THE HOLLOW CROWN: ELOQUENCE Written by Diane N. Tran
Act I: "Oft the Best-Laid Plans Run Astray"
- To the Hiddles, the standard to which all other men should be ideally measured. I shall undoubtedly walk this earth forever alone due to the unreachable expectations you have placed for the men in my life. (And to Tumblr, keep on Tomblin'!)
For six months, six long months, Harry Plantagenet, King of England, sat with advisors and monarchs up to his ears in the Great Hall of the French royal court at Troyes, labouring tirelessly o'er each individual scribbling of the treatise, sheets and sheets of words atop of words, till his eyes would cross, but 'twas necessary if France was to be all his and his alone.
No, he correct'd himself, not alone, for there was she.
For Katharine of Valois, fair Kate and most fair, daughter of the King of France, too, sat within the Great Hall, with her vestal chaperon at her side, quiet and careful, on a simple, wooden bench, her satin robes laid out in a pool around her feet upon the stonework, athwart the opposite ends of the room, listening and watching, whilst her life was chosen for her by a man she knew not. His gaze would feign interest from the aimless burbling of councilmen and take in her as a most rare vision, like a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream was anything but she. Marry, the princess was a dream he need ne'er wake from.
Whiles ladies of court had their curious fashion of manners and, in faith, their curious manner of fashions, the sovereign ruler of England had no possession of talent for wooing. When it came to the calls of battlement, he was trumpeter of an orator; but when it came to affairs of the heart, he was a gowk of a prattler: Other men, of infinite tongues, could rhyme themselves into ladies' favours and could reason themselves out again, but not he, for his condition was too rough and too plain and too honest to be anything other than himself. Still, he could see her discontent, her worry: Was her husband-to-be a good man, a noble man? Would he treat her courteously, or cruelly? Was she e'er to know happiness, or only regret? What pray was to be of her fate? Till he was vouchsaf'd an audience alone with her one day, all too brief for his taste, to plead his love-suit did she know her answer.
When the signing of the treatise was at an end, he finally had the freedom to do what he will'd and he chose to be in company of the Lady Katharine. For the next fortnight, they walk'd together, arm in arm, and talk'd together, hour upon hour, in garden, in the library, in the corridors, in the halls, till there was no place left to do e'erything and anything and nothing. He oft made excuses to be near her side, to help her slice a piece of fruit during meals, or to ask her to translate a word from his books, to help fetch the most insignificant of items, to perform the most irrelevant of deeds, simply to steal a fleeting touch of her hand or a whisp'ring fragrance of her hair.
Once he broke the string of a button upon his new doublet, a gift from Valois, she stood affront him and 'gainst him, her glancing fingers' ends held aloft a needle and thread, touches of lithe exquisiteness and genteel warmth brush'd intimately 'tween the elusive folds of fabric and o'er the collar of his bare chest, and left him to his affects: His heart sped, his breath bated, his skin rived into goose-flesh, and his ken beheld her and only her, his world, his e'erything, his second self.
Unassuming as she was, there was this self-possession, this mute confidence, this careful observance, this acceptance of difference, this impassion of spirit, this fearlessness on her sleeve, this mischievous play, this gracious disregard for the customs and courtesies forc'd 'twixt them, that both besott'd and bewitch'd him, hopelessly, utterly, entirely.
By happy accident, one afternoon, he prepar'd their horses and they rode together, side by side. When, by chance, he unleash'd the reins of her horse, she gallop'd afar, with the speed of a whirlwind, and he follow'd, screaming her name, fearful the beast would do her harm; but she, in troth, rode like a chasseur of France and laugh'd merrily the whole way. When they took respite, to lay themselves down upon the grass, he tied their mounts to a branch, napp'd his head upon the pillow of her gentle lap, whilst her fingers wove through his soft curls and brush'd against his woollen beard, heard her sing the songs that would charm him, and perch'd the crown o'th' god of sleep on his eyelids. There, she did dip her flowery head and gift him her chaste kiss. Be still his heart, for ne'er had he known such glory of peace...
But, alas, freedom they had little of. Vigilant were the attentions of her nurse and her family, and she, too, had her duties to perform, addling as they were, as Princess of France: She would console her ailing father, attend her queenly mother, regard her siblings, and was privy to the comings and goings of court and council. However, when the opportunist's advantage arose, whilst eyes so leery were divert'd, she would tilt her laurel of golden braids, adorn'd with pearls and ribbons, along his shoulder and entwine her fingers idly with his, roughen and callous by rein and sword; and yet there was a curiousness to her nature that he could not quite fathom: This foreboding gloom, this questionable melancholy, would grip her soul without explanation, for he could see it, well-nigh touch it, in the downcast gaze of her eyes, in the sad purse of her lips, in the slow method of her gests, and in the tactful music of her voice, being that it held her back, caus'd her to evade his touch and slip away from his embrace, and he could not comprehend the reason behind these chastisements.
Still, the times she was gone, the castle, in all its luxuries and excesses, was unbearably empty and silent. The wait 'tween the eve and the morn, the slow crawl of time, the hours he must tarry on his own, unable to do anything but pace and sleep, till he saw her next, was a long and lonely one. Without her presence to fill the room and her voice to break the dull hush, he found the castle had become much like the imprisonable fortress 'twas meant to be rather than the strange haven it had become. Made all the worse now that he had her to himself these two weeks.
But let it be said that the courses of true love ne'er did run smooth: The wedding ceremony, for it may please the will of God, did not please the Harry of England, as it was not the grand festival he had hop'd worthy of a grand lady, nor of a princess, nor of a queen, but that of a pauperess: It was small, private, sudden, and had all the features of an elopement — the basest form of marriage. The bride and groom knelt before the friar to join hands and, with hands, join hearts; but did she not deserve better, of flowers and tributes and celebrants, of embellishments of costume and custom, with all of England and France therein, to see her as the resplendent woman that he saw her as?
The Lady of Valois spoke little at the ceremony, save a friar's prayer. She spoke nothing at the feast — it, too, was a meagre disservice — that follow'd, grazing listlessly at crumbs of air. She would not smile, nor meet his eye, nor bear his touch, but took excuse and forthwith retire. The Lord of Lancaster did waver but a moment, only the briefest of moments. Giving no care and no courtesy to the table, he gave a chase through the castle corridors and ground a halt whence the door of their bedchamber abas'd him a crook nose and a sunken pride.
"Kate?" he pled forth and rapt a coarse knuckle upon the timber of the chamber-door before he crept afoot.