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Subject: Honor on the Field 5/26

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Date Posted: Saturday, November 05, 02:01:18pm
In reply to: Nell 's message, "Honor on the Field" on Tuesday, November 01, 08:53:54pm

~*~*~*~*~*~*Chapter Five*~*~*~*~*~*~

When Samuelle awoke the following morning, he was determined to leave Sir Phillip's manor without delay; Edward and his inane desire to socialize with the flower of the tourney circuit would hold him here no longer. Within an hour or so of dawn, he was storming through the stables, in search of any one of his retainers, the men who accompanied him almost everywhere he went and had for the last several years, with the aim of rousting the rest and pulling out before midday.

He finally spotted the familiar figure of a lean, rangy older man, whose shoulder length gray hair was held off his seamed, weathered face by a strap wrapped around his forehead, sitting on a pile of straw, peeling an apple. Walter, for that was his name, was Samuelle’s armor master, trainer, tournament coach, and in all things related to weaponry, his mentor. Walter was the oldest of his men, and Samuelle had known him from childhood. Walter was the one who had encouraged his pursuit of fame and glory on the jousting circuit when he had been nothing more than an extraneous younger son, and one of the few men in the world who could face him down when he was hell bent on something.

As Walter did as soon as Samuelle started to speak. Samuelle had no more than announced, "We leave this morning!" When, without looking up from the apple he was carefully peeling with his own wickedly sharp stiletto blade, Walter drawled "you need a woman."

Samuelle sputtered, "What?"

"You need a woman. There are several pretty ones traveling with the support crews who've mentioned their availability to me, seeing as how you're so very handsome, and so very famous."

Samuelle opened his mouth to tell Walter that first, he could perfectly well take care of his own needs for female companionship, and second to keep his meddling self to his assigned duties, when Walter said, "furthermore, storming away like a petulant boy will do nothing but make her, and you, a target for more rude gossip."

Hunching slightly against Walter’s criticism, Samuelle crossed his arms across his chest and pursed his lips as he stared hard at Walter, who didn't look up from his apple, while he contemplated the older man's advice. Finally, after a few long minutes he sighed, "no blondes."

Then he turned on his heel and stalked back to the manor.

After thrashing three hapless opponents while sparring with wooden blades, and a brief interlude with a plump and cheerful brunette, who paused long enough to ask him a surprisingly sensible question about how to handle a jousting lance and thank him prettily for the trinket he left her with, Samuelle was able to head for the manor hall in a much improved frame of mind.

His peace lasted no longer than it took to spot Nikita standing on the front steps, being badgered by half a dozen knights to ride out with them this morning. She was busy turning them down, with apparently endless goodwill, gifting them all with broad smiles as she firmly shook her head, insisting that she had too much to do to spend her morning in the field, when her father and Prince Edward joined the group. To Samuelle’s amazement, Sir Phillip not only encouraged the knights, he actually turned to Edward and invited him to press Nikita to go out this morning.

The Prince appeared to be torn between seconding Phillip and supporting Nikita, but when Phillip actually repeated himself, there was nothing for Edward to do but say, “Yes, do, come with ride us this morning. You must have some pleasure too.”

Nikita could only respond demurely, if to Samuelle’s eyes, through somewhat gritted teeth, “of course, your highness.”

Phillip beamed in approval as he hailed her response, then he began to move the whole party towards a speedy departure, calling for the horses and offering suggestions as to the direction of the hunt, and regularly interspersing his orders with praises directed mostly to Edward, but also to the crowd at large, for Nikita’s abilities as a horsewoman, and more interesting still, as a huntress.

It gradually dawned on Samuelle that her father was showing her off, and when the horses arrived and instead of a quiet palfrey, the groom holding a horse for Nikita was presenting her with a powerfully built hunter, and Phillip looked over at him with a significant smile, it seemed obvious that Phillip was putting Nikita through her paces for his benefit.

The thought that her father would encourage his interest in his daughter created a confused welter of emotions for Samuelle; shock warring with outrage, confusion and curiosity for what prompted Phillip’s actions, and snaking through it all more than a spark of excitement at Phillip’s implied offer.

Nikita was both embarrassed and furious that her father was making such a spectacle of her, and because she had more than a suspicion, thanks to hint dropped by Michelle, of her father’s purpose, it was all she could do to keep from wheeling her mount and galloping for the woods as fast as they could go. She had long known that she and her father didn’t share the same dreams for her future, but he had never till this moment done anything to suggest to her that he ever expected her to leave his home. She couldn’t help wondering if he had noted her reaction to the Duke, and the idea that perhaps Phillip thought this might be something that she found acceptable opened a pit of mortified frustration that threatened to drown her.

She had no choice but to swallow her anger and her pride, and make every effort to appear utterly oblivious to her father’s intentions and, as was a woman’s lot, to find things to be grateful for. The latter proved to be the slightly easier task. First, neither her father nor Michelle accompanied the riders, and second, she was able to ride with the Prince, whose presence at least shielded her from other importuning.

Keeping her satisfaction well in check, Rouen, as one of the Prince’s intimates, was close at hand. Nikita assured herself that it was fortunate that the Duke carefully kept himself on the far side of the Prince, and that together the three managed to ride in such harmony that Nikita and the Duke were, mostly, completely shielded from one another.

Lost in her own anger, Nikita barely heard the Prince launch an aimlessly polite conversation about the weather and about past hunts, which served to fill the air with a semblance of normality. Gradually the quite burr of male voices penetrated her consciousness and she woke to the importance of trying to assess how Rouen was reacting to the situation. After carefully listening to the men of the Prince’s party tell tales of past hunts, stories they all appeared to have heard before, she decided that Rouen was almost as distracted as she was, his chuckles always a half-beat behind the rest, as though he wasn’t really listening to the speaker and was relying on the rest to cue his responses. Not, in fact, all that unlike her own behavior she realized with an inward cringe as she heard her own artificial giggle hang in the air after a not very funny tale reached its conclusion.

What she had no way to measure, though, because she could not see his face, was what exactly the Duke’s reaction was.

Unable to guess at what the Duke was thinking by examining his expression, she asked herself what she wanted him to be thinking, and to her dismay she realized that she wanted him to be thinking a mass of contradictory things. She wanted him to be horrified by the situation, she wanted him to reject the idea outright, she wanted him to ignore the offer, she wanted him to be interested in her, she wanted, she realized with a miserable sense of shame, him to want her. Where just yesterday his interest in her had been a public and private embarrassment, today, the idea that he might be completely indifferent to her had her stomach knotting in disappointment. The possibility that he might actually reject her was enough to push her near infuriated tears, though who she was most angry with, him, her father, or herself, it would have been hard for her to say.

Berating herself for her weakness, for her susceptibility to Rouen’s dark charm, she sternly reminded herself that it didn’t matter at all what he thought, or what Phillip thought, because she had plans that did not include either of them. She would find herself a place and name where she was not dependent on charity or sufferance, and she neither wanted nor needed Rouen’s interest, nor his offer.

With that bracing thought in mind, Nikita was eventually able get her rioting emotions enough under control to pay some slight heed to her surroundings. She did love to ride, and she was very fond of her horse, whom she hadn’t had a chance to exercise in more than a fortnight as she had been so absorbed by the details of getting the manor ready for her father’s guests. Unfortunately, Edward also relaxed and forgot his self appointed role of human screen and when the dogs found a scent and took off baying at a dead run through the forest, Edward suddenly let loose with a war whoop and spurred his horse to a gallop, fast disappearing into the trees.

When Edward and the rest of his party dashed forward after the hounds, Nikita pulled in her mount, intending to seize the chance to return to the manor unhindered. Excited by the chase, her hunter reared up when he felt her check on his mouth.

“Steady on, Jasper, steady on. We’re not running today,” Nikita crooned to her horse as she calmed him with hands and voice.

“You like to run?”

Nikita nearly fell off her precarious sidesaddle perch when she whirled toward the voice and discovered, to her horrified fury, that Rouen was still beside her. Her voice revealed all her dismay and frustration when she demanded, with more urgency than politeness, “What are you doing here?”

Samuelle heard the accusation in her voice and hastened to defend himself, knowing even as he did so that it was not the complete truth. “I saw your mount balk, I was concerned.”

Nikita could manage only the barest of half-smiles when she said, “Thank you, but didn’t you hear my father? I’m an excellent horsewoman, and Jasper here and I are old friends.”

Wondering vaguely how he had managed to insult her when he had only meant to explain himself, he said, “So I see. My apologies.”

“Are unnecessary. It was chivalrous of you to stay your chase to assure yourself of my safety. But, as you can see, I’m fine. Please don’t let me stop your participation in the hunt. I’m going to return to the manor – I have responsibilities to see to.”

She obviously intended this as a dismissal, but Samuelle stopped her as she prepared to wheel about, seizing the chance to probe for her reaction to her father’s behavior on the manor steps. He was not sure how he wanted her to react, but at the same time he hoped she did not view the prospect with either horror or disdain. Not certain if he was protecting her sensibilities or his own ego, he choose an oblique route. “What is your position in your father’s house, Nikita?”

Nikita looked warily at him, trying to decipher the exact meaning of his expression of intense concentration. She answered slowly, deliberately stating the obvious, suddenly hoping against hope that he wasn’t about to make an obnoxious offer after all, one that would reduce him to the level of all the other men who thought her status opened her to their desires. She realized she wanted, desperately, for him to be different from all the rest. “I am his eldest daughter and I am responsible for his household.”

“Yes.” The Duke shrugged in irritation over her answer, then raised his eyes to hers, making her feel suddenly breathless as she saw again the banked heat in his gaze, as he asked. “I meant, how does your father intend to provide for your future?”

Even as she told herself to kick Jasper into motion, she raised her chin and said, “We haven’t discussed it.” This was something of a lie. Phillip had told her years ago that he could not dower her, and that her position in the world was uncertain as a result, but beyond that they had not gone, nor had they spoken of the issue again.

“And you?”

Uncertain of his meaning, yet mesmerized by the myriad questions, the unspoken promises she could see lurking in his eyes, she waited for him to say more.

“What do you hope for your future?”

That she could reply to, had to reply to if she was ever going to regain the upper hand with her wayward emotions, and with him. Nikita straightened up and squared her shoulders. Meeting his gaze full on, she declared, “I will be a wife.”

“A wife?”

To Nikita’s irritated disappointment, he seemed genuinely flummoxed by her answer. “Yes. A wife.” Finding his continuing expression of bafflement a sign of all that was wrong with him, and with knights and nobles in general, she elaborated, “I want a name and a place for myself and my children.”

He was silent for a moment, digesting her answer, his eyes turned inward on something she could not see. When he looked back at her, his expression was doubtful. “Your father will dower you, then?”

Given her father’s recent behavior, she could not fairly fault him for the skepticism of his answer. But she did anyway. What right had he to judge her? Or her father? “That is a very personal question, my Lord.”

He bowed his head slightly in acknowledgment. “Forgive me.”

Finding refuge in temper, she snapped, “Are you always so awkward?”


“That must be the sixth or seventh time you’ve had to apologize to me for your behavior, my Lord.”

At that, he blushed and ducked his head. Glancing up at her from under his eyelashes, in a move she was certain was deliberate as it was disarming; he smiled briefly and said, “No. I am not. I am usually quite collected. You…,” he shrugged and straightened up, looking more directly at her, “You are a surprise to me.” He smiled again, wider this time. “I feel like a green boy again.”

“Act like one too, my Lord.” she said, but she couldn’t help smiling at him as she said it, wondering even as she did that she could go from wanting to shake him to a desire to reassure him that she liked him in the space of a heartbeat.

Relieved that he had made her smile, and for the moment anyway, diverted her growing anger, Samuelle said, “I, quite clumsily, put you in an awkward situation. I would not want my ill-mannered behavior to do damage to your reputation.”

Nikita narrowed her eyes, suspicious that he was about to dismiss her dream as unattainable. “You think I can’t marry, my Lord?”

“Without a dower?” Samuelle made no attempt to hide the skepticism he felt about the prospects of her succeeding in her quest; no knight or noble would marry a bastard, not without a great deal of money or influence at stake, not even a bastard as desirable as Nikita.

Nikita’s fury roared back out of nowhere, fury with him for his doubts that she could achieve her ambition, fury with herself for being so foolish as to tell him her carefully nurtured dream and hope that he would understand it, maybe even support it, fury that the world condemned her for that which she could not change. Glaring at him, she dared him to tell her she was wrong. “I can read and write and cipher. I can keep accounts, run a household and a farm. I’ve dealt with tradesmen and merchants, menials and yeomen and can haggle with the best. Many men have done me the honor of finding me attractive. I don’t think I aim too high to think that a small merchant, or craftsman, or independent farmer would find me an asset in his life, even without a cash payment.”

Rouen looked at her in silence for so long, his face a blank mask that she could not read, that she felt a flush rise up her neck, sure that he thought her foolish and her dreams impossible. But then, like the sun coming from behind a cloud, he smiled at her and his eyes gleamed with approval, and she felt a wave of relief wash across her too-tight shoulders and down her rigid arms, leaving her feeling heady and exhausted all at once.

Samuelle looked at her, her proud head held high and wondered that he hadn’t thought of her marrying out of her class himself. He recalled of all the ambitious merchants and craftsmen he’d met in his life, and was certain that among them were those who would recognize that even without dower, Nikita was a rare prize. Smiling, he said, “I think you will achieve your goal.”

Nikita nearly sagged in relief, fully aware of just how reckless she had been to tell him the truth, and how much she had needed him to approve. She had not told anyone, ever, what her dream was, lest she be mocked for it, or worse, have someone work to thwart it, and to have shared it with Rouen was the most potentially fatal thing she could have done.

Nodding firmly, Samuelle continued, “There are men such as you describe who will recognize what an asset you would be to them. I think,” and he was so amazed by the discovery that he actually said it aloud, “I think …I envy him, whomever he is.”

That really did surprise her. It also pleased her in ways she couldn’t begin to articulate but that she felt all the way down to her toes. “Envy, my lord?”

Rouen smiled again. “Yes. With you as his helpmeet, a man with great dreams could achieve them.”

Hearing something faintly wistful in his tone, Nikita looked curiously at him. “Don’t you have great dreams, my Lord?”

Rouen’s face tightened a moment, as though he regretted revealing so much, then relaxed and it looked as though he were about to speak, but just when Nikita thought he would tell her something more, they were hailed by another of Edward’s party. “Hiya! Rouen! This way!”

The Duke nodded his head, that Nikita should proceed him, so just as uncertain of Rouen’s intentions as before, and feeling more confused than ever about how she felt about the man beside her, Nikita urged Jasper forward and they rejoined the hunt.


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Chapter 5TNSaturday, November 05, 03:31:38pm
Ahhh...JayBeeSaturday, November 05, 08:47:55pm
my, my,my...stephSunday, November 06, 12:38:56am
What a wonderful story you are weaving! (NT)signme1Sunday, November 06, 11:17:14am
Golly...anonSunday, November 06, 03:12:37pm
ah!skMonday, November 07, 07:35:55pm

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