not support Charles’ theory. He replied carefully.
“You are too kind.”
“Sir Charles, I suppose you are aware of my new status as a young man among my people and our tradition of taking multiple Companions.” The blacksmith nodded, throat tight.
“Your uncle may have mentioned something.” Keval nodded knowingly, before continuing.
“He is a wise man and through him I have learned much about your people, as allies and friends. I believe it would be beneficial both for our realms,” he stepped closer then, voice deepening, “and ourselves, if you were to accompany me back to Andoria. Join my clan and let us help each other grow as people.” Even knowing it had been coming, Charles was a little taken aback by the offer. He cleared his throat.
“I am honoured that you have chosen me for this.” Glancing at the shelves which housed inventions reserved for his King, Sir Charles choked out. “Will you allow me to consider it?” Keval hesitated but ultimately nodded.
“Of course, it is not a decision to be made lightly. Tomorrow I am departing to accompany my uncle on his tour of your lands. We expect to return here after the snow has cleared.” Sir Charles forced a smile.
“You will have your answer then. Thank you, your Highness.” He bowed and Keval smiled, darting forward to press a kiss to the corner of Charles’ mouth.
“Strong winds until then.” Charles coughed and nodded.
“Strong winds.” After Keval left, he sat down heavily and stared sightlessly at his table of inventions.
Princess T’Pol had already met with her ladies in waiting before the wedding, but Vulcan custom dictated that she attend herself until the ceremony. Elizabeth was common-born but had worked her way up the palace hierarchy through hard work and a personable nature. She had served the Queen Mother on a few occasions so it had been Her Royal Highness Teresa of the Arch Lands who had recommended she serve the new Princess. The Vulcan woman took in the maid’s bright and eager manner and resigned herself to enduring much curiosity. It could be worse, she told herself. As Elizabeth was awkwardly attempted to engage her in conversation, T’Pol repeated the mantra in her head. After a short while, she suggested that they take a turn around the castle, Elizabeth hurrying to agree.
The Palace Gardens were simply laid out with a pleasant array of flora and a few fountains. It was peaceful, large enough that the noise of the castle faded away and only the sounds of Nature accompanied the women as they walked through it. Finding a bench beside one of the smaller fountains, T’Pol sat for a while with Elizabeth, feeling satisfaction that the maid had realised her silent request for quiet and had refrained from starting any new conversations. It was peaceful and an escape from the almost overwhelming scent of humans present in the rest of the castle. She was aware of Y’cha keeping watch from a distance but otherwise, let herself relax.
Until another, metallic odour invaded her senses. T’Pol sat up straighter and enquired as to the source of the almost burning smell. Elizabeth confessed she did not smell anything but flowers, but it was possible that her Highness was detecting scents from the Forge. She explained a little what she knew of the place, T’Pol not really listening until the end.
“….and it is there that Sir Charles has his workshop.” T’Pol schooled her expression even as she felt herself perk up at that information. Instead she committed it to memory and suggested they moved on.
They walked on through the castle until they came to the apothecary. There they found Phlox the Denobulan, cheerfully whistling as he sorted through materials.
“The Royal physician was kind enough to share some of their stock that I may study it.” He explained. T’Pol was not incredibly interested, knowing that Vulcans had already studied and discarded much of human medicine and their practices, however, she could see Elizabeth’s keen interest so deigned to stay there a while. At Court in Vulcan, T’Pol had met may Denobulans and had been fascinated with them as a child. They did not look much different from her own race but the way they acted, their clearly displayed emotions and their freedom. The freedom to love who they desired, to love more than one other person even; the freedom to travel and meet new people, to speak without fear of censure, to express their feelings. T’Pol was unaware of whether others ever felt as restrained as she did, whether any other Vulcan had desired to explore, to experience Life outside of the centuries-old established boundaries. Over the years she had worked to suppress such thoughts.
It occurred to her then, watching Elizabeth and Phlox talking enthusiastically about some kind of moss, that perhaps this marriage, this new life was her chance to finally indulge her curiosity. She was already coupling with a human – a practice not unheard of in Vulcan trading circles but still rare – how much further could she stray from the rigid confines of her childhood instruction?
The next morning saw the departure of the majority of the foreign dignitaries and their parties. Hess and Mayweather were standing with Phlox, watching as the people of more consequence bid each other farewell. Sir Charles was conversing with Ambassador Feezal and both the squires were able to plainly read his discomfiture from across the courtyard. Hiding a smile, Mayweather addressed Phlox.
“Mr Phlox! You are not leaving with your Lady wife?” The doctor turned at the question and gave a customary smile, explaining.
“No, Mr Mayweather, I have decided to stay longer in your fine kingdom. I find your species fascinating and wish to study your medical practices in particular.” Mayweather nodded before enquiring cautiously.
“And your wife – I mean, wives – don’t mind?”
“Curiosity and exploration are encouraged in Denobula, although we do not rejoice in distance, we celebrate the learning of new information that it might enhance our own lives.” Hess nodded, impressed with their ethos, and commented.
“I hope you find much to study.”
Sir Malcolm watched the proceedings with his habitual keen eyes. Whilst an attack from any party was unlikely at this late stage, it was not impossible and he would feel much more at ease once they had all left. He noted that T’Pol was watching the First Knight out of the corner of her eye. Her expression was as unreadable as ever, but her attention was curious. He did not allow himself to become distracted from assessing all of the departing guests and guards, however, still on alert from the earlier mystery.
Soval eyed the Prince, voice colder than usual as he informed him.
“Y’cha will remain with the Princess at all times and will call on the soldiers stationed at the Vulcan outpost if needed.” Before Jonathan could protest that his own men could adequately protect his own wife, Soval continued a little louder than before. “You will allow no harm to come to the Princess.” Biting down his irritation, the Prince took in a deep breath and said steadily.
“The Princess is part of my Realm now, Ambassador, she is afforded the same rights and privileges as all subjects. She is also my Lady wife. I will safeguard her with my very life.” Soval’s eyebrow twitched at that but he did not comment. Instead they exchanged bows, Soval said a formal goodbye to the Princess and then lead the Vulcan guards away through the gates.
Princess T’Pol watched the Vulcan procession melt into the horizon and told herself that she felt nothing.
Over the following weeks, royal life returned to normal. The Prince and Princess continued to awkwardly spend their nights and mornings together, whilst mostly avoiding each other during the day. Princess T’Pol would ride with her ladies in waiting, walk around the castle, have tea with her mother-in-law and other people of import, making stilted conversation and excusing herself to meditate alone in the chambers she shared with her lord husband.
The Prince had learned much of state craft from observing his father’s council meetings and dealings with his subjects, but there was always more to learn. So he divided his time between shadowing his father and riding the lands with his Circle, speaking with traders, farmers and any common folk they came across. Most of those local to the surrounding towns were familiar with the sight of their royal prince stopped on the side of the road, but travellers were always puzzled by it.
On one occasion the Princess deigned to accompany her lord husband, causing a flutter of excitement among the castle staff and Jonathan’s Circle. Sir Malcolm had to field many questions from Y’cha concerning weaponry and guard details. Though the armsman usually argued for more guards to accompany the Prince on these excursions, the Vulcan guardswoman’s condescension as she suggested it caused him to bristle. Eventually, they reached an agreement and the Prince and Princess rode off with their guardsman and woman, Mayweather, Hess and the Duchess Erika – Duke Andrew having already departed on an ‘errand’ to Belles Town. The smell proved worse than in the castle, though his wife tactfully refrained from mentioning it, Jonathan could read it in how she wrinkled her nose. However, overall Jonathan’s people did not disgrace themselves. Some of the more well-read folk even made the Vulcan gesture along with the customary bow. After observing him for a while, T’Pol began speaking directly to those they met. Prince Jonathan watched his lady wife talking to a miller and his wife and felt no small amount of awe. When he asked what she thought of the experience, she had demurred, claiming it ‘interesting’. The Prince told himself to be happy with neutrality over open dislike.
So they continued until the peace was shattered when a Lord from one of the border lands arrived, bringing news of missing villagers and foreign fiends that hunted the local game viciously.
“It is foreign invaders; I am sure of it! If not the Gardeners stirring up trouble.” Lord Goldsmith accused. “My armswoman was among those missing, if any harm comes to her…” The King raised a hand.
“Thank you for your word, my Lord. Sir Malcolm will take a small, well-armed party to investigate this disturbing development.” Sir Malcolm nodded and Prince Jonathan spoke up.
“Father, these are my lands too, I have a duty to-”
“Enough. You must learn when to lead from the front and when to send others to fulfil your Will.” He gentled his voice. “You are the Realm, but at the same time you are but one man.” He smiled proudly. “No matter how much it does not seem that way at times.”
“You are right, father.” The King looked weary as he turned and said decisively.
“Go, Sir Malcolm, take your best people and find the source of this trouble.” The knight bowed and swiftly exited; Prince Jonathan watched him leave, worry creased on his brow. The meeting was soon adjourned. Restless, the Prince accompanied Sir Charles to the stables where his guardsman was preparing his horse, Travis attaching the saddlebags with an unusual sobriety. The Prince was unsure how to convey his concern without offending his knight, so he said simply.
“You will miss the Winter Solstice celebrations.” Hearing what he did not say, his armsman nodded his head respectfully and answered in kind.
“Have a drink for me, your Highness.” The First Knight, however, had no trouble voicing the underlying concerns, saying worriedly.
“Stay safe, the snows will come soon.” Sir Malcolm shared an amused look with the Prince, answering wryly.
“I will do my duty as, safely, as possible.” Sir Charles huffed and remarked.
“That is very reassuring, Malcolm. Well done, all our fears are assuaged.” The armsman cut him a vexed look but did not retort. Soon he was riding away with Mayweather beside him. The Prince said to his First Night.
“He’ll return soon.” Sir Charles frowned but did not dispute the Prince’s words. Jonathan looked at him a while longer, before leaving to resume his duties.
“Sir Charles.” Managing to contain his surprise at her presence, Sir Charles turned reluctantly to see Princess T’Pol of the House Archer behind him at the entrance of the Rose Garden. Her guardswoman Y’cha hovered discreetly just out of earshot. He had managed to avoid the woman as much as possible; only catching glimpses at official occasions or from a distance. Believing that she would request he leave so she could enjoy the gardens without his ‘offensively strong odour’, he bowed and said shortly.
“Yes, your Highness?”
“You have been the Prince’s friend for many years.” Frowning slightly at this departure from his expectations, he watched her, interested, as she continued. “I was wondering if you could advise me on a suitable gift for him for the Winter Solstice Celebration?” Surprised that she would ask, and then chastising himself for the obviously faulty prejudice, he thought for a moment and answered seriously.
“The Prince does not like frivolous or unnecessary gifts. He appreciates utility and thoughtfulness. It cannot be said that he is a great patron of the Arts.” When she continued to bore into him with those dark eyes, he found himself adding. “I usually craft something for him; new tools for his long journeys like a compass or pieces for his study: a coloured hourglass, something of the like.” She did not thank him, as was Vulcan custom, but she inclined her head in acknowledgement of his service. Both Vulcans glided away, leaving a thoroughly perplexed knight among the roses.
Two days later, Sir Charles was summoned to the Royal Forge by a flustered apprentice-smith. Frowning as he saw some peasant children hovering around the entrance, he chastised them for loitering and sent them on their way, chattering excitedly. He soon discovered the source of their fascination. Clad in plain leathers, Princess T’Pol was working at a table in the middle of the Forge, a small hammer swinging in a steady rhythm. Biting back his surprise, he called a greeting over the sounds of the workers, bowing respectfully, even if his tone was a bit tongue-in-cheek.
She eyed him a moment before continuing her work. The Forgemaster hurried over to Sir Charles and hissed, unfortunately unaware of Vulcan’s extraordinary hearing.
“Sir Charles! Her Highness just came in and demanded a hammer. She wouldn’t say what for. I did not know what to do.” Her Highness paused in her hammering at the words, looking up at them and Sir Charles noted to let Sir Malcolm know that his estimate of their range was right. Turning to the Forgemaster, a sympathetic smile playing on his lips, the knight said airily.
“Apologies for the lack of notice, George, it was remiss on my part. Why don’t you have the smiths clean out the smelting pots? We will have some new commissions on the morrow and we need to have everything prepared.” Immediately grasping the purpose of the request, the man bowed and ushered the lingering eyes out of the Forge proper. By this time, the Princess had put down her tool and addressed the knight as he approached her.
“I did not anticipate that my presence would cause an inconvenience.”
“No inconvenience, your Highness.” He glanced at the table top. “I did not know that you were familiar with the art of forge.”
“Whilst the tools and materials here are inferior to those found in Vulcan,” Sir Charles’ lips twitched but he said nothing, “I believe I will be able to complete my project.” She glanced at the smiths at their work in the other section of the Forge and went on. “I did not want to ask permission from my Lord husband and alert him to my intentions.” Suddenly understanding her purpose, he coughed and explained.
“Ah, well, I can talk to the smiths and whilst we cannot contain your presence here to the souls present, we may be able to keep the news from the Prince.” At her inquisitive eyebrow, he smiled. “We will inform them that you are preparing his Solstice gift and wish it to be a surprise.” He studied her expression as she continued to eye the figures loitering. “I am afraid this event to be too…unusual for people to resist sharing it. But I believe their fear of incurring your wrath will keep anyone from relating this to the Prince himself.” His lips pulled up even more as he dared. “Especially if you keep up that ferocious glare.” At that she tore her gaze away from her assessment of the smiths and looked at him, expression hardening even more.
“I am not glaring.” Disciplining his mouth, the knight coughed.
“Of course not, your Highness.” The flat line of her mouth showing exactly what she thought of his manner, she nonetheless let it pass unchallenged. “Do you have all you require?”
“No. I am attempting to craft a traditional pendant for protection, but I do not know where to attach the necessary stones.” She looked up then. “If you are otherwise engaged…” And he found himself inventing a project, pulling together some materials to work on the bench beside hers. After he’d helped her work out the proper place for the fasteners, he went to the Forgemaster to relate the Princess’ purpose and ask that it be kept a surprise from the Prince.
They passed another hour or two in relative ease, exchanging only a few words here and there. Then she mentioned that she had a lunch appointment with the Queen Regent. He offered to walk her back to the castle grounds, leaving the smiths to clear away. They wrapped the pendant in a clean cloth and began on the path. Broaching the silence, she said cordially.
“I appreciate your help, Sir Charles.” A little surprised, but trying not to show it, he replied neutrally.
“I am at your service, your Highness.” She glanced around them, they were currently on a deserted path behind the castle gardens, came to a halt and began.
“To speak plainly,” he stopped too and regarded her seriously, “I am aware that my presence here is not entirely welcome, especially for yourself. I have seen how you care for the Prince and how the marriage has changed your role, your place here. It was not my intention to cause upset.” And all at once, it struck Charles how isolated the young woman must feel in a foreign land, bound in marriage to a stranger for the rest of her life. Because she was a woman, not just a haughty Princess and sparring partner. And here she was, near-apologising to an inferior for something beyond her control, for her very existence. Perhaps Jonathan was luckier in this match than first thought. Chastising himself for being so short-sighted, he acknowledged her risk and in his usual fashion, decided to top it. It would be painful, but he knew that it had to be done sooner or later. Slow but determined, he said.
“You’re right. I do love Jon. Sometimes I think I love him more than I could ever love anything or anyone.” He thought that he saw a flicker on that impassive face. But the moment passed and he forced himself to navigate to the other side of his pain. “I’m a simple man, your Highness, but I am no fool. I know that he is joined to you and you to him.” There was definitely something new in her eyes at that. Not having the strength to try to discern it, he finished simply. “You need not fear any attempt at severance of your bond from me, your Highness. I only wish you happiness. Both of you.” She was silent for a moment before stating in that flat tone of hers.
“Despite your coarse manner, it seems that you have some honour and integrity.” The words were complimentary but he’d yet to learn the nuances of her tone, so he wasn’t sure if she meant him to take her words literally. Still, sometimes it was the surfaces that mattered.
“Thank you.” The Princess turned back to the path and they continued on their way.
“I will resume the work tomorrow morn. You may share my workspace if you desire.” After a pause he replied without irony.
“Yes, your Highness.”
After Hess returned with the Hunting Party that eve, having accompanied them in an effort to acquire inspiration for her own invention, she quickly learned of the events of the day in the Forge and immediately sought out her master. He was just finishing repas with the other knights in the Knight’s Hall. Although apprentices and squires were not officially permitted in the Hall, Sir Charles encouraged a more relaxed atmosphere where those in training mingled with anointed knights. He explained to any who questioned this attitude, that the art of behaving in a knightly manner at the dinner table was a skill best learnt through practice; something of which even seasoned knights needed the occasional reminder. For those who wished for more privacy, there were still spaces further into the castle which were only reserved for knights of higher ranks and members of the King’s Inner Circle.
Hess had even heard that their King had attended, years ago when still a Prince, and his cousins had greatly enjoyed spending time with the knights in a less formal setting that the training grounds or state dinners. So whilst Hess was a little taken aback by the presence of the physician Phlox, wondering how his interests intersected with a group of knights, she was not surprised to see Lady Erika regaling Phlox and the knights with a tale of her rambunctious brother’s past follies. She managed to take a seat on the bench between Sir Charles and Squire Kelly, who shuffled up to give her room.
Once Erika had finished her tale, to great applause, Hess nudged her master and asked lowly.
“I heard the Princess became lost today.” Sir Charles blushed a little and the knights proceeded to tease him. Despite his position, Sir Charles was known to encourage a certain familiarity among the knights so he laughed along with the jokes.
“Perhaps she wished for you to make her a human heart.” Sir Ethan, of the house Novakovich, jested. Though the comment was well-meant, Sir Charles tensed.
“Have care, Ethan, her royal highness is now a member of the royal family.” Hearing the warning, Ethan bowed his head and the topic of conversation was duly changed.
The doors opened widely and a cohort of new knights entered the hall. Looking around, Hess saw the leader was a Baron from the Gardener region, but she did not recognise his crest. She still needed to memorise all of the Terran families but was sure she had come across this particular crest before. Lady Erika and Sir Charles stood and went to greet them. Hess feeling uneasy as she saw the sudden tension in her master’s frame.
“My Lord Black!” The Lady called, bowing courteously. “It has been a long time.”
“Too long, my lady.” He replied with a wide smile, planting a kiss on her hand. His lips remained fixed as he turned to address Sir Charles though Hess noted his frame seemed to stiffen. “Sir Charles, so good to see that you’re still here.” The words were harmless, but the tone was imbued with condescension. Sir Charles’ answering words were similarly proper and yet unfriendly.
“Surely the Gods smile down on us all.” Hess made note to enquire as to the history of the men later. As she thought this, Lord Black turned and introduced one of the group, a young woman with a newly-made surcoat.
“May I introduce Duchess Gardener’s niece, Lindsay. She has just been anointed a knight and is looking to prove her use to the realm.” Hess frowned at the unusual phrasing, but Sir Lindsay did not seem vexed by the words, so Hess remained silent. Erika greeted her and invited the two to join her at the table. They accepted and Charles excused himself, citing an early morning. Hess joined him and hardly waited until they were alone in the corridor to ask.
“Bad blood?” Her master sighed.
“The short of it is jealousy and indignation. A few years past one of his Lord’s daughters sought to become a Companion to the Prince. They blame her failure on me and my common-blood just adds insult to injury.” Hess gritted her jaw but did not comment, knowing from experience that a pitying remark would not be welcome. The irony that Hess came from a family of a higher rank than Sir Charles was not lost on anyone, though only the Prince had ever dared remark on it. Instead Hess swallowed and ventured lightly.
“Well, I suppose his visit here is for a completely different purpose.” Charles nodded his head slowly, and jested half-heartedly.
“I cannot wait to hear what Sir Malcolm will say.”
Fun fact: Vulcan is the name of the Roman God of Fire and the Forge.
Sir Malcolm squinted against the rising sun on the horizon, trying to assess the far off village.
It appeared abandoned, but the armsman had not survived for so long in his post without learning that caution was the most valuable weapon in his arsenal. He exchanged a look with Mayweather and the others he’d brought. At his signal, they circled the village, covering all angles and staying in sight of one another where possible. Absently, he noted Zabel keeping his squire Marcel close and approved. Such risks were necessary for training, even as they were regrettable.
Eyeing the wrecks made from the remains of huts, fences and carts, Sir Malcolm wondered where the bodies were. If there indeed had been an attack, there should be the bodies of those unfortunate enough to fall under the hungry blades. Sniffing the air, he could not detect any hint of death or even blood, nor see any dark stains anywhere. He dismounted and entered one of the last remaining houses standing. There were scant possessions and a musty smell, no signs of recent habitation. He left to see Mayweather and Zabel shake their heads, having investigated the other houses. Frown etched into his brow, Malcolm looked around again, sure that he must have missed some vital clue to this mystery. Eventually, Mayweather broke the silence.
“Whoever was here has long gone.” Sir Malcolm agreed, his gut still uneasy. Nonetheless, he signalled for the party to mount up and return the way they had come. Once they’d reached a safe distance, the armsman let them rest for a short time, keeping his shaking hands occupied with looking over their remaining supplies.
“Sir!” He turned sharply at Mayweather’s call and only relaxed when he spotted what his squire had seen. A raven was descending directly above them, a scroll wrapped around one leg. “It’s from the palace.” Mayweather confirmed as it was close enough to tell the breed. With practiced ease, Malcolm accepted the raven onto an arm and extracted the scroll with the other hand. He handed the bird off to his squire as he unravelled the message and read it quickly. Allowing himself only a moment of shock and grief, he wrote a reply and sent the raven back into the sky.
“The King is dead. We must return post haste.” They rode hard for the rest of the day and made it to an inn. Sir Malcolm slept poorly, turning the mystery over and over in his mind. The locals only had wild speculation to explain the incident and he didn’t take their tales seriously: a band of wondering Klingons would have created more chaos and definitely would have left bodies behind. Where had the real culprits gone? Who was behind this and what was their goal?
Worse was his impatience to return to the palace. Even though it had been the right decision, he was regretting having to leave it; the new King was protected by experienced guards Malcolm had trained but he would still feel better to be there himself.
In the morning, they mounted early and bid the owner thanks. The air around them was tense with even Mayweather reluctant to break the silence. They hadn’t travelled far from the inn when suddenly, all the airs on the back of Malcolm’s neck stood up. He directed his horse to the side of the pack and looked around urgently for the threat. There! The sound of horses coming from the east. Mayweather had seen his move and called to the others.
“Attention!” They all drew their swords as they heard battle cries. Bandits charged out of the forest, steel bared. Sir Malcolm threw himself into the fight, knowing his party were capable of defending themselves. It was a hard fight and the men were properly equipped with high quality steel and armour beneath their ragged clothes. Malcolm found it more difficult than usual to parry the blows and even as he fought, a terrible realisation invaded his battle-mind: these were no ragtag band of bandits. They were soldiers disguised as bandits.
Mayweather’s cry behind him called his attention and he turned, guts clenching in dread. He saw one of the fiends had run Squire Marcel through the chest with his sword, the poor boy’s expression one of surprise, disbelief almost. Snarling, Malcolm raced over and cut down the offender, finding little satisfaction in the action. Most of the enemies were dead or escaped, but Tyrell was wrestling one and Mayweather was still sparring on horseback. Malcolm leapt off his horse and viciously kicked the man on top of Tyrell; she pushed the man off and Malcolm killed him swiftly. Accepting his hand, Tyrell made it to her feet and looked around, nodding behind Malcolm. He turned and saw that the threats were eliminated, though his nerves were kept jangling until his senses assured him that the attack was well and truly over.
“What in the Gods’ name just happened?” Mayweather demanded breathlessly, looking around at the corpses around them. Sir Malcolm shook his head and replied quietly.
“I don’t know.” He quickly took stock of his people’s injuries. Tyrell had bruising to her face and torso and Zabel had been stabbed in the leg but would live with some rudimentary attention. Mayweather instantly retrieved the supplies to attend him as Malcolm knelt beside Marcel. Even as he despaired, he knew that his man was dead. Pushing down the bile rising in his throat and the memories of training this particular man, Malcolm accepted help to extract Marcel’s cloak from underneath him and lay it over him.
Aware of how exposed they were and potential lingering threat, they dug quickly and buried Marcel as deeply as they could. Malcolm picked over the corpses for signs of deception, but found no evidence save for the fact that they looked clean and well-fed. They had been trained in warfare, of that much he was certain.
Once the burial was over, Malcolm spared a moment to hold Zabel’s shoulder and squeeze. Zabel was still weak from the blood loss but was cognisant enough to know what had happened. Tyrell sadly claimed Marcel’s horse, as hers had fled, and another of the party took Zabel with him. Together, they galloped away, still on edge and angry and mourning. After a few miles, Mayweather asked his master lowly.
“Any ideas?” Malcolm swallowed and shook his head sharply.
“Let us just get back safely.” His squire nodded and bothered him no more. Over and over the question taunted Malcolm: who was behind this?
King Henry had taken ill soon after the conclusion of the Winter Solstice celebrations and had not recovered. He breathed his last on a cold, crisp morning and his son became a King. Despite the suddenness of his death and the grief which covered the land at his passing, the people rallied behind their new King. The Castle servants and attendants bustled, black bands fastened around their arms, the advisors gathered, hushed voices surrounding the heir apparent. The armsmen sharpened their blades and polished their shields, the horses brushed and rehearsed in the funeral march. From the croaking voice of his mother at his father’s deathbed, to the servants mumbling in the hallways as he passed, his sympathetic friends and the reverent tone of his wife, all Jonathan heard for days were the dreaded, hallowed words.
Long Live the King.
Pulling back from where he had been staring out at the palace gardens, Jonathan extracted the medallion around his neck from his underclothes and regarded it, turning it slightly to see how the light played across its surface. It consisted of a large metal disc, almost as big as his palm, engraved with gold-lettering around the edges, with an off-centre hole carved into it. A triangle made of gold was affixed atop the disc, pointed into the hole. At its tip a ruby the size of a man’s thumbnail shone. The words were in Vulcan script and had sparked the King’s interest in learning to read it.
As his lady wife had explained when she had gifted it to him, the medallion was a symbol of peaceful cooperation and the words were meant to provide protection from internal and external ills. He had asked Y’cha what would be an appropriate gift for T’Pol and she had responded unhelpfully that it would be best to ask the then Princess directly. Eventually, after the concept of surprise gifts had been properly explained, she had the thrilling suggestion of a book about his people. Her reaction, however, had instilled the thought in Jonathan that T’Pol would come to him to learn what he would like as a gift. So he’d been pleasantly surprised when she had presented him with such a token; thoughtful and imbued with meaning, it was perfect.
When he’d sheepishly voiced this thought to her later, whilst they were lying in bed one night, she had confessed that she’d been advised that he would appreciate something made by her own hand, in order to show the care she held for him. Curious, he’d asked who had provided this advice and had been near-shocked to hear that it had been Sir Charles. He tried to imagine a civil conversation between his wife and former lover and found himself unable.
“You spoke to Sir Charles?”
“Yes, he was kind enough to arrange my use of the Forge and its material in the production of your gift.” She observed him as he thought this over and said softly. “I am aware that you were lovers before our marriage and I wanted to acknowledge that.” Her gaze went distant as she remembered. “He was most gracious, insisting that he only desired our happiness.” Feeling his eyes sting, Jonathan had managed to croak.
“He is one of the most generous souls I have ever met.” They lay in silence for a time before T’Pol inched closer to him and they fell asleep almost touching.
Now, a few months later, as the weight of the crown lay heavy on his head, the body-warmed metal brought him comfort. Slowly, he had fallen into a familiar rhythm with his wife, growing used to her presence in his rooms, his bed, his life. He hoped that she felt similarly, that she was feeling more at east, more at home.
After their late night conversation, he had invited his Circle to breakfast with him and his wife. This brought familiarity but also new insights to his people. In general, his wife was still an outsider, missing context for old jests and past stories, though no one deliberately highlight this difference it was there. However, the King noticed that Sir Charles made an effort to include T’Pol in the talk, explaining matters she did not understand, or asking her opinions on whatever they were discussing. T’Pol, in turn, refrained from airing any grievances against the knight and even expressed interest in topics he brought up. The others expressed some surprise at the pair’s improved relationship, but then, as Lady Hoshi had commented to the monarch later, Sir Charles burned so hot it was no wonder that he had thawed the Ice Princess. That did not explain the tendrils of jealousy which grew like weeds in the King’s heart.
Instead, the King acknowledged that these meals allowed him to reacquaint himself with his First Knight. Being able to tease the man about going blind by working so many nights by candle light or reminisce about past adventures was comforting. Though he could not help but notice the stark differences. There were no more lingering gazes from his past lover, nor touches of any kind. Sir Charles had seemed to slipped into his new role with barely a stumble and Jonathan wasn’t sure how to feel about that.
Further, watching his lady wife blinkingly taking in their exchanges and being unable to discern her thoughts troubled him. He knew that he should be forming a strong partnership with her, that their union would be tested now that he had ascended to the throne, that the Fate of his realm may depend on her support, advice and companionship. Yet part of him still resented that he was forced to do this, when he’d already cultivated such a relation with Charles.
His father had warned him of becoming too attached to any one member of his Circle, when he would need all of them to perform their roles and aid him rule properly. His mother had even overtly referenced Charles, urging her son not to give his heart to someone he could never marry. Jonathan had been young and headstrong and already deeply in love, so her words had fallen on deaf ears. Even now, with his heart torn between duty and a life he’d only live in his dreams, he couldn’t regret any of it. He wondered if Charles felt the same. That was useless speculation, however, so he forced himself to put aside such thoughts.
After the snow had melted, nobles from Terra, Vulcan, Tellar, Andoria and Denobula come to the capital to pay their respects. Despite increasing bad weather, spring hailstorms flooding the roads and proving dangerous to carriages which were not reinforced adequately, they poured in to the Capital City, their standards mingling and waving erratically in the strong winds. Among their number was a strange band of Vulcans, led by Lord Tolaris. They were part of a separatist group which non-violently protested some of the core values of Vulcan society; they travelled around Vulcan and other parts of the land preaching their doctrine and trying to amass followers. They believed that Vulcans could embrace emotions in a similar way that other peoples did and that hiding their emotions made them seem arrogant and too secretive to other races. This, King Jonathan could only agree with.
The philosophy of Lord Tolaris and his group disturbed his lady wife, however. What rankled even more was her husband’s interest in their ways and strong suggestion that she spend more time with them. It made her wonder if he hadn’t been adapting to her manner as she had previously thought, but had merely become better at hiding his discomfort. She did not care for that situation and hoped that it was not the case. If he required her to adapt her ways, then she would try.
Further, the Queen and advisors had been pressuring her to have a child. It was a natural and expected part of the marriage deal and one which she could not avoid. Perhaps the two problems were linked, could fulfilling her husband’s wish to better acquaint herself with Tolaris and adopt his ways increase her husband’s attraction to her? When meditation failed to provide a solution, she decided to engage in the other reliable method of tackling human-related dilemmas, seeking council from the First Knight. She found him in one of the backrooms of the Forge, one seemingly reserved solely for his projects. Although a relatively small space, the walls were covered in shelves stuffed full of random pieces of metal and leather. The sun had set an hour previously, but Sir Charles was still working. Candles behind tinted glass lit the room.
“Sir Charles.” He turned to face her, the shadows highlighting the lines of fatigue on his face. She wondered briefly why he had been working so hard of late.
“Yes, your Highness?”
“You were the King’s lover for many years.” Imitating her to cover the flare of pain at the reminder, he stated plainly.
“That is correct.” She narrowed her eyes briefly, displeased at his humorous reply. But then continued primly.
“It stands to reason that you would hold a large amount of knowledge of the King’s…carnal tastes.” His expression would have been humorous if not for the uncomfortable subject matter.
“Now you’re asking me for advice on…intimate things?” Half-relieved that her purpose had been divined without her actually having to express it and half-uneasy at the prospect of discussing said purpose, she inclined her head. The blacksmith was also experiencing mixed emotions. Whilst the pang of loss and pain was still present, he was also wrestling with mild amusement at the absurdity of the situation. Advising a Queen on how to pleasure her husband, his own ex-lover. Well, at least his life was no less interesting. Putting down his hammer, he turned and said plainly.
“What Jon enjoys most is pleasing others. He…” he paused to let a strong memory pass, Jon’s brilliant smile hovering over him, before continuing, “he’ll want to take the time to discover your own…carnal tastes.”
“I had noticed that tendency.” She felt another twinge of guilt as pain flickered over his face and so went on quickly. “But I would like to know specifically how to bring him physical pleasure.” He breathed out slowly, the pain increasing as the memories he’d tried to supress were rising again. Finally, he said quietly.
“This is something you should be talking about with him.”
“Jonathan seems reluctant to discuss such matters with me.” Charles seemed amused and he huffed, saying flippantly.
“Well that is little surprise.” T’Pol raised an eyebrow and Charles noticed, shifting uncomfortably, seeming to belatedly realise a potential insult in the comment.
“And what, pray, do you mean by that?”
“Your Highness, I am…I apologise-”
“I don’t wish for your apologies Sir Charles; I know your brashness well. It is your plain-speaking which I wish to hear.” He stared at her a long moment but her expression didn’t waver. Breathing in deeply, he ventured cautiously.
“In that case, I hope you will not have me whipped for saying that to humans, sometimes Vulcans can seem a little…detached.”
“Cold, distant, aloof.”
“I am familiar with the meaning, Sir Charles.” She resisted the urge to cross her arms, instead going on. “So what you are clumsily implying is that the Prince does not find me…passionate.”
“Yes, your Grace.”
“The King has encouraged me to spend more time with Lord Tolaris and his kin.” His expression darkened and his lips pursed, an action she associated with the knight deciding to keep his peace on a disagreeable subject. “You do not agree?” His eyes darted away from hers and he muttered noncommittedly.
“I do not know Lord Tolaris, your Highness.” She decided to let the matter go, it was not as if Charles’ opinion of the Vulcan Lord would supersede that of her Lord husband’s.
“Vulcans work tirelessly to supress dangerous emotions. Logic and reason must prevail.”
“We know that your Grace, just as you know of humans’ less than favourable traits, and yet both you and Jo-” he corrected himself quickly, “the King chose to enter this union.” He looked even more discomforted and yet struggled valiantly on. “I am sure that in time, you will be able to learn enough of each other to…get along.”
“Thank you, Sir Charles.” He bowed his head as she turned to leave. Just as she reached the door, he stopped her with a sigh and a call.
“His right ear.” She turned slightly to look at his awkward stance. He wasn’t looking at her, face red as he explained quietly. “There is a spot just behind his right ear…” He trailed off and she nodded.
“I will stay your whipping until another day.” She told herself she felt no amusement at leaving him agape.
It was a crisp and clear night, though the moon was waning and the stars offered little light. Riding through the castle gates, Mayweather looked about him with keen eyes, tracking the differences he spotted. His face was grimly cast and his body tense. At the inner gate, he was stopped by a few Gardner men, who were posted there.
“Who goes there?” Pulling his horse up short, Mayweather answered shortly.
“Mayweather, squire to Sir Malcolm. What are you doing here?” They didn’t answer, instead sharing a look and drawling.
“We heard a rumour about Sir Malcolm.” Mayweather’s horse snorted and he felt dread creep into his stomach. “They say he’s vanished into the ether.” The dread grew but he pushed it down and shouted up.
“Open the gates!” A third man appeared, a bowman, if the bolt he was pointing at Mayweather held any indication. “Are you mad?” The squire called up, wondering if the world really had tilted on its axis. The bowman didn’t reply, though he did look nervous, and young. Probably the same age as Mayweather. The guards ignored his question.
“Where is the rest of your party?” One of them demanded, but he was saved from answering by a stern voice interrupted from behind him.
“What’s going on here?” Sir Malcolm rode into the torch light. The guards shifted, obviously responding to the authority in his voice and his knight’s accoutrements if not recognising his face or crest. The bowman switched his aim and Mayweather walked his horse forward a few steps to interrupt the line of fire. He locked eyes with the bowman as the exchange went on.
“We’re just guarding the gates, sir.” One of the guards defended themselves, their earlier bravado receding in the uncertainty of the situation.
“Where are the regular guards?”
“We’ve been assigned as relief, by order of Baron Black.” Sir Malcolm’s eyes narrowed but he made no comment at that moment, instead proclaiming.
“Well I am Sir Malcolm, the King’s Master of the Guard, and I order you to let us in.” The rest of the party arrived and startled, the bowman released the arrow. Yelling in pain, Mayweather didn’t hear what was being shouted, only aware of the fire lancing through his chest. He struggled to retain his seat, head suddenly light and eyes heavy, dimly aware of voices near and far, hands reaching for him. However, he soon succumbed to the darkness.
Sir Malcolm did not know for exactly which reason the guards on the gate let the party through and he did not care. He climbed onto the back of Mayweather’s horse, holding his squire upright and keeping pressure on the blood flow with the other hand. Tyrell quickly took hold of the horse’s reigns and lead them both in as people shouted and rode around them. Malcolm recovered enough awareness to order a familiar guard he saw to arrest the bowman. He wanted answers as soon as Mayweather was seen to.
Hess was there suddenly, and she was helping him dismount and carry Mayweather inside. Malcolm’s body felt full of energy even as his mind felt blank. Sir Charles joined them and vaguely Malcolm found comfort in his presence. They laid Mayweather down finally, the Royal physician already prepared with his instruments. After cutting away Mayweather’s clothes and examining the wound, the physician grimaced, sitting back and announcing regretfully.
“The bolt is barbed. We must leave it until the flesh has softened.” Looking down at Mayweather’s pained expression, Malcolm found himself unable to speak. Luckily, Sir Charles asked for him.
“Will that not worsen the corruption?” Physician Phlox coughed. Malcolm almost jumped, having not registered his presence.
“Perhaps not.” Everyone turned to look at him and he coughed again. “I have a salve which will relax the flesh to ease the extraction.” The human physician frowned.
“This ‘salve’, is it safe for humans?” Phlox half-shrugged.
“I do not see why not.” Malcolm frowned at the casualness of the statement and exchanged a glance with Charles, who looked worried but more together than Malcolm himself. Sir Charles nodded and turned to the Royal Physician.
“Doctor, what do you think?” The physician said sternly.
“I haven’t studied the properties of this salve, I would recommend against using it until we were sure it would be safe.” Now looking more serious, Phlox insisted.
“Although I have not tested it for this specific purpose, other humans have worn it without any trouble.” He turned to Malcolm and said firmly. “It will reduce the chance of corruption and ease your man’s suffering.” Taking another quick look at Mayweather’s pained expression, Malcolm cleared his throat.
“Do it.” Grumbling, the Royal Physician bustled away to tend to the others, leaving Phlox to mix the salve and order the medical attendants to aid with the extraction. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was done efficiently and expertly, even a layman like Malcolm could see Phlox’s experience and knowledge. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Charles behind him, expression serious but tone reassuring.
“He’s strong and Phlox knows what he’s doing.”
Once assured of Mayweather’s good chance at survival and his party’s safe arrival inside, Malcolm drew himself up like a thunderstorm. He barely noticed Sir Charles shadowing him as he marched around the castle, demanding answers. He assessed the rest of the guard complement and found only familiar faces in the posts he had left in his instructions. It seemed that only the gate guards had been replaced by Baron Black. Dispatching Tyrell to discern what else may have been tampered with, Sir Malcolm went to report to the King directly.
Whilst pleased to see his guardsman’s safe return, the King was not as pleased to hear the disturbing developments, nor to hear of the loss of Marcel.
“We will send notice to his family, I am sure Zabel will want to travel and see them once he is recovered.” He breathed in deeply; although he had not known Marcel well, any loss in the kingdom was a personal loss for a King. After a moment he deliberately cleared his expression and asked seriously. “Now, those guards were posted by the orders of Baron Black, you say?” Malcolm nodded.
“It is my belief that this could be linked to the attack on our party.” The King’s brow furrowed, his desire for peace clearly warring with his suspicion of, and indignation with, one of Lord Gardener’s men interfering with his household business. He was saved from responding by one of the door guards calling.
“Baron Black to see you, sire.” King Jonathan exchanged a look with Sir Malcolm before nodding to allow him in. Baron Black appeared troubled but not nervous; just the sight of him set Malcolm’s back up.
“Your Highness.” The Lord simpered. “Sir Malcolm, I am glad to see you safely returned.” After gaining permission to speak from the King, Sir Malcolm ground out stiffly.
“Not quite all of my party made it back.” Baron Black merely expressed surprise and concern, though Malcolm’s gut told him those expressions were false. Nonetheless he bit back any accusations and continued icily. “My squire was attacked by one of your men!”
“This cannot be true, your Highness. Pray tell me, which of my men committed this crime?” Malcolm’s skin crawled at the play at innocence, barely managing to choke out.
“I know not his name. He was assigned as bowman on watch at the Inner Gate.” The Baron frowned.
“I did not assign any man to that post this day.” At Malcolm’s hastily stifled snarl, he went on. “I insist, I did not.” Seeing the King’s thoughtful look, his armsman burst out.
“I would have recognised one of my own people!” The Baron looked angry now and opened his mouth.
“Enough!” The King interrupted, eyeing them both as he said in a dangerous tone. “The culprit will be found and the truth come to light.” The two were chastened. Taking a deep breath, King Jonathan turned to Sir Malcolm. “Was there anything else you wished to address?” After taking a moment to further calm himself, Malcolm cleared his throat and declared.
“Assigning guard rotations comes under my purview.” The Baron shifted a little on his feet, expression back to placid obedience.
“Of course, Sir Malcolm, I would never presume to assume any of your duties.” The knight’s stanch stiffened even further at the meaningless platitude but he let the Lord continue unchallenged. “However, whilst you were absent, there were several matters which had been brought to my attention. I believe, your Highness,” he bowed his head in the King’s direction, “that it would have been remiss of me to simply ignore these difficulties.” Tone skirting the edge of impertinence, Sir Malcolm demanded.
“What was the nature of these ‘difficulties’?” If he was offended, Baron Black did not show it, merely stating calmly.
“Minor quibbles, good sir knight.” He even smiled benignly. “In any case, I will remove those guards from the gate and send them back to my homestead. Obviously they require retraining.”
“Retraining!” Malcolm spluttered, enraged, but he was interrupted by his King.
“My lord, I take you at your word tonight,” he ignored Malcolm’s glare, continuing in deathly quiet tone, “but fair warning, if any mishap of this nature occurs again, I will not be as forgiving.” The Baron bowed deeply.
“Understood, your Highness.” After he’d left, the King turned to his armsman. Sir Malcolm didn’t hesitate to state his thinking.
“I believe my departure from the castle was anticipated, nay, planned.”
“You think there was a conspiracy to draw you away from me?”
“Of this moment I am sure of nothing, your Highness. All I know is this all greatly troubles me and my people have been attacked.”
“We do not know that there is any nefarious plan against me. These events could merely be the result of bad luck.”
“It is always prudent to assume one’s enemies are planning something, if not putting those plans into action. Abducting a King’s Head of the Guard could lend itself to any number of schemes, though the secrets from such a source would be valuable within themselves.” Unable to spend the whole day thinking of theories and eager to check on his squire, Sir Malcolm took his leave with the promise to gather more information and reform his ideas to present at a later time. He impatiently awaited news from the hunt for the bowman, idly imagining what punishments would be suitable once he was caught.
The King postponed a scheduled meeting with another Lord, needing time to mull over the day’s troubling events. He was in the Palace Gardens, absently admiring yellow flowers from Vulcan when, out of the blue, Jonathan realised what had been bothering him since waking that morning.
The previous night his lady wife had initiated an intimate encounter in a rare display of eagerness. Their lovemaking had been passionate and at one point she had almost reduced him to a puddle of weak limbs and trembling flesh. Firm touches to the skin behind his ears were his weakness, giving him inordinate amounts of pleasure. Although it could have been waved away as an action of chance, now Jonathan saw that she had known ahead of time where to touch him. She had been told of that secret spot and there was only one person who could have possibly known to tell it.
Trembling with fury and betrayal, he stalked away from the chamber, waving off the guards who made to accompany him. He found his First Knight talking to one of the attendants to the Royal Physician outside of the Healing Chamber. He spared a moment to enquire as to the state of the injured, causing Charles to jump a little in surprise. The attendant assured him that all would recover fully so the King gave his First Knight a sharp nod and lead him to an empty chamber in the next hallway. Once the door was shut, his temper was unleashed.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Charles blinked, startled. “Telling her all those…intimate things about me.” Frowning, though he was beginning to think he understood, Charles tried.
“Jon…?” The King was beyond explaining though, ploughing on.
“Those are private! You had no right!” Now caught up but still stung and confused, Charles said simply.
“She’s your wife.” Calming his breathing, more than aware of how irrational his reaction was, Jonathan said slowly, firmly.
“I don’t want you talking to her anymore.”
“Come on Jon, I was only trying to help.” The King whirled around and snapped.
“That was not a request!” There was a long, awful silence. Then Sir Charles bowed stiffly in the King’s continued glare.
“As you command. Your Highness.” The King spun around, almost knocking into someone as he darted out of the doorway. Hess barely managed to avoid a collision.
“Your Highness.” She greeted with no small amount of confusion and caution. The King managed a short nod before striding away. The King’s anger stayed with him until he faced his lady wife and related his decree. It withered in the face of her neutral – and yet disapproving – expression.
“I apologise, but I fail to see the offence.”
“You fail to see…of course you do.” He replied acidly.
“Are you certain this anger is not misdirected?” Swallowing another snarl, he raised an eyebrow as she elaborated. “From the attacks on your armsman’s people.” His temper flared again at her unnatural serenity, but he forced himself to breath out slowly before replying.
“I am certain that I am your husband, you are my wife and there is no one else in our union.” She held his gaze for a long moment before replying simply.
“As you command. Your Highness.” He barely suppressed a flinch at the echo of his First Knight’s words. Instead he nodded once and swept away; his head a storm of suspicion and foreboding.
Description of the medallion T’Pol makes for Jonathan is based on the IDIC symbol.
Chapter 7: Your Place
The King was looking out of the window of the Council Room, watching the birds flying between the trees of the Palace Gardens. He had seen the Queen with her ladies in waiting earlier, though they had settled beside one of the fountains, just tucked away out of his line of sight. Feeling guilty, he wondered if that had been a deliberate move on her part. Ever since his order a few days previous, his wife had not spoken more than a few words to him. Although he regretted her coolness, he would not apologise for taking control of the situation. The fact that he had not even caught a glimpse of his First Knight would not sway him either. Absently, he touched the amulet hanging underneath his shirt. The door opened and Sir Malcolm stalked in, face stormy. The King left the window and asked warily.
“Any news on the bowman?”
“None, my Lord. Which lends itself to only two reasonable explanations: either he was a consummate professional playing the fool or he had help from someone in this castle.” Neither very encouraging.
“Have you gathered more evidence for your theory?”
“I have not, sir.” Malcolm admitted reluctantly. “Only that an absence of evidence points to plotters inside the castle walls.” The King thought over the implications carefully. Finally, he declared.
“Erika and Andrew will ride back to their kin’s lands to discover what they can learn concerning the rumours and troubling events.” Sir Malcolm shifted, expression concerned, but the King shook his head. “I will not accuse my own people of turning against me unless there is irrefutable proof. Suspicion is not enough.”
“And the death of one of your guard?” The knight threw back angrily. The King was not moved, however, and replied warningly.
“A tragedy, but not an excuse to start a war.” After a tense beat, Malcolm lowered his gaze.
“I understand, your Highness.” His tone still betrayed impatience but he said no more on the subject. “Meanwhile I advise we heighten security for yourself and those in your Circle.” Reluctantly, the King acquiesced, even he could not see any disadvantage to that suggestion. “Also, we should increase the guard details at all the borders.” Frowning, the King protested.
“It will do no good to raise alarm unnecessarily.” Body still vibrating with tension, Sir Malcolm bit out.
“Perhaps we could phrase it as ‘retraining’? I will send some of my guards to instruct the border patrols in Vulcan defensive techniques.”
“A good compromise. Do it.” Sir Malcolm bowed and left the room. The King sighed, trying not to pity himself for these difficult decisions even as he longed for his father’s steady presence.
Queen T’Pol did not care for the way Tolaris requested an audience. In fact, he often did not phrase it that way, instead referring to their audiences as ‘talks’. His informality offended her, but as per her upbringing – and her husband’s request – she did not mention it. She and her husband had not spoken since their argument concerning Charles a few days past. He was busy dealing with the threats to his kingdom and she was busy being annoyed with his presumption and the restriction on the company she kept. With difficulty, she focused on Tolaris’ speech. Though she was unable to help herself from interjecting.
“Foregoing meditation for such a long period of time is fallacious and even dangerous. Numerous cases attest to this fact.” Tolaris merely smiled benignly.
“Your lord husband does not agree.” Her temper flared, though she did not show it. What her husband did not know about Vulcans could fill a library of books. She could not answer, as angry as she was, so Tolaris’ smile deepened. He was kept from continuing, however, by a knock on the door.
“Enter!” T’Pol called immediately, ignoring the frown which twisted Tolaris’ features. Elizabeth came in, announcing.
“The Andorians have returned.” T’Pol rose. She had no desire to greet the guests but Tolaris did not need to know this. She bowed her head to him and departed swiftly.
Sir Charles was leaving the Forge as he heard the news of the Andorian’s return. Insides twisting with dread, he forced himself to go and greet them. The grace period was over, now he needed to make a decision.
“Tell me, what do you make of the Queen?” Sir Charles swallowed, aware of the multiple traps spread out before him. The Queen Mother watched him closely though her attention was ostensibly fixed on the papers on her desk. She was wise and charitable to the poorest of subjects, but her pragmatism and protectiveness of her own made her a formidable opponent for any who dare threaten the Crown in any manner. And ranking was an integral structure put in place to protect the superiority of the Crown. He was low-born, no matter how many honours were given to him, that would always remain true. Such was he had never felt entirely comfortable in her presence. Finally, he replied cautiously.
“She is…not exactly as I expected.” Her eyebrow raised and he explained carefully. “Stoic and strong-willed is how I would describe her, your Highness.”
“And beautiful.” He hesitated before agreeing as disinterestedly as was polite.
“Yes, I suppose.”
“I warned you, did I not?” He frowned, mouth open slightly and she held back a sigh. “When my son chose you as his Companion and began to drop his other favourites,” now he shifted, remembering the awkward conversation of years past, “I cautioned you against giving him your whole heart.” Vaguely, the knight contemplated how strange it was that the mere mention of that time could make him feel as ungainly and naïve as he did then. Perhaps he had not grown accustomed to the games of court and comfortable in his place there after all. Perhaps all of that was an illusion. The Queen Mother continued not unkindly. “Your loyalty and your devotion yes, but not all your future dreams. I see that my words came to nothing.” Yes, this was exactly the same as how he felt then. Well, his knowledge of Royal Etiquette was a little improved, so he whispered hoarsely.
“Yes, your Highness.” Expression softening, the Queen Mother went on.
“Dear child, I cannot chastise your heart, it is a free spirit and will do as it pleases. Even as I gave you council all those years ago, I did not fully expect it to be effective.” Her brow smoothed as her voice became cooler. “But I can appeal to your head. Now your role as Companion to my son is over, you must step back and relearn the boundaries of your role as First Knight only.” He nodded wordlessly, heart thumping painfully in his chest. “I hear you have been spending time with the Queen-”
“Your Highness-” The Queen Mother raised a hand.
“Spare me your explanations, Charles, I do not doubt your honour or your devotion to serving my son and my son alone.” His nerves calmed slightly, but he was still feeling jittery as she concluded. “But you must not forget that your place is at their feet, not at their table.”
“I understand, your Highness.”
“Lord Keval of Andoria has offered you a place in his Circle.” He did not ask how she knew, merely nodding. “My son and his council are always seeking ways to garner favour and strengthen our relations with our Andorian friends.” She paused minutely before saying heavily. “This would be the best path for everyone, do you not think?” The knight nodded mutely, gaze still fixed at the floor. “Charles, look at me.” He complied without hesitation, if with a little resentment. “I do not banish you. You are important. Both to my son and to this Kingdom. But I believe some time and distance will serve you well.”
“Thank you, your Highness.” She dismissed him and he went immediately to the King.
“Lord Keval has offered me a position as his Human Companion.” King Jonathan replied automatically, mind still working at the problem of how to move the left-over harvest to the winter store when flooding had blocked one of the main roads into the city.
“Oh? Under his uncle’s advisement no doubt.” Sir Charles didn’t join in the idle speculation, shifting slightly as he went on.
“It would be centred around cultural exchange, a good opportunity to forge closer ties with...” Seeing that his explanation was falling on deaf ears, he said a little louder. “I’ve accepted.” The King froze in surprise, eyes flicking to his knight’s face. After a taught moment of silence, Sir Charles murmured. “With your permission of course.” Voice slightly hoarse, the King replied.
“You have it.” Clearing his throat, he turned his attention back to his desk, shuffling papers without purpose. “If it what you desire.”
“It is.” The King’s tone became brisk.
“Well then, I assume you will travel to Andoria, there will be some kind of ceremony, will there not?”
“I believe so. Whilst the journey will take several weeks, the initiation process is not overly long. I would only stay in Andoria at your leisure. My first loyalty is still to you.” Expression softening, Jonathan said fondly.
“I did not doubt that, Charles.” Before he continued more stiffly. “And the Forge can survive without you for a while, I daresay.”
“In that case, I will stay only as long as I can without bringing embarrassment to the Crown.” Considering, the King decided.
“I will send Ambassador Hoshi to aid in any necessary negotiations or ceremonies.” Seeing his knight wince, he realised how the wording had sounded. Guilt and discomfort dogged him as he amended. “I do trust you to represent my interests abroad.” Face softening at his King’s words, Sir Charles said quietly.
“Thank you, your Highness.” Swallowing down his jealousy, Jonathan looked over his old friend and found himself unable to stay his tongue.
“Charles…” His First Knight looked up then, eyes shining a little in the light. Jonathan realised suddenly that this was the longest they had been alone together since that last night. Licking his lips, he opened his mouth when the doors groaned open and the pair snapped to attention. The Queen swept in to the room but upon seeing the knight, she hesitated.
“Apologies, I did not mean to disturb you.” The King straightened and said in a forced cheerful tone.
“Not at all. Sir Charles was just telling me that he is going to become one of Keval’s Companions.” Looking between the two men, the Vulcan said flatly.
“Congratulations.” The knight thanked her awkwardly and the King noted that he did not meet her eyes. Before he could linger on that observation, Charles turned to him.
“I will inform Sir Malcolm of the decision then,” he smiled weakly, “I am sure that he will have much to say on the subject of number of guards and their accoutrements.” The King chuckled slightly and nodded, watching his knight leave. When he had gone, the King turned back to his table of papers. His Lady Wife approached, asking casually.
“Were you thinking of combining this occasion with a Royal visit?” Jonathan hummed.
“I cannot leave my kingdom so soon after ascending to the throne.”
“Perhaps you could send a representative in your stead.”
“I agree. Lady Hoshi will go.” He pulled himself up and noted her hesitation. “Were you thinking of someone else?” She did not hesitate as she answered neutrally.
“No. The Ambassador is the logical choice.” He looked at her a beat longer, sensing something else behind her words.
“Are you alright?” Blinking, she nodded.
“All is well.” She bowed and left. It wasn’t until later that he realised she had never explained why she’d entered in the first place.
“Absolutely not!” At the King’s cough, Sir Malcolm visibly calmed himself and began again in a lower voice. “Your Highness, it is simply impossible that anyone leave the Capital until we’ve solved this dark mystery.”
“Sir Malcolm, I respect your judgement and your council, but we cannot put everything on hold for what amounts to thievery and general thuggery. Especially as we have no proof any of these events are connected.” Opening his mouth as if to hastily retort, the knight reconsidered and deflated slightly, conceding.
“Fine. Diplomatic matters, I suppose, can continue until I have more evidence. Though I cannot leave your side, sir. I will send Sir Hayes with the First Knight and the diplomatic party.”
“I am sure you will have another opportunity to travel to Andoria and investigate their defensive and offensive tactics.” After a swift nod, another thought seemed to come over the armsman and his lips twitched.
“Respectfully sir, as much as I would enjoy such a trip, the duty of guarding the First Knight usually involves an undesirably high amount of effort and patience.” The King huffed laugh.
“That is true.” He watched his armsman depart and tried not to let his mind wade into anxious waters. Sir Charles and his party would be well-protected and the alliance would be beneficial for the realm. That was all he should care about and anything more was selfish of him.
Sighing, he went back to his papers.
Chapter 8: Strong Winds Until Then
Queen T’Pol sat in her chambers and looked over the letter again. Although there was no signature, there were only a few candidates for its author; both due to the writing style and the message itself. Beware of the snake in the den. Someone was warning her of a traitor in her midst. But who? The script was in Vulcan, with neat penmanship and using Vulcan ink. The writer was unlikely to be anyone other than a fellow Vulcan and yet, could it truly be one of the guard? It was their duty to protect her and man the outpost, why would they need to employ secrecy? Unless it had come from a member of Tolaris’ group… But why? More pertinently, who was the threat?
She had sworn to trust her husband with her life, to share all with him and yet… He was not a bad man, that much she had clearly ascertained, so it was almost impossible that the traitor was himself. However, that did not mean he was completely rational. Take his reaction to her association with Sir Charles. His jealousy had been entirely baseless and had lead him to alienate two of his – supposedly – closest companions. No, she could not entrust him with this information. This was a mystery she would have to solve herself.
Sir Charles leaving the realm unsettled her for reasons not too difficult for her to divine, even as they disturbed her. She felt safer with him there, or more comfortable, would be more accurate to say. Although she and her Lord husband had found common ground since their marriage, Sir Charles made her feel the most at ease. It should not be that way. And yet since coming to live with the humans, she’d found that often things that should be, weren’t.
His departure had been overladen with regret and stiff, unwieldy emotions. She did not know if the two men had resolved their quarrel concerning Charles’ time spent with herself but watching their interaction in the courtyard implied they had not. Her husband was obviously remorseful that his First Knight was leaving, but their goodbye was awkward, their affection stilted and uncertain. Sir Charles had also bid her farewell in a detached manner. Understanding his reasoning for it, she responded in kind, merely wishing him a safe journey with a nod of the head. His lips had twitched a little but in the end he had said nothing in reply. After a brief bow to the Queen Regent, he had bid adieu to his friends in Jonathan’s Circle, mounted and then left. Watching Queen Teresa’s benevolent if cool gaze on the knight, T’Pol wondered if perhaps she had been involved in the King’s sudden decision to separate herself and Sir Charles. Though she admitted to herself that she could be certain of nothing.
Now, weeks after the Andorian party’s departure, T’Pol found herself impatient for news. They should have already arrived and although communication between the regions was notoriously slow and unreliable, she itched to hear of their safe arrival. Avoiding Tolaris for what felt like the hundredth time, T’Pol sought out the physician Phlox. He was studying some plants he’d found in the fields north of the palace.
“Ah, your Highness! To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Physician Phlox, I wish to enquire how you are faring living among our human friends.”
“Very well, your Highness. Yes, I do experience the odd misunderstanding due to cultural differences – did you know that it is not human custom to share food with someone not intimately acquainted? – but on the whole, I find them delightful and quite clever.”
“Yes, they can be resourceful.”
“And yourself? How is your experience?” She was unsure how to respond, even though she had anticipated the question.
“Similar to you: differences can cause confusion but ultimately...” The Queen hesitated. Phlox seemed to sense her disquiet and put down his tools.
“I swore an oath to treat my patients with the utmost care and discretion. If your Highness has anything she wishes to discuss with me, I can promise your words will remain between us.”
“I find myself anxious for news from the Andorians. My King’s people should have arrived and we have not received word as of yet.” Phlox smiled.
“Ah, but they are your people too, now. Are they not?” The physician’s tone held no slyness or hidden message, but T’Pol couldn’t help but stiffen. Then, she relaxed again.
“Yes.” It was true after all.
“I am sure all is well. The Andorians are close allies of the King and formidable fighters from what I’ve observed. It is hard to imagine any hardship which could keep them from sending word soon enough.” T’Pol wondered if Phlox was aware of the recent attacks on the King’s Guard, surely he must have overheard something said about it. Then again, if there was a plot against Jonathan, it wouldn’t have been orchestrated by Andorians who’d stayed in the castle for weeks without any tension. So she let herself be reassured by the physician’s words. She would hear from Sir Charles and his party soon.
The ship was approaching shore, the sailors running around preparing to dock. Sir Charles stood with Hoshi in a corner of the deck mostly out of the way. They were admiring the view of the shore: black-rock cliffs and blue ice sheets creating a breath-taking sight.
“Almost as if it was sculpted.” Hoshi commented, with Charles humming in agreement. Shran proudly talked about how the rocks and ice sheets interact, changing with the seasons and the difficulty in maintaining safe routes through them inland. Charles tried to listen attentively, his thoughts elsewhere.
Whilst he and Keval had learned more of each other during the voyage, Charles could not claim that much affection had grown between them. It became obvious to both of them that they were entering into the arrangement for the benefit of their people without much interest in each other as individuals. Keval was perfectly civil and did express true interest in Charles’ ideas and passions and Keval did offer interesting insights in certain topics that Charles found equally intriguing, however, out of all their travelling companions, they were not the other’s first choice. Though Hoshi had insisted on teaching Charles some rudimentary Andorian so he could respond properly to any Andorian aristocracy they met. So far he’d only managed to make the Andorians on board laugh at his pronunciation, but they did appreciate his efforts.
Keval had initiated some intimate encounters but it was clear that curiosity, rather than true passion, was the only driving force behind those. Charles, he was a little ashamed to admit, had mostly been passive in those encounters, allowing himself to be kissed and undressed, but not really interested in reciprocating. In the end, Keval had awkwardly given Charles permission to seek pleasure elsewhere once in Andoria and Charles had just as awkwardly accepted it.
Andoria was a truly breath-taking country. Most of the land consisted of icy tundra, impossible to cross safely, so Andorians travelled through tunnels carved many centuries ago and maintained by each noble family. The tunnels ranged from high and spacious, to wide enough for single-file. Poor Hoshi had to be reassured that the smaller tunnels were usually very short. Hess was particularly helpful comforting the lady and the two travelled closely together.
Their arrival was met with a mixture of cautious welcome and poorly hidden hostility. The common folk they passed seemed mostly curious and would happily talk to Lady Hoshi when the party stopped long enough for her to strike up conversations. From her reports once they’d moved on, the people were polite and interested to talk with her, though Sir Charles supposed that could have been from respect for the clan they were travelling with. Shran was popular amongst most of the clans for his adventurous spirit, bravery in battle and his plain-speaking manner. The further they got into the land, the warmer it became – according to Shran, to Charles it was still bitterly cold – and the more settlements they came across.
The Capital appeared to be relatively small on the surface, but once inside the city itself, it became evident that many of the buildings extended far beneath the ground. The Royal Palace, for example, only stood two or three flights above the surface, but stretched far beneath the surface. The buildings were generally constructed from some kind of white stone with black tiles for decoration. Though the humans were glad that the palace was built on hot springs, meaning that in general it was a lot closer to temperatures they were used to, they still required their warmer garb. However, and Lady Hoshi commented that she held more sympathy for their Vulcan friends coping with Terra’s milder climes than their native lands. Sir Charles tried not to think of Vulcans at all, instead throwing himself into life among the Andorians.
Finally, word arrived from Andoria. Lady Hoshi sent a missive explaining that they had arrived at the Royal Palace safely, welcomed warmly and enjoying learning more about Andorian culture. T’Pol was heartened but slightly disappointed that Sir Charles had not written himself. The first few weeks without Charles in the castle were lonelier than T’Pol had anticipated. Although they had not spoken of late due to her husband’s irrational jealousy, the mere knowledge of his presence nearby had brought her more comfort than she’d known. Eventually, after a lot of meditation, T’Pol realised that this was a blessing as now she had no excuse not to grow closer to her lord husband. Their relation was still strained by the incident, which he had not mentioned, let alone apologised for, but both of them did attempt to converse over dinner and whilst preparing for bed in the evenings.
The strain was deepened, however, by the continuing mystery of the note. She had naturally shared it with Y’cha, who had been her armswoman almost since her birth, and from whom she could never hide anything for long. As expected, Y’cha had strongly advised that they retreat to the nearest Vulcan stronghold until the Queen’s safety could be guaranteed. T’Pol refused, her reasons many. Part of her wanted to remain with her husband, irrational and jealous he may sometimes be, he was her future and she could not run from him anymore than she could escape the dawn. The two women had concluded that the message had originated from Tolaris’ group and Y’cha had begun getting close to them all to assess a likely candidate to interview. It was obviously not Tolaris, as he still insisted on private meetings, though T’Pol avoided them as much as possible. At least Tolaris had not seemed to have approached the King again, so she was not being subtly sheparded over to the rogue Vulcan preacher.
One day, she was beginning her midday meditation session in her chambers when the door opened. Snapping her eyes open, she saw Jonathan standing there. Grimacing, he closed the door.
“I apologise for the interruption. I just came up to retrieve something.” She inclined her head and watched him pick up a book from his bedside table. Coughing awkwardly, he said quietly.
“I will leave you to your meditation.” He bowed slightly and turned to leave but she stopped him with an unexpected question.
“Would you like to learn?” After considering it a moment, he turned back and regarded her seriously.
“You think it within my capabilities?” She nodded just as seriously. Hesitantly, he walked over and knelt down beside her. After a moment, she began her soft instructions.
“Look at the candle’s flame…”
Chapter 9: Vanished
The Initiation Ceremony to officially become one of Keval’s Companions was not as long or elaborate as Charles feared. Lady Hoshi and Keval had helped him prepare his parts of the oath and he’d gone through the ceremony so many times in his head that he recognised most of the different parts. The priest was dressed in a bleached-white robe and had the same solemn expression Charles had seen on human clergy. As Andorians were accustomed to several Companions at once, the others were included in the ceremony, formerly welcoming sir Charles into the Circle and pledging to aid him in his role. He had met them briefly before the ceremony and had already forgotten their names, but they had been mostly friendly. He managed to get through his part of the oath without too much stumbling, Keval looking on approvingly, and breathed a sigh of relief at the gong which signified the end of the Ceremony and the start of the feast.
After that, Charles and his companions spent a few weeks travelling around Andoria with Keval and his Circle. Throughout that time Charles learnt more about the other Companions: they were from other noble families in Andoria, trained in different disciplines such as weaponry, agriculture, masonry and apothecary practices. They were pleasant enough, but not particularly interested in getting to know him. Since they’d decided not to pursue a physically intimate relationship, Charles and Keval managed to cultivate a pleasant partnership of shared learning and relaxed companionship. Lady Hoshi and Sir Charles also associated closely, both sharing what they had learned of Andorian culture and their impressions of the place and the people. Although they had been friendly in the past, the two had never spent so much concentrated time together and found they shared the same sense of humour.
Hess made a note of seemingly every technique employed by the Imperial Guard, from their guard rotations, defensive positioning in small groups and preferred weaponry. Sir Charles had jestingly enquired as to whose squire she was in truth, his or Sir Malcolm’s. She mocked him lightly with a coy smile and no reassurance, causing him to respond by feigning offence.
“Don’t worry, sir, I’ll still protect you.”
They stopped in Shran’s ancestral home where his wife lived with their children. Jhamel was so pale she was almost snow-white and completely blind. Her sightlessness was made up for by her almost unnatural spatial awareness and reading of people through the tone of their voices. Immediately after they’d been introduced, Jhamel smiled warmly at him as if sensing his lingering uncertainty of Andorian greetings and after dinner that night, she approached him, taking an empty chair and saying.
“I hope your travels through our land may lighten your troubled mind.” Her words were quiet enough under the general chatter and revelry that he did not fear her being overheard even as he froze instinctively. Without being aware of how, Sir Charles knew to what she was referring. He wondered if Shran had betrayed his confidence or if it was obvious to anyone with a passing knowledge of the Human Court’s affairs. Perhaps he was just that transparent.
“Thank you, your Grace.” He looked down at his drink, some kind of spicy wine which heated the blood without impairing the mind too much, and she sat quietly beside him. Something unnameable prompted him to say. “All things must end.” Jhamel nodded, her expression its usual mixture of sympathy and secret knowledge.
“Some change is deceptive Sir Charles; it appears to affect many things when only one thing is truly different.” He frowned, trying to discern her meaning as she went on. “Despite his misjudgement of the Vulcans, I know that Jonathan will make a great king.”
“But he will need good council and unwavering support from his companions. I hope you stay with him.” Charles raised his glass drunkenly and slurred happily.
“Until the day I die.”
“His marriage hasn’t changed your regard for him.” She tilted her head, voice soft but seeming to burrow deep inside him. “I do believe the same could be said for him.” How can she claim to know such things without even meeting the King? Charles thought even as he took her words seriously.
“Thank you, my Lady. But I cannot abide that. That would be even worse.”
“As you say, sir knight.” They spoke no more of it, instead Charles listened to amusing tales of how Shran had courted Jhamel and how he entertained their children after long months apart. He forced his mind not to turn to thoughts of home.
It was not unusual for the King to wake alone. His lady wife often rose early to practice her people’s relaxation methods, sometimes in their chambers, sometimes in the garden if the weather proved amenable. However, what was not common was for her to stay vanished. When she did not arrive for breakfast, he sent an enquiry as to her whereabouts to her guardswoman. The word he received back was disturbing. Not half an hour later, Sir Malcolm strode into the Meeting Room, face grave.
“On first inspection, it appears that the Queen absconded in the night, sir.” The King stared, wide-eyed as his armsman continued. “There is some clothing missing from her armoire and her horse is gone from the stables. Also, Lord Tolaris and his party have also disappeared. My men are following the King’s Road towards their known holdings. They will be apprehended.”
“No. That does not sound like her.” Sir Malcolm carefully avoided the King’s eye as he ventured.
“Does it not?” Hearing the gaping silence at his question, he glanced up and caught the ire in his King’s face. He back-tracked quickly. “Apologies, sir.” Huffing, King Jonathan shook his head slightly, forgiving his armsman’s suspicious nature. It had served him well in the past after all. He paced some more, mind whirling, going over past interactions with his wife and the fiend Tolaris. Had there been signs that he had missed? He considered the last few weeks and found himself at fault; he had not exactly been welcoming to his wife’s thoughts.
“Maybe if I’d…” But then he caught Sir Malcolm’s eye and cut himself off, straightening. “We must find her, either way.” Just then Travis knocked and entered hurriedly.
“Your Highness, my Lord, an urgent note from the Queen’s guardswoman, Y’cha.” Waving him over, the King exchanged a quick glance with his guardsman.
“What news does it bring she could not bring herself?” Travis stopped short of shrugging his shoulders, saying quickly.
“She told me only that she had to follow the trail she’d found swiftly, lest risk losing it.” The King unrolled the parchment and read quickly, stomach churning. Then, face grim, passed it to Sir Malcolm as he questioned Travis.
“When you saw her, in which direction was she heading?”
“I am afraid I do not know, your Highness.” All things fell apart at once, it seemed. The King did was unsure of what he believed.
“Find her.” He turned to Sir Malcolm. “Find my wife.”
“Charles.” The Andorian drawled as she took a step closer to the Human, both of them sizing up the other. They had been hunting all day with Keval and his Circle and now were finally alone. Freshly bathed after a long ride, Lady Talas had encountered the knight lingering in the inner courtyard, hidden from view of the path by some trees, and the pair had begun the dance. “My clansman did not exaggerate your pleasing features and strong physique.” The knight smiled slowly, confidently.
“Nor your fierce beauty.” She smirked, playful fingers fiddling with the laces of his shirt.
“’Fierce beauty’ he says, is that a compliment among your people?” He pushed off the wall and leant into her body, a hand snaking up her back as he replied.
“It depends to whom you are referring.” They held each other for a long moment before giving in to the magnetism they both felt, lips and bodies pressing firmly together. It felt so good to hold a warm body close to his, to feel a strong pulse beneath his fingertips, but even as his nerve endings came alive and his blood sang, his stomach twisted in knots. To his frustration, he knew that he could not lay with this woman or anyone but the one he could never know again. His lack of enthusiasm with Keval only went to confirm that. Cursing inwardly, he pulled away gently and turned his head away, unable to look her in the eye. They leaned back slightly, arms still around each other. Luckily, it was the warrior who spoke first, melancholy blending into her light tone.
“Shran will be disappointed.” He looked in her eyes and felt slightly comforted by the understanding he saw there, the same sadness. He was reluctant to let go of her, so continued in the same intimate pitch, but airy tone.
“There goes my chance at joining the Clan.”
“I’m sure my cousin will come up with another scheme in good time. You’re not safe yet.”
“I would offer an ear to your troubles-” at this her body stiffened and the moment was over. He let her draw back, arms dropping to his sides and finished sadly, “but I guess you do not wish to share.”
“You are correct. Though please be sure that my reasons for not mating with you have no bearing on your eligibility.”
“No offense taken, my Lady, if you accept my assurances of the same in return.”
“Are you sure? I had heard of your great carnal appetite.”
“It is but a simple case of a broken heart, my Lady. One I cannot imagine mending in good time.”
“It must have been a great love to cause such devastation.”
“It was.” He smiled sadly and corrected himself. “It is.” Eyes soft for the first time since they’d met, the warrior leant in and kissed the knight’s cheek.
“Time heals all wounds, Sir Charles.” He merely nodded his head, throat tight. Pulling away, she visibly pulled up her emotional defences and said in her usual brisk tone.
“Come, let me show you our training yard. I am sure it puts whatever spot you have at your castle to shame.”
“I have no doubt, my lady.”
“Sir Charles!” A voice called from across the courtyard. Frowning, Charles saw Lady Hoshi running towards him, an open letter in one hand. From her expression alone, he knew that something terrible had happened.
Lady Hoshi snuck another glance at the First Knight, taking in his tense frame and serious face again. Although she knew his reaction to recent news was appropriate, she regretted it all the same. It had taken many weeks, but the laughing, care-free man she had first met when joining King Jonathan’s Circle had begun to emerge during their stay in Andoria. All of the inner circle knew of the great love between King and Companion, the kind of love that under other circumstances might have forged an unbreakable marriage bond strong enough to support the entire realm. But alas, Jonathan was an only child with no clear heir and his father had chosen to ally with the Vulcans through marriage. It had been a wise and fruitful match for the realm, but one of tragedy for the people behind Royal curtain. It was no surprise then, that both the new King and his old Companion would be changed from the severance of their bond, temporary though their own bond was meant to have been. Ambassador Sato considered how unlikely the friendship between the Queen and Sir Charles seemed to many, even those who knew them. But in hindsight, she mused that it was in fact no surprise at all. Sir Charles was as charismatic as he was brave and determined. If anyone could win over a cold fish like the Vulcan Queen, it would of course be him. Now, with news of her disappearance, the grimness had returned. There were many things she wished to say to him, but in the end, she settled for reassurance.
“Sir Malcolm will find her.” Seeing her concern, he smothered his for a moment and smiled carefully.
“Yes, I am sure he will.” They rode in silence for a few more minutes before coming to a narrow pass. As they could only travel in a single line, Sir Hayes and two of his men went first, then Sir Charles, Lady Hoshi and Hess, followed by the rest of the guardsmen. Keeping her breathing even, Hoshi was thankful that no one talked to her as her dislike of small spaces was well known. Finally, the end was in sight and her chest loosened in anticipation of fresh air.
As the party began to file out of the pass and into a clearing, blurred arrows dated out of the trees, burying themselves in the neck of Sir Charles’ horse and the body of Sir Hayes’ archer. The archer slumped to the ground, dead, and Sir Charles’ horse reared in pain and shock as he yelled, pulling his shield from his back. Lady Hoshi heard Sir Hayes’ voice echo as if from a distance, her heart suddenly pounding in her chest.
“Hess! Protect the Ambassador!” Another volley of arrows killed the poor creature, Charles protecting his face and torso as he leapt off to avoid being crushed by his steed collapsing into the dirt. Figures armed with broadswords rushed out of the trees, yelling in a strangely familiar tongue, Sir Hayes and his remaining companion riding to meet them. Hess rode in front of Lady Hoshi’s horse, engaging with another fiend who’d been racing toward her. The man was poorly kitted with battered armoured plating and his sword looked old and ill-cared for – he was equally unskilled.
Finishing off her opponent with a deep slice to the neck, Hess turned at Hoshi’s yell. Following the Lady’s horrified stare she saw Sir Charles, surrounded by three foes, crumpling to the ground, seemingly from a blow given by the opponent to his back. Hess felt her stomach swoop as she realised that she could not aid him and ensure the Lady’s safety. Sir Hayes and his men were still fighting and were better swords than herself. Sending up a prayer for her master, Hess shout carried over the clash of steel.
“This way, my Lady!” Pulling at the reigns and murmuring shakily to her mount, Lady Hoshi managed to guide her horse to follow the path of the swordswoman. They rode hard and fast through the forest, keeping off the track and straining their ears for the sounds of pursuit. Hoshi tried to focus on their flight and not on the terrible scenes of gore and violence.
Eventually, Hess deemed them far enough to stop. They found a clearing and waiting on the edge of it, staying mounted in case they needed to flee again. One of Hayes’ men found them not long after they’d stopped, reporting that the tide had been turning so he’d been sent to look over them. That fact gave Hoshi a little hope, though she couldn’t seem to stop remembering the way Sir Charles had fallen to the ground. Instead, she searched her memory to place the language she’d heard their attackers speaking. It did not come to her immediately, but she knew that she had heard it before.
Then the sounds of approaching riders snapped her into focus. They all tensed, swords and shields beared, until they recognised the figure of Sir Hayes and two of his men. Lady Hoshi looked behind him for Sir Charles and felt her heart fall to her feet as he declared tightly.
“We must return to the Capital urgently and warn the King of this attack against his Circle.” Hess gave voice to the question haunting Hoshi’s heart.
“And what of Sir Charles?”
“He lives. They took him and escaped before we could follow. It is clear that whoever ordered this assault mean to use him against the Crown in some manner.”
“We can’t leave him!” Hess began, even as she knew that they had no choice. Sir Hayes snapped his head around, not unsympathetic even as he urged his horse forward.
“We must. His only hope is for us to enlist reinforcements.” After exchanging a hopeless look, Hoshi and Hess followed him. Together, they raced back to the capital. As they went, Hoshi sent up a prayer that both the Queen and her First Knight be returned safely.
Chapter 10: Caught
If she had been uneasy in Lord Tolaris’ presence before, Queen T’Pol felt close to terror whenever he visited the tent where she was being kept prisoner. She refused to let it show, but it was hard to remain stoic in the face of hunger, cold and the threat of violence. His visits thankfully never lasted long, but he grew increasingly bold in his touches. On one occasion, he stroked her neck, fingertips trailing down to the neckline of her dress. He had laughed at her stiffness and refusal to look at him, her insides roiling with disgust and fear. After he left that time, it had taken a long time to calm her breathing.
She cursed her foolishness in riding out of the castle unaccompanied. Unable to sleep she had risen silently from her bed in the early hours of the morning and dressed without waking her husband. Y’cha had either been sleeping or tailing one of her suspects as she had not answered her chamber door. The Queen had been tired in mind and spirit, so had stolen down to the stables and mounted her horse as the castle slept. None of the guards challenged her and she thought not to enlist their protection as she rode out. Eyes must have been watching her as she’d been accosted and threatened by some of Tolaris’ men in a field just out of sight of the castle’s guards. Ever since, she had felt anger at herself and concern as to what her lord husband would think upon discovering her absence.
A voice in her mind warned her to be more cunning. Tolaris had forbade any of the guards to touch her but he still believed he could charm her to his side. If he gave up that notion, she’d be thrown to the wolves. Her skin crawled at the thought of pretending to fall for his fallacious ideas and grubby touches, even as she knew eventually she would have to do it.
Suddenly, T’Pol’s ears pricked up at the sound of riders outside. Pushing down the unsettled feeling left from Tolaris’ visit, she shifted closer to the edge of the tent and listened as best she could. There were rough voices, speaking in the common tongue. So not all of her captors were Vulcan, it seemed.
“What news of the Northern mission? Did they succeed?”
“Partially. They only got the whore, the wench escaped.” There was a short pause, presumably the questioner was as confused as T’Pol because the speaker explained with a sigh. “The King’s old Companion and his Ambassador? Blond, blue eyes, plump lips? And she’s got paler skin, dark hair. The guards put up a fight, so they only managed to nab the knight. Took him to the High Hills, last I heard.” The questioner scoffed.
“For what? Even if he was still bending over for the King, the Crown wouldn’t pay.”
“He’s the main manufacturer of the King’s equipment an’ close confidant of the King. Even if the Crown won’t barter for his safe return, we could still milk him for the salient secrets of court and his knowledge of the forge.”
T’Pol’s internal organs suddenly lurched as she realised to whom they were referring. Sir Charles’ face appeared in her mind’s eye, sporting a rare, soft smile and shining eyes. She could not leave him to the mercy of the conspirators. Her bonds aggravated her again. What could she do from here?
A few leagues away, Sir Charles was asking himself the same question. He was recovering his breath in between coughing and spluttering, throat raw and mouth coated in blood. No one had ever told him how exhausting it was to be beaten like a dog. Nor how frustrating it was to be bound and held captive when such an urgent matter was taking place Gods knew how far away. He should be helping to search for the Queen, not fending off ignorant questions from hired thugs.
Luckily they didn’t seem to be very knowledgeable about the Forge, nor exactly what kind of information he was privy to from his position in the King’s Inner Circle. At first he’d refused to answer and insulted them by turn; his anger and frustration allowed him to ignore his hurts and antagonise his captors. However, when one fiend had taken a long dagger and stabbed him in the leg, the pain had been too much. Burning fiercely like a hot poker, he couldn’t keep in the long, drawn out scream as the blade was twisted. Eyes stinging, stomach churning, desperately trying to hold onto his senses, the knight blurted some nonsense that he hoped sounded convincing. They left him to talk amongst themselves, his head too full of bells and a heavy haze for him to overhear any conversation. Idly, he realised that his face was wet, every part of him throbbed and he mercifully lost consciousness.
King Jonathan rubbed his forehead vigorously, hoping in vain to rid himself of the pain there. He had just endured a tongue-lashing from the Head Guard of the Vulcan outpost, speaking words sent to him from the Vulcan King himself – because of course the Vulcans could not just send the letter directly, but ensure a Vulcan was the one reporting the words. It did not comfort the King to know that the Vulcans had just as little idea as his own people as to what exactly had happened to his wife. Naturally they suspected foul play from his Circle, though no one was free from their suspicion. He related the sudden departure of Tolaris’ group and the Vulcan had frowned harder, though he didn’t release the human from his suspicions. After the Head Guard had left, promising that he and his soldiers would discover the truth, the King received a visit from the Queen Mother. His mother asked him seriously.
“You truly believe she did not leave of her own accord?”
“I know that she didn’t.” He expected argument, but his mother merely nodded.
“Then we must trust Sir Malcolm to discover the truth.” Despite his many years and time as King, Jonathan still felt relief at having his mother’s support. Perhaps seeing this on his face, she smiled slightly, pushing back a lock of hair and kissing him on the brow. The moment was interrupted by the entrance of Sir Malcolm and… The King’s hackles rose as he eyed the Vulcan, recognising the dress to know it was one of Tolaris’ men.
“This is Kos, a member of Tolaris’ Circle.” Sir Malcolm introduced him unnecessarily. The nervous-looking Vulcan coughed and spoke timorously.
“It is true, Tolaris abducted the Queen.” The silence weighed heavily on all of them. Swallowing down his anger, the King gestured for Kos to continue. “He had help.” The King’s eyes locked with Sir Malcolm’s and his armsman nodded solemnly as Kos explained. “I saw some wearing the Gardener crest, yes. I gave the Queen a warning, though I did not dare leave my name.” He looked down as King Jonathan grappled with the new information. “I am ashamed of my fear, knowing what I do now.” The King waved a hand.
“Though late, this information is helpful to us.” He looked at Sir Malcolm as he went on. “You will stay here at our behest until the situation has been resolved.” Kos did not look surprised at his order and merely bowed again. Sir Malcolm directed a newly healed Mayweather to take Kos to a secret chamber, out of the way of prying eyes, and remained to talk with the King. “How many Gardener knights and soldiers are in my lands?”
“In the castle there are 20; the surrounding area holds roughly the same amount.”
“I’ll send word to Erika and Andrew, warn them in the agreed code. Then…” Gritting his teeth, the King trailed off. Sir Malcolm suggested hesitantly.
“There is little we can do about them until we have a better idea of their end goal. To move against them would tip them off.” The King nodded wearily. Sir Malcolm coughed. “I could contact Sir Harris.” Sighing, the King nodded again. They were both reluctant to involve the retired knight, knowing well his duplicitous nature, but he had the Kingdom’s best informants in his fold and at the end of the day, he was loyal to the land. Sir Malcolm hurried off and the King sat down at his desk to pen the letter to his cousins. Hoping against hope that the warning didn’t come too late.
Squire Hess couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief as they crossed over into the Arch lands. The King’s Road was as long and bland-looking as she remembered, but the safety it offered more than made up for that. They had been riding hard ever since escaping their attackers up in the mountains and none had slept well. Thoughts of what might be happening to her master plagued her and she knew Lady Hoshi also worried. Sir Hayes had made a few comments about what larger plot was unfolding, the final chess moves the unknown enemy had in mind, but Hess just hoped that Sir Charles would still be alive and well when they found him. She couldn’t wait to see Travis again, sure that he would have healed and would be on his feet. After a few hours, a group of riders appeared on the horizon. Sir Hayes and Hess exchanged a look and she dropped back level to Lady Hoshi.
“Surely they’ll be servants of the King.” Hoshi stated assuredly, but Hess wasn’t as certain. She squinted and made out the Gardener crest. Ordinarily this would not be troubling, but Hess remembered the trouble with the bowman who had shot Travis and the way Baron Black had looked at her master.
Once they were close enough to discern expressions, the lead Gardener man signalled and swords were drawn. Sir Hayes followed suit and Hess immediately lead Lady Hoshi off the road. A few soldiers took after them and Hess used her knowledge of the forest to lose the Gardener men. Eventually, they could not hear their pursuers. Hess dared call a halt to rest the horses a moment. Lady Hoshi looked shaken but still present enough to continue riding safely. Hess was sympathetic but now they were alone, she assumed the role of sole protector. They could not return to the road, the risk too great. Instead, they continued to the palace alone, Hess trying to figure out what they would do when they arrived.
Y’cha stalked through the forest, the sounds of men’s voices growing closer and more distinguishable from the sounds of the forest beasts. She was weary from travelling so fast to catch them, but catch them she had. Now with a view of their fires, she paused to rest and analyse their camp. They were not terribly big in number, but well-armed and confident. Among the Vulcans were humans and one Andorian. Her suspicions of a coalition seemed to be confirmed, then. She saw the fiend Tolaris, watched him going into a tent and emerging a little while later, an odious expression of pleasure on his face. Y’cha would bet all the gold in Vulcan that tent held her mistress. Patiently, she waited until nightfall, watching how their guard changed and listening to their conversations.
Gripping her dagger firmly, Y’cha darted into the camp, eyes wide and ears pricked as she went. She held still in the shadow of one of the tents, listening to check she had not been seen. In the clear, she ducked into the tent. Relief flooded her as she saw her Queen, awake and appearing unharmed. Nodding to each other wordlessly, Y’cha untied her and together they stole out of the camp, running through the undergrowth. After covering a few miles on the other side of a stream, Y’cha called a halt, handing T’Pol water and bread. They ate quickly before continuing at a slower pace, relating all they knew of the situation to each other. Once caught up, T’Pol spoke urgently.
“I heard them speaking of the Human party in Andoria. They captured the First Knight.” Y’cha nodded grimly.
“I have heard similar rumours, all the more reason...” The Queen turned to her guard.
“We must find him.” Y’cha looked at her sharply.
“My duty is to you.”
“And I am ordering you to help me liberate this man.”
“He has no strategic value, close friend to the King he may be, he is still a pawn.”
“On the contrary, he is a very important figure in the human court.” Y’cha narrowed her eyes slightly in suspicion as she continued.
“We do not have the proper resources to make an attempt. I will not risk your safety. We must let our people know of this plot between-”
“Sir Charles will undoubtedly possess valuable information and know of ways to safely communicate with the King’s loyal men. A rescue attempt is worth the risk.” If her guardswoman wanted to argue further, and the Queen surmised that she did, she held her tongue, merely inclining her head in acknowledgement.
“I suppose they would not expect us to head in that direction.” T’Pol tried to hide her sigh of relief. Y’cha thought another moment before glancing back at the group and indicating a safe path away, saying lowly as they went.
“As the humans say, we will have to improvise.”
Chapter 11: Duty
Mayweather felt uneasy guarding the Vulcan Kos. The man himself seemed harmless enough and genuinely remorseful for not preventing the Queen’s abduction, but the act of hiding his presence from almost every soul in the castle was no easy feat. Cloak and dagger affairs were never high on the squire’s list of favourite tasks to begin with, but sneaking around in the castle he’d lived in for years unsettled him further. Sir Malcolm was run ragged trying to perform his usual duties and uncover the mystery plot against the King and most of the King’s Circle was away in Andoria. They had not heard from the party in a long time and this worried Travis, even as he told himself that Sir Hayes was an equally formidable fighter to Sir Malcolm.
Physician Phlox truly had done good work in healing his injury. The Royal Physician had begrudgingly praised the Denobulan’s methods. The Squire couldn’t wait to show Hess his new scar. There was only some residual aching now so she would marvel at his stoicism.
It was evening and Mayweather was returning from a tense and subdued dinner in the Knight’s Hall when movement from across the courtyard caught his attention. Frowning, he went over to investigate. The hairs on the back of his neck stood suddenly but not fast enough to stop the hands restraining him and slapping over his mouth.
Jonathan couldn’t stop pacing. It had been over a month since his wife had been abducted and they had heard almost nothing. His only consolation was that the party from Andoria was due to arrive back within the next few days. The general malcontent he’d been feeling was exacerbated by the absence of his First Knight. There was so much he wanted to say to his old friend though he depressively admitted to himself that he would likely not say any of it, even given the chance.
There was a knock on the door and Lady Elizabeth entered. As usual of late, her eyes were bloodshot and voice timid.
“Your Highness, Squire Mayweather requests your presence.” The King frowned. It was very rare that a servant dared summon him. Sir Malcolm’s squire was no fool, however, so the reason must be very convincing. Gathering himself, he nodded and followed the lady. They met Sir Malcolm on the way, Elizabeth leading them to Kos’ chambers.
“Your Highness.” Lady Hoshi and Squire Hess greeted him from inside. Stunned, he’d returned the greeting. They hadn’t changed out of their riding garb and looked worried.
“Why the secrecy?” Cautiously, Squire Hess related the tale to the King, who became increasingly agitated the more he heard. She was just describing how they’d managed to sneak themselves back into the castle when his temper broke. The absolute gall his enemies had to attack his Circle! To force them to sneak and hide in his own lands! He ordered Sir Malcolm.
“Send for Lord Gardener.”
“Sir-” The King cut him off, roaring.
“I want him to come! I want to look him in the eye and see him try to lie to me!” His last words echoed in the small rom, all those gathered frozen and staring. Sir Malcolm looked as if he understood the sentiment, even though he nodded to Elizabeth to check if they’d been overheard by any passers-by. She returned and shook her head, all sighing with relief.
The armsman took a deep breath before saying bluntly.
“Sir, it is high time that we retreat to the safe haven.” The King rose up, about to argue but Sir Malcolm interrupted. “The longer we wait, the bolder the Gardeners will become. They already have one half of the future of the kingdom, let them not take you as well.”
“You doubt your ability to protect me?”
“With a castle full of knights I can’t trust and a veritable threat against everyone here, yes. We should re-group, call our trustworthy allies and rally.”
“I will not leave the Capital undefended.”
“It would be better to gather your true friends than let your enemy pick them off one by one.” The King scowled but then looked around the room. He took in the nervousness, but also the devotion, the loyalty. Hoshi in particular caught his attention: her face pale but her jaw locked and gaze steady. Whatever his decision she would stand by him, of that he was certain. The thought of someone attacking her filled him with rage. He looked to Sir Malcolm, who was his armsman for a reason, who he trusted not only with his life, but with all the lives of his Circle, those in the castle and beyond. After a long, taught silence, he admitted defeat.
“Make the arrangements.” As everyone set to work, the King stalked back to his chambers, going over to the window overlooking the Front Gate. He leant his hands on the window sill and stared out at the horizon. Somewhere out there were his dearest friend and his wife, captured and bound by an enemy he didn’t know, suffering Gods-knew what. He almost couldn’t stand to contemplate their Fates. Closing his eyes, he sent up a prayer to the long-neglected Gods.
Bring them home safe.
Time became fluid, slippery. Light strengthened and faded in random bursts; muffled sounds grew nearer and then disappeared completely. He was aware of someone close to him, a voice speaking and hands touching him, moving his dead limbs. It was intensely hot and his throat was sore but he couldn’t move. Liquid splashed on his face and he spluttered and gasped, vision too blurry to make out faces. Finally, complete words reached his ears.
“…much use now.” Another voice replied angrily.
“Do it anyway, fool!” His head was being tilted upwards, water pushed against his lips, and he drank as deeply as he could. Then it went away again. Hands grabbed him under the arms and dragged him backwards. He was propped up against a post, arms drawn back and tied. They...had been untied before? Vaguely, he could make out the shape of his legs and realised that the wound was bandaged. He blinked a few times, trying to fight through the fog in his head. The voices retreated until they joined the general background noise of an encampment.
That was right: he was a prisoner. They’d been interrogating him. They’d stabbed him. The wound still pained him, throbbing insistently, infuriatingly. He shifted and winced. His mind became clearer, the pain focusing it. Futilely, he pulled at his bonds, shifting to check the give: too little to be of use. His throat was still sore and his stomach growled incessantly as he sat there, wincing and cursing his luck.
As far as he had seen before he’d been subdued, no one else had been captured. Though that did not mean they couldn’t have been apprehended after the fact and been transported elsewhere. He worried for Hess and Hoshi; his squire they would have killed and Hoshi… She knew more court secrets than he did. She was a beautiful woman. Concentrating on breathing evenly, he pushed those dark thoughts away. Baseless speculation would do nothing to aid anyone now. Tiredness pulled at him again and his head felt light. Once he had recovered some, he would think of a plan to escape. For now, he needed to sleep. And hope his captors did not tire of their duty to sustain him, nor think of any other use for him.
It took ten days to locate the camp where Charles was supposedly being held. T’Pol pretended to ignore the irritated looks Y’cha sent her whenever she enquired impatiently how far they were away. The Queen had lost some tension from her body as they moved swiftly away from the place she had been held, but her nights were still haunted by the ordeal and she wanted to see if the knight’s presence would soothe her nerves as it had done before. They waited until nightfall from the safety of the trees. The pitiful guards were too lazy to move from their fires to properly scout and keep watch. Still, they couldn’t afford to be seen. They stole into the camp.
Y’cha indicated and T’Pol nodded. As her guard waited outside, T’Pol ducked into what they guessed was the correct tent, weapon drawn and her eyes darting around. After a long moment, she lowered her dagger and strode over to the figure slumped against the supporting pole.
“Sir Charles.” She called, briefly reviewing the man’s condition. He was tied to the post, hands behind his back, a gag firmly secured in his mouth and he appeared thoroughly unconscious. He looked smaller than she remembered, crumpled on the ground as he was, his skin pale and grey, his hair muddied. Dark circles haunted under his eyes, bruises marred his face and dried blood was smeared across his cheek from where it must have trickled from his nose. His hair was longer and his unwashed face was stubbled. Otherwise he didn’t seem to be in bad condition. T’Pol noted that he didn’t stir as she knelt down beside him and began cutting his bonds. She forced down her worry and said again. “Charles.” Finally, he moved, frowning gently before opening his eyes. Drawing back, T’Pol sheathed her dagger and resisted the urge to brush back a lock of hair which had fallen across his forehead. She watched as he noticed her, eyes widening briefly before he shifted, shaking out his hands and dragging the cloth from his mouth.
“Your Highness? What are you doing here?” His voice was hoarse and grated on her ears, but sheer relief overwhelmed any discomfort. She aided him to stand, wrinkling at her nose at the smell of dirt and dried sweat, and ignored his question.
“Quickly, we must away.” Shaking his head slightly and wincing, Charles blinked at her a long moment before swallowing.
“My sword, armour…?” He was unsteady on his feet, his left leg limping, and T’Pol leant her support as they moved to the exit.
“We must leave immediately.” She expected protest as she knew how much care and attention he paid to all his pieces, but he didn’t reply, simply following her lead. He appeared dazed, coughing and limping. They met Y’cha at the entrance to the tent, she ran her eyes over the captive before leading them away.
It wasn’t until Y’cha deemed them a safe distance away that she allowed them to rest. Or more accurately, allowed Charles to rest. T’Pol still felt shaken from her ordeal at the hands of Tolaris so she had sympathy for the knight. Confident that her guard was occupied scouting the surrounding area and the human still recovering his breath, T’Pol allowed herself to assess his condition properly. He held himself stiffly and from his heavy breathing he was evidently still weak from either lack of sustenance or enforced inactivity, or both. His left leg had been injured, a bandage visible underneath his trousers if she looked hard enough. It pained him, though he made no mention of it. The knight had sunk to the ground, on his right knee, hands resting on his thigh and the ground as he’d panted, left leg stuck out awkwardly. He looked up at her, expression suddenly taught.
“We heard you’d been abducted.” His eyes searched her face. “Are you well? Did they hurt you?” Her stomach twisted at his obvious concern for her wellbeing. It is nothing, she told herself. You are his Queen; it is his duty to be concerned. She stated drily.
“It appears I was better treated than you. How did they capture you?”
“We were returning from Andoria when they ambushed us in the mountain pass.”
“They targeted you?”
“Myself and Hoshi.” He bit his lip. “I think the others got away, I didn’t see them after…” He trailed off, looking slightly ill. The recollection was likely to be unpleasant. For a moment, T’Pol wanted to comfort the knight with news of his companion’s safety. But logic dictated she relate the facts.
“We have not received any word from the Capital.” Y’cha joined them from her scouting position, stating blandly.
“It is evident that whoever the masters of this plan are, they seek to destabilise King Jonathan’s rule. Abducting, or attempting to abduct, his major advisors and supporters.” T’Pol nodded and declared.
“We need to make contact with the King.” The knight heard the silent question and nodded.
“There’s a safe haven, close to the Andorian border. Only the Inner Circle know it. I do not know how close we are to it, but it would be safer than travelling towards the Capital, where eyes will surely follow us. There are servants there loyal to the King, who will contact him once we arrive.” T’Pol exchanged a look with her guardswoman, it was a solid plan. Y’cha left briefly to check the way they had come for followers a second time. T’Pol pulled out her canteen and offered it to Charles who drank gratefully. Once done, he handed it back.
“Thank you for saving me, your Highness.”
“I know how important you are to the King.” The knight managed a small smile, softening the lines of pain around his eyes. Y’cha returned, forestalling any further conversation. She urged them onwards.
Eventually dawn broke and they came to a river. Y’cha had taken pains to cover their tracks and was satisfied that for the moment, no one was approaching them, so they took the opportunity to bathe and clean their equipment. Sir Charles muttering to himself as he attempted to remove his torn and battered leathers, twisting awkwardly in between grimaces of pain. After enduring a few minutes of this, Y’cha put down the knife she’d been cleaning and stalked over, aiding him. T’Pol watched out of the corner of her eye, cataloguing the bruises on golden skin, trying to assess the extent of the knight’s injuries from her positon. As she’d suspected, they did not look life-threatening, merely painful. His leg, on the other hand, had a bloody bandage around the thigh. Y’cha unwrapped it and assessed the wound.
“You’ll live.” Charles nodded, biting his bottom lip to keep from crying out. T’Pol’s eyes lingered on his mouth for a moment before looked away. Her guardswoman attended to the wound and helped him bathe. Even from her covert observation, T’Pol deduced that the knight was highly uncomfortable with the intimacy, even if some stiffness could be attributed to the pain. Idly, she wondered how many women he had bedded, if any. The King had supposedly not lain with a woman until his wedding night as was human tradition, but what of his Companion?
That night, after successfully circumventing a party of soldiers of fealty they hadn’t dared try to divine, the women took turns keeping watch, both of them pointing out the knight was not yet recovered enough. It was perhaps a sign of how weak he was that he agreed with minimal argument. T’Pol made an effort not to let her gaze wander to where he was sleeping. She had been trained all of her life for the role of Queen, she could not let herself be distracted by anyone or anything.
“Your Highness.” A cautious voice floated into the King’s consciousness. He turned around to see Physician Phlox. Although the Denobulan was a guest at his pleasure, the two had not interacted much. Looking at the representative of the far-off nation, King Jonathan wondered if perhaps that had been a mistake on his part. The man had saved one of his guard after all and at that precise moment in time, the King was hurting for trustworthy allies.
“Physician Phlox, what can I do for you?” The physician smiled.
“Actually, if I may be so bold, I was hoping to do something for you.” The King blinked. For the first time in a long time, he felt bemusement. He settled into a chair, indicating for Phlox to do the same. At his nod, the physician began. “I couldn’t help but notice a certain tension in the castle of late. If his Highness would like to unburden himself of any worries, I am here to listen and offer counsel where I can.” Whilst the King considered this, Phlox smiled his unnaturally wide smile. “Otherwise I know of certain excellent teas which can help ease a troubled mind.” The King managed a tired smile.
“Thank you. I suppose you have heard of the trouble…” At the other man’s nod, the King continued. “It is a nasty business. I care about the well-being of my wife and my people. Sometimes it is not clear which course of action is the best for all of them.” Phlox nodded.
“It is well known in my field that sometimes there is no best course, at least not one that can be determined ahead of time. On some occasions you merely have options of differing qualities.” The King huffed a laugh but the physician continued. “Once you have considered everything you know to be true, gathered all of the information you can, you stand by the option you choose.”
“That is all?”
“I have lost patients, to injury, sickness, old age. Every time I make a decision, even if the success is not the outcome, I cannot agonise over it. Learn, yes. But I cannot lament the fact I am no soothsayer.”
“My father used to say that the Monarch is the Realm, but also just one person.” He sighed. “I am no soothsayer either.”
“In Denobula we don’t believe in that kind of thing anyway.” Interest piqued, the King enquired.
“Oh no. We are much more concerned with the world around us that we can see, as opposed to spirit worlds or anything of the like. In fact-” He was interrupted by Sir Malcolm striding into the room.
“Excuse the interruption…” He hesitated, glancing at the physician. Coming to a decision, the King turned to the Denobulan and asked.
“How would you like to see more of the kingdom?”
It was a few weeks since they’d freed Charles and they’d made slow progress across Terra. The thick foliage and wild animals made it impossible to travel at night but they still had to travel unseen in the daytime. There was also the problem of foraging for food and refilling canteens at whatever sources of water they could find. Luck had been on their side and they had not encountered any trace of other travellers, either friend or foe.
Sir Charles’ wounds had healed successfully, only faint bruises and fresh scars now. The wound on his leg was still tender but the danger of infection had passed and they only replaced the bandages to protect the new skin. He had not gained much weight back but he had recovered a healthy enough complexion. There was no need for Y’cha to assist him getting in and out of his clothes, nor for T’Pol to watch him assessingly. And yet… she continued to observe him disrobing from the corner of her eye, noting the flex and ripple of his muscles and how even reduced, the implication of strength was still present in his frame. She wondered what he would look like once recovered and back to full strength. Then she would force herself to turn away, feeling uneasy at the direction of her thoughts.
One day, the heavens opened and didn’t stop until well into the night. The two women were huddled under a paltry shelter of leaves and leathers, Charles on watch wrapped in his cloak and looking as miserable as T’Pol felt. Vulcans were used to hotter climes so Charles hadn’t hesitated to sacrifice his blanket to protect them from the weather. Unable to sleep due to the relentless pelting of rain, T’Pol instead watched the knight out of the corner of her eye. From the dim moonlight and her position, she could not make out his face, so had to imagine what expressions might be displayed there. Attention wandering, she suddenly saw movement in the undergrowth and hissed a warning. Charles’ head snapped around as she saw it: a snake. Rolling to her feet slowly, she kept her eyes on the creature which was slithering towards the knight. Charles saw it too and moved to climb to his feet. The snake was moving fast to escape the rain, but had noticed his movement and reared up. T’Pol grit her jaw, picked up a nearby stick and leapt, swiping at the creature before it could strike. Hissing, it ducked and sprang, tangled up with her. Charles yelled and rushed to her aid with a stick of his own. Together they beat it back until it retreated into the undergrowth.
Suddenly, T’Pol’s head swam and she collapsed, staring blankly at the night sky. She heard urgent voices beside her and her leathers were torn off.
“Hold her still!” Y’cha ordered and strong hands held her down. Distantly, she was aware that someone was screaming. Then black engulfed her.
Seeing his Queen slip into unconsciousness almost undid him, but Sir Charles continued holding her down as Y’cha did her work. The speed and accuracy with which she sucked out the venom was a little intimidating, but the knight made no mention of this as Y’cha spat grimly and set about checking her Highness.
“Her heart is beating faster than normal and her forehead is warm.” Relaxing his hold a little, his confusion must have shown on his face because the guardswoman shook her head and explained. “The venom only caused her to lose consciousness, it is the fever we have to content with now.” She assessed him briefly. “You have a higher core temperature.” Taking her meaning, he nodded, gathering up the Queen and carrying her to the nest of blankets and cloaks. There was little warmth left there as he laid her down and shifted closer, holding her to his chest, his own heart thundering with concern. The Queen still shivered violently, the feeling crushing the knight’s insides.
“Undo your shirt.” At his incredulous eyebrow, Y’cha snapped. “Heat transfers better skin to skin, hurry up.” He obeyed her, deliberately not letting his mind linger on any inappropriate thoughts. T’Pol was pushed against his bare skin and he held back a shiver at how cold she was. Wrapping his arms around her, he held her, both of them stiff and awkward until T’Pol sighed and relaxed, burrowing her face against his chest. Y’cha covered them with the driest blanket, muttering about the clouds finally parting. She attempted to dry T’Pol’s hair a little, Sir Charles looking away into the forest, supremely uncomfortable. Finally, Y’cha left them to take watch and the knight attempted to relax, breathing evenly.
Eyes heavy, he held her closer, hoping he wouldn’t let go as he slept. They just breathed and held each other, T’Pol shifting every so often, her skin warm now. For a while, all he felt was a quiet contentment. Warmth…skin…he was...mmm…Slowly, Charles realised that someone was kissing him. Soft lips were on his, pressing firmly and then pulling back a little, almost uncertainly, then pressing in again. He kissed back, leaning in further and parting his lips. A curious tongue slipped into his mouth, tentative but determined all at once. He shivered, his nerves lighting up under the attention of the tongue and some soft hands tracing patterns into his bare back. They pressed closer to each other, seeking warmth and touch and… He could never have suspected that she would feel this good, that T’Pol…T’Pol…Queen T’Pol! He froze, shock kicking him awake but keeping him stiff and still. A groan bubbled up in his throat as her weight shifted against him, even as he lay locked in his own body. She hummed softly and for a crazed moment, he wondered if she would call out her husband’s name.
The thought of his King pulled him out of his shock and he dragged his lips away. T’Pol’s eyes were dark and wide – he imagined he could see the moment she came back to herself. She made to pull away but he didn’t let her.
“Stay.” He rasped and she blinked suspiciously at him. “Until you’re fully recovered.” Swallowing harshly, he whispered. “Let me be of use to you.” When she did not move, he turned over, lying quietly. Slowly, she settled back down against him, her head tucked against into the back of his neck, a hand snaking around to rest against his chest. Fighting the urge to shiver, he breathed slowly, and brought a hand up to hold hers in place, ignoring the fact that her hand was shaking slightly. She was not well. She was not herself. He closed his eyes and focused on breathing steadily.
He didn’t believe that he could possibly sleep, but in the end he must have, because suddenly the sun was rising and Y’cha was shaking him awake. He blinked, eyes adjusting to the low light as he remembered the events of the night. Somehow they’d changed positions once again and his Queen was now laying in his arms. He swallowed and tried to extract himself before she woke fully. Just as he pulled out one arm, T’Pol began to stir weakly and he made the mistake of looking down at her. There was a vulnerability there he’d never seen on her before. It unsettled him. Grimly, he managed to roll away and adjust his clothing before she opened her eyes. He avoided her gaze as they packed up their belongings and set off back into the forest.
Her Highness did not speak to him and if Y’cha had noticed anything untoward, she did not mention it either. In fact, no one spoke unnecessarily, the tension thick and weighty.
They walked all day, the Queen pushing on despite her lingering weakness. He had tried once to offer his thanks for her fighting the serpent but she had interrupted, saying she did not need his thanks.
As the sun crossed over to the west side of the sky, Charles began recognising some of the scenery; they were close to the safe haven. At some point, Y’cha went on ahead to scout and T’Pol drew level with Charles.
“I was feverish.” She said shortly, not looking at him. Copying her act, Charles kept his gaze forward as he replied.
“And I was asleep.” After a long moment, she nodded and then increased her pace slightly. He let her pull ahead and tried not to stare at her back. Tried not to indulge any thoughts relating to her or the night before.
They did not speak again for a long while after that.
Chapter 12: Return
Frustrated, King Jonathan pressed his fingers into the ridge of his nose, trying to clear his head. His time would be best spent attempting to devise a defensive strategy should they need to fight their enemy, not wondering incessantly about the fates of his loved ones. Sighing, he straightened up and concentrated. After a while, he heard voices from outside but was deep in thought, staring at the maps of the Andorian/Vulcan borders.
“Jonathan.” He turned and all thoughts flew out of his mind. T’Pol and Charles were standing in the room. They were dressed in battered leathers and looked tired, but they were alive and they were here. Words dying in his throat, he instead strode over, taking them both in before turning to focus on T’Pol. With difficulty he restrained his urge to engulf his wife in his arms, instead placing a reverent hand on her cheek. To his surprise, she stepped forward and kissed him. Tension bleeding out of him, his eyes slid shut and they held in the moment until the surges of relief and joy calmed into a humming contentment. He pulled back and looked into her eyes searchingly. Time and distance had increased his affection for her and in her eyes he saw what he believed to be the same effect. “It is agreeable to see you again.” She said softly, voice as enriched with emotion as he’d ever heard it.
“And you.” He replied, before he remembered the second missing piece of his life standing so close and yet so far away. Stepping back, arms falling from their position around his wife, he turned to Charles. His First Knight looked almost sickly, thin and pale with faint bruises on his face. Pushing down the useless haunting speculation of what his enemies had done to his friend, he stepped towards him.
“Your Highness.” Charles rasped, lowering his eyes respectfully. Having regretted how he had let their relationship wither from his jealousy before their parting, Jonathan simply engulfed him in his arms.
“I cannot say how much it pleases me that you are safe.” He breathed, voice almost catching in his throat. Charles stiffened in the embrace before relaxing, hands coming up to clasp Jonathan’s forearms. They held there for a long moment before Jonathan pulled back regretfully. Charles smiled a small, fragile smile.
“I would not be without the heroic efforts of your lady wife.” Looking between them, searching for a jest which evidently did not exist, Jonathan waved for him to elaborate. At that moment, however, Sir Malcolm burst in.
“Your Highness, I just heard-” He stopped when he saw the Queen and First Knight. “Your Highness.” He acknowledged the Queen shortly and hardly paused to receive a nod in return before stalking up to the First Knight. “You absolute fiend!” He scolded the man before throwing his arms around him. Sir Charles was surprised, but soon recovered, replying sarcastically.
“I apologise for the inconvenience.” Sir Malcolm laughed a little, though it sounded suspiciously wet. Jonathan tried to remain serious and focused even as he felt fit to bursting with joy.
“I think it worthwhile waiting until we are all gathered to tell your tale.” Sir Malcolm pulled away, eyes shining and nodded, going off to gather the necessary parties. The servants brought chairs for the weary travellers and they waited until all were present: the King and Queen, Sir Charles, Sir Malcolm and their squires, Y’cha, Physician Phlox, Lady Hoshi and Lord Shran.
“It is good to see you both well.” He declared cheerfully at the sight. Once all the greetings were done, the King implored.
“Please, listen to our full tale before you pass judgement.” T’Pol nodded and Jonathan began carefully. “It is my guardsman’s belief that Romulans have somehow infiltrated your father’s council. We think that they have been behind the attacks on us and the Andorians. According to our calculations on their pattern of behaviour they will attempt a mass invasion of an Andorian stronghold within the fortnight.” T’Pol shared a glance with Y’cha and Charles before answering.
“We agree with that assessment. It is the only logical confusion.” Looking pleasantly surprised, Jonathan continued.
“Well then, all that remains is to finalise our counterplans. We will try a diplomatic solution, reason with the King your father that an invasion is a mistake.”
“If my father will not listen to reason, then we must appeal to T’Pau.” The King nodded but cautioned.
“It is too dangerous for you to go my Queen. We will send Hoshi and…” Y’cha interrupted.
“T’Pau will only listen to her sister.” Sir Malcolm interjected.
“It is too dangerous to reveal to our foes that you are reunited.”
“Then I will go in disguise.” She exchanged a glance with her guard. Predictably Y’cha was displeased with this plan but she could see that it was the most logical as she didn’t protest. They all discussed the finer points until all doubts were dealt with.
“So it is decided,” The King declared finally, “I will go with my lady wife to her father and sister, to implore they stop this madness. Charles, Malcolm and Y’cha will lead our forces to the Andorian stronghold in case we should fail.” No one was completely content with the plan, though that was due to the danger as opposed to the logic.
Everyone filtered out, until it was just the King and his First Knight. Charles looked like he wanted to say something, but after a moment closed his mouth again. Jonathan’s expression softened.
“Go to Phlox, he will see to your wounds.” He put a hand to Charles’ cheek, his eyes full of the emotions he could not find the words to express. Charles smiled slightly, able as ever to read his King. He put a hand over Jonathan’s and squeezed it gently. The sounds of the others outside the room made Jonathan tense and he felt the dreaded divide within him, between his duties as king and his desires as a man. Sensing this, Charles pulled away and nodded. the King watched him go silently, his heart distraught and aching.
Chapter 13: To Battle
“So,” T’Pol began, “how did Sir Malcolm arrive at the conclusion of Romulan involvement?” The King looked at her before focusing back on the road. They were in the middle of a train of wagons and plainly clothed guards, posing as a normal group of traders crossing Terra.
“A mixture of certain things told to him by Kos and actions of the Vulcan guard at the outpost. According to him, it seemed they had conflicting instructions regarding finding you.” He glanced at her again, voice grim as he finished. “The Head of the Guard made a big show of shouting at me and yet his men didn’t make much of an effort to actually do any searching.” The Queen nodded and asked no more questions about that. They travelled another mile before Jonathan sighed.
“I wanted to beg your pardon.” Jonathan ventured softly. At her enquiring glance, he elaborated. “For my rashness and my jealousy.” She looked uncomfortable as he went on. “It is not a particularly attractive quality on anyone but I’ve been told it can look especially displeasing on me.”
“I am yours.” She replied shortly. “You are within your right to be protective.” A little taken aback by her dismissal of the incident, and his apology, Jonathan replied.
“And I am yours. You are within your right to have friendships with other people, other men.” Sadly, he went on. “And Sir Charles is a fine friend to have.”
“Jonathan.” T’Pol said lowly. “There is something I must tell you.” He frowned at her tone, she sounded nervous.
“Of course, you can tell me anything.”
“Please, do not react…rashly.” Feeling nervous himself, he nodded and listened.
The reinforcements lead by Sir Malcolm arrived before the Vulcan force, having rode for days at full tilt. The horses and soldiers were exhausted but their scouts informed them that the Vulcans would arrive at dawn the following day. The Andorians helped set up the camp and supplied hot meals for all. Blades were sharpened, armour reinforced and arrows fleched as they prepared grimly for the battle ahead. Phlox was muttering to himself as he went over the stores he’d managed to bring from the safe haven; he’d liaised with the Andorian healers, he’d told Mayweather, but he was still not happy that he would have enough resources to help everyone. Mayweather had pursed his lips, muttering that not everyone would be alive enough to be healed in the first place. The Physician had examined the wound on Sir Charles’ leg and declared it practically healed.
“I would not advise you fight in the upcoming battle…” He sighed at the knight’s expression, “but I recognise that nothing I could say would dissuade you.” Sir Charles clapped him on the shoulder.
“You are as clever as Mayweather says.” Later that evening, Charles and Y’cha shared a tent, checking their pieces and preparing in silence.
“The Queen ordered me to assist you in the battle.” Sir Charles looked up at the guardswoman’s sudden statement, pulled out of his anxious mind imagining all the ways his friends could be killed, the ways his King and Queen could be apprehended, denied, killed. He sighed and admitted.
“I will probably require your assistance. I have never fought a Vulcan before.” From Y’cha’s expression, he was not reassured that she held much confidence in his abilities. After a moment, she stood and beckoned him to follow. They left the tent and went to a clearing close to where the horses were grazing. Over the next few hours, Y’cha taught him the main techniques Vulcan guards were taught and how to beat them.
“Of course their superior strength and speed will require you to finish them quickly, or they will simply overwhelm you.” Feeling even less confident, the knight nodded and remained silent as they returned to their tent.
“Y’cha.” He began, suddenly wishing to unburden himself. She looked at him with that neutral expression she had perfected, or been born with perhaps. “All I ever wanted was to serve my Kingdom.”
“We all serve different purposes, Sir Charles.” He imagined her eyes softened a little as she went on. “I do not judge others.” Unsure how to feel, he managed.
“It will be an honour to fight beside you.” She nodded and they returned to their preparations.
Many leagues away, the traders reached the Capital city. Jonathan shared a look with T’Pol, feeling the weight of his crown hidden in his satchel. With the help of some old friends, they stole into the palace. Through a servant they learned that the King had been taken ill and was not accepting visitors. Unsure if this was a lie or truth, T’Pol dismissed it. They went to her sister’s chambers.
“T’Pol.” Princess T’Pau exclaimed in surprise. T’Pol nodded a greeting before beginning urgently.
“Sister, listen.” T’Pau eyed them carefully though she did not interrupt as she listened to her sister’s tale. Once done, she went to the door and spoke to the guard outside.
“Summon my guardswoman.” T’Pol exchanged a look with Jonathan and his stomach dropped.
At daybreak, the Vulcans appeared over the horizon. Sir Malcolm and Sir Charles rode out to meet the commander of the Vulcan force. Shran had offered to accompany them in case of Vulcan treachery but the humans had declined. They suspected that negotiating a truce would be impossible, but it would certainly be lost if they brought the Andorian commander with them. Sir Charles felt better with his friend beside him, even though his presence was not enough to dispel the churning in his gut. As expected the Vulcan reception was frosty, bordering on hostile, as hostile as they could get without charging at you with their longswords. Sir Charles had only seen Vulcans fighting a handful of times, but they used absurdly powerful and efficient swings and cuts. In short, they were terrifying opponents and in only a few exchanges with the Vulcan Commander, Vanik, he knew that soon he’d be forced to fight Gods knew how many.
“Our King has travelled to negotiate peace with yours, allow them some more time to arrive here and deliver the verdict.” The Vulcan Commander looked down his nose at the humans.
“We have our orders and we do not recognise any authority from you. In honour of our close ties with the Forrestland, we give you one day to pack up and leave. At dawn tomorrow we shall attack whether you are here or not.” The knights exchanged a glance before turning back.
The day passed in tense anticipation. At Sir Charles’ urging, Y’cha imparted her lessons to more soldiers, Sir Malcolm and Shran also adding in their own experience. At one point, Sir Malcolm pulled his friend aside.
“It would not be dishonourable to direct the soldiers from the…”
“Malcolm.” Charles stopped him. “I am no Commander.” He clapped his friend on the shoulder and Malcolm sighed.
“Just stay close to Y’cha.” Glancing at the guardswoman, who was currently adjusting Hess’s stance, Charles decided not to take offence at the two speaking behind his back.
The following day, Sir Charles and Sir Malcolm rode out again, vainly hoping that Vanik had been hit over the head and changed his mind. He sneered.
“Our answer remains the same. Return to your army and defend your blue friends.” Sir Charles glanced at the armsman; their expressions a match of resignation. They rode back, their expressions explanation enough for Shran and the other leaders. They’d discussed battle tactics previously, so no words were exchanged.
The horn blared and the armies charged.
Almost immediately, Sir Charles was lost in a sea of bodies, kicked up dirt and cries. His horse was cut down and he leapt off. He landed hard on the shoulder of his sword arm, biting back a scream and pushing himself to his feet urgently. Just in time, he parried a blow from a Vulcan of equal height to himself, though the blow was no less powerful for the soldier’s height. Mind focusing instinctively, Sir Charles fought back, noticing the soldier leaned too much weight onto his right side. Ducking under the strikes rather than blocking them, he managed to flick his sword and strike the Vulcan’s hand, making him drop the sword. The Vulcan soldier hissed, but quickly reached for a secondary weapon. Sir Charles didn’t give him the opportunity, another quick slice sending spurts of blood into the air. Vulcan blood smelt stronger than the human variety but he didn’t have time to contemplate that.
“Down!” Someone shouted and he ducked automatically. He felt something whip over his head and then heard a warrior cry from his right. Turning to see through his helmet, he saw Y’cha cut into an unarmed Vulcan soldier and frowned. He glanced to his left and saw a spear sticking out of his dead horse. That had been close. He surged up and engaged another Vulcan behind Y’cha. Together they dispatched their foes and exchanged a quick nod of thanks before new opponents appeared.
The fight was long and exhausting. At some point he lost sight of Y’cha, the confusing tangle of bodies and horses smashing into each other making it impossible to make sense of anything. Another Vulcan raced out of the crowd to challenge him and he grit his jaw, parrying and slashing with as much as precision as his weary limbs allowed. Sensing his weakness, the Vulcan increased the strength of his blows and one such strike brought Sir Charles to one knee. Instincts screaming that he was close to death, the knight felt the weight of the enemy’s sword lift off his in preparation to strike again and immediately rolled to the side. Scrambling up, aware of the press of soldiers all around, he knew he had to finish this quickly or become easy pickings. The Vulcan sneered under his helmet and swung again. Sir Charles ducked his whole upper body to avoid the blow and lunged forward, quick as a snake. Both hands on the hilt of his sword he brought his sword up hard, straight through the Vulcan’s breast plate. Feeling grim satisfaction at the squelch of steel through flesh, he twisted the blade and watched the light go out in the Vulcan’s eyes.
Swallowing, he drew the blade out again and blinked to dispel the afterimage of those dead eyes from his mind. Time to drown in guilt and sorrow, later. He panted and turned to look for another opponent when suddenly he was on the ground. His face was on fire. Shouting, he curled and tried to open his eyes which had slammed shut on impact.
What had…? The sounds of battle were oddly muted, as if he’d been plunged underwater. He managed to open his eyes and winced at the brightness. Concentrating, he saw the blue of the sky stretched above him. And a figure approaching. Groaning, he tried to turn over, reach for his sword which had flown from his hand… but found his strength gone. A shadow loomed over him and he blinked weakly, eyes burning fiercely. The broadsword above him glinted in the sunlight and then he was engulfed in darkness.
Sir Malcolm had just dispatched another Vulcan soldier when he heard his King’s horn. He ran for a nearby mound and raised his own horn, sounding a reply. His people within hearing distance began to fight their way towards him – he could see Hess and Mayweather fighting back to back a little way off. Another sound blasted over the battlefield, a Vulcan instrument. The Vulcan soldiers responded, retreating towards the sound. Sir Malcolm shielded his eyes from the sun and made out the Vulcan standard, waving beside the King’s. They must have been successful. He gritted his jaw, eyes darting over the battlefield and trying to count how many of his troops were still walking and making their way to him. Even if they had managed to convince the Vulcan King to see reason, there had still been heavy losses, on both sides. He signalled and they followed him through the carnage to where the King was standing with his lady wife and Shran.
Commander Vanik approached, face neutral despite the gore decorating his armour, his troops looking tense behind him.
“According to this parchment, the Princess T’Pau of Vulcan calls for all battle to cease, immediately.” Queen T’Pol announced. Commander Vanik requested to see it and was granted it, everyone held their breath as he read. Finally, he nodded and returned the parchment. Turning, he announced to his soldiers.
“These are the words of our Princess T’Pau: all forces are to stand down and return to our lands post haste.” He made some gestures to officers in the crowd. “Gather your units and take stock of the dead and wounded.” The Queen added.
“We will treat your wounded until they can return, you must return as soon as possible to protect my sister.” The Commander nodded and as they talked more, King Jonathan approached Sir Malcolm. He clapped him on the shoulder, almost making the armsman sway a little. The fighting had exhausted him and the King saw it. He announced grimly.
“Well done, Sir Malcolm, you did admirably.” Clearing his throat, he rasped out.
“No more or less than any other soldier here.” Worry peaked out as the King asked lowly.
“And Sir Charles?”
“I’m not sure, sir. Y’cha was watching him.” The King nodded and went.
Sir Malcolm helped coordinate the recovery of survivors and identification of the dead. It was exhausting, harrowing work and he refused to retreat to a healing tent whilst there were still people he could help save. He was also keeping an eye and ear out for any mention of Charles, Hess or Mayweather. The longer he went without hearing from them, the more likely it was that… No, he forced the dark thoughts down. There was no use in useless speculation, instead he kept up the work. A shout drew his attention and he rushed over to one of his men lifting up a body from the ground. It was Mayweather. Sir Malcolm bent down to help and they brought him to Phlox. The Physician looked harried and muttered about all his good work being undone by people’s follies. He declared the squire out of mortal danger, however, causing Sir Malcolm to breathe a huge sigh of relief. He had seen Hess and Hoshi earlier, so almost all of the Inner Circle was accounted for.
By the setting of the sun, there had been no word of Sir Charles.
Y’cha awoke the morning after the battle, her head heavy and throbbing. Slowly, she sat up and took stock of her surroundings. A medical tent. Though there was a mixture of human and Vulcan patients, the physicians were human. So they had prevailed, one way or another. Her mistress must have returned if the Vulcans were also being treated…though sometimes humans were too charitable for their own good so she couldn’t assume that.
She remembered seeing the knight struck down and racing toward him, cutting down his attacker before he could deal the finishing blow. There had been a great deal of blood, but a quick examination proved the wound not necessarily be fatal. Thinking quickly, she had dragged a nearby corpse over his unconscious form, hoping that it would protect him from being discovered and slain. Then she had fought on, trying to keep as close as she could, until she’d heard the horns. Turning, she’d seen the Human King’s far-off standard before succumbing to her exhaustion and losing consciousness.
Slowly, she rose and left the tent. There were a lot of people rushing around, exhausted soldiers carrying bodies and physicians hurrying between tents, shouting instructions to each other. Feeling lightheaded but determined to find her charges, Y’cha pushed on. She searched each tent until she found a soldier with a heavily bandaged head. Leaning in, she recognised his scent under the smell of blood and sweat. Wearily she settled beside him and didn’t stir until a physician tried to move her back to a bunk.
“Tell her Highness Queen T’Pol that her guardswoman and her First Knight are in this tent.” An hour later, the tent was suddenly filled with a dozen figures.
“Y’cha.” T’Pol breathed, relief evident in her tone.
“I am well, just bruised.” The guardswoman replied. Physician Phlox pushed his way to the front of the concerned crowd and set about examining the knight. Sir Malcolm grilled Y’cha about what had happened to his friend until a healer chastened him about the volume of his voice. Phlox straightened.
“He will be permanently scarred and we must be vigilant against infection, but I believe that he will pull through.” The King looked pale as he nodded faintly, Mayweather clapped his good hand on the King’s shoulder. Hess squeezed her master’s hand briefly before escorting Mayweather back to his bed, Lady Hoshi accompanying them. Sir Malcolm offered to take Y’cha back to another tent to rest further and she reluctantly accepted. As they left, she spied the royals settling beside the First Knight, the Queen’s hand in his hair and the King looking softly at them both.
His advisors claimed that the death toll could have been higher, but each lost life weighed heavily on the King. They arranged for a ceremony to honour all who had fought, inviting representatives of each family: human, Andorian and Vulcan. It was a huge undertaking and they used the opportunity to host the signing of the Peace Treaty, completed just before the Commemoration Ceremony. Princess T’Pau deposed her father and signed the Treaty on behalf of Vulcan. Shran had been given authority on behalf of the Kingdom of Andoria to sign and so with King Jonathan signing for all of Terra.
Lord Gardener had seemed to have vanished, so King Jonathan sent Sir Malcolm with some ambassadors to root out those involved in the attacks on the Inner Circle and establish a ruler in those lands loyal to the King.
In private, King Jonathan joked that his first year as King had contained enough conflict to last his entire reign. Queen T’Pol snorted softly and refrained from commenting.
Two months later and life had almost returned to normal in King Jonathan’s palace. Sir Malcolm had returned from the Gardener lands, in time to tease Mayweather and Hess for their betrothal. Queen T’Pol had finally deigned to volunteer stories of her people with Lady Hoshi, who hadn’t quite lost her awe for the monarch but would given time. Phlox said his goodbyes before joining a Vulcan train back to his home.
“You are welcome to return any time.” The King told him warmly. The Physician smiled.
“I think I must bring my second wife to visit, she would adore this country and its peoples.”
Late one evening, feeling jittery and slightly nauseous, Sir Charles knocked on the great wooden door. A regal command called him in.
“Enter.” He turned the handle and entered the King’s bedchambers. He had never been in there before. All the years he’d been Companion had been spent in the rooms Jonathan had held since he’d been a boy. When he’d ascended to ruling Monarch, he’d moved into his father’s rooms. They hadn’t spoken of it, but Charles guessed that the King would not have rested easy those first few nights. Especially has he had often been in the company of his Lady wife. The rooms were large and opulent, with space for a large desk for writing letters, a screen to facilitate changing clothes and armoires to hold all of the Royal couple’s many outfits. King Jonathan was seated at his writing desk, ostensibly looking through some papers. Sir Charles inclined his head, trying to hide a nervous gulp.
“You wished to see me, your Highness?” He was half-certain he knew what the summons was regarding. Whilst his good deeds in service of the realm had been recognised at the Ceremony which he had only heard about since he had still been bedridden at the time, he had sensed something else in the King’s mind whenever he’d visited. The knight suspected that now he would be punished for his bad deeds, but there was no reproach in his Highness’ eyes. The King rose and approached him. Gently, he reached out and held his chin, turning his face so better see the large, inflamed scar running from his brow down across his left cheek.
“It is like a wound in my heart, to see how they hurt you in my name.” Gulping, Sir Charles murmured.
“It will heal.”
“Some women would say it enhances his rakish appearance.” Startled by the calm, cool voice from the other room, Sir Charles pulled his head away from the King’s hand and looked at the Queen entering. She was dressed in a night gown, hair loose around her neck and shoulders. Even in the wilds, he’d never seen her so causally attired. Flushed and flustered, he bowed in her direction and averted his gaze.
“Your Highness.” She approached them, and to Sir Charles’ surprise, leaned into her husband’s side in what could only have been an affectionate gesture. The King pushed a strand of hair away from her face and continued as if this display was commonplace.
“T’Pol and I have been talking, discussing what happened to the other over this great adventure.” He looked back at Charles, who was still avoiding looking at the pair directly. “She told me of the services you rendered her whilst in the wilds.”
“Her Grace is my Queen and saved my life besides, any assistance-”
“It appears you offered more than assistance.” The knight’s eyes snapped to his King’s at the sharpness of the words. He saw the Royal Couple regarding him and in that moment, seeing the two people dearest in his heart curling around each other, almost destroyed him. His heart was beating fiercely, swelling with joy and yet tearing under the strain of the terrible grief and bitter jealousy writhing like angry snakes in his chest. To his shame, his eyes began to sting and he ducked his head in a vain attempt to hide his disgrace from them. Through the pounding of his heart, he heard her calling him.
“Charles, look again.” He blinked fiercely and let out a heavy breath before obeying, as he was compelled to do. As he always would. This time, when he met the Queen’s gaze, he found himself pinned. Blinking more moisture from his eyes, he focused and the world slipped away. In those brown eyes he saw…affection? Was that love? After what seemed like an eternity, he pulled his eyes away to look upon his King and saw the love he’d always seen there. This time, there was no accompanying guilt or sorrow, just plain love. It was like meeting an old friend, like coming home… Without realising it, Charles had been drawn in closer to them, or perhaps them to him. Suddenly, he could feel the heat of their bodies and felt skin on his. A cool hand on his unmarred cheek, T’Pol…he looked back at her and watched her studying him. That was definitely interest in her regard. Another, broader hand snaked to the back of his head, fingers burying themselves in the fine hairs there and he closed his eyes, a whimper escaping.
“Please, I can’t…” A slight but hard body pressed against his right side, the cool hand sliding down to dance tantalisingly at the neckline of his tunic. “Your Highness...”
“Jonathan and I discussed the matter at length. We discovered that we both held amorous regard for you and we decided that the only logical conclusion would be to accept our feelings.” Jonathan chuckled into Charles’ skin and repeated.
“It’s only logical.” Breathing with much difficulty, Charles asked.
“The realm?” Jonathan huffed.
“If the realm can survive a Romulan conspiracy, it can weather this.” Unable to believe he was not dreaming, Charles made another protesting noise. T’Pol pulled back and took one of hands, placing it on her abdomen.
“The future of the kingdom already lives inside me.” Eyes stinging, Charles rasped.
“Congratulations.” Jonathan kisses his neck.
“The realm has been served.” Jonathan took his face and kissed him deeply, then spoke seriously. “If this is what you desire, then you have a place with us.” Charles swallowed harshly and nodded. T’Pol leaned in again, a hand teasing the hairs at the base of Charles’ neck. Softly, she recited.
“For this day and every day to come.” Tears were now spilling down the knight’s cheeks and delicately, the Queen wiped them away, careful of his scar. Watching them with his own eyes shining, the King whispered.
“Come, to bed with you.” Charles stumbled forward, blushing again as T’Pol took his hand and said in a deadpan voice.
“They did build it big enough for three, it would be a shame not to explore its full potential.” Through a mixture of relief, joy and the absurdity of the comment, for the first time in a long time, Charles laughed.
Congratulations if you got to the end of this!
Some day I hope to return to this and take the time to do the research to do this more justice but for now, this is what we got.
Thanks for reading.