The strawberry grows underneath the nettle
And wholesome berries thrive and ripen best
Neighbour'd by fruit of baser quality
Shakespeare, Henry V
Henry was a bastard. Not in law, but in manner. Even his father, the King, was entirely dissatisfied on that score. James hated how magnificent Prince Henry could be sometimes, but King Henry was forever at a loss what to do with his wayward son. Prince Henry's mother was long dead – it was a thing James had in common with him, when he would frequently rather he had nothing in common with Henry – and the King's second wife had no control over him. Indeed, she gave his father the same fits in frequently taking Prince Henry's side, for Henry was especially magnificent when he was being a bastard.
James had been in England for three years before he first saw Prince Henry, nearly all of it at court with the King's three other sons. The Prince had been busy with the Welsh rising, and only upon the successful siege against Harlech did Henry have time to return to court. James found him well-favoured like his brothers, despite the scarred cheek that marked him a veteran of many battles, and considerably taller than the rest. Henry was eight years his senior, and according to his father, he ought to treat James as a sort of younger cousin, just as his brothers did. When news of King Robert's death reached London, King Henry had told James he was profoundly sorry and intended to raise him as his father might have wished. That did not translate into any of the princes being any sort of elder brother like David had been. Instead of David's off-hand condescension, Henry treated James with profound interest interrupted by marked neglect, differing from his brothers only degree: they were more mild in their interest and more mild in their neglect.
King Henry was taken profoundly ill soon after his son's return, and the court fell under Prince Henry's control. At first it seemed he had cast a spell, for he was magnificent, but it soon proved impossible to ever please someone as changeable or self-centred as Henry. After a few months, even James and his small court had heard the grumblings of the wider world against Henry's predations. He elevated Lollards simply to annoy his father. He elevated Lollards because he was a heretic. He made friends with tremendously inappropriate people. He discarded so-called friends with a callousness that would wound his poor father. His father was at least half a regicide, John Sinclair insisted in private, but even a half-regicide had more respect for his supporters than his ungrateful son. James stayed silent. John's father, Orkney, had already been sent home, and if Prince Henry were really so changeable, silence was assuredly the only way to stay in his favour.
Henry did keep one of his father's promises. After a long conversation with John Sinclair, he allowed James' education to continue uninterrupted and his miniature court to remain in place at Westminster. The Prince did, however, take a decided interest in observing James at exercise. James could hardly pick up a ball or go to the stables without Henry looking in, though he was quite left alone at his books. Eventually, this interest became actual bouts of jeu de paume, in which Henry's eight years and nearly extra foot of height meant James always lost, and commands that James join the Prince in his rides out into the country.
James had long exercised with the other princes when they could be bothered with a younger boy and had been permitted to observe them at falconry, but all of them were too old to be playmates. Henry's occasional interest when he returned was a distinct change from the bare courtesy James had from Humphrey and the occasional permission from John to join their glittering circle should a true favourite not be near. The sons of the king were the jewels of the court, and Henry was the diamond his brothers surrounded. The glittering, flashing, cutting diamond. To be picked out for notice by any one of them was a boon to a nobleman, but John was the only dependable one. James could not help being flattered that, poor prisoner as he was, he had been taken up by Henry, when he remembered, upon his return from the wars.
It was on the rides into the country that James learned that Henry was indeed a bastard. James was always under surveillance, never permitted far from the palace at one end of London or the Tower at the other. Yet once Henry took an interest in him, he was allowed far out into the country so long as he remained a part of the Prince's retinue. James was finally outside the walls that had circumscribed his life, and he took every opportunity to feast his eyes on the details of English life.
Henry, on the other hand, had spent most of his life outside any walls at all, frequently in beating them down. Harlech had been his fourth siege. While James would have kept to roads and trails, the paths marked out, Henry treated hedgerows as planted for his own amusement, jumping his horse over any he felt like and only rarely allowing one of his men to flick a copper coin towards the labourers whose crops he had just trodden into nothing. “Fuck 'em. I'm going to be king, so all the land is mine. I took it, I protect it, and I can ride wherever I damned well please.” James was enthralled and rather terrified by the daring it took to drive a horse over blind jumps and by the assurance to destroy anything at all without a second thought.
So when Henry managed to get James alone, in the woods, rather far from court and away from his brothers, James was thinking not of any sort of trap but of just what mischief Henry was going to introduce next. Someone other than Henry would of course pay for it, but to that point, James had been an observer rather than a participant. Even before he was sent to France, which turned out to be England, he had felt himself an observer rather than a participant in his own life. He was to learn by watching. In England, he again was to learn by watching, to observe the King and court and take his lessons from them however he might. Both the King and John Sinclair were in agreement that James should watch and learn kingship for when the ransom was at last paid. In watching Henry, James was adding an education in the exercise of power away from the court. Power over all followers, both those freely chosen and those who must be satisfied because their fathers had great lands and could form massive armies. And over James, it now appeared.
“Pull up,” Henry ordered. “I need a drink.” The horses needed a drink, too, but they were not permitted to drop their heads to the stream until the Prince had quenched his thirst. James drank deep along with the horses. “Come here,” Henry ordered. He had settled under a tree, his gown thrown aside, and was loosening the flap of his hose. “James, I said come here. Do I have to order you?”
“No, my lord.” He hurried to the Prince's side.
“Sit. Relax. Do you ever relax? I don't think you ever relax.”
“I shall do as I am bid.”
“Because you are my father's prisoner? He has kept you close, hasn't he? Our little pet king.” Henry knocked James' hat off his head and ruffled his hair. It was strange – David had sometimes treated him like that, long ago, when he was a child and before David married. Henry had never yet acted a brother to him, despite his father's rather paternal manner. But James was no longer a child. He was precisely the same age Henry had been at Shrewsbury. The familial condescension was all wrong, and James pulled away, suddenly confused.
“Going to be like that, are you?” Henry was indeed changeable, and his eyes flashed like a falcon sighting prey. “Do I have to order you to be nice to me, James?”
“No, my lord,” James answered quickly.
“Of course not. They keep you all alone, James. No one your own age ever near. Playing jeu de paume with Humphrey when no one else will hardly counts. You had a brother, back in your little, cold, miserable home, didn't you?”
“He was much older. And he died.”
“Was murdered. Aren't you lucky we picked you up? France doesn't seem a particularly safe place for you. No one's paid your ransom, so I suppose they're still hoping we'll murder you for them.” Suddenly, Henry's voice stopped taunting. “Was he nice to you?”
“I suppose. He was grown before I knew him, really. I was late. An accident. A mistake.”
“A mistake, certainly, for the Douglases. Maybe you're lucky. I hate my family. Tom is a dick and John is a wanker who gets everything handed to him that I had to go out and earn. And Humphrey. Dear God, preserve us all from Humphrey's fucking perfection. My father's a bastard, too, you know. He's nicer to his little prisoner than he is to his own heir to the throne. Fuck him. I'm in charge for now. Let's see what he can undo when he gets out of bed again.”
If Henry simply wanted to rant, it was no concern for James. He was perhaps cooling his head by letting his evil thoughts into the air just as he was cooling his body here in the shade. What did it matter that a prisoner could hear him so long as his true retinue remained ignorant of his foul mood? His younger brothers likely banded together out of earshot to complain of Henry.
He whistled a tune while James watched the horses munch the bright green grass of the riverbank. It was quite nice being far from the walls, far from the eyes of the usual watchers. But his reverie was broken by Henry snapping his name again. “Do you ever listen?” When he turned to look, Henry had his prick out. “My father may have taken a bit of a liking to you, but you're not my brother. You're mine. Get your breeches off.”
“Off! Now! Jesus,” Henry complained.
Some of the nobles had favourites, but James had thought Henry's favourites tended to be women. He had no idea what Henry might actually want of him – what a “favourite” really did – but Henry's notice was not a favour to be tossed aside lightly. And, if James was honest with himself, he craved any moment when Henry's magnificence lighted on him. He may have fumbled at it in nervous haste, but he pulled down his breeches.
Before they could come entirely off, Henry had bowled him over onto his back. He pushed a finger into James' mouth. “Suck it. Suck it!”
James did as he was told. At some point, the finger was removed and Henry kissed him. Henry, of all people, was kissing him, of all people. James knew that in theory, he was Henry's equal, if not actually Henry's better, since he was technically king of his country while Henry was merely acting during his father's illness. But Scotland was not England, and a prisoner was not a king. Henry was within his rights to compel a prisoner anything, but James was within his rights as a faithful ally to be flattered and pleased by the attention.
Henry had a personal court that included his brothers. He also had the wider court, the men who relied on his father and on whom his father relied. James had a court in theory, just as he was a king in theory, but in practice, his court was John Sinclair and three other old men who took their orders from King Henry. He had a tutor, as well, but Sir John was an Englishman patently in the employ of his king and could hardly be considered friend or ally. He had felt no love since leaving his father, yet here was Henry – magnificent Henry – giving him kisses and ordering him to jerk him off. It was the closest thing to affection James had had in years, and he responded eagerly.
“Faster. Faster, James,” Henry insisted as James applied all his energy and not nearly enough experience to to his prick. “James, are you a paragon of virtue like fucking Humphrey who has never had a wank because it's a fucking sin?”
“No, my lord.”
“It's the same thing no matter whose prick it is. Jesus!”
“But it's backwards. I mean, it's opposite. Mirror image.”
“That's the most intelligent thing I've ever heard you say. All right, you can stop. Turn over. We'll do this the other way.”
“But you have to fucking relax. Otherwise, there's no point in fucking.”
It was James' first experience with coitus more ferarum, though Henry seemed as expert in it as in everything. Not that James could relax, particularly when ordered to by Henry, and especially when Henry was teasing his anus with the head of his prick. “I told you to relax!”
“You can't just demand someone relax, Henry!” James snapped. “Especially like this.” His own prick was hard thanks to Henry's attentions and the sensations he knew how to drive in new and spectacular ways.
“You called me 'Henry'!” the Prince gloated.
“I'm sorry, my lord.”
Henry slapped his bare arse playfully. “Don't apologise. Since you can't relax enough for a decent fucking, just let me finish myself off between your legs.”
“Between your legs” somehow became “between your arse cheeks”, but James was too overwhelmed to care whether Henry had deliberately lied. The head of Henry's prick was teasing the sensitive skin behind James' balls, and it was brilliant. He was hard and tormented and pleased beyond language. Fuck Henry for a magnificent bastard.
Henry came with a cry of relief and slid off. James was still excited and hard. Henry gave him another offhand slap on the arse. “Thanks, James.”
“What about me, Henry?” James begged. He tried not to beg, really, but he was too shaky for it to sound anything else.
“What about you? You want me to finish you off, too? Oh, all right.” Henry reached around, laying his body across James', and handily frigged him dry.
Yet there he stayed after they were both done, his arms around James and his body pressed close. “Do you think your father would be proud of you?”
“What?” James' brain was fogged with sex and confused by the almost tender way Henry was now embracing him, though the question he thought he heard must have been deeply sarcastic.
“As a king. Because you are a king, even here. I can't imagine my father ever being proud of me because I'm not him. Do you think your father would be proud of you?”
“Are you really asking?”
“I'm really asking.”
“He died of grief when you took me. He had no more children, my mother was gone, and he was alone. I am alone, and I haven't died of grief, so I don't know.”
“When did your mother die?”
“Before David. I was seven.”
“I was eight. My mother never got to be queen. Joan's all right, I suppose, but she's not exactly anyone's mother. She has children, back in France, but I just can't see it. Maybe because by the time my father married her, I was fighting his wars for him. I didn't need a mother anymore.”
James had no idea what to say to that. To anything, really. Prince Henry had chosen to favour him with every possible intimacy today, far above what James had thought to be his own merits. Was this the friendship of Richard the Lionheart and Philip Augustus? Had the English court decide to treat him as a king rather than merely as a prisoner? Though the honours due him seemed rather paltry compared to Henry's freely-given favour.
They lay silently for what felt an eternity to James. He had never yet known Henry to stop speaking, and the silence was even more intimate than the fucking. The fucking had been lovely, but the silence meant something. Didn't it?
Henry broke it, of course, by sitting up and slapping James' arse. “Thank you, James. Just what I needed. Pull your breeches up so we can get out of here. The kingdom might have fallen apart in my absence, and people will be looking for us. Fuckers.”
When they rejoined the princes, Henry did not give James another look. James was permitted to dine at table, but that permission had been granted early in the day, when he had been ordered to go riding. To see Henry at the head of the table, giving his attentions, his affections, and his curses to others without dropping a single look down towards James was a torment. Fucking Henry. A bastard, forever and ever.