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Subject: Honor on the Field 4/26

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Date Posted: Friday, November 04, 02:23:34pm
In reply to: Nell 's message, "Honor on the Field" on Tuesday, November 01, 08:53:54pm

~*~*~*~*~ Chapter Four ~*~*~*~*~

The bulk of the guests were out boar hunting, one of the chief entertainments offered by country living in the fall.

Nikita spent her morning closeted with Matilda, going over the menu for the rest of the festivities, making last minute alterations and additions now that they had a sure sense of how many mouths there were to feed. After that, they visited the pantries where Nikita dispensed the salt and precious spices that would flavor the day’s meals.

Nikita was taking the long, outside route back to the main hall to check on the status of the cleaning going on there, and seizing what might be her only chance for some fresh air that day, when she rounded a corner and nearly collided with the distinctive figure of the Duke of Rouen. Catching herself just in time, Nikita rocked back on her heels as she bowed her head and stepped to the side to clear his path, her startled apology nearly drowned out by his.

Nikita looked up and found herself staring directly into his eyes, barely more than a foot away from hers. She had noted yesterday that he was as tall, or perhaps slightly taller than Edward, now she realized that they were nearly of a height, at most he had an inch more than she.

Her breath immediately hitched in her throat and her palms felt suddenly hot as the muscles in her belly clenched tight. His large eyes, up close, were even more remarkable than at a distance. Under heavy dark brows, the vivid green dominated his face, balancing out a broad brow, a strong, slashing nose, high arching cheek bones, and a long, forceful jaw; a face that with less remarkable eyes might have seemed slightly out of proportion – too much bone, too much chin, slightly off center – was instead startlingly handsome.

And if the eyes were the window to the soul, his was a powerful soul indeed, because she couldn't seem to find the will to break away, look down, look up, look anywhere but into them, and they were full of promise and threat, heat and longing and danger, power and command.

Heartbeat by heartbeat Nikita fought back against his onslaught, reminding herself that she had plans, and a future, and that the Duke and his promises of fire and danger could do nothing but damage. Bowing her head again, she nodded and gestured for him to pass.

Samuelle sized the chance he’d been hoping for all morning. "No, I was looking for you."

That brought her eyes, and her chin, back up. Curious despite herself, Nikita said, "For me, my lord?"


He sought out her eyes again, apparently determined that she should pay attention to his words, pay attention to him, as if it were possible to ignore him, she thought with a private yelp of indignation for the way he was pressing in on her.

"I must apologize for my behavior last evening, it was un-chivalrous in the extreme and I am very sorry."

"Oh." Nikita paused, her rising temper deflated by his apology. She was also uncertain how exactly to accept it, since accepting it meant that she knew what he was talking about, and that itself was a problem. Also, he had already apologized, obliquely, by doing what he could to minimize the damage and do no further harm to her reputation. Suddenly smiling, she realized she had a way out. "There is no need to say anything at all my lord, your consideration during the dancing leaves me feeling nothing but gratitude."

Rouen frowned and his gaze drifted over her shoulder, and Nikita caught the distinct impression of anger. "He shouldn't have told you."

Unhesitatingly rushing to her childhood champion's defense, Nikita replied, "When I tried to thank him, he wouldn't accept. He said he wouldn't‚ ‘wear another man's feathers'."

Rouen glanced at her quickly and then away again as he stood silently, absorbing the information.

Suddenly looking her in the eye again, the Duke said abruptly, "I have a wife. In Rouen."

Nikita folded her arms over her chest and kept her tone very dry; a faint crackling of anger at his presumption snaking across her shoulders. "Yes. I know."

The duke looked vaguely taken aback, so Nikita pressed her advantage. Narrowing her eyes, she looked appraisingly at him and continued, "I think you must be the fifteenth or sixteenth person to tell me that in the last twelve hours."

His eyes widened in what was definitely shock, and Nikita smiled triumphantly at having been able to disconcert him; turn about was fair play she told herself. "Yes,” she went on, “Beginning with his highness himself, through my father, two lords champion, four knights from the tourney circuit, my old nurse Belinda, my sister," Nikita grimaced at the memory of Michelle’s gleeful report, carefully delivered right in front of their father at breakfast, "two servants and our head groom."

This time the Duke dropped his whole head, a faint blush staining his high cheeks above the raspy stubble of his dark beard, his shoulder length, wavy hair falling forward to hide his jaw. Glancing up at her from under his brows, he said quietly, "I'm so sorry. I didn't know your situation. Had I known, I never would have..."

His full mouth thinned and twisted in disgust, as though he couldn't bring himself to say the words. So Nikita said them for him. "Made me an object of your undisguised admiration."

She could barely make out the soft "yes" that slipped from between his teeth. Her temper growing again, fueled by his, to her mind, over elaborate and insincere regrets, Nikita said, "Taking advantage of unlucky women isn't your custom?"

That brought his head back up, and this time she saw she had struck a nerve.

"No.” He snapped. “It isn't. I have nothing but sympathy for your situation and I would never, intentionally, do anything to make it worse."

Her anger now fully roused, Nikita shot back, "Oh, know all about being a bastard, do you? My lord Duke?" She emphasized his title with as much venom as she could muster.

"No. But I do know about being overlooked and slighted at my father's table."

Nikita could not believe that he was actually trying to claim some sort of shared sensibility with her. Fisting her hands on her hips, she exclaimed, "How would you know that?!"

"I'm the third son of the second wife."

Nikita digested this information for a moment, then, still suspicious and angry, she challenged, "How many sons of the first?"

"Five, that made it to their knighthoods and beyond."

Shock shook her out of her anger. "Your father lost seven sons?"

"You make him sound very careless."

That caught her up short. "Oh, I didn't mean..."

He smiled then, a true smile that showed a glimpse of his white teeth and lit his whole face with a warmth and humor she'd never suspected. "He was. Profligate even."

The Duke’s wry smile worked wonders on her temper, and his open manner was so inviting that without hesitating she replied, “I guess he could afford to be!”

"I'm reasonably certain he knew my Christian name, but he never once called me anything other than, "You! Boy!" The very last thing he said to me was, "You! Boy! Looks like the duchy falls to you. Don't muck it up"."

Nikita was betrayed into a chuckle by the Duke's light tone, and looking quickly into his eyes to make sure she hadn't offended him, she was so surprised by what she saw, she spoke her thought aloud. "You were fond of him!"

"Yes. He didn't pay me much attention, but when he did he treated me as though I were already grown, speaking sensibly to me about the estates, about war, about honor."

Smiling as she looked in on her own memories, Nikita said, "Prince Edward did the same for me when I was a child, and used to accompany my father to the Championships each year."

"Yes. He told me about it, last night.” Samuelle looked curiously at Nikita, seeking in the young woman before him the angelically beautiful toddler of Edward’s memories, the pet of her father’s tourney set, the charmingly awkward girl-child who provided a flatteringly avid audience for Edward’s obsession with the tourney. He also saw a woman of spirit and fire, whose misfortune of birth had not been allowed to destroy her pride. Aware that he wanted to complement her, and that it would be a mistake after having only made her angry when he attempted, clumsily it turned out, to offer his sympathy and understanding, Samuelle dragged himself back to the subject of the Prince. “He is very fond of you because of those visits."

"And I of him."

Samuelle could think of no reply and Nikita was silent, so after an awkward pause in which they both looked anywhere but at each other, Samuelle made the declaration he had originally sought her out to make. "I give you my word, I'll not embarrass you further. I swear it."

Nikita looked at him then, and saw nothing but earnest determination in Rouen’s eyes. "I believe you. Thank you."

She smiled then, and nodded in the direction she was going. "I'd better be getting inside. I have to check on the hall, the hunters should be back soon, looking for their midday meal."

"Of course." Samuelle nodded and gestured that she should precede him, and then he fell into step beside her. As they walked, he found himself thinking that that she was the most remarkable woman he could remember meeting in a very long time, and wondering what her future might hold.

The silence was immediately uncomfortable to Nikita, his quiet stride somehow making him seem to loom all the larger beside her. Desperate to talk about something, she grasped for the first thing that came to mind. "What happened to your brothers?"

When Rouen didn't answer, Nikita began berating herself for asking such an impertinent and personal question, and so nearly sighed aloud with relief when he replied. "War, the desire to see the Holy Land, hunting accidents, illness."

"I am so sorry, I didn't think, that was a terrible thing to ask." Nikita was conscious that she was babbling but couldn't manage to make it stop. "Please, My Lord, I beg you, accept my humblest..."

"Nikita, hush. It's all right. I didn't even know my two eldest brothers; they died before I was born. Their sons as old as I am, older even. I served as a squire with a nephew who was born ten months before me."

When she didn't answer, because she didn't know how, he brushed her elbow to make her look at him, leaving a spot that would burn late that night when she lay in bed, struggling to sleep. "No one has asked me in a very long time. I was surprised, that's all, and then realized I had to think about it for a moment, because I couldn't remember what exactly had happened to each of them."

"Still, it was impertinent of me, I shouldn't have..."

Samuelle interrupted her again. "No. It wasn't. I told you about them because I wanted to; to show you that I do know, in a small way, what it is like to be snubbed as irrelevant and powerless in your father's house. That was impertinent of me. Once again, I must beg your forgiveness for my arrogance."

Nikita smiled at his serious expression, both touched and greatly relieved that he recognized the vast gulf that lay between their experiences after all. "I think, perhaps, my lord champion, we should call it a draw, and retreat from the field with what honor we can, each swearing to do better another day."

The Duke gave her a courtly bow. "An excellent suggestion, from a worthy champion."

Nikita gave him her best regal nod, "Then, if my lord will excuse me?"

Rouen nodded, stepped quickly to the door, which they had reached, and swept it open for her.

When the door closed behind her, with the Duke, thankfully, still on the other side, Nikita nearly sagged in relief.

Their conversation seemed to clear the air, and for the rest of the day, the Duke neither sought her out, nor ignored her. He simply treated her with the same polite indifference he extended toward the other noble women present. In fact, he was so thorough about it that by the time she sought her own bed that night, Nikita began to wonder if she'd imagined the whole encounter, and if the spot on her elbow where his fingers had brushed against her hadn't continued to ache, she might very well have dismissed the entire episode as a very bad dream.

Samuelle was not so lucky. His appearance of indifference was maintained only through constant vigilance, and not only when he was in a room with Nikita, but every moment that he spent with any of the other guests as well. Nikita, not surprisingly, was an object of considerable fascination to her father's guests, both those that had been coming regularly for several years, and those who were just meeting her for the first time. She was, therefore, the subject of a good deal of conversation, by turns admiring; by turns envious; and occasionally even lascivious. She was praised for her beauty, her obvious skills as a chatelaine, her excellent manners and polite bearing. Her demeanor was admired for being modest and humble, without being in the slightest obsequious in the presence of her social superiors. Her reputation for chastity despite what gossip took to be scores of offers to walk another path was on everyone’s lips. That the Black Prince held her as a favorite simply sealed the rest. For almost exactly the same reasons, some of the conversation was spitefully envious. The conversation about her was also occasionally took a turn for the crude, especially among the younger or cruder knights who spent what seemed to be hours tallying up her physical assets and repeating them at length to each other, along with endless speculation about all those they couldn't see.

By the end of the day he was ready to snap from the tension of reigning in his desire to leap to her defense, sing her praise, and crush the life out of some of those had made particularly offensive remarks about her person.


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Subject Author Date
you knowskFriday, November 04, 06:42:27pm
Chapter 4TNFriday, November 04, 10:13:50pm
chuckling...Sal.Saturday, November 05, 04:37:36am
I liked all the background you brought into thissignme1Saturday, November 05, 11:29:36am

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