"Shall I make you an earl, brother?" asks a voice from deep within the darkened room. "No, a duke! Nothing less for a king's brother. Should you like to be a duke?"
John of Lancaster, brother to the newly crowned King Henry V, throws off cloak and sword and hears the muffled clatter against a wooden settle. "However it pleases your Majesty," he replies cautiously. Caution in a new court, everyone knows, is of the essence, though given Hal's unexpected support of the Lord Chief Justice, there is not much to fear.
"Your Majesty," says Hal, more plainly visible now that John's eyes have adjusted to the gloom. "Your Ma-jes-ty." He gestures with a blunt hand, elongating the word. "Do you find me majestic, John?"
"You are the king," John says (still cautious; Hal's mood is unfamiliar).
"And my majesty is implicit?"
John shrugs and moves in closer. There is another chair, and he slides into it, and they sit for a moment, two sons of King Henry IV. He sees the crown, now, abandoned on a table by Hal. The new king follows his gaze, and nudges the crown with his foot where it dangles over the chair-arm.
"Crown," says Hal.
"Aye," says John.
"I would say," says Hal, looking at it, "that I would desire nothing more than to throw that thrice-damned piece of gilt into the Thames, shout a pox on it, and go to seek friends and drink and women, to live no more complicated a life than a- an ostler in an inn. Anon, good sir, anon!" His voice goes high-pitched, and he laughs, though at what John cannot imagine.
"I shouldn't think," says John drily, "that you would truly enjoy being at everyone's beck and call."
"You imagine this life would be any different? My days of freedom are all but gone, John, never think other."
"You could throw it into the river. Renounce your claim. Plenty stand in the wings, eager for it."
There is a silence. Outside can still be heard the shouts of celebration.
"I do believe, brother," says Hal eventually, "that you seek to trick me, and think me fool enough to fall."
"God strike me down ere I impugn my anointed king's… perspicacity," says John, and they are both laughing as Hal hooks the crown upon his foot and tosses it into his lap, rubbing the heavily chased gold with his thumb.
"I've a mind to keep it, John." His tone turns thoughtful. "Father said France."
John considers this. "Everyone enjoys a fight against the French," he says.
"Closer to home than the Holy Lands," points out Hal.
"That is true. Travel does become tedious, after a while."
"And one speaks the language." Hal pauses. "After a fashion."
John grins. "Not after the French fashion."
A shudder. "God forbid! The King's French is of an excellent English disposition!"
"France it shall be, then," says John, and rises. "Your permission, Sire?"
Hal flaps a hand. "Lord, yes, my sober youth. To your bed!" As John turns to reclaim his belongings, his brother's voice stays his hand. "John. God knows we both understand the court. What it's like. The lust for power, for influence, that overcomes so many men. I need… that is…"
"I am your man," says John. "You are my brother and my king. I shall not betray that."
Hal nods. "I thank you." Then he grins, and wedges on the crown at a rakish angle. "Bedford, I think. John, Duke of Bedford. It has a good ring to it."
John smiles and bows. "As it please your Majesty," he says, and both men are again laughing as he leaves, both with hearts a little lighter.