|Subject: Honor on the Field, 12
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Date Posted: Monday, November 14, 09:09:52am
In reply to:
's message, "Honor on the Field" on Tuesday, November 01, 08:53:54pm
~*~*~*~*~*~* Chapter 12 *~*~*~*~*~*
Samuelle schooled his features into an expression of composure, firmly telling himself that there was no reason for his pulse to accelerate or for his heart to start pounding just because the bulky outline of Sir Phillip’s manor filled the horizon and he could see that one of the figures standing on the front steps had hair the color of ripe wheat.
As they reigned in at the base of the steps and dismounted, Samuelle realized that impossible as it seemed, he had either forgotten a figure he thought branded on his memory, or, in fact, Nikita Wirth was more beautiful this year than she had been last.
In the golden late-afternoon light her hair was almost too bright to look upon, her skin was glowing with health, her lips redder and more lush than ever, and her eyes were clear and as blue as the Mediterranean sea. She was as slim and straight and tall as he remembered, but her body seemed lifted now with something that, after a moment, he identified as happiness. It was in her welcoming smile, in her voice as she greeted all the lords and ladies of his party, and it softened her father’s pomposity with her own graciously deferential courtesies.
As he mounted the steps to pass into the manor, Samuelle was trying so hard not to focus on her, he nearly missed hearing Nikita congratulate him on the Triple Crown, and stumbled over his words as he thanked her while concentrating on a spot just over her left shoulder so he would not stare at her lips.
Phillip shooed everyone into the main hall as quickly as possible; using the plight of the visibly pregnant Joan of Kent, Edward’s imposing new wife, to push the party along, and once in doors, peel Nikita off and send her away to settle the Princess Joan into her rooms.
Joan’s presence changed the tenor of the house party dramatically. What had been, the previous year anyway, a mostly male gathering was now a nearly even mix of knights and their ladies. The gathering was so large this year, in part as a result of Edward and Joan’s marriage, that only the highest ranking nobles had a room inside the manor, and even so they were often sharing. The rest were pushed into outbuildings, or even their own pavilions or tents. The ladies spent most of their time together in female pursuits attending to Joan while the men spent their time out of doors following Edward follow the hounds.
Samuelle was as happy to hunt as the next man, but generally he preferred to hunt alone, or with a small party, and sober. Thundering through the woods with twenty, more or less inebriated knights was not really his idea of an excellent way to spend an autumn day. But it was Edward’s, and so, here he was.
The news, shared by Walter, that Nikita had succeeded; that she had found just the man she had been seeking – a young, ambitious master craftsman, a builder, who wanted her just as she was – had the welcome effect of distracting him from his unvoiced fulminations about the stupidity of hunting while drunk, and refocusing his attention on Nikita.
It explained her happiness, the way she seemed to be floating rather than walking on the ground like other mortals. Her obvious joy also suggested that she was in love with the man she had found. Swallowing an unexpectedly bitter stab of envious regret, Samuelle set himself the task of finding a way to offer his congratulations, to let her know that he was happy for her in her success and good fortune and that he harbored no resentment or regret for her refusal to leave with him when he asked.
It was not until the after-supper entertainment was well underway on the second evening that Samuelle discovered an unobtrusive moment to speak directly to Nikita. Slipping up beside her where she was standing against the wall in an out of the way location as the troubadour sang his song, Samuelle said, "I understand from my man Walter that congratulations are in order."
Nikita looked startled, then both pleased and anxious as she said, "Please, my lord. There is nothing to speak of yet."
Samuelle smiled as he said, "Really? That’s not what the manor folk say."
"What do the manor folk say?!"
"I believe they have you married and mother of four or, was it five, children already."
Nikita just shook her head and worried her lower lip with her teeth, trying without success to keep down a broad smile.
Samuelle went on, "A Master builder. One, I hear, who is young, kind and handsome. And very much in love.” He caught Nikita’s eye and smiled at her again. “I told you that he would find you."
"Yes." Nikita looked at him then, her eyes sparking with happiness, and let her smile light up her whole face. "But he hasn’t spoken to my father yet, so please, say nothing to Sir Phillip."
Samuelle frowned against a sudden chill of foreboding. "Surely this man is courting you publicly?"
Nikita hastened to assure Rouen and defend Master Wellman. "Yes! Oh yes! My father has actually had him here on several occasions. But I asked Master Wellman to wait to speak to him until after the house party."
Rouen bowed his head briefly, "and what man could refuse your requests? Not I, certainly."
Catching an uncertain hint of the past in Rouen’s suddenly clouded eyes, Nikita was anxious to change the subject, so she broached the topic she had longed to address, ever since hearing the news from her father. "I was so sorry to learn of the deaths of your wife and children, my lord. Please let me extend my warmest sympathies on your loss."
He inclined his head again, though more briefly. "Thank you."
Nikita started to say more, but was defeated by the blankness she saw in his face, so instead she dropped a half-curtsey and excused herself to attend to her duties.
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