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Not Fitting

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It doesn't fit.

Well, it fits, of course it fits, the damn tailor spent enough time on sticking pins into Will to adjust the fit of his new tunic, but it doesn't fit. The fabrics are new and uncomfortable, not like the easy fit of the padded tunics he's used to wearing under his armour. It even feels heavier than his armour does, and he certainly can't move as easily in it. He makes a mental note to thank Kate for that again, and pastes on another formal smile as he bows to another interchangeable nobleman he'll have forgotten within the turn of the hour.

A man can change not only his stars, it appears, but also his wardrobe, and the weaves that make it up. Tighter and heavier: velvets that he can't spill anything on or move freely in, lace and braids that scratch and itch at his neck and wrists. Not just uncomfortable, but also entirely impractical, catching often on his belt knife and, on one particularly embarrassing occasion, the candlestick on the table in front of them.

A hiss and an elbow in the ribs from Jocelyn mercifully brings Will back from contemplating that particular disaster, and to awareness that the prince and his princess have entered the room and therefore Will is due to bow to them along with the rest of the courtiers in the room. He's just late enough that Edward's eye meets his across the room, and there's a hint of humour there, in his eyes and in the twitch of his mouth, at the ridiculous formality of everything.

~~~

The feast passes without major incident. Jocelyn's smile becomes more fixed and less warm as each dish passes, and Will fails, yet again, at polite conversation. Adhemar's no longer a fixture at court, of course, but that hasn't reduced the number of wits eager to remind Will that he's a newcomer. An outsider. Regardless of royal approval and Edward's decree of a legitimate heritage, Will's name is still that of a tradesman, not an ancient lineage or inherited lands. Sir William Thatcher, butt of a hundred puns and only truly at ease on the tourney field.

The Prince of Wales rises from the table, hand offered to his princess to aid her in rising, and the feast is finally officially over. The evening, of course, is not. There will be dancing, but Will has developed strategies to avoid dancing as much as he possibly can. All Kate and Chaucer's lessons have only rendered him slightly less clumsy in a formal dance, and he still confuses the cinque-pace with the pavane, usually with disastrous results. Jocelyn dances, and Will does his duty, but the mask of formality and pretence over court occasions sickens his heart.

When the musicians strike up, Will honestly can't say what the dance is to be. Jocelyn recognises it, clearly, and there's a moment when she waits impatiently for him to lead her to the floor before she turns her smile on one of Edward's advisers and accepts his hand instead. And this, Will reminds himself, is the woman who claimed that she would be happy living with the pigs. Perhaps so, but in this world, the pigs wear velvet and satin, and in this world, it is Will who cannot find comfort.

Someone taps respectfully at his arm, and he backs up automatically, looking for the source of the contact, finding one of the pages looking up at him. "His Highness' respects, sir, and would you attend him in the withdrawing room?"

It's not an invitation Will (or anyone) can really refuse.

~~~

The Prince is waiting in the withdrawing room, unattended. Candles burn in every alcove, and on several of the tables, but those set in the chandelier are unlit. No fire burns in the grate, and Will finds himself hoping that this will be a short interview, even if that means that he has to return to the dancing sooner. The chill of stone strikes through the room, through the tapestries on the walls and rugs on the floor, and Will aches for the simple comforts of a small hall, a fire, and friends.

Doors close behind him, and Will finally remembers his learned formality, muttered curse under his breath as he bends into a deep bow, head lowered. There's a warm chuckle, and a warmer hand on his arm. "Are we then reduced to this, Will? I had thought you had learned me better."

Some days, Will isn't certain if he's facing Prince Edward, next in line to the throne, or Sir Thomas Colville, respected knight. The one is far above his touch, with power over his very life; the other at least nominally his equal. "As, perhaps, you have learned me, your highness," he ventures, still not lifting his head.

The hand on his arm retreats, and there's silence for a moment, broken only by the occasional hiss of a candle flame guttering, and the whisper of fabric as Edward moves. "I had never thought to see the day when the court swallowed you up, my Will," he says heavily. "Oh, stand up, for God's sake, man, and come and sit down."

It's the prince's will, and he is the prince's Will, nothing he can do but obey, sinking carefully into a cushioned chair not too close to the royal personage. The chair's been unused for a while; faint chill and damp is just tangible through the tunic that rides up stiffly when he sits. "My lord."

"Not your lord," Edward objects, and leans back in his seat, eyes closing as his head drops back. "My God, Will, my heart is weary of court. Will the spring never come?"

"But...your lady," Will says carefully. "Your sons, the princes..." Damn. He catches himself, corrects himself, cheeks darkening with colour for his error. "The prince."

"My lady is indeed content with the prince, her son," Edward agrees, lifting his head again. "England chafes at me, and my lady more so."

It's no more than Will has privately suspected, but to hear it said, aloud, so bluntly... "But England will be yours."

"Maybe so, God preserve my honoured father in grace and good health." Dark eyes open, glittering in the low light, sharp and intelligent as always when they seek out Will's face in the quiet room. "And this position is yours, but now that you have it, can you truly tell me that you are content within it?"

Will opens his mouth, then closes it again. He will not betray his lady with the truth, nor the generous gift that Edward granted to him, but neither can he tell a lie to royalty. "Perhaps I am not entirely fitted for court," he says, awkward in his attempt to be diplomatic.

Edward remains silent a moment longer, as if waiting for Will to continue speaking, but there's nothing more to say. Chaucer would have words to say, reams of words, great spirals of them, twisting sense with nonsense, truth with untruth until all are braided together as neatly as my lady's hair, but Will is not gifted with words, and he cannot give truth to the man sitting beside him without betraying a truth to his oath. All he can give is his presence, and his silence.

"Perhaps," Edward says softly, "court is not fitted for you." He rises to his feet, waving dismissively when Will tries to scramble up as well. "No, no, stay. The room is yours until the dancing ends. Spring will come soon enough, I dare say."

The dancing, Will hopes, will end before spring, but the reference is clear enough. In spring, the tournaments will resume, and he can escape the restrictions of the court for the freedom, once again, of the field. He subsides into the chair, bowing his head for a moment instead. When he looks up again, Edward is at the doorway, one hand on the latch, looking back at him. "My lord prince?"

Edward chuckles, a tired rasp of a sound. "I suppose I am. Tell me, Sir William, can a man truly change his stars?"

Will considers carefully. "He can," he concludes, "but in the changing of his stars, perhaps a man changes in accordance."

He's not even entirely sure what he means, but Edward seems to understand, a slow nod acknowledging that. "A sailor may navigate by his stars," Edward says quietly. "Pray God that some remain constant."

The door latches closed behind him. Will is left with the puzzle of the stars, and braid itching at his wrists and throat, until Jocelyn comes to claim him from sanctuary and return him to the patterns of the court.