Originally published in Helix SF #10
To my right worshipful father, John Paston, esquire, be this letter delivered in hasty ways. I commend myself to your good fatherhood, beseeching your blessing and thank you for your intercession with our great and gracious King Stephen, third of his name.
I am safely arrived in Paris, where I am told the Angevin King Robert is in attendance. The city, which the French believe compares favorably to London, is a festering warren with streets along which a man can't see straight for more than a few strides before they twist and turn. The city is divided into two by a broad river which only fails to smell like a cesspool because the Parisians use their streets as their sewers.
I have found a small room in a better part of the city. The stench is nearly tolerable and I can look out my window to see the enormous cathedral which the French have named in Our Lady's honor.
Of course, King Stephen has not sent me to Paris to look at its wonders, of which there are many, or its squalor, which is legion. Yesterday, I called on Sieur François d'Alembert and presented my letter from the King. Sieur François speaks excellent English and sounds almost as if he had been raised in Kent. I find this a most beneficial boon as my French, while passable, is not always understandable and the Parisians seem to speak their language quite differently than the French at Calais. I am given to understand that Sieur François was raised in England when King Louis IX had sent his father, Sieur Martin d'Alembert, to the court of King Henry IV.
Although I hope to conclude these trade negotiations within a month, I have discussed the matter thoroughly with Richard Gloys, who has previously been sent to Paris on a trade mission by King Stephen; he spent nearly a year dealing with the 'intractable French,' as he called them. Since our family has dealt with the French before, while Gloys had not, I feel it safe to hope that I understand the French mind better than he.
I have closed my house in London while I am in France, and ask you most humbly to find positions for my most trusted and closest servants in some capacity at Yarmouth while I am in my royally imposed exile. For those for whom positions can not be found, please provide them with letters recommending them to other masters in my name.
Please forward my affections to your wife, my mother.
Your humble and obedient son, John
Sieur François d'Alembert led John Paston through the twisting streets of Paris, his lantern throwing a warm yellow glow on the buildings lining the roads, its animal fat smell adding to the aromatic assault on Paston's nose. Paston pulled out a small handkerchief and held it to his face, breathing through the perfumed cloth in the hopes that the varied smells of Paris wouldn't make him ill. In his more lucid moments, Paston realized that Paris didn't smell any worse than London, but pride in his island quickly pushed such traitorous thoughts aside. The simple fact was that Paston felt out of place anywhere more urban than his native Norfolk.
"Ahead on the left. Walk as if you've been here before," Sieur François said in perfect English before adding, "et parlez française."
Paston nodded and looked over at the tavern Sieur François had indicated. A board hung over the door proclaimed the "Robert's Rest" with the Angevin royal arms above it.
Sieur François caught Paston looking at the tabard and explained, "King Robert III is said to have dined here in 1256. The sign has announced that visit for the last hundred and fifty years."
"We're meeting in an Angevin tavern?"
"Pace. Claude is no more Angevin than you or me. The sign is simply for business. Every few years Claude slaps some fresh paint on it and then ignores it. Like any other barman."
The inside of the Robert's Rest reminded Paston of taverns from his native Norfolk to London. The air was hazy with the smoke put off by tallow candles. Long tables were scattered around the room with a few smaller tables in the corners. A bar stretched along one wall, a prominent painting which claimed to be King Robert hanging over it. Next to the bar, a dark passage led to the back of the building and the jakes.
Sieur François walked over to the bar. "Claude, a bottle of red wine and two glasses."
"Let me suggest the Capetian Red. If you go to the third private room, I'll send some back to you."
"Bien! John, this way."
Sieur François led the way down the corridor into the bowels of the tavern and entered a small room. Paston followed him and found himself looking at a table where several men sat. Sieur François closed the door behind him and threw a bolt into place.
"Your majesty, may I present Mister John Paston of Yarmouth, England. John, this is His Royal Majesty, Louis Capet, the rightful king of France."
Paston dropped to one knee and bowed his head in the man's direction, waiting for permission before he looked upon the face of the king. The only betrayal of Louis's age was a slight greying at the temples. A few wrinkles edged his dark brown eyes, but otherwise he could have been twenty years younger than the fifty he had lived.
"Your highness, I bring greetings from my lord, King Stephen of England," Paston said as he sat down to the table.
"There are very few people outside this room who would call me highness today. I seek your king's aid in increasing that number."
"Although King Stephen would like to assist you as a brother monarch, he has asked me to point out that although you may have a better claim to the throne than King Robert, his ancestor usurped the throne more than two hundred years ago. A Capet hasn't sat upon the French throne since Louis VII died in 1180."
"You English are always so blunt. Were you a French courtier, you would dissemble more. Show me the respect due my station."
"With all due respect, sire, you need my lord's help to regain the throne your ancestor lost. King Stephen desires to know why he should help you in this endeavor. I am his ambassador in this matter and speak with his voice."
Paston began to remove his papers from his pouch when three quick raps sounded on the door, followed by one slower, louder one. He let the papers fall back while Sieur François unbolted the door and allowed Claude to enter. The barkeep placed two glasses on the table with the glasses also there and several bottles of wine. The room was quiet until he left and the door was firmly bolted.
"Sieur François, offer our guest some wine. Mister Paston, this Capetian Red comes from one of my own vineyards. I'm sure that it will please your English palate.”
Paston retrieved his letters and passed them to Louis. The Capetian glanced over them and grunted before handing them back. When he next spoke, he spoke as if to an equal, rather than to a subject.
"You asked why our cousin King Stephen should assist me in regaining my throne. After Henri of Anjou usurped my ancestor's throne and his son turned his attention to the English throne, did not Philip Augustus raise the French against Henri to help when your second King Stephen tried to invade France?"
"My understanding is that Philip sought English aid, much as you are now, and King Stephen II foolishly agreed to help. Although the English didn't lose anything in that war, neither did we gain anything except the enmity of the sitting French king and the gratitude of a dynasty without a throne. What is in the past, while it must be remembered, is still in the past."
Paston took a sip of the wine Sieur François had given him. If nothing else, Louis Capet made a good wine. Whether or not he would make a good king was an entirely different matter.
"Of course. The houses of Blois and Capet have a long history of mutual assistance. Did not Louis VI support your house's founder, Stephen of Blois, when he claimed the English throne against the Empress? When King Jean III attempted to reassert the Angevin claim to the English throne in 1312, did not my great-grandfather come to King Theobald's rescue? Our fates have always been linked."
Paston drained his wine, wishing the entire time it was good English beer. "I would hardly consider the Capetian contribution to Jean's war as a rescue. However, I will concede that your ancestor did help keep the English throne for the Blois. If I may indulge in some of my English bluntness, help given nearly a century ago hardly does my current lord much good."
"He shall have the gratitude of a king."
"He could have the gratitude of a king by simply sending a message to King Robert about your activities."
Paston found himself seized by rough hands and a bare blade thrust against his throat. He realized he had gone too far.
"King Stephen is not interested in King Robert's gratitude. Too many times in the past he has seen what Angevin gratitude is worth."
Louis motioned for his men to release Paston.
"Mister Paston, be assured that although I would like King Stephen's support or even assistance in this endeavor, there are other monarchs in Christendom who would be happy to see the last of the Angevins. I do not, perhaps, need King Stephen's support quite as much as he seems to suppose. Let us call tonight's interview at an end."
Sieur François escorted him from the tavern and helped him find his way through the streets back to his room.
To my great and gracious lord, Stephen, King of England, third of his name, Duke of Blois, Prince of Wales, Protector of Ireland and Scotland, Lord of Calais, Defender of the Faith, be this letter delivered in hasty ways. I commend myself to your good graces, beseeching your blessing in my undertakings.
On your majesty's instructions, I have taken ship from Dover and made my way to Paris to undertake trade negotiations important to both your realm and the realm of your brother monarch of the French.
I have been presented to his royal majesty, the king of France, and have extended your majesty's gracious offer and every assistance one monarch may make to his fellow monarch against a common foe, for which the French king has indicated his most profound thanks, hoping one day to be able to offer your majesty any assistance you may need.
I remain your most humble and obedient subject, J. Paston.
"Mon pere has asked me to see you. He seems to think you can be helpful."
Paston could hardly believe that the creature standing before him could be related to Louis Capet. Louis, although in his mid-fifties, retained the physique of a young man born to rule and fight. The effeminate man in front of him seemed almost the antithesis of a nobleman. Charles Capet probably weighed less than the sword his father would carry into battle. Of course, Louis had fought in some Italian wars. Charles had only worked in the family wine business. Paston doubted Charles had lifted a sword in his thirty-two years.
"You know who I am?" he asked the prince-pretender.
"Certainment," Charles replied, exasperated. "You are the Englishman who has been sent to get my father's throne back for us."
Paston nodded. "Good. I needed to make sure you knew who I was so you didn't think you were interviewing some peasant to stomp your grapes. What is so funny?"
"That you would think the Capetians would ever hire an Englishman to work in our vineyards. You hardly drink anything except that thick swill. Fighting, getting our throne back, that is when you call on the English. Wine? Never! Better to call on the Italians for that."
While Paston waited for Charles to finish tittering, he looked around the Frenchman's office. Several bottles of Capetian wine lined shelves and there was no sign of ledgers or other tangibles of a real merchant's office, which made Paston wonder how much work actually was done here. He knew he had to deal with the prince if he were to accomplish the goal King Stephen had set for him. Louis may be proud, but he realized his position. Charles seemed to think the world was his to command. Paston could easily see the older Capet on the throne, but the younger Capet would rank among the worst kings in Christendom unless he learned something before his father's death.
"Very well. I will see if I can help your father gain his throne. What would he have me do?"
"Obviously, the first thing would be to ensure King Stephen that our cause is achievable. We'll need to know how many troops he can deliver and work out when the best time to declare war on Robert the Usurper will be."
"We also need to know what benefits King Stephen will receive. . ."
Charles waved his hand, "Yes, yes. King Stephen will receive gifts and gratitude commensurate with his risk and outlay. The important thing is to plan our campaign against the usurpers.”
Charles turned to his desk and removed a large map of France. As he named places, he pointed to them.
"Naturally, Calais would be the obvious place for the English to launch their attack since you have managed to hold it against the usurpers. However, if you could bring a second attack around to land in Brittany, perhaps at Brest, they won't expect you to land there."
Paston glanced at the map. His travels had taken him across more of France than Charles had probably seen, which gave him a better understanding of what would actually be involved in an invasion.
"I would imagine English troops landing near Caen or Le Havre would be better, closer to Paris. Who knows, they might even be able to sail up the Seine as far as Rouen. However, King Stephen needs reasons to send good Englishmen into this adventure. You are asking him to make war against France, not to add to his own kingdom but to instate another monarch on a throne. It isn't even a defensive war since Robert hasn't attacked the English."
"Monseiur Paston. I am trying to outline a plan of action which will allow the rightful king of the French to sit upon his throne and you insist on turning matters to the question of vulgar remuneration. Obviously your King Stephen failed in making his selection of ambassador by selecting a merchant to act as a diplomat. We are discussing the fates of kingdoms, not the cost of a chicken in one of your dirty English markets."
"I assure you, my lord, my king knows what is at risk and wants to know exactly, to the last groat, why he should risk everything. He has his position to think of. Your father is, at present. . . No. I've said enough. I have other business to attend to. I bid you adieu."
Paston took off his floppy hat and bowed to Prince Charles. Without waiting for permission, Paston exited Charles's office and made his way down to the dirty Parisian street.
Brother, I recommend myself to you and give you all due recommendations etc.
I have heard from our father that you have been sent on a mission to Padua in Italy and expect to be there for well over a year. An acquaintance of mine, Dominic Baggiolini, is from the city of Vercelli, which I understand to be near Padua, which he tells me is a fine place and we both express our envy (which I know is a sin) that you have been sent to such a glorious city while I must languish in the heat and stench of Paris, made worse by its being populated by the French.
As I'm sure father has told you, I have been negotiating trade agreements in both our own good name and the name of our sovereign lord, Stephen III. Although I have completed many negotiations which are advantageous to ourselves, I am most sorely vexed by a wine merchant, Charles Capet, who seems to completely lack a sense of value or commerce. He sees what he wants and does not permit any room for his counterpart to benefit from the exchange. Nor does he see the reasonableness of the attitude that his trade partners should make a profit as well as take a risk.
I would have your advice on certain matters in dealing with this obstinate Frenchman, that being, at the moment, the most opprobrious epithet I can muster. I defer to your experience in dealing with recalcitrant merchants from London to the Levant. I can't imagine the infidels who hold the Holy Land could be as pig-headed as this wine merchant, but as I recall the Mohammedans are not permitted pork, perhaps it does make a sort of sense after all.
I have taken the liberty of arranging a shipment of some French perfumed waters to your wife in Yarmouth. Here in France, they use the liquid to attempt to hide the vile odors which assail the senses at all hours of the day and night. I trust your Margaret will know that the merest touch will suffice and it is needless to use the entire bottle at once.
I look forward to receiving your instruction and hope Padua remains to your pleasure more than Paris does to mine. Until we once again are in each others' presence, I remain your brother, John.
"I would like to apologize for the behavior of my son. You must understand that he is focused firmly on our goal and has a tendency to forget that others have desires as well. Perhaps you can see why I find it urgent to regain my family's throne. I hope that I can sit on it and give my son proper instruction in matters royal before he is called upon to assume those same duties."
Paston bowed his head to Louis Capet. "You will certainly prove a most wise monarch."
"In order to 'prove a most wise monarch,' I must first become a monarch de facto as well as de jure. Despite my son's intransigence, I realize the risk I ask my cousin, Stephen, to undertake. I am prepared to offer him substantial recompense when we have achieved our goal."
Louis sipped from the wine goblet in front of him. A fruity vintage from one of the Frenchman's Mediterranean vineyards, Paston found the taste cloying, but dutifully took a sip to match Capet's. He had already alienated one of the Capetian pretenders. It wouldn't do to alienate the other.
"Although our cousin continues to style himself Duke of Blois, I do not believe any King of England has visited Blois since King Eustace. The properties were officially removed from their family by Henri II upon his usurpation and given to his son Richard. I propose to symmetrically remove Blois from Angevin hands and bestow it, once again, on the House of Blois as an autonomous duchy."
Paston took another sip of the wine, more to organize his thoughts than for anything else.
"When you grant his highness his lands back, would you propose to have him swear fealty to you?"
"Such a problem has existed since William conquered England and felt that as a king he should not swear fealty for his Norman lands. It is certainly a perplexing issue. Yet, William did continue to swear fealty for his French lands, as his successors did down to the reign of King Eustace. Precedence, you'll note, will dictate that Stephen swear fealty to me for Blois."
"Forgive my bluntness, but if you're going to regain the Capetian throne, it will only be through King Stephen's force of arms. He could as easily claim all of France by right of conquest instead of settling for Blois held in fealty. If you will excuse me, my lord, I find I must leave for another engagement."
Paston bowed to Louis and turned to leave. As he opened the door, he heard Louis say, "We will give your words due consideration."
Paston closed the door and hurried down the stairs. The noise from the tavern owned by the Capets assailed him as he passed through the common room to the street. Paston pulled a scented handkerchief from his pocket and used it to ward off the noxious odors of Paris in August, even as he watched his step to avoid the horse dung piled in the middle of the street.
Dominic Baggiolini and François d'Alembert were waiting for John Paston at a warehouse near the docks. Bails of cloth were stacked taller than a man, forming a maze in the building's dark interior. The three men wandered through the labyrinth until the were near the center of the warehouse. Three chairs sat in a small dead-end. Baggiolini placed his lantern on the floor between the chairs.
"We form a nice little conspiracy, the three of us," Baggiolini commented in Latin.
"If we're a tripartite conspiracy, who is Crassus? who is Pompey? and who is Caesar?" d'Alembert replied in the same language.
"We may be a triumvirate, but our goal is not to usurp the reins of government, merely to ensure that, whoever is king following this adventure, we are all positioned to make the most of the outcome," Paston said. "To go with our tripartite conspiracy, we have three kings who may wind up on the French throne. Naturally, I am partial to Stephen. I gain nothing if Robert retains his throne and I believe that Louis's gratitude will vanish once he wears the crown. Even if he does prove grateful, his twit of a son thinks he ought to rule by God's grace."
"You'll understand if I don't agree that King Stephen's rule is less than beneficent to us Frenchmen. While I might prefer Stephen if there were no choice other than the Angevin usurper, the House of Blois hasn't been French for centuries. France needs a French monarch, which leaves us with the House of Capet," d'Alembert said.
He pulled a wheel of cheese from a bag which was secreted under his chair and put it on the crate. Slicing into it, he offered it to him companions.
"I feel the odd man out of this conspiracy," Baggiolini commented, apparently relishing the use of the word. "Mr. Paston has a sitting monarch involved, Sieur François has both a sitting and a deposed monarch involved, and I appear to merely be a foreign adventurer whose country seems to have the least to win or to lose no matter the outcome of our machinations.
"Nevertheless, I do have an interest. I have agents who have reported that Robert is getting ready to turn his attention to Tuscania. For that reason alone, Louis or Stephen would be an improvement. Therefore we are agreed that the Angevin dynasty must come to an end, either to be replaced by the House of Blois or the Capetians. The question remains who shall sit on the throne.
"We know that Louis cannot take the throne without help from ourselves and England. That will leave him, theoretically, with divided gratitude. Can Stephen take the French throne without Capetian help?"
Paston thought about the question for a while before he finally answered, "Yes. Stephen could take France if he had the mind to. I don't think he would unless provoked and there is no provocation. Failing that, he would support Louis. . . if Louis can guarantee Stephen enough spoils."
While Paston spoke, d'Alembert nodded his head. "I agree with Mr. Paston's assessment."
"Louis Capet will be the next king of France," Baggiolini said.
"And after him, his worthless son, Charles," Paston added, the words leaving a sour taste in his mouth. He bit into a chunk of the cheese to chase it away.
To my right worshipful father, John Paston, esquire, be this letter delivered in hasty ways. I commend myself to your good fatherhood, beseeching your blessing.
The business I am attending to in Paris is going apace and I am making several chance acquaintances which are proving to be financially to our benefit. We will be sending our wool as far afield as Hungary and Constantinople in the next season and I am working to secure an agreement to export to far India.
In regards to my desire to expand into the wine trade, I have consulted with two experts, one French and one Italian, who are advising me on the local wineries. Both have indicated that they do not find English wine desirable, and we are all agreed that French wines are better when they are of an older vintage. Sieur François, who, I believe, I have previously mentioned, has undertaken to introduce me to some of what he calls the very best French wines. I must admit that I fail to taste any real difference, although this may simply be my "atrocious English palate," as one of the French vintners claimed.
I have said that I have two partners, although, in truth, this isn't true. My Italian associate has already contracted with a rival vintner and is looking into the ramifications of breaking his contract. While I have formed an association with this Paduan, I feel it is necessary to continue pursuing my desired vintner even before he has closed his outstanding contract.
Please forward my affections to your wife, my mother.
I remain your humble and obedient son, John
When Baggiolini invited Paston to go riding with him, Paston had agreed, assuming the outing would consist of nothing more than a ride through the Parisian countryside and some talk of their conspiracy. He quickly learned that Baggiolini had something more in mind and the Italian escorted Paston to an isolated chateau several miles from Paris.
"I have no servants here. I'm afraid we'll have to wipe down our own horses." When Baggiolini spoke French, he had a perfect accent. Nobody would have guessed that he was raised in Italy.
Paston's French was not as good, afflicted with his Norfolk accent. "It seems odd not to have any servants at a house this size, but I have no problem wiping down Profit."
Paston dismounted and the two men walked to the curry shed. Baggiolini was silent as he treated his own horse and Paston decided not to break the silence. Eventually, they stabled the horses and, putting out some oats, walked towards the house.
"You will be, I am sure, surprised at what you find in my house. Rest assured that I've discussed this with François and he is in complete agreement with the steps I have taken."
Paston was about to ask what Baggiolini meant, when the Italian unlocked the door to the chateau. At the top of a staircase, Paston saw a well-dressed child, no more than six years old. The boy held himself in a condescending manner, as if he had known all his life that he was superior to all he surveyed.
"My father will have your heads for this. I look forward to the day you are given the traitors' deaths you so richly deserve."
Baggiolini looked at Paston and indicated the boy, "May I present Fulk d'Anjou, le dauphin."
Paston started to bow to the prince when Baggiolini grabbed his arm and kept him upright.
"I can see that at least one of you rogues understands the respect due to the heir to the throne of France. I will recommend to my father than you be honored by being the first to the executioner's blade, thus sparing you the grisly sight of seeing your comrades die."
"Come, mon frere, I wish to speak with you." Baggiolini began to steer Paston into an antechamber. Once inside, he closed the door. "Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Good! Our friend the dauphin can speak both French and Latin and we wish to stay away from our own native tongues."
"What is going on here? Why is the dauphin here?"
"He is here, of course, because he is an integral part of our plan to remove his father, and his line, from the French throne."
"I didn't realize we had a plan that detailed already. Why wasn't I consulted? Is there anything else I should know?"
"Stay calm. Apparently we made a mistake. We didn't think our methods would be an issue since we've agreed that the Angevins have been on the throne for far too long. As long as we control Monsieur d'Anjou in the other room, there is effectively no heir to the French throne."
"How long do you think we'll be able to hold onto the prince? Don't you think his father will look for him?"
"We want his father to look for him. We need to get rid of King Robert, remember. While we're here, Sieur François is leading a path towards the Spanish Marches. We hope Robert d'Anjou will believe his son was taken by either the Moors, although I personally think he would be an idiot to suspect Moors, or by Albigensians."
"Am I permitted to know the plan now or will I walk in here one day to find myself face to face with Queen Ingrid?"
"We brought you here specifically so we can tell you the plan, which does not include kidnapping Queen Ingrid. The next step of the plan is to dispose of our friend the little prince."
"I was sent to France to negotiate with the Capetians, not to commit acts of lese majeste. How does killing a six-year-old boy bring us any closer to a Capetian monarchy?" Paston could feel his face flushing. He no longer felt like a companion to Baggiolini and Sieur François, but rather an assistant.
"This isn't just any six-year-old boy,” Baggiolini shouted, “This is the heir to the Angevin throne. This boy would rule all of France from the Pyrenees to Friesland and from the Atlantic to Milan. By that time, for all we know, his father might even try to extend his power into Italy, or cross the Channel and take England away from the Blois."
Baggiolini walked over near the fireplace and began to drum his fingers against the mantle, an indication, Paston had noted, that he was upset.
"Yes. His father might do that. His father is the target. Killing this innocent boy will put you in the same league as Herod, slaughtering the innocents to try to kill his victim."
"François was right. We should not have told you of this plan even at this point."
Dominic snatched a poker from next to the fireplace and lunged at Paston. The Englishman would have been skewered except for his luck in tripping over the edge of a carpet as he tried to get out of the way. Dominic recovered and lunged again at the prone figure, but Paston rolled aside and managed to gain his feet. He grabbed for a sword which hung on the wall next to the door and swung at Dominic.
The sword wasn't balanced for fighting and it pulled Paston along with it, giving Dominic another chance to attack. Dominic's lunge did not take the weight of Paston's sword into account and he only succeeded in scratching him.
Paston dropped the sword and kicked at Dominic, sending the Italian sprawling across the floor. Rather than pursuing Dominic, Paston backed out the door behind him and shoved a settee in front of the door, hoping it would at least slow Dominic in his pursuit. Even as he blocked the door, he could hear Dominic cursing in German on the other side.
Paston turned to find himself staring down at the imperious face of Fulk Anjou. The English merchant had never seen someone so short look down their nose at someone taller, but Fulk managed to pull it off.
"I see the criminals have had a falling out, monsieur. I wonder, then, if I might acquire your assistance in return for my father's pardon."
More than anything else, Paston found himself afraid of Fulk, not because of the child's position or his father's wrath, but because Fulk sounded like an adult. Paston found himself comparing the six year old Fulk d'Anjou to the thirty-year-old Charles Capet. Although neither would be the kind of king Paston would want to be subject to, he had to admit that Fulk behaved more like a king than Charles ever would. For that reason, alone, Paston realized he needed to regain Dominic's confidence.
King Stephen would rather deal with an ineffectual king than a monarch who was raised to take the throne. Whether peace existed between England and France under either the Capetians or the Angevins didn't matter as much as how English trade would benefit in the case of war, and war against the Angevins would probably mean larger profits for the Pastons than war against the Capetians.
"Your highness, please sit. I will do what I can," he replied to Fulk. Turning back to the barricaded door, Paston reverted to German. "Dominic. Permit me to apologize. I realize you and François were following the proper course of action. I only wish you had included me earlier. I have the prince out here. If I open the door, will you remember we both have the same goal?"
"I have a bruise on my ribs, Paston. Yes, we have the same goals in this matter. Afterwards, we shall see. The important thing is the return of the monarchy to Capetian hands."
"I also want to know what else you and François have planned," Paston called out as he began to move the furniture from the doors.
"Our plan was to tell you what we wanted to do. I shall tell you as soon as I don't have to shout through this door."
As soon as the door was unblocked, Paston opened it.
"Why are you letting him out? You should be preparing to return me to my father!"
Paston turned around to see Fulk standing behind him.
"I don't think you're ever going to see your father again, little boy," Baggiolini said from where he stood in the doorway. "The time has come to replace the upstart Angevins with the line of Hugh Capet."
"We aren't upstarts. My family can trace our ancestry back to the time of Charles the Great when you were still barbaric Saxons and Lombards."
"Thank your for the history lesson. I don't think it particularly important now. I'm not entirely heartless. I'll give you a choice that will allow you to remain alive. You can either be killed so we won't have to worry about an Angevin heir, or you can take orders at an amenable monastery in the Empire."
"You dare order me to become a monk! I am the heir to the Kingdom of France. I do not listen to orders by tradesmen. I again demand that you return me to my father, at once!"
Baggiolini reached for his sword, but Paston held out his arm to stop the Italian. When Baggiolini stopped, Paston walked over to where the Prince stood and knelt down to his level.
"My lord," he began in French, too softly for Baggiolini to hear, "I'm afraid that we can not presently return you to your father, for he is currently engaged in battle somewhere to the west, defending his throne. Should he win, you can return to him from your monastic sanctuary. Should he lose, you can leave the monastery to claim your own throne. If my associate kills you, you are assured never to see King Robert or Queen Ingrid again."
Paston backed away from the six year old and waited.
As defiant as ever, Fulk d'Anjou stared into Dominic Baggiolini's eyes and replied, "Take me to your monastery."
"We shall leave tomorrow."
As if he had achieved his goals, Fulk turned and walked from the room to do whatever kidnapped princes did to spend their days. Baggiolini turned to Paston.
"What did you say to the little monster?"
"I gave him hope that he would some day be restored to either his father or the throne if he went to the monastery. He simply decided that was better than immediate death.
"Now, what is to happen with Robert d'Anjou?"
"If everything goes according to plan, Sieur François will be leading King Robert into an ambush near Orléans. If he is successful, Robert will be killed and Louis Capet will proclaim himself King Louis X. If the ambush does not work properly, we will need you to bring King Stephen into the battle."
"I have not yet agreed upon terms with the Capetians."
"Then Louis Capet's need will give you an additional bargaining chip. Once battle has begun, he has no choice but to go forward. If King Stephen's aid is required, he will be in no position to argue for better terms."
To my right worshipful father, John Paston, esquire, be this letter delivered in hasty ways. I commend myself to your good fatherhood, beseeching your blessing and pray that I shall return to your sight before too much more time has passed.
Given the state of war which currently exists between our land and the Franks, I hope this epistle reaches you in good health. I have determined that it would be best for me to leave the lands disputed by King Robert d'Anjou and the so-styled King Louis Capet. To this end, I now find myself in the small village of Winterthur in the mountains of Burgundy. My companions and associates, François and Dominic have elected to join me in my exile from France. On the way, we deposited François's young "nephew," Fulk, at a monastery where, we pray, they will be able to look after his strange brain affliction which makes him decry the wildest claims.
I believe that our King, Stephen, will find that my work in France on his behalf has achieved the goals he desired and set forth for me. Rumors are flying throughout Christendom, with few verifiable reports regarding the progress of the war. One credible traveler claims that King Stephen has landed a force at Cherbourg and has been ravaging the French countryside in an attempt to help the Capetians. An English priest passing through on pilgrimage to Rome has said that King Stephen has invaded to lay claim to the entire country.
Winterthur is a small town high in the mountains, which are always cold. We have been warned of the vile winters in the region, and I hope to be able to find my way to a port such as Flanders or Ghent, and from there make my way back to England. Unfortunately, I find myself short of funds at present. I beseech you, my father, to send me a draft to permit me to return safely to our home in Yarmouth.
Until such time as I see you again, please forward my affections to your wife, my mother.
Your humble and obedient son, John.
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