Written for pollitt for the 2005 Yuletide Challenge
The early morning sun crept down gold-threaded draperies, across fine linen sheets, turning the sleeper's red-brown hair to molten copper.
Henry regarded the play of light on the shorn head. His bedmate's hair surely must have been a sign from God, proof of his predestined anointment, despite the occasional whisper at court about his right to the throne.
Of course, the bright crown of hair could also be construed a halo, and heaven knew there was nothing remotely angelic about the man. The very idea made him smile.
Carefully drawing back the covers, Henry observed there was also nothing angelic about the too-long nose and narrow lips. And as for the long limbs currently intertwined with his own -- a soldier's body, it was, more than a king's. He ran a hand down the smooth torso beside him, feeling muscles shiver and contract beneath his fingers. Not an angel, then, but beauty indeed, in its own way.
His bold hand stroked lower, to fondle the lax shaft that lay amidst a darker, coarser patch of hair, and was rewarded by a twitch and a sigh. Smiling, he bent his mouth to take a brown teat between his lips.
"Good Christ!" The sleeping man started awake, nearly arching off the bed at Henry's attentions. "Do you mean to kill me?"
He offered a final teasing flick of his tongue and plucked his mouth away. "Kill you? Certainly not. I merely meant to wake you."
"Hmm..." The thin mouth pursed speculatively. "When you smile at me like that, Henry Scrope, I know you're planning mischief."
"I?" Henry assumed the most innocent face he could muster, which, in truth, appeared not very innocent at all. "You wound me, sir. I have only the best intentions regarding your Majesty."
"Liar!" Harry sat up quickly, with a look of mock severity, dislodging Henry from his place and nearly toppling him to the floor. He bent over him until they touched, his own fair chest against Henry's darker one. "You are at your most devious when you call me 'Your Majesty' or 'my liege".
"Infamy!. . .my liege."
"You try me, Henry, I swear you do. In this bed we are none but Henry and Harry. Do you forget?"
Henry laughed. "Oh, yes, two common fellows indeed are we."
"This is a dangerous mood you're in, my Lord Scrope. Both liar and buffoon! Your lies are a breech of the most holy Commandments. Need I teach them to you?"
"Aye, do." Arousal colored Henry's skin. He reclined where he'd fallen, splayed out against the pillows, exposing himself utterly. To his delight, a fire kindled in the king's eyes. "Pray do teach me anything you will, sir, before I debase myself shamelessly by begging for it."
"You're shameless already." One bejeweled hand crept to Henry's face and tenderly stroked his cheek. "Have you not had enough of me yet?"
"Enough of you?" Henry peered down Harry's body to where the king's member lay against his own. Both, he saw with satisfaction, were wakening to lust. He grinned. "Perhaps too much of you, as befits a man of your generous gifts. But never enough."
"Flattery is meaningless, when one is already perfection."
Harry sputtered with laughter. "That is the worst flattery I have ever heard! Where learned you such dissembling?"
Harry's mouth gaped open. "From me? I'faith, you take too many liberties! The king a dissembler? Wait a bit -- that's treason, I think."
"Let us not speak of the liberties I take, when my arse throbs still from yours. I protest. I do not lie. You flatter me all the time." Henry ran a hand down Harry's smooth arm, and raised the other to comb through his short hair. "Really, Harry, you must let your hair grow long again. You look like a priest with it shorn so."
"A priest? Do you wish me to assume a priest-like demeanor with you? Shall I hear your confession? Shall I take the vow of poverty and give away my kingdom? Or perhaps you'd have me be chaste."
Henry snorted. "I'd have you be obedient, but never chaste."
"Incorrigible lecher." Harry narrowed his eyes. "Nay, come, don't change the subject. How do I flatter you?"
"You flatter me every night you tell me you desire my company, and that you would have me share your bed. How I came by such flattery I do not know."
"Henry. Most dear friend." Harry embraced him tightly, his mouth close to Henry's ear. "I would have you with me always. I shall have you with me. Even when I take a wife."
Henry shivered as warm breath caressed his skin. "You must have a wife, Harry. For the good of the kingdom."
"Aye, for the good of the kingdom," Harry sighed. "Else would I ever be content with you alone."
Henry flushed with embarrassment and pleasure. He shifted slightly, bringing them together in pleasant friction. "Well then. Would you care to help me break another commandment? Adultery, perhaps? Come, help me betray my marriage vows again."
"And how is the Lady Joan?" Harry asked lightly.
"Old and disagreeable."
"Villain! She's neither. She's not thirty-five, and if not exactly. . .agreeable, then at least rich."
Henry smiled lazily. "Well, she's not young and beautiful, as you are."
"As we are. You are a mirror to me, Henry, my shadow likeness made flesh."
"Flattery again," Henry retorted, absurdly pleased by the image. "You see? You are a dissembler."
"Dissemble we both, then, my Henry."
His fingertips traced lightly over the king's face. "I do not dissemble in my love. I am your Henry, always."
"Yes," Harry answered soberly. "I know that to be true."
Henry raised a hand to the short-cropped auburn crown and laced it through his fingers, bringing Harry's face close. "And now I grow impatient for my lesson. You've not forgotten my punishment for speaking so treasonously, I trust?"
Harry smiled. "I have the very punishment in mind. Can you bear to have me at you again?"
"Again and again and again." Henry rolled onto his stomach. "Until I am fair split in two."
"Your king is a liar."
He rose in anger, his hand already at his sword. "I'll not hear such villainy against Henry Plantagenet!"
"Reposez-vous, mon seigneur." The Comte de Dreux raised a placating hand. "No one is challenging your honor. Only his."
"The King's honor is every Englishman's as well."
"Really. And do you value your Country's honor as much as you do its king's?"
Henry frowned with annoyance. "King Henry and England are one and the same, Monsieur le Comte. Surely you know that even in this barbaric land. One cannot separate the two."
"Indeed?" The Frenchman smiled, but Henry noted the smile did not touch his eyes. "My dear Lord Scrope, how very naive you are." Henry bristled, but the Comte continued without a pause. "Perhaps that is a failing of young men. Never mind. Let us change the subject, for the moment. Do you not wonder why you were detained here at Harfleur?"
"I imagine," Henry said bitterly, "because Cambridge and Grey told you to hold me here."
"True! And you, of course, were sent by your treasured King Henry to spy on them. And perhaps on our court? No, no," the smiling man continued, before Henry could protest, "no need to deny it. We have our own spies, I assure you."
Henry tamped down the anger that yet threatened to erupt. "What happens now?"
The Comte shrugged. "To you? Nothing. Nothing at all. Sir Thomas and the Earl will continue their negotiations with us. Their plotting, as you would no doubt say. They need not concern you any further. But you and I must have a little tete-a-tete. Please, asseyez-- that is, sit down. Please."
Henry returned to his chair and folded his arms on the table.
"Thank you. Let us return to the matter of your country's honor. I said before your king was a liar -- non, non, do not take offense. We are merely speaking one gentleman to another." The Comte drew up his own chair, an ornate affair leafed in gold. Henry was reminded again that the Comte de Dreux, Constable of France, was second only to Charles VI in power. Apparently the Comte relished his position; his chair was a virtual throne. "I say King Henry is a liar because he uses false documents and unlawful. . .arbre genealogique. . .what is your word? Ah. 'family tree,' you say -- he uses forgeries and deception to lay claim to French lands. In fact," the Comte leaned closer, "there is proof that he is not your rightful king at all. I believe that honor falls to your Earl of March."
"That's ancient rumor." Henry stood up, needing to pace. "I have heard those stories for years, since the death of the late king--"
"--who deposed a rightful monarch--"
"Richard was, by all accounts, a wastrel and a tyrant."
"Perhaps." De Dreux reclined in his chair, steepling his fingers. "But a king, nonetheless, by the grace of God. And perhaps you should ask yourself who prepared those accounts of which you speak, the ones telling of King Richard's tyranny."
"King Henry V is not his father," Henry retorted, but his pulse throbbed as his agitation grew. The Comte was clever; it was undeniable that victors write the histories.
"Do you not believe in original sin, my lord?" inquired De Dreux mockingly. "Surely the child bears the stigma of his father's misdeeds. That is an unquestionable foundation of our faith, non?"
He forced himself to stare boldly at the Comte, noting the practiced smile and casual air of someone used to being in control. There was something smooth and slippery about him; perhaps, he thought grimly, the Comte was descended from the serpent of Eden. Certainly he was dangerous enough.
His head was beginning to ache. To hear such slanders about Harry! To consider such things was tantamount to treason, betrayal at the most intimate level. And yet. . .
It was easy, sharing the king's bed, to lose himself in the pleasure of his company; Harry was charming and ribald, an accomplished, if sometimes ungentle lover. But there were other times, at court, keeping the secrets he alone had charge of, dispensing the king's will, being privy to nearly everything the king said or thought or did. . . At those times he found it hard to ignore the rumors or the true behavior of the man. Everyone knew the truth. Everyone who wished to keep his head ignored it, just as one ignored Henry Plantagenet's sometimes less than kingly conduct. It was dangerous not to do so.
As the king's constant companion, he himself had witnessed such unpleasantness, the occasional ugliness beneath the beauty. There was the theatrical pretense of religious fervor that hid Harry's true debauchery under a mask of piety -- even the ascetic style of his hair had been contrived to feed that illusion. He himself had seen Harry come into the dying king's chambers with armed men, threatening him until he ceded power. Harry's actions had seemed callous, a betrayal of father by son. To add insult to injury, the falsehood had been perpetrated that the two had had a rapproachment before the old king's death.
You dissemble too, my liege.
He'd witnessed countless deaths, too, the mass execution of helpless prisoners and those whom the king believed worked against him, sometimes based on the merest whisper. An alarming thought sent a shudder through Henry's tense frame -- You sent me to spy on Cambridge and Grey -- had they been innocent, would they have lost their heads for mere rumor?
Worst of all, he had seen the king's casual betrayal of former friends and allies. The most grievous example was the fat knight with whom Harry had spent his reckless youth. Sir John Falstaff had been cast aside with nary a thought; so much for devotion and loyalty.
How long will you want me, Harry, before I too am discarded?
The thought sickened him.
The Comte roused him from his dispiriting ruminations. "I see I have disturbed you, my dear Lord Scrope -- Henry, is it? One Henry to defend another! Tell me; is it not true your uncle the Archbishop has confessed his concerns to you on these very matters?" Aghast, Henry stared wordlessly at his interrogator. "Oh, dear," said De Dreux, a small smile playing about his lips. "I did say we had spies of our own."
"You know nothing, Frenchman," he said with bitterness.
The Comte arched an eyebrow. "Do I not? I know by your words and deeds that you are a man of honor, of an honorable family, fiercely loyal to your country. I believe you to be a man of conscience, no matter your personal habits concerning those you bed."
Henry gazed at him in horror.
"Oh, come. It's hardly a secret." De Dreux schooled his face into a serious expression. "Putting that particular matter aside, can you, as a man of honor, and of conscience, whose fealty to England is unquestioned -- can you ignore your king's willful disregard of law, of the rules of succession and claim? How long can you turn a blind eye to his deficiencies? He is a hollow creature, loved for his illusion of nobility. You say the king's honor is the same as England's. If that is so, is not England sullied and debased?"
"I--" Henry sank into the chair and dropped his head into his hands. "Please -- stop, I beg you."
"My dear Lord Scrope," the Comte said in a silky voice. "I like you. I should hate to see harm come to you, as it has so many of King Henry's confidants." He paused, and lowered his voice even further. "Do you ever fear for your own place in his affections?"
Appalled, Henry could no longer form words. Would the man never stop? De Dreux had seemingly reached into his mind and heart to wrest his deepest fears from him. He was a demon, a devil--
"Why should you fear the truth, Henry?"
"I implore you to cease," he rasped, barely able to draw breath. "You confuse me. I -- I cannot think these things. I must not think them. Not about him. Not about Harry."
"'Harry.' A name for a boy, not a king." There was a slide of wood on wood, and then a hand gripped his shoulder. "Come, Lord Scrope. You know the truth. You know what must be done, if the reputation of England is to be restored." Henry opened his eyes to find the Comte kneeling beside him. "You know him well. It's said you are closer to him than anyone else who lives. He is a canker on the throne. You know what you must do."
Henry stared at his hands, clenched into white flesh over bone. "I cannot do such a thing."
"You can. You must. To save yourself. To save England."
"I am no traitor, like Cambridge and Grey--"
"No, you are not. They see only advancement and riches in betrayal. They root about in the dirt to feed their own stomachs. You, however, are a man of honor, as I have said, and one who loves his country more than his life. Is that not so?"
He said nothing. He could not; he felt as if he were dying, as if his heart were being wrenched from his chest.
Beside him the Comte de Dreux sighed profoundly. "I see. Your love is not as great for England as it is for this false prince. I was mistaken."
"Yes, my lord?"
Henry drew in a shuddering breath. "No matter his sins, or his false claims, no matter if he killed a thousand innocents, even if his death would return us all to Paradise, I cannot do him harm. I will not. And if you wish to kill me for that, so be it."
"Oh, non," said De Dreux. "I wish to send you back to your king, so that he may see no harm has come to you in France. I am sure he will wish to hear what you have learned of the Earl of Cambridge and Sir Thomas Grey." The Comte rose, knees creaking, and adjusted his robes. "But perhaps, Lord Scrope, you will remember our conversation. Perhaps you will not report what you have witnessed. Perhaps you will hold your tongue when the king asks what you have learned of them." He leaned closer, his face blotting all else from Henry's vision. "Perhaps you will let God decide your king's fate. Surely you may trust in God's will."
Nausea threatened to overwhelm him. The pain within his chest had numbed; perhaps his heart had shriveled and died. "I. . . . God forgive me." Harry, forgive me. "I shall. . .let it be His will."
"Bien!" The Constable of France clapped Henry once more on the shoulder. "You are a good man, Henry Scrope. You shall see; you will do what we both know is right. God will have nothing to forgive." With that last word, the Comte swept from the room, leaving him in terrible silence.
Dissemble we both, then, my Henry.
But, O, What shall I say to thee, Lord Scroop? thou cruel,
Ingrateful, savage and inhuman creature!
Thou that didst bear the key of all my counsels,
That knew'st the very bottom of my soul,
That almost mightst have coin'd me into gold,
Wouldst thou have practised on me for thy use,
May it be possible, that foreign hire
Could out of thee extract one spark of evil
That might annoy my finger? 'tis so strange,
That, though the truth of it stands off as gross
As black and white, my eye will scarcely see it.
Treason and murder ever kept together,
As two yoke-devils sworn to either's purpose,
Working so grossly in a natural cause,
That admiration did not whoop at them:
But thou, 'gainst all proportion, didst bring in
Wonder to wait on treason and on murder:
And whatsoever cunning fiend it was
That wrought upon thee so preposterously
Hath got the voice in hell for excellence.
But he that temper'd thee bade thee stand up,
Gave thee no instance why thou shouldst do treason,
Unless to dub thee with the name of traitor.
O, how hast thou with 'jealousy infected
The sweetness of affiance!
Such and so finely bolted didst thou seem:
And thus thy fall hath left a kind of blot,
To mark the full-fraught man and best indued
With some suspicion. I will weep for thee;
For this revolt of thine, methinks, is like
Another fall of man.
"When shall the executions be?"