11921218 Cunning Counts

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Cunning Counts
Date: December 18th in the year 1192
Location: Solar, Royal Palace
Participants: Henry of Champagne and Geoffrey de Lusignan
Related Logs: Hmm...
Content Warnings
Two notable noblemen of Outremer, playing the game of politics with sparkling finesse.
Room Description
In the scene set.

It's twilight on the eighteenth day of Advent, at the waning of the year; dark falls early now, even in the Holy Land. But the blue-black sky is threaded with a breeze of sweet, stifling warmth; as the lattice, Saracen style shutters of the solar are thrown open, this intimate atmosphere clings to every exposed limb and feature. The stars are occasional, bright and incipient. The wine is pale, chilled, and, rarest, Rhenish. For the Count of Champagne entertains one of the haughtiest and most Western of his tenants-in-chief, Geoffrey, Count of Ascalon.

As it is a meeting between two men who well know each other's instincts and persuasion, the fashionable oriental trappings of the court's grand state are dispensed with (no bloody turbans here) and the attendants relatively few and standing back at a discreet distance. The young Count Henry's face is at its most eager to charm, though his eyes cannot altogether suppress weariness. Rooms away, a mynah bird sings; closer at hand, a jongleur from Aquitaine, something merry but for now, quiet.

Sitting opposite the Count of Champagne is the Count of Ascalon, his face framed with impressive mahogany locks, he is wearing a more or less Western attire, albeit not the armour and tabard that is reserved for occasions of a more martial kind (last he wore it when the Lionheart departed for the shores of England). The corners of his mouth are twisted upwards in a smirk, which contradicts the slightly wary expression in his brown eyes. Geoffrey de Lusignan toys with the cup, before he raises it to take a sip. And finally some words are uttered, breaching an awkward moment of silence that has lingered in the room. A silence that has only been dispersed so far a little by the chirping of the bird's song, muffled through a number of walls. "My dear Count... Sire.", the Poitevin begins, flaring his nostrils in what appears to be an approving snort. "Quite a fine wine, I dare say, from the Rhine, possibly? How generous of you to share such a treasure as this with one such as me."

"It's not bad, is it," Henry smiles - one could almost say, smirks, were not his glances so soft and agreeable, and his brows so melancholy, enough to defray any charge of smugness. What he isn't, though, is particularly modest, and he neither bothers to correct Lusignan's exaggeratedly respectful address, nor even to hide the pleasure it induces in him. "I believe good times require good friends and good wine, Count Geoffrey. And after all, these are good times we are enjoying, in their way, however fleeting they might prove." For Henry's appearance is still more serious than is hs wont, and no surprise. His royal uncle and patron appears to have vanished off the face of the earth, while his guest's brother, the Constable Count Amalric, keeps from court amid rumours of contumely, quarrels, and disobedience.

"I share of my best wth you," Henry presses on, "because I would have us be as brothers, my lord count. I am fond of my own siblings, you know, though rather jealous of Theobald, who I made regent of fair Champagne, the lucky b...anyway," he veers off innocently, "I wondered, Count Geoffrey, who your favourite brother was?"

Looking a bit pleased that his way of address did not fail to flatter the Queen of Jerusalem's husband, Geoffrey leans back in his seat, the confident expression in his noble (some might even say 'haughty') features brightened up with a smirk that can easily keep up with that of Henry. "Brothers, eh? I'm feeling quite honoured you should think so. Sire." There. Again. The other count's question however, needs a moment of contemplation, and one or rather two sips from the Rhenish wine. "I... grew up with many brothers, my lord, it is rather difficult to say if there really is a favourite one..." Geoffrey sighs, shifting in his seat before he continues. "But I think it is only natural that I have always looked up to my elder brothers. Hugues and Amalric. Whereas my younger brothers... well here and there they needed my wisdom. My advice. To keep them from committing any blunders." Obviously, Guy, the former King of Jerusalem is among those younger brothers of his, although Geoffrey apparently tries to avoid criticizing this particular brother too openly by mentioning his name. Clearing his throat, the Lusignan raises his cup once again. "Nonetheless it's good to know one has family, Sire." And family in important political positions the confident spark in his eyes seems to add.

Henry straightens on the couch where he has been lolling, and nods slowly, his eyes thoughtful, even a little puzzled, and his mouth firmly set, till he cracks it in a slightly forced grin. "Yes, your father was near as famous for his quiverful of sons as for his crusading...and his rebellion against dear Uncle Richard," he recalls lightly. "Rebellion of which, if I'm not very much mistaken, you had a savour yourself, dear Count Geoffrey. But don't worry," he hastens to add, "I bear no grudge - after all, my other uncle of France was, I believe, in the habit of paying him to make trouble now and then. I only mean to assure you that I mean to be the sibling you will gain most by following, my lord. More than my colleague in Cyprus, and more than the renowned Constable, our Count of Jaffa. He has displeased me, my lord of Ascalon. But I am certain you shall not."

The jongleur is quite silent, and as Henry drains his cup, his swallow reverberates on that warm, sticky wind.

"Your dear uncle Richard chose to rebell as well when he was younger. Against his own father. And it was my family who supported him then." Geoffrey snorts now, a different snort than that from before, more like one of a disapproving kind. Although his displeasure seems to dissipate into forced amusement as he addds: "Only few have had the honour to have been banished from their lands by the Lionheart himself. And I count myself among them."

The next words by the Queen's consort make Geoffrey furrow his brows, although there is suddenly a slightly cunning gleam sneaking into his rather sceptical gaze. "You mean to become dearer to me than my own kin? Please do explain, my lord. And I am sorry to hear Amalric has displeased you." Little regret shows in those eyes though, but a most attentive and curious tension.

Count Henry flings his empty cup - a precious and fragil vessel of Venetian glass - to an esquire, who catches it smartly, and drums his fingers irritably on the couch beside him until it is retrned and brimming, this time with a dark and rich Burgundy. Meanwhile, he answers Geoffrey with langourous, affectedly bored enquiry. "Oh, was that the way of it? In truth, in my mother's Court of Love, we rarely followed too exactly the more violent vagaries of her kin. Though Richard was always a kind enough brother to her; they endite poems to each other still, whenever they can procure messengers." Henry speaks firmly of the Lionheart as one still alive, active, and preferably at hand. "My other uncle Philip was quite another story...one I'd be happy to tell you...but no, perhaps not this time..."

Mulling the new blood-dark vintage about, Henry smacks his lips, then proceeds, "It is a good joke, that...you share that honour with Saladin! And owe your fief, too, to that common bond. No wonder it pleases you...but though you have land and title, you lack as yet the honest employment, and rich preferment, of courtly office."

Henry plucks a fresh date from a nearby fruitbowl and chews it a while, before he concludes, "Would you like me to rectify that lack? Only speak, dear Count, and I shall."

While listening politely to Henry's account of his mother's and Richard's exchanging poems, Geoffrey coughs almost on the wine as he hears himself being compared to Saladin. Seemingly about to protest he falls silent before he gives a reply, his gaze wandering to the cup of Rhenish wine in a pensive stare. But when he raises it after a moment it seems to be wary and eager at the same time - eager to know more about Henry's proposition.

"My lord the Count. Sire. I... am sure my brother Amalric has fulfilled his office with utmost competence so far... I hope you do not plan to relieve him of it...?" Geoffrey inquires with a touch of nervousness, but another sip from the most tasteful wine from his cup, and he continues with more confidence. "However... Pray do continue. What courtly office are you thinking of, Sire? Can it be... the office of the Marshal of Jerusalem?" The Count of Ascalon leans forward and helps himself to a date as well, while his eyes never leave the Count of Champagne; eyes that glow with expectation as they study the young husband to the Queen of Jerusalem most eagerly. "What will you ask of me in turn, Sire? My support? My allies?"

The Count's ensuing laugh seems to through his previous caution, prickliness and fatigue aside; it is as merry and as fresh as he himself is. "Ah, so that's the way of it, my lord? So eager to fill sweet Sir Walter's mailed boots? But what can you have against the tough old cyclops, whom all the realm knows for your brother's man...? Surely not...some trivial matter of tourneys?"

Count Henry is young enough still to possess a shiningly white smile, despite his indulgence of various sweet delicacies, and it's now on full display. "Aye, I was told of that. You sacrificed honour - or the chance of honour - for preferment. You still lack any such advancement. I could understand you feeling that you were tricked, and so you were...but not by me, or my bidding. I would far rather have gained the renown of o'ertoppling a Lusignan than some unknown Fleming, the sudden darling of the unstable crowd. But Durus still acted in your best interests. He knew my mood was high, and with no certain word from your brother at that time, he was adamant that he should not risk the loss of //two// patrons of the blood of Lusignan! And so he deceived you, but benignly so."

The Count of Champagne rises and makes his way over to a high window, to bask in stale, warm air, but air all the same. His back is to his guest as he informs him, his voice colder again, "Your elder brother would have your younger one King in my place, still. His treasonable letters to this effect have been intercepted. What would you do in my place, my lord of Ascalon? And, indeed, more to the point, what shall you do in yours?"

Keeping his composure almost perfectly, when the Count confronts him with his theories about the current Marshal of Jerusalem, still little things in Geoffrey's expression and bearing show he has been caught off guard and is indeed baffled by Henry's clear view of the situation. And so he takes another sip from the Rhenish wine, perhaps to gain some time for a reply, which needs to be contemplated most carefully. "Ah, Sir Walter." he finally snorts. "Tis true. He //was// worried to lose more than one important mentor. And at the moment, I pitied him perhaps and concided to his suggestion. But, my lord the count, it was not my intention to rob you of your well-deserved victory. If you are so convinced that you can beat me with your lance -" a little smirk appears on the Lusignan's proud features, as he remembers some commotion that lance caused at the tourney with members of the royal household. - "Pray try me out anytime. With or without an audience. I rode at the Grand Tourney your father held at Lagny-sur-Marne, long ago. A splendid occasion." His brown eyes drift off into memories for a short moment, while the smirk turns into a more genuine smile.

But when Henry voices his displeasure at Geoffrey's elder brother, the count of Ascalon returns at once to the here and now. Offering the Count of Champagne a cold stare, he remarks with a dry chuckle: "Little do you know of Amalric's ambitions. And about what he thinks about our younger brother. You seem to fear them both, Sire. And rightfully so. But I haven't heard any suggestion of you yet that would win me over to choose your side - and to betray my own kin."

The time for wine seems to have passed for Outremer's king of shadows; Count Henry has left his bejewelled cup of crystal over on the low, gilded table. He turns, spry and stern, back from the window to face the Lusignan. "Bonnily challenged, my friend. I'm glad to hear you don't refuse all such adventures. Enough bones have been brast for now, I think, but a cool trial of skill would much please me on a less convivial occasion."

He makes an impatient, dismissive gesture as he steps closer to his guest. He's armed, while Geoffrey's sword has perforce been left in the charge of a royal esquire, but when his hands move to his waist it is only to unbuckle his swordbelt and cast it aside. "I speak of no treachery, Geoffrey de Lusignan," he retorts formally, "only the resolution of a needless squabble between Christian princes in a time when crisis never sleeps. Durus shall accept demotion to Butler of the Household, in punishment for his mistaken care for your safety over your, and my, honour. Your brother shall keep Jaffa, and in Jaffa for the nonce he may stay. The Marshalship shall be yours, and the charge of all the affairs of your line as regards property, rights and emoluments in Acre. I did say I would grant you your desire, and though I lack a king's crown, I speak with a king's word. What say you...?"

The denial of his challenge does not seem to bother the Lusignan overly much, and he reacts to it with little more than a light shrug. "Anytime you like, Sire." And there, it is back again, the flattering address. When Henry approaches him and reaches for his sword belt, Geoffrey's eyes do indeed widen a touch. But only momentarily. As the count explains his plans for Walter Durus, the Lusignan's gaze flits downward to conceal any of his emotions, alas, that smile broadening into a wide grin can not hide the fact, that he is pleased at the prospect. Still. He listens in silence until the Queen's consort has finished, before he gives his reply.

"You say Amalric is to stay at Jaffa. But he'll keep his titles. He will stay the Constable of Jerusalem." the Count of Ascalon muses carefully, hesitating for another moment. But then he shrugs and beams at Henry, exclaiming: "For the love of God, I would be a fool not to accept. You have my deepest support, Sire." - he offers an exaggerated bow - "And I'll accept the Marshalship. Gladly. Hah. And... if the situation should demand it, I could even offer you insight into the way my brothers think. I should know them as the close relative that I am. I toast to you, my count. With all the deference you deserve. And as your newest ally."

Henry of Champagne is obviously pleased too, even to point of suppressing a chortle, as he drifts back to his seat - and raises that exquisite crystal cup to meet Geoffrey's toast. But one of the Count of Ascalon's remarks means he can keep his reserve no longer, and laughs aloud again.

"Ah, my lord, Durus is a lowborn hound, but a keen one, and he did not lie when he told me you were a deal sharper than my brother of Cyprus, and the equal of your celebrated brother, the former Constable Amalric. For indeed, I said that he would retain Jaffa for the present time - and no more than that. At this Christmas court next, Queen Isabella shall name Durus as Butler, her wellbeloved lord of Ascalon Marshal; and as her Constable, she will appoint, for the present emergency, her loving lord Henry the Second, Count of Champagne. Of course, the king cannot be his own constable. Fortunately, as we all know, I am not a king. Is that settled?"

Henry drinks deep - then extends his fragile glass for a clink of final decision and celebration.

The smirk on his face and the content gleam in his brown eyes seem to grow even more as Geoffrey hears Henry's taunts of the despised Walter Durus. He chuckles, takes another sip from the Rhenish wine, obviously enjoying the picture of what will happen at the Christmas Court that the Queen's consort paints. But then he falls silent, eyes widening as if he were not believing his own ears.

He stares at Henry for a long moment, as if pondering whether the young and pleasant man really means what he has just said. And then, finally, he breaks the silence. With a fit of laughter. "Brilliant, Sire! Absolutely brilliant. I agree, and I... well I am impressed. Although that won't please Amalric at all. He'll be so furious..." The rest of his words are unintelligible as they are drowned in another fit of laughter.

"Wait, I have another bottle to celebrate with," Henry exclaims, now positively quivering with joviality. "It sparkles as bright as a willing maiden's eye. The fairest fruit of my own sweet country of Champagne..."

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