|Subject: Honor on the Field, 20
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Date Posted: Friday, November 25, 12:13:03pm
In reply to:
's message, "Honor on the Field, con't." on Wednesday, November 16, 09:49:08am
Marlborough, April 1363
"Piss and damnation!"
At the unexpected sound of her sister's voice, Nikita looked up from her darning. "Excuse me?"
"I said, piss and damnation!" Michelle snapped.
"Oh." Nikita nodded wisely. The two of them had been sitting in the warm solar on the top floor of the manor for the last hour or more, working through a pile of household linens that required repair, all without a word being exchanged. "That's what I thought you said. Um, Why?"
"I just sewed half this seam to my skirt."
One look at Michelle's expression, caught somewhere between embarrassment and outrage, and Nikita started giggling.
"It's not funny."
"Of course not, dearest." Nikita said soothingly, but the effect was ruined when she immediately had to bite the inside of her cheek to choke back her laugh, which snuck out anyway in a sort of gasping half snort that shook her entire upper body. At the sight of Michelle lifting up the offending garment, which in turn lifted about six inches of her skirt, Nikita gave up the battle and rocked backward, laughing so hard she could barely breathe.
Twin spots of anger burning her cheeks, Michelle stood and attempted to toss the offending blouse away from her, but of course, it didn't go anywhere. Staring at her gown and its ungainly appendage in surprise, the absurdity of the situation suddenly struck her and she started to giggle too, her giggles turning to gales of laughter that dropped her back into her seat, sagging helplessly against the back of her chair.
Gradually bringing herself back under control, Nikita wiped her streaming eyes and grinned at her sister, thinking a good dose of laughter was something that they all needed just now.
Mick had been gone over a month, and barring disaster at sea, would be back from Rouen any day and the tension in the manor was so thick it was palpable. Her father had retreated to his rooms and emerged only at mealtime to snarl at the staff and ignore his daughters. Count Barbant stalked out of the house every morning regardless of the weather to ride his horses and hounds into exhaustion, reappearing only to eat a silent supper.
Michelle, fully aware of being the cause of all the trouble and the object of censure from the entire household from her father to the lowest scullery boy, slunk around with her head down and her shoulders hunched as though she were warding off a blow. Nikita herself had nothing to say to either her father or her prospective brother-in-law and returned their silence measure for measure.
The only person who appeared completely unaffected by the waiting was the one person everyone else appeared heartily tired of, Helmut Volker of Luxembourg. He swanned around the manor as though it were his own, a non-stop stream of polite conversation spilling from him as though from an inexhaustible well. He was so good at it, in fact, that a stranger might be hard pressed to realize that something like ninety percent of the time, he was the only one talking. He took an interest in everything, from the provenance of the quite mediocre carpets on the floor to the worn tapestries on the walls. He had learned the entire history of the barons of Marlborough and entertained himself by drawing up ever more fanciful crests for the family, incorporating fresh details from the not especially illustrious Wirth past. He complemented Nikita endlessly on her management of the household and peppered Michelle with entirely unsought advice and remedies for the morning sickness that had plagued her round the clock for weeks.
The only time in the last fortnight that the entire Wirth family and it’s latest prospective addition had smiled at once was during the supper when right in the midst of one of Volker's more outré suggestions for combating nausea, Michelle leaned over and emptied the contents her stomach within inches of his shinny boots.
After their laughter over Michelle's sewing accident eased, the sisters exchanged their first heartfelt smiles in months.
Michelle was the first to speak, rolling her eyes and saying, "pretty clumsey thing to do, hmm?"
Nikita rose and crossed to kneel at her sister's side. "Sit still and I'll cut you free."
They sat in companionable silence while Nikita worked, carefully cutting each of Michelle's tiny, tight stitches so as not to damage the fabric of her skirt. When the last thread went, Nikita pulled the rough blouse off Michelle's lap and looked up at her sister. "All fixed, dearest."
Hearing words of endearment Nikita hadn't used since Michelle had returned home pregnant, Michelle's face crumpled and she let out a small moan of distress and began to cry silently.
Seeing Michelle's tears, Nikita gave her leg a firm, comforting squeeze. "Here now! What's all this - it was just a silly accident!"
"I'm so sorry."
"About the shirt?" Nikita was bemused rather than surprised. Michelle cried often these days.
Michelle started crying harder. "About everything."
"It's not all your fault."
"Yes it is." Michelle wailed. "You warned me about Hugh, Princess Joan warned me about Hugh, Belinda warned me about Hugh, everyone warned me. I ignored you all."
"That's water under the bridge now, dearest." Nikita tried to hide her impatience. She knew from experience that once Michelle finally got around to accepting responsibility for her actions that it generally took a long time, and she simply didn't want to deal with it. Not now. Not when her own fate was still so uncertain.
"No. It isn't. How can it be, when you will pay for it with your life?" Michelle dropped her face into her hands and gave into her sobs.
Nikita stood and moved away from her sister, crossing her arms over her chest and sighing in exasperation. It was just like Michelle, especially now in the moody throes of pregnancy, to choose a moment in which their distress was temporarily forgotten to make her long overdue apologies. And to be melodramatic about it. "Don't be silly, Michelle, I’m not dying. I'm simply going to become a rich man's mistress."
Michelle wailed, "I know, but, if not for me, you wouldn't have to."
"Well, it's as much Hugh Barbant's doing as yours." Nikita snapped. "If he were truly the chivalrous Knight he pretends to be he'd marry you without a dower rather than see you and your family ruined for his pleasure."
Michelle was sobbing so hard now that Nikita could barely make out her words. "But, if you were already married to another, it couldn't happen!"
A horrifyingly wordless suspicion crawling up her neck, Nikita slowly turned to face her weeping sister. "What are you talking about Michelle?"
"I begged papa not to let you marry Wellman!"
For a long minute Nikita couldn’t even make sense of the words Michelle had just uttered. When the sounds finally coalesced into meaning, she refused to accept what she’d heard. "What did you just say?"
"I begged papa to refuse Wellman! I told him the only reason that the Black Prince and Rouen come to his parties was to see you! That you were a favorite with Princess Joan, and without you here, they would never come again! That Hugh would never come again!" Michelle cried.
For a moment, time was suspended and Nikita felt as though she had left her body altogether and was drifting somewhere up in the air, looking at the two young women below her as though she had never seen them before. Tall, nearly of a height, and fair, a strong family resemblance in the shape of their jaws and their long, slim builds; they were locked in a frozen stare. The blond girl's face was a mask of shocked fury, the other's, a picture of anguished remorse.
With a crash Nikita was back inside her own skin, her vision of Michelle's face starting to tinge red as images of such violence as she had never seen or conceived before roared through her brain. She crossed the floor without ever feeling her own legs, a rage so icy and so cold wrapping itself around her heart it sent sharp pains into her lungs.
Her voice echoed distantly inside her own head, muffled by the ice around her heart, the only way she knew she was roaring out the pain and anguish of the last six months was that her throat began to hurt long before the words had stopped coming. "You did what? You begged our father to ruin my life! To destroy everything I'd worked for! To break my heart? You bitch! You bloody, bloody bitch!"
Drawing back her arm she swung and backhanded Michelle across the face. The snap of Michelle's head and Michelle’s gasp of pain sent a satisfying thrill through Nikita's belly to her heart, cracking the ice there just the littlest bit, so she did it again, and again, and again, barely hearing Michelle's screams of terror or her own voice bellowing every obscene name she had ever heard. Michelle staggered back against the wall and Nikita pursued her, hurling a stool out of her way, kicking the basket of mending from her path, impatient to reach her target, who was running for the door.
Michelle had nearly escaped when Nikita caught her braid and dragged her back into the room; using her own weight as a fulcrum as she pivoted and swung Michelle down onto the floor at her feet. Dropping to her knees, she seized her sister’s shoulders and cried, "how could you? Oh God, Michelle, how could you do that to me!" as she attempted to shake the answers out of the hysterically sobbing girl in her arms.
Michelle could do nothing but shriek, "I don't know, I don't know, I'm so sorry, I don't know!"
Nikita couldn't stop, wouldn't stop shaking her until she had the answers she needed; she had moved beyond reason, beyond choice, beyond consciousness, the only thing that mattered was that Michelle explain why she had ruined her life.
Then strong hands were seizing her by the shoulders, hard fingers digging into her flesh as they spun her roughly away; out of the corner of her eye she saw Hugh Barbant rush to her sister's side and pull her into his protective embrace, and then she was face to face with long awaited and too soon here Duke of Rouen.
"Nikita! What in God's name are you doing?" he demanded, emphasizing his words with hard little shakes.
Shock and adrenaline coursing through her system, nearly blinded by her own tears, Nikita could do little more than gasp, "I...I...I...," and then she blinked to clear her vision and she saw the worry and the concern and the shocked dismay in his green eyes.
Propelled by more emotions than she knew how to name, she wrenched herself out of his grasp and ran from the room.
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