|Subject: Honor on the Field 1/26
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Date Posted: Tuesday, November 01, 09:02:05pm
In reply to:
's message, "Honor on the Field" on Tuesday, November 01, 08:53:54pm
Honor on the Field
Marlborough, England, September 1361
“They’re coming, they’re coming!”
The excited cries echoed through the halls of her father’s home, part falling-down, squat turret-castle, mostly large sprawling manor built haphazardly around the central core as different barons of Marlborough felt the urge to add a room or two. Hearing the noise, Nikita Wirth picked up her skirts and ran for the kitchens, scolding herself for waiting so late to change her dress and determined that everything would be ready for her father’s guests.
Sir Phillip Wirth, Baron of Marlborough, once a fixture on the tournament circuit and currently retired, occupied himself these days with hosting what he intended to be the most important annual house party of the entire European tourney tour. Once he had finally admitted he was too old to compete with any dignity, Phillip had set out to conquer the social side of the tournament the way he had once commanded the field. Sir Phillip’s party had always been one of the final social events of the tour, and what had begun decades earlier as a small tradition of Phillip inviting some of his friends and cronies from the circuit home to stay for a few days or weeks at the close of the tourney season, had, over the last few years especially, grown in importance, size and prestige.
Where, as recently as four years previously, the only non-champion nobly-born to attend were relatively penniless trailing sons who rode the circuit as a sort of traveling social event, scrounging a living by appearing at other people’s parties, this year Sir Phillip was actually expecting Edward, the Black Prince himself, and noted jousting aficionado, to stop by on his way to Wales. Along with Edward, of course, came a large retinue of hangers on, and they were also expecting a much larger contingent of more significant nobles than usual, including, to Sir Phillip’s great satisfaction, the reigning jousting champion, Lord Michel Samuelle, Duc du Rouen and Comte d’ Argentan.
When Nikita arrived in the kitchens, she discovered that what had been a scene of calm, orderly food preparation had, in the brief time since she had left it to wash her face and change her dress, degenerated into a scene of outright chaos. Freshly cut vegetables were strewn across the floor, the head cook was bellowing imprecations at the two scullery maids, boiling pots were overflowing into the hearth with horrible sizzling smells, a dog had stolen a loaf of bread and the boys charged with turning the spits had stopped their labors entirely as they stood staring, mouths agape at the awesome sight of Matilda in full cry.
Stifling an explosion of oaths culled from her father's extensive vocabulary only by dint of literally biting her own tongue, Nikita clapped her hands sharply and cried, "What's all this?!"
"Oh my lady, oh mistress Nikita, these stupid, stupid girls have ruined my dinner!"
"Nonsense! Compose yourself, Matilda! Ralph, Harold, mind your spits. Janice, Betsy, get these vegetables picked up and washed. Brenden, get those dogs out of the kitchen. Linette, attend to those pots before we lose them, and you, Matilda, your dinner is not ruined. You will impress all our guests, especially Prince Edward, with your talents."
Within a few minutes the kitchen had resumed the air of purpose Nikita had expected to find on her arrival. Enough time had been lost, though, and just enough damage had been done, that by the time she had solved several minor problems, made a number of decisions that normally would have fallen to Matilda, and stayed long enough to feel confident that the meal would appear on time, she was quite late making her way to her father's side on the front steps as he greeted this most important contingent of his guests.
Slipping up beside Sir Phillip, Nikita was disappointed to see that Prince Edward was already inside with a small group of knights, none of whom she recognized. Her father was now welcoming Sir Winston and Lady Margaret, their neighbors and some of his oldest friends, people she had known nearly all her life, and consequently, people who, kindly as they were, could offer no new news or entertainment
"Ah Nikita! There you are, come, give Sir Winston and Lady Margaret a kiss and welcome them to our home! What kept you girl? The Prince and Rouen are already inside, you'll have to greet the Prince on your own and be properly introduced to the rest of our guests later. Confound it child, what do you want, Michelle?"
Sir Phillip growled this last at his youngest daughter, a slim, brown haired fifteen year-old tugging on his sleeve, in unconcealed irritation with her impertinence.
"May I go inside, Papa? I'm getting cold."
"Well why the hell aren't you wearing a wrap, like your sister here? Bloody hell, child, don't you have the sense the good Lord gave chickens?"
Nikita glanced at Michelle with a long familiar mixture of affection and exasperation. Michelle had a perfectly normal amount of sense and intelligence, but she only used them when it was least difficult to do so, relying on everyone else around her to pick up the slack the rest of the time.
Nikita was also reasonably certain that Michelle’s purpose was to get away from Sir Winston and Lady Margaret, and go inside to flirt with the score of dashing young men already indoors, a sentiment she could fully sympathize with. Seizing the opportunity presented, Nikita whipped off her shawl and draped it solicitously around her sister’s thin shoulders. “Here dearest, you take mine. I’ll just run go get another one.”
Aware of her father’s beaming approval of this sisterly gesture, and, behind his back, Michelle’s protruding tongue, Nikita, grinning in triumph, ran lightly up the front steps and disappeared inside the house as fast as she could, lest Michelle cudgel her brain into action and think up some way to call her back.
Safely inside the manor’s front hall, Nikita took a deep breath and smoothed her skirts as she prepared to go welcome Prince Edward. Standing with her back to the door, Nikita quickly surveyed the room. The big front hall was already dotted with small knots of men and the occasional woman, and banishing a brief qualm over the amount of food she had ordered prepared, especially knowing that the servant’s hall below stairs was probably three times more crowded, she sought out the Prince and his party. She finally spotted Edward’s tall, spare figure by the roaring fire. She could see even at this distance that time had altered him but little. His short dark hair, suitable for wearing under a helm, was now streaked with gray at the temples, but this only lent his strong countenance more gravity, otherwise he appeared to be the same as he had been when she had last seen him, some seven years earlier, his sternness still offset by his air of confident good humor.
For Nikita, once upon a time, beginning when she was too young to understand just how unusual her situation was, the Prince had been one of those rare adults whom a lonely child could consider a friend. Before her step-mother had passed away and the reigns of the household had fallen into her own twelve-year old hands, her father had taken her to London with him each year when he attended the tournament championships there, and where he had often been invited to visit the Prince’s enclosure. Nikita had many fond memories of standing next to the Prince while he explained, with the ardor of the true fan, the intricacies of the sport of jousting and the relative strengths and weaknesses of each competitor. Years later she realized that probably everyone else in the room was grateful that she, and not they, was providing Edward with an audience for his enthusiasms, but as a child, she had felt nothing but honor that the Prince should speak to her as though she were a man, and share with her his love of the game.
Today Edward was, as usual, surrounded by a cluster of nobles who no doubt were struggling to drag the discussion towards current military and political events and away from the recent competitions. As Nikita made her way across the room, she hoped, and tried not place to much faith in it, that Edward would remember her as fondly as she did him.
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