Royal Redemption: Chapter 12

Harry continued to force the pace on the homeward journey and Edward was unsure whether or not to be grateful. He was torn between a desperate desire to see Hugh and fear of what would be awaiting him at Alnwick Castle. As soon as they entered the bailey, he threw his horse’s reins to an ostler and, without waiting for a word of dismissal, ran inside and up the spiral stone staircase leading to Hugh’s room. The door was open and, to Edward’s immense relief, Hugh’s wan face lit up with pleasure as soon as he saw his friend running towards him. One of the maidservants, who’d been keeping watch at his bedside, discreetly withdrew and Edward was free to greet his friend unobserved.

He sank to his knees beside the bed and rather tentatively laid a hand on Hugh’s chest. “Oh, Hugh,” he whispered, “I can’t bear to see you like this. How badly are you hurt?”

“I’m feeling much better now,” Hugh assured him. “The worst part was having my wounds sewed. The actual fighting wasn’t half so bad.” He tried to laugh but the effort clearly hurt.

“You’re so brave. Sir Henry said you fought off the Scots singlehandedly.”

“Ha! He was exaggerating. It was only a small group and they weren’t as well armed as the men who ambushed us.”

“I should never have let you go off alone,” bemoaned Edward.

“Nonsense,” said Hugh trenchantly. “I got back, didn’t I? And Sir Henry came to your rescue.”

“He arrived not a moment too soon! The Scots had burnt down the palisade around Chillingham Castle and we were under siege in the keep,” Harry paused in his recital of the military details and continued in a more subdued tone. “I know I’ve got a lot to answer for. The very worst of it is that I caused you to suffer these injuries. I’m so very sorry, Hugh.”

“Don’t blame yourself for what happened to me; that wasn’t your fault. You’re going to be in enough trouble as it is for ignoring orders. Have you worked out your excuses for that?”

“There aren’t any, Hugh, and I’m not going to make things worse by trying to defend myself. I have a feeling that the earl’s going to take a very dim view of my disobedience.”

As if to underline Edward’s assessment, there was a knock on the door and two men at arms entered before either Hugh or Edward had time to respond. The soldiers had the grace to look ill at ease as they interrupted the reunion but they carried out their instructions without hesitation. They bent to raise the kneeling Edward from beside Hugh’s bed and gently but firmly propelled him out into the passageway.

“His lordship’s orders,” said one by way of explanation. “You’re to be kept under guard until tomorrow when you’re to appear before the earl at the manorial court. We’re to escort you to your room where you’ll be confined and not permitted visitors.”

Edward marched unresistingly between the two burly guards who each held one of his arms. He wasn’t so much concerned about being confined to his room as being summoned to appear before the court. He had fully expected to face an uncomfortable interview with the Earl of Northumberland. Indeed, Harry had warned him that the matter would be dealt with by his father, but he had not expected to have to answer for his disobedience in public. On reflection, however, he understood the justice of a public hearing for a very public offence. He sat down on his bed when the guards left him and tried to frame adequate words to explain, if not to excuse, behaviour which had put the lives of all his men at risk and resulted in serious injuries to the Earl of Northumberland’s squire, Hugh de Warenne.

He’d failed to come up with a satisfactory statement when there was a tap on the door. It was immediately opened from the outside by one of the guards who escorted a serving maid into the room. She carried a simple meal of bread, cold beef and cheese with a flagon of small ale. She placed the tray of food and drink down on the oak chest and, as she turned to depart, Edward asked if he could also have some hot water for washing. The guard nodded his assent but Edward had long given up all hope of being able to remove the grime of the journey and the days spent under siege when the door opened again and two men entered carrying a large wooden tub. A line of servants from the kitchens followed, each carrying two buckets of hot water and Edward began to undress as they filled the tub.

He couldn’t decide why he was being permitted a luxury which most of the household only experienced once a year. He strongly suspected that the bath was provided on Harry’s orders and he tried to dismiss the sneaking suspicion that it represented the equivalent of the condemned man’s last meal. He comforted himself with the thought that he would, at least, face the court looking fresh and smelling fragrant.

He was the first offender brought before the earl in the morning. The court was held in the great hall which was already full of people when he arrived under escort. Some were plaintiffs or witnesses in later cases but it took only a quick glance around for Edward to become uncomfortably aware that most of the members of his ill fated patrol were present in the hall, some of them still nursing injuries. The earl was seated in his carved wooden chair on the raised dais where, in the evening, he and the family sat for dinner. When the great hall was transformed into a courtroom to dispense justice to the earl’s vassals, the lawyers and officials took their places at the high table which was covered with documents and legal tomes. However, the Earl of Northumberland had no need of legal assistance to deal with the first case of the session.

“Edward Percy,” he announced formally. “You’re summoned before this court to answer the charge of wilful disobedience. I sent you out to patrol my lands with clear written instructions on the limits of your journey, yet you led your men into a dangerous situation by venturing beyond the stated bounds. You had to be rescued by my son from a castle besieged by the Scots who had ambushed you and wounded my squire. How do you answer the charge of disobeying your lawful superior: guilty or not guilty?”

“Guilty, my lord.” There was no other answer Edward could give.

The earl was relieved that Edward’s guilty plea meant that there was no need to call witnesses. He had no wish to prolong the case but he did recognise the importance of dealing with the matter in open court as it was the subject of speculation amongst the men.

“Are there any mitigating circumstances?” enquired the earl. “Were my orders unclear or did you, perhaps, have some difficulty in making out what was written?”

“I had no trouble understanding your orders, my lord,” replied Edward with dignity, knowing that the earl was asking indirectly whether he’d had a problem reading the written instructions.

The earl sighed. Edward wasn’t making any excuses but that made it all the more difficult to decide on a penalty which would mark the seriousness of the offence without imposing too severe a punishment. It was necessary for discipline amongst the earl’s retinue to make an example of anyone who failed to obey orders but Northumberland really wanted Edward to understand how close he’d brought himself and others to a tragic end.

“If you understood your orders, Edward, then I’m disappointed you saw fit to ignore them,” he said with a weariness which made his disappointment even more distressing to Edward. “I entrusted the lives of my men to your command and you nearly got them killed. My squire, Hugh de Warenne, is still recovering from his wounds and your own life, which I’m charged with guarding, was put at serious risk. Do you have any idea what it’s been like seeing Hugh so seriously wounded and not knowing if you were still alive?”

The earl’s words cut through all Edward’s defences. He hated the thought of being a disappointment to the earl and it had never occurred to him that his mentor would suffer at the thought of him being in danger. With a sudden shock of realisation he saw that the affection he felt for the man who had become a father figure to him was fully reciprocated.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly and the earl could see that the words were wrung from his heart. “I didn’t set out to disobey you, my lord, I just didn’t think… didn’t think of the danger to which I exposed myself and the men. I’m so sorry I let you down and I’m more sorry than I can say about the injuries to Hugh.”

“Is there anything you want to say before I pronounce sentence?”

Edward thought for a moment. He’d offered his apology and there was nothing to be said in his defence. He had no idea what the sentence was likely to be but he trusted the earl’s judgement and knew his punishment would be no more than he deserved. He certainly had no intention of entering a plea for mercy. “Yes, my lord,” he replied with sudden conviction. “I just want to say that Hugh de Warenne had no idea I was disobeying your orders when we rode so far north. It was his idea for us to take refuge in Chillingham Castle, after we were ambushed, and he insisted on riding back to Alnwick alone to summon help. He was in no way to blame for what happened and his experience and good judgement saved us all.”

The earl nodded his approval at Edward’s statement which totally exonerated his friend. The slight buzz of chatter which rippled round the hall reflected the appreciation of the soldiers who held Hugh in high regard. Edward felt only a sense of relief that he’d thought to do the right thing and he was unaware of the extent to which he’d restored his reputation in the eyes of the fighting men. The bailiff soon called for silence which put an end to all talking and Edward drew himself to attention, knowing what was coming next.

“Edward Percy,” intoned the earl, “for disobeying a direct order and putting the lives of the men under your command at risk you’ll serve thirty days imprisonment.” Edward’s guards were already stepping forward to grasp his arms as the earl gave the order, “Take him away.”

As he marched out of the great hall, with his eyes so firmly fixed on the ground that he missed the friendly and sympathetic looks cast in his direction, Edward expected to be taken to a dungeon somewhere below ground. It, therefore, came as a surprise when the guards escorted him up the stairs and along a narrow passageway to a part of the castle he’d never visited. They came to a halt outside a heavy wooden door, reinforced with elaborate ironwork, and one of the guards stepped forward to open it while the other urged him forward into his cell.

It was only slightly smaller than Edward’s own room in the household apartments. There were fresh rushes on the floor and a low bed against the wall. Most surprising of all, there was a fireplace along one wall and a fire burnt in the grate. When the guards released him and locked him in his cell, Edward took a moment to carefully examine his place of confinement. It was very gloomy for, instead of windows, only arrow slits let in light but Edward was pleased to find a garderobe built into the thick, stone, outer wall of the castle. As prison cells went, he appeared to be housed in the most luxurious quarters imaginable.

By Edward’s reckoning about a week passed before Sir Henry Percy came to see him. His days had settled into a routine which centred around mealtimes and the opportunity he was given once a day to take exercise, under supervision, in the courtyard. He was never permitted to speak to anyone, other than the guards and the servants who delivered his food. He found the solitary confinement a challenge, although not as difficult as he would have done without the practice of silence he’d learnt in the monastery. He spent the long hours in thought, trying to put behind him the mistakes of his first military command, and making plans for the future. But he couldn’t rid himself of a lingering misery stemming from the knowledge that he’d disappointed Sir Henry Percy and the Duke of Northumberland.

When the guard unlocked the door and Sir Henry entered his cell he jumped hastily to his feet and stood uncertainly to attention. Harry immediately recognised Edward’s discomfiture but acted as though nothing had occurred to cause his squire to feel ill at ease. “What do you think of your new quarters then?” he asked in the joshing tone which he so often employed to Edward when they were alone together.

“It can hardly be called a prison cell, can it?” responded Edward with obvious relief that his relationship with Harry had suffered no long term damage. “I was expecting to be taken to the dungeons.”

“We don’t house our aristocratic prisoners in the dungeons,” Harry laughed, “but this is a prison cell, nonetheless.”

“So who would normally be imprisoned here?” Edward asked. “Apart from disobedient squires, that is,” he added shamefacedly.

“You’d be surprised who has occupied this cell in the past, most of them defeated enemies. There’s no point in killing a nobleman on the battlefield if he can be held for ransom, but sometimes the ransom money is slow to appear. We have to have somewhere secure and healthy to house our prisoners if they’re going to be guests of the Percy family for several years. We don’t want them dying of fever in the dungeons. Your father has similar quarters in the Tower of London, you know.”

Edward didn’t know, but then he’d taken little interest in his father’s military campaigns or his fund raising strategies. The conversation with Harry was opening his eyes to a hitherto unknown aspect of warfare and it interested him enough to shyly invite his visitor to sit down beside him on the bed so they could talk further. When Harry had answered all his questions there was an uneasy silence before Edward said quietly, “I know I let you down, sir, and you’ve every right to be angry with me. I made…”

“I’m not angry with you,” Harry interjected.

“Yes,” Harry insisted, “yes, you were angry. On the way home, I could tell. You were angry about the mess I made trying to tell Sir Humphrey I was sorry for the damage to his castle. And you were angry about my disobedience… and nearly getting Hugh killed.”

“Calm down, Edward, calm down and listen to me. I promise you I wasn’t angry and I thought you thanked Sir Humphrey very nicely, but I will admit to being upset and anxious on the way home. I wanted us to get back to the safety of Alnwick Castle as soon as possible and I was worrying about Hugh and whether his injuries were healing.”

“It must have been so hard to leave Hugh, not knowing whether he would pull through,” Edward observed.

“No,” said Harry thoughtfully, “I never gave leaving a second thought. I had only one thing on my mind and that was a desperate fear that you might have been killed. I couldn’t get to Chillingham quickly enough in hopes of rescuing you. When you ran towards me after the battle my heart turned over with delight and I realised that I’d been dreading the thought of losing you.”

“Oh,” said Edward in amazement, realising that his own rush of joy at the sight of his rescuer mirrored Henry’s own feelings. He’d certainly never expected to hear such a hard bitten knight as Sir Henry Percy utter such emotional sentiments. “I didn’t realise, I thought… I thought…”

“What did you think?”

“I thought I was a disappointment to you, that I’d let you down.”

“You’ve never been a disappointment to me, Edward. Granted, my father and I were disappointed that you didn’t perform as well as we’d hoped on that expedition but it doesn’t mean that you personally are a disappointment. Do you understand the difference?”

“Yes… I suppose so, but I still feel bad, I still feel unhappy that I’ve let you down.”

“Well, you’re paying the penalty now. If you’re suffering remorse you can work through it during your thirty days imprisonment.”

“But I can’t, Harry, that’s the problem. I just feel miserable every time I think about what I did. And being here, well, it just feels like I’ve been let off lightly.”

That’s not how your punishment is seen amongst the men, Edward. It’s been a very long time since my father actually imprisoned anyone for disobedience. I can tell you that you’ve attracted a fair bit of sympathy… but I’m afraid that doesn’t earn you remission for good behaviour.” Harry laughed but Edward still looked bereft so he enquired more gently, “Why are you still so unhappy, Edward? Tell me honestly and we’ll see what I can do to help.”

“I can’t really explain. I don’t understand it properly myself. It’s just that I feel so guilty. Oh, I know that the earl punished me and my imprisonment puts things right in the eyes of the men. Hugh has forgiven me, too. But I’m your squire; you trained me and the first time I’m given any responsibility I break all the rules you’ve drilled into me. I just feel like I deserve a good thrashing for the way I’ve let you down.”

“I took my belt to you once, Edward, to teach you the importance of doing as you’re told. I didn’t think it was a lesson I’d ever have to repeat.”

“No,” Edward agreed hastily. “I’ve never deliberately set out to disobey you or the earl since then. I just thought, when I was out on patrol, that I could afford to be a bit more flexible than the earl allowed. I thought it wouldn’t matter if I explored further north and he’d never know precisely where I’d been.”

“And how was that different from disobedience?” asked Sir Henry with a smile which showed he wasn’t trying to put Edward on the spot.

“It’s not different at all,” conceded Edward at once. “I’m just trying to tell you it wasn’t premeditated. I really didn’t think about what I was doing and I certainly didn’t think about the possible consequences.”

“That’s your trouble, isn’t it? You don’t think of the consequences before you take actions which could have serious results for yourself and others.”

“Will you help me remember in future? I don’t want to shame you again.”

“You’ve never shamed me but I’ll do all I can to make sure you never finish up in custody again. Do I really need to take my belt to you?”

“No… but… maybe… if you…”

“If I just turned you over my knee and gave you the spanking I’d give a naughty pageboy, perhaps you’d be more obedient in future.” It was said with a laugh which enabled Edward to take the suggestion as a joke if he wished, but his downcast eyes and slight blush revealed that Sir Henry had made a correct assessment of his squire’s needs and wishes.

“I think I’d feel a bit less guilty, feel like I’d really paid for my mistake, if you dealt with me like that,” Edward admitted rather grimly.

“Come on then, let’s do it,” said Harry and Edward didn’t know whether he was relieved, surprised, frightened or experiencing a combination of all those emotions. “No half measures,” Harry stipulated, get those hose off while I send the guards on an errand. You won’t want to remain silent through what I have in store for you.”

When Harry closed the door on the retreating guards and turned back into the cell, Edward was standing self consciously with his doublet covering his modesty but naked from the waist down. Harry sat down on the bed and summoned Edward to his side. When his squire showed no sign of placing himself in the required position, he reached forward to take Edward’s hand and guide him down across his lap, encouraging him to stretch his torso out on the bed. Then Henry lifted Edward’s doublet and ran a hand over the tight curve of his buttocks to gauge the optimum position to accommodate his swing.

“Shift forward slightly,” he ordered, “I want your backside higher than this.” Edward obediently lifted his body forward until his feet were off the ground and he lay entirely at Harry’s mercy. As if to emphasise his control over Edward’s fate, Harry stretched his left arm over Edward’s back and grasped him firmly around the hip. Edward’s tension was causing him to tremble slightly but Harry’s warm hand on his flesh and strong grasp on his body engendered a feeling of security and his muscles began to relax. Harry sensed the moment his squire surrendered himself fully to the forthcoming discipline and he immediately brought his hand down hard on one milk white globe. Edward’s body bucked at the intensity of the sting. He hadn’t expected such a forceful impact from Harry’s hand but he remained determinedly silent.

Harry, on the other hand, was perfectly prepared to converse during the spanking. “This is not a punishment,” he pointed out, as Edward braced himself for the next blow. “This is reminder for future occasions to think of the consequences of your decisions.” The handprint which he then laid on Edward’s bottom matched the one which was already darkening to a red outline against pale skin. “We’re doing this because you think you deserve it and once I’m done you’ll have no cause to feel guilty anymore.”

Harry then set out about his task with total commitment. Edward realised he’d made a dreadful mistake when he’d assumed that being spanked like a naughty pageboy would be more of a token gesture than a serious sanction. Harry’s firm hand travelled around his buttocks and down his thighs building the pain to a level beyond which Edward could no longer remain silent. His grunts were building to something approaching yells and his legs were scissoring in a frantic attempt to distract himself from the intense burning sensation in his nether regions.

There was something about the intimacy of being stretched over Harry’s thighs which removed the unstated requirement to behave in a soldierly manner and Edward voiced his distress without constraint. Despite the pain, he felt a powerful sense of connection to Harry who was holding him firmly in order to deliver a very thorough spanking. Yet Edward knew he was there at his own request and to satisfy his own needs. He was finally coming to believe that Harry wasn’t angry with him; indeed, he was beginning to suspect that Harry might actually be enjoying himself.

Edward recognised that he too was deriving some satisfaction from the experience, although it couldn’t exactly be described as enjoyment. There was no getting away from the fact that being on the receiving end of chastisement from Sir Henry Percy was a challenging experience but Edward, nonetheless, relished being the focus of Harry’s unrivalled attention. In submitting without reservation to Harry’s authority, Edward also felt able to hand Harry all his guilt and his shame, experiencing, in the process, a profound sense of release and gratitude to his deliverer.

It seemed that Harry understood some of Edward’s conflicting emotions because, as his punishing hand finally came to rest on his squire’s flaming red bottom he enquired, “Feeling better now?”

Edward was not slow to grasp the irony of the question and he laughed rather shakily as he answered, “I’m feeling very sore. I would never have believed you could do so much damage with just your hand.”

“Come on, up you get,” said Harry bracingly, pulling Edward round to sit rather uncomfortably on his lap. Edward at once made to get to his feet, not so much to relieve the pressure on his buttocks as to escape from Harry’s penetrating gaze. “Not so fast,” said Harry, holding him firmly. “Tell me honestly how you’re feeling now.”

Edward stopped struggling and gave some serious thought to the question. Finally he said, “I feel like I’ve paid my dues and a burden’s been lifted from my shoulders. I’ve felt stifled by guilt and now I feel forgiven. And… and right now… I feel very close to you, not just because I’m still sitting on your lap but because… well, you know.”

“I think I do know, Edward, and I feel close to you too. I’m honoured by the trust you’ve shown me and glad that I’ve been able to help you come to terms with what you did.”

“You won’t tell your father about this, will you?” asked Edward shyly.

“Not if you’d rather I didn’t. This can remain something private between the two of us and if ever you need...” Harry paused and searched for the right word, “if ever you need my help again, you only have to ask.”

Edward breathed a deep sigh of satisfaction and lent back to enjoy, if only for a short while, the care and comfort of Harry’s powerful embrace.