The Bastard Prince AU {l.t}

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"He is rich or poor according to what he is, not according to what he has," Henry Ward Beeche

Louis has spent his whole life imprisoned for a crime he had nothing to do with. When he is finally released he fears the reason behind it and what the future holds. As he finds himself thrown into court life he discovers that he is one of the people the court despises and wants to remove. In this world who can he trust and who wants to see him dead?

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2. Chapter One

November 3rd 1543

 

 I scanned my eyes across the board and planned my next move. I looked at Niall but his blank expression gave nothing away. 

I couldn’t make up my mind. Picking up once piece I put in back down; I switched two pieces before switching them back. 

“For God’s sake Louis, we’ll all be in our graves but the time you’ve made your move,” Niall joked.

“I just can’t decide!”

I moved my queen piece before shifting it back again.

“It’s a good job we have all day,” said Niall lounging backwards in his chair. 

 Clicking my tongue and drumming my fingers on the table I made several more fake moves which had Niall groaning. Finally, I settled on a move. 

With the smug look on Niall’s face, I knew it was the wrong move. 

“Checkmate!”

Niall stole my piece with a big beaming grin. 

“Sorry, Louis you can’t beat the master.”

“Since when were you the master?”

A pang of annoyance rose inside of me. For years we’d play chess and Niall had never come even close to beating me. Now it seemed as if he only ever won. I couldn’t understand how he had become so good. 

“I’ve been practising.”

“Who’s been teaching you?” I asked setting up the pieces for another game. 

“Mrs Jones, in exchange for helping her milk the cows she gave me a few pointers.”

Mrs Jones lived on the farm just down the hill for my house. She was a cheerful and caring woman who’d looked after both Niall and me since I could remember. Although she cared for both of us it was clear Niall was her favourite. She used to give him special treats and occasionally take him down to the market on the old Shetland pony. 

I’d stand in the doorway watching them leave. My sentence meant I wasn’t allowed to leave the house grounds.

Even the rare times I was allowed down to the farm I was heavily guarded. Mrs Jones would try and be sweet letting me pet the old donkey and watch her sheer the sheep but it was clear she couldn’t stand having the guards around. 

It was easy for Niall he could go whenever we wanted.

It sucked being a prisoner in your own home.

“I could ask her to give you a few pointers too,” Niall said clearly noticing the disappointed look on my face. 

I shrugged, “I doubt I’ll be able to go to the farm, Thomas has been acting extra nervous recently.”

“Perhaps she could come here?”

“As if Thomas would let her every guest has to  have the third degree before they're even allowed through the front door!”

Mrs Jones used to be a welcome guest until her husband became involved with catholicism. I was unsure why this was such an issue, but Thomas forbad her to come anywhere near our house afterwards. 

“All right, all right, I take your point,” Niall sighed putting down his pieces, “you start.”

We didn’t get very far into the game before we were interrupted by my Uncle Thomas back from his hunt. He came in with his shirt hanging loose over his breaches and his sheath still slung over his shoulder. I noted how his bow was splattered with blood. 

Several servants stood behind him weighed down with clothed bundles, which I assumed contained his kills.

“Any good catches, sir?” Niall asked.

Thomas blew upwards, his face the same startling red as his hair.

“The bloody deer didn’t half give us the run-around, but we did it. Five large deer and four rabbits, Cook will be making us a feast.”

He turned to us although he was panting he fixed me with a smile. 

It wasn’t a proper smile like you’d give someone you cared about. It was a forced smile, large and beaming but with no real emotion behind the eyes and one that I’d learnt to expect from him. 

When he thought I wasn’t looking he’d often put in his head to one side and sigh at me. He never said it but I knew he resented me.

“Perhaps you should come on the next hunt, Louis.”

Here we go again I thought.

“No thank you, uncle, I’m not much of a hunter.”

“Exactly which is why we need to train you up.”

“But why?” I protested. 

Thomas reached forward and grabbed my arm. 

“Look,” He lightly pinched my skin, “you’re as pale as milk and as bony as a coat rack.”

Niall sniggered at the coat rack comment but quickly tried to hide it with a cough.

“So?” 

“It’s not healthy.”

“Being stuck here as a prisoner isn’t healthy,” I said but only under my breath. 

Thomas may have annoyed me but he was the only real authority figure I had. Everyone in the household answered to me which meant I could do whatever I wanted. As a child, I took that way too far and got up to all sorts of mischief. One time Niall and I stole all of the servants' clothes from the laundry and threw them all in the river. It was hilarious for us, but not quite so amusing for them as they were forced to wade through the water wearing nothing but their undergarments. 

That was the first time Thomas let me have it. He dragged us both inside and whipped us until we were begging for mercy.

After that, I was whipped for every little thing. It may have been painful but it made me submissive. 

“You need to get some colour into those cheeks and broad muscles into your legs,” Thomas gestured as his calves in his fine leather hunting boots and his bright red face. 

I turned to look at Niall which was a bad idea as we both started laughing. I clamped my hand over my mouth desperately trying to turn it into a cough. Niall just bent his head and tried not to catch my eye. 

“What’s so amusing?” Thomas asked fixing me with a sharp glare.

“Nothing Uncle,” I spluttered still desperately trying to control my laughter. 

He gave me a slap across my cheek. It was only a light slap but it still hurt. 

“I don’t care for insolence, boy.”

My cheek felt hot from the slap.

“I’m sorry, uncle.”

Despite the fact my cheek was throbbing I still couldn’t stop the pearls of laughter running through me. I bent my head attempting to turn them into a sob. 

“Oh don’t go all moody on me, Louis.”

He gave me a pat on the head which I presumed was meant to be comforting. He looked at me expectingly as if he were waiting for me to say something but I didn’t.

“So who’s winning?” Thomas asked quickly changing the subject. 

“Niall he’s a master at chess.”

Niall gave a satisfied nod, “Too right I am.”

Thomas cracked his knuckles, “Fancy a game, boy? I have to warn you though I’m good.”

Niall nodded looking surprised it wasn’t often Thomas spoke to him. It wasn’t often Thomas spoke to either of us unless it was to punish us. The rare times he wasn’t out hunting he was off with his current mistress.

This new Thomas was like a stranger. He sat opposite Niall and they started playing. Straight away they were laughing and chatting like friends.

I sat and watched them for a while but I eventually got bored. Niall and Thomas both appeared to be brilliant players and neither one of them was making any mistakes. I knew the game could go on for ages. 

I made my way downstairs to the kitchens to see what cook was planning for supper. 

I’d always liked the kitchen, so different from my chambers which were filled with guards. As I reached the bottom of the stairs I smiled to myself at the wafting scent of food. The bare white walls and dim light were a welcome difference to the harsh patterned wallpaper and bright cruel candle lights of upstairs.  

Cook was crouched over the table stuffing something into a pigeon. I couldn’t help feeling queasy at the sight of the bird still covered in feathers. Usually, I only saw my meat when it was cooked and being served to me on a silver platter. 

“Sir,” Cook jumped in surprised rubbing her greasy hands on her apron, “sorry I didn’t see you there.”

The other kitchen staff quickly turned and bobbed their heads at me. 

I couldn’t understand why they were bowing; I wasn’t a prince anymore. 

“I was just wondering what was for dinner?” I asked.

“Pigeon hopefully,” Cook looked down at the half stuffed bird, “although Master Thomas didn’t give us a whole lot of notice.”

“He’s always liked to eat his catches the same day,” I laughed absentmindedly dipping my finger into the sugar bowl, “do you need any help?”

Cook gave me a look as though I’d asked her something shocking.

“I could not ask you to do such a thing, sir, you know that!”

I was confused. Since I could reach the table cook would let me help. I wasn’t allowed near the fire or knives as woe betide if I cut or burnt myself, but she’d let me help with the mixing. My personal favourite was rock cakes, large crumbly cakes filled with currants. I couldn’t help thinking that the raw cake mixture tasted even nicer than the cooked. I would dip my hands in the sticky mixture enjoying the delicious taste of raw cake mix with currants. 

Cook would scold me telling me I’d get a tummy ache but I simply ignored her. It was all right, after all, she worked for me. 

“I know you used to help us sir, but master Thomas-“

“What?” I interrupted.

I should’ve known this was down to Thomas. 

“Well, he came down the other day and gave us a talking to and said we were to stick to our positions.”

“What does that mean exactly?”

“That we shouldn’t except our masters” her eyes flicked to me, “to help us.”

“But I choose to help,” I argued.

“I know sir, but I suppose things change. You’re not a child anymore.”

“I’m 15 that’s still a child!” I replied indignantly.

She chuckled brushing a speck of flour off her face. 

“I was married at your age, sir and excepting my first child, weren’t you as well Sal?”

She beckoned to one of her assistants Sally a thin-faced woman with dark straggly hair who was probably only a few years older than me.   

Sally had never been as willing to let me help as Cook. She’d get hot and flustered pacing in front of the doorway as if Thomas was going to burst it at any time and catch us.

“I was married at 13, sir,” Sally said smacking a lump of dough on the table, “my parents planned the marriage with their friend's son when I was merely an infant.”

I was betrothed once to some french princess light-years older than me. I met her once at court when I was around six and she a teenager. She didn’t seem pleased about her betrothal to a foreign prince younger than her and let us know about it. 

She was pleasant in front of my face but I heard her muttering angrily with her lady in waiting late at night in her chambers. 

We were due to be married when I turned 14; I couldn’t help but wonder what our marriage would have been like. 

“I don’t think I’ll ever have a chance to be married,” I said shutting down their marriage stories.

They turned to each other shamefaced. I had this knack of making people feel guilty. One little moan about poor ex prince Louis was all it took. 

Cook reached for a bucket on the window sill, “Perhaps you could fetch us some water, sir, if you want to help.”

 I bit back a grin as I grabbed the bucket’s handle and put it over my arm.

The well sat just outside the kitchen in a small courtyard. It was the one area I was allowed to outside without a guard in tow. This was because escape from here was impossible as the courtyard was enclosed in the building. When I was younger I used to think about scaling the stone walls, shuffling across the roof and jumping to my freedom.

I thought about it so much that it almost became a reality. Thomas told me a story about a man who attempted to escape the tower by tying his bedsheets together and dropping them out of his window like a rope. His attempt failed as he made the rope too short, fell on his head and died.

Thomas shouldn’t have told me this story as I tried desperately to recreate it, minus the unhappy ended. I worked it all out and even had the bedsheets together. Niall was going to climb onto the roof through the attic window and tie the rope, then from down it the courtyard I was going to climb it. 

Thomas thwarted our plans, however; I barely he made it to the first floor when he caught us red-handed. His mistress, a different one to now had been in her room and noticed me swinging from my rope of bed sheets.

I tried desperately to make out that Niall and I were just playing a game but not even an idiot would fall for that lie. Thomas starting panting his face turning the same colour as his hair, he wasn’t interested in my explanations.

 With one hand pulling my ear lobe and the other pulling Niall’s he dragged us inside and whipped us. I lost times of the number of times he beat us too busy crying and begging him to stop. One thing I did know was that he beat Niall more. When he stopped and I was taken and dunked in cold water by my servants to stop the bruising Niall's cries continued.

I asked Niall afterwards why and he told me it was because he had responsibility for me. 

“I messed up,” he wept the cold water from his bath still dripping down his body. 

“You’re not a prisoner Niall why don’t you just leave?” I asked him an obvious question. 

He looked at me tears in his eyes, “I don’t have a choice, I’m as trapped as you!”

I never got to the bottom of this. Since we were children Niall had told me almost nothing about his previous life. The most I’d learnt was how his Aunt had sent him here to be my companion.

“What did your parents think?” I asked.

I couldn’t imagine how they would just send their child away.

He never answered. 

Filling my bucket up to the brim I placed it on the edge of the well and sat beside it. I shivered as I looked up at the wall I’d tried to scale all those years ago. Even the first floor seemed miles away from the stone ground. I must have been mad, I could have easily died.

I sat on the edge of the well a while longer swinging my legs and gathering my thoughts. I heard the creak of the back door and hastily jumped down. 

It wasn’t Cook, it was Niall. His usually pale skin flushed red. 

“Thomas wants to see you in the great hall.”

I didn’t bother asking why. Picking up the pal I followed Niall back through to the kitchen. 

“Here,” I said placing the pal on the tabletop. 

Cook looked up from where she was stirring some sort of stew over the fire and smiled. 

“Thank you, sir, might you stay for a rock cake?”

She pointed towards the pile of cakes beautifully golden from the oven. 

I reached my hand out to grab one but Niall tugged forcefully at my sleeve. 

“We haven’t the time, Thomas says he must speak with you urgently.”

The word ‘urgent’ didn’t fill me with a sense of dread as it might others. Thomas used the word far too often for it to worry me. If I didn’t something minor such as being late to dinner he’d claim he needed to urgently speak to me, in a conversation which usually ended with me being whipped. 

“I’ll be there in a minute.”

I snatched a rock cake shoving it into my mouth before Niall could protest.

Niall couldn’t do anything but stand there as I slowly chewed, trying to savour the cake for as long as possible. 

“Can we go now?” Niall asked when I’d finally swallowed the last crumb. 

“If I must.”

********

Thomas was in his study sat hunched over his desk holding a piece of paper. Even when I entered the room he did not lookup.

I cleared my throat. 

“Louis,” said Thomas putting down the paper and turning around.

“You wished to speak with me, uncle.”
“Yes, yes, it is a most urgent matter.”

“If it’s about the fact Niall beat you in chess, I cannot help you.”

Thomas let out a forced laugh. 

“No child, it is a more pressing matter than that in fact, we might have cause to celebrate soon.”

“Celebrate what?” I asked. 

I said it matter of factly but my heart was pounding. My day to day life was ridiculously boring and repetitive. The same went for Niall and Thomas. Although by law they weren’t prisoners they very rarely went anywhere. Every day was so similar that any pathetic little event was celebrated. Niall and I had even started celebrating half birthdays. 

Thomas picked up the paper and beckoned me over. I took the paper from him and read it. It was a long, complicated letter filled with all sorts of over the top language and fancy writing which made it very difficult to read. Despite that, I still understood what it meant.

“Edward and Lord Alex are coming?”

Thomas nodded looking grim, “I know fancy the rarely sighted toad showing his face.”

Edward was Thomas’ twin brother. When we fell out of favour Edward somehow managed to stay a favourite. He continued to raise his station until he was third only o Lord Alex and the King. 

I didn’t know Lord Alex very well but I could strongly say that I hated him.

“Why would they come here?” Niall asked from where he stood behind me.

“I don’t know,” Thomas admitted fiddling with a lock of his hair which had escaped from under his hat, “but for my darling brother to come here, it must be important.”

Thomas always spoke negatively about his brother. Even before my arrest they never seemed to get on. Edward was the “Perfect” brother, in a stable marriage and adored by the people. Thomas was as he quoted the other one. 

“Do you think-?”

I couldn’t finish my sentence. My mind flashed back to the tower and all its horrors. Although it was years ago I still regularly woke up screaming, sweating and panicked. Niall would crawl out of his bed and see to me. He’d Place a wet flannel on my burning forehead and rub my trembling hands until I calmed down. 

It was somewhat embarrassing that I was older yet Niall was the one who looked after me.

“Don’t think like that,” Niall reached out and patted and tapped my knuckles, “you haven’t done anything wrong.”

“I doubt my brother would give us pre-warning of an arrest anyway,” said Thomas. 

I started to calm down. Thomas was right, I was already under indefinite house arrest what else could they do to me?

“So why are they coming then?” I though out loud. 

Thomas shrugged, “As I said, Louis, I don’t know.” 

The thought of my unknown fate made me feel nauseous. I’d rather die than repeat my past. My house may have been my prison but at least I was safe. I’d been here for so long I’d become somewhat detached from the outside world. 

I knew there was a whole world out there, but I feared to leave the one I knew.

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