tagErotic CouplingsThe Fool Ch. 12

The Fool Ch. 12

byxelliebabex©

Authors Note: Thank you once again to everyone who leaves comments and feedback on my writing, it is much appreciated. This is the final chapter in this series. As always, I know there are a few loose ends which will be handy if I ever get inspired to write a follow up series. Thank you very much to Paul who has been my second set of eyes throughout this whole series, he is a great friend to help me out so much. I hope you enjoy it. ~ellie

*****

The Fool Ch. 12

The freedom to choose her fate.

The men had been separated into smaller groups and led away to adjoining rooms, starting with the new association members who hoped to regain their family's places in the association of Hats. Jordan, Gerard and Joseph were taken to a smaller conference room where they met with another woman who introduced herself as Lady Helena Windsor.

"I want there to be no confusion for you," she began. "The men you were just with are a brotherhood. Despite family feuds and rifts in the association, they have family ties that bind them tightly together. Your bonds were severed. You cannot expect, nor do you deserve the same rights and advantages as those men have. Not until you have worked to become one of them and prove yourselves worthy."

"That's bullshit," Gerard Myngs raged. "My ancestor was the first of the Brotherhood alongside Mansvelt!"

"That means very little to anyone here aside from you. You are like the foster children joining a large unruly family who already have the bonds of friendship and love to tie them together. You cannot expect them just to accept you because some Port Royal slut opened her legs for your ancestor. Before you become indignant," she held up her hand and spoke quickly. "Make no mistake, Edvard Myngs was never married, and, by definition, all of his progeny were bastards."

"I think I'd rather that than the fact that my ancestor ran away to sea to get away from his nagging shrew of a wife and children," Jordan said with a perfectly straight face. "I imagine she sailed here from Barbados and nagged the Governor of Jamaica into handing over all of his stolen treasure, and they did, just to be rid of her."

"I think the woman ran away when she found she was pregnant to my ancestor. He was such a cruel bastard, he probably would have killed her and the kid, but the woman went to Lord Windsor, and he sent the mother and son back to England so he would get a proper education. Or, at least, that's how the story goes," Joseph said.

"The terms of your contracts with the Windsor's reflect your lesser status with the group, but there is provision for them to be amended, and or upgraded as time passes. Take your time to read them carefully and know what you are not only committing yourselves to, but also your family," Helena warned, placing folios on the table before them. With that, she got up and left them, leaving a guard outside the door.

*****

The three men named as associates of Edith were the next to be separated from the larger group and were also taken to a smaller conference room.

"Hello, Gentlemen, I am Lady Marina Windsor," the woman greeted them. "Well, haven't you been naughty boys then," she said with a wink. "So naughty in the fact that the Windsor's have deemed it a fitting consequence of diminishing your power within the association for a period until you have proven that you can embrace true mission statement of the brotherhood instead of using it solely for your personal gains."

"Be less? I won't be a slave to another man's agenda!" Vane protested.

"That is, of course, your choice. The Windsor's have decided to take a more hands-on approach in light of recent events and the scrutiny of the world police that is aimed at you all right now. We have no doubt that Edith will go down trying to drag everyone one of you down with her, and, if you want our assistance in this matter, you will read the terms thoroughly before making your decision to reject them. If even half of what we have learned is true, you will need the help of people who can make a difference for you."

"What does a more hands-on approach mean, exactly?" Roberts asked carefully. After hearing what Carrington had told them, he had every reason to want to make a deal and keep as much power and influence on his side as he could.

"A Lord of Windsor will preside over the association until it is recognised as being able to function on its own as a brotherhood. You will become what you once were, the elite warrior arm of the Windsors, who will work as a force to be reckoned with and be rewarded heavily. Now, gentlemen, I will leave you to read and discuss the terms of the agreement." Marina stood and left the room with a smile at the large man who stood guard at their door.

*****

The two steadfastly neutral members of the association were taken next and introduced to Lady Charlotte Windsor.

"It's a wonderful thing to stay neutral in arguments and be the voice of reason. It is quite another to be neutral only until the question of what's in it for you has been decided. So I will tell you what's in these agreements for the two of you, nothing!" Charlotte placed the two terms of agreement folios on the desk before them. "If you do not take a more active and altruistic role in decision making within the brotherhood, you will find the power you hold there will diminish with the rewards you will receive for service. Times have changed, gentlemen, and sitting back to reap the rewards while others take risks is no longer an option for either of you."

"I hardly think that's fair," Rackham argued.

"Really? Do you think Edith will go down without a fight? Do you think the brotherhood is strong enough to withstand that sort of scrutiny unless you are all united and working toward the same goal? The Hats need us far more than we need this sort of publicity and drama. We can lessen the effects and possibly negate them, but we expect a return to the original reason the Brotherhood was formed in the first place. To have honour amongst thieves, you must first be able to trust each other, and, I guarantee you, no one trusts either of you because of your self-serving ways. Read the documents and join us or go it alone, the choice is yours, as it always has been." Charlotte waited a minute after her speech for them to say anything else, but they stared at her in stunned silence, so she left the room.

*****

Carrie looked at the remaining four men in the conference room and smiled softly as she got to her feet. "If you would all follow me, please." She led them up to the lounge where her grandmother still sat.

"Welcome, gentlemen, I am Carrington Cartier Windsor, though I prefer to be addressed as CC at this time," she said and indicated the seating with a sweep of her hand. "Can I offer you a drink?" she asked.

"I have a feeling we're going to need one," Freddy said with a tight laugh, and went to the bar, startling the manservant by picking up a bottle of Dimple and several glasses before returning to his seat and pouring for himself and his friends.

"Not at all. You are each to be commended for the work you have done for us since taking your place amongst the brotherhood. While the others of the association are facing some harsh realities and consequences of their actions, I have information instead of ultimatums I would like to share with the four of you," CC said in an even tone. "Then I will leave you to discuss that information and read over the terms of the agreement before dinner."

"Harsh realities?" the kind-hearted Ben asked, suddenly worried for his associates.

"Don't look like that, Ben, we aren't keelhauling them or making them walk the plank," she cackled. "Carrington, why don't you go and check on how your cousins are doing with their charges while I have a chat to these gentlemen."

"I'd be happy to," she said lightly, and left the room, relieved not to have to be there during the conversation with the four men.

"Now where were we? Ah, yes, harsh realities. Myngs, Bonnet, and Nau are learning that they will be seen as apprentices rather than full members of the Brotherhood until they have proven their loyalty and trustworthiness. Vane, Teach, and Roberts are learning that there are consequences to doing deals with the devil, and, if they do not accept the probationary period we have offered them, we will allow Edith's allegations against them to go unanswered and let them deal the outcome of that themselves," she paused and took a sip of her tea.

"What does a probationary period look like in reality?" Christopher asked.

"The rewards offered to each family after successful missions will no longer be shared evenly. Which brings me to the two fence sitters. They have been told to be actively involved in the Brotherhood or receive nothing like their current participation warrants." She paused, again looking pleased with herself.

"Rackham must have had an embolism when he heard that," Freddy whistled.

"You gentlemen will suffer no such censure, you will have a greater voice and a greater share of the rewards until such time as the others come up to standard. There will be a mentoring program for the three men who have not grown up within the bosom of your families, and I expect all four of you to take that on board with each of the men. That would include Bonnet spending some time with the Mansvelt's," she looked meaningfully at Sinclair.

"Given time, that may be possible," he conceded. "With Edith gone, so are the aspirations he had that I didn't like, hopefully."

"Lovely, because that brings me to my next point. With the restructuring, the Windsor's would like a more hands-on role within the Brotherhood to bring it back to the elite warrior arm of the Windsor's. We believe a representative of the Windsor's within the core of the Brotherhood would be ideal, as we plan to step up operations in several hot spots over the next few years." CC looked at the men carefully; they did not seem overly concerned about the announcement.

"Double embolism for Rackham," Freddy nodded.

"I wouldn't be surprised if Vane decided to go it alone rather than lose his autonomy," Christopher said thoughtfully.

"Would we know who this was? I mean, do we already have a relationship with the Windsor you want to join us?" Sinclair asked carefully, unsure how he felt about having, what amounted to, an overseer watching his every move.

"We have two candidates in mind, and, depending on how negotiations go today, they may be able to work in tandem," she said enigmatically. "First I would like you to look at the terms of the agreements we are offering each of you. There are no surprises in there; it is just a more formalised version of what we have historically held onto as the Hat contract."

She watched them carefully as they huddled together and murmured, each taking a different section of the contract before sitting back to read carefully. CC noted that Sinclair took the initial pages. She wondered at his natural leadership abilities, or whether these men had known him for so long, that was just the way it was now.

"If you'll excuse me, I will just go and freshen up as you read," CC excused herself and walked from the cabin.

"It seems like we get a great deal here, reward wise," Freddy said into the silence. "We'd be officers, the others would be bosons, and the newbies would be crew, going by this pay scale."

"It's the same with decision making, our votes will count for more at the moment, but it is expected that the others would rise in rank fairly quickly, that's where it become a little grey. We would have a say in the promotions, but the Captain would make the decision as to whether to send that recommendation to the Windsor's," Ben added his agreement to Freddy's assessment of the rankings.

"Sounds like some sort of shadow operations team. A bit James Bond-like, the premise being that, with the connections our families have built over the centuries, we can get into any home or castle within the world through the front door," Christopher was rereading his part to ensure he understood what the missions would entail and the parameters they were expected to work within.

"It's pretty much what you all said, the mission statement is to work toward the good of the people, but fails to name those people or location. The best I could hazard a guess at is that the Windsor's are planning on meddling with the politics of the world, and we are the ones who will smooth the way for them by doing the covert James Bond stuff," he, like Christopher, was rereading sections as he spoke.

Each man looked up as the engine of another boat seemed to come closer and then just cut out, as if someone had docked to the cruiser. They heard voices, and, though none of them moved from their seat, they craned their heads as one as if to hear what was being said as the voices came closer.

"Perhaps it's our new brother, Lord Windsor," Ben spoke in hushed tones.

"I'm sorry I took so long, gentlemen," CC said, coming back into the room minutes later. "Another guest arrived, and I needed to greet them personally. Carrington is showing him to his room while we finish up our discussions."

"The terms of the agreement seem quite generous, there are a few grey areas, but I am sure from the rest of the document that it is nothing that can't be worked around," Sinclair said.

"Good, I believe those grey areas can be discussed through the Lord of Windsor," she purposefully changed the way she said the title.

"It that who just arrived?" Freddy asked bluntly.

"No, dear, though our new guest will make the transition easier if the first candidate accepts the role and all that comes with it," she said enigmatically, enjoying the looks of frustration she received from the men. The truth was that, although she knew what she wanted, she wasn't sure how to word it to get the desired result.

"You've known Sinclair all of your life, Christopher?" she asked. "Ben? Freddy? So you're already like brothers, no doubt." She said as they each nodded and the quizzical looks deepened. "Do you think he will still marry Carrington, despite his learning that she set up the stunt in the museum and came here of her own free will?"

"I dunno, there's that, but then admitting she was the Fool was a little hard to take when we had begun to trust her. It would be a lot to forgive, even if he has been acting like a love-sick schoolboy ever since he met her," Freddy shook his head.

"It might help you to know that she believed my life was in danger if she didn't disappear the way she did," Sinclair jumped to Carrie's defence.

"She's put him through the wringer more than once," Christopher mused in a teasing way, "He's a glutton for punishment though, so, probably."

"The question is... why would she still want to marry him? He's not getting any younger, and there are some very good looking young men crewing this ship," Ben nodded. "If it's a Mansvelt she wants, though, his cousin's like a carbon copy, only younger, and, I dare say, fitter."

"And gay," Sinclair grumbled about his friend's good-natured teasing.

"Should Sinclair marry my granddaughter, Carrington, he would, through marriage, become a Lord of Windsor," she said tentatively, trying to read Sinclair's expression before speaking again. "Should he choose to use that title and take up the role as Captain of the Brotherhood, he would need to vacate his seat, which would go to his cousin, Oliver, of whom you speak, if the male line of succession is adhered to, of course. The balance of power would shift within the brotherhood, and my questions still stand... does he still want to marry Carrington Wordsworth Windsor?"

"Stop looking at me as if I will say no. I dragged you all out here to get Carrington back only hours ago. We are going to be married, as soon as I get to talk to her properly and remind her why she asked me in the first place. The question is... what sort of a captain I would be? Maybe it's better to have an unknown, so there are no bad feelings or assumptions about how things will work!" Sinclair said angrily, feeling like he was being ambushed.

"Better for who? Not better for me," Freddy said. "What about you guys?"

"I'd prefer someone I knew I could trust with my life sending me out on missions," Christopher agreed.

"Ditto," Ben said wide eyed.

"I doubt the rest of them will feel that way," Sinclair said. "And I still haven't had the chance to talk to Carrie, let alone find out if she still wants to marry me, it's not just about me, you know."

"So, we get Carrington in here, simple," Christopher said. "No one can make an informed decision until the issue of a wedding date is resolved."

"We could always get the Captain of this ship down to do the deed at the same time," Freddy chimed in, "They could have a proper ceremony later as well, wherever they wanted."

"Harder for the others to fight the issue if it's already said and done," Christopher looked at it logically. "It would be even more concrete if Ollie was here as well."

"Did someone ask for me?" A younger version of Sinclair strode into the lounge with Carrie still marvelling at the family resemblance.

"Ollie!" Sinclair exclaimed, coming to his feet and embracing his cousin. "I haven't accepted anything," he spoke to CC.

"Hedging my bets," the old woman cackled.

"I have no idea what's going on. I was told your fiancé was in trouble and you needed my help," Oliver said, looking between Carrie and Sinclair. "You both seem fine to me. So, a free holiday, I'm guessing?"

"It comes with a pretty big catch, I'm afraid," Sinclair said seriously. "I'll let the guys fill you in while Carrie takes me to find the Captain."

"The Captain? Why do you need the Captain?" Carrie suddenly worried that he was leaving the ship before they had the chance to talk properly.

"You knew your grandmother's plan once she had us all here?" he asked.

"I thought I did, but now I'm not so sure," she admitted.

"Walk with me," he said, taking her hand. They had walked a little way from the lounge out onto the aft deck. "So, you're free to make your own choices now?" he asked tentatively.

"Yes," she said. "I don't have to worry about my friends being hurt or being guilted into doing anything because of family duty or Robyn's memory," she explained further. "I expect the Windsor's will want a different type of family loyalty, but I feel like I can trust CC, in a way I couldn't trust Edith or Jordan."

"You trust what she says and the promises she makes?" he tilted his head.

"I do. You are here and safe. Edith and Jordan no longer have a hold on me, and I no longer have to lie to you about anything, including the fact that I knew your parents never had the real Heart. I wish they have trusted me enough to tell me that, or that you had," she said sadly. "That hurt when you all tried to treat me like I was dumb enough to fall for the replica."

"I didn't know," Sinclair turned her to face him to show the truth in his words and expression. "I believed we had it, just as I had always been told. Truthfully, I don't even know that Dad is aware, or if he thinks the one with the flaws is the real one. It would have been stolen after the great war when everything was so chaotic. I'm not even sure where it was located back then. Possibly the only person who would know the truth is Lady Ophelia."

"You didn't know?" Carrie repeated, as if it was difficult to believe.

"I didn't know," he echoed her words, hoping she believed the sincerity in his voice. "Until you unveiled it, I didn't believe the message left by the Fool at the museum. I would like the chance to view it up close once the terms of the agreement have been met."

"I think we can organise that," she laughed. "It will be yours to do with what you will."

"In that case, I believe it belongs to you after a certain promise I was reminded about recently," he chuckled.

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