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The Sword and Buckler Inn
|Topic Subject:||THE SCEPTRE AND THE FALCHION - Story Thread|
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posted 09-13-05 15:20 EST (US)
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 02-16-2010 @ 04:00 PM).]
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From the court, two mounted men abandoned their horses and rushed into the barracks to grasp and bring a litter to carry their wounded Duke into the manor. York, limping and bleeding from the cut on his leg, courteously refused their assistance declaring he would only be carried out dead on a litter, not as the result of a slight scratch.
"But Milord," protested one of the soldiers, "the wound on your thigh is no slight scratch. The bleeding, Milord..."
"I thank you for your concern, but I shall manage," replied Blinn with gentle forcefulness. The soldier had no choice but to relent. Nigel offered his shoulder forsupport; but before he permitted Nigel to help him through the courtyard and into the manor, Blinn turned to Lady Harker. She could see he was struggling to show no discomfort from pain or any other weakness whatsoever, though only somewhat successfully. "Milady, I presume you are well and can manage from here?"
Harker pursed her lips, "Yes, Milord. I am concerned for you."
The Duke frowned. "Thank you." He offered a slightly wry smile. "I have had better hunting days."
"Erm, about the Ball," Lady Harker began, only minimally reluctant to revisit the subject after she spied Elizabeth hurrying across the courtyard from the corner of her eyes. "This won't have any effect on your attending the Ball, will it? I mean, you were about to ask me to be at your side, and I thought..."
The Duke sighed. "Lady Harker, I am most grateful I could be there to protect you from those footpads; but I recall nothing about saying you would accompany me to the Ball." Lady Harker's hopeful smile fell into the dirt of the courtyard's grounds. "I am not sure if I shall be in attendance as of this moment. It will be for my physician to say." By now, Elizabeth Stewart had arrived. "Further, the Duke continued, "should I be able to attend, I doubt I shall be able to enjoy any aspect of terpsichore or be a suitable companion to you. Thus, I think it best if you ask my Clerk to arrange a suitable partner if you are not yet paired so that you may enjoy the activities to the fullest. Milady, I am indeed a bit tired from today's events, so if you will excuse me, I shall retire to my quarters."
There was nothing more she could say, so Lady Harker, bitterness welling up in her breast, face red with barely suppressed embarassment and anger, shot Elizabeth an evil glance; and then curtseyed to the Duke before hurrying away. Under his breath, the now whoosie Duke was mumbling something about "preposterously single-minded females" just as Elizabeth spoke to him. "Milord, may I be of some help?"
The Duke winced as he put a hand on Nigel's shoulder and turned to walk with him to the manor. Barely glancing at Elizabeth and with the pain of his leg cut beginning to gain purchase, he uncharacteristically growled at her, "Yes, woman. By staying out of my way!"
Not only was Elizabeth stunned, but so too was Nigel. He looked at his sister sympathetically, seeing her crushed emotions play rapidly across her face. Yet, he knew he could say nothing to her at the moment, and so he didn't. Instead, he stiffened his shoulder to give the Duke better perch and firm strength as he and the wounded nobleman made their way into the manor.
They were met at the Duke's chamber by the Duke of York's physician, a competent man of about 42 years. He looked at the stains of blood on York's arm and his leg and quickly judged the leg was more badly damaged. "Quickly, cut through and open his pant leg," he ordered Nigel while the physician opened his satchel of instruments and supplies. Nigel complied, using his dagger to split the material. "My name is Blaine," the physician said to Nigel. "You, I recall, are young Nigel Stewart, correct?" Blaine said matter-of-factly.
"I am," replied Nigel.
"Well and good." Just then one of the servants entered with heated water, another servant, a young servant woman of perhaps 16 years, following behind him with bandaging. Her face went pale at the sight of the blood. Blaine looked up to see her eyes open wide and her face turning pale, approaching ashen gray. "Get out of here, girl!" He bellowed. "I have no time for fainting women!" The shout broke the spell, and she hurried out after gulping hard. The servant with the hot water left as well.
Blaine withdrew a rather crudely formed needle and some thin cord. He looked closely at the now slowly bleeding wound and decided a tourniquet was needed for the moment. This he applied right away and the bleeding slowed perceptively to a mere oozing. With water and cloth he began to dab at the gash, running about twice the width of a sword's point down the Duke's thigh. "Good, good," mumbled Blaine as he sopped up recent bleeding and cleaned away coagulated clumps of blood. "Long but not particularly deep. A little damage to muscle, but no severing or tearing." He looked up at the Duke who was lying on his bed with eyes half opened, his teeth clenched, body tensing from the pain of the physician's invasion of his wound. "You were fortunate this day, Milord. Baring infection, you shall limp for awhile and have a scar there to remind you of this day, but that is all."
The Duke winced as one particular ministration by the physician caused a jab of pain to shoot right up his groin and side. "The memory of the pain you're inducing shall be memory enough, Blaine. Hurry on, if you please." Blinn clenched his teeth again.
Blaine grinned goodnaturely, knowing the Duke valued his services quite higly and liked his physician's humor, even as Blaine glanced up at Nigel, who was as distressed as the Duke. "There is nothing more reassuring as pain to confirm one is alive, eh Nigel? One should be in pain briefly each day just to have that confirmation." Nigel looked at Blaine and then at the Duke. The corners of the Duke's mouth twitched upwards ever so slightly though his teeth were clenched and his face strained. The irony of Blaine's words had found their way into the tortured Duke's mind and the implied humor registered, ever so briefly. The momentary distraction helped Roderick weather the rest of the treatment: drying the wound; a liberal application of filtered spirits to ward off infection and numb the pain (preceded by a jolt of pain from the spirits); red hot heating of Blaine's sewing needle in the flame of a candle; and closing of the wound with the requisite number of stiches by needle and thin cord. By then, the tourniquet was removed and though the wound oozed blood, the flow was even less than when the tourniquet was first applied.
Nigel was surprised when a small, yet confidently graceful hooded person silently opened the door and entered the room approaching the physician with a small sack of something. Blaine looked up. "Wonderful, Monk, you've brought the needed herbs?" Monk nodded a silent 'yes.' Blaine noticed the query in Nigel's face and the curiosity barely visible in the Duke's heavily lidded eyes, for Roderick was nearing exhaustion and ready for sleep. "This is Monk, as he chooses to refer to himself. I met him one day near the stables. He has a remarkable knowledge of herbal remedies confirming some of my studies and adding to them. He has brought moss and herbs for a healing poultice and herbs that will induce restfull sleep and reduce pain. I have tried these experimentally and they are safe. I stake my life on their good effects." This Blaine said not just to Nigel, but also to the Duke to reassure him. Duke Blinn nodded. He trusted the physician having had good reason in the past to do so.
"Thank you, Monk," Blaine said. "You may leave us, now." Monk nodded, but paused.
It seemed to Nigel that Monk was looking at him from under the covering of his hood. He couldn't see Monk's eyes well enough to know for sure; but it seemed rather than look at the Duke with curiousity, Monk was staring at him. He seemed deliberate in doing so. The silence coming from the man was unsettling, as Nigel briefly returned the stare in kind. It was then that Monk lowered his head and turned around, leaving the room in steady, but unhurried pace. Blaine was oblivious to all of this as he applied the poultice to the Duke's injured leg, administered the far less serious wound on the Duke's arm, and administered a smaller poultice to it in turn. There came another knock on the door.
"Enter!" said Blaine. The male servant who came earlier entered again, this time bearing a hemp sack in one hand into which soiled cloth would be placed for burning, and a small jug of cold well water in the other. The young servant girl entered again as well. Blaine stiffened. "I said..."
She straightened her back immediately and put on an expression of firm defiance. "I r'member what you said ere, Sir, but I'm not any kind of shrinking posie, I'm not. So keep your yellin to yerself, Sir. I shall do me job quite proper-like." She broke her expression just enough to flash a smile at Nigel before painting firmness once again on her face.
Blaine shrugged his shoulders while winking at Nigel. "Well then, see that you do, girl; and do it quickly. Your master needs rest, not interruption."
The servant girl lifted her nose a bit and set about her chores helping her companion change the bedding, while the men moved the Duke around on the bed to permit the changing of the cloth. The girl left when it came time to assist the Duke out of his day clothes and into his sleeping clothing. Blaine mixed a measure of herbs into a mug of well water. The Duke drank this thirstily as it was uncommonly well-flavored by the action of oils of mint. Thus began the healing process in the days before the Ball.
Meanwhile, with the Duke properly cared for, Nigel had ahead of him the task of soothing the ravaged emotions of his well-intentioned, but completely crushed little sister.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 08-03-2010 @ 06:02 PM).]
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Elizabeth had stood on the steps of the manor till Lady Diana had pulled her inside.
“Elizabeth!” her voice had commanded that she look up.
“I must leave you for now, go to the hall and find the Queen.” Then she was gone and Elizabeth found herself in the hall.
As her eyes adjusted to the interior she could see the Queen and little Edward in the great hall of the manor. The young Queen and her son had stayed while the rest had hunted that morning; King Edward III, had joined his wife and son that morning forgoing the hunt, taking a much needed day with them. She watched as little Edward ran across the hall towards his young father who had just entered.
It was a beautiful hall; a great fireplace was in the center and could be accessed from all sides. Comfortable places to sit and large windows looked out on the landholdings. Built by Roderick’s parents it had been wonderful place to visit when they had been young. Several times their family had come here to visit and hunt. The ride from the keep out here had always felt long when she had been small, but it had only taken them a half hour this morning to ride to the manor with all invited to hunt that day. Roderick’s landholdings were expansive and it had been a delight to begin the hunt. Now she wondered what the evening hours would bring… a ride back to the keep or a stay at the manor.
Elizabeth rubbed her temples, tempted to worry about Roderick ; but his gruff dismissal of her offer to help had left her numb and she no longer was sure she trusted herself to feel anything when it came to thoughts of him.
She shook her head; she should have known better than approach him with blood spilling down his arm and leg. He had no idea she had been taught healing arts. But on the same token he seemed to be adept at brushing her and her feelings aside.
She had seen their men in pain many times back home; it was why she had studied so hard after losing her mother. When their father had been brought home mortally wounded with many more men that had needed the doctors’ care she had learned fast. Their father had died in the arms of his children making it to them had kept him alive and upon arival he had spoken his last to them and had died. Fergus their doctor thought she would not be able to go on but he saw her determination as she helped the men that had fought with their father and watched as she kept learning.
She knew men were not themselves when in pain but the rebuff still had left her numb. So she quietly sat, watched the concerned looks cast her way but could not bring herself to talk, with all that had happened that day she could not tell Philippa what had occurred. Seeing Roderick with blood streaming down his leg and arm had caused her heart to stop, the only thought she had at that moment had been to get to him as fast as possible.
Lady Diana had drawn her inside, then was gone. The lovely banter she had kept flowing between her and Sir Andrew on the ride back now flitted across Elizabeth’s thoughts. Diana had been captivated with Andrew and he with her which had left Elizabeth to her own dour musings behind them. She smiled to herself and thought that in the future she would have to focus her energy more on her new friend. She was sure that with all that had happened while Roderick was walking back alone with Lady Harker that the vixen had somehow won his interest.
Nigel had yet to emerge from where they had taken Roderick. He had been met on the road with two fresh mounts and after a quick word to Sir Andrew had sped off in the direction they had just come from, only to return with Roderick wounded and Lady Harker terrified.
Blocking her mind from thinking of Roderick in pain and the trouble that had befallen Lady Harker and him. She concentrated on watching the Prince play at his parents feet.
A sharply bitter voice broke her silence.
“Lady Elizabeth…I am sure you should know how the Duke is? And you will be glad to know the Duke is available to take you to the ball. Don’t bother rising I do not need your respect.”
“ He will not be taking me, milady.” Hot tears welled in Elizabeth’s eyes and she dared not meet the gaze of the woman standing at her side. “You are mistaken; he has not asked me… nor will he.”
Nigel entered the hall in time to hear the quiet exchange. He knew Roderick had every intention of asking Elizabeth to the Spring Ball but without knowing how Roderick had fared with Lady Harker he held his peace. Roderick had been in two much pain to ask if all the safeguards they had placed for the Duke had worked.
Edward and Philippa rushed to greet him before he could move to his sister. As he talked to them about the attack and their wounded friend, he could catch small snatches of the bitter retorts coming from Lady Harker and soft almost sobbing replys from his sister.
He scanned the hall in hopes of catching a glimpse of Sir Andrew or Lady Diana but to no avail. Only he, the king and queen and their small son were in the hall with Elizabeth and Lady Harker. Did Edward know the measures they had gone to preserve the safety and honor of his Duke? This would have to wait till Roderick was conscious again.
He dare not bring it up till it was addressed by Roderick.
He watched as Lady Harker haughtily swept from the room, passing Blaine as he stepped into the great hall. As the doctor bowed before the royal couple, he bowed and took his leave. Walking to the other end of the hall he made his way to Elizabeth. What could that woman have said that had left Elizabeth slumped, her shoulders shaking in quiet sobs, in her cushioned nook. Nigel reached her and knelt beside her pulling her quietly into his strong brotherly arms. She was no longer in tears, but the hurt was evident still.
“Come Elizabeth, let me take you to our room.” With that he quietly moved his sister from the view of the physician and the royal family.
Seraph Lady Arcola
"I believe that friends are quiet angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly."
"A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out." -Walter Winchell
~ BFME2 Heaven | Stronghold Heaven | Stronghold 2 Heaven~
[This message has been edited by Lady Arcola (edited 08-03-2010 @ 02:32 AM).]
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But Nigel was given no time to offer comfort for no sooner had he entered Elizabeth's room, guiding her gently to its most comfortable chair, than a firm knock at the door he previously closed demanded his immediate attention. Sighing loudly, he left his sister's side and bearing a frown of frustration walked briskly to the door, giving its unlocked handle a strong pull. As the door swung wide, he encountered Blaine and Monk standing there, the stable worker with his head hooded and characteristically looking more at Nigel's feet than his face.
"Sorry to disturb you Nigel as I understand your sister is distressed." Nigel made as if to say something, but Blaine interrupted him with a raised hand. "Queen Phillipa told me what occurred. I'm sure the Duke was in great discomfort and meant little of what he said."
"My sister doesn't think that's the case," Nigel said looking over his shoulder at the same time into the room. His sister was too far to hear more than just a little portion of their talk as they spoke in low voices. Monk raised his head as if to peer into the room too, and lowered it again.
"Healing of the body is my profession. Healing of the mind is not something I'm trained to do." Here the physician paused as if considering something. "But I hope she will agree to this, as I am told she has healing skills and the Duke will need both a physician and a healer to see to his repair. Lady Elizabeth would be just the person to offer him such ministrations. Queen Phillipa tells me this, and Monk has said so too in this note." Here Blaine gestured with his right hand showing a curled piece of parchment. "Monk and Lady Elizabeth converse in this way, says Monk, when she visits the stable to see her horse. They speak quite a lot, I understand, though Monk speaks nothing at all." Blaine smiled at his little joke. But the smile faded while Blaine's eyes seemed to look beyond Nigel and track something or someone moving towards them. It was Lady Elizabeth who approached. She nodded to Monk, who nodded back to return Elizabeth's greeting.
"Whispering, whispering..." Elizabeth drew in a breath to steady herself. "I hear my name whispered and sometimes the name of the Duke. Brother, what is being said here?"
Nigel swallowed hard hoping his words would not trigger an embarrassing reaction. "We are speaking of you and the Duke, Elizabeth." She bristled immediately, all of the day's hurt collecting and readying itself to rush upwards and outwards. "What about the Duke and me?"
"Monk and Her Majesty suggested you should be the Duke's healer, to ensure the physician need not be concerned when he is away from the Duke's side. Your training, it seems, is known to Monk here, and Her Majesty, the Queen.
Elizabeth nodded. "I have mentioned it to both in passing. But the man doesn't want me near. He said so just today."
Nigel rolled his eyes. "Yes, while greatly affected by loss of blood and pain. Duke Roderick meant nothing of what he said, I'm quite sure."
"Milady," Blaine interrupted. "You have but to appear before him and if his words were truly meant today, he will repeat them when you appear. I share Nigel's belief. The Duke of York spoke uncommonly, as I understand it, and I doubt he will behave that way should you bring him the benefit of your healing skills. Milady, though I said nothing about it to the Duke, there is risk to his life from such a wound and we have no healers with your training who we can trust to be around him. York and the realm need Duke Blinn. I will feel I have done my best for him if you will do yours for him as well."
Elizabeth looked at Blaine, then questioningly at her brother. Nigel's expression made it clear he thought it an absolute must that Elizabeth accept the task offered by Blaine. Reluctantly, she agreed. Almost immediately Blaine asked her to follow as he guided Elizabeth and Nigel to the Duke's chambers. Monk went on about his business walking swiftly in the opposite direction.
Within the Duke's chamber, Blinn was propped up on his bed, his back against a nest of pillows and his leg lightly covered with linen to keep the pressure of bedding from causing him pain. Wearily the Duke looked up to see Nigel, Blaine and Elizabeth enter. He managed a brief inspection to ensure he was properly covered.
"Yes?" he queried when they were allowed in. "What now, physician?"
Blaine bowed. "I would like you to meet your healer, who shall assist me as we bring your body back to health."
"And that would be...?" asked Blinn.
"That would be Lady Elizabeth Stewart, Milord," Blaine answered. "She is skilled in healing and comes recommended by the Queen, herself."
"The Queen? But how could..." York paused recalling that Elizabeth had spent much time with the Queen and that other lady...um...Diane or Diana, whatever it was." Then he paused to look at Elizabeth. He saw emotions rushing across her face-anger, hurt, concern-quite a mix of conflicting feelings. Then Blinn remembered his words at their last meeting. He lowered his eyes in that brief moment when he realized what he must do. Steeling himself, he raised them again and looked at her unwaveringly.
"Milady, In the midst of the pain from my injured leg I spoke to you quite harshly and discourteously, when all you intended was to act for my wellbeing. It is the weakest of excuses for my improper treatment of you, but it is all I can offer to accompany my apology. I am truly sorry for what I said. I meant nothing unkind, though the words sounded that way." Roderick directed his next words to Blaine. "If you recommend her, physician, and her brother approves, I shall welcome her practicing healing on my behalf." Elizabeth's emotions were running wild, but by shear willpower she harnessed them when answering the Duke, "Thank you, Milord. I am most grateful for your apology."
Looking at Elizabeth with a broad smile and then at Roderick, Blaine confirmed her as his choice. "I recommend her heartily, Milord."
Nigel laughed. "Milord, you know I shall approve." He laughed again imagining the volume and variety of thoughts racing through Blinn's and his sister's minds that very moment.
Blaine ended the tableau by noting the Duke now needed his rest and they all should leave. Nigel and his sister followed the physician towards the chamber door, but just as they were to leave the chamber, Elizabeth hesitated, turned her head and gave the Duke of York her most dazzling smile. Blinn swallowed hard and lifted his hand to motion a goodbye. He even managed a small smile. It was fortified with the awareness Elizabeth would be returning, and nothing in his mind or heart at that moment wanted anything more than that.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 08-04-2010 @ 02:02 PM).]
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The monk rushed down the hallway, slipping quietly between others as they walked the halls. So common a sight had he become that even the nobles greeted him in some instances, though he did little more than raise a hand and sweep past.
“Monk! Oh, Monk! Wait!” The voiced stopped the scurrying, shrouded figure. “I wanted to thank you for helping the Duke.” Blaine's greeting was mild, and his manner almost diffident towards Monk. “I've learned much from our conversations.” He chuckled then, “Such as they are.”
Monk turned towards the stables and began walking again, motioning for the good physician to follow. They walked for a few minutes in relative silence, until Blaine continued. “I have a bit of an issue about which I must speak to you, however.”
Monk's head tilted in interest. It was as close as the small man ever came to asking, “What's that?” and made Blaine grin. He really liked the small man, even more for his knowledge and his many gifts. Though he suspected strongly that the reason the monk was always shrouded was that the monk wasn't at all a man. One couldn't spend hours grinding herbs and not notice the delicacy of one's teacher's hands. But it mattered little to not at all to him. If anything, he had often thought that the women sometimes seen as witches were really just women with training in the old ways of herbs.
But of course, that wasn't what this was about, so he began to explain to her what he thought might be the next steps in caring for the Duke. They walked as he talked, and when they reached the barn, he immediately saw why Monk had been hurrying.
“Go ahead,” he said, gesturing in the direction of the laboring horse. “I think we've covered it all, and that you probably know if I missed anything.” He chuckled and turned to a stablehand to ask for his horse to be readied for the ride to town.
Watching the monk scurry off towards the other end of the barn, he sighed and shook his head wryly. When the stablehand brought his horse, he told the other man, “I sometimes think I'll never really catch up to the modern age.”
Obviously confused, the stablehand said simply, “Aye sir, as you please.” Then he, too, was gone, and Blaine turned towards home.
As he rode away, he thought how much the world was changing, and how strange things had become around the Duke's castle. Little did he know that the past and the future had merged there, in a strange convergence of factors.
Monk, in the meantime, was busy helping a mare about to foal. Soon she was joined by the stablemaster, and all thoughts of Blinn and Elizabeth, and even Andrew were forgotten as they struggled together to deliver the breached foal.
Some time later, she bitterly regretted that she couldn't speak, for she needed someone with more strength than the elderly stablemaster, or herself. While she was strong for her size, she didn't have the strength to hold the struggling mare at the same time that she tried to turn the struggling foal.
She rushed out of the stable, and into the hallway of the stable, slamming so hard into the hard wall of a man's chest that she staggered backwards and nearly fell. Powerful hands grasped her and held her up. Glancing up to find it was Andrew, a shiver ran down her back. He didn't know, of course, the effect he had on her even with such a polite and disinterested touch. And now was not the time to tell him.
Gesticulating madly, she half led and half dragged him into the stall. There, she showed him what she needed, and began to move the foal inside the womb of the mare, her arms bare up to the middle of her upper arm. Concerned only for the health and welfare of the horse, she did what had to be done.
Working hard, she leaned in to reach deeper, and felt a thrill of triumph sear through her. She grasped the foal's nose, apologizing to him mentally for what she was about to do, and pulled it roughly into the proper position. Grunting, she pulled her arms back, covered with blood and birth fluids.
Turning to the bucket, she gestured for Andrew to release the mare, who lifted her head and began to strain into the birth. A small nose appeared, and then with her next heave, a head and neck. Thrilled, monk lifted her arms and made a small, inarticulate squealing sound.
Unable to hold back her joy, she grinned up at Andrew, lost in the moment of the newly arriving life. His head swung towards her, a grin on his face. In the last instant, she looked down and away, remembering nearly too late that she was now in disguise. She'd spent most of the day speaking more freely with him, and had nearly forgotten to hide.
She looked up askance at him, and saw him staring at her, a strange look on his face. She shivered as the fear flickered through her that perhaps he had seen her after all. But then, he shrugged and turned back, grinning again.
She breathed a sigh of relief, but also of consternation. It would have been the perfect moment to tell him... but she hadn't, and the moment was past.
Even moreso when a cheerful voice from behind said, “I've brought ye dinner, Monk!”
Monk bowed to Andrew, then turned towards Betsy.
“Oh, Sir Bruce, I didn't expect you. I'm terrible sorry, I didn't bring 'nuff for us all.” The poor woman had turned beet red, and was bobbing up and down in obvious distress.
“Not to worry, ma'am,” Andrew said. “I'll just go get something from the Duke's kitchen. I've got an in with one of the scullery maids. She'll get me something to eat, I'm sure.” And with an affable grin at the maid, he strolled off down the hallway, stopping to wash his hands at the spigot.
Monk followed suit a moment later, her stomach in knots. What had he meant by an 'in' with--
“So,” Betsy interrupted her musings, “I've got the most amazing news. My friend Maggie, see, she's dating Jack, one o' the footmen. An' he says that 'e had to follow along b'hind the Duke with Dan-- 'e's another footman, see-- and they was ta make sure that 'Is Lordship weren't never alone with that con-cun-connivin' Lady, Isabel. 'Twas he what ran off and got dem other men and brought dem back so's they could save the Duke.
“'E was real scared, he was, but he was told ta stay back no matter what 'appened. He didn't even 'ave a bow or nothin'. Did ya know that the Duke was attacked? Right 'ere, on 'is own property! Can ya imagine?”
The maid rattled on, sometimes between bites, and sometimes spewing food in her eagerness to get the story out. Monk listened with great interest, realizing the import of what was being said. York had expected it. Not only had he expected it, but he'd prepared for it.
On the one hand, it meant that Elizabeth need not worry that he'd allowed himself willingly to fall into the trap, and the Diana part of Monk couldn't wait to tell the other woman. Yet on the other side, she also wondered what it meant on a larger scale.
Where had the attack come from, and why? And why and how had York expected the manipulations of Isabel Harker?
Eventually, Monk managed to shuffle Betsy out the door, and settled into a warm pile of straw to rest. The night was likely to be very cold, and by now, evening had fallen.
Inside the castle, in the quiet, nearly deserted kitchen, Andrew sat at a table generally used for the servants' meals, and talked quietly with Nigel.
“I don't know what came over me. I could have sworn that Monk was a woman tonight. But he's always seemed perfectly male to me before.”
“Exhaustion?” Nigel asked.
Andrew grunted. “I highly doubt it. I'm reasonably fit. I'd like to think I could handle more than a minor hunt and a minor battle.”
“Well, spending the whole day flirting is enough to addle most men's brains. I'd be surprised if you were any more immune to it than the rest of us,” Nigel said, a smug grin on his face.
Andrew laughed. “When I find you in the throes of flirting, my man, I will remember this day, and return the favor.” Then he sobered up significantly. “I worry, though, that Blinn may perhaps be even more exhausted than I, and in even greater trouble.”
“What do you mean?” Nigel asked.
“Well. It seems that Baliol has a strong desire to watch over him, and Isabel Harker a strong desire to snare him,” Andrew said.
Nigel looked at him sharply. “He knew about Isabel, and prepared for it,” he said dismissively. “But what about Baliol?”
Andrew shook his head. “I can't tell you, my friend, I'm sorry. I don't know you well enough to know what tales you may bear. Perhaps in time we'll become good enough friends that I can entrust such things to you.”
They then exchanged pleasantries, and headed for bed. On his way to his chambers, it occurred to Nigel that with the wording of Andrew's parting statements, the other man may well be testing him to find out if he'd expose his breach of confidence to York or to Baliol. He stopped in the hallway, struck still in spot. Was Andrew trying to get him to warn York? Or was he testing him to see where his loyalties lay?
Then he wondered if he were perhaps being paranoid about the whole thing. Perhaps the other man had meant things exactly as he had said, and there was nothing to read into it.
Either way, he decided, he would mention it to York. While the man had changed significantly since Nigel had last seen him, Nigel still counted him a friend. And he wondered if perhaps the attack today had something to do with Baliol, rather than the Scots as it seemed.
He was, of course, unaware of the attack on Baliol the year prior.
He determined to tell York the next day, and went on towards his bed. It would wait, he was certain, and it wouldn't do to wake the man for no good reason. Soon, sleep claimed him, and the castle fell into peaceful darkness and the quiet of sleeping people.
- James Allen
Success is a matter of a few simple disciplines, practiced every day. Failure is a few errors in judgement, repeated every day.
- Jim Rohn
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The next day dawned cool, clear and without incident for Roderick Blinn, Duke of York, until knocking on his door despoiled his leg pain filled reverie and stalled the pewter spoon filled with porridge on its trip to his mouth.
"Enter!" he called in reply, and the two pikemen placed at his door as a precaution pulled back their weapons, crossed at the door's front, allowing the city official to open the door and approach the Duke.
Tall, muscular, bearded, and in chain mail draped with cloth displaying the emblem of York, the 32-year-old Sheriff of York entered the Duke's chamber, followed by Nigel Stewart. Willhem Bunter, the Sheriff, paused and brought his feet together. He then bowed. "Milord, your permission to report information of interest." He said this matter of factly, with only the slightest hint of inquiry.
"Speak, Willhem. What do you bring to me?" The Duke carefully pushed up on his bed to straighten his back against the plethora of down pillows dutifully stuffed behind it by his servants. The sheriff would not have interrupted his breakfast if the matter wasn't of great importance.
"Milord, it is concerning the footpads you encountered. I have dealt with their kind before. Never have I found the like." Bunter paused. The sheriff's face not only registered agitation, but anger as well.
"Continue, please," the Duke said gesturing his request with his left hand.
"Yes, Milord. Never have I come upon footpads with such little need of their profession. The men you dispatched were bearing sufficient coin to be as wealthy as tradesmen. More of their wealth was discovered in disturbed soil buried in their camp. It seems they were there days before the attack on you, Milord."
"Perhaps they had made others their victims before setting upon Lady Harker and me?"
"No, Milord. We have found no evidence of other attacks. No travellers have reported such attacks and no person on the roads is reported as overdue or missing." The sheriff paused again. "There is more, Milord. The coin we found, with only few exceptions, bears the mark of the King of Scotland."
Nigel studied Blinn's face as this revelation took hold. Pale previously, Roderick's face registered no small amount of shock. Coloring from chin to forehead, teeth clenching and unclenching, Nigel knew Blinn was in a struggle to control what might easily become an undignified outburst of pure rage. However, the Duke finally managed to calm himself, though he was accutely aware that his agitation had found its way to his throbbing leg and parked there. "I thank you for your report, Sheriff. Proceed with your activities, if you will."
The sheriff persisted. "Milord, do you have instructions for me? May I know how you wish me to proceed with this?"
"Sheriff Bunter, I will consider what you have told me. For now, please retain the coins in a safe place and dispose of the bodies. That I do not care about as none of them deserve a Christian burial. Attend to your usual duties and if I have further need of your help in this matter, I will send you that message."
Willhem Bunter understood immediately that he was dismissed. He straightened again and bowed. Then he and Nigel turned to leave the Duke's chamber. But Blinn was not finished with one of them. "Sir Nigel. Stay please."
"Yes, Milord." Nigel stopped and returned to the place where he had stood as the sheriff gave his report. He waited until the sheriff left the chamber, as did the Duke. When the door closed, Blinn spoke to his patiently waiting friend.
"What do you make of this information, Nigel?" The formality was stripped away once again.
"Not footpads, I think, Roderick. Assassins in disguise maybe."
Blinn nodded. "Yes, maybe. First, Baliol. Now me." Someone is designing our end, and has thus far been unsuccessful; for which I am exceedingly grateful to that person, of course."
Nigel suppressed a smile in response to his friend's tone of irony. It wasn't all that funny in retrospect. "I should share with you my information as well," he said to Blinn, breaking their mutual contemplative silence.
"You as well, Nigel? This morning is filled with information. And cold porridge." Blinn managed a smile that time.
"I shall see you get warm porridge straight away after I tell you this. Sir Andrew and I chatted last evening while you rested. He says you are being watched by Baliol. He admits to being Baliol's eyes for the hunt. Oh, and he's convinced Lady Harker is not hunting boar, but wild duke."
Roderick snorted. "So, it appears. And I've suspected these things all along. Lady Harker is not much of a concern to me. Sir Andrew is not an enemy, I concluded long ago."
"How can you be so sure?"
"He confided in you, my closest friend, that he is a spy? He is no spy. He serves the King as do I and is in service as well to his Majesty's allies, even if it is to watch them both. I do not envy his position; but I do not count him among my enemies, not Baliol's either."
"Yet, Roderick, Baliol sees fit to place a watch on you. Could he be the one behind the assassination attempts and the attack upon him a ruse?"
"I think not, Nigel. I see Baliol not as an unloyal ally of the King's, but as an ambitious man who doesn't know his own incompetence. I fear that incompetence will someday be the source of harm to King Edward. I seek to minimize its effect, but not for the purpose of branding Baliol as a traitor, which I believe he is not."
"What about Sir Andrew?"
"I believe he is no man's fool. He will suffer Baliol to the extent necessary; but he is not aligned with him. In fact, Nigel, I think Sir Andrew is firmly of the same opinion as I shared with you and shall be instrumental in the future in seeing to King Edward's success whichever course that takes. You may tell him what you will. The lack of action against him should signal my understanding even if I should not say anything myself directly to him." Roderick looked down upon his now stone-cold porridge. "But first, my dear friend Nigel, your promise to be fulfilled concerning my porridge." The Duke smiled as he pointed to his pewter bowl and its content.
"As you command, Milord," Nigel bowed while smiling. "Fresh porridge ala Nigel to be served as soon as I can pass the word." With that, Nigel left the chamber. As the door closed behind Nigel, the Duke's smile faded, to be replaced by a deep frown. The paleness to his face returned, and the Duke lay quite still not wanting to add the pain of his leg to his deep worries about his King and and his country.
Days of recuperation passed by, sometimes quickly but usually with a slowness that was quite disagreeable to the Duke as he fumed at his physician from his bed or chair. Blinn was blessed with a wound that did not fester. Uncared for, such an injury could lead to infection and the loss of a limb. Blaine, the physician, knew full well the risks; but the poultices provided by Monk seemed so effective he soon began to put aside any fear the Duke would lose his leg. On the other hand, to regain full use of his leg, the Duke would need to move about so as to make his leg limber once again. This is what the Duke concentrated on in the time that followed leading up to the day of the Banquet and Ball. Not yet fully recovered, Duke Blinn made use of his father's staff of rank to steady himself, but as ordered by the physician, only to walk. He was not to ride and certainly not to dance during the Ball.
While he was healing, and attended to by Elizabeth Stewart, the Duke had said little to her except to thank her for her attentions. He couldn't look at her when she looked directly at him, averting his eyes out of concern he would reveal something he wasn't prepared to reveal. She thought it disdain and fought desperately against the threat of tears and thus avoided being near him unless duty required it.
One day, very close to the date of the Banquet when Liz was changing the Duke's poltice and examining the healing wound for any infection, the Duke spoke to her quite unexpectedly. "Lady Elizabeth, have you arrangements for the Banquet and Ball?"
"Yes, Milord," she responded matter-of-factly and with a surprisingly cold-tinged tone. "I shall go with my brother."
"I see. Perhaps he may introduce you to other escorts during the festivities. And you may address me as Roderick in these circumstances, if you please."
"Yes, Milord. He may. I have no expectations, nor do I care if he does or not."
Elizabeth struggled to control her emotions. "Milord Duke, I know you, your name and your wound. I wish to speak to the lattermost alone and only when necessary." With that said, Elizabeth gathered the old bandage materials and poultice for disposing in the privy on the uppermost floor and walked towards the chamber's doors. Just as she reached for the handle she paused, emotional control exhausted, the tears welling up and making their way down her cheeks in a torrent. "I love my brother, Milord, but I would rather not be on his arm, nor attend this season's celebration. There is no cheer in it for me. Not as it is, Milord. Not ever!"
The startled guards felt a sudden insurge of air as the door to the Duke's chamber opened suddenly, even forcefully, when the Lady Elizabeth rushed out, tears falling like rain. As she ran down the hall, the guards looked around to ensure nobody else would hear them talking.
"'Ere now, what was that about do y'ere think?"
The other guard shrugged. "'Ow would I know? The Duke 'ad words wi' 'er p'aps. Not 'appy ones, methinks."
They discussed it further, getting nowhere but enjoying the speculation. Meanwhile, Duke Roderick Blinn of York came to the conclusion he had better let his choice of companion be known to his chosen lady, or it may cost him his leg in a different way than to an assassin's sword blow. He had this day to make it right, and two more days before the Banquet and Ball. Only his chosen lady would know, he decided, and he would determine how she would be introduced, free of any interference or scheming on the part of Lady Harker.
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Seraph Lady Arcola
"I believe that friends are quiet angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly."
"A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out." -Walter Winchell
~ BFME2 Heaven | Stronghold Heaven | Stronghold 2 Heaven~
[This message has been edited by Lady Arcola (edited 12-01-2010 @ 10:28 AM).]
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Later that day, York Minster's bells reported citywide the day had reached "Angelus" and the cityfolk, even the Duke in his bed, paused to say noontime prayers. Shortly afterwards, the Duke's physician fitted Blinn's leg with a bandage which would allow flexibility but not cause the wound to open as the Duke moved about. Blinn tested out his leg using his staff of rank and limped around the room. A little pulling, a little discomfort, but nothing untoward resulted. Blinn nodded and the physician left to see to other business.
Revelling in his new mobility, Blinn left his chamber accompanied by his two guards for that day. They looked at each other and at the Duke, curious about the Duke's condition, but it was not their place to inquire. Blinn knew their thoughts. They were plainly written on their inquisitive faces. "Well," he said. "I am doing well. Thank you for your service to me." The guards again looked at each other and smiled then snapped back into their customary attentive expressions punctuated by searching eyes, watching the shadows for threats even while their heads ceased to move about as before.
Two figures distantly walking his way in the long corridor caught his attention. One was Sir Nigel Stewart and the other was his sister, Liz. As the Duke of York was accompanied by his guards, the formalities had to be observed. Sir Nigel bowed and Elizabeth curtsied.
"I am very glad to see you up and about, Milord," Nigel said, a very generous smile on his face. "As am I," added Elizabeth with formality bereft of emotion of any kind, and lacking a smile.
"Thank you. As it happens, I am pleased to have met with you. Would you be so kind as to accompany me to the sitting room. I could do with a momentary rest. Nigel spoke for them both, "As you command, Milord."
"Oh, Sir Nigel, not a command. A mere request, if you please, if arriving at your current destination could be delayed briefly. I should like to speak a few words with you together, words that are overdue." Both Nigel and Elizabeth not just felt puzzled, but were in fact quite puzzled."
"Of course, Milord," Nigel responded. Elizabeth remained quietly curious, but felt distant to the exchange.
Now in the room, the guards outside and all were sitting in chairs, including the Duke who positioned his injured leg stretched out on a pile of cushions, and the other bent normally, foot on the floor. "Thank you, Nigel, for gathering the cushions." Once again informality entered their dialogue. Elizabeth cared not at all as she sat stonily attentive as would a dutiful resident of the Duke's abode.
Roderick Blinn glanced quickly at Liz, cleared his throat and then spoke directly to Nigel who waited patiently for the Duke to speak his thoughts. "Nigel, I think it entirely inappropriate for you to escort your sister to the coming festivities." Nigel's face tightened up immediately and reddened. What was this about? Elizabeth's stomach knotted. Something hard formed like a stone in her throat. "In fact, I forbid you to do it."
Nigel, not understanding what was happening, struggled to control himself. "If not I, Roderick, than who shall escort Liz. Is she to remain in her chambers while others enjoy the festivities? And who shall be on my arm, may I ask?" Surprising Nigel, and giving his friend his first measure of understanding, Roderick winked his left eye so that Liz could not see. "I thought the Lady Harker might be a good choice." Nigel bit his lip to keep from saying something he wouldn't want heard. Liz looked from one to the other unaware her mouth was open enough in disbelief to catch flies. The Duke continued, "Then again, she is set upon being at my side. Sadly, I must disappoint her for I am in no condition to contemplate escorting such as the Lady Harker."
"But Roderick, I thought you have become well enough to attend, if not necessarily take part in all of the festivities," Nigel protested. "I would much rather have my sister on my arm than the Lady Harker."
"Indeed. But it shall not happen," Roderick said with sufficient emphasis to indicate finality.
"May I know why, then?" Nigel persisted, acknowledging the Duke's command.
"Because, my friend, if she will accept, your sister, the Lady Elizabeth Stewart, shall be offered my arm and the seat at my side for the Banquet and Ball. This I do not command, but humbly request of the Lady and you." So saying, Duke Roderick Blinn looked for the first time at Liz with eyes that asked, not commanded.
A flood of emotion raced up, sideways and through Elizabeth. She swallowed hard and as she did so her face flushed red with shock and no small amount of pleasure at the unexpected turn of events. Her hands shook as did her voice. She looked at Nigel who smiled and nodded, and then turned her head to speak to the Duke in a voice slightly above a whisper, "With her brother's permission, the Lady is pleased to accept the Duke's kind invitation."
Duke Blinn bowed to the extent sitting in his chair, leg extended allowed. "I am honored."
Not long afterwards, all were in their chambers. Duke Roderick was whistling to himself as he limped around the room continuing to exercise his leg. Nigel was busy trying to determine who he should escort. The Lady Elizabeth Stewart was examining her dress she would wear for the festivities not knowing whether to laugh, shout for joy, or cry happy tears. So she did a little of all three, much to the confusion of her lady in waiting, who herself was the only other to know. Of course, in what seemed like moments the entire region of York knew it as well. Lady Isabel Harker was not pleased.
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A slight mist formed on the ground swirling gently around Ewan's legs as he quietly moved himself closely to walls and in the shadows avoiding the light from lit torches or laterns that shown through any window.
Although the streets were surprisingly quiet, as shops and taverns had been closed for awhile, one could usually venture by or hear the banter of a patron filled with ale stumbling his way somewhere. But not tonight which suited Ewan fine for this evening's rendezvous, a once-a-week report keeping Baliol followers up to date on the movements of Thomas Randolph.
He reached the appointed site, but seeing no one lingered in the shadows nervously pacing back and forth while rubbing his sweaty hands together in anticipation. The hour was getting late and his absence from the castle might cause suspicion, something Ewan neither wanted nor needed. His anger getting the best of him he loudly said, "Aye! Where the bloody hell is he. I canna wait no longer." Once more peaking his head around the corner to himself he said,"One more look."
The hand that covered Ewan's mouth and pulled him back caused wide eyes and his heart to leap to his throat at the unexpected movement and accompanied by the sound of a French accent,"You need to be more quiet. Your loud thoughts will get us both killed." The hand was removed from his mouth and standing before him was a man dressed no differently than any other Scottish villager, but his spoken language proved the exception.
Quickly and quietly Ewan spoke,"Ye are'na Scotsman! And although ye be dressed as one yer tongue is nay."
The stranger replied,"Your power of observation ees quite good. But your ability to be silent ees seriously lacking, monsieur! If you are who ci must rely on then both our causes be lost. So keep quiet and listen."
Ewan, though irratated at this Frenchman's comments, listened as expected to what he said,"Our plan to kill one or more English nobles failed but succeeded in planting a suggestion it was Scots who made the attempt. Our connection in the court of Edward will see to that."
Curious, Ewan asked,"And who might that be?"
The Frenchman looking at Ewan emphatically replied,"That ees of no concern to you. But this ees!" Holding out his hand it contained a small vial of a clear liquid.
With a quizzical look at the Frenchman, Ewan said,"And what do ya expect me to do wi' that?"
'It ees a poison. Invisible to the eye, ever so slow, yet its effect ees deadly. You are to put a single drop once a day in Monsieur Randolph's drink. He will slowly look to become ill and eventually die without a trace of the poison in him." The Frenchman's face showed no emotion, just a piercing look at Ewan as if no answer was required.
Putting the vial in the servants hand and closing the fingers over it, the Frenchman took his eyes off Ewan and looking about said,"The hour is late, so go back and start tomorrow, adieu." And with that the Frenchman blended into the darkness and disappeared.
Ewan returned amongst the shadows. On the 'morrow he would begin to put Baliol back into power.
[This message has been edited by Micah Aragorn (edited 11-30-2011 @ 00:25 AM).]
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