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FIC: Seals of Love (6/9)



Title: Seals of Love
Genre: Much Ado About Nothing

Rating: T (some implications)
Author: tkel_paris
Summary: Written as a Christmas present for sykira. A what if inspired by my writing “Glance of Love” and the indications of what might have been for Benedick and Beatrice had their merry war not been triggered.
Disclaimer: Good lord, I'm writing fanfic about a Shakespeare play! Do I need to write that I own nothing? Especially when it's inspired by a particular stage performance?
Dedication: sykira. Merry Christmas, love. :D
Author's Note: Here comes the start of the angst. I hope Benedick is everything you could hope for, my friend.



Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four / Chapter Five
DVD Extra the First / DVD Extra the Second





CHAPTER SIX: HONOUR AND CHALLENGES

Benedick's eyes scanned the church as the notables of the town began to fill the room. The day had come at last, and he would be grateful when this madness was over. His uncle's household had gone beyond what had been managed for the wedding over a decade ago, but it was only fair since Beatrice was only Leonato's niece and Hero his daughter.

The only thing that puzzled him was how grim Claudio and the Prince looked. He hoped that waking after lengthy drinking had sobered the Count to the seriousness of his upcoming duties as a husband. As to what caused their lord's manner, he supposed that the Prince had been almost equally merry, for Don Pedro did love his drink. It made him grateful he had escaped when he did.

Only two other things caused him concern. One was Don John's almost calm manner, which was virtually unheard of. It made Benedick wonder if that Count was plotting mischief. The other was the Constable and his assistant speaking with Leonato and how the governor dismissed them without actually hearing what criminals were to be examined. What if it had been something serious? He wished that he had been able to intercept them and draw the answer out of them, although it would have been difficult to do so without being outwardly disrespectful toward his uncle who did earn some reverence from him.

Time was drawing too near for the wedding to start. He and the boys were there, dressed in their formal clothes representing Beatrice’s House. Benedick had not worn his father's seal since his wedding to Beatrice; after the exchange of vows, he had been assisted in ceremonially removing the sash of his father's House and replacing it with a sash carrying Beatrice’s crest and House colors. He had not seen Beatrice’s eyes shine with so much light or love before, or received such an impulsive kiss from her, and he did not see that look again until their twins were placed in her arms.

He looked proudly at his sons wearing formal white suits, made in miniature form of his dress uniform. A sash matching his graced each of them, and they proudly wore their respective metal Dress swords at their sides, much like he did. They had been eager to learn how to handle a sword, even copying his moves whenever he practiced. He had set a little challenge before them, a test to see whether they were able to handle the requirements of even a child's practice sword. At Beatrice’s urging, it was also set before Rufine, since she felt a girl should know how to use a sword if necessary, and would be set before Sienna when she was old enough.

That had been a slight surprise when he married her, learning that her aunt had been taught to fence and had secretly taught Beatrice herself. So it opened a whole other arena for them to engage in their merry war: sword practice. He wore a few white marks from scars she had given him during their practices, and even she bore a few from when her skill forced him to not hold back so much. Good times, he mused with a smile.

As the adults signaled that the time was nearly upon them, the boys seated by their friend, Bruno, son of Maria (daughter of Ursula and Angelo, of Leonato's House). Seemed Bruno had brought his special game device, and was showing something off until his mother put a stop to their fun by taking the item away. Good thing, for Don John had started making sharp remarks toward them.

The sight reminded him painfully of what Beatrice had rescued Maria from. Right around their marriage, Maria had started as Beatrice's waiting gentlewoman. But one night she was found paying homage to the porcelain alter when none would have expected her to. When the physician checked on her and she was asked questions, the horrifying truth came out: she had been drugged and beguiled. Bruno was the result, and her pregnancy prevented her from marrying the widower Balthazar as planned. Only Beatrice's insistence on not removing Maria from her place kept her and Bruno from true abject poverty, but they remained at the bottom of the servants' social structure because of Maria's unmarried state. Without a confession from the man who placed her and Bruno in that terrible state, Maria could not marry or formally educate her son – even though all of both Houses knew that she had not been at fault.

It was not something Benedick or Beatrice could let lie, so they quietly arranged for Bruno to learn to read and write, and let him be a playmate to their children, who had been enlisted in the efforts to ensure Bruno received enough of an education to be able to serve a house one day. He showed a keen mind, and had every bit of loyalty that his family showed, which pleased his mother and provided a measure of comfort. And Benedick promised his wife to honor her demand for recompense when they found who had left her gentlewoman in such a state.

He did not mention that he had also promised Bruno that he would be allowed to confront the villain himself. Nor that he had a growing suspicion as to who the villain was. He would never make an accusation without proof.

Benedick took a deep breath and turned his eyes to scan the room. But where was Beatrice?

Suddenly she hurried in, still looking too pale. He briskly joined her, stopping to gaze into her eyes in silent inquiry.

She was breathing heavily, and then sneezed on him, drawing attention to them both.

Oh, he had seen this before. And it was not like she had brought anything noticeable up this time, so he waved off her attempt to clean after herself and instead hugged her briefly before gently escorting her to their front row seats. Had there not been such a public setting, he would have rested a hand briefly against her belly. An affirmation, not a question.

Innogen picked up the program that awaited Beatrice, and offered it to her. “Niece, are you well?” she whispered.

I shall be,” was Beatrice's answer as she and Benedick began to sit.

But the wedding march started, making them pop to standing before their bums could meet their respective chairs. He kept a hand on her back to comfort and steady her, just in case.

They looked back and smiled as they saw Sienna trailing the procession. Despite being only two, she was determined to act like a proper lady. She was even carrying the pillow in a balanced way. The rings had been tied securely just in case she did tilt the pillow as a child her age would be liable to, but she was doing her family proud. Her parents exchanged soft grins over their little girl's actions and they clasped hands tenderly.

Their other daughter trailed Hero and Leonato as she held the back of the train. In her pink dress that matched her sister's, she looked every bit the lady of an honorable house. Not even Benedick's male relations could have found fault in her, as little as they understood about his choices. And for the first time, Rufine's mother could accept that she was a girly girl. Once Hero was ready and at Claudio's side, Rufine joined Sienna in standing nearby yet behind them.

Almost right away, Claudio's tone and words put Benedick on his guard. Beatrice could tell simply by how his grip on her hand changed subtly, but she was more focused on learning why the Count suddenly did not seem so keen on Hero.

Rufine kept a hand on Sienna's shoulder to calm her, but adjusted it to wrap around both shoulders as Claudio moved a little with Hero's hand in his, sensing that something was about to happen. She barely had the chance to draw her sister back as Hero was thrust into Leonato's arms with a barrage of words that Sienna could not follow except to know that unjust words were being thrown in Hero's face, but Rufine understood every word.

The girls' brothers, their father's sons in every respect, flew from their seats to stand between their sisters and the madness. If they had been taught anything it was to ensure their sisters were safe when things became uncertain. No matter what the law and tradition and their male relations said, their father had often informed them, women could be far superior to men in managing the affairs of a family and their right to choose and to acquire an education must be protected. Adrian, as the eldest boy, took this very seriously and tried his best to shield all of his siblings from the possible danger the man they had thought was to be their cousin suddenly appeared to be.

Benedick and Beatrice stood in shock, unable to believe their eyes or ears. They listened in disbelief as Claudio denied ever tempting Hero, and accused her of being less like Dian and more like Venus. That accusation was enough to draw them both into action, now firmly aware that it was no nightmare but actually happening. A mere glance at their horrified children confirmed that. It was time to demand answers for Claudio's unthinkable turnaround. Beatrice rushed to Hero's side, trying to protect her and not entirely sure how good a job her uncle would do.

Claudio!” The explosive word stunned the room into silence even as Benedick stepped firmly between accuser and accused. “Whence these accusations against my cousin?! I hath known her far longer than you and you dare to say she is of a character I know is against her nature? A nature my wife, having known Hero from the lady's birth, could attest to? What right doth thou to speak so in front of my children?!”

Hero, alarmed further by her cousin standing so angrily against Claudio when passions were already running strong, spoke in the faint hope of lessening the moment. “Is my lord well that he doth speak so wide?”

Benedick shook his head. “Even if he be so there is no excuse for speaking so ill against a sweet and innocent lady!”

Innocent?” cried Claudio. “You speak with a brother's love, Benedick, which is blind to a sister's faults.”

You and your words would challenge my judgement and Leonato's! Call you into question the character and reverence of the governor?! Of every person who had a hand in raising her from infancy?”

The words allowed Leonato the strength to speak, but he chose to address Don Pedro. “Sweet Prince, why speak thou not?”

Don Pedro had been ready to speak at once, utterly determined to join in the denouncement. But Benedick's jumping to Hero's defense meant that he had to speak in a more measured tone. So he kept his voice quiet and calm, although his tone was grim. “What should I speak? I stand dishonour'd, that have gone about to link my dear friend to a common stale.”

Beatrice, clutching Hero's hands, heard her children's cries of disbelief. Her three oldest she knew understood what the accusation was. But what caught her attention was not their shock nor Hero's horror at being so accused. It was how her husband whirled to face Don Pedro, looking for all intents and purposes the one betrayed. She knew he held the Prince in high esteem, and so to hear this had to be impossible to believe.

Leonato could not hold his shock within. “Are these things spoken, or do I but dream?”

Sir,” said Don John, rising to standing behind Innogen, “they are spoken, and these things are true.”

'True'?” cried Hero. “O God!”

The thought was echoed by many in the room, with varying emotions.

Claudio took advantage of the silence. “Leonato, stand I here? Is this the Prince? Is this the Prince's brother? Is this face Hero's? Are our eyes our own?”

All this is so, but what of this, my lord?” breathed Leonato.

Let me but move one question to your daughter, and by that fatherly and kindly power that you have in her, bid her answer truly.”

Benedick held up his hand. “Claudio, you have not the right to demand such of Leonato.” He knew he had to act quickly. His mind had worked quickly, and he suspected he knew what had happened and who was at fault. The trouble was that an intended victim of the plotting had to be addressed before he could go after the author of all.

Nephew, what mean you?”

Turning to face Leonato, Benedick knew he had to use every power of his wit to bend Leonato to the thinking that he ought to have been wedded to from the start. He knew his uncle subscribed far too much to the sort of thinking that would cast off a daughter at the wrong word. Therefore he had to use what he could whilst remaining respectful to the governor's position.

How often hath you been told that Hero is like you in mind and body? You held her from when she was but a babe newly born from her honourable mother. How often have you said that whilst you mourned not having a son, you were delight'd by and lov'd your child? When my two eldest were born you spoke in praise of the joy of a daughter a father could claim, how it could overwhelm and draw such pride from the heart. None who watched you rule your house would say you did anything other than what a father ought toward his daughter, and here stand three men who would challenge the result of your ways, of your ancestors'? Uncle, to bow before their demand no matter their station is to accept their claims as true when your soul must know Hero well enough to know that God gave you a virtuous child who is innocent of what she stands accus'd. Hath not God provided thee with all the proofs required to know that Hero is a maiden?”

Beatrice's eyes widened. Her husband was no flatterer, but he had managed to use their uncle's vanity for Hero's sake. Now for him to demand Hero answer the question would be against his family's honor. Her husband was a miracle maker!

Don Pedro shook his head, trying to ignore the sting of Benedick's words. “Upon my honour she is charg'd with nothing but what is true, and very full of proof.”

Leonato breathed slowly, staring between Don Pedro and Benedick. At last he turned fully to the latter. “There thou speak'st reason and wisdom far beyond thy young years, nephew; nay, I have seen proofs enough as you hath said. My soul doth tell me Hero is belied. Benedick, thy wife was raised almost as a daughter in my house, and such makes thee the nearest I hath to a son. I charge thee to act as Hero's brother and defend her maiden truth; know the full authority of Messina is at thy disposal.”

It shall be done,” Benedick declared, standing taller even as he knew Leonato had made things more dangerous. But it put him at liberty to act as he saw fit. “Her accusers say they saw proof that she hath no claim to the title of maiden, but I have heard nothing that cannot be dismissed as a grave misunderstanding; nay, given the drink that I know flowed freely yesternight I doubt that any actually saw my cousin's face. To accuse without such a proof is an action that I would not have believed possible from two men who I had thought had the very bent of honour! You besmirch yourselves in accusing her!”

That shocked all of Hero's accusers. Don John knew he should not join in yet, as Benedick's anger would likely turn on him and determine him to be the author of all. That had to be avoided at all costs. He could only hope that his brother would keep his name out of it for the time being. But he noted the Senor's words hinting that he suspected there was more to the story than had yet been said, and tried to not attract any further attention to himself.

Claudio raised a hand in protest, pointing at Hero. “But she doth not deny it!”

Because you do not ask the right question!” snapped Benedick. “Cousin, what man is he you are accus'd of?”

The support gave her the strength to rally her spirits and stand tall. “They know that do accuse me; I know none! If I know more of any man alive than that which maiden modesty doth warrant, let all my sins lack mercy! O my father, prove you that any man with me convers'd at hours unmeet, or that I yesternight maintain'd the change of words with any creature, refuse me, hate, torture me to death!”

Benedick turned to face Claudio. “Her words leave me no choice, Claudio. Shall I speak a word in your ear?”

That silenced the room. Only Don John held a hint of a smile.

Don Pedro and Claudio stared in shock. They knew as well as any of the men that if Benedick suddenly went from yelling to calm, it meant his anger had crossed into a far more dangerous place. They would rather he were ranting, for in that he was not in the cold grip of vengeance.

However, honour demanded that Claudio step forward. “God bless me from a challenge,” he murmured, just loud enough to carry.

You are a villain.”

Claudio squawked.

I jest not. I will make you good how you dare, with what you dare, and when you dare. Do me right or I will protest your cowardice. You with your words would kill the sweet and innocent lady you had declared you would have as your wife, and if your soul hath any honour left her death would weigh heavy on you. I demand your answer now.”

You cannot be sincere!” Claudio protested.

Look at him!” shouted Beatrice, pointing at Claudio. “Is he not approved in the height a villain, that would slander, scorn, dishonour my kinswoman? O that I were a man! What, bear her in hand until you come to take hands, and then with public accusation, unmitigated rancour – O God that I were a man! I would eat your heart in the market-place! And doth thou forget accusing myself and my husband of speaking falsely but a week past?!”

Benedick was near enough to grab Beatrice's hand, though only to remind her that it was his place to act as the man. “Indeed, sweet Beatrice, he hath sinned greatly; and he should be grateful, far more than I, that thou art not a man. I had been waiting for an opportune moment to remind Claudio of that sin, but there appears no better time than now.”

Don Pedro took a step forward, seeing Benedick's increasingly calm manner and willingness to refer in the slightest jest to something that even he was alarmed by. He had no doubt that Claudio would already be dead had Beatrice been a man, and he suspected that Claudio was dimly aware of it, being in shock from such an address from the lady. “Benedick, my and Claudio's dispute is not with thee.”

I am afraid you hath with your words and actions made it mine, Prince.” He paused to take a steadying breath and to draw an envelope from the inside of his jacket. “My lord, for your many courtesies I thank you; I must discontinue your company.” He proffered it to Don Pedro.

That simple action silenced the entire room completely. For as long as any in Messina had known him, Benedick's honour had bound him to the service of the Prince. For him to have already had a letter prepared, he was in earnest and had contemplated the action for a long time, even consulted with Beatrice given her lack of surprise at the letter, before his hand was forced by the events of the moment.

Don Pedro realized in an instant that there was one more reason. Benedick was freeing himself from any conflicting demands of loyalty before he pushed the challenge to a point of no return. And it also said that he felt that he could no longer serve him with honour. Gutted, he numbly took the envelope.

He failed to notice his brother's increasing unease even in the midst of a tiny smile over seeing one of the great lieutenants leave Don Pedro's service.

Benedick turned to Claudio, sending the full weight of his glare on the younger man. “Give me your answer, boy, or I shall subscribe you at once a coward who misled your lord to help you out of a marriage you suddenly felt unequal to.”

Claudio's face contorted with fury. “There can be only one answer for that! The inner courtyard, in an hour! Have your sword ready!”

I will be there early, my Lord Lackbeard,” vowed Benedick.

The words left a chill over the room as the guests were hurriedly escorted out. Don Pedro led Claudio away, clearly uneasy about the turn of events. It was perhaps fortunate that he did not take note of his brother's almost cheerful mood as he followed.

Once only the immediate family remained, Sienna began crying. She sensed danger even if she couldn't name it, and her siblings all looked as frightened as she.

Benedick swooped to scoop his youngest into his arms, making shushing noises into her ear. When it did little to calm her, he sighed and reached to comfort Ignac. He knew all of his children grasped on some level the danger to his person was very real, and he had no idea how to calm their fears.

Innogen finally found her voice. “How can this be? How can Claudio speak so of Hero?”

Aunt, I fear that Claudio and the Prince hath had their wisdoms misled by John the Bastard, whose spirits toils in frame of villainies. My reason and instinct tell me that the bastard is also behind Claudio's jealous reaction prior to the Prince informing him that Hero had been spoken with. In war the Count is confident, perhaps too much; but in the affairs of the heart he seemed easily led by the wrong influence. I shall admit that I had hope during the engagement that my cousin would prove the making of Claudio into a man, but he hath instead proved correct my fears that he was not yet ready to trust a wife as half himself.”

Hero stepped toward Benedick, her trembling heart plain in her eyes. “Cousin, must thou kill Claudio?”

I know thee wishes him be no more than wounded,” Benedick acknowledged. “But Claudio may leave me no choice in the duel. He shall not overcome me, and so the question is whether his conduct shall permit him to live, merely wounded.”

Hero had to be satisfied, however poorly, with that. But any response was prevented by the Friar. “Come lady; this wedding-day perhaps is but prolong'd; have patience and endure.”

She nodded and held out her hands to Sienna. “Come and comfort me, little cousin.”

The little girl did not want to leave her father's hip, but the need in Hero's eyes, combined with her father's gentle encouragement, convinced her to do so. She slowly went to Hero's waiting arms, which settled her against her hip. Hero took Ignac's hand and then let her mother guide her away to the safety of the inside rooms, under the care of her gentlewomen.

Adrian and Rufine stayed still, looking at their father. Crispin remained beside them. Benedick could read their fear that they dared not say aloud. They were old enough to know what was happening, that it was not a play fight and were too aware that there was the chance of their father not coming home from it. And the thought terrified them. He knelt before them. “Go comfort your cousin and each other; I must ensure Claudio pays for his grave error; and so farewell until later.” He kept his tone even and reassuring, telling them to focus on his return.

He knew that it was a mere distraction, but they nodded. So he embraced each one, after which they allowed Leonato to lead them away. “I shall see thee in the courtyard, nephew; men from both houses shall wait upon us.”

Benedick nodded, concealing his grimness.

Beatrice tarried, standing before her husband in the empty room. Only then did she permit the tears to show. “Husband” she choked as she tried for an even tone. “You must kill Claudio.”

He nodded grimly. “I have engaged myself, have I not? Only an hour ago I would have thought I could not kill my foolish friend, not for the wide world, but he hath left me no choice. His conduct shall now determine his fate.”

For the first time, I find myself regretting not knowing what my husband is like on the battlefield. You are his superior in fighting? For I could not permit him to live if he cost me and the children you.”

He took her into his arms, feeling terrible when she went without even the slightest protest. Her fear was coming off her in droves. “My love, never have I broken a promise to return to thy side, and I shall not now.” He moved a hand to cup her cheek, which drew her to look into his eyes, and he aimed all the confidence he had into them as his other took one of her hands. “By this hand, Claudio shall render me a dear account. He shall not survive me. I shall be in our bed tonight, and have thee until morning or until sleep overtakes thee.”

He did not dare let her continue on her fears. He could not permit Claudio to overcome him. He had too much at stake, and he knew full well what his wife would be driven to in grief and its resulting madness. For their children's sakes, never mind hers, he had to emerge alive.

Beatrice's eyes yet watered, but his words rang true. He had never made her a promise he felt he could not keep, and he had always returned to her. “I shall slip to the chapel to pray for thee, my sword.”

It was true, for his sword was at her disposal. No pun intended.

He looked deeply into her eyes, which had supported and challenged and inflamed him for all these years. “One kiss, my lady's favour as my talisman.”

She threw her arms around him, melting into him from sheer desperation. He held on, longing to keep her at his side, but forced to release her far too soon.

Beatrice choked trying to keep her tears at bay as Benedick took his hat, placed it on his head, and then – taking a long look her way – said simply, “Until later, my Beatrice.” And walked off with military precision.

Once he left her tears became audible, and she stumbled against the chapel door. Bent half over in grief, feeling like the smallest twine might lead her, she leaned her head – feeling light-headed given her earlier reactions – against the frame. She gasped a prayer.

O God, defend thy servant Benedick that he may defend my cousin! Let him return to my side, and let those who sought Hero's ruin meet the justice of this world before they meet yours. May my husband return as he promised, to tend to me as I carry more proof of the love we share. Amen.”

Still weeping and straining to contain it, as there was no point to raising a fuss, she slowly walked to recover the forgotten bouquet – tossed aside as Hero had been – and made to find the path to where she knew her family would wait. Her children needed her there, no matter how she felt. She only hoped she would not swoon again, for her pride could not bear it.


Chapter Seven: A Grave Misapprehension

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
sykira
Jan. 19th, 2014 12:57 am (UTC)
"He hoped that waking after lengthy drinking had sobered the Count to the seriousness of his upcoming duties as a husband."

GUH. How much do I love this inner thought of Benedick, it absolutely crystalizes what I LOVE about the evolution of his character in the play *especially* how DT choses to portray him: the seriousness with which he approaches marriage, and how you can see Beatrice is his focus, and he takes the role as a serious one, embracing his responsibility to her as an honor, not a frivolity--basically he's the opposite of the cad he first pretends to be (and Claudio actually is).
Oh this makes me want to finish up my MAAN fic now!

tkel_paris
Jan. 19th, 2014 04:53 am (UTC)
There is so much to love about DT's Benedick. He's an adorable clown, the language comes alive in his mouth, he's the epitome of honor and gallantry, and he's utterly crazy about Beatrice - even before he's willing to admit it. And yes, he is the opposite of what he pretends to be in the play. Good point!

And I'm looking forward to that one. If I inspire you and your muse to finish it, then this was a present for both of us. :DDDD

As always, thank you for the lovely reviews.
sykira
Jan. 19th, 2014 01:58 am (UTC)
Woah, the tension is this is ratcheted up and up, eeeek, I'm worried! Lovely dramatic tension, it's different enough from the original that I'm on the edge of my seat in a way I wasn't with the original, cause I always knew what would happen!
tkel_paris
Jan. 19th, 2014 04:55 am (UTC)
That's the key to when the two major characters get together: turn up the tension and problems. If you're nervous, then I did my job. The details will mean something later on. At least some will.

Will try to post more later this weekend (possibly by Monday). Assuming I can finish Chapter 8. I'd like to be a chapter ahead before posting again. We'll see.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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