11921009 The Lion's Leavings

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The Lion's Leavings
Date: the 9th of October, 1192
Location: Kings' Haven, then the Banqueting Hall at the royal palace
Participants: Henry of Champagne, Isabella of Jerusalem, Maria Comnena, Beatrice de Courtenay, Geoffrey de Lusignan, Tristan de Fontaineaux, Scarlet the Dwarf, Renaud Grenier, Helvis of Ibelin et cetera
Related Logs: Nothing yet
Content Warnings
Beware of the Donkey
Room Description
1. Incorporated into the text.

2. Like its equivalents in England or France, the feasting hall of the royal palace - constructed in Frankish style, in meagre commemoration of the Emir's fall - is in itself a sombre place, dark and dignified, until brightened by the noble company which gathers within it. Justice as well as celebration is occasionally conducted here, after all; along with the hall of the Seneschal's Palace, it is a habitual location for the summoning of the Haute Cour.

Voices echo beneath a vaulted and beamed ceiling of wood and stone. A vast hearth is set into one wall of the long chamber, just as in the west, but only late at night are flames ever kindled therein. Before it is the dais which houses the high table, set squarely athwart the room, while three ranges of lesser boards approach it sideways over the stone floor below. At the other end of the hall is the minstrels' gallery, high up, on the same level as the outside wall's unglazed windows, which let in a gaudy, irregular, sometimes oppressive light.

A pair of strong dark wooden doors provide for passage to and from the palace's central antechamber; their twins, opposite, give onto the palace gardens, from whose precincts a parcel of land was purloined to build this hall. From the darkest corner, a passageway leads off into the realm of sumptuous servitude known to the disdainful noble guests merely as the kitchens.

The city's inner harbour, its defences broken by a double siege the like of which had not been known since the days of legendary Troy, has been rebuilt by gold from the west and renamed for its royal patrons - the Kings' Haven.

On the outside it is bounded by the narrow spur of land which leads to the Tower of Flies: corpse-ridden in war, it is in peace a lighthouse. Its silted brick and stone earthworks have seen substantial reinforcement, for it may someday hold one end of the mighty chain which is kept in readiness to be drawn across the opening of this curved bay, for the protection of the vessels sheltered within. The coiled links of the chain, hewn from wood and joined by heavy iron shackles, are kept in a stronghold on the city side of the bay, from which erupts the wall the Templars have put up round their quarter, with its broad, open, but well-guarded gate leading to the filthy and teeming public waterfront to the northeast.

The deep dark waters of the Haven are home to the Templar fleet, a paltry handful of ships flying the colours of the House of Jerusalem, and those merchantmen who can pay the premium for such a privileged anchorage. The trading craft are at first sight almost indistinguishable from the ships of war, for their decks bristle with crossbowmen and mercenary defenders; the truce with Egypt's maritime might is still a recent and, in the minds of some, an unstable arrangement.

On shore also a certain prosperity is evident, as wealth flows in from the sea to revivify the district. The cobbles underfoot are relatively clean and the inhabitants relatively decorous, perhaps due to the constant presence of armed men in white Templar tabards blazoned with bold red crosses.

Out to sea, royal leopards hunt lesser, vassal quarry through a forest of pennants, streaming in the field azure of the sky. It is a bright autumn morning, an hour or so till noon; King Richard Coeur-de-Lion's fleet has weighed anchor at last, and with the tales coming out of the Angevin domains - word of usurpation, war and treason - that is hardly surprising. Still, though this day has for some time been set, a mood of shock hangs in the atmosphere of Acre's Inner Harbour. Courtiers of all political persuasions and origins have thronged the Templar Quarter, ostensibly in festal mien, for Count Henry and his wife the Queen of Jerusalem intend to lead them within the city and the palace for a great banquet as noontide passes. But hardly a heart there assembled does not feel a recoil of foreboding, as the city's surest shield grows smaller and will soon be gone. Knights of England, Normandy, Anjou and the Aquitaine; a goodly force too of routiers and other professionals, Italians, Burgundians, Flemings, Normans of Sicily; all are to be scattered, to their various homes as they think, though in fact fate has wilder plans. They leave a denuded kingdom and a fragile peace. Many prayers are offered in undertones; the hopeful beg Our Lord and Lady to lend the Count of Champagne strength; the wise ask the Almighty to keep Saladin weary.

But one young man in all the company smiles in unfeigned merriment. He is young, and he is in love, and he is - all but - king. Gallantly Count Henry turns with a courteous smile, not to his beloved bride but his scarcely less fair mother-in-law, Maria Comnena, herself once Queen of Jerusalem and still to be addressed with a Queen's dignity. If not necessarily, it would seem, by Henry himself.

"My dear lady mother!" he begins heartily, "well, well, now we mice can play indeed. We've finally seen the last of Uncle Richard! Until he tires of Saxon boors and Norman whores... I give it a week, actually, best keep his chambers ready, eh?" This is most certainly a joke. If the English army were in fact to come back, the court at Acre would scarcely know whether to rejoice at the protection or to despair at the shortage of provision...

It cannot be discerned from the Dowager Queen's slightly pursed carmine lips, or the large black eyes thrown into shade by her turban, which of Henry's remarks enthuses her the most, whether she prefers to be his mother or a mouse.

Of the three chairs upon the royal dais, hastily put up for this morning's ceremonies under a canopy of blue cloth figured with golden lions, hers is the smallest, a ranking inevitable but unappreciated. Her figure is the smallest too beneath its armour of gold and jewels; she wears half a dozen bracelets, as many begemmed rings upon her fingers, and a quantity of priceless necklaces which quite eclipse the patterns woven into her blood-red Byzantine silks. For Maria Comnena this arrogant display of wealth is not unusual; she has accumulated untold trinkets during her lifetime and she decks herself out in them in constant and magnificent rotation to awe and bewilder her inferiors.

She is attended by her daughter, Helvis -- whose marriage to Renaud Grenier has made her the Lady of Sidon and likewise of Beaufort Castle, yet who is still simply a thirteen-year-old girl, whispering with her royal half-sister Isabella -- and by her Greek priest, a famously repentant and castrated sinner, who has got into a flaming row with some Catholics behind the dais -- and assorted ladies-in-waiting and palace servants, who keep a particular eye upon the level in her silver cup as they insinuate themselves amidst the milling courtiers, offering sherbet. Conspicuous by his absence is her husband, the great lord Balian of Ibelin, whose splendid bulk one would surely expect to see at her side today.

She appears to be still deciding whether this will be one of the times when she affects an imperfect comprehension of Henry's accent... But no; "Surely there are whores enough in Acre to content your uncle's army, or even your army of uncles," she speculates, referring to the avuncular support without which Henry would surely not be resting his behind upon a chair marginally grander than her own.

Someone forgot to bring the stool for her feet, which left to their own devices would hang in the air amidst her trailing skirts and veils; she has put them instead upon the lap of her beauteous serving girl, Agrippina.

Geoffrey de Lusignan stands close enough to overhear Henry of Champagne's jest, and chuckles lightly. A welcome distraction from his slight inconvenience, as he is wearing a chainmail beneath a tarbard of white and blue, the colours of his coat of arms. A slight displeasure is visible in his handsome features when a sudden gust of wind blows his dark brown locks about his face and makes his light white cloak bulge in the wind. One short shake of his head and his hair is back in place as proud brown eyes scan the crowd. With a light smirk he leans over to one of the other knights for a remark as he notices someone, chuckling lightly at what appears to be a jest - or just a funny face.

Around the dais, expensive scent is embattled with the besweated crush of the higher nobility to keep the honour of proximity to the enthroned. Highest in honour in this place stands the Grand Master of the Temple, a strong, stocky fellow, whom various onlookers might recall was until very recently a secular lord from Anjou, briefly after his election as a Templar lord of Cyprus, and a favourite of the Lionheart - Robert de Sablé. Simple brother Templar knights flank him - his deputy officer in the city of Acre, the Order and City's Preceptor, has not yet been chosen since his predecessor fell at Hattin. The Hospitallers are a long space further off, unable to act too ostentatiously in this quarter; *their* Grand Master, Garnier de Nablus, has not even seen wit to witness the King of England's departure.

The richly robed prelate with a small, scrawny stature and a lean face full of kindly cunning looks to be of partial or wholly Syrian heritage. Those experienced at court will know him as the Kingdom's Chancellor, Joscius, the Archbishop of Tyre. He's accompanied by a serious looking knight, probably in his twenties but concentrating as a earnestly as a more seasoned man, in a blue cloak, his surcoat showing azure and or rayonne - the Seneschal, Ralph de Saint-Omer. Between them both these men hold most of the realm's civil administration. They have the patient, weary look of men who are prepared for long, and not necessarily congenial, business conversation with many a complainant.

Well known, heavy steps in clinking armor announce the approach of young Countess Beatrice de Courtenay. Of course it aren't her own feet to produce such a noise, not her own elbows to push some watching commoner out of her way - her guard Berno of Touraine, more frequenly called 'Berno the Barrel' it is who, as so often, is seen and heard before the first glimpse of the girl herself could be caught. In the assumption not too many eyes rest on her yet the girl quickly pinches her cheeks and bites her lips quickly to make sure a gleaming rosiness settles on her cheeks and lips before anyone of importance would meet her gaze. She stops readjust a fold of her gown, light blue silks with dove-embroidered braids adorning (and unobtrusively lengthening) the hems.

Impatiently the guard turns around, puts one of his huge, square hands on the girl's shoulder and pushes her forth with a gentle firmness. "Hurry little sparrow, later there will be time enough to fluff your feathers.", he says with his rich and very unsubtle voice.

"Heavens would you please start to adress me properly in public. My lady? Something like fair Countess at least?", Beatrice presses out between her teeth, much to the chuckling amusement of the man. Her old chaperone and her maid are luckily courteous enough not to surpress a smile. A little sigh ends the conversation, as she comes closer to the people of gentler birth. Blinking some fire in her eyes, putting a smile on her lips and dipping a curtsy she greets "Your Highness, my lord Count"

As she looks over to Geoffrey de Lusignan the bow of her lips turns to granite but neither curtsy or greeting are offered. With a raised brow she turns to the departing ship, murmuring a dry "Well, I hope their ships are in a good condition. I heard the sea is not gentle these days."

There are some absences to be noted apart from the Master of the Hospital and the head of the House of Ibelin - probably most obviously, the two senior commanders of the royal army, Count Amalric de Lusignan, the Constable, and Sir Walter Durus, the Marshal. These are early days of the truce - and the first day of the truce with the English out of the scales, more importantly. With the memory fresh of Saladin's opportunistic breach of the Treaty of Jaffa, it's not surprising the wily Amalric has arranged a 'parade' of the royal army around the Kingdom's withered borders - but it shrinks the Lusignan contingent, as well as giving the whole assembly a far less martial character.

The responsibilities of her reign may be resting upon Queen Isabella's head this morning somewhat more heavily than the circlet of gold beneath her hazy blue silk veil; but one would never know it to look at her. She has been sharing a jest with her sister Helvis, a daughter of her mother's second marriage, a girl as fair as she is dark; her Seneschal interrupts this conference with the deliberate clearing of his throat, and just for a moment Isabella's façade of regal calm and assurance shows a crack. She will have to talk to him. Again.

Helvis, meanwhile, essays a measuring glance at her mother, and, finding her occupied for the time being with a *different* young lady of the court, seizes the opportunity to sidle down from the dais...

A wry, gurgling laugh, not loud but somehow insinuatingly noticeable, may give the de jure Countess of Edessa pause. Not three steps from the gallant Berlo lounges a plump, fairly short, heavily bearded and sweet-scented man in robes of fluent Oriental samite, emerald green, his head covered with a curious, draping scarlet cap - the latest fashion, Renaud Grenier will tell anyone who cares to listen, in Persia; he may just as well have had it invented himself, however. "Fear nothing, my lady," he murmurs with a respect that serves both to reproach the guard, and just slightly to mock the 'Countess' - as well as, perhaps, himself. "This new peace removes the cruellest tempest in their way back to Hyperborea - the fleet of Egypt..."

But he is soon enough to be distracted from what was no doubt the beginning of one of his interminable yarns about the habits of Saracen corsairs...

Raising a brow at Beatrice's calculated dicourtesy, Geoffrey is too amused to take offence, but also too tempted not to comment on it. "Do I know you, little sparrow? You seem so vaguely familiar?" he remarks with a broad grin, for a moment indeed unable to remember the fair and young maiden's name.

His brother's absence although regretable does not dampen the Lusignan's mood, knowing that he at least is present and capable of representing his influential family in all its grandeur.

The two or three things she has in common with Beatrice of Courtenay, quite important things if the truth be told, such as profound distaste for the Lusignans and all their works, and titles redolent more of honour and a glorious past than of power in the present day, make the little Countess of Edessa somewhat more agreeable a presence in Maria Comnena's orbit than -- well -- her son-in-law, or that smug overdressed fool of a Lusignan...

"Fear not for the fleet, my lady of Petra, I think we may rely upon fair winds to speed our Western visitors away from our shores," she remarks, just as, coincidentally, her gaze passes across the fool of a Lusignan.

Her bracelets clink richly as she directs a servant to hurry up with the sherbet, the pitchers of which are unusually thronged with rose petals today.

Amidst the throng of Hospitaller knights stands Tristan de Fountaineaux, his chain armour below that black tabard with the white cross already hot from the heat of the sun. Tiny beads of sweat are visible on his forehead below that mop of chestnut brown hair, one of them slowly making its way down, following the scar that runs from his right ear downto his chin, until it vanishes in his wellgroomed beard. Almost oblivious to the annoying bead of sweat, his slightly narrowed grey-blue eyes follow the fleet as it makes its way towards the horizon.

It was the Lady of Beaufort and Sidon's bad luck to slip away from the dais, trailed by maid and guardsmen, before the Lord of Beaufort and Sidon and his very fine hat appeared upon it. She has circled round that impromptu construction, looking for him in vain, had heard her mother's priest Stephanos making some very improbable, not wholly theological remarks to his interlocutors in the Greek which was her milk tongue; and now there he is, revealed to her eyes, a man she seems to dote upon though his years be four times her own and their marriage a fact only on paper (or -- is it?). In an instant the girl who was laughing with her sister is replaced by a consciously dignified young wife, who dips a slight curtsey to her husband, and murmurs greetings which might have been cribbed from a manual of conduct for noblewomen -- all her formality a little too studied, not yet her own nature.

The Seneschal's extremely, characteristically, so very Saint-Omer attempt to direct the Queen's own attention to him for a quiet little discussion of affairs of state does not escape the Count of Champagne - who is at once determined to thwart it. Sunnily indifferent to his imperial mother-in-law's veil of frost, he is at his feet with all the address - and about the grace - of the eager boy he in many ways, for all his size and strength, still is.

"Ma reine! Ma belle! Let's take a little walk closer to the sea," he proclaims, his large hand encircling her forearm's slender width. "I'd like to take a look at those silly little message-runners Uncle Richard keeps lagging in the warships' wake. They remind me of...of...fishing boats on my father's watercourses! Would that you could see them, ma belle," he ruminates, something like consciousness of possible sorrow reaching his solid baritone for the first time, "or him. He was a good man." Henry has climbed far, but he knows his likelihood of his dear wife seeing his beloved county is as remote as her meeting his dead father in this life.

Geoffrey turns his head as he overhears Maria's remark, just in time to catch her gaze as it passes him. "Not all of them," he replies with the hint of a smirk, inclining his head to Balian's wife, yet the smile appears to be slightly forced. "Where is you dear husband, Dowager Queen? Does his health not permit him to attend this... important occasion? How very sad indeed."

At Renaud's words of culled courtesy Beatrice turns around. At the first moment slight amusement flickers in her mien, as her eyes cling to the cap and slowly wander down on his silky attire but quickly they acquiesce to a more gallant behaviour and meet the nobleman's gaze. "My lord Renaud.", she answers "Yes. After all the city wishes it's fare-well and won't keep them anymore. One could hope that the sea isn't willing to keep them. We should pray for their journey to make that trembling fear go away soon."

Geoffrey de Lusignan's words let the Countesse's mien turn into an icy stare. Stiffened she soaks in a breath of air. "You do not remember me, my lord Count? Well I heard you spend enough time drinking, but I did not expect it has already damaged your head that much. Poor man.", she answers lightly, walking an inch closer to Maria. With a quick nod she responds to her. "Maybe this is indeed not a time for fear."

"Hold still." A low voice purrs into the ear of Tristan of Fontaineaux; a feminine arm slips through his, though his tabard proclaims him a Knight of the Hospital, sworn to celibacy; and a clean white cloth dabs with careful precision at the trail of perspiration which has lately progressed down his cheek.

Smiling up at him is a small but luxuriously curved young woman, no more than eighteen years of age, with a faint dusky bloom upon her fine skin and an insouciant friendliness in her wide brown eyes. Her gown is too simple in cut, her veil too meagre in its folds to mark her as a noblewoman, but they are of the finest pale blue linen, and the gems in her earrings might well be rubies -- they twinkle slightly in the sunlight as, leaning her head back slightly further, she pronounces, "Much better! You are not accustomed to our fine weather, I think, sir knight?"

"Where did you hear that. Countess?" Geoffrey replies to Beatrice, clearly enjoying this teasing conversation. "At least we Lusignans can afford our wine." He chuckles before he turns his attention back onto the departing fleet.

"Even lions don't much like wet paws," the fox of Beaufort observes with silken humour, but now the time comes to swap the maiden Countess for his own Lady, and he acknowledges his little flesh-of-his-flesh - one of many helpmeets, perhaps, as all Acre knows, but solitary and singular before Our Lord - with an equally grave bow and an expression that skirts upon nobility and seriousness. "My own beloved. Are you reading your Virgil?" he asks, avuncular in his concern, "and," with more of the gallant esprit of a lover, "indeed, your Ovid? Perhaps we shall read other tongues together soon, my dear. You shall find the beauty of the sura! The ghazal! And...more yet."

The Hospitaller knight lowers his gaze to the young beauty before him and obeys, the rather unmoving facial expression from before exchanged with a smile - clearly not a smile of celibacy - as his gaze lingers for a moment on those comely curves while she removes the sweat from his face. "Not accustomed to the weather - and women of such fair beauty." he replies with surprising ease in his voice.

The Grand Master of the Temple is having an excellent morning, in his quiet way. "Shocking order, the 'spitallers have shown for King Richard," he remarks loudly and with great satisfaction in the direction - at some distance, in a carrying field voice - to Geoffrey of Lusignan. "Not one decent officer there, and isn't one of 'em carryin' on with some Grecian whuir? Disgraceful, I say. After practically losing us Arsuf," the greatest battlefield victory of the late war, "you'd think Garnier'd put up at least the attempt at recompense, eh!"

Jewels softly glimmering, as though the scales of a reptile which prefers shade to sun, Maria Comnena assaults Geoffrey de Lusignan with the stare of an imperial basilisk. "My husband," she says slowly, "has duties to the realm, of far greater moment than the merely ceremonial. Perhaps if you yourself were a man who is entrusted with matters of state, you would find it less incredible that he is not squandering two or three hours in staring at the horizon and contemplating the inevitable with the rest of us. But then -- who calls upon your time, my lord of Lusignan? Your tailor? Your bootmaker?"

The Queen's expression at the hemming and hawing of her Seneschal - so coarse! - could not quite be called a frown, but it is certainly nothing compared to the radiant expression that lights her face when she hears her husband's voice interject. The content of the words is far less important than that he has spoken at all, and she gives the Seneschal a look that might be intended to be apologetic, if the person giving it had ever never had occasion to actually apologize for anything. Which, of course, she hasn't.

"Yes, husband," she replies, standing and brushing a hand across her skirts, "I wish that I might see them, as well, but sometimes I almost believe that I have, for your descriptions of your homeland are so picturesque." She places one hand over his, her gaze flitting momentarily over the rest of those assembled before returning to the face of the one who overshadows them all.

Not quite as good-humoured as the Lusignan Beatrice throws another fierce glare at him. Poorly surpressed ire seems to have completely caught her attention, as she barely notices the Grenier's last addition to their conversation. Satisfied she listens to Maria's words, approving them with another flicker of a smile. In the end she cannot forbear to shoot an other dagger with her own response. "Gold won't help you, when maggots eat your tongue, Lusignan," she says calmly.

The dusky maiden (let's be kind) tucks her handkerchief into the bosom of her gown and, in the conclusion of the same motion, twitches the folds of her veil to bring about the coincidental exposure of her beautiful throat. She is clearly enjoying Tristan's compliment, more for the lips which uttered it than the words themselves; he may be missing half an ear, but that's the sort of thing that gives a fellow character, and his lips *do* look as though they might be nice enough to kiss... "You'll find we improve upon further acquaintance," she predicts teasingly -- and then unhooks her arm from his and disappears!

His smile broadens as Tristan's eyes watch where the beauty hides that handkerchief of hers. "Of that I am sure..." he replies almost dreamily - to find her suddenly gone. Turning his scarred face here and there he tries to catch a glimpse of her, until his gaze returns to that departing fleet and stays there. As does the wry grin on his face. She might be gone but certainly not gone for long. If he read that smile of hers correctly.

Geoffrey shoots a glance over to the Hospitallers but can't really discern anything in that throng of sombre black tabards. And so he leaves it at a light chuckle and a nod. "Arsuf, yes. That was a huge blunder of the Hospitallers..."

Now getting the full attention of the Dowager Queen might be an honour only few ever experience. Her anger or even displeasure should be met with friendly cautiousness. And so he replies with all due politeness: "I understand very well, Dowager Queen. I was merely voicing my regret that he couldn't join us here. And besides, I have offices of my own to attend to. But when a Lionheart leaves, now that is something that I wouldn't have wanted to miss." Beatrice's remark however has him chuckle again with a hint of arrogance. "Oh dear, Countess. Blunt insults is all you are capable of? Some lessons in rethorics would have helped you - you should go and persue them. To make conversations with you... less tiring."

The Seneschal looks piqued enough at the Queen's near-snub... before his friend and confederate the Chancellor, too, taps his arm in mute apology before floating off from his side...towards the Courtenay 'Countess'. "We are all maggots and worms before the Lord's radiance, my lady of Petra," he reminds Beatrice sententiously, "and not a tongue wags that e'er shall be gold or silver, unless prudence preserve its quietness until it be ready for paradise."

His little homily completed and (he fondly imagines) concord between two great Houses restored, Joscius glides on into the sight of the many, hovering before the dais and amongst the crowds, his crozier uplifted and his small, sprightly form erect. "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and of Our Lady the Virgin, whose tears bring balm to furious oceans, let us all give thanks for the King of England's coming - which restored to us our freedom from the heathen, and brought us goodly rulership." Whether Joscius would have been so firm on the subject of this regime's goodliness before he was made Chancellor passes as a moot point in such an appropriate speech. "And let our gratitude commingle with God's grace, to bless the brave King with a safe passing."

Not for many long years will such good intentions bring down such nemesis. But in any case, the light of noon having now swallowed up the last of the Anglo-Angevin fleet - and it's time to repair to the feast.

The royal progress through the city, along the waterfront and up old King Baldwin's Highway, is not without its snarls and pitfalls despite the route being pre-emptively lined with soldiers and palace guards; a Turkish peddlar's donkey makes a desperate bid for freedom, halts the procession, and takes a bite out of Maria Comnena's train where it is hanging below the curtains of her litter.

For this unwarranted, unprovoked, and cold-blooded attack it is condemned to death, the sentence carried out by two of her men in a back street off the highway, whilst the royal party and their courtiers reorganise themselves and plod onward. Most of them are on horseback, the Queen and the Count of Champagne riding beneath the blue and gold canopy which was fixed over their heads at the harbour. It performs still the same duty though now it is now borne aloft upon four long poles by a quartet of serving men matched in their colossal height.

In the palace courtyard they are welcomed by a regiment of servants, many of whom were present at the Kings' Haven and rushed on ahead to do their part in the preparations for the feast. The court hands over the reins of its horses, washes its hands in delicately scented water, and talks mostly about donkeys.

Most of the high nobility earlier to be found at Kings' Haven have now been crowded into the same banqueting hall, an occidental extension of the royal palace where the Emir of Acre once kept state. Only the Templars, whose Master leads them in a feast back in their own Keep, are, on the whole, missing from this array; the Hospitallers have, accordingly, shown up in greater force, Garnier de Nablus making good his earlier, conspicuous failure to attend King Richard's send-off; a tall, lean old warrior with dreamy, rheumy eyes and one leg. The Constable and his men also remain wedded to duty not pleasure, somewhere out there, scanning the dunes. Everyone else is present, Queen Isabella and Count Henry right down to a troupe of fools, mummers, jugglers and oddities masterminded by the court's favourite new dwarf, Scarlet.

A more than passing fair spread is also, of course, in attendance. The first dishes being wafted in are theoretically the light ones; arrays of shell fish in gilded armour; small game birds with mechanics that let them still seem to sing; pale wine from the Rhine and of course, the host's own County...

At one end of the high table Renaud Grenier and his child bride have resumed their earlier conversation about the books he has helpfully introduced into her schoolroom; "Yes, I read that chapter," she says, and then bites into her plump pink lower lip. "But I didn't know what it meant, and when I showed it to Mother she took the book away and locked it in her closet. She never tells me anything, you know."

"What a company, what a feast! Yes dance my tall companion's, eat and be merry", Scarlet the dwarf proclaims, throwing back his huge, lolling head, while slowly strutting through the crwod of mummers. "What a fresh wind blows through the city, now that half as much sighs, half as much farts share our sweet air. "To make sure this pleasure lasts long enough, I would neither try the lamb, nor that fancy minstrel over there. One is stuffed with onions, the other has last lost an essential part of the body.", he remarks with the r's seething over his tongue. He stops to gently pulling the sleeves of a strayed maid.

The dwarf's attire is made of vibrant, red silks to honour his name and, maybe more likely, to make it easier to spot him between the many guests. It is no difficult task to keep one's eyes on him, though, when he quickly jumps over to the high table. "My noble lord, connoiseur of wine and host of the most remarkable events - it is good to have you finally here with us in the hall. Nobody has drunk to much yet, nobody has let a juicy secret slip out of his mouth, nobody even fell on the floor, while trying to catch me."

"Fontaineaux! The salt cellar," the Grand Master of the Hospital rasps genially at the knight he has chosen to attend him at the high board. Many, including the elder Fontaineaux brother, seem to disapprove of this young brother knight, but the Master - who remember's the fellow's...initiative at Arsuf and is eager to defend it - takes a stubbornly favourable view of his scarred and scandalous junior. Sir Garnier is retelling the story of that battle of the six hundredth and fifty sixth time. "Put it down there, just so, exactly. Well. Our cavalry were just there, arrows all bestudding every fetlock in the Order, and what does that Angevin maniac say?" A dramatic pause is interspersed with yawns, groans, and the odd prompt, before Garnier bellows, "He says, 'Hold'!"

The antics of the devilish donkey do not, of course, go unnoticed by the daughter of its victim; Isabella leans in toward her new husband and whispers something in his ear, then draws back as their mounts carry them onward toward what promises to be a much more interesting affair than the actual event for which it is being held.

Once dismounted, washed, and seated in her place at the high table, Isabella surveys the crowded hall with vague interest, before turning back to Henry and laying a hand on his arm. She begins to speak, but as soon as she does so, she is interrupted by the appearance of Scarlet. She lets out an infectious laugh at the droll creature, her eyes twinkling as she says, "I do hope we may at least see that before the evening's end."

Smirking a little as he puts the salt cellar down in front of his Grand Master, Tristan breaks out into laughter at his account. In his right hand already a half drained cup of wine, he is about to help himself to one of those game birds - whilst keeping his eyes open for another. "And then?" he inquires, his brows raised. "What happened then, Grand Master?" The sparkle in his grey-blue eyes giving away that he already knows the answer, as he himself had been there of course, but leaving the story for Garnier to finish.

"Shame your mother offed that poor thing," Count Henry interposes, his complaint jovial enough but somewhat sincere; he has the Champagne countryman's instinctive fondness for even beasts of burden. "I'd rather see Scarlet here tame it than find it swimming in tomorrow's spiced up, foreign stew!" His criticism of the 'foreign' aspects of his new life is quite belied by the almost incredulous tenderness with which he continues to visually - and to physically, of course - caress his wife.

After having bowed her head humbly enough at the Beatrice's way back to the Royal palace has been a rather quiet ride. The smell of roasted dishes and the merry sound of music seems to lighten her mood soon enough - with the fact that someone seems to have proved enough wisdom to keep a save distance between her seat and that of Geoffrey de Lusignan.

Washing her hands in a bowl of water handed by a page, she smiles mildly at the dwarf's jests but soon seems to be more caught by the bits of conversation straying over from the Greniers. " Oh? What were the words of said chapter, my lady?" Beatrice asks in open interest.

"The tale of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, my lady," Renaud of Sidon interposes with a smoothness that hardly seems hurried at all, "a sere and sober moral allegory, first written in the Corinthian dialect by Musaeus himself! If we are to believe that old coprophagophilic Michael Psellus, anyway," he concludes with a learned stroke of his surprisingly ungrizzled, delicately, florally scented beard.

The Old Fox's young vixen obligingly begins to reconstruct, from memory, a Latin phrase more elegant in the original than in her rendition -- but falls silent at her husband's voice, a habit of which time and custom have not yet broken her. "Cop..." she murmurs, then shakes her head of tremendously pretty long golden hair, threaded with red by nature and with tiny white flowers by her maid.

The Queen Dowager has understandably been absent from the company for the span of time necessary to return to her palace in St Michael's Height and change into something which hasn't been nibbled by any livestock.

She appears at last in a flowing gown of purple silk, a different set of necklaces and bracelets chosen to compliment it, and a veil sewn from a single vast length of cloth of gold, beneath which (though she must be verging upon forty) her hair is as sleekly black as her eldest daughter's. Her retinue has grown to include some half a dozen persons, all of them taller than she, who peel off to their appropriate places at the festal board or along the walls as she glides, with queenly assurance, to the high table. A chair is waiting for her -- at Henry's other side, but we all have our crosses to bear...

"Well, I obeyed, of course, though I could see it was a damn fool idea," Sir Garnier goes on rather plaintively to an audience of Tristan, the Bishop of Acre (too deaf to realise how often he's heard this before), and, unaccountably and recently, one of the Queen Dowager's beautiful Greek attendant ladies. "Not that I might not, you understand, have spread *some* word down the line...put the knife there, Fointaineaux, just like that, quite...that our Order owed no allegiance to any bloody devil's son of an Angevin...anyway, *some* of the boys...brothers, that is to say...seemed to catch my drift...that is, they acted alone, of course..."

"If you grant me a cup of that silvery wine, I'll hurry to make sure your task is fulfilled." Scarlet answers Isabella with a droll bow. "And I swear you by holy saint Baucis, that I won't stop until I'm as inebriated as possible."

"Taming beasts, my noble lord? While swimming in stew 'tis easy, yes, even if those foreign habits of preparing food are a crucial, savage thing. In any way though, I think, she should treat her servants a bit more gently.", Scarlet says before turning his head. With a smooth grin he greets Maria with a "Your highest Hignesses", adding an other of his droll bows and an especially deep one at that.

"That would have made for a much more amusing spectacle," Isabella agrees, "but of course, my lady mother must make sure to nip any such treasonous actions in the bud." There's still that saucy twinkle in her eye, but her tone is as sober as a bishop (although that's not always saying much).

Almost as if on cue, the lady mother in question makes her appearance, and Isabella inclines her head to the Dowager Queen, gesturing for a cup of wine to be brought for the amusing little fellow in front of her. "Mother," she says, "I hope you are still able to enjoy the feast, despite its inauspicious beginning."

Tristan doesn't mind listening to this story over and over again, oblivious to the greek attendant lady as he is coincidentally turning his back to her at the moment. He chuckles as Garnier mispronounces his name, probably due to already having consumed quite a bit of the delicious wine, but is quick to add: "We wouldn't have, if you hadn't spurred your horse on, Grand Master. Well, my horse followed closely after yours, if I recall correctly. The Saracens' faces. I won't forget those, ha ha."

The frisson of distaste which always passes across Maria's features at the advent of Scarlet the Dwarf, or any of her son-in-law's other similarly-sized attendants, she doesn't bother to suppress; they are the only persons at court besides the occasional child upon whom she can truly look down, from her proud height of an inch and a half more than five feet, and she does indeed look down, without pausing or sparing a word.

"We have had worse festivals than this, you and I," is her philosophical word to her daughter, recalling perhaps the night at Kerak when Isabella was wed to her first husband whilst Saracen mangonels pounded the castle walls, "and survived them."

Her maid Agrippina, this week's favourite, has been promoted from footstool to cupbearer, though these are the least of the duties rumour has her performing.

The fare is a lot solider by now, the wine flowing redder than Arsuf's or (whisper it) Hattin's fields, the viands piled so high that the ascetic little Archbishop Joscius either looks, or affects to look a little green. Count Henry, for his part, carves with enthusiasm, and is in the midst of directing the choicest morsels to his wife's literally plated plate when his ...dear... mother-in-law enters. He stands suddenly and briefly, the bloodied and gravied cleaving knife gleaming in his right hand. "My dear Lady of Caymont!" Hardly a form of address likely to endear him any more than the last one. "Come and join us! The boar's breast is here, and soon those hobbledehoy Syrians will be bringing the heart and brains, too. Puts the spirit right in you, I can tell you! However many verminous donkey's you've had to endure." Count Henry's cheekily broad grin implies he's well away of bein ghimself amongst that last category...

The Grand Master seems just a little irritated at his young brother knight's unmistakable imprication that he actively commanded the Order's disobedience. His lip curls as he perhaps reluctantly muses that Sir Hughes had a point about the boy's lack of subtlety. "At any rate. I think that's quite enough of this old song for one eve," he cuts himself short with surprising candour. "Fointaineux" - it's getting worse - "be off with you to the keep and tell the lads - brothers - to be ready for inspection by the angelus."

Hearing Garnier's words - and another new variant of his family name - the Hospitaller knight rises with a look of regret to do his Grand Master's bidding. Tristan's perspiration is back to normal and as he walks through the halls towards the exit he takes his time, enjoying the refreshing coolness that is being emitted by the walls of the Palace. His steps slightly unsteady - yes, he has already has his share of wine, too - he pauses for a moment as he notices a movement from the corner of his eye.

Here, in the palace of all places, virtually at Tristan's own elbow, and nibbling at the leg of a chicken with far greater daintiness than anyone ought to be able to command in such an act, is the dusky beauty of the waterfront and the handkerchief. She smirks slightly as she sees him seeing her, then reapplies her rather good teeth to the fortunate chicken...

Noticing her at last, Tristan cannot help but stare at her for a short moment, watching her teeth taking a bite of the chicken. Until his gaze flits back to his Grand Master who gestures for him to move off, and he obeys with a deep sigh of regret, offering the dusky beauty a nod and a smile before he disappears through the doors that lead outside.

Beatrice tilts her head and furrows her brows at Renauds last words "Salmaci, vel iaculum vel pictas sume phraretas, et tua cum duris venatibus otia misce! ", she quotes one of the less distinct verses with a bit of a lowered voice "I seem to know a different version. But in any way, yes, yes, what a sere, sere moral allegory.", she ends with a light smirk.

Busily she collects a few especially tasty morsels on a small plate. Waving at a young servants boy she grants him a sweet smile ordering. "Boy, come over. Here, make sure this reaches my sister in her chambers immediatly. She is not feeling well today, she might not want all of it - you shall have the leftovers if you don't nibble on it on the way up. ... and bring back the plate.", she adds after a bit of hesitance over the silvery thing.

The Count of Champagne frowns down the high table in the general direction of his elder ward. "Is she speaking Armenian again? Odd girl."

The Dowager Queen's statement is met by a nod from her daughter, though Isabella says nothing, instead placing a morsel of the dish Henry so generously names "boar" between her lips. She's content, at the moment, to watch the exchange between her husband and her mother, which promises, no doubt, to be as entertaining as anything Scarlet had actually planned for the evening.

Donkeys to the left of her, dwarves to the right -- Maria rolls her eyes to Heaven as though in fond remembrance of the days of mangonels, and snaps, "Don't point that at me, young man." Referring, obviously, to the knife in his hand...

As the conversation seems to wander, the dwarf does at well, openly yawning about the lack of scandals appearing at this evening. Strutting down the table he grabs the cup of wine out of the hand of one of Count Henry's man, whose protest fades away even before the dwarf has emptied it.

Waddling his legs he stands indecisively next to a window, looking ponderously outside. Only a glimpse later her continues his walk until he stops at one of the many maids giggling, blushing and doing what they are expected to at feasts like this. Sneaking next to her he speaks with a deepened, gallant voice "Ah, pretty one, would you grant me a dance?"

The maid's giggles cease in a trice when she is accosted by the very lowest of courtiers -- her gaze swings unerringly round to her particular mistress, in a mixture of "Do you permit it?" and "Do I have to?" The nod she received sparks a nod for Scarlet too as, with very visible misgivings, she grants him her hand, and an obliging lutanist begins to strum a tune...

The lord of Beaufort has for some minutes been examining his unblemished, exquisite little wife with a curious expression... intense, yet almost... suspicious, as if analysing some potential within her even he cannot exactly articulate. The Countess of Edessa's erudition, on the other hand, earns her a startled glance and a rather grudging smile through the fox's whiskers and beard. Then Renaud snaps right back to attending his lady. "That's enough tedious chatter about your lessons, my sugared sweetmeat. We're here to celebrate, aren't we?" He turns aside back to Beatrice for just a split-second, as if bitterly, implicitly, and very swiftly ask - to celebrate what? Then he is all smiles and gallantry to his wife again, "Wouldn't you like a feast-day present?"

The fair Lady of Beaufort and Sidon blossoms at the hint of a PRESENT; she forgets all about long words and Latin tags she doesn't quite comprehend, and the assorted small crustaceans she has been eating, and probably even where she is and who might be watching her. "Oh! Yes, I should like that above all things," she answers, with the joyous greed of the young. A smooth little hand reaches out as though to rifle through her husband's pockets...

The words of Count Henry and the silence of the Lord of Beaufort bring a puzzled blink into Beatrice's eyes which lingers as the honey coated speech continues to dripple towards the fair other girl so close to her age. She decides to lent her attention to a bit of almond-paste for the next moment, before finally standing up and walking a few paces over to Maria.

A curtsy precedes her next words "Your Highness... about that conversation we shared with Geoffrey de Lusignan..."

"Oh what a tall honour for a small man!", Scarlet exclaims already grabbing the girls hand closely. Purposeful he climbs a chair, then the table without letting go of her. "Come, come, let them all see how merrily we'll dance, pretty one!", kicking a cup out of his way right in the lap of an old, stouty man.

Renaud's smile quite rearranges the dark strands of his beard, and also reveals four or five teeth of solid gold - perhaps a hint as to the forthcoming gift? Then he leans back in his mahogany chair with a contented sigh, and beckons a triad of Grenier retainers, till just now in the background, forward. They are tough specimens all, these three, as unsavoury as routiers, but with a more exotic tinge - one is probably an Armenian, the others experienced Syrian Turcopoles, none of Frankish, let alone noble, heritage. Lord Renaud gives his knot of serving-men a simple enough command - in Arabic - and they lay a small treasure chest down before her trencher.

The tall half-Greek beauty standing solicitously behind Maria has filled her cup twice already with Rhenish wine, blurring her senses in a manner essential if she is to spend an evening cheek by jowl with her son-in-law and offer him no more than periodic veiled barbs. But Lusignans are always fair game; in answer to Beatrice's sally, she drawls, "Conversation? How perilously low must be set the bar of discourse in your schoolroom, my little lady of Petra, if you call a few words bandied with that parasitical fop a conversation..."

Scarlet's captive maid casts another glance at her mistress, beseeching her -- but sometimes ladies like a very broad joke too, and she is waved onward and upward to glory and humiliation. She is blushing rather, and wishing she'd listened to her mother's advice.

A soft smile accompanied by a sweet smile of satisfaction on this subject again sneaks upon the edges of Beatrice's lips. "Oh even if his aren't always, I try to keep my own words quite courteous. But I must admit, if it comes to this certain offspring of that ...family, I cannot always keep my tongue in it's reigns. Sometimes I wonder if their birth is enough to give them the right to sit with us, share our food. You heard his insults..." she adds, subtly avoiding to mention her own.

The Count and the Queen have been having an increasingly hushed and exclusive colloquy, and now Henry rises unsteadily, looking half reeling from his own pleased blush. "Ah - my lords - ladies - my wife and I have decided...that is to say, ...we ought to tend to the well-being of the little princess Maria, alone, for a little. I name the Princess's namesake, your Queen Dowager, hostess in our absence! C'mon, ma Belle," and not for the first time, in his enthusiasm Henry practically carries the Queen bodily out of her own hall. The church frowns upon excessive physical love in marriage, and any in daylight. Surely the royal pair are only off to rock a cradle for a little...?

One of the few in the hall whose attention has not been arrested by Scarlet and his reluctant lady friend, is Helvis of Ibelin, feeling very much Helvis Grenier as she lifts the lid upon her present, and very glad to be so.

Her hands fasten first upon a bundle of colourful silk, which she leaps to her feet (a servant hastily drawing out her chair) to unfurl, revealing it to be a gown of green and gold in an unmistakably Saracen style. Her eyes sparkle; she praises its novelty and luxury in extravagant terms, in conjunction with the observation that she has the very cleverest and most thoughtful husband. She holds the gown up against herself and, frankly, sighs -- but then flings it into her maid's grasp in order to explore the further recesses of the chest, which is in itself a most handsome object. She finds... bracelets! Rings! A necklace as conspicuously valuable as anything to be seen round her royal mother's neck! She demands that her husband help her put it on, all of it, right now, right here. What is patience, what is decorum, when one has been given such presents?

The growl of the old man is not able to keep Scarlet and the maid from conquering the table. "Come on, my friends, something merry for me and my maiden fair!", he orders to the musicians in the back of the room. Willingly they do, what he asks them to.

As soon as the first few chords, rise a sudden movement comes into the small body of the dwarf. Swirling his small limbs he sweeps like a fierce wind over the plates filled with roasted meat and honeyed dates and the cups filled with the finest wine, tossing the girl in circles. Many a man stands up in annoyance, many a woman shrieks for sudden drips of wine spoil their attire. Only the crowd in the other corners of the room seems more than just slightly amused.

Two other quiet, sober, but not unimportant figures who have the will to resist watching only the dwarf's terpsichorean wooing are those two perennial colleagues, Archbishop Joscius, the Chancellor, and Sir Ralph de Saint-Omer, the Seneschal. Both, it seems, are more interested in the spectacle of the 'Lady of Sidon's' rich presents, and they exchange a curious look, especially as some of the more egg-like rubies emerge from the chest - as if they have had an identical thought, and tacitly agreed not to voice it immediately.

Normally a full and frank discussion of the Lusignan lineage would come as a welcome accompaniment to Maria's third cup of wine, but on this occasion Beatrice receives a short measure of her attention, for her daughters are both behaving like harlots and she's wondering where, with each of them, she went wrong. That lout from Champagne moves with such undue speed that is too late to call back Isabella and remind her of her duty; she settles for calling along the table to Helvis, very sharply, "Sit down and behave yourself, child. Renaud, remember you're the one who will have to live with her when she has been so spoiled."

A silent little sigh emerges Beatrice's throat as her attempts to elicit an inflamatory speech against the Lusignan's out of Maria seem to end unsuccessfully. Absently she watches the tumbling dwarf and the little turmoil that starts in his ambit.

As some of the guets around him seem to get seriously angry, her loyal guard, still with a leg of some roasted poultry in his hand approaches her. "Off we go, fair Countess sparrow. This is no place for you anymore. Grab yourself on of those delicious honey cakes and take it off to your chambers. ", he says decisively, having already collected chaperone and maid.

Rolling her eyes Beatrice more or less willingly obeys, snitching away one of said cakes, another for her sister. For an instance she glimpses around, checking of a greeting of farewell is necessary somewhere. Dipping a last vague curtsy she finally leaves the hall in the shadow of the protective guard.

"The green silk will suit your colouring, my lady," Renaud remarks merrily, "don't you think, my queen?" He turns to address Maria directly for the first time this occasion has flung them directly together; his tone combines faultless formal deference with a certain easy equality that reminds listeners these two have so long been co-conspirators in various combinations. "But your mother is right, my sweet lady - you would do better to try it all on out of the way of all this blood and gristle and muck, to keep it as lissom, as spotless as you are yourself. It will fit you so much more readily than some silly little Saracen girl with no mannars at all, won't it?" Did he just wink at the Queen Dowager? Surely not.

As suddenly as it has begun, as suddenly the Scarlet's dance ends. Letting go of her hands, he blows a dauntless kiss to the girl, leaves her all alone on the table, dives away under the fists of an angry man and disappears under the table. He is not to be found again till the evening.

Her mother's words dampen Helvis's spirits; then her husband's compliments revive her once more to smugness and self-satisfaction. She seems to have taken to heart the change in her circumstances which will soon make Renaud the only one to whom she must answer for her behaviour, and perhaps that is the thought in Maria's mind also as she turns away from the Greniers and directs some of her residual bad humour to the courtiers on her *other* side.

There are jellies and trifles enough to water the Dead Sea now, and the mood of the feast seems to be drowning within them. Garnier de Nablus falls asleep, his mouth strecthed fathomlessly open, until one of his preceptors comes to fetch him off to await the promised Angelus. Neither Queen nor Count returns, and it seems the Queen Dowager is too furious with too many of her remaining guests to supply the place of their good cheer. It is left to Archbishop Joscius to lead a final offertery prayer...and to the Seneschal to cast the Lord of Sidon a last, rather suspicious glimpse before sidling back to affairs of state, followed by a begroggied nobility. The hangover will last for a hundred years.

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