11921105 The Tourney on St Zachary's Day
|The Tourney on St Zachary's Day|
Clouds have been gathering over Acre this past week -- literal clouds, rather than the usual metaphorical kind -- and though they have not yet burst open and deluged the city with more rain than it has seen all summer long, it is regarded as the height of Western folly to get up a tourney beneath such mottled skies. But when the highest of Western fools, Henry, the Count of Champagne, Queen Isabella's own consort, declares that there shall be a tourney, what can any knight in the city do but hope not to get too terribly wet in gaining the royal favour?
The vast square outside the royal palace has been barred to the lower orders, and the buildings round it cleared out for the day: and at every approach pickets of royal guardsmen have been stationed, with orders not to let through anyone who seems unduly grubby. Stands have been erected at either side of the ground marked out for the tilting, and colourful canopies to shield the heads of the more fortunate spectators from what sun there is; the royal dais, in the middle, has directly behind it a pavilion of gaily striped red and yellow silk, from which a path lined with flowering shrubs in blue ceramic pots leads to a larger tent, open on one side, wherein food and drink has been laid on plentifully for the delectation of courtiers, knights, and such burgesses as are canny enough to wheedle their way into it. The repast has a subtle Hellenic flavour: the arrangements for today were made by the Queen Dowager and paid for from her private purse. It's said that her ladies wove the garlands of green leaves and golden flowers hung about the statue of St Demetrius: they couldn't move him for the day, as would have been more to their liking, so they settled for decorating him.
The Queen and Queen Dowager showed themselves on the dais little enough during the early part of the day, when any fellows who fancied themselves puissant warriors might step forward and test their mettle against the knights of Outremer; the Queen Dowager emerged from the pavilion for the melee, though, because she enjoys a good melee; and now that the mid-day heat has passed and the contests are to recommence, they have both come out, mother and daughter alike in splendour, to witness the final bouts between those knights who by luck or by skill passed through all their earlier adventures victorious...
A tourney in the Holy Land, an occasion a certain Lusignan wouldn't have wanted to miss. Few know of Geoffrey's past victories in tournaments back in his younger days in Aquitaine - he was one of the over 3000 knights of the 'Legendary Joust' at Lagny-sur-Marne in the year 1179, held in honour of the coronation of Philippe II of France. So here he is, standing beside his white steed and wearing the inevitable heavy tourney armour of plate and chain, which is partly concealed by a tabard in the white and blue of House Lusignan.
His helmet with the crest of a falcon is safely held under his arm and has nothing to do with his coat of arms - it has been chosen for reasons of style only -, while Geoffrey de Lusignan shakes his rich mahogany locks into shape. Brown eyes wander over the stands and a nod of greeting is given to his brother's creature, the Marshall of Jerusalem, Walter Durus. More respect is offered to the Queen of Jerusalem, as Geoffrey bows for her in a perfect courteous manner. Her mother, the Dowager Queen gets another bow, this one added with slightly less enthusiasm.
First in the field, with a peal of trumpets almost predictable enough to invite a monsoon for their hubris alone, is the Count of Champagne - young, bold, beautifully arrayed in his line's pale azure and argent, undefeated; and, it must be admitted, so far virtually untried; he has bested no riders of note save a Scottish templar of some repute, Sir Mordake Fitzduncan, who had, unkind rumour relayed, been ordered to forfeit the bout deliberately by his Grand Master.
Whatever the truth of that, the young Count looks sanguine, fierce, glad to be alive and ahorse - much bolstered by the cloth of gold kirtle that twirls round around his lance. The most royal looking of favours...
Among those in the noble pen but on the cheaper side is the young minstrel Raimon, who's been making a name for himself recently. As so often, he's surrounded by a bunch of minor noble ladies of different ages, giggling and chattering as they arrange to place bets on the contestants. "I have it on good authority.", Raimon assures them, "De Flobecq will win. And if he does, you owe me a kiss, fair lady.", he teases a young blonde, who blushes and giggles.
In the wake of both Queen Isabella and her mother follows a young innocent maiden, one of the ladies-in-waiting of the Royal Household. Her dark brown hair falls down over her back in a thick braid with a thread of gold worked into it. Ophelia d'Avesnes wears a sleeveless dress of carmesin colour with a tightly bound bodice and wide skirts. Little though is given away in regards to her curves, as a shirt of a light orange fabric is worn beneath, covering her décolleté and her slender arms. Looking slightly nervous as she casts glances here and there her left hand is busy fidgeting with the pendant of her necklace in the form of a cross. A few steps behind her follows a merry plump woman in her forties, wearing the tidy but plain attire of a woman of common birth. Ophelia's nurse Maryse beams in anticipation of the real spectacle that is about to commence, offering her lady an assuring nod as their eyes meet.
A figure of deeper dyed arrogance even than Queen Isabella's boisterous consort thunders in on a stallion of coal black, looking darker still within an extravagant caparison of practically imperial purple. He removes his helmet to receive the cheers of the multitude - which are forthcoming, certainly, but from a limited, dense part of the stands that may or may not have been motivated by direct lucre...and a more scattered following hoping to gain as much from bets. This is Bohemund le Maisne, of the Younger, second son of the Prince of Antioch, a doughty, not to say foolhardy champion of the lists and, like most scions of Hauteville, of gigantic stature. His hair is long and corn-yellow, and his glance is more overcast even than the day. At last his black helm descends, readied for action - as soon as possible, by his pereference.
Though the day is rather inauspicious, the lack of the famed Jerusalem sunshine does nothing to diminish the beauty of either the Queen or her mother; indeed, the resemblance between then is quite striking today, though the former wears a look of anticipation that could almost be called giddy, no doubt owing to a certain name in the lists today. She acknowledges Geoffrey's bow with a smile and an inclination of her head, though her eyes are quickly drawn to her Count, and her smile widens, taking on a decidedly different cast.
She manages to tear her eyes away, however, turning to the lovely lady-in-waiting. "Are there any knights in the lists with your favor?" she asks of Ophelia, her expression softening a bit, "I should like to know whose luck might rival my husband's today."
Among the knights waiting for their call is one particularly greasy specimen. His blonde hair and moustache and the harsh pronounciation of the usually elegant Langue d'Oeuil mark him as a man of German descent, his fat belly, his rosy cheeks and the cup of wine in his hand on the other hand indicate he is quite fond of food and drink. Especially the drink. The cup is once again empty and not for the first time today Volker vom Wiesengrund turns to gesture for a refill, the tight looking armour of plate-and-chain looking even tighter for a moment as he does so. Pale blue eyes search for someone in particular as he shouts with a remarkably loud voice: "Herrmann!"
The squire who appears with a wineskin after a few moments may not be the one the knight might have expected, he extends his hand with the empty cup nonetheless, grumbling with a voice still loud enough to penetrate the chatter of the masses: "Have you seen my squire? I vonder vere zis stupid lad is wandering about..." The lad giving the cup a refill seems in very good spirits though, fails at suppressing a wide grin, bows and runs off after finishing his task while Sir Volker stares after him, shaking his head in wonder. "Squires are not what zey used to be..." And still pondering this he lifts the cup to his lips, takes a deep gulp - and spits all of it out, spraying those standing in close proximity with the beverage. Something's definitely amiss here, as it makes the German fall back into his own barbaric tongue. "Verdammte Sarazenenscheiße! Was zur Hölle ist das? Pferdepisse?"
Among the knights is a huge redbearded man in rather ragged clothes and a banged-up breastplate. "Watch out, you clod!", Chlodric de Flobecq bellows at the spitting German as he can only just avoid being hit and shakes his fist at the other man.
Sir Walter Durus it is who orders the laws of battle this day, so he will not take the field; his nod back to the Lusignan Count of Ascalon gives away but little. Then he turns with equally professional dedication to set his single good eye upon Sir Ralph de Saint-Omer, the Seneschal, who stands formally in the Count of Champagne's place - and seems to be enjoying the fact, pink in the face as he gazes devotedly at both Queens, ...but yes, especially the younger one. When Sir Ralph catches Sir Walter's attention, though, he coughs and straightens.
Perhaps the Seneschal needn't have worried, for it seems Sir Walter was only politely drawing his attention to the appearance of another Saint-Omer, Ralph's long-absent brother. As Prince Bohemund and his train have come for Antioch, so Sir Odo de Saint-Omer and a few confederates (those now fallen) stand for Tripoli, the county of which Odo is Constable - Amalric de Lusignan's equivalent. He's a slight man on a beautiful grey courser, which he controls with notable elegance and panache.
Ophelia lowers herself into a curtsey as she finds herself addressed by Queen Isabella. "My queen, indeed I have not given my favour to anyone." Perhaps she hasn't been asked for one by any of the puissant knights? However, a little blush manages to give her pale cheeks a rosy colour. "And besides, how could I wish for someone to win who could possibly ride against your husband?" A shy smile is offered in Isabella's direction as she straightens again.
There's a curious commotion going on between a rider in a peculiarly outlandish looking harness, ornate, heavy, and...well, almost antique, even ancient? and some of the under-heralds of arms. This strange contestant - skilful enough, though, to have somehow got this far, apparently - is adamant that even the Count of Champagne, let alone these German vulgarians, ought to have given him place before them. His protest is couched in heavily accented Greek - but its content is alarming for anyone who overhears. "Is the name 'Comnenus' counted for nothing in these parts, in these days of dross?" he rages, drawing the asperityof Sir Walter Durus...and possibly the attention of one more exalted...
A laugh emits from Isabella at this most endearing (and perhaps, prudent) answer. "No doubt there were a few disappointed riders, in that case," she teases, clearly of the opinion that the lovely young woman would have had at least one request of the kind. She begins to say something else, but her attention is caught by the commotion on the field, and she draws in a sharp breath, somewhat more excited than apprehensive. After all, what good would the event be without some sort of hitch?
Happily, the Queen Dowager's footstool was not forgotten today. It is tucked neatly beneath her slippered feet as she sits, and her skirts of turquoise and gold figured Byzantine silk are arranged about it, by her fair and elegant maid Agrippina, who is relieved thus from the duty of sitting in its place. She has just been sent to bear a message to a lady in the stands, when she hears a voice raised in her own mother tongue, and a name which counts, as far as she is concerned, for everything. She wavers in her errand, looking first to the disputants, and then to her lady, to see whether-- but the Queen Dowager heard it too, most certainly, for even at a distance it is apparent that her sharp dark eyes are locked upon her haughty countryman, and her face has settled into the masklike rigidity which betokens her unwillingness to be observed in a response.
Sir Walter has been Marshal just about long enough to catch the Queen Dowager's mood in that incarnation. He strides over to the knot of disputants and separates them with efficiency and celerity. Nothing was seen or heard here, that's the way he'll tell it. Little breath is drawn before he mounts an under-herald's proffered steed and rides to stand beneath the statue of the Saint, from whence his attendant trumpeter cries out the instructions the marshal delivers - as to the disposition of the final octet of champions.
"Henry the Second, Count of Champagne shall face Robert, Lord of Zerdana, knight of Antioch! The lord Bohemund le Maisne of Poitiers, Hauteville and Antioch shall face Volker, ...knight of Allemania!"
(It seems the Frankish trumpeter stumbles over the Teutonic tongue.)
"The...Grecian cavalier...shall face Geoffrey, Count of Ascalon! And Odo, Constable of Tripoli shall face Chlodric,likewise of Allemania! Gentlemen all...TO ARMS!'
Chlodric spits "Alemannic? Nothing of the sort. Flemish and proud of it! For the Lion of Flanders!", he roars loudly and stretches a fist out, when he trots into the jousting area on his grey horse. "Come on, wimp, show me what you got!", he hollers towards Odo, before donning his helmet and accepting a lance.
The trumpeter appears to be undergoing a reprimand in quite strong terms from Sir Walter. His features are reddened with more than exertion as he adds, "First, by the Marshal's express desire, the Constable of Tripoli and Sir Chlodric! To the lists!"
Odo of St-Omer is well-loved by the crowd, for his fair appearance, his stylish technique, and his birth at the peak of the local nobility. Tripolitan or not, onlookers cheer as the young but seasoned Constable weaves his lance about as if it's a wand in a dancer's hand. Sometimes, though, solidity can count for more than style, and Odo's complex rhythms go awry, leaving him disgracefully shaking in his saddle. He apologises winningly to his admirers, but does not insist on a fight on the ground against the burly Fleming who has seized the hour, retiring with grace and speed!
Chlodric roars with delight when he sees the other man wobble and concede defeat. "The Lion of Flanders!", he yells proudly, raising his heavy lance skywards briefly before the gesture becomes too much even for him. Then he clip-clops off to await the next round later.
"A... Flemish knight?" Ophelia beams as she rises to get a better view of the lists. "What strange fate to see a knight of the Flemish here of all places. So far from home. My grandfather was a Walloon, my Queen." she adds with a smile that broadens a touch as she perceives the Flemish knight's victory.
"The Greekling and Ascalon," bellows Sir Walter, who has taken over the trumpet in a rather curter vein...
His white horse is of Spanish breed, it shows in its size and proud bearing that fits its rider all too well. The Lusignan accepts both lance and shield from a squire with a determined grasp before he urges his steed onwards to lower his lance in reverence before Queen Isabella. His brown eyes wander over the stands searching for a certain countess in vain, a slight disappointment showing on his face as he fails to spot her. Then his visor is lowered and his place in the list claimed with the grace befitting a Lusginan. Reigning in his slightly nervous horse, Geoffrey eyes the Grecian cavalier from afar with an arrogant chuckle before he lowers his lance and charges at him.
A head crowned with luxuriant strawberry-blonde hair pops out of the royal pavilion, on the off-side, in a slit between a red stripe and a yellow one: a captive weighing up her chances of escaping to where people might, just might, be having a little more fun than she has been allowed so far today. But her mother's creatures are many and various and all over the square; and so Helvis emerges from the tent through its proper opening, onto the dais, with what she fancies is a saintly and high-minded look on her pretty young face. The result is an air of indifference, with a hint of scorn about the lips -- and a greater resemblance to her mother (despite their notably dissimilar colouring) than she would be flattered to be told about.
Her husband being far too wrinkly and decrepit to enter the lists, Helvis has given out seven or eight favours elsewhere, on the assumption that he wouldn't mind -- though her mother was certainly frowning by the fourth one, well, the fourth one that she'd *seen* being given, it was actually the sixth, and that is why Helvis has been in the tent all day, forbidden to consort too closely with the bearers of her assorted handkerchiefs and spangled veils. Most of her hand-picked favourites have fallen long since, but -- she brightens -- there's the Lord of Zerdana, she'd never met him before this morning but he looks just like her favourite stained-glass window in the chapel at home, and his wife is far away in Antioch, so she thought he deserved someone cheering him on. There's supposed to be a boy, too, although she can't see him at present, a newly-knighted boy who isn't anybody in particular, whose nervousness when presented to the great Lady Helvis was so charming that she condescended to give him whatever she had in her pocket at the time, she can't quite recall what it was, but anyway on the strength of it he defeated, before luncheon, a man much bigger than he was, so he ought still to be here this afternoon...
Affecting not to see a pointed gesture from her mother, who happened -- who always just happens -- to be looking round at the very moment of her appearance, Helvis finds a place among the younger ladies who have gathered round Queen Isabella, curtseying slightly to her elder sister before she sits. "What did I miss?" she murmurs to the girl next to her.
The cataphract of Byzantium of old has an announcement to make first, though his accent may limit the breadth of its reception. "I fight in saddle and on foot, with lance, blade, boot, gauntlet! Only he who conquers all of such, may know my station - but my name..." After a frown from the Marshall, the Greek shrugs and spits before finishing menacingly, "is higher than that of Lusignan." The crowd has grown bored long since, and under-heralds hurry the gabby Greek to horse and to combat - leading, perhaps, to hors de combat...
"Was he?" the Queen replies to Ophelia, smoothing her skirts over her knees as she watches the clash of the first two knights, raising her voice so as to be heard over the cheers of the crowd. "Well, his countryman certainly acquitted himself well this round," as Chlodric is declared the winner. "I must admit, I am rather curious to see the next bout. The Greek is certainly formidable, though I have no doubt that he will not find an easy opponent in our lord of Lusigan." She waves a hand to the latter as he passes, then settles back to watch.
The arrival of her younger sister draws a smile, and she turns slightly, leaning forward once again, which has the side effect (purposeful or not) of blocking her from the view of her mother. "A Flemish knight won the first tilt," she replies, "though the nest one will surely be more exciting." Just then, it begins, and her eyes are drawn back to the action on the field.
The loud clang of the impact comes sooner than he might have expected. Yet, it is the Lusignan who remains ahorse, and the Greekling is pushed out of his saddle. Pulling the reins of his horse, Geoffrey turns and rides back to have a look at his opponent. "Higher than a Lusignan?" he inquires, removing his helmet to have a better view. A brow is raised in mockery as he studies the man lying there in the dirt. "You know, I clearly doubt that." And without dismounting to offer any help to the knight, the Lusignan bursts into laughter of the triumphant, arrogant and feeling-so-superior kind - and he rides off the lists to make way for the next pairing, leaving the Greekling behind in all of his disgrace.
The Greek had sworn, some in the crowd may recall, to fight on upon foot...but while his spirit is fierce, after Lusignan's ministrations his flesh is too weak. He cannot stand unaided, and it is Sir Walter he picks him up - frogmarching him off with a mailed hand over his mouth. Some of the guards to whom Sir Walter then passes the foreigner will later swear he was rasping the most bizarre, extraordinary, and perilous of claims whenever he got the sliver of a chance...
"Le Maisne of Antioch and the German sot," the long-suffering Marshal bellows when this irksome business has been settled...
It seems the German's agitation at that 'horse piss' incident has ceased, possibly due to the consumption of several regular cups of wine to wash the bad taste out of his mouth. He moves with a dreamlike stumble towards his horse, a particularly ugly beast of almost yellow colour, mounts it with some effort and succeeds with the third try. Safely in the saddle he reaches for the lance and his shield, lowers the visor of his plain helmet and urges his steed onwards to his end of the list. At least the horse seems to be sober enough. The lance is lowered to point towards his opponent, and with a impressively loud roar Volker vom Wiesengrund urges his steed to a gallop, a knight no more but a beast that has almost lost all traces of ever having been human.
Bohemund the Younger is yelling to a posse of his bought creatures that he eschewed the mid-day dinner board on purpose and is looking forward to devouring some Allemanic bacon. He looks like a Germanic giant himself, handsome, cruel and unsubtle. And large. His lance carries so many favours it could be a joke - some dark words suggest he prefers his squires anyway. And his stallion certainly looks cherished! He spurs it, lovingly, to full speed...
The shards blast about and the dust scatters...and the Antiochene-Norman-Poitevin princeling, to his evident and enormous surprise, finds himself STILL faced with an opponent. "I can take my bacon salted," he scoffs, but his scorn is likewise a little preserved in a hint of respect now. "Tread another measure with me, Teuton? Or perhaps you pity your sotted bone marrows and yield?"
Volker emits a loud grunt as he sees that neither he nor his opponent has been pushed out of the saddle. With a deafening roar he wheels his horse about for another pass. He spits a huge amount of saliva out to the side in a wordless reply to the Antiochian's taunt, throws the remains of his broken lance onto the ground to accept a fresh one from his shivering squire Herrmann. And then he urges his horse onward with both his spurs and his menacing growl.
The Prince of Antioch's second son is put in a foul temper by a second pass that shatters neither lance, but leaves him technically the looser, evidently discomposed in the saddle. He thus prepares for a third atteint with all the blood-hunger of his adventurous and unscrupulous forefathers. No one can see quite what happened, but after the culmination of this trinity of passes four frames, men and horses, appear to be smashed to the sands in varying degrees of agony. Has over-enthusiasm or viciousness caused this...horseplay...or foul play?
The crashes of the next two jousters are deafening, rendering speech from the stands difficult, though not many seem inclined to talk while the two are tilting. This seems to hold true for Isabella, the Dowager Queen, and their companions, especially for a lady-in-waiting or two who see their own scarves and handkerchiefs dangling form that ostentatiously adorned lance...that is soon broken in two by the challenger.
Isabella leans forward to watch as they come around again, though this is not the match that is of most interest to her; however, her eyes widen as the two competitors end up scuffling in the dirt, and she lets out a demure gasp, averting her eyes just enough to seem ladylike, though not enough to miss anything that might happen.
When the Greek fellow with the curious accoutrements was borne away, the Queen Dowager watched him go -- and a minute or two later sent Agrippina to fetch her another glass of sherbet, which it seemed to take the girl, normally such a quick and faithful servant, an unusually long time to find. Since then she has been following the matches rather quietly, with only a word or two to the ladies about her, whose average age is rather greater than Queen Isabella's companions and average excitement consequently rather lower. But they do all perk up a little when the princeling from Antioch, who can normally be relied upon to dispatch his opponents as though swatting flies, has such difficulty in obtaining a definite result...
Grunting in displeasure at his failed next attempt to unhorse the Antiochian, Volker turns and charges at his opponent with all his might, although a little more trickery would have served him better. He falls to the ground like a stone and lies there - still, unmoving and unconsious, or even worse. Oblivious that his opponent has been finally unhorsed as well.
"The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Stretchers!" that unflappable old mercenary Sir Walter Durus reacts to this potentionally lethal disaster. "And then the final pair of the first array...Count Henry and Lord Robert."
A shriek rings out from the direction of the ladies-in-waiting, and the one from whom it came, a young, dark, pretty little thing, claps a hand over her mouth as Volker does not rise, then buries her head in the shoulder of the woman sitting next to her, somewhat older and more used to such things at tournaments. The older woman pats her shoulder, clucking under her breath and muttering something about the dangers of jousting...though, markedly, does not look away, either.
The Seneschal beckons the Marshal over now, and they appear to be having a muttered exchange in rather desperate terms. The Queens and their ladies will probably be alone in overhearing that the two royal officers are wondering what on earth to do about THREE contestants in the next combat!
When it transpires that BOTH combatants are carried off the field, knocked senseless by wine and one another, the Queen Dowager, who could hardly have chosen her least favourite between them had *her* next drink depended upon it, clicks her tongue in diplomatic sympathy and declares, "What bad luck they are all having today. Isabella, my sweet, I hope your husband will treat us to a more polished display... though not, perhaps, such a spectacle."
Ophelia has watched the tilt between the German of little polished manners and the Antiochian with wide eyes, occasionally flinching at the animalic grunts and spitting of the former, the corners of her mouth turning downwards in light disgust. A sigh of relief escapes her when the tilt is finally over, although her merriment is slightly dampened by the possible death of one of the contestants. She does not shriek however, like that other lady-in-waiting and keeps her composure, her gaze dropping to her hands before her for a moment. The pendant of her necklace, the silver cross of her mother is surprisingly left in peace for now.
Next to enter the lists, opposite the Count of Champagne, is the Antiochene lord Robert of Zerdana, who has acquitted himself well but not splendidly so far this day. Indeed, that is his usual form -- throughout his life, as second son and then unexpected lord, he has done a goodly measure of honour to his ancestors, without troubling to exceed what is required by duty and custom. He has never done anything magnificent or even interesting (unless you count his first marriage, in which those who remember it consider he was not culpable).
A well-built fellow and dark, with a permanent shadow upon his jaw and unusually beautiful hands, he is more attractive to than attracted by women -- the bit of shimmering rose-hued silk tied round the tip of his lance will have furrowed the brows of those who know him as a dutiful husband (to his second wife) and dutiful parishioner (of the better-appointed Latin churches). Perhaps this is Robert's day to astonish. It wouldn't be before time.
But, squaring off against the Queen's own consort, he doesn't look eager. There's no way to come out of this well... or is there?
Etiquette and precedence - and simple drama - have obliged Count Henry to wait longer than pleases him, or his spirited bay destrier, to demonstrate his devotion to the Queen and his expertise in expressing it with - as it were - open arms. He looks fit to burst when courtesy and practicality demand that he restrain himself longer still, while the German knight and his own social equal Bohemund de Poitiers are picked up as gently as may be and borne off - not without loud moans from the still conscious Norman, whose pain seems in proportion to his size.
At last the Marshal gives the sign, and the Count surges forth with more relief than bellicosity. "I hope you fare more gently than your brave prince, my lord of Zerdana. I'm sure you're a far more puissant knight than I...but my queen's favour never fails. Defend yourself!"
The Queen's younger sister is fighting very hard against the urge to bounce up and down in her seat. She is assisted in this by the weight of her jewels -- she is wearing every single piece bestowed upon her by her lord, at the banquet after the Lionheart set sail, in front of simply *everyone* -- which reminds her that she is a married lady now and not a little girl. She does lean forward, though, at the rate of about an inch every minute or so, plus two inches whenever someone is unhorsed, until she catches sight of her mother on the far side of the dais and leans back again. This process repeats itself.
She has somehow missed the earlier announcement that one of 'her' knights is to joust against her sister's husband; when this becomes apparent, she turns to Isabella, laughing delightedly. "Now we shall have a real contest, my lady sister, between your beauty and mine!"
Now is the time that the Queen has been waiting for, and Isabella clasps her hands in her lap, from afar, the picture of regal bearing. Those who sit near her, however, might see that her knuckles are whiter than they might be on another occasion. "I am sure the tilt will satisfy, Mother," she says, though something in her voice gives away the knowledge that her new husband will have to do more than win a joust to fully satisfy the Dowager Queen.
Her eyes are bright with anticipation, and indeed, a hush falls over her ladies as they wait for the match...a hush that comes just as the queen's sister speaks. The voice carries perhaps more than it has any right to, causing many (and not just those closest) to turn their heads, and then begin to whisper to one another. The match has just become even more interesting, and Isabella bestows a somewhat condescending smile on Helvis as she says, "Yes, we shall see."
If jousting were warfare, the Count of Champagne would have just reconquered Jerusalem; if it were politics, he would undeniably be its King in name as well as effect; and the assembley roars as if both conditionals were firmly the case. True to his chivalrous reputation, too, and his tribute to his wife, Henry secures a victory that looks as gentle as it is effortless, sparing Zerdana's lord the yowlings of the Antiochene princelet he follows. Hardly later than he has situated Robert in the dust, he dismounts and offers him an open hand back up.
Geoffrey de Lusignan has dismounted to watch the spectacle for a bit from the side until he is called for his next tilt. His intent gaze is on the Count of Champagne as he appears in the lists. Seeing the Lord of Zerdana go down and Henry being victorious puts a genuine smile onto his face, and Geoffrey applauds to the Queen's consort and waves to him as the count passes him on his horse.
Alas, for the poor little Lady of Sidon. Her cavalier, having offered the Count of Champagne the courtesies due his station, thunders forward along the path marked out for him, only to continue the motion *without* his horse.
Lady Helvis's sigh of defeat rings out almost as loudly as her previous foolhardy challenge against the queen. "Oh, on the very first go..." She pouts a moment, shoulders wilting, then smiles at Isabella because that is what one is supposed to do when one loses. Even if one would quite like to go on pouting a bit longer. "Sister, you chose a wonderful champion. He does everything so well. I expect he'll defend your realm just as nicely as he defends your beauty."
The horses thunder toward each other, and Isabella's breath catches in her throat when the lances meet. As her champion unhorses his opponent so effortlessly and with such grace, though, she lets it out in a sigh. She turns to Helvis with a contented (one might almost say, smug) smile on her lips, but at her sister's gracious words, it softens, and she places a hand on Helvis' arm. "Thank you, sister," she replies, "for your kind words. I do believe you are right; in any case, that was excellently done. Even you must admit it, Mother," and here she glances toward the Dowager Queen, fully aware that Maria Comnena 'must' admit nothing, and probably won't, either, especially when it comes to the Count of Champagne.
The lord of Zerdana attempts to haul himself upright without reference to Henry's chivalrous hand -- but he is a whit too winded to manage. From his position upon the flagstones, he looks up at the Count of Champagne for the time it takes him to draw a breath and release it, then accepts the hand.
The Count of Champagne may be too wrapped up in acting the part of the perfect knight to notice a greeting from his vassal of Ascalon...but the Marshal of Jerusalem is not so unobservant, for all his single eyed state. Sir Walter has been conferring with the Seneschal Sir Ralph till this moment, but now detaches himself and sidles off to mutter a word in Count Geoffrey's ear.
"Yes, excellently done," Maria Comnena calls across the dais in answer to her elder daughter's praise of Henry's superior jousting. "If ever I need a mediocre middle-aged Antiochene nobody's ever heard of knocked off a horse, I shall most certainly call upon our dear lord of Champagne."
Do Geoffrey's eyes narrow a touch as he sees the Marshall of Jerusalem approaching? His nod of greeting it polite enough though, and he leans forward to perceive Walter Durus' whispered words of confidence with an unmoving face at first. A vehement shake of the head follows, but he continues to listen, his gaze following the Marshall's motioning towards the Palace and a little later towards the desert, his brown eyes widening slightly. His demeanour clouds a little, and his gaze darts to Henry then. And for a moment the Count of Ascalon stands there in indecisive silence. A nod then, and a little sigh. And Geoffrey de Lusignan mutters some orders to his squire and slowly moves away, towards the tents. With a light limp and one hand pressed against his side.
The Marshal's single eye is very bright as he turns away from the Count and lopes back to his central station beneath St. Demetrius. "The next affray left us with three champions," he cries, "a rare - but not unknown - situation! Prince Roupen of Armenia demanded a trio of warriors to fight before him bare chested with morning stars, some years back...but we shall not resort to any such contingency! The noble Count Geoffrey of Ascalon, smitten foully by the villain Greekling, has confessed a pressing need to retire. So we shall behold one final pair - the Count of Champagne against...the Lion of Flanders!" That sounds well, though Durus may or may not have forgotten Sir Chlodric's actual name.
As the two final contestants are announced, a certain noble maiden of Walloon descent rises suddenly and raises her voice - a bit hesitantly perhaps. "My Queen, I... Would you excuse me for a short moment?" And with a swift curtsey she moves downwards through the stands, followed by her nurse Maryse. By coincidence, perhaps, she happens to pass a certain knight of Flemish origin. Well, perhaps not so coincidental as she lowers herself into a curtsey before him. "Sir... Chlodric? I... have heard you are Flemish? I wonder... if you would like to wear my favour, Sir?" While keeping a safe distance towards him, her cheeks start to turn rosy again. "I am... My grandfather, Nicolas d'Avesnes, he came from Oisy, a Walloon. I thought, it would be appropriate, if..." Her tone now finally a bit shaky, Ophelia's voice fails her and trails off, while she unfastens a ribbon from her dress - red and orange - and offers it to him. Aware that she betrays her own words she had offered Queen Isabella just before. And after a final curtsey, she disappears into the throng of people, her nurse in tow.
The Queen Dowager has only been *seen* drinking sherbet; but it must be owned that she had four cups of wine in her pretty striped pavilion before coming out here to inspect the proceedings. She has by this time settled into a mood more playful than spiteful, and at the news that a Greek man, any Greek man, has trounced Geoffrey de Lusignan so thoroughly he has been obliged to withdraw from contention, thus removing his face from her field of vision *and* shortening the proceedings, she calls for wine, for everyone on the dais to drink to: "Seeing the back of the Lusignans!"
Chlodric, meanwhile, has been standing to one side, a sneer on his face throughout the matches as the other entrants emerge either victorious or defeated, though none of them seem to agitate him, not even the brutal bout that left the competitors incapacitated. When he hears the style given to him, he looks about ready to snort derisively, but on further consideration, it's actually not that bad, and he accepts it as his due, turning toward his horse.
Before he can do so, however, he's waylaid by the young woman who offers her favor so prettily. He blinks, and the startled look he gives her is almost comical; indeed, a few of the squires snicker to each other. Though not his own squire, who knows better.
He accepts the ribbon and begins to say something, but she's already turned again to leave, and so he refrains, though can't refrain from admiring the lovely picture she makes as she walks away, with a glint in his eye that isn't quite proper. With that, he turns, mounting his horse with renewed vigor, and accepts his lance, riding to take his place in the lists.
The Count of Champagne is on a fresh steed now, a tall, pale grey charger caparisoned not with the azure and Cretan knot or of Champagne - but the blazing white, crucifix-emblazoned insignia of the Kingdom itself. As he turns this fresh mount towards the final obstacle in the way of the day's perfection...a thought appears to penetrate his mail, a soft and touching thought. He turns aside and rides beneath the dais. "My lady and my love, I bare your favour with pride and assurance...but I would be sure of your, and now my, dear kin's affections too. My lady mother! My lady of Sidon! And my dear incomparable reine! Might each of you kiss this new lance?"
The gesture is almost too much for the Queen, and were she given to swooning, this might just push her over the edge. Since she isn't, she merely leans forward and touches her lips gently to the tip of his lance. There is nothing obviously improper about the gesture, or her movements, and those who are not in the immediate vicinity would see nothing amiss. But just before she rises, her eyes meet the Count's, and the look that he finds there throws a cast on the gesture that could be called many things, though 'innocent' would not be among them.
The Lady of Sidon and Beaufort Castle, *so* happy to be asked to do something that will make her mother cross but for which she cannot possibly be blamed -- she is already rehearsing it in her mind; "But, Mother, how could I refuse to do as Isabella did?" -- leaps up from where she has been sitting slightly behind her sister the queen, and thus slightly farther from the lance.
Beaming at Henry, she touches her peachy-pink lips to the tip of his weapon, with a genuine innocence which throws Isabella's imitation thereof into proper perspective. Then she curtseys to him, very deeply, and says, "You have always my most filial affection, my lord brother." Ah, how sorry the Lord of Sidon will be to have missed this...
The last and eldest and most dignified of the trio of ladies whose blessings the Count of Champagne has so charmingly beseeched, has yet to grant hers or deny it; but then the lance, which was presented naturally at Isabella's side of the dais to begin with, swings inexorably toward her through air suddenly grown quiet.
Since he spoke she has been sitting rigidly still, indicating neither by word nor glance her opinion of the proceedings. Now, however, that she has the breathless attention of the entire court -- she flicks her fathomless dark eyes in a quick downward glance, then looks up again into Henry's face.
"I fear, my son, you'll never get it up high enough." A pause. "You might try the dwarf."
The reference to the dwarf, whose flamboyant presence has been notably... latent today leads many searching eyes to skim the crowd. Fruitlessly, for most of them. A sharp shriek however gives evidence of his successful summoning, the appalled mien of one of Maria's lady-in-waitings the direction where those eyes should gather together to catch a glimpse of what's happening next.
Voluminous skirts come to live between the legs of the unsuspecting woman, they bend, they bulge, they come to life under her cry and finally give birth to Scarlet the dwarf, crawling out under the layers of cloth in an armor of painted wood. "To try me, your Grace? I mean, certainly I bear my charms, though every blushing seems a bit pale facing a man called 'Scarlet'," he calls in his foreign accent, attempting to dive back under the next pair of skirts.
Count Henry might have been unhorsed for the first time this day after all, judging by the expression of horror, dismay and humiliation which his dear mother-in-law manages to stamp briefly but inescapably into his wholesome features. The irruption of the dwarf breaks the tension and Henry chokes out a staccato bark of mirth; not so much at Scarlet, and certainly not at Queen Maria...but in anticipation, perhaps, of the wrath the Count will now turn upon the Fleming. This will be no courtly Zerdanan manouevre. Without another syllable, the Count turns his white horse and storms into the lists, headed for the Flemish Lion without salute or even, almost, heed...
When one of the ladies clustered close to her, the better to hang upon her every word, commences to shriek, Maria's head snaps around as fast as it can with those earrings attached. She observes Scarlet's emergence with mounting horror, trying to remember how many indiscreet remarks of hers he might have overheard if he's been hiding long in their midst, and in a sudden excess of irritation flings her empty cup directly at his head. It bounces harmlessly off the dwarf's painted armour; unsatisfied, Maria snaps, "Get that creature away from me!" and one of the guardsmen steps forward smartly to drag Scarlet off the dais by whichever bit of him he can get hold of...
The muffled 'thump' with wich the cup hits his armor brings a sudden movement into the dwarf, and intuitive jump away, which scarcely saves him from the purposeful pranks of the guard. Losing nothing but a stripe of cloth formerly fluttering around his arm he throws his huge head back, crying out triumphantly.
In the next moment Scarlet finds himself cornered by the walls of the stand, the hip and legs of the men-at-arms right in front of him. Mimicked panic flares in the black needlepoints of his eyes as he chances another jump to his right, a rush forward right in the direction of the skirts of the Queen Dowager herself.
The Count of Champagne rides on for a couple of hundred yards, as if utterly unaware of victory, single or plural, forgetful too of the pare stump of that queen-kissed lance, galloping with the visceral release of a man swimming or running to his limits. For the Fleming, he recks nothing for the moment, and so it is that once the knowledge of his feat comes upon him, it will already be stained with violence and regret. Stained, too, is the white caparison of the Kingdom's device, and the pale flanks of the charger; brown with dust, and mud, and, on a certain, blood...and pity of the saints, could those be brains...?
Her mother's reaction does not please the Queen; her face freezes in a regal mask, not entirely unlike the one her mother wore earlier. In fact, she looks very like Maria at this moment, though the appearance of Scarlet manages to diffuse the tension. That is, at least, until the Dowager flings the cup at the dwarf's head, bringing more than a few gasps from the ladies-in-waiting around them. Isabella looks at her mother, and then turns away, gesturing to one of her ladies. "Some water, I think, for us all."
She might have said more, but the sight of Henry thundering away on his horse stills her tongue, and her hands press against her thighs as she watches the competitors crash toward each other.
The favor Chlodric was given flaps from the end of his lance as he charges forward, more determined than before. However, he is no match for the Count of Champagne on a regular day, and certainly not this day. His lance doesn't even graze Henry, and he's knocked completely from his saddle, flying through the air for a few horrible seconds, before he crashes to the ground in a heap of unnaturally positioned limbs. After a few moments, a pool of red begins to seep out from underneath his body, and he does not stir again.
On the dais, the Queen is in no position to enjoy her champion's success, for at that moment, Scarlet flings himself headlong toward her mother. She lunges forward in an attempt to catch the little man by the arm (or leg, or some appendage, to prevent the disaster that is clearly imminent) but alas, too late...
Where Queen Isabella has failed in all her grace others have succeeded - one of the loyal guards shows some respectable alertness as he reaches out his wiry arm right in the right moment. In full speed Scarlet surges against the strong limp and is tossed back by the energy of his own movement. Another muffled 'clunk' is heard as his backside hits the ground.
Motionlessly the little man lies on the ground for an instance, but seems to have found back to his usual posture again as he raises a hand in a well performed sigh. "I have fought bravely but now I - must... retread", he exclaims with a cough before the hand sinks down again and his head falls to one side.
Quizzically the guard looks back and forth between the imp and the Queen Dowager.
Dulled by wine, distracted by blood, dismayed by her daughter, Maria Comnena doesn't see the ricocheting dwarf until he is almost upon her. It is too late to move. Too late to do anything but stare ahead in frank and freezing disgust -- and then to lift a hand to her bejeweled bosom when she is saved, at the last possible instant, from a far closer acquaintanceship with her son-in-law's valet than she has ever desired. "Agrippina...?" she murmurs, shutting her eyes.
This favoured retainer, a bastard half-Greek girl dressed plainly by comparison with the ladies present, yet somehow more noble in her bearing, is already marshaling a pair of guardsmen to pick up Scarlet by his arms and bear him away, with his legs dangling in the air, to a fate unknown but assuredly unpleasant. And then she sways gracefully downward into the place at her lady's feet lately occupied by a horizontal dwarf; gazes up at her, eyes alight with holy devotion; and begs to know if she is quite all right.
The Queen Dowager answers her in heavily sarcastic Greek.
The Marshal, who was looking rather bored during all that palaver with the favours - not exactly how hardened routiers such as Durus conducts themselves in war or peace - starts to enjoy himself rather more, with water, wine, blood and worse all flowing like milk and honey. The throng does not share his enthusiasm. A great groan goes up, for all Count Henry's prior popularity, as the Lion of Flanders goes down. The teaching of the Church condemns tourneys, and by such lights the Fleming is, it seems, bound to an immediate and eternal trial in the boiling blood river of Phlegethon. His conqueror must live on by the Mediterranean Sea instead, with mortal sin on his soul.
But for such scruples Sir Walter cares not a fig. "VICTORY TO THE COUNT OF CHAMPAGNE!" resounds his call of triumph, and a muted, largely bought cheer reechoes its cadences. Count Henry has had his fun and his glory, but at what cost to his eternal - and his earthly - name...?