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FIC: Seals of Love (8/10)




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. At this point it's Happy Belated New Year, love. :D And special thanks to tardis_mole for beta reading.
Author's Note: When my Muse got the bug that later became “Glance of Love”, she got a few other ideas as well. And now that NaNo's over, I'm working on the Christmas stories. Thank goodness some of them were already done. :D

And this grew. This chapter simply refused to stop, and then my beta had two scene suggestions that I agreed were needed. So... one more post. I doubt you'll mind, sykira. :)



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

CHAPTER EIGHT: WAITING IS THE WORST SORROW

The ladies and children had gathered in the formal room of Leonato's house, where the revels had taken place not a week before. Several men stood at ready to fetch things for them or relay messages to other parts of the house. The choice of the inner courtyard as the dueling site was to avoid outside interference; a sensible decision except that it meant that those within the house at any room could hear the sounds of swords clashing.


It was a sound that everyone knew to varying degrees. Some of the children reacted to each clash, but not Benedick and Beatrice's children. They were well used to it, having watched their parents practice often. The eldest three also practiced often themselves. But the knowledge was a double-edged sword: they could make guesses as to what was happening, but the lack of hard proof that their father was safe wounded them and made them jumpy.

They tried to remain calm, even help soothe the younger children of the House. Only Sienna periodically started crying again, and that set them off into tears every time. Only their mother's grim countenance allowed the eldest to stem the flow. At least until their youngest sibling cried again in Hero's arms.

The gentlewomen, especially Margaret, had done their best to attempt levity in any form to distract them all from the noise outside. Conversation, music, loud games for the children, embroidery, reading, the radio, anything they could think of. But the children were ultimately having none of it, since the leading children of the area – Benedick and Beatrice's – were having none of it. They were left with their imaginations to fill in the gaps, and to determine what words were being spoken when they could make out the sounds of raised voices, Benedick's being one of them.

Hero sat surrounded by her gentlewomen, who all sought to bring her whatever she needed to try to attain anything like calm. But she was crying, needing to hold her youngest cousin in an attempt to keep herself under good regulation. Her dreams seemed shattered no matter what happened, unlike the wrinkles in her dress that could be removed with care, and she kept reaching for glasses of champagne, one after the other.

Innogen paced slowly nearby, disliking her complete lack of control over anything outside of the room. It was different from following her husband's lead, which bothered her on occasion to where she asked pointed questions of him when they were alone. She looked at the gathering and sighed. A day that had begun so promisingly threatened to end in great tragedy for at least one of her girls. And she was close enough to the windows to make out some of the raised words. If her ears did not mishear at one moment, then she heard Claudio say something that would ensure Benedick would kill him. Oh, if only she could make that sorry sir boy answer her first!

Nearby, Beatrice paced like a caged creature, having ditched her pale shoes for more comfort. No one dared to correct her about lady-like manners. She was ready to take up her husband's sword and even forfeit her own life to punish Claudio if he should succeed. Even though she knew she carried more of Benedick's planted fruit. The only thing that drew her from her pacing was when Sienna cried. Then she would go to her, nuzzle her and whisper to her until her tears quieted and her cousin was enough to calm her, upset as Hero was. It repeated multiple times.

As Hero finished her third glass within a short time, Maria had to comment in an effort to calm her lady. “If you go on thus, you will kill yourself, and 'tis not wisdom to second grief against yourself.”

Hero looked up with the sort of fire her father often showed when angered. “I pray thee cease thy counsel, which falls into mine ears as profitless as water in a sieve. Give me not counsel, nor let no comforter delight mine ear but such a one whose wrongs do suit with mine. Bring me a lady that so lov'd her lord, whose joy of him is overwhelm'd like mine was, and who was cast aside for reasons she cannot fathom, and bid her speak of patience; measure her woe the length and breadth of mine, and let it answer every strain for strain, as thus for thus, and such a grief for such, in every lineament, branch, shape, and form. If such a one will smile and stroke her hair, bid sorrow wag, cry 'Hem!' when she should groan, patch grief with proverbs, make misfortune drunk with candle-wasters, bring her yet to me, and I of her will gather patience. But there is no such woman: for, Maria, men and women may both counsel and speak comfort to that grief which they themselves not feel; but tasting it, their counsel turns to passion, which before would give preceptial medicine to rage, fetter strong madness in a silken thread, charm ache with air, and agony with words. No, no, 'tis all men and women's office to speak patience to those that wring under the load of sorrow, but no man or woman's virtue nor sufficiency to be so moral when she shall endure the like herself. Therefore give me no counsel: my griefs cry louder than advertisement.”

Innogen suppressed a groan. Her child had never sounded so like Leonato. “Therein do men and women from children nothing differ, nor daughters from fathers.”

Mother, I pray thee peace, I will be flesh and blood; for there was never yet philosopher that could endure the toothache patiently, however they have writ the style of gods, and made a push at chance and sufferance!”

Yet bend not all the harm upon yourself; make those that do wrong you suffer too!” cried Beatrice, ensuring silence from the whole room. “Do not merely let others declare thy fate: for that is how men like Don John can twist appearances to make thee seem a stale when the opposite is true!”

I do not understand how the Prince and the Count could have been so deceived,” declared Margaret. “For both men were even described by Benedick as having the very bent of honour. Surely they could have seen that such a woman that they did see was not my lady.”

Beatrice's blood was up. Not even her children's presence could temper her words. “Do not imagine that men of power are immune to flattery and deception, Fool; mine husband hath witnessed this time and time again, and spoken bitterly of the follies. Knowing what I doth of the Prince and Claudio, and of men when they are sending one of their own off into marriage, I suspect that they were deeply in their cups, as Benedick said; there did Don John work his villainies, preying on the fears that drive men to rule despite being clods of wayward marl. They use their might to make right their rule, and only one of them is enough to ruin a woman; yea, they hoped that three of them would leave Hero with no recourse, and that my uncle would fall to their side being of their ilk. The Bastard took advantage of their lessened wisdoms and turned them into greater fools than they already are!”

Good God, my Lady Beatrice!” cried Ursula. “Have a care with thy speech! Your Senor would not wish thee to attract the harsh hand of the Prince.”

Beatrice took nothing back. “O princes and counties! Surely a princely testimony, a goodly count, Count Comfect, a sweet gallant surely! O that I were a man for his sake, if I had not a husband, a good friend, who will be a man for my sake! But manhood is melted into curtsies, valour into compliment, and men are only turned into tongue, and trim ones too: he is now as valiant as Hercules that only tells a lie and swears it.”

Her children stared at her in horrified fascination, listening as her tone swung from choking with grief to sarcastic to bitter and angry and quiet. To the youngest it was incomprehensible. The two eldest however understood.

Adrian spoke, his words quiet and yet reaching the whole room. “Mother, do you mean that a man may murder a lady's reputation with little more than his own words, his own reputation as an honourable man?”

Beatrice looked forlornly at her son. Like his father, he could be far too aware of what happened around him. She knew that he was fully aware of the risk his father undertook each action, and his relief whenever Benedick returned was too great for ignorance. Had been for far too long. She approached and held him to her, not surprised when his twin leaned in to also be held. “Yea, my son. Claudio hath made it impossible to conceal from thee the truths of war, or that it may touch the home in the worst way.”

Rufine sniffled. “There is not a chance my cousin shall be happy with the outcome?”

I fear not, daughter. She must pray that your father succeeds in everything he vowed, or she shall never be able to show her face before Messina ever again.”

The children cried, in varying degrees of shock. Crispin and Ignac drew to their mother's side in a rush. Sienna held Hero all the tighter, and both began weeping anew.

Beatrice clutched her children and they clung to her. They needed her in the uncertain moment, and they were all she had of her husband right then.

Suddenly they heard approaching footfalls. They all went stock still, waiting to see who entered and who did not.

Before Beatrice could do more than draw away from her children and open her mouth to demand answers, Benedick entered alone, carrying his jacket. His open shirt revealed two thin cuts, one on his chest and one on his stomach, but he was otherwise merely sweaty. There was not a hint of another wound.

Hero cried out, terrified that Claudio was dead. Only her mother putting a hand on her shoulder for comfort kept her reaction to that. Though the room was in shock and stunned, even as some of Beatrice's men followed their lord.

Sienna slipped Hero's hold with a burst of energy that stunned her cousin. The little girl rushed to her father's side, crying, “Papa! Papa! Papa!”

He paused long enough to scoop her into his arms, adjusting so he held her by one while both of hers wrapped tightly around his neck as she sobbed in relief. He then went straight to his wife and stopped before her. “Our cousin's honour is restored, her good name cleared. I have kept my word to return to thy side, and I shall keep the rest of it.”

She did not even blush at the reminder. Instead she did something that no one could imagine the proud Beatrice doing: she all but fell into his embrace, letting herself cry her tears of relief. Their children slowly leaned against them, not daring to even cry their father's name as the moment was still too grim.

The room remained silent, listening for any signs that others were also approached. But nothing reached their ears.

When Beatrice was able to let go of Benedick, he greeted each child with a hug and a kiss on their forehead. No words were exchanged, for none could speak.

At length Hero could not remain quiet any longer, though she could not stand. “Cousin, what is Claudio's fate?”

Benedick's sudden tension did not escape anyone's notice, least of all his children. “Claudio conducted himself in a manner that ought to have rendered him dead at my hand, but Constable Dogberry came with the proof of my suspicions that the Prince and Claudio were thoroughly misled. I chose to spare the Count's life despite his conduct in the duel, for his living thwarted the wishes of the author of the false accusations against thee.”

Hero sighed in relief, looking heavenward with a smile and a prayer. She could not help it given how his report had begun.

Do not rejoice yet, Hero,” he warned. “You do not yet have the full tale, but I shall not speak of it until my uncle and the others return.”

Beatrice caught his eyes. “Do not tell me that he is wounded only as much as thee.”

Nay, my love; these are mere scratches compared to the wounds I gave Claudio to conclude the duel. His own acceptance and admission of guilt made it easier to spare him despite his richly deserving another fate.”

Hero numbly began to eye the glasses again.

Leave the drink alone, sweet Hero,” implored Beatrice. “You shall surely want your wits about you fully when you learn about today. How long must we wait, husband?”

Leonato was speaking with the Watch when I left, and the Prince will have a great many things to secure. I doubt it will be soon. And so I think we should bring our children home; then while you tend to me I shall tell you everything, and we shall return after that.”

The children wanted to protest, but the urge seemed strange to them. It was more a wish to know what really happened than not liking going home, which had a great appeal. So Ignac took his father's free hand and Rufine stayed at Sienna's side. Adrian and Crispin took their mother's hands and let themselves be led away.

The remaining women looked anew for ways to distract Hero, but first Maria and Margaret – without needing a prompt from Innogen – removed all the glasses and bottles from their lady's reach.

/=/=/=/

They had barely reached the gate when Benedick paused, hearing grumbled cursing and loud noises coming from a private courtyard behind the household quarters. Frowning, he quickly handed Sienna to one of his men and gently pushed open a narrow door to find Bruno attacking an already destroyed earthen jar with a long dagger.

Oh if you were but a sword!”

Benedick deftly disarmed the boy as his arm drew up to deal another blow. The boy gasped and turned.

I should thank God that it is not, child,” Benedick supposed gently. “What vexed thee enough to leave thy mother’s side?”

I needed nature’s relief,” the boy replied. Bruno bravely bit back his tears and anger and tried to stand proud, though his station thwarted any such pride. “I wanted to avenge my Lady Hero, and clear my mother’s dishonour in one fell blow!”

On clay?”

You take me as a fool, my Lord, but I want justice too. But it is not granted to me to learn the art of the sword, because I am shamed and born in shame!”

Benedick looked upon the boy’s manner and quivering lip. He remembered finding the lad in a very similar state before leaving on the past action, and taking his feelings out on a jar already condemned for leaking.

Bruno tried to dry his tears as the dagger was taken from his hands, and he forced himself to meet Benedick's eyes, ready to take whatever punishment his lord would deal. He could not meet the eyes of Adrian or Crispin, who had accompanied their father into the courtyard for sword practice.

Benedick took in Bruno's manner and then looked at the destroyed jar. “What brought thy anger on discarded clay? I should think you might have done yourself a harm, Boy.”

My anger is for what I am denied, because I am shamed and born in shame! I cannot be a soldier, and follow my lord into battle. I would not know my letters had my lord not chosen to arrange that I learn in secret, for a bastard is not owed education. I did nothing and yet I am condemned. I cannot learn the art of the sword so I might be a soldier! My grandparents say no fault attaches to me and yet I am forced to the shadows!”

Benedick touched the boy's shoulder as he would one of his sons. “Sweet innocence has always been your mother’s and it has bless’d your soul since the day you were planted in her. And I swear to you, that if it is in me to grant you that request, if that day shall come, I will see your restore your mother’s honour.”

Swear it,” Bruno demanded, ignoring the childish tears on his cheeks. “Be I not man enough to have a Lord’s oath?”

Aye, you are man enough,” Benedick declared. “For if it had been permitted I would have trained you like my own sons and have you stand shoulder to shoulder with them.”

You would swear to that, my lord?”

Adrian and Crispin, be witnesses before God to my vow to your friend.” Benedick knelt before Bruno. “I swear to thee, Bruno, as God is my witness, that should I learn who cast shame upon thy mother that thou shall be permitted to right her.”

Bruno's eyes gave the same silent plea that had been given before. It broke Benedick's heart, and he knew the sight pained Beatrice's mother's heart.

He once again knelt on bended knee before the boy. “I swear, as God is my witness, I have not forgot nor retracted the oath I made with thee. In the presence of the Lady Beatrice and our children, I swear, you shall your mother's shame remove.”

Bruno swallowed down a sob, but pretended not to have done it. The renewal however did give him strength.

If it were in me, Bruno, I would also make Balthasar your sire and father. But in that I do not have the authority. But in your mother’s honour, you will have the first strike. I swear,” Benedick added, and passed him back the dagger. “Now, be quick. Return this to whence it came and return to your mother. She needs you, and she could have no better man in her household than the son I see before me.”

Bruno nodded and slowly returned to the room they had just departed. As Benedick stood, Beatrice's eyes questioned him silently.

When we are alone, my love,” he promised, heaviness drawing over his soul.

/=/=/=/

Sienna had been put to bed, the poor dear was so exhausted from her fears and crying. She had refused to let anyone but her father tend to her, and he had sung every comforting song he could think of until she at last allowed the dream state to take her.

The others, having stayed close while their sister was soothed, were left together in a nearby room under an older gentlewoman's care to calm their spirits. None of the children wanted to leave his side, but they would not disobey him or their mother under such circumstances.

Once they were alone, Beatrice forced Benedick to remove his shirt completely to prove he had no other wounds. Satisfied, she bade him to lie on their sofa so she could apply some TCP to his cuts. “Why had you refused treatment earlier?”

To emphasise the difference between myself and Claudio, to wound his pride further. And because I wanted to return to thee as quick as may be.”

She squeezed his hand in thanks, and when he remained silent she began applying the medicine.

He hissed suddenly between his teeth.

She stopped and stared at him. “Husband, you have worse in sword jest with me than this and have no sound uttered. Have you grown soft in the gaining of wounds since parting from the Prince's service?”

Nay, fair wife, I am not grown soft, but the wound of sword between thou and I did not pain me so much as the ache of Claudio's words. His sword cut me to the skin, but his words cut me to the heart. Continue and let it worry thee no more than that.”

She narrowed her eyes but resumed her treatment. He kept his reaction under better regulation, but he watched and waited for her next remark.

It was a long time in coming, longer than he expected. He had to break silence to provoke her to speech. “Beatrice, what concerns thee?”

What did Claudio say that hurt my battle-tested husband in his heart so deeply? Did he prove himself even more unworthy of Hero?”

O god, wife, he did. If Hero had heard half of the things said I do not know how she would have borne it.”

Then tell me.”

He hesitated a moment before taking one of her hands. “By this hand I vowed earlier that Claudio would render me a dear account, and I held to that. Now by my hand thou must swear that whatever my tale tempts thee to do, it shall not mean challenging Claudio.”

Beatrice normally did not take well to being told to not do something, even when she was given good reasons for it. If Benedick was asking this, he was asking to remind her of the fruit he had planted and how she must take care with her actions. She took a deep breath, having put as much medicine on his wounds as needed, and put the items aside. “I swear, my love. Now tell me all.”

/=/=/=/

Leonato was still tending to legal jargon that he could have done well without. The day had been trying enough, but he tarried. He had to assist Don Pedro in assigning staff to guard the prisoners, locations for housing the prisoners as there was no question of guilt, and the paperwork involved. He barely noticed when his guards stopped a messenger in Royal livery at the main gate.

Halt, name your business and master before you enter herein,” the Guards ordered.

Peace part thee, men of Governor Leonato,” the messenger responded. “I am a messenger of the Royal Court on the King’s business for the Prince himself and the Prince alone.”

The Guards recognized his livery and the crest on two envelopes he carried and parted in respect. The messenger nodded his head and entered approaching the Prince with a footman with him.

The Prince looked up and saw them approaching and rolled his eyes heavenward. “Dear God, do not let me be called home yet,” he prayed beneath his breath. “Captain of the Guard,” he welcomed. “What brings thee hence? Tell me my father hasn’t died without warning me first?”

The messenger and his footman bowed at the waist and held out the envelopes, and ignored the jest. “My Lord, the King is still in rude health.”

Ruder by the year,” the Prince responded, taking the envelopes. “I shall be greyed and well aged before I take his place.”

The messenger hid a small smile. “Aye, and be ruder still if he thwart you in that. His words, my Lord. We came as quickly as was possible. The King urged us take the shortest and quickest route. He said it was of great import that you receive these by tonight.”

The Prince turned the envelopes over and unfastened the twine on the seal of the first. He drew out a document and read it. Shocked, he quickly returned the document to the envelope and quickly opened the second and read that. Unsure how to react he returned the document to the envelope and turned to the messenger.

Find thee meat and lodgings for the night among my men and return to the King in the morning. I shall telephone my father at once.”

The messenger and the footman bowed deeply and left.

The Prince then left the courtyard to enter the gatehouse where there was a telephone on the guard’s desk. He motioned for a little privacy, and the guard present stepped outside where he could reach anything in a hurry and yet honor the request. Don Pedro picked up the receiver and dialed a number. After a moment he heard it answered.

Evening, Eduard. Is my father awake still? I must speak with him now.” He waited until he heard his father’s voice. “Aye, it is I, Father. Thy messenger has arrived. I will pass on said when chance presents itself. It is greater than I asked for.” He listened a moment. “Nay, I agree 'tis deserved, and would not be had thou not encouraged me to secure him for my service to give him escape from a sore point. He doth not express gratitude easily, yet I saw it in his actions; greatest favour I ever did him, even aside from brining him to Messina.” He laughed at the answer. “I think thou and I know well enough his choice was as much to displease his father as to give himself joy. I suspect it was the treatment of a lady that drove him to escape to battlefield.” He paused, his expression changing to sadness. “I would, Father, but Don John has been thwarted in yet more and worse villainy, and caught this time before life was lost. This time he sought to pit Benedick against Count Claudio by creating the illusion that the governor's daughter was disgraced. Least said, the wedding hath been prolonged and Claudio now finds himself in the debt of Benedick. 'Tis worse for it would not have worked had I not been deceived.” He listened carefully for a long moment. “I am sorely displeased in him and sorely sorry for thee. I did try.” He listened again. “I shall make him face those he has wronged. There are a great many things I cannot speak of in this fashion, for they require secrecy to not cast disgrace on those who doth not deserve it. What shall I do beyond that?” He listened again. “I understand.” He listened one last time. “It shall be done as thee has commanded and be in the hands of Benedick of Padua by nightfall. You have my word.”

He hung up and closed his eyes. On top of everything else, he had to now warn Leonato that the King would be coming within the week to Messina. Any who had thought Leonato a father suffering from a broken heart would be grief-stricken themselves when they saw a father who lived with the shame of having brought forth who largely only caused pain and the necessity of having to rid the world of said child.


Chapter Nine: A Gentleman's Recompense
or
DVD Extra the Third

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
sykira
Jan. 27th, 2014 04:24 am (UTC)
Oooh so much going on, but you gave every character depth and emotional resonance, bravo. I especially loved you giving Bruno voice. Benedick is SO good with him, but I appreciate you acknowledging that even Benedick is limited in how much help he can give Bruno in his situation.

LOL TCP! :D I can still smell it to this day.

I liked the play on rude health too, I see what you did there ;)


tkel_paris
Jan. 27th, 2014 05:27 am (UTC)
Thank you. Pay attention in the next chapter, because a lot of characters get to speak. There's a lot going on, and I think you'll love the outcome. Benedick doing so much for Bruno just seemed within his nature.

:)

*giggles*
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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