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An Unlikely Friendship

 
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Brynhilde
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 08, 2016 10:08 am    Post subject: An Unlikely Friendship Reply with quote

November 11th, 1615

The great royal city of Ede was often hailed as the most civilized place in the whole of Edessa. Certainly it was the only city in the wild country the High King of Pomerania had come to, for Edessa was still ruled primarily by its tribal lords and archaic clan system. While there was agriculture of a sort, the society was geared toward war, producing the greatest warriors in the whole of Meringia, men and women alike.

The journey from the capital of Pomerania had been swift, for the roads were well maintained, but it was still three weeks of travel before Philippe and his retinue arrived at Ede. Word had gone ahead of them to announce his coming; the clan chiefs had been gathered in the royal city to bear witness to whatever the High King had come to say. They all knew what the problem was, after all.

King Sigmund was dying - a slow, painful death brought on by the continuous infection of a wound taken a year before. His heir by Edessan law was his eldest; a daughter named Brynhilde, who would be a fine queen. However, there was a faction in Ede - headed by Sigmund's second wife, Anne - that had begun to insist with words and violence that Edessa should follow the example set by other countries, and crown Sigmund's second child, Sigfried, as king when the time came. The politics was further muddied by the fact that Queen Anne was the younger sister of the High King himself, and Sigfried was her only child. The threat of civil war was a very real danger, and so Sigmund, in pain and confusion, had asked the High King to intercede, promising to abide by his wisdom in the matter.

And so, Philippe, High King of Pomerania and all her dominions, strode into the Great Hall of Ede at the head of his retinue - his guards, his chosen advisors, and companions requested for the journey. At the head of the Hall sat Sigmund, his Pomerania queen at his side, and both his children flanking them. The walls were lined with Edessans, men and women, all armed, all respectfully watchful. The only woman who was garbed in a fashion familiar to the Pomeranians was Queen Anne herself, who eschewed the practical furs and pants of the women of Edessa to dress herself in the fine gowns of her homeland. It was an alien place to those raised outside the Edessan border, filled with a fierceness that undercut everything.

As they were announced, the words seemed to fill the Hall, too loud to have come from one throat. But Philippe was well used to the ways of the Edessans. He stepped forward, a wide grin on his face, to greet his fellow king. "Sigmund, it is an honor to be received here with such warmth."

Sigmund, pale with pain, nonetheless rose to his feet to take Philippe's hand and squeeze hard. "My friend, it is you who honor us," he declared, half-turning toward the regal woman who stood behind him. "Your sister has been eagerly awaiting your visit."

Philippe's smile cooled ever so slightly as he looked on his sister. He knew her too well to believe that. "I'm sure she has," he agreed, releasing the king to kiss Anne's cheeks. "You look well, Anne."

Anne curtsied, her own expression wary. "As do you, brother," she greeted him. "I hear congratulations are in order. A grandfather to triplets?"

Philippe chuckled, listening to the murmur around the hall. "Aye, and all healthy, too," he confirmed with a nod.

"You remember my son, Sigfried?" Anne gestured to the young man standing beside her. The prince glanced uncertainly at his elder sister, everyone aware of the breach of etiquette.

Sigmund sighed wearily. "My children," he announced, drawing his daughter closer. "Brynhilde, and Sigfried."

Honor satisfied, Philippe breathed a little more easily, inclining his head to the warrior-like pair. They were both similar to one another, though Brynhilde was definitely more Edessan than her brother. Like their father before them, their hair was so pale as to be almost white, their eyes a brilliant shade of blue. Both stood armed, but it was Brynhilde whose greeting was most noted.

"High King, you are most welcome to Edessa," she declared, throwing her brother a faint glare for his lack of comment, despite his mother's bad manners.

Sigfried hurried to catch up. "Indeed, uncle, your visit is long overdue."

Philippe caught Sigmund's eye, both fathers attempting not to smile at the mild rivalry on display, and turned to gesture to his own retinue. "May I present my nephew, newly acknowledged ... Henry, Earl of Ayleth."

Though he'd been raised a commoner, Henry had recently been tutored in proper royal etiquette and though he didn't quite know what the king, his uncle, had planned for him, he had been schooled in what to expect here today. He stepped forward to take his place beside his king and bowed his head respectfully to the King of Edessa and the royal family. "A pleasure to meet you, Highness," he offered politely. He was dressed in Pomeranian style clothing, but not nearly as formally-adorned as Philippe.

"You are very welcome to Edessa, Lord Henry," Sigmund welcomed him with the ease of far too much practice. "May I present the queen, your aunt?" He gestured sharply to his wife, who just about managed to wipe the faint look of disgust off her face to smile at Henry.

"My brother has many secrets, it seems," she said, offering the young man her hand to kiss. "I am glad to know you, nephew."

Henry had been warned about his aunt and knew he couldn't trust most of what she said, and yet, he had no choice but to follow decorum and treat her with the same respect he showed everyone else who was above his station. He was careful not to flinch at the remark regarding his uncle's secrets, knowing it had not been Philippe's fault no one had known of his existence. The responsibility for that fell upon his father, and though it was no fault of his own, Henry knew he was the one who would have to suffer for it. There was nothing to be done about it but accept it and try to prove his own worth and his right to his place at the High King's side. He stepped forward to touch a respectful, if brief, kiss to the queen's hand. "Likewise, Majesty," he said, just as briefly and politely as he'd greeted the king.

As Anne stepped away, the princess' subtle eye roll was visible at her stepmother's oblique insults. "My children, Lord Henry," Sigmund presented them once again. "Princess Brynhilde, Prince Sigfried."

The prince was perfunctory in his acknowledgement, following his mother's example, but Brynhilde smiled warmly as she bowed to Henry.

"If you do not mind it, I have asked the princess to be your guide in Ede," King Sigmund went on. "I understand it is your first visit to Edessa?"

He might have been raised a commoner, but Henry was no fool. He could read people well, and he had noticed Anne's subtle feelings of contempt and maybe even jealousy, which her son seemed to share. The princess, on the other hand, seemed warm and welcoming, though it was hard for Henry to tell whether it was genuine. He arched a brow at the news that she was to be his guide and wondered if this, too, was planned, but he contained his curiosity and merely smiled politely. "Yes, it's my first visit anywhere, really," he volunteered.
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 08, 2016 10:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"With Philippe to guide you, lad, there are few places you will not go." Sigmund chuckled, but the sound was cut off as he hissed in pain.

Philippe was quick to cover the moment, raising his voice. "Well, then, shall we retire? I am eager to speak with you, my brother king, and my sister, too."

Gratitude flickered in Sigmund's eyes as he nodded. "Indeed, it seems best. My people will see to yours. Come, brother ... wife. Let us retire to my private chamber."

There was a resonant crash as every man and woman in the Hall dropped to one knee to acknowledge their king's departure, but the moment Sigmund was gone, taking Philippe and Anne with him, the tension in the Hall calmed. Voices rose in conversation as people moved about, those who had been contracted to deal with the High King's retinue moving to do just that.

Prince Sigfried sneered at Henry, offering the barest of nods as he turned and strode away, leaving the young lord with the princess.

Brynhilde rolled her eyes at her brother's back. "Stupid bastard thinks he's king already," she muttered, unabashed by her use of coarse language. Her warm smile returned as she met Henry's eyes. "Well, then, Lord Greville," she said, her voice robust with healthy confidence, proving she, at least, had read the dispatches about the High King's visit. "Would you like to see your quarters, or perhaps take a turn about the city? I am at your disposal."

He had no sooner made the royals' acquaintance, and it seemed the gathering was breaking up. Sigmund was not looking well, Henry thought, and had not invited him to join them in his private chambers. He almost would have liked to have been a fly on the wall there, a witness to what Philippe had to say to both the king and his own sister, but it was not to be. He did not miss the sneer that went along with the nod from the prince, and Henry couldn't help what he'd done to earn it, other than merely exist. He posed no threat to anyone here, politically or otherwise, and he wasn't sure why there was such animosity where he was concerned.

He looked to the princess, who, at least, seemed friendly enough. "I'm afraid you've been given the unpleasant task of showing me around," he said with a faint smile.

"Oh, it's hardly unpleasant," she laughed, shaking her head as she lead him down from the dais and into the bustle of the Hall. "What would be unpleasant would be having to sit in with my father and your uncle right now. They get on well enough, but with Anne in there, too ... there will be shouting."

"I'm afraid I don't understand the animosity between them," Henry admitted, though he certainly understood the rivalry and the games of power being played before them. "I am sorry for your mother's death," he told her sincerely, though he wasn't sure if it was something he should mention.

"I never knew her, but thank you." Brynhilde paused as a man stepped deliberately in front of her, blocking her path without acknowledging her presence. She raised her eyes to glare at him, and received nothing but an arrogant glance in return. "One moment, Lord Henry," she said calmly.

Then she turned, and delivered a punch to the side of the arrogant lordling's face that would make most men outside Edessan bleed in sympathy. Words snapped from her lips in the harsh Edessan tongue as the man staggered, and for a moment, it seemed as though he might retaliate. But firm hands gripped his cloak and pulled him roughly away, another clan member inclining his head politely to both Brynhilde and Henry before following.

Grumbling under her breath, Brynhilde returned to her companion. "My apologies, politics in Edessa is more confrontational than you may be used to."

Henry tensed, stiffening as the man stepped between them, wondering just what was going on around him. Philippe had told him of the conflict going in Edessa, of the rivalry between the siblings to take the place of their father on the throne, and he knew Philippe was hoping to resolve the matter by way of some agreement, but Henry wasn't sure what role his uncle had planned for him, if any, in all of this. He was about to intercede when the princess and the man exchanged words and she punched him with all the force of a man. Even Henry flinched in surprise, watching as the man was dragged away.

"If it's any comfort, I have no idea what was said between you," he assured her.

"You habitually punch people who disagree with you in Pomerania?" Brynhilde asked, surprised. "I was told that disputes are solved with words, or swords, in your land. Here ... we do not like to kill one another unless we have no other choice. At some point, we may have to fight side by side on some foreign battlefield, and old feuds are not welcome in new wars."

"You misunderstand, princess," Henry said, with what he hoped was an apologetic smile. "I do not speak Edessan, hence I do not understand what was said between you or what the dispute was about. Unless you wish to share it, it is your business, yes?"

"Oh, I see what you mean," she chuckled, drawing him out of the Hall and into the wide courtyard beyond. The winter was on its way, but for now, the sun was shining to warm the chilly late autumn air. "You're aware of the factions that have begun to form in this court, yes? Of the movement headed by my stepmother to put my brother on the throne when he is not the legal heir? Those factions are making themselves known as my father grows weaker. Sigfried's little friends think they can undermine my birthright by insulting me. It isn't working for them, as you have just seen."

"Yes, it is in part why we're here, I believe. My uncle is concerned that it will come to war, and he does not wish to see Edessa torn apart by such strife, when a peaceful solution might be found, though I am not sure what that solution might be. I'm afraid I'm not much of an ambassador, my lady, but I am learning," he said, following her lead. Adequately dressed for the weather, the chill in the air didn't bother him much, but the fact that he knew so little about Edessa did.

"Your uncle is not the only one concerned," she told him seriously. "My father worries that his wife has too much power, too much influence, for my accession to the throne to be uncontested. If Edessa falls into civil war, it is likely that the old clan feuds will start up again. We will kill ourselves, and wherever our mercenaries are in the world, they will fight the war, too. But because we are a vassal state of Pomerania, my father has neatly handed the problem to your uncle, and his clan chiefs have sworn to abide by whatever the High King decides. We are not made for politics, but we will obey our liege lord, the chief of chiefs."

Henry came to a halt, turning to her with a sober look on his face. "And what if he is to decide that the crown should go to your brother?" he asked, though he wasn't quite sure what his uncle's decision might be. He knew it irked him that his sister was being difficult, but he also knew Philippe's main objective was in keeping the peace and maintaining a strong alliance.

Brynhilde's jaw clenched briefly. "There will be murmurs against the decision, but nothing more," she admitted reluctantly. "Though Edessan law demands that I be allowed to follow my father, if the High King chooses to name Sigfried as heir, then we will abide by it. I won't live beyond the night it is announced, of course, but that would be expected, too."

His brows flickered upwards at what she was telling him. "Why not?" he asked. "If your brother is named as successor, then why would anyone want to ... to hurt you?" he asked, trying to put it in a way that didn't sound quite so final.
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 08, 2016 10:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"To kill me," she corrected, shrugging. "It's all right to say it. And that lies in our culture, my lord. We are considered brutish, but it is simple expedience. If there are two possible heirs, with two factions supporting them, then the only way to defend the named heir is to remove the other. If I'm dead, no one will put me at the head of an army to take the crown from Sigfried. The same goes the other way, of course."

"Not if there is another alternative," Henry replied, though, as yet, he wasn't sure what that alternative might be. "I'm sure Philippe will make sure that doesn't happen," he said, though he wasn't sure how, short of posting guards at her door. "And if he chooses you to succeed your father, then it is your brother's life that is in jeopardy, I presume."

"These are the problems my father does not want to consider or create," Brynhilde shrugged. "That is why the High King has been asked to resolve the matter. What father wants to condemn one of his children to death? But if the High King orders it, then I will defend my brother's life to my own death. He's an idiot, but he's still my brother."

"Is it always this way, or is it only because the queen is being difficult?" he asked, lowering his voice at the question, which, if overheard by the wrong party, could be misconstrued. There was something else he wanted to ask her, but one question at a time.

The look on her face was answer enough, but she gave him a verbal response as well. "Queen Anne has spent the last twenty years trying to make the Edessan court a copy of the Pomeran one," she said quietly. "She hasn't had much success, as you can see, but she has convinced many of the men that only a man should rule. And the only reason she wants to deny me the crown, in my opinion, is because she doesn't want to give up the title of queen. If she had not been stirring the pot, there would not be any issue over this. I would be heir, Sigfried would be my heir until I produced a child."

There was irony there somewhere in that a woman - Queen Anne - wanted a man to rule, though she was, in fact, a woman herself hoping to retain her power via that of her son. "And he would be your heir only so long as you live," Henry pointed out. Despite the fact that Sigfried was, in fact, his cousin by blood, he thought it made more sense to keep with tradition, rather than risk upheaval, in most cases. He frowned, as he realized that Philippe was more likely to choose on the side of blood, leaving the princess with few options. "If you could choose your own fate, what would you choose?"

"If I had the choice, I would want the law to be upheld," she said quietly. "Not just for my sake, but for the sake of the heirs that will come. If I am set aside now, what is to stop other women in the future from being pushed away? We have had so many fine queens in our history; should they be forgotten, simply because they were not men?"

He nodded his head as he considered this, but he was also frowning, knowing there wasn't much he could do to persuade his uncle once his mind was made up. "I wish there was something I could do to help, but I'm afraid my opinion doesn't hold much sway where politics are concerned," he told her sadly. In other words, it was up to Philippe, and there wasn't much he could do to sway his decision. He was starting to wonder why Philippe had brought him along at all.

"But there is no harm in expressing your opinion to your uncle, surely?" she asked innocently. "Come, let me show you to your quarters, and you can tell me about Pomerania. I have never been there - I have never been outside Edessa. Is it true that all your women wear silly long skirts and never pick up any weapon bigger than a belt knife?"

"No, no harm. Hopefully, I can speak with him before he makes a decision," Henry told her, though he still doubted his opinion would matter much, in the long run. "I will promise you this ... I promise no matter what decision he makes, I will do whatever I can to ensure no harms come to you," he said, feeling just a little saying it, considering she was likely better trained to defend herself than he was. He offered her his arm, though it was her place to lead the way. He smiled at her assumption regarding Pomerania. "I suppose, for the most part, though I am not sure how silly they are."

"You're a brave man, Henry Greville, to pledge friendship to me at such a time," she said, but smiled at his promise, taking his arm as he offered it. It was the Pomeran way, not hers, but he had weathered his first introduction to Edessan society well enough to have earned a reprieve. "Oh, they must be terribly silly. Look at the clothes Anne wears! She couldn't run in those shoes, much less those skirts, even if her life depended upon it!"

"Yes, well, unless there's a fire or some other such emergency, running isn't really necessary at court," he replied, a slightly amused smirk on his face at her assumption of Pomeranian women. "Some women can be quite fierce, even without a weapon to defend themselves, wouldn't you agree?"

"I am sure they can be," she chuckled, "but I have never seen anyone fight without a weapon in their hands. It is how I was raised. Do you know any fierce women like that? Are you betrothed to one?" Her smile was definitely teasing as she looked at him. "Does she frighten you?"

"I cannot say I do," he admitted, unsure whether that was a good or bad thing. He searched his memory, but could not think of one woman he knew of who took joy in fighting, except perhaps, herself. "I am not betrothed at present," he admitted, assuming neither was she, though the thought never crossed his mind that his uncle might be playing matchmaker with his nephew's life. "Would you like to go there someday?" he asked, of Pomerania.

"I am curious about it," she admitted cheerfully enough. "Pomerania rules our lives here, but so few of us ever get to see it. I'm told it's a vast country, but beautiful." She smirked. "I've also been told that I would scare the fine ladies of the Pomeran court if I ever visited there, just looking the way I do."

"You might scare some of the men, too," he admitted with a teasing grin, though he didn't seem to share that fear. "It is a lovely country, from what I've seen of it. Berengaria is, of course, the capital city. The castle itself so vast, I've often become lost trying to find my way. But it is Peronell I like best. It's peaceful there and very green." He was not from either Berengaria or Peronell, and neither place really felt like home yet, but he supposed he would get used to it eventually.

"I'm told you have a sister," Brynhilde said then, turning to guide him along a wide avenue toward a building that looked decidedly out of place among the rough houses and halls. It had been built in the Pomeran style, and was, no doubt, intended for Pomeran visitors of note. "Are you close to her?"

"Elspeth?" Henry asked, at the mention of his sister, a soft smile on his face that betrayed his fondness for her. "Yes, she was the only family I had left, until ... Well, I'm sure you've heard," he said, not quite admitting to the rumors that though he was noble-born, he had been reared a commoner.

"Rumors mean very little here," she told him encouragingly. "You seem very aware of how much you have been told that you are somehow inferior to others of your rank. It's nonsense. You are a man; they are men. Privilege does not make them better than you."

"Not by my uncle. He has been very understanding and welcoming. I'm not sure how pleased he was at my father's deception, but he has made it a point to make sure my sister and I are not blamed for our father's mistakes. My sister has become one of Princess Marianne's ladies, and I was made Earl of Ayleth. As you can imagine, I have no complaints. It's far better than my previous life," he said, though he did not offer any details of that time in his life.
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 08, 2016 10:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"The circumstances of your birth mean nothing in Edessa. You are your father's son, your mother's son. Not even the Church can deny that, so why should we?" That was an interesting glimpse into the mindset of the Edessans. Birth really was an accident, as far as they were concerned. "What do you do with yourself?" she asked him curiously, glancing ahead as they reached the Pomeran quarters. "Do you have lessons, or do you train with weapons? I am curious to know how our lives differ."

"Both actually," he said, as they came to a halt outside what he assumed was his quarters. "I am trying to learn Edessan, but I'm afraid I am far from fluent." So far, in fact, that he admitted once already that he hadn't understood what had been said between her and the man who'd interrupted them a short time earlier. "I was a carpenter by trade, before ..." He trailed off, careful not to tell her too much. "Before I came to Berengaria."

"Edessan does not come naturally to those not born to it," she assured him. "But you speak the political language, you speak Pomeran. You have little need to speak other languages, unless your bride is a woman of another country, and even then, she will be expected to learn your language." She smiled, aware of how careful he was as he spoke with her. "You have a useful trade. I must admit, I am a little envious. I can kill someone, and defend the throne, but the state of my sewing leaves much to be desired."

"A princess has other people to do her sewing for her," he pointed out with a smile. "As useful as my trade might be, I'm afraid I have little time for making tables and chairs these days. I must confess, I'm uncertain why my uncle asked me to accompany him here. I suspect he is hoping to make a diplomat of me or some such thing. An emissary, perhaps. I have my duties, of course, but mostly I am still learning what is expected of me."

"Or perhaps he simply wanted to spend some time with you, his nephew, away from his court," Brynhilde suggested lightly as they stepped into the building. It was laid out just like the royal wing of the palace in Berengaria, instantly familiar to Henry. "Between his family and his duties, he has little enough time himself, I think. A trip like this one, however short, gives him an opportunity to get to know you."

"Perhaps," Henry replied, though he wasn't too sure. He didn't know Philippe well enough to say, but maybe this would give them a little time to get better acquainted. "Is this it?" he asked, looking up at the building, which reminded him of home.

"Yes, this is the Pomeran quarters," the princess told him, smiling as she echoed his glance upward. "My father had it built to the same specifications as the living quarters in your palace. The ambassador lives here, too."

"So that visitors from Pomerania are more comfortable," Henry guessed with a small frown on his face. Were Edessan customs and traditions so very different from Pomerania that even their guest quarters had been decorated so that they wouldn't feel out of place?

"Indeed," she nodded in agreement. "I remember the ambassador showing me around this place when I was a child. I could not quite believe that a single person could have three rooms to call their own, to be private in. I have never had more than one room that is mine alone, and if I'd had sisters, I would not even have that. Sigfried and I shared a room until our tenth year."

He smiled, able to relate a little to that, and understand how unnecessarily vast the Pomeran living quarters must seem. "I have often thought the same thing. Growing up, my sister and I shared a room until we were old enough to know we shouldn't be anymore. The house I grew up in was small and simple, but it was clean and warm and comfortable, and that was all that mattered." If any of the Pomeranian court could relate to simple ways of living, it was Henry.

She smiled, turning her eyes back to him. "Then it would seem we have more in common than might first appear so, my lord," she told him cheerfully. "Should I leave you to rest and change for the evening? You will be dining with us in the Great Hall."

He frowned again, as he considered her question. "I'm not sure I can rest. I do not want to detain you, but would you mind showing me around?" he asked, almost hopefully. He was feeling far too restless to sleep, and the last thing he wanted was to be confined alone in strange quarters with no one for company but his books.

"Of course I don't mind." Brynhilde's smile deepened, glad of the company. She had friends, of course, but everyone in Ede had opinions about the succession crisis, and it was nice to be able to talk to someone who didn't seem to have an opinion either way. "Where would you like to go, Lord Greville? I'm afraid we don't have gardens to walk through, but it is not far to the edge of the city. You can see Gardholme in the distance on a clear day."

Henry gestured forward with one hand. "I am at your disposal, Princess," he told her, allowing her to lead the way again and take him where she willed. Whatever it was she thought of him, as yet, he couldn't say, but he liked her pleasant, honest demeanor, and he had to admit she wasn't unpleasant to look at either.

"Well, then, I will just have to show you my mother's seat, won't I?" Smiling still, Brynhilde gestured for him to come with her, back out into the city. She moved with calm confidence through the streets, which were busy. "Ede is not usually so busy," she explained as they headed back along the avenue to the main road. "But with all the clan chiefs here, with the majority of their clans with them, every street, every house, is occupied. I would avoid walking in the city at night while you are here. When the clans get together, they drink, and when they drink, they fight."

Henry frowned, knowing why the clan chiefs had been summoned and knowing the princess's fate hung in the balance. A thought occurred to him suddenly, but he wasn't sure she would be agreeable to such an idea. "I cannot say what my uncle will decide. He's a fair man, but it is difficult to please everyone, and he will have to do what he thinks is best for Pomerania, as well as Edessa." For now, he kept his thoughts regarding another possibility to himself, feeling her out slowly. "What will you do if he chooses your brother?"

"I will have to get out of Edessa if I wish to live," she shrugged, keeping her comfortable pace with him as they continued on their way. "I am lucky that Gardholme is on the road to Pomerania - it is the seat of Clan Virda, and the road to your country runs through the lands that traditionally belong to them. My mother was of Clan Virda, and therefore, so am I. They would not want to give me up to my enemies."

"I see," he said, quietly contemplating. He'd been about to offer her refuge in Pomerania - perhaps even in Ayleth, but it seemed she had already thought this all out and had made plans of her own. "And if you are chosen?" he asked, wondering if her brother would dare challenge that or if he would be satisfied with such a decision.

She sighed softly. "I would like to believe my brother would flee the country for his own life, but I do not think he will," she said quietly. "His mother will still be Queen, and she will convince him to stay. I think, if I am the one chosen, there will be civil war after all." It was a sobering thought, and not just for Edessa. There were Edessan mercenaries all over Meringia - any war here would touch the entire continent.

"And Philippe will know this and take it into account," Henry said, musing aloud. Despite Edessa's long record of firstborn heirs to the throne, it seemed likely Queen Anne would have her way, and then what would happen to the princess?
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 08, 2016 10:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"It is likely, yes," Brynhilde agreed. "But as to what I will do if I escape with my life? I do not know. My mother's clan will likely be crushed to prevent them from setting me as their figurehead, but me? A princess without a homeland, without the skills to be a princess the way others recognize them? Not even I know what I can do in the wider world."

He could certainly relate to that, as he was still trying to figure out where he fit into the grand scheme of things, as well. Even if those around him seemed to believe in him, he was not so sure he believed in himself. "You could always accompany me to Pomerania," he found himself suggesting, though he wasn't sure why. What would a warrior woman possibly do there? He would certainly not expect her to trade her sword for a skirt.

She stopped, startled, staring at him with wide eyes. "You would do that?" she asked in surprise. "You would offer me sanctuary, knowing that my presence might well bring assassins to your door?"

"I myself was a target of assassins not so long ago," he pointed out, though, of course, she had no way of knowing that. "But perhaps we shouldn't worry about it until the king has made his decision," he added, not wanting to jump to any foregone conclusions.

"You are a brave man, my lord," she told him quietly, grateful for the offer he had made to her, even if they both hoped it would not become necessary to take it up. "There are not many in this world that would offer sanctuary to a stranger."

"Am I?" he asked. "A brave man or a fool? Some might say the latter," he pointed out, as she led him along. He couldn't remember when the last time was that he'd been able to simply talk with a woman, without worrying that she wanted something more from him than just conversation and companionship. These days, it seemed most of the women around him who were not related by blood or marriage were too busy trying to elevate their station to care much about making intelligent conversation. They batted their lashes and smiled primly, hoping to catch an earl in their snares. It was somewhat refreshing to meet a woman he could talk to as an equal and who had no ulterior motive.

"All brave men are fools," Brynhilde said with a smile. "And all fools are brave. The two words need not be separate to be true. And there is no shame in being a fool from time to time." She sidestepped a woman and her children who came bustling past, pulling a face for the youngest who was staring at them. "My lord ... if it should come to pass that you need to be brave to preserve my life, then rest assured I will defend you to my last breath. In saving my life, I will pledge it to you and to yours."

He waited for the woman to bustle past with her brood of children, before closing the distance between them and reaching for her hand. "I promise, no matter what the king decides, that I will not allow any harm to come to you. If that means offering refuge in Ayleth, then so be it." And all the implications that came along with it.

For the first time since he had been elevated in rank, the woman whose hand he took did not flinch at the sensation of the calluses on his palm and fingers. Indeed, she had calluses of her own. Her fingers curled about his hand warmly. "Thank you, my lord. Though ... there are some who would say that you have just proposed marriage to me." The twinkle in her eyes was bright as she grinned, close to laughing at the idea that he would ever want a wife like her. She was far too different. "But I would like to be able to say that we have found a friend in one another."

On the contrary, it was her differences that made him find her so appealing, and yet, he was not proposing marriage. He even chuckled at the thought, convinced she would never want a husband like him. But friend? Yes, it seemed both of them could use another friend. "I would like that, too, Princess," he said, a warm smile on his face.

"Then you must call me Brynhilde, when there are no ears to hear us," she told him firmly. "In Edessa, we do not recognize rank unless we are at a Clansmoot, or in war. That little performance in the Hall was entirely for the benefit of our guests. Yesterday, my father spent most of the day lounging in front of one of the fires with the dogs, sharing stories of past battles with his old friends."

"Guests such as myself and the High King," Henry clarified. At the very least, he was included in such company as a guest, though he wasn't sure he entirely believed her as rank seemed fairly important, at least, where succession was concerned.

"Guests who are not Edessan," she conceded with a faint smile, turning to continue on their way, ducking down a side street toward the tall expanse of wall that encircled the royal city. "You expect a king's hall to be calm and quiet, to have lords and ladies in it who see themselves as above the common folk. We know that we are all common folk, and it is only the accident of birth that makes one a foot soldier and another a clan chief. We are all equal, but there needs to be a guiding hand. Be grateful we don't choose Clan Chiefs the way we used to."

"And yet, there could be war over who is chosen to lead your people," Henry pointed out, wondering if she saw the irony in it. He wasn't sure he wanted to know how Clan Chiefs used to be chosen, but he imagined there was likely some conflict involved to prove who was stronger and most capable of leading. "In Pomerania, it is the eldest son who inherits the throne. It is just how things are, how they've always been, but here, things are different. I am not sure we should change things, just because the king's sister prefers it that way," he said, with a shrug, knowing his opinion was probably not the popular one.

"Edessan law has always been upheld, until now." Brynhilde shrugged, shaking her head. "If the world must change because of one woman's arrogance and pride, then I am not sure I want to be a part of it. Here." She paused by a sturdy door in the thick wall, pushing it open to pass into a very dark passage that went on for almost ten feet. Another door stood at the end, and she unbolted it, pulling it open to reveal the wildness of the steppe that surrounded Ede.

"Perhaps we should choose based on who is most qualified to be king or queen, rather than by order of birth, but that is how it has always been. Stephan is a good man, and I believe he will make a good king, but that's not always the case." He was, in his way, agreeing with her, in not so many words, but before he could say anything further, she was unbolting a door to show him a view that nearly took his breath away.

"Well, you just have to look at some of the kings in the world today to know that." Brynhilde drew him out onto the steppe, where the wind blew almost constantly, the grass swaying with each gust that rushed by. Out here, there was little to hear of the population within the walls. Out here was nothing but the grass and the sky, and in the distance, an indistinct smudge that might have been a fort of some kind. The pale-haired princess watched as Henry took it in, a half-smile on her face. "Welcome to Edessa, Lord Henry."

"It's quite the view," he said after a long moment spent admiring the view. It wasn't Pomerania, but that didn't matter. Edessa was like nothing he'd ever seen before, and it had its own unique beauty, just like it had its own unique customs.

"This is the land that made us," she told him. "We came from this land. When others call us brutal and violent, they don't know what they are talking about. This land taught us to survive, to fight. If the Church is our mother, then the land is our father. And over there ..." She touched his shoulder, pointing to the indistinct smudge of gray in the distance. "That is Gardholme, the seat of my mother's clan. You passed it on your way here."

He followed her direction, turning to gaze at the place in the distance. He remembered passing it on their way there, once again, it had struck him how different the place was from anything he'd known or seen before. "Is that where you were born?" he asked curiously, as he turned his head back to her. Her touch had surprised him a little, and yet, at the same time, seemed perfectly normal.
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 08, 2016 10:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"No," she laughed. "No, I was born here in Ede. But my mother, Kriemhild, was born there, and I have uncles and aunts, cousins, who call Gardholme their fortress. Alrik Steel-eye, the chief of Clan Virda, is my uncle."

These were names he had heard of, but did not know or had ever met directly. Still, they were her family, and he knew she must care for them as such. "How did she ..." He frowned, unsure if he should ask more than she was willing to share. "I'm sorry about your mother," he said, rephrasing his words.

"I killed her," Brynhilde said simply. It was a fact of life; for some women, childbirth was also their deathbed. "She gave up her life before I took my first breath; they had to cut me out of her. One month later, my father remarried, and less than a year after that, Sigfried was born. We're virtually the same age."

There was a brief look of shock on Henry's face before he realized what she meant by her statement. "I'm sorry," he told her, instinctively touching her arm to offer what little comfort he could. His own mother's death had left a hole in his heart that hadn't had much of a chance yet to heal, but that didn't mean he couldn't sympathize with her loss.

Her eyes turned to his as he touched her arm, a faint, sad smile on her face. "It is the way of life," she said quietly, covering his hand on her arm with her own for a moment. "I know her through the stories people tell of her. She was great warrior, terrifying in battle. She refused to marry my father until he bested her in single combat." She laughed at the thought of that. "He loved her very much. He says I remind him of her. I can take comfort in that."

He arched a brow, obviously surprised to hear her father had to win his wife in combat with her before he could marry her. He wondered if she would require the same of a spouse one day. If so, he thought there might be a lot of disappointed suitors in her future. "I must admit your customs are strange to me, but intriguing."

Brynhilde laughed, leaning back against the wall of the city comfortably. "We are strange to a lot of people," she nodded. "But you are just as strange to me. Your way of life seems gentler, but it is filled with politics and scheming, with lies told to protect a greater truth. I have never had much head for politics, but I can break up an axe fight."

"I did not say you were strange," Henry corrected, an almost amused smile on his face. "I said your customs are strange to me. It's not quite the same thing." The smile faded a little as she remarked on the Pomeran way of life. "I don't know much about politics either," he admitted honestly. "But I am learning."

"Oh, I am strange to you," she laughed cheerfully. "I doubt you have ever met a woman who is at home with shield and axe, who can fire a bow from horseback, and who has never worn a dress in her life." Her smile was startlingly cheeky as she looked at him. "Nor do I think you have ever met anyone as honest as I am, given the way you look so surprised when I speak plainly."

"I know plenty of honest people, but I must admit I'd never met anyone quite like you. There are no women warriors in Pomerania or anywhere else that I know of. I was raised to believe that women should be cherished, protected, and respected. That is what my mother taught me. I do not think there is anything wrong with a woman knowing how to defend herself, but I am not sure I would want to fight against them in battle," he told her, sharing her honesty.

"A lot of men from beyond our borders feel that way," she mused. "I'm told that some men refuse to fight a woman on the battlefield. It seems foolish. Just because we are smaller, it does not mean that we are not just as dangerous when wielding a weapon." She eyed him with one brow raised above her smile. "I wonder ... would you be able to fight a woman, Lord Henry?"

"I'm not sure. I suppose it depends on the circumstances. If it happened in battle, I wouldn't have much choice. I wouldn't have much choice if she was trying to kill me or hurt someone I care for either," he said, though he wasn't sure if that really answered her question.

"I'm curious, though," Brynhilde pressed him for an answer. "Why does it depend on the circumstances? What is it that makes the idea of a weapon in a woman's hand so abhorrent to so many?"

"It's not that, I don't think," Henry said, pausing a moment to give it some thought. "It's not the idea of a weapon in a woman's hand so much as it is ..." He trailed off, unsure if he could explain it so that she could understand. "I was taught to protect women, not to hurt them. I did not know my father growing up. It was my responsibility to care for my mother and my sister, to provide for them ... At least, when I became old enough to do so. The idea of hurting one is what is abhorrent to me."

She seemed to consider this for a long moment. "I can understand that," she said finally. "For us, a woman becomes precious the moment she becomes a mother. She must be protected at all costs. For a mother to enter battle would be unthinkable. So perhaps we are not so very different, after all. We simply do not approach the concept from the same place."

"Perhaps," he said, but he wasn't so sure. "We have no women warriors in Pomerania," he told her again, as if to explain further. What would happen to her if she came to Pomerania then? What would happen to her if her brother was the one to take the throne when her father died? "I wonder ..." he mused, almost not realizing he'd said it aloud.

"What do you wonder?" she asked, jumping on the trailing words as she pushed off the wall, flicking her long braid back over her shoulder. "You have such an inquiring mind, you will have to ask if you want an answer to your wonderings."

He shrugged, as if what he'd wondered was unimportant. After all, he was not a man with much power or influence. He was only an earl, but it was still better than being a commoner, and he hoped he could use his title to do some good for the people under his protection. "I was just thinking that if you were to visit Ayleth, perhaps you would like to teach some of your skills to our warriors." Or even to our women, he thought, but did not say.

Her head tilted as she considered him, curious enough to make a guess at what it was he hadn't said. Rumors were just rumors in Edessa, but she had heard enough of his elevation to make an informed guess. "And would your sister want to learn?" she asked him gently.

"I think she would, yes," he replied, especially after all they'd been through - all she'd been through. "If my mother and my sister knew how to fight ..." He trailed off a moment before continuing, in a quiet voice. "... perhaps things would have been different."

"We heard what had happened to your mother," Brynhilde said softly, laying her hand on his shoulder. "My sympathies. Only the greatest mother will give her life for her child, and I am sure your sister will grow into the woman your mother longed for her to be, in payment for that debt."

He didn't answer for a long moment, his emotions all tangled up with the thought of her - his mother. He had grieved her death, was grieving her still, and the guilt that he had been unable to save her or help his sister still hung like a heavy weight around his heart. He was glad for her presence, for her show of sympathy, but he didn't want her to see his grief. It was a private thing, something he kept hidden deep inside, and he turned his face back to the steppe, letting the breeze dry what tears he had been unable to withhold. "I am sure she will, too," he said simply.
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 08, 2016 10:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"For it is clear that you are already a man any mother would be proud of," she went on, turning to face the steppe with him, letting him have his moment without drawing attention to it. "You offer kindness to strangers, even knowing that such kindness might well result in your own death. You are a rare man, Henry Greville. Your people will love you for it."

"A rare man or a fool," he muttered quietly, having wondered that thought for some time now. And yet, would Philippe have given him a title - even such a minor title as earl - if he did not believe in him? Or was it only because Henry shared his bloodline? Had Philippe brought him here, like she'd said, to get to know him better, or was there another reason?

"A rare fool is still rare," she pointed out with a faint smirk. A gust caught her braid, throwing it from her back to her shoulder as she shuddered. "Come back out of the wind," she told him. "Surely you are hungry after your journey?"

He turned to look at her, just in time to see her shudder, and instinctively once again, he reached to unfasten the cloak on his back and drape it over her shoulders. "Better?" he asked, waiting for her to move back into the shelter of the building and out of the wind. His first concern seemed to be for her well-being than for his own hunger.

For the first time since their meeting earlier that day, Brynhilde didn't seem to know quite how to respond. She was a practical girl, and giving his cloak to her solved the problem of her chill. It also, however, made him vulnerable to a chill he wasn't used to, and the mere fact of his giving her the cloak at all suggested that he thought she could not handle a little cold without help. Her mouth worked for a moment as they stepped back into the dark passage way through the wall, before she finally settled on a response. "Better, thank you," she agreed. "But now you will have to suffer a cold you are not familiar with, all for the sake of my shoulders."

"Only temporarily, and perhaps I judge your shoulders worth the trouble," he replied, a warm smile on his face, even if the wind did hold a chill colder than he was accustomed to. Beneath his cloak, he was dressed in layers that would keep him warm enough, so long as they didn't remain outdoors too long.

She chuckled lightly, choosing to bear whatever comments came her way rather than dismiss his kind gesture. "Come, I should deliver you back to your uncle," she said. "He will be done with my father by now, and no doubt he will want you to tell him all about me."

"And what shall I tell him?" Henry replied, giving her the chance to plead her case to the High King through his vassal. At that moment, he knew he would tell Philippe anything she wanted him to know, and that he would do almost anything she asked of him. He wasn't sure why exactly, except that she had made a strong impression on him - stronger than any woman ever had before.

"The truth, of course," she said, shaking her head as they emerged into the streets once again. "As I said, I have no head for politics, but your uncle does. You should not tell him a lie simply because someone else has asked you to. If he wants your opinion of me, then you should give it to him, truthfully, without deception. How else can you help him come to his decision?"

"I don't think I could lie to him even if I wanted to," he said. The truth was he wasn't sure he could lie to anyone, but he most certainly couldn't like to his uncle, the king, especially not when he had given him so much. "Will I see you at dinner?" he asked, unsure again why he was asking, but somehow it seemed important.

"I have every intention of being there," she assured him with a smile, escorting him back to the main road and toward the Pomeran quarter. "Anne will no doubt think I'm disgracing myself by not wearing a dress, but I'm part of the entertainment, too. That's my excuse this time, anyway."

"I'm not sure what you mean," he said, furrowing his brows, confused about her comment regarding being part of the entertainment. While she had shown him around and kept him company, he did not think of it as her having entertained him. It had certainly got them both out of the way for a while, so that the High King could speak with his sister and her husband, but Henry wasn't sure if that had been done on purpose or not.

"It is a custom here," she explained with a smile. "While you may pay for jesters and jugglers to entertain during a feast, we put on our own entertainments. Displays of swordplay and axe fighting, the dagger dances - it is a great honor to be asked to perform for the High King. No one will die, but there may be a few broken bones and a little blood spilled. We don't play at fighting here."

"I see," he replied, though it seemed he wouldn't really see for himself for a few hours yet. "You don't like her much, do you?" he asked of Queen Anne - his aunt and her stepmother. It hardly mattered to him what the queen thought of him - only Philippe's opinion really mattered - but then Ede wasn't his home, and he didn't have to abide by her rule.

"She's given me no reason to," Brynhilde shrugged as they walked along. "I make no attempt to hide it. She could have been a mother to me, but she chose to hate me because my father still loved my mother. I was raised by nursemaids and warriors, but I've never had a mother, not the way Sigfried has. I envy him that bond."

"And I've never had a father," he pointed out, unconsciously making the comparison between their lives. "Not until recently, anyway," he added, almost as an afterthought. He made no further mention of his mother or sister, for that matter. "Your father seems quite fond of you though," he said with a warm smile, hoping the mention of that would lessen the pain of her mother's absence and her step-mother's animosity.

Her smile deepened as his warmed, her fondness for her father plain in her expression, overlaid with the sadness of knowing that Sigmund did not have much time left. "He forged my first axe himself," she said, speaking of the weapon as other girls might have spoken of their first doll. "He taught me how to use it. If it wasn't for him, I would never have learned to read or write, or to speak languages. The world will lose a great man before winter comes."

On instinct, without thinking, Henry reached for Brynhilde's hand to give it a soft comforting squeeze. He smiled warmly, but there was sadness in his smile, understanding what it means to lose someone you love. "I'm sorry, Princess," he told her, as gently as he could. "I wish I could help somehow," he said, his voice both sad and sincere. He didn't offer false hope or empty promises. What he did offer was friendship and he was sincere in that offer.

His hand on hers surprised her; she almost pulled away, but stopped herself, her smile gentling as he expressed his sympathy. "Thank you, Lord Henry," she said softly. "There is little anyone can do, but I appreciate your wish."

"Just Henry," he told her. "Or Harry, if you like." He let go of her hand, flushing just a little at the realization that he'd been so forward, but he'd meant nothing by it, except to offer a bit of comfort and friendship to someone who seemed like she needed it. He had noticed how pretty she was, but he knew she was above his station and tried not to let his thoughts wander too far in that direction.

"Henry, then," she nodded in agreement. "At least where others cannot hear us." Her footsteps slowed, coming to a halt before the Pomeran embassy with strange reluctance. She had never been able to speak so freely with anyone before, and she was reluctant for the conversation to end, but she knew as well as anyone that he would need to rest and change his clothes for the feast planned that evening. "I will see you this evening."

If he was bolder or more confident, he might have kissed her hand or said something to impress her, but it wasn't his place to woo her. She was a princess, and as such, she deserved a prince, which he certainly was not. "Until then, Princess," he told her, with another smile and a polite nod of his head.

"Brave heart, Lord Henry." She touched her fist over her heart, stepping back to bow to him before turning to make her own way back to the Great Hall and the royal quarters housed behind them. Despite the tension hanging over Ede and its royal house, it seemed there were some things that made this journey worthwhile. A friend was definitely one of them.

He frowned as he watched her go. There was something different about her, something he couldn't quite put his finger on. They were from two very different worlds, and he found himself missing her companionship already. He didn't have many friends himself, but perhaps, if he was lucky, he'd made one here today in the most unlikely place of all.
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