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FIC: Seals of Love (9/10)

Last chapter is being a pain, but I thought I should post this to wet your appetite for it and for the final DVD extra.

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. With huge thanks to my betas, tardis_mole and bas_math_girl.
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

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


The ladies were forced to wait a few more hours, which meant that the daylight was nearly gone. Their monotony was broken when Angelo and Titus returned, both looking pale.

Ursula was first to speak. “Husband, what happened?”

Tell you true, I not know where to begin,” Angelo said, shaking his head. “I doth know that it is proved our Lady Hero has been falsely accused, the Prince and Claudio mightily abused, and Don John who is the author of all is bound to his answer.”

Innogen would not be silent. “What?! Is mine nephew correct, then? The Prince's own brother! We harbour'd a snake in our home!”

Her choice of words made Angelo tense, but he continued. “Aye, a snake that bit more than once, I heard the Prince tell,” he said and bit his tongue. He glanced around the assembled in the room. “It may be best that the children are not present for the full tale. I expect Leonato to return shortly, and the Prince shall lead the rest soon after.”

I wish to stay, Grandfather,” protested Bruno.

Maria shook her head. “Listen to him, son.”

But I wish to stay to comfort our family and our Lady Hero, Mother! I am nearly Lord Adrian and Lady Rufine's age; I am old enough!”

His family looked to Innogen for help. She looked at Bruno a moment and sighed silently. “If he is certain he is of the stock to bear whatever may come, then let him prove it. He may remain when the other children are sent to a more private room; the youngest ought not to hear whatever has happened.”

With that a few of the female servants began to escort all remaining children out of the room as quickly as possible. The necessity showed in their speed, and those woman would learn later what happened.

Leonato entered not long after, his face pale and grim. The other men of his household followed along with the other half of the men from Beatrice's, looking rather like the governor in expression. It made Hero shake, especially as he went first to her to embrace her, then his wife. But he would not answer any inquiries. “Not until the Prince and the others arrive,” he quietly declared, his exhaustion plain.

That moment appeared to come several minutes later when Don Pedro and the Messenger arrived, helping Claudio. The Count was walking awkwardly, a bandage wrapped around his stomach which showed signs of blood. He was also not meeting anyone's gaze, but that could have been explained by the fact that he had one hand against the bandage and was using the other to keep his trousers up over his hips – the buttons appeared to have been cut clean off.

Hero stood slowly, unwilling to be silent and largely freed of the influence of the champagne with strong black coffee. “Father, what hath occurred?”

Before she could be answered, Dogberry led Verges and the Watch into the room, including the detained Borachio and Conrade.

Margaret cried out. “What?! Borachio bound?!”

Following them were yet more soldiers, two guarding the bound Don John.

Innogen's temper flared again. “So the Prince's own brother is behind this wickedness against my child, and she is nearly kill'd, slander'd to near death by villains, that dare as well answer a man indeed as I dare take a serpent by the tongue. Boys, apes, braggarts, Jacks, milksops!”

Good madam,” Don Pedro interrupted, feeling the rightness of her anger as she demanded answers. For the first time, he wondered if Beatrice had been quietly encouraged by her aunt to remain as she was in the face of Leonato's rule. If so, he wished he could thank her as she might be partly responsible for her own child's preservation, at least indirectly. “My heart is sorry for not seeing through my brother's deception that nearly cost at least one life.”

Then my cousin was spot on with his instincts?” demanded Hero. “Count John is the author of all?”

Yea, Lady Hero.” He could barely face her wounded expression or the demand to know how he, the wise Prince, could have fallen for it. But face it he had to, for honor demanded it. “He came to myself and Claudio when all others had left, whilst we had lost great blood from drinking; he crafted a tale to trick us both when we were at our most susceptible to being played for fools. I ought to have demanded to bring men more sober to bear witness to the events mine brother showed us, which I know now were arranged as carefully as a play. Mine instincts did not believe him when he said it, but if my brother is good at anything it is managing to find the words to make one doubt their own soul when it suits him. Had I not been drinking it would never have worked.”

But how could he convince you that you have seen me with a man I was never near, certainly not in such a manner as your accus'd me?” demanded Hero.

Borachio spoke. “If you would know your wronger, look on me.”

What?!” again cried Margaret. “What mean thee, Borachio?”

He slowly looked at her in sorrow. “My master has long been wishing Claudio be thwarted in his desires, and I had sworn to assist him. Once I gave him word that an intended marriage existed I was to assist him in whatever was to be done. When our attempts to prevent the arrangement at the revels failed, his prompting led me to think of using the favour thou hath shown me so that the Prince and Claudio might be persuaded Hero was no maiden.”

You jest!” Margaret cried, shaking her head wildly. “How can this be?!”

Did I not request thou wear garments very like thy lady's if not of thy lady's?”

Yes,” she answered slowly, stiffening. “What of it?”

And then I encouraged thou to drink more than your usual wont, to make thee so merry that I could influence thy actions to make Claudio and the Prince believe that they saw Hero with me. The dark and their drinks made it possible. I deceived thee, Margaret, and never can I make that right.”

Margaret collapsed into a nearby chair, covering her mouth and trying desperately to restrain crying. “When I thought thy intentions were honourable, that you sought to support a wife?! Thou art little more than a blackguard!”

Leonato turned toward Margaret. “Then I presume that you were not pack'd in all this wrong, hir'd to it by Don John?”

Borachio protested immediately. “No, by my soul she was not, nor knew not what she did when she spoke to me, but always hath been just and virtuous in anything that I do know by her.”

Hero walked to Margaret's side, who looked down after briefly meeting her lady's eyes but was startled when she was embraced tightly. “Good Meg, I doth not hold thee at fault for this day, for it was against thy will. A lady must not blame another for being deceiv'd so cruelly by the man she bestow'd her affection to; for I declare thee innocent, and shall not see thee punish'd. I see that the villain who pain'd thee so shall willingly accept any punishment that might be thine to bear for thy sake.”

Margaret's watery smile was filled with gratitude, and her family went to her side when Hero let her go. Though she went into her father's arms, needing the support.

Hero was silent, trying to form words. Her eyes slowly turned to Claudio, who flinched as she looked at him. “Does the Prince mean to tell me that everything I had said to you was forsaken for the word of a man you must have known was not to be trust'd?”

Her voice was a mixture of sorrow and anger, her words meant to hit at Claudio's honor – the very thing that had been engaged to act against her, and the very thing that now lay in tatters. She did not fail to hit her mark, however gently she spoke. Never mind the more formal language than was her want toward him.

Claudio could still not meet her eyes. And her phrasing had to be answered in kind to show respect. He was still shaking in shock from his wounds, and pale with loss of honor as much as blood. “Yea, I have prov'd unworthy of you, Sweet Hero. I have been prov'd an ass and an ass again, unwilling to accept the responsibilities a husband hath to his wife or that no matter the law the husband must find a way to trust his wife as half himself. Your cousin hath forbidden me from asking for forgiveness, and I await the penance he shall impose on me. My life is his as he would have been right to slay me for my actions and words, and I submit to whatever his invention can lay upon my many sins.”

Borachio had to make a plea. “Good lady, please let me speak. The Count sinn'd only in mistaking, led to it by a man whose talents lie in mischief-making and his guilt shall punish him enough; his honour from the battlefield shall ensure that.”

Hero narrowed her eyes. “Art thou then the slave that with thy breath hast kill'd mine innocent heart?'

Yea, even I alone.”

She shook her head. “No, not so, villain, thou beliest thyself. Here stand a pair of honourable men that had a hand in it. I thank you, Prince and Count, for my heart's death; record it with your high and worthy deeds; 'twas bravely done, if you bethink you of it.”

Leonato stepped forward to touch Hero's shoulder in support. “Daughter, you hath prov'd mine child in every possible way; and yet I must mention that the Prince hath also agreed to bend under any weight that your cousin's honour deems required to satisfy the debt they both are in to our House. Claudio is not permitt'd to even ask for thy forgiveness until he hath carried out his penance to both houses, which Benedick is yet to choose. And he is also responsible for the brave punishments to be laid at Don John's door.”

Footsteps could be heard, and then Beatrice marched into the room regally, her face like stone. Benedick trailed a step or two behind, followed by their footmen. They had each changed attire; she in a green dress meant for casual days and having kept her hair in its formal binding to save time, he in black trousers and a loose-fitting white shirt that exposed part of his chest wound to the air.

I see the tale hath been told,” Beatrice said, her voice as sharp as fingers snapping.

"Crisp you sound this evening, Lady Beatrice," Claudio noted, managing to keep to his feet out of respect.

"Aye, Claudio, as crisp as a Winter morn in England!" she rebuked as she approached. Without warning, she punched him, sending him spinning and landing on his rump. He made little effort to alter his fall, for one hand was still needed to preserve what was left of his dignity.

Benedick hid a smile and did not offer his friend a hand up. Instead he remarked, before any of the stunned women could protest with a question, "As fair a strike as a man. Would you not agree, Claudio?"

Claudio could only grunt in pain and dab at his blooded nose.

"Come come, Claudio, where be your manners?" Benedick goaded.

"I smack'd them from him," Beatrice supposed, and turned away, head held high. "Once and four times I brought fourth the fruit of my husband. I dare say I made less noise than this whelp makes at a bruised ego." She glanced back at the man still on the floor. "I dare say I smack'd him fairly?"

"To appease both your honour and Hero's," Benedick added.

Claudio blanched. "You told her what I said?"

"No secrets between me and my wife," Benedick replied.

Don Pedro closed his eyes and nodded grimly. Only a matter of confidence or the details of the battlefield would prevent Benedick from sharing something with Beatrice. He had called this one. And of all the women Innogen seemed to suspect what Claudio had said, for her eyes flashed daggers at the Count.

Claudio got to his feet, holding his stomach and a cry from escaping, and turned to Beatrice. "I spoke in anger against thee and thine husband, more than once. But I did not mean a word of it, particularly those spoken in the courtyard. It is for only a blind man to miss the likeness of father and son, father and daughter. I am certain that meeting you in a duel as honour requests would be the end of me."

"Honour is satisfied. Let us speak no more of it," the Prince begged. "There is dishonour elsewhere in this House that needs the light left of this day to air."

The women in the room looked at him in alarm.

What mean you, Prince?” Innogen demanded, noting his pale face and grim manner.

Angelo had to speak next. “I believe I have more right to demand it; your words cast aspersion on my own family.”

I beg thee, good man, to let me speak and explain, for the answer reveals the depth of my family's shame in my brother's life and my actions in a never-ending attempt to make some right out of it.”

He had his audience's attention, and took a deep breath to prepare himself as even Claudio listened in rapt attention. This would be shaming, but he had no choice. “A man hath the obligation to care for any children borne outside the marital bed, but mine brother though denying having needs hath neither acknowledg'd nor provid'd for any of the bastards he sired. I do not pretend to be a saint, but I have honoured my responsibilities and seen to what ought to have been his.”

Benedick's eyes widened, and Beatrice's flew to his face to see how much he suspected.

When I first came to this house with mine brother over twenty years hence I had no inkling that he might have caus'd such shame. But one of his men on dying from battle wounds made a confession to me; that his master had boasted of using a spice drink and tricking a gentlewoman of Leonato's household that she had lain with her husband when in truth it was my brother.”

Horror spread to the entire room, save for one villain. Even Borachio and Conrade looked at Don John in dismay. But Leonato and Innogen froze solid.

I could not prove it, but I made a point of returning here as soon as duty permitted to see with mine own eyes if any issue had become of his villainies.” Don Pedro looked sadly at Margaret. “When I laid eyes on Ursula's then youngest having overheard ponderings of whence her different looks came, I saw in her the picture of my brother's mother, whose shame ended when she died bringing him into the world. I dared not suggest it for fear of breaking a marriage that was clearly happy, but I ensured that her living would not create a burden on the household of the man she knew as her father.”

Complete silence ruled the room. Shock filled it, save for the satisfaction on Don John's face.

Beatrice looked at Benedick and gaged his guarded reaction as his gaze met hers. She instantly suspected why he had kept silent about his suspicions, for she saw a look of the grimness of them being confirmed. Ursula had to sink into the chair Margaret had needed moments before, and her daughters went to her side to help her hide her tears as Angelo numbly placed a hand on her shoulder.

But Innogen and Leonato were the most horrified, he more so. The acts of servants reflected on the master, and so had this got out he would have been toppled in a coup. Not even his honorable nephew could have helped him. He owed everything to Don Pedro's efforts at secrecy. The shock forced him to sit, and Innogen hurried to his side, clutching his hand as much to comfort as to be comforted.

Angelo found his voice. “Then the money we receiv'd from unknown source, that hath continued as Margaret grew, it was from thee, my lord?”

Yea, master Angelo. I am sorry to have spoken of it; I only say that my anger at my brother knew no bounds as he had to know that Margaret might be his as more than one lady in his mother's family resembles her and yet he still used her in his plot against Hero. That hath push'd me beyond the bounds of respect for my father's desperate wish that his bastard might prove a worthy soldier; he must be stopp'd, and made to account for the shame he imposed on this and other houses.”

Don John smirked. He might have no escape, but there was yet one more shame he could deal his brother and Leonato. “You think you know of all my cunning, or that you could name all of the innocents I beguiled.”

Don Pedro whirled on him. “I hath tracked your steps; even when we were sunder'd I had men check on thy behaviour. I am certain thou only hath the four misbegottens! Only one hath lived in innocence of her origins; the others I had to find their mothers husbands willing to accept them and raise the bastards under their roof in some other part of the kingdom – away from thy sight or influence!”

One other bastard stands in this very room, my brother,” Don John returned without remorse.

Exclamations of shock, dismay, and disbelief flooded the room. But four people looked like they could guess what the villain was about to say. One looked to his mother who stood stock still and pale, and their lord and lady grasped each other's hand in instinct even as the lord's face turned even grimmer with confirmation.

Burdening a forward march-chick with shame and a possible by-blow is the make of a villain, though one I have had to conceal to avoid thy wrath, brother. I knew each was mine and delight'd in the deception and the burdens thou took upon thyself. When we here for the marriage of Senor Benedick to Lady Beatrice, I could not resist the opportunity to mischief-make and saw an opening in the child of one who did not realise I had shamed her over ten years hence.”

An explosion of cries and shouts burst into the room, even from Borachio and Conrade, who each looked as though they would have rather died than commit such villainy. All eyes turned to Maria, realization hitting them all how much Bruno resembled Don John.

Maria burst into tears, missing the gentle restraining hand of Benedick – who happened to be nearest – on her arm. Hero and Beatrice tried to hold her back, away from her attacker as she shouted, “How dare you! I only knew I was in pain from that moment, and wish'd only to bathe in acid to remove my shame!”

Bruno turned and stepped into Benedick's line of sight, an imploring and angry look on his face.

Thou denied me a marriage I was expecting, a love I have been torn from as I was cast to the bottom of the household!” Maria continued, barely aware of the looks she drew – especially of Balthasar, whose eyes shone with the pain of wishing to be able to comfort her.

It fell to Margaret and Ursula to fly to her side. Angelo stood motionless, struck dumb by the pain of feeling how much he had failed his family – his wife and eldest daughter beguiled by the same villain!

While Maria protested her pain, Benedick assessed the silent plea of her son for a moment and then tapped one of his soldiers on the arm – the Captain of his men, a large man who had fought beside him ever since his first battle for Padua. The Captain frowned in confusion as his Lord whispered a command, but it was obeyed at once as he was fiercely loyal to the man whom he had followed into the Prince's service.

'Tis the nature of the world to punish woman for man's deeds,” Don John said proudly. The sight of her pain only pleased him further.

But he was momentarily silenced when Benedick's man walked over and forced him to his knees. The Captain was so much larger he had no chance of resisting.

At a slight nod from Benedick, Bruno marched over and punched the stunned Don John in the left eye.

The room was shocked, but Don John was hardly silent. “How dare thee, bastard!”

Bruno did not let him continue. “That, thou excuse of a Count, is for the Lady Hero and bringing her and her family misery!” He promptly punched the right eye. “That is for dragging my aunt into your scheme!” He threw another, breaking Don John's nose, making him fall to the floor. “That's for my grandmother!”

And then, with all the weight he could muster, he stomped on the villain's organ, drawing an agonized scream. Which made every man in the room flinch without thought, to varying degrees.

And that... is for my mother, and everything you reduc'd her to!” Bruno stood tall over the man who had wrought so much mischief into his life even before he was born. “Be glad, Snake, that I am not permitt'd a sword!”

The room was silent, not quite reacting to the boy's actions. Although Beatrice gave her husband a look that said she at last understood his meaning, and Maria's tears lessened as she comprehended that her son had done what not even Senor Benedick could: right her.

Bruno turned away and walked to his mother, but was stopped by Don Pedro. He looked the Prince in the eye. “I asked for permission to confront the man who caused my mother so much pain. I was given my lord Benedick's oath that I could. Do you wish to tell me I was wrong to avenge my family?”

Nay, Boy, thou acted within thy rights. I see the very best in my line managed to find its way into your blood-”

Have I not earn'd a name that you must still address me as naught, sir?”

The Prince paused, embarrassed and instantly forgiving the interruption. “A mistake I shall correct at once, for you have truly earn'd name and respect. Tell the world your name, that she may also pay her respects.”

My name, my lord, is Bruno,” he said, standing taller with for the pride he could see the Prince's eyes.

Don Pedro smiled, tinted with sadness for how this had come to pass. “I regret that I am limited in what I can do for thee at present. Yet know that I shall ensure you receive a portion equal to what your mother ought to have received for thy education and rearing; I say no shame attaches to her, and she may marry if she wishes and there is one who will have her.”

I would, my lord,” proclaimed Balthasar. He stepped forward to Maria's side, and she stared at him with a look that dared not hope. “I had been courting her when this happen'd, and familial honour forbade me from seeking her hand as I was beholden to my late wife's family's wishes for my children were still young. But they are old enough to understand the truth, and I will have Maria and foster her son into respectability if she will still have me.”

Maria tore from her family and threw her arms around him, bursting into the tears of a pain held in for ten years. It made more than a few eyes weep, and the households applauded that Maria would at last claim the happiness she deserved and be restored to her rightful place.

Ignoring the moans of pain from the richly punished Don John, the Prince smiled in relief. “It gladdens my heart to know that some good hath grown from today, and I have great hopes for thee, Bruno. Cultivate the keen mind I sense in thee and prove thy worth, and I shall see that thou shall go far in this world. It will be an honour to be able to call thee nephew and reward thy good behaviour, for thou hast clearly learnt well under thy master's care.”

Bruno found a large smile to bestow on the man he was now willing to call Uncle if permitted to. It grew bigger as those in the room applauded him and Don Pedro.

Beatrice turned to Benedick once the clapping faded almost completely. “How long hath you suspected, husband?”

From early after Bruno's birth, but as Maria could not remember who had harmed her I had no proof. I had even less when I began to note how like Margaret he was, and dared not speak of that as I respected Angelo and Ursula too much.”

Thy restraint shows in both war and peace, Benedick,” proclaimed Don Pedro. “And here I must speak.” He signaled to one of his men, who brought forward the two envelopes delivered earlier. He accepted and approached Benedick and Beatrice. “In addition to whatever heavy weight thy believes I hath earn'd for my sin, I would bend under additional weight to see thee return to my service. And yet no matter thy answer there are two courtesies I must bestow on thee for thy years as the man who ought to have been call'd my right hand.” He held out one envelope.

The couple exchanged a puzzled look, taking special note that both were already opened, and Beatrice accepted, opening it and holding it so they could both read it. Soon their faces dropped with shock. She managed to speak first. “My lord... you mean to grant us your estate that borders ours, the estate in Monforte?”

Yea, for thy House and thy heirs. Benedick's valour hast serviced this country well, and I am ashamed that it in its quietness hath long been overlook'd. It is a fair reward for such worthy deeds.”

There was more applause. Claudio would have joined if he did not still have to hold his trousers up.

And there is yet more,” Don Pedro added, holding out the additional envelope.

This time Benedick took it and opened it. He and Beatrice's faces registered even greater shock, and neither could speak.

I had intend'd on account of the services perform'd over the years to grant thee the title of Marquis, an honour that Claudio agreed suited thy years of service and valour – particularly as thou adopted the mantle of a noble House of great tradition. Such actions long made me desire that I could call thee brother in truth instead of merely brother-in-arms, and to see that thy expand'd duties would grant thee more time at home even should thou continue to follow me in war. I shall not expect an answer regarding a withdrawal of thy resignation, not until mine own weight is carried out. The King, my father, received my request and deem'd thy actions worthy of a greater honour. Be known as Senor Benedick of Padua no more; henceforth be known as Duke Benedick of Messina and Monforte.”

Silence ruled the room for a long moment as each tried to let it sink in that the King had essentially declared Benedick a nephew in honor. Then first Innogen and then Leonato led by clapping loudly, and all unbound were cheering and applauding. Even Claudio sat in order to join in.

Don John managed to hear the news, but his added pain was completely overlooked by all. He had attempted all these years of villainy to gain position and rank, to discredit Leonato as governor and take Messina as his own, but it had all been for naught.

No one seemed more delighted than Leonato, who realized that his own weight would be lessened and he would not have to worry so much about who would take over as governor when he passed. Innogen's joy was only slightly less, for she would see her precious niece rise to a place where her word would be respected by far more – as she would surely rule in her husband's name whilst he was away, and together when he was at home, just as they did already.

The stunned couple looked at each other for a long moment, and swallowed at the same instant. What else could they do? They managed to numbly say, almost as one and just barely loud enough to carry across the room even with all quieting to hear them, “We thank you, Prince.” And one by one accepted Don Pedro's handshake.

The cheering began anew. It did not remove the pain of the day, but it promised a new beginning for all.

Chapter Ten: Strike Up... Pipers
DVD Extra the Fourth


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 9th, 2014 11:20 pm (UTC)
Shakespeare could take a lesson or three from you in how to actually wrap up story lines and resolves plots for a genuinely satisfying happy ending! Bruno ROCKED! I love how you redeemed the women, just sublime. And good point about the boy being nameless because he was a bastard, so sad, and so overlooked in the original.

And yeah! Go Bea!

LOVE the promotion at the end too ♥
Feb. 9th, 2014 11:51 pm (UTC)
*giggles* Well, you know which TWO men I'd like to learn lessons from my writing. ;D Yes, Bruno's actions were great to write. My beta heartily approved, and added good suggestions.

You know, Shakespeare wrote parts for many unnamed Lords, so perhaps it was the interchangeable nature of the role that dictated the lack of a name. "Boy" might not have been a bastard in the play.

Bea's actions were very satisfying, weren't they? :DDDDD

Yep. Elevated above Claudio... and most importantly above Benedick's own family. That'll chafe his father's hide, don't you think? *snickers* :D
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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