Lady Irena played a subtle game.
She was given in marriage to Lord Cassel of Felstein for his connections to the King of Bohemia. He married her for her doubled connections to the crown of France. They had a daughter of it, before he annulled the marriage – they were seconds cousins once removed, the better to marry Princess Clotilde of Scandinavia.
He thought to set her aside unscathed. She squeezed her dowry back out of him and additional ripe vineyard lands in Champagne.
Her second spouse was not her choice. He was practically a merchant prince. Her father sold her to him for repayment of his debts. She did not endure that match any longer than she had to. She may have helped him into the next life.
Her next spouse was her elder brother's choice. Count Norto of Champagne was comely and well-spoken and well connected. He died of a fever. Nothing to do with her. He was there and then gone.
She met Lord Jaume while standing over his body. As it happened, Lord Jaume had had something to do with that fever. He also was her third cousin with similar connections to the crown of France. He moved his head side to side like a lizard. He seduced her with villainy. He had her next to the corpse of her Lord, or she had him depending on the version of events.
Sadly, there wasn't much of that. Although, they did have a sickly child from the heat that came after.
But there was plenty of villainy.
Plots. Deeds. Subtle games.
While there were some with closer kin to the King, such obstacles found themselves out of favour.
Some whose wine was strangely turned, but such could happen to wine when the heat was high in summer. Some grew sick with chills, but such could happen when the winter snows fell. Some died of their injuries in the joust, all for wont of a nail in a shoe or a burr unfound in a saddle blanket.
It came to be that all that stood between Lady Irena and a crown was the King, in his castle, his sons as yet unpresented, and Lady Irena knew a way they might to made Betas and thus to the crown be barred, and the King's younger brother, Prince Sherloque.
Prince Sherloque came to rest in their castle upon his return from his late triumph in the North fighting the Northmen.
It was said that the Prince wielded his sword like a shining star. It was said that he'd made some inverted deal with the devil to gain that skill and something more. That the devil had given him a charm that he wore always about his neck that lent him sight in battle, such that he could but look at the field and know which way the enemy would go and so wield his troops the better for it. For all these whispers, the Prince's knights were most devoted to him, none more than Sir Watson, who was the Prince's chosen body servant and left hand.
Now there were whispers there too. For it was not quite mete for her to be a knight. Alpha men were for the battlefield and Alpha women for the tending of estates. So one spreads seed widely and the other close to home. Whispers, but none to Sir Watson's face, for she had a wicked temper and further yet a wicked left arm.
As the Prince's troops clattered into their courtyard, Lady Irena and her Lord offered their cousin, the Prince, bread and unwatered wine to break his fast. Had he but had a taste of it, the role of heir might have been left open.
But he was not hungry and would have none but the bread shared by the whole table and the beer poured by his body servant, Sir Watson.
Lady Irena herself offered to bathe the prince, which might have raised their standing in other ways. But Sir Watson would have none of this claiming this to be her sacred privilege.
Not sacred truly, for when they arrived at the feast, Sir. Watson's cheeks were flushed with pleasure and the Prince's manner had a languid glow at a variance to one who had ridden hard that day.
The reason for which Lady Irena and Lord Jaume had good reason to know, having watched the two at their sport through a chink in the wall. They well knew that Sir Watson had earned that blush. They had gone to see if they could observe the devil's charm and by seeing perhaps steal it.
The bath was poured and the Prince stepped into the heated waters.
Sir Watson stripped to her braes and knelt beside the tub in which her Prince soaked and at first all was as it should be. She washed her Prince's back with a soft white cloth. Pouring the scented water over his head and rubbing fine scented soap into his inky locks. The Prince was well pleased by this and leaned back in the tub most languidly with his arms spread about the rim of the tub. Lady Irena regretted that she had had been barred from this task for the Prince was in all ways vulnerable and the Devil's charm easy to obtain. Also, he was quite comely.
Sir Watson instead merely washed the soap from her Lord's hair. She paused a moment to lift the charm, which took the shape of two snakes – one bronze and the other gold - each gripping the other by the tail in an unholy circle. Sir Watson said, "You wear it still."
The Prince laid his hand upon his servant's breast and she inhaled most sharply. "Still and always."
Sir Watson washed then her Prince's front with slow strokes lingering some time with her hand below the surface of the water. The Prince raised a languid hand and pressed his knight's lips to his own in a lingering kiss. They remained thus for a time. A slow statue, until Sir Watson pulled away. She stood and removing the last of her clothing, calmly stepped within the tub, water splashing onto the rushes.
Lady Irena saw then that she wore a charm the twin to the Prince's own. Her heart felt ill in her chest. She looked to her Lord, his head swaying lizardlike side to side. Her lips curled and she had to force them back into shape.
Now even for such inverts as they, for one Alpha to enter another portended injury, yet Sir. Watson rode the Prince hard with the Prince's phallus betwixt her well-muscled thighs.
Lord Jaume whispered to her, "The shame of a Prince to lie beneath a knight of middle estate and an Alpha woman besides."
Lady Irena kept her hands smooth in her skirts. She watched the further shame that having spread his joy in the water, the Prince played servant to his servant. The Prince gave considerable attention laughing that it was only his noblesse oblige with stroking fingers that teased at Sir Watson's inverted phallus and played with some apparent skill at the hairs that were confined there. Such was the vigour of their activities that there was little water was left in the tub and much puddled in the rushes.
They went to the feast.
Lord Jaume spent his words over the subtly in an arch and carrying voice that for two Alphas to joust as it was well known these two did was a sin.
It was the Prince's physician, Lady Mary De Cerceau, who said, "But Milord Sherlock but follows the practice of the Theban Band, who were famed in that Aphas went into battle with their beloveds. As twin souls of two bodies, split by the gods as Aristotle wrote."
Not an argument that would go well with the church, given also the many rumours that the Prince had sold his soul to the devil.
Lady Irena sent a cypher to her cousin the Pope in Rome, who dearly wanted coin to counter the anti-Pope in Avignon.
Lord Jaume was not there when Prince Sherloque was accused in court. He was spending his efforts on the King's most rebellious duchy to spread tales of sickness and from sickness plague and from plague to a demon's curse brought on the land by its heir.
The Prince was stricken from the succession as the King grit his teeth and welcomed Lord Jaume to his court, "For the stability of the kingdom until my own children are presented."
Lady Irena bowed. "Of course, Your Majesty, such darling children." There were rumours that that the King's sons looked little like the King, and it had taken the King three Queens to get these at all, which with one could be blamed on the Omega, but three was very unlikely.
The more seeds to grow under such a King's steady light.
They had forgotten that Princes are judged by a different standard. Moreover Princes who spend the season that they are stricken from the succession on campaign amid the Italies and returned to France covered in triumph and the Pope's own "ward" as a hostage had little to fear from inquisition, or at least so it seemed to Lady Irena.
Thwarted there, they turned to other plots. More openly presented rebellion. Lord Jaume later laid the blame on the Lady Irena for balking at the jump. He said that he'd not have not chosen such an ill cypher for their plans, because of course all failure had to lie in her skirts and not his deeds.
In the end, it was not Prince Sherloque upon the pyre as a witch, but the Lady Irena confined to a nunnery, and Lord Jaume with the choice of beheading or drowned in a butt of poisoned wine for treason.
He chose the wine and drank well that day.
As to the succession, the King's sons both presented Omega, which made for rather different difficulties. But that tale lies elsewhere.
Lady Irena, already risen to Mother Superior, smiled to hear of it, and wrote her daughter, by now an Alpha of some renown, a letter with a suggestion to pay her cousins a visit.