Work Header

Everything has come to ruin

Work Text:

I don't think you were paying proper attention James.

There's a spot of blood on his hand. There's blood and mud and god knows what else covering him but there, on the back of his hand, there's a spot of Henry's black blood and his hands won't stop shaking.

Tomorrow they'll pack up and embark for England and who knows whether King Henry will return alive or dead because there's black blood on James' hand and on King Henry's handkerchief and all his careful planning and negotiating is going to come to nothing because there's suddenly no time and he doesn't know how he missed it.

James strips off his outer layers and lies down on the cot staring, unseeingly, at the faded canvas of the tent. He's alone now, for years he was used to being alone but since Henry started dragging him round on these campaigns it's a rarer thing.

There is no more time.

How did he miss it?

“This is a bad idea.”

Henry's laughing as his men shoot at the fleeing ditch diggers and James wants to strangle him. He wants to grab Henry's shoulders and shake some sense into him because how can he sign a law that makes it illegal to destroy a man's crops and ignore it so completely?

“What was that Jamie? Not enjoying the fun?”

James can hear the scorn in Henry's words but there's a look in his eyes he can't quite explain. How can he be so stupid though?

“Well if I was them I'd go straight for the enemy now.”

“Fuck them, let them run, they won't get far.”

Henry's studying him, waiting for some reaction but James has spent too long as King Henry's pet to let him see any genuine reaction.

“They know your...”

“Oh shut up Jamie.”

Before James can speak Henry wheels his horse around and canters back across the fields towards their encampment barely missing the corpse of the farmer he stabbed only moments before.

James rides back slower, adding this incident to the ledger in his mind of the king's actions. He's spent 18 years in captivity building models of kingship, good and bad, and even now when James is starting to know exactly what sort of a king he's going to be he can't pin Henry down.

When he first arrived at King Henry's court Hal was still just a prince, he was young and wasteful and his father despaired of him but James saw the spark in his eyes and watched and waited and knew that whoever Hal might be King Henry V would be different.

The camp is loud and busy as always with preparations for the coming battle. Henry has had him at his side ever since they realised that the Scots could tip the balance for the French. Henry pulled him from his solitary prison cell and brought him to this crazy hell on earth to be a figurehead for men who had no idea who he was.

“The King wants you.”

A soldier's words cut across James' thoughts as he dismounts. More lessons in how to be a king he supposes as if he'd ever listened to any of Henry's words. Oh he's learned plenty from Henry and his father, from Henry Hotspur too, from stories of his own father even, but never from those ridiculous lessons Henry likes to give him.

“Jamie, where the fuck have you been. I've never met anyone so capable of daydreaming on a battlefield!”

For a moment Henry looks tired, pale and weary under the mud and grime and James can almost see Hal as he was in the days before his coronation- determined and regal but still unsure.

“You're still fucking dreaming aren't you. We're on a battlefield James you can't sit here and write your poetry, I should have left you back in the Tower but you can't stay hidden forever Jamie, little King of Scots.”

Henry laughs and James feels his momentary pity drain away.

“Perhaps you should, you should have brought a puppet if it's only my face and my blood you need.”

“I thought I did.”

Henry turns away and reaches for a goblet of wine and for a moment James considers dashing it out of his hands and physically forcing Henry to look at him. Henry's so sure of James, that he knows him and his actions, that he's created him that he doesn't even look any more.

“You're wondering if you could stab me right here and now aren't you?”

Henry is still looking away, down at some plan laid out on a table.”

“You're occasional bursts of hatred against me are the only signs I have that you've got any spirit in you Jamie.”

James stays silent, watching as Henry seems to study the map. He's a good military leader but lately James has seen things slipping. The ditch diggers were just another detail to Henry and whilst he was once so good at those now he's not. Perhaps this is another weakness to watch out for when he is King. He must stay vigilant and awake to trouble and not underestimate any enemy or seeming friend.

“What is going on behind those blank eyes of yours?”

James startles from his thoughts to find Henry in front of him, watching him closely.

“You remember back in London how you used to fight with me, you were so easy to provoke and then you'd throw yourself at me even though you knew it was useless and you would never beat me?”

“I was younger then, I know better now.”

“Do you?”

Henry steps forwards, imposing and challenging and James forces himself to stand still. He sees Henry as a rock or a tree. Powerful and seemingly indestructible but James has always been colder like the gales of his homeland and he knows what wind and water can do to stone.

“What's going on inside that mind of yours Jamie? I wish I knew but then perhaps it's nothing at all.”

Henry is so close James can feel the heat radiating from his body and he remembers what it was like to find himself, time and time again, pinned down by that superior strength. He remembers learning how to lie still because struggling only provoked Henry to laughter and crueller tactics, be he also remembers how Henry would smile afterwards and pull him back to his feet.

“We need to talk...”

Back then Henry seemed amused by him, back before the old King died James was no threat to Henry and he was always a sign that however much of a disappointment Henry might be at least he was here in his own country not a prisoner. Not an exile.

“Your majesty.”

A guard enters looking flustered and Henry's face hardens.

“One moment.”

Henry raises his hand and James realises that despite 18 years of studying him he has no idea what Henry is thinking. A strange reversal in their usual roles because he knows his confusion is written plainly on his face this time, surprised out of him.

“Fuck off and get ready for the fight James.”

Henry rests his hand on James' chest briefly and then pushes back causing James to stumble.

“Got to be steadier on your feet than that or we'll have a dead King of Scots on our hands and then what the fuck's the use of you?”

James steadies himself and bows.

“Your majesty.”


Henry's voice stays James at the entrance of his tent.

“We'll talk, after the battle.”

“As you command.”

James watches as Henry accepts that, the weary look flashing again across his face, and then he's King Henry again and James must go and put on his armour and fight against whoever Henry tells him are his enemies. For now.

There was black blood on his hands. James is watching as the Stewarts make their way to the block but all he can see is the black blood on the handkerchief and on his hands and Henry a dying man.

You've never beaten me and you never will.

He was dying then, when he stabbed the farmer and had his men ride down the ditch diggers. He was dying when he put on that show with the Stewart boys. Perhaps he should have let them die that day.

There is no more time.

The world is messy and unforgiving and King Henry's plans all came to nothing because he was a dying man. James remembers him strong and smiling and helping James to stand after a fight but in the end there was nobody to help Henry.

Will you light a candle for me?

James knows what sort of king he wants to be, what sort of king he is, but there was black blood on Henry' handkerchief and Joan's hand is cold and trembles when he tries to hold it. He will plant roses and make a new world for her but still he remembers.

I don't think you were paying proper attention James.