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Thread: The Machiavellian Adventures of Princess Eleanor

  1. #21
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    A veritable pie fight. Stanley Kubrick would be proud. And this line was wonderful:
    “It’s hard to squire a dead man, and even harder to serve one who was never born.”
    Difficult to tell that there was no polish as it seemed quite entertaining to me. We don't expect Nabokov, just something interesting and sometimes humorous to read. And you tend to provide both.
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  2. #22
    Five days later they were less than seven miles from Woburn manor, if they pushed their horses then they would arrive before midday. Fulk took a sidelong look at his companion; Eleanor had been very quiet all morning, and now she sat there in her saddle pale and tight-lipped. He’d noticed that she kept looking at him when she thought he wouldn’t notice; it was as if she was double-checking some conclusion she’d made about him. He didn’t like it. When they arrived at this Woburn place he’d have his final answer as to what she was and he’d also see if this gamble of his was going to pay off after all. He was as certain as he could be without further proof that she was actually princess Eleanor, but that said very little about his chances of surviving meeting her superiors; they might take exception to a common man at arms knowing their secrets and joining their little group.

    He saw her taking another covert glance at him; he grinned and jokingly said, “Looks like I’ve got an admirer.”

    “Looks like I have a conceited bodyguard with delusions of grandeur.” returned Eleanor absently.

    Fulk grimaced, “I suppose I asked for that.”

    “Yes, you did, bowl cut brains.”

    “This is a fashionable hairstyle, one your own father wears, if I’m not mistaken.”

    “No, sadly you are not mistaken, he does indeed have a problem with taste.”

    “It looks that bad?”

    “Oh yes, just like someone’s stuck a bowl on your head and gone to town with a pair of shears.”

    Fulk silently resolved to grow his hair out into the longer style that reached down to the shoulders; after hearing her verdict on his current style he couldn’t help but wonder how many others shared it. Actually, now he thought about it, he shared it himself; a pox on Aidney and his stupid ideas! “Of course my own hair can never hope to compete with your crowning glory, my dear raven.”

    “We can’t all be perfect; the world needs people like me to make my sister Matilda look good.” Her self-depreciating humour was practised, convincing, she’d had a lifetime of it. It made a very good shield against those frequent laments on her appearance people directed at her; it also tended to stop them in full flow and stun the person into shutting up.

    Fulk looked at her strangely, “I meant in length, as well you know.”

    There was a minute hesitation before she gave an answer, a telling sign that she hadn’t known after all, “Yes, of course. I can always see through you and your stupidities effortlessly.”

    Fulk changed the subject, getting to the real topic that interested him, “Why are you so worried? Don’t deny it, you’re as tense as a bowstring; sometimes I do wonder if your mind’s even here and not off elsewhere. You’ve been like that all day and much of yesterday too.”

    The best lies contain a grain of truth and Eleanor was a skilled liar, “I am rather…concerned at how they will react to you, Trempwick and my glorious ancestor. The last I checked you were still alive and that does put a slight damper on the ‘no witnesses’ part.”

    “You likely to need my bodyguard services?”

    Eleanor laughed quietly, perversely amused by the mere idea of this base born man at arms daring to challenge a king on a matter where he had no right to interfere in the first place. She knew he wouldn’t protect her, oath or not oath; to plunge into certain death like that required a certain attachment to the person you were saving, not to mention suicidal tendencies and a lack of brains. “I think not. It is your life I am concerned about, not mine; they might simply decide you are unneeded and kill you. That would be…disappointing.” Eleanor hurried to justify her concern; if Fulk ever found out she rather liked his irreverent attitude the damned man would never let her hear the end of it. “I don’t like you, not in the slightest, but you are useful and if anything goes too badly wrong I can hide behind you. And, of course, I would not want to lose my pack mule.”

    “As you say, oh precious jewel.” replied Fulk airily, “If you’re not in danger there’s nothing for me to worry about; you’re a one woman argument, no one will dare complain if you want me to tag along.”

    “Nice!” Eleanor touched her heel to her horse’s flank, moving from a slow walk to a canter, expecting Fulk to keep up on his own. She had been dawdling all day; delaying, playing for time, time to gather her courage, to brace herself for the inevitable onslaught when she met her father. Instead she was clinging to the minutes, trying to gain even more time, as if by putting off the meeting she could forget it would ever happen. It was better to jump in headlong, before she had time to think too much, to change her mind and play with that delicately seductive idea - that Fulk’s life wasn’t worth the pain and risk.

    She nudged her horse again, breaking into a gallop.

    They arrived at Woburn shortly before the sun was at its highest. As they rode into the small courtyard in front of the main manor building and near the stables, cookhouse and other outbuildings a groom hurried out to take their horses. As they were dismounting Trempwick appeared from the main doorway of the manor house. He looked at Fulk with an amused half smile, not the least surprised to see the man at arms; evidently he had heard about Fulk long ago, just as Eleanor had predicted. “I didn’t think you were the kind to bring home stray pets, Nell. I wonder what we are to do with him; if he were a cat I suppose we’d give him a bowl of milk, or mayhap drown him in the river.”

    Fulk found himself staring at this hook nosed man, thrown off guard by his levity. Trempwick grabbed Eleanor by her elbow and pulled her over next to him, turning her to face Fulk and saying merrily, “Oh yes, she is princess Eleanor, although it’s very understandable that you are sceptical and this is hardly a royal welcome now, is it?” He picked up a strand of Eleanor’s loose hair and held it between thumb and forefinger, “Yes, rather hard to believe, even when you stick a crown on her, isn’t that right, Nell?”

    “I do my best.” replied Eleanor through gritted teeth. Trempwick was in his cheery mode; out of the many fake personalities he had carefully learned and honed this had to be the single most annoying. She knew from long experience that Trempwick was not nearly as happy as he appeared; his mood was best described by a faintly crude peasant epithet she was not supposed to know: ‘pissed off’.

    “I am certain they will carve that on your tomb, dear Nell.” He gave her a push away from him and turned to the few curious servants peering through the partly open door of the cookhouse, swapping to his intimidating act and roaring, “The princess is back, don’t stand there gawping – show your respect, damn you!” The servants hurried out and dropped to their knees on the muddy ground, their eyes downcast. Trempwick looked at them with contempt, “Better.” He turned back to Fulk and swapped back to his friendly attitude, “There you go, a royal welcome and if that isn’t proof enough then you can wave to the king when he arrives later today.”

    Trempwick snapped his fingers and directed his orders into midair, confidant that the servants would be hanging off his every word, “Take our stray pet and feed him; look after him until I send for him. Don’t let him get lost or run over by a cart, as stray pets have a want to do.”

    As a servant came forward and gestured at Fulk to come with him into the kitchen building Trempwick started to walk back inside the manor, calling over his shoulder, “Follow, if you please, your royal highness.” It sounded more like he was talking to a dog than a person.

    Fulk delayed on the threshold of the kitchen doorway just long enough to watch Eleanor start after Trempwick, that tight mouthed, worried expression on her face once more. As he ducked the low door lintel and entered the kitchen he couldn’t help but feel that Trempwick was treating his supposed princess more like a maid. Far from allaying his qualms Woburn had increased them.

    Eleanor followed after Trempwick, running over her arguments once again, knowing they would have to be flawless to stand a chance of convincing him. He bypassed the solar, it was being prepared for the king later in the day, and went instead to the second floor room built into the small square stone tower at the west end of the manor house. The room had been set up for training in assorted skills like knife throwing with targets on the walls, practise knives, copies of Eleanor’s hairpins, and other unlikely objects cluttered the room.

    Trempwick held the door open for Eleanor, then kicked the door shut behind himself, “What the bloody hell do you think you are doing?” he demanded, “No witnesses, what part of that does not make sense to you? Or perhaps you propose to blab to all and sundry that you are an assassin? Mayhap you want to start a home for dispossessed men at arms? Your highness, you are a bloody idiot! I would say that he will possibly kill you for this but I doubt that would have any effect, so I will save my breath.” There was no need to specify who ‘he’ was; they both knew it was the king Trempwick referred to.

    “I know, believe me I know, and that reminds me…” she started unfastening the straps that held her wrist knives in place under her sleeves, “It would not do to be tempted to try my hand at patricide, or regicide, whichever would take precedence.”

    Trempwick clasped his hands at the small of his back, looping his thumbs through the back of his belt, “If you know why are you doing this? Don’t forget, Nell, your life belongs to me.”

    “My life is my own.” she insisted.

    “No.” replied Trempwick calmly, coldly, “No, it is mine. You live because I saved you so many times, you live at my sufferance, and you can die at my whim. All I have to do is stop finding excuses to keep you alive when you upset your father.”

    Eleanor looked away, unable to hold her master’s cold gaze, “Fulk will be a good bodyguard, he is quick witted, keen eyed, he can fight, and most importantly of all he can think. I cannot travel alone; it is both dangerous and suspicious. If something goes wrong then I have no one to help me, to rely on. A partner will prove useful, and he is ultimately…disposable. If the worst comes to the worst he can be a decoy, he could take the blame.” She knew a cold, rational explanation was most likely to succeed; saying she enjoyed Fulk’s company as well as seeing his many uses would prove instantly lethal for him.

    Without realising Eleanor held her breath while Trempwick deliberated. When he spoke at last he had reverted to his calm, calculating personality, “There is…a fair bit of truth in that. Very well, you may keep your pet, but I will be watching closely. Remember Adele; don’t do anything foolish.”

    “Christ God! Remember? It is impossible to forget!” blazed Eleanor. Almost as quickly as her temper had flared it cooled again; her shoulders sagged, “I wonder what tender mercy I could expect from my dear father? I doubt I could expect a gilded cage; I do not have a death wish.”

    “You could have fooled me; you-” Trempwick broke off, tilting his head to one side, listening, “Horses; the king is here. Time to save your life once again, your highness.”

    A small part and much delayed; I have been exceptionally busy working on my book and its world. Again this part is very unpolished and crude, also a bit dull. I shall try to get the next part up a little quicker, and in better condition.

    Judas, I would be more worried about the poor town watch, as they will have to break the riot up.

    coz1, it is unpolished because there is too much word repetition, some typos, the whole bit with Eleanor helping Fulk off with his armour is quite redundant because I couldn't finish it, the detail is missing from almost everything - basically this is how I write as a first draft. But I suppose as long as it entertains and tells the story it doesn't matter so much, this is not my book, after all.
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  3. #23
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    A small part and much delayed; I have been exceptionally busy working on my book and its world. Again this part is very unpolished and crude, also a bit dull. I shall try to get the next part up a little quicker, and in better condition.


    oh boy... im hooked allready...

    keep it up!!!

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  4. #24
    “Here.” The servant who had taken charge of Fulk shoved a couple of chewettes into the bodyguard’s hand, “The master said to feed you and so fed you will be.”

    “Whether I like it or not, by the looks of things.” quipped Fulk, biting into one of the meat filled pasties. It was under-seasoned and bland; it appeared that someone in the manor had no liking for even a pinch of pepper. Since he had seen Eleanor happily eating some rather highly spiced gingerbread shortly after they arrived in England he knew it wasn’t her; that left Trempwick as the next best suspect. Fulk swallowed and forced a smile for the benefit of his audience, “Thanks.” He tried to break the ice a little and find out more about the manor and its occupants, “So, you are the…?”

    “Steward.” came the blunt, grudging reply.

    “It’s a big household then?”

    “Big enough.”

    “I’ve seen you, a groom, that chap over there” he nodded at a man busy stirring a pan of stock, “is obviously the cook; who else is there?”

    The steward eyed Fulk with distaste, as if deciding whether he could be trusted with the information, “One cook, two general servants, the groom, and my good self; that is all.”

    “No lady’s maid?” asked Fulk, surprised.

    The man looked down his nose at Fulk, “There is no lady here.” he said in a tone that did not invite disagreement.

    Fulk wasn’t intimidated in the slightest, “There’s Eleanor.”

    “As I said, there is no lady here.”

    “Well she is a bit…unconventional.”

    The steward brightened, his attitude towards Fulk warming considerably; evidently complaining about Eleanor was one of his favourite pastimes. “They say blood tells, and perhaps that is so, but in her case either blood tells nothing or she’s a changeling. I’m Edward, by the way.”

    “You know I still find it rather hard to believe she’s a princess.” Fulk delicately angled for a bite, for confirmation from yet another source.

    “Oh aye, she is, more’s the pity.”

    Their conversation was interrupted by one of the general servants running through the door and speaking just loudly enough to be heard over the background noise, “The king! He’s left much of his escort behind and he’s almost here!” His message delivered the servant sped away.

    The steward grinned, “Time for a spot of entertainment, if Walter can get close to overhear.”

    “Entertainment?” repeated Fulk, not understanding.

    “The king’s never best pleased with her and he’s got a temper that burns like dry wood drenched in oil. I’ll say one thing for her, she’s got pluck; there are not many who spit defiance in the face of our king.”

    “Entertainment?” asked Fulk again, this time with a sinking feeling he knew.

    “Oh aye, stick the two of them together and it’s a regular bearbaiting, and unlike the fairgrounds here the bear always catches his prey. We even lay the occasional bet.” He leaned closer to Fulk and whispered conspiratorially, “Since you’re new I’ll give you a tip, but don’t let on to the others that I helped you. If you want a safe wager bet on her saying something snappy; if you want to show off then bet on how many comments she’ll get off before he shuts her up.” Edward noticed the thunderous look on Fulk’s face and hastened to reassure him, “Don’t worry, she’ll survive; Lord Trempwick will see to that, never you worry. When the master talks even the king listens.” The steward glowed with pride, “Our master is a great man, truly great and deserving far more than being stuck here with that…” he snorted, not using the insult out of consideration for Fulk.

    Edward made to join the other servants peering out the door for the king, but Fulk’s hand shot out and grabbed him by his podgy arm, “Why do you hate her so much?”

    The steward turned back and gave Fulk an apologetic yet mocking smile, as if the answer was self-evident, “She doesn’t know her place; if she can’t be happy with what God allotted her then how can we? We suffer and serve the nobles in the hopes of a place in paradise, but she rejects that along with the tenets of society that are laid out in the bible itself. She rejects God’s will.” In a deeply religious world it was a damming verdict indeed.

    Fulk let Edward go and followed him to look out for a glimpse of the king. The man Edward pointed out was dressed in rich clothing and flanked by two heavily armoured knights, but otherwise as a king he disappointing. He was short, just as the steward had said, with limp hair that could probably be called sandy; it was shot through with grey and his crown was balding. He had the build expected of a warrior, but age was visibly creeping up on him and he moved rather stiffly. Fulk felt slightly disenchanted; he had never expected to mix with royalty and now that he was he had discovered that they were nothing like the golden figures of popular legend.

    Just as when Fulk and Eleanor had arrived Trempwick hurried out and greeted the king, although with considerably more civility than he had given the princess. Together the two men went into the manor; the knights sat down outside the main door and began to play dice.

    “Walter, that’s the second general servant, the young lad, will nip on over and see if he can hear anything.” explained Edward, “He’ll report back later with any particularly good bits.”

    “I’m her bodyguard…” said Fulk quietly to himself, no longer paying much attention to Edward.

    “Aye, kind of tricky, isn’t it? Got to save face while saving your hide too.”

    “No!” protested Fulk loudly, trying to drown out the little voice agreeing fervently with the steward. “I am a man of my word; I swore an oath.”

    Edward considered for a bit, “Perhaps, but oaths of loyalty to the king take priority above all others, and you were a soldier, right?”

    “Yes, in France.”

    “There you go then, you would have sworn loyalty to him when you joined his army. He hasn’t asked you to get involved so you don’t, simple.”

    “Yes…yes, exactly so.” Like a drowning man Fulk grabbed the excuse; he was a man of honour and simply doing what he had sworn to do.

    Night was beginning to fall by the time Trempwick appeared. Fulk was sat alone in one corner; he had left the group when he had found himself unable to stomach their glee at the royal ‘cockfight’. He had been grimly amused when several of the servants had lost their bets when Walter reported the princess hadn’t made a sound except a few taunts right at the beginning. He had a feeling if Eleanor ever found out about that then she would be fiercely happy, as well as busy plotting revenge.

    Trempwick didn’t cross the threshold, standing in the doorway, “The king and his escort have departed.” he informed the servants brusquely, “My thanks for looking after Nell’s pet; I will take him now.” The spymaster beckoned to Fulk, “We will take a short stroll.”

    Together Fulk and Trempwick strolled out of the kitchen into the courtyard. As soon as they were out of earshot Trempwick spoke, “I will be watching you, very closely. You had best be the very paragon of bodyguards, or you will answer to me.”

    “I understand, and now if you’ll excuse me I’ll take my leave.”

    “You are going to look for her.” It was not a question. Trempwick stopped walking and studied Fulk, pinning him with a level, cool gaze. Finally he inclined his head slightly, “If you can find her she’ll not thank you.” Fulk said nothing, meeting Trempwick’s gaze. The spymaster laughed, “Fine, go play hide and seek with your princess. I doubt you will find her, and if you do then I expect to see you running for it with your tail between your legs in short order. Have fun.”

    By the time Fulk had scoured the manor house and outbuildings he was beginning to think Trempwick might have been right; there was no sign of Eleanor. On his trip he had collected a few items and gotten a good idea of the layout of the manor, but the main object of his wanderings eluded him, making all useless. Now he stood in the middle of the courtyard, looking around to see if there was anywhere he hadn’t yet checked. His eyes flicked past the corner of the manor house, over the defensive tower; he stopped and looked up, the tower had ramparts at the top. Fulk smiled triumphantly and set off to find a way up.

    The roof of the tower was accessed by a ladder leading up to a wooden hatch. As he pushed the hatch open and climbed up onto the ramparts a voice observed, “I should have sat on the hatch.”

    Fulk shut the trapdoor behind himself and sat down on it, “Allow me, your featherweightness; I’m a mite harder to shift.” He put a cloth bundle down next to himself and drew his cloak in about him.

    “What are you doing here?” Her voice was slightly muffled and clumsy; Fulk couldn’t see why, the night was too dark and the feeble moonlight did a good job of hiding and distorting fine detail.

    “I am your bodyguard, I will keep following you, even if you do bite my head off when I finally find you.”

    “Ah. Bodyguard. How nice. Go away.”


    “Get lost and leave me alone before I topple you off the top of this tower!”

    “I’m quite comfortable sat here, and like you I thought to bring my thick cloak so I’ll not freeze. I even brought a picnic.” he indicated the bundle. He had stuffed her two wrist knives through his belt next to his own dagger, now he pulled them free, “I also found these; I thought I’d rather be knifed than pushed off the top of a tower.” He leaned forward across the gap between them and placed the weapons at her side, then sat up again.

    Eleanor picked up one knife and drew it from the sheath, holding it by the hilt and examining it with a small, bitter smile that died almost as soon as it began, “Toys.” She stabbed the dagger point down into the wooden floor of the roof, “Toys, for all the good they ever do me. Fancy, expensive little toys.” she looked at Fulk, “Why are you here? To satisfy your curiosity and see that unthinkable rarity that our society says never should be - a princess who has been flogged like the lowest serf? Go away before I take you up on your tempting request to be stabbed.” She pulled the knife free of the floorboards and flicked it over so she was holding it by the point, ready to throw.

    “I don’t think you will; I think your threats are rather harmless.” While he was almost entirely certain he was right a tiny voice in the back of his mind pointed out that she was an assassin in a bad mood.

    The moment drew out; a bead of sweat ran down Fulk’s face. She cocked her wrist, beginning to throw, and he began to wonder if he had made a bit of a mistake. Eleanor sent the knife flying so it buried itself point first in the floor, “Are you always going to be this exasperating?”

    “Only when you try to kill me, oh frighteningly furious one.” Fulk’s voice was filled with relief.

    “I was only trying to kill you because you are annoying.”

    “You know that Trempwick fellow of yours was predicting I’d never find you; he also said if I did you’d soon see me off. Want to prove him wrong?”

    “Well…it would be nice to wipe the smug look off his face, even if I do have to tolerate your presence to do so.”

    Fulk took that as a very reluctant invitation to stay. “How are you?”

    “In the peak of health and more than able to rip your ears off without even trying.”

    “Spare me your noble’s pride, oh wonder of wonders.”

    “And you spare me your stupid questions, you overgrown oaf.”

    “Alright, if you insist I shall forget my offer of my medical skills and drop to plan B, which involves giving you a sweet and telling you a silly story in the hopes of coaxing a smile.”

    “A smile will prove tricky; I bit through my lip.”

    “I’ve got some balm for that somewhere, hidden amongst all the junk I carry. Standard soldier’s kit and all that boring stuff.” Fulk unwrapped his bundle; it proved to be a napkin containing a small pile of sweet pastries. He selected a flat, spiral of pastry with cinnamon mixed into the dough and handed it to her; she took it after a brief hesitation.

    Eleanor ripped off a tiny bit and ate it, wrinkling her nose in mild disgust, “You know I can barely see why they call this a cinnamon roll, there is so little of the spice in it. Posh food on an exceptionally tight budget; the expensive spices are amongst the first things to go, right after gilded food, sugar, and subtleties to astonish us all with the skill of the cook at making inedible, fancy sugar sculptures.”

    “That explains the chewettes.” said Fulk, grimacing at the memory.

    Eleanor examined the pastry closely, struggling to see by the weak moonlight, “Oh gosh! This one actually has a couple of raisins in it; we must be celebrating something. The extravagance makes me quite giddy.”

    “I promised you a story; I think I know one you’ll like more than the usual damsels in towers seducing helpless knights.”

    “Oh dear, it appears I have been lumbered with an aspiring bard.” lamented Eleanor dryly.

    “Well it seems there was this princess-”

    “Let me guess, she was as fair as fair can be and so beautiful she made Helen of Troy look like a hag?”

    “Um…probably?” Fulk scratched his chin, “I suppose, since they always are.”

    “Wonderful, you are telling a story and you can barely even remember the details. I have an amnesiac aspiring bard; delightful.”

    “You just shut up and eat your pastry, dear chatterbox, or you’ll never find out how the story ends. Anyway there was this princess, let us assume she was appropriately princess looking and generally princessish.”

    “What was she called?” interrupted Eleanor again, before finishing the last bite of her roll. She was determined to make his life as difficult as possible; she couldn’t see why she should let him have an easy ride when she didn’t particularly want him around.

    Fulk blinked, he knew he should have expected that demand but it still took him by surprise, “She was called…Elizabeth; I always liked that name. Yes, so there’s this Elizabeth and she’s a princess and all that-”

    “Yes, I know; you have done that bit a couple of times already. Get on with it or I shall start booing and calling for the next act, you incompetent troubadour.”

    “If you would stop interrupting I could get on with telling the story, oh infuriating one! Now, where was I? Oh yes, Elizabeth, princess, blah blah. Right, so one day the king decided she ought to have a knight as her bodyguard-”

    “I am not going to request you be knighted.” interjected Eleanor firmly.

    “Have another pastry, oh eternally delightful one.” Fulk shoved a fruit tart into her hands, “If you are eating then you can’t keep interrupting! Yes, so this king holds a tournament and announces that the winner will become her bodyguard. Now our Elizabeth is a contrary sort and decides she doesn’t much like this-”

    “Sensible girl.” said Eleanor approvingly between nibbles at her tart.

    Ahem, yes, I suppose she might be. On the day of the tournament she locks herself in her rooms, alone and sulking. In addition to all the famous and skilled knights at the tournament there is a stranger with no coat of arms. He is known only as the Black Knight because his armour, surcoat and horse are pitch black-”

    “Boring!” complained Eleanor loudly, “Why is it always black? Do knights have no imagination?”

    “Alright, there was a strange knight only known as the Puce Knight, better?” he gave her no time to answer, rushing onwards, “Yes, good. Right, this Puce Knight is a bit good and he wins all the jousts and melees. He kneels before the king and the king says ‘Haha, you are a good chap, bravo! You win, congratulations Mr. New Bodyguard. The princess is off sulking but she will soon come around once she sees your nice puce armour and horse; it will coordinate nicely with her favourite dress!’. The Puce Knight pulls off his helmet and everyone gasps in horrified shock; it’s Elizabeth.”

    Eleanor raised one eyebrow, “So this princess managed to suddenly pick up the build of a seasoned warrior, learn to use weapons, find a suit of armour that fits and a warhorse, and go off to fight with out anyone noticing?”

    “Um…I suppose she did.” mumbled Fulk, “The bard I got this off was a bit drunk, so it was rather garbled, and don’t forget you made me change half of it. Anyway, it ends with the king taking her side and forgetting the whole bodyguard thing.”

    “That has to be the single most stupid, idiotic, rambling, ridiculous story I have ever heard in my life!” Eleanor couldn’t help herself; she started laughing, “You bird brained twit; you had best remain in my employment as a bodyguard – if you run off to seek your fortune as a bard you will be starving in the gutter inside of a day!”

    “I aim to amuse, Nell.”

    Eleanor’s amusement died instantly, “Never call me that, never. I might have to put it with it from Trempwick but not you.” She saw the uncomprehending expression on Fulk’s face and explained quietly, “My brother used to call me that before he…died.”

    “If the name pains you as much as that why does he keep using it? It seems very…” he shrugged, at a loss for words.

    The rash words of a long gone child rushed back to Eleanor, ”You killed my brother and I will never forget that.” One of the very few occasions she had let her emotions run away with her about Stephan. Now it was impossible to forget; Trempwick reminded her ceaselessly, part of his ever contradictory nature, one minute helping her, the next reminding her she hated him. “He likes the name and he does not know the effect.” lied Eleanor smoothly.

    “Nell seems rather…well, I never had you pegged as a Nell, put it that way.”

    “No, somehow I do not suppose I am a Nell; not now.”

    Silence fell, heavy and smothering. Several minutes ticked by. Finally Fulk felt compelled to ask, “I don’t understand; why did you do this?”

    “Because…one dead man is enough of a burden on my conscience.” she rallied from, her gloom and sniffed, “Don’t think this means I like you, you great hulking brute.”

    Fulk grinned, “As you wish, oh guiding light. I hate you too.”

    Not so bad this time; it could still use more work but it isn't nearly as half finished at the last parts. Finally things are really getting going.

    PB-DK, I think you will find that is the crack cocaine I include in each story part
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  5. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by frogbeastegg
    “I aim to amuse, Nell.”
    And he ends up doing that, though not in the intended way.

    Hmm, Fulk trying his hand at storytelling? I'll stick with this AAR for entertainment, thank you very much.

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  6. #26
    GunslingAAR coz1's Avatar
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    Trempwick is surely showing himself to be a nasty devil. And I must admit that Eleanor must be incapable of ever showing any other emotion than irritation and self pity. I assume that is what you are going for, but I sure wish she could find some joy in life - other than making others miserable. Great set of updates. The writing remains strong.
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  7. #27
    Judas, Fulk is a multi-talented man and rather determined; if he aims to do something then he will, even if the method ends up being a little odd. At least that is what he says...

    Do I intend it, coz1? :looks ambiguous: Eleanor never fails to draw an interesting reaction; opinion on her varies wildly, more wildly than any other character I have ever written. She has been accused of everything from stuck up brattitiude to cuteness and all the options in-between.

    Irritation the princess has in abundance, pride too, although I will admit it is quite fragile in some areas. She is a snob, but then she is royalty and that is to be expected. She is impatient, imprudent, prone to getting herself into situations she could have avoided if she had kept her mouth shut, and she has her father's temper but she keeps it under control. Self pity...maybe a tiny bit, but not all that much. Taking joy in the misery of others? Huh? Unless you mean her ongoing argument and insult slinging matches with Fulk? It's a game, they both know they don't mean what they say, although it did start out very seriously.

    So far she has done more than just irritation and self pity, for example fear on her way home, bravery as Trempwick wasn't exaggerating when he said she could die, happiness when she is bantering away with Fulk.

    Of course if you mean showing as in placing them where characters can see as well as where readers can see, well her upbringing wasn't exactly suited to that but I think you will find that she grows :looks mysterious and superior: Same for the joy in life thing.

    Now Trempwick, he is a different case entirely. He is an accomplished actor, swapping between characters like a chameleon; he does this so often no one, not even Eleanor, knows what he really is when he stops acting. The nasty he has demonstrated so far is just one facet. The one constant in all these characters is his concern for Eleanor. But hey, it is very early days and he hasn’t had much time to show off yet; the same can be said of the duo, Fulk and Eleanor, they haven’t had occasion to reveal more than a fraction of themselves. They are a complex bunch.
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  8. #28
    Fulk hauled open the trapdoor and stepped back with a small bow, “After you, your happiness.”

    Eleanor returned his bow, wincing slightly as the scabs on her back tore, “Thank you, my dear doorstop.” She stood on the edge of the gap, looking down at the floor below. She looked up and shot Fulk a tiny, challenging smile and jumped down instead of taking the ladder as he expected, landing lightly on her feet and quickly springing out of the way. Feeling a trickle of blood running down her spine Eleanor silently cursed her stubborn pride as she looked up to see if Fulk would follow suit.

    Fulk took her place on the edge of the gap; the drop seemed massive even though it could be little more than six feet. He swallowed, trying to mask his nervousness; he had never been all that happy with long drops, or more accurately with the sudden stops at the end of them. While he might be graceful his training had all been aimed at a man at arms rather than a feline; the last thing he wanted to do was land and fall flat on his face or something equally humiliating. “Looks like I’m guarding a cat; could be a problem since your Trempwick thinks I’m a dog.”

    “I promise not to claw you as long as you don’t bite me.”

    “Deal.” Fulk held his breath, looked straight ahead and stepped off, landing heavily but safely in a crouch below. Straightening up he gave Eleanor a broad grin, thankful he wouldn’t find out if she would laugh or, worse yet, ask if he was alright if he was clumsy enough to break his ankle on impact. “I think I’m the braver, after all the drop’s larger for me since I’m not such a diminutive midget as you.”

    “Bravery has nothing to do with it.” She brushed at her skirts with one hand, smoothing away a crease, “It is simply practise; ‘an agent’s life is unpredictable, you most be prepared for every eventuality.’ – Trempwick, the knowledge and wisdom thereof. One day I might need to jump out of a window; my life may depend on it, or it may be my only escape from a particularly long and tedious banquet.”

    As Eleanor crossed the room towards the door Fulk got a decent look at her back, in the dancing light and shadow cast by the torch on the wall. Blood was slowly seeping into the fine wool of her dress, joining the multitude of bloodstains already present and half hidden by their closeness of hue to the deep russet of the material. Fulk winced in sympathy, glad that she couldn’t see his reaction; he was sure she would not appreciate it, and he had spent enough time negotiating around her touchy pride for one night.

    Eleanor opened the door only to come face to face with Trempwick; she didn’t seem too surprised, “Master.” she greeted him coolly, “Hear anything interesting?”

    “Yes, I always do when you are talking, dear Nell.”

    He raised an eyebrow; Eleanor answered his unspoken question, “I shall survive, which is more than I can say for my clothes.”

    Trempwick studied her before speaking, searching for clues in her body language, “I cannot decide if that is more of your infernal humour or the truth.”

    “Would I joke about something like this?”

    “Ah, Nell, dear sweet Nell, your sense of humour has always been wildly inappropriate and perversely unique; I would never dare to guess what is a jest and what is not. I do recollect banning you from joking so I could always be sure of what you were saying; do you remember that, Nell?”

    “You need only look for yourself.” said Fulk mildly, gesturing to the view of her back he had in the flickering torchlight, irritated by the spymaster’s endless not quite jokes. He didn’t know the man well enough to see if they were barbed, friendly, concerned, mocking or something else entirely. His confusion over the words didn’t carry over to the man behind them; the more he saw of Trempwick the more his dislike grew. The pet comments really galled. “Or you could ask me since I’ve got a good view. I’d say she’s right, pity because that colour and style suits very nicely.”

    “Ah, the bodyguard.” Trempwick stepped forward, brushing the princess out of his way, standing toe to toe with Fulk, “Finally learned your duty, bodyguard? Well, it is a bit late, no?”

    Fulk looked uncomfortable, so uncomfortable Eleanor felt obliged to come to his rescue, “His committing suicide would only have made this whole thing pointless. Getting into a fight to keep a bodyguard is only worthwhile if said bodyguard is still alive at the end.”

    “Silence!” snapped Trempwick, not turning away from Fulk, “The very paragon, remember? The very paragon or you answer to me; so much as a hair and you will not die a happy man, I can assure you of that. Make yourself scare.” Fulk looked to Eleanor for confirmation; Trempwick exploded into scorn, “She does not need your protection from me; I would cut my own hand off before laying so much as a finger on my pupil.”

    Over Trempwick’s shoulder Fulk saw Eleanor give a very slight nod. He broke the deadlock with the spymaster and started towards the door, pausing long enough at her side to say quietly, “I found your room earlier; I’ll wait outside the door like a good dog. You can be rid of me elsewhere when you get back. Since I’m your pet I follow your orders, not his.”

    When Fulk had left Trempwick crooked his finger at Eleanor, meeting her halfway, in front of the torch in the wall bracket. He cupped her chin in his hand, gently tilting her head to the light so he could examine her lip, “How very elegant and dignified, Nell. I know a little colour is all the fashion but surely drenching yourself in blood is going a little too far? Stick to lip rouge like everyone else.” He let her go, shaking his head sadly, “You could have been safely married and away from this. It is far too late now, of course. You are too dangerous to ever be allowed to escape, dear Nell. Trapped by your own doggedness.”

    Eleanor didn’t consider herself trapped by her own fault at all; she had overheard her father’s opinion in what she needed in a husband. Being compared to a particularly obdurate horse in need of breaking did not bode well at all. She would get a husband who met her father’s approval, which by default meant someone very like him. Far from being safe she would only have changed the scenery. She kept her objection silent, unwilling to give Trempwick even a tiny bit of insight into her mind if he didn’t already know that. Chances were that he did; Trempwick appeared to know everything, much to Eleanor’s frustration. Trying to outwit him or hide something from him was a wasted effort. She decided he definitely already know about the horse comparison; he was trying to draw a reaction, nothing more. She would not give him one.

    Trempwick lapsed into a brooding silence, studying her cut lip as though mesmerised. Eventually he shook himself, swapping to his jolly character, “Still, in the game of sisters you are in second place behind Matilda, and if she still fails to produce that longed for son I can see you snagging first place given more successful missions. Rowena is dead and confined to fourth place having done nothing more than marry, get sick and expire, and all inside of a year. Adela is imprisoned in third and only kept from falling to last place because of her two little princelings. You only have to survive to win, and between your new pet, your innate stubbornness, and my incredible skill and years of experience at saving your neck that should be manageable. You just keep on refusing to drop dead, dear Nell, and I shall handle the rest. We are a formidable team, don’t you think?”

    “As you say, master.” replied Eleanor impassively.

    “I know what you are thinking, dearest Nell. You think I am quite mad, no?”

    Eleanor responded entirely honestly, “I am very certain you are not mad, master.” You are too damn dangerous to be insane.

    “But none the less you think me quite potty for making a great joke of all this. I think then, dear Nell, I shall indulge you.” Trempwick dropped to his rarest personality; the deadly serious one. Eleanor suspected this might be the real him, but she could never be certain. He heaved a deep sigh, “Our king has become a cruel man; you of all people will have noticed that. His rages have become more dangerous and he holds grudges for far longer, plotting away. It is getting very…difficult, even for me, to divert his attention from thing that upset him. If left to his own devices he will fume away until he decides on a suitable course of action.” Trempwick looked uneasy, “The duke of Norfolk made the mistake of complaining the summer was too hot for his tastes in the king’s hearing. He has been sent on crusade to the Holy land, to fry in his own armour and to ‘learn the true meaning of hot weather’. I doubt he will return alive.”

    Eleanor didn’t want to spend any more time stood here picking her way through a conversation with Trempwick than she could avoid; it was late, she was tired and sorely tempted to take up Fulk’s offer of treatment for her injuries. She got to Trempwick’s point for him, bypassing his rambling, “You are trying to tell me I am likely to find myself dead if this keeps up; dead in a highly unpleasant way. I am not surprised; I have been expecting that for years. Agents seldom die of happy old age in their beds surrounded by their families.” she smiled wryly, “In any case when the time comes I will have no family, at least not any of the variety usually found at those sorrowful deathbed scenes. I will live as long as I am useful, not an hour more. You told me that as you carried me away from the palace all those years ago; I have not forgotten.”

    “Then stop antagonising him, if only to save yourself all this unnecessary pain.”

    Eleanor laughed dryly, “If I let Fulk die he could hardly be useful to me now, could he?”

    Trempwick scowled, “Then on to making you useful; I have a mission for you.”

    Busy, book, etc etc I'm sure you are more than familiar with the reasons for slow and rouhg work by now No, actually I wouldn't call this rough; it has enough word variety and descriptive stuff to class as vaguely decent for a net story. It is more...very dry.
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  9. #29
    The White Rose of York Rex Angliae's Avatar
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    No, actually I wouldn't call this rough
    It most certainly is not rough. As one just starting my AAR "career" it's work such as yours that inspired me to try. It is a great help to read other's work and to see the very different styles of writing and storytelling. Keep up the great work!
    Loyaulté me lie. Vivat Rex!
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  10. #30
    GunslingAAR coz1's Avatar
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    I see that Fulk and Trempwick might be starting a little tete-a-tete with one another. I fear Fulk might lose even if he is the stronger one physically.

    And a question. Does the King have an heir? He has many daughters but I cannot recall if there was a son still alive. I don't suppose Eleanor might consider disposing of her cruel father.
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  11. #31
    Fulk stood leaning on the doorpost outside the room he decided had to belong to Eleanor; it was where he had found her knives, after all. All around him the manor was settling down to sleep; the torches, candles and rushlights were being put out, and sleeping pallets set out in the main hall. There was still no sign of the princess.

    Fulk began to pick at his nails, wondering if he had got the wrong room after all. The knives were the only Eleanor related touches he had seen; the rest of the room was only slightly less bare than his own room back in Nantes castle. Granted the furniture had been of good, if cheap for royalty, quality, but whitewashed walls and bare floorboards were hardly the stuff of troubadour’s tales.

    He had no idea of how long he had been waiting when Eleanor appeared, walking along the corridor thinking she was alone and everyone else gone to bed long ago. As soon as she spotted him she forced the tired, pained expression form her face and pulled her shoulders back, walking like the noble she was supposed to be, not a battle worn soldier. Fulk pursed his lips; her pride would be the end of her at this rate.

    Eleanor stopped at her door and said imperiously, “I am here. I am self evidently alive. You can go do whatever it is you plan on doing tonight now.”

    “Really? Whatever I planned on doing, with your blessing?”

    Eleanor’s brows slipped into a slight frown, “Yes.” she said tersely. “Now scat.”

    Fulk reached into the pouch he wore at his belt, pulling out two small clay pots sealed with a bit of cloth tied in place over the openings, “I thought I might dab some balm on that lip of yours, then do something about that mess on your back.”

    “I see.” said Eleanor frostily, her frown deepening, “You thought me so weak I would be grateful for, no would need your help-”

    “No!” Fulk overrode her, “I thought you might have the sense to accept my help because wandering around as you are does little good to any; it only soothes that wounded dignity of yours.”

    “I see.” she snapped, “Do you not think I might have done this before? Perhaps I have grown accustomed to having no one to help me? Perhaps I can tend my own wounds? Did you think of that? Did you think that after all these years I might be able to manage alone? No, you did not.”

    Fulk surveyed the hostile figure in front of him. There was no trace of the earlier friendliness they had established on the tower, no trace of the wary humour they had found on the road back. The observation struck a pang in his heart to match the irritation caused by her endlessly defensive attitude. “You are one prickly customer, princess thornbush! What would it harm to accept my help? I don’t doubt you managed before, but why make life harder than it needs to be when I’m around?”

    The aching throb of her back warred with her instincts; the ache won in short order. “Fine.” Her frown faded slightly, “But one single joke, comment or question and I will re-break that nose of yours and set it as straight as an arrow.”

    Fulk’s eyes widened in mock horror, “But that would damage my dashing good looks!”

    “Good.” The rest of the frown cleared away as Eleanor sniffed and stuck her nose in the air, “It will prevent you being distracted by stupid girls ogling you when I need you to chop someone in two.”

    Fulk had to work to hide his relived grin; she was back to joking, thank God. He rubbed the bridge of his nose, “You leave my poor nose alone; it’s done you no harm.”

    “Ha!” Eleanor opened the door, crossed through and stood holding onto the handle in one hand and the doorframe in the other. “Wait here.” She shut the door in Fulk’s face, “And mind your precious nose.” she instructed absently. There was no way Fulk would be dumb enough to let a door smash his face in.

    Fulk glared at the woodwork just an inch away from the tip of his nose, “A little late on the warning, oh nasally concerned one.”

    She left him standing there for so long he began to wonder if she was intending to ignore him in the hopes he would go away. Finally she called, “Alright, let’s get this over with before I regain my senses and change my mind.”

    Fulk slipped through the door and was about to shut it when she instructed, “Leave it ajar, I do hate to think of the fuss that could be raised otherwise. People and their lewd ideas, quite disgusting really. I do not appreciate being dragged down to their level, but needs must to anticipate and divert trouble.”

    He did as he was told, crossing to the bed where she lay face down, her chin propped on her crossed arms and her modesty preserved with a carefully draped sheet. One of her knives lay within reach on the pillow. Her bared back was a riot of cuts, welts and bruises, crisscrossed over old scars. A clotted mess still leaking blood where gashes had broken open as she removed her clothes. Her right forearm had fingerprints appearing in a vivid purple where someone had grabbed and twisted with considerable strength. Another mark on her left flank hinted that someone had kicked her.

    “You can bring your eyebrows back down from your hairline right now.” Eleanor said firmly without even looking for his reaction. “I can hear them flying upwards and I do not approve.”

    “Then you are imagining things, dear stinging nettle. I had some idea of what to expect.” He thought it best not to say the only other time he’d seen a mess like that it was on a runaway serf who’d been unfortunate enough to be captured and returned to a vengeful lord. “Perhaps it was my surprise at the dagger you heard?” he suggested neutrally.

    “Keeping up appearances; I have to cover both lethal agent and royal propriety. Trempwick would have a fit if I did not keep an obvious threat hanging around, though I cannot help but feel it would serve him right for poking his attention where it is not wanted” She flicked a finger in the direction of the table; “There is a pitcher of water, a bowl and some cloth over there.” A smile flitted across her lips, “You see? I am well able to cope alone, even if salving your own back is rather clumsy.” And hideously painful.” she added silently.

    Fulk poured some water into the bowl and soaked a scrap of linen in it. He started washing away the blood with surprising gentleness.

    “We leave tomorrow morning.” said Eleanor, simply for something to do. Lying around thinking was all right in its place, but right now the thought foremost on her mind was that she could have used a Fulk years ago. There was a lot to be said for a pair of soothing hands, and that an entirely disturbing discovery.

    “That’s not going to do you much good.” Fulk sponged at a large clot on her shoulder, slowly revealing a deep cut in the shape of half a belt buckle.

    Eleanor could guess what he was seeing and tensed, waiting for the inevitable prying for salacious details. Fulk kept his peace. Well if he wasn’t going to leap on the opportunity she wasn’t going to hang about waiting, “A mission is a mission, I have very little choice.” Actually no choice at all, she had simply been told to go.

    “Trempwick?” Fulk set aside the bowl and untied the string holding the bit of rag over his pot of comfrey ointment. He started dabbing it carefully over the host of injuries, “I’ll speak to him, tell him to stuff his madness where the sun doesn’t shine. You need a few days rest or you’ll only burst these cuts back open.”

    He had expected a furious outburst but there was a long pause. When she eventually spoke it was quietly, “If you want to help then you will get me away from here as quickly as you can.”

    It was the tone rather than the words that made him listen. Fulk sighed heavily, “I won’t ask why, but alright. We’ll get away from here then stop somewhere for a few days, good enough?”

    “More than. Thank you.”

    “Since you’re in such a cooperative mood I’ll also demand you let me continue to treat this mess.”

    “I am not certain that would be a good idea.” replied Eleanor doubtfully.

    “Better than letting them get infected.”

    Since she didn’t trust herself to answer Eleanor said nothing. Fulk cheerfully took her silence as acquiescence, and finished applying the ointment. He looked at the half empty pot, “I’ll have to buy more of this.”

    “It is comfrey, correct?” She was working off the smell wafting about the room, “We have some of that in the manor’s stores.” She turned her head so she could watch him, needing to see the inevitable bloodthirsty enjoyment on his face, hidden behind the pretty words and gentle hands. There was none. “You are the only person who has never laughed or gloated.” She was mortified to find tears pricking at the corners of her eyes. “Any other would simply use helping as an excuse to see my ‘downfall’ firsthand for their own glee. You are the only one who…”


    “I was thinking more … behaved chivalrously.” She wanted to ask if he did actually care.

    “Oh.” Fulk blushed and scratched the back of his neck.

    “I am promoting you to royal cut tender.” said Eleanor softly.

    “Thank you, oh generous one.” He placed the second, smaller pot of balm down next to her dagger, “I shall leave you to do your lip alone. For me to do a decent job of it you’d have to sit up, and I think your Trempwick would have me dead by dawn if you did that in your current state.” Eleanor’s quiet laughter banished the echo of Trempwick’s warning “So much as a single hair…” from Fulk’s mind. The spymaster had chosen his words carefully, a dual-purpose warning: keep her safe and keep your distance.

    “Goodnight, your highness. Since I’m supposed to be some kind of dog come paragon bodyguard mix I’ll sleep outside your door. Shout if you need anything.”

    I thought a small demo of why I keep calling the other parts rough might be in order. This part is polished to the same standards as the draft for my book. I still have a long way to go but I feel this is a substantial improvement over the rough stuff I have been posting. It did take me twice as long to produce though; I wrote this instead of adding more to Red Hand today.

    Rex Angliae, gosh, inspirational frog :blushes: From what I have been able to read of your AAR you aren't doing so badly yourself

    coz1, your Fulk/Trempwick prophecy is...

    The king has two surviving sons, John and Hugh; details forthcoming at the correct plotpoints. Eleanor deposing the king, but in favour of who? She would need some very powerful allies to survive the fallout. I think I will look mysterious again :does precisely that:
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  12. #32
    GunslingAAR coz1's Avatar
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    Not to worry. I will remain blissfully intrigued.

    That was a very lovely scene. I admit to hoping that perhaps Fulk might have begun to fall for this princess. In fact, he may be doing just that. Your description of his tenderness in treating the wounds was quite beautiful as a subtle character trait.
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  13. #33
    You hope Fulk falls for a princess who is wallowing in self pity and unable to show anything except irritation, coz1?

    I very purposely avoided using the word 'tender' in that scene so you could imagine that tiny bit of shock blended with satisfaction when you supplied it yourself. Stating it is far too bold, inferring it is suitably subtle. I think I shall have to write the rest of this in the same polished style; I do love scenes like this one and they are only possible with the extra work and care. Oh well, I guess the good thing is the more I write like that the easier and faster it becomes. It only takes a third of the time to do a scene in this style compared to a month ago.
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  14. #34
    GunslingAAR coz1's Avatar
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    Yes. Perhaps Fulk might help her to move past all that.

    And please do. It really is a wonderful tale.
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  15. #35
    Fulk stood next to a horse blinking sleepily in the chill dawn; Eleanor had insisted on leaving as soon as possible. They could have left quietly; only the spymaster needed to know they were leaving, but Eleanor had grinned evilly, splitting her lip open again, and told Fulk to rouse the entire household. After all, she had said, well brought up princesses did not cook their own food or saddle their own horses. On this one occasion the staff appeared to resent her being proper as much as they usually despised her for not being so.

    He watched with passive interest as Trempwick slowly crossed the courtyard, dodging his servants as they scurried about loading up the single packhorse. “Good morning, dear sweet Nell.” he said exuberantly, “You are looking remarkably hale this fine morning.”

    “If you say so, master.”

    “I do, Nell, I do.” He tossed a purse at her; she snatched it out of the air. He smiled sardonically at her surprise at the purse’s weight, “A small fortune, dear Nell, to follow the plan I outlined last night. You will also need to outfit him” he nodded towards Fulk, “accordingly. Do remember to bring your shopping home, Nell. Not only do we need the supplies but I confess I am eminently curious to see what exactly you will buy.”

    “Nothing interesting, master.” Eleanor thoughtfully tossed the purse up and down a few times before handing it to Fulk. He fastened it to his belt next to his sword.

    “Trempwick watched the exchange with rapt interest, “Oh dearest Nell, I find everything you do entirely fascinating. You are simply far too unique to be dull.”

    “If that is your opinion, master, I do not see how I can argue otherwise.” Hoping Trempwick was done Eleanor moved to her horse. She was surprised to find Fulk waiting to give her a helping hand up into the saddle. Until this point he had been quite content to leave her to her own devices and he well knew that she didn’t need his help.

    Fulk could easily guess what she was thinking. He nodded just perceptibly at the brooding figure of the spymaster and murmured quietly, “Paragon bodyguard; just try not to leave boot prints on my face.”

    Eleanor could feel Trempwick’s eyes boring into the back of her neck, could almost hear his mind weighting up the possibilities and laying out predictions. What would she do, and what meanings could he infer from her actions? More than sick of Trempwick’s endless games Eleanor decided to follow the most predictable route; she accepted Fulk’s help. Once settled in place she told him, “Don’t make a habit of it.”

    Out of the corner of her eye she saw Trempwick’s mouth lift in a microscopic smile that was gone almost before it appeared. She had guessed correctly and done exactly as he thought she would: protected Fulk and asserted once again that she was the one giving his orders. Predictable, and therefore giving less insight to the spymaster.

    As soon as Fulk was mounted and leading the packhorse she kicked her horse into a walk, “Goodbye, master.”

    “Goodbye, dearest Nell.” He walked at her side as far as the gate, “Be careful.” he said sincerely.

    “Of course, master.” Eleanor was finally on the open road, the spymaster and manor left behind, not far but getting further away with each step the horse took.

    As soon as they were out of sight of the manor and in open countryside Eleanor cast a quick look about, drew rein and jumped down from her horse. “Unless he has people tunnelling underneath us he cannot overhear, and even then he would not be able to see.” She began to unfasten the wrist knife on her right arm, grateful to remove the pressure from her bruised, swollen skin.

    Fulk watched, “I don’t know why you put the thing on in the first place.” he commented, “Pride, I suppose. I’m convinced you’ve got such a strong sense of pride you could catapult rocks at it and they’d only bounce off!”

    She tapped the hilt of the knife against her palm, wondering what to do it, “Pride comes with the crown. This was more expediency than pride, just like your paragon act. If Trempwick scents weakness he pounces on it mercilessly. I have neither time nor inclination to play around with one of his little tests.” ‘Little tests’ was an understatement; the last time she had been unable to convince him she was perfectly fit she had been ambushed by three of his agents. The scene had not been pretty even though her opponents had training weapons and strict instructions to do no real harm. No matter how skilled a fighter very few could win against such steep odds when already badly injured; that fact brought precious little comfort. She knelt on the ground and fastened the knife to her shin instead, on the outside of her leg where it wouldn’t hamper her movement.

    “Is that why you wanted to leave as quickly as possible?”

    “No. His sympathy, his concern, they make me sick to the very pit of my stomach.”

    “Because it is false?”

    “No, because it is sincere, just like his mockery.” She scrambled back into her saddle and turned her horse back to the road, “Let’s go; when we stop for lunch I shall explain this mission.”

    When the sun reached its peak they stopped to eat, sitting at the edge of the road with the horses tethered on a loose rein so they could get at the grass. Another meal provided by the royal kitchens, another tasteless disappointment. Fulk nibbled the end of a pasty, “You know I’ve had better from a stall in the midst of a fair; a meat pie that was probably made with some stray dog. It was full of gristle; I think I fed most of it to another stray dog to save my poor belly.”

    Eleanor nearly choked as she tried to laugh and swallow at the same time, “The cook’s abilities are not very awe inspiring, are they?”

    “Oh they inspire plenty of awe.” replied Fulk, his face perfectly straight, “Awe that anyone can cook so badly and still be in royal service!”

    “If it were up to me I would sack him; I would also increase the budget considerably, right now it is miserly in the extreme. You know the average minor noble eats better than I do? Sad, really, when you think about it.”

    “It’s worse than that, your culinary torturedness, the average peasant eats better, maybe not in terms of ingredients but in taste…” Fulk moved to take another small bite, checked, glared at the pasty and put it back in the bag it had come from. “What do you say to giving our packed lunch to some particularly unlucky beggars and buying something decent in an inn?”

    “I thought the whole point of charity was to help the less fortunate, not to give them our woes on top of their own.” Wrinkling her nose, as if that would somehow help, Eleanor took another bite and her own pasty and swallowed it without chewing. “I shall give you some friendly advice, small bites allow you to swallow without needing to chew; you barely even have time to taste the total lack of flavour.”

    “Oh, mine had flavour.” Fulk shuddered, “Though quite what it was I don’t know…dung, perhaps?”

    Eleanor laughed again and threw the remnant of her lunch at Fulk, missing him by a fraction on purpose, “Will you stop that? At this rate my lip will never heal.”

    Fulk looked contrite, “Sorry, I shall try to be more depressing, oh giggly one.” Eleanor glared at him, fists firmly planted on her hips and a well-schooled expression of superior distain on her face. Aside from the fact she was shaking with repressed laughter just one thing spoiled the effect. “Here, let me do something about that.” He tugged the sleeve of his tunic over his thumb and softly dabbed at the trickle of blood oozing from her lip. When she opened her mouth to protest Fulk said, “I’m the royal cut tender, and you did agree to behave.”

    There was no point in arguing past that; it was the work of seconds to clean her lip. Trying to banish the gentle touch of his hand from her mind Eleanor began to describe the mission as she had promised, “Our mission is to find proof of corruption at Elstow abbey. Trempwick knows they are forcing their peasants and tenants to pay more than is owed, sadly without incontrovertible proof coming from a reliable source nothing can be done. Peasants and burghers are not reliable, not in the eyes of a court, not when against their landlords. There is very little else to say, much of the rest depends on what we find-”

    Movement caught Fulk’s eye; years of experience had him moving before he had even consciously recognised the danger. He threw himself on top of the princess, pushing her to the ground and only just in time. An arrow whipped through the air where his chest had been only seconds before. Fulk jumped to his feet, “Stay down.” he ordered, drawing his sword and running in a zigzag pattern towards where the shot had come from.

    Another arrow zipped past him, another close miss. The archer flung away his bow and stood from his crouch, ripping his own blade from its sheath and bracing himself for Fulk’s assault. The ranged threat over Fulk slowed to a wary walk, holding his sword in the ready position. The archer lunged at him, the blades clashed and Fulk moved in body to body with his foe, using his height to his advantage as he leaned his weight on the locked swords, forcing the other man to bend backwards.

    Desperate, unable to break away or to win the contest of strength, the archer punched Fulk in the stomach with his free hand, once, twice, slamming his knuckles into hard muscle. Fulk stepped back, breaking the deadlock and immediately plunging back in with an overhead cut. The archer flung his sword up to block, deflected Fulk’s blade to one side and stepped back, playing for space.

    His hand went to his belt, to his dagger, which he drew and threw at Fulk. The man at arms twisted out of the way, the blade just skimming his flank. Fear began to show in the archer’s eyes; the man was no match for a well-trained warrior in close combat and he knew it. He threw everything he had into one desperate attack, taking his sword hilt in both hands and swinging down at Fulk’s left shoulder, screaming a wordless battle cry in both fear and defiance. Fulk parried the blow high, bringing his blade down and around in a motion that flung his opponent’s guard right open. The sword continued its arc unchecked and bit deep into the archer’s side, smashing through ribs and coming to rest near his spine.

    Fulk twisted his sword free of the falling man and brought the blade down again, ending the man’s life. Fulk immediately checked to see if there were any more enemies; there were none and despite his instructions Eleanor was back on her feet and headed his way with both knives drawn. He wiped his sword clean on the man’s clothes and sheathed it, then turned to meet her. “I thought I said ‘stay down’, your royal disobedience?”

    “Sod that.” replied Eleanor delicately, “If you get killed I have to pay for your funeral and they tend to be expensive.”

    Fulk looked at her, the gleam in her eyes and expression of intent concentration mingled with relief and exuberance now fading away. The only other time he had seen that look was when he had confronted her over Aidney’s corpse, and he hadn’t been paying much attention then. It was the eyes that did it, that caused his anger to ebb away. Sighing he touched a hand to his side where the knife had grazed him, “I suppose expecting you to keep out of the way was a bit foolish.” His fingers came away bloody but the gash was not a bad one. “I should have known you’d insist on joining in.”

    “Yes, of course; I am not a helpless pot plant.” Eleanor brushed his hand out of the way and inspected the wound for herself, “Barely broken the skin; now that is why I did not bother trying to hit you with one of my own knives – I though you had the grace and reflexes to dodge even if you are a cumbersome scrap heap.”

    Fulk crouched next to the dead archer; “I would have preferred to get him alive so we could find out who he works for. He’s no common bandit, he’s too well equipped and dressed for that, and alone too.”

    “I know who sent him.” replied Eleanor grimly, trying to ignore the stinking carcass near their feet; the sight and smell made her stomach heave. “Trempwick. Evidently I did not do a good enough job of looking perfectly healthy; this” she nudged the body with her foot, “is one of his little tests, although with a more lethal bent than usual.” She saw the incensed expression on Fulk’s face and hurried to explain, “No he did not intend to kill me, if you remember all of his deadly attacks were aimed at you. I do not doubt he was supposed to kill you if he could, and I shall add that to my tally of grudges to nurse. But the main purpose of this was to surprise me, to make me burst open all those nicely tended wounds, which, incidentally, thanks to your sitting on me I have done. This is Trempwick’s version of ‘those who look weak get attacked, so learn to hide your weaknesses’.”

    Fulk made his opinion on the spymaster and his training ideas clear, swearing fluently and obscenely in both French and English for quite some time.

    “Very nicely put.” the princess told him approvingly. “We should go, get to an inn where we can patch ourselves up in peace and quiet.” She went back to the horses while Fulk picked up the archer’s bow, quiver, sword and sword belt; the weapons were of good quality and too expensive to leave lying in the dirt.

    Been writing like a mad thing today, turning out page after page after page, first the book and then this.
    It is impossible to have too many books. Instead one has a lack of space and time.

  16. #36
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    great work there frog, i think you already have a customer for your book if it is just half as good as this 'aar'...
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  17. #37
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    Another good update. I confess to still wanting to flash back to some of the earlier training sessions between Eleanor and Trempwick. He must have put her through hell.
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  18. #38
    Predictably enough there was an inn halfway between Woburn and Elstow, isolated and alone but within easy reach of both places. The tavern was quiet when they arrived; October was not the best time of year to be travelling and so only those who had business were out on the roads. Pilgrims were all safely at home unless they felt particularly obliged to undertake a harsh penance, and only the most unfortunate of the travelling minstrels, pedlars, tournament knights and the like were still wandering in search of a hearth to spend the winter at.

    Despite the current lull it was clearly apparent business had been good in the past; the timber and thatch inn building was large, clean and well furnished. There were several small private rooms above the main room and the separate stables were large enough for nine horses.

    The innkeeper hurried out as soon as he heard their horses, wiping his hands on his tunic and smartening himself up as he went. He checked for an instant, seeing the blood splattered all over Fulk and the spare weapons slung on the packhorse, but then his eyes rested on Eleanor’s expensive clothes and he began moving again, a welcoming smile on his face and enthusiasm clear in the exuberance of his welcome. A stable boy soon appeared to take the horses.

    As she slid down from her horse Eleanor hid a smile; she was only in average noble mode, dressed and behaving like a noble with no more than a couple of smallish manors, but people still tripped over themselves to serve. She wondered what the innkeeper would have done if she had been in full royal mode complete with crown, probably keeled over dead of shock on the spot.

    The innkeeper hovered, uncertain as to whom to address himself to; the obviously rich woman or the not so rich but blood spattered man. Eleanor took a mental deep breath and launched into one of her own cover personalities: the rich bitch, too loud to be questioned, too imperious to be doubted. She stalked over to the innkeeper and waved her hand, “I expect a search party to be send out immediately; we were attacked by bandits and one of my escort lies dead or dying on the road. Do something. My man here managed to fight them off, but stopping to rescue Geoffrey would have been folly.” She scowled, “We had to leave his horse behind; an expensive waste.”

    “My lady.” the innkeeper bowed, “As it’s a quiet time I only have the boy and my wife-”

    She flung her hands up in the air with an exasperated sigh, “Oh forget it! I shall simply have to sort this myself when I reach my uncle. Forget Geoffrey, he is only a lazy serf and not worth the bother, even less so if he is dead, which he probably is just to be inconvenient.”

    Eleanor launched herself towards the doorway, trusting the innkeeper’s greed to take care of the rest. It did, “My lady, allow me to show you to my best rooms.”

    She stopped and asked, “I trust the inn is empty and will remain so? I will make it worth your while; I do not want to hear farmers belching into their ale.”

    “Of course not, my lady. I’ll shut the inn right now. My wife’ll prepare a room for you, and another for your man-”

    “He will be sleeping outside my door; I have already nearly been murdered once today and that is quite enough! This is a lawless county; we never have this problem on our lands. Laxity, sheer laxity on behalf of the local lord. I shall tell my uncle about this at great length and there will be action” Still grumbling Eleanor swept off into the building, the innkeeper trailing in her wake, leaving Fulk to sort out their baggage.

    Fulk made his way up the narrow wooden staircase that led to the private rooms, carefully balancing two bowls of steaming food. He halted outside the door of the furthest room, the one set aside for Eleanor, and nudged it open with his foot. Once inside he balanced on one leg and pushed the door to with the other.

    “An acrobat as well as an aspiring bard. Well, well, what an extraordinary find you are.” Eleanor shuffled up on the bed, making space as the only place to sit down in the room. She accepted the bowl he held out and idly stirred at the contents, “Can you juggle as well?”

    Fulk perched himself at the end of the bed, “No, never tried.” He blew on a spoonful of pottage before taking a tentative sample, “Hmm, nice. Bacon, peas, bit of garlic, some white wine and a few herbs; far superior to the muck your cook turns out.”

    “That is not difficult!” She sampled her own food; evidently it met with her approval as the rest rapidly disappeared. She put her empty bowl on the rush-strewn floor and moved back to lean against the wall behind the bed with her feet tucked under her. She soon sat back up again; her back was still too raw to stand much pressure. Instead she sat cross-legged and rested her elbows on her knees, watching Fulk.

    The man at arms noticed a couple of bare toes sticking out from under the folds of her skirts, “Eccentric little bundle, aren’t you?” he said, gesturing with his spoon at the toes.

    They wriggled with the owner’s discomfort, “Those shoes are hot.” explained Eleanor rather shamefacedly. “Please don’t breathe a word to Trempwick or I shall be walking about barefoot for a week. He does not approve of barefoot princesses at all, and disapproval combined with ingenuity is rather uncomfortable.”

    “My word on it.” replied Fulk solemnly, holding up his hand as if taking an oath. The effect was ruined by the spoon and bowl he was still holding

    Eleanor regarded the lowering level of food in his bowl, “We do not have long before your excuse for being here expires, so we will lay our plans now. We will leave as soon as possible tomorrow morning.”

    “So much for resting for a few days.”

    “My imitation of my aunt Adelaide will only work for so long; sooner or later they will look beyond the obvious and start seeing and noting other details. The lip is of little consequence, such injuries are common and it will elicit nothing more than pity or curiosity at what I did to upset my husband that badly. Which leads to the second problem – I have no wedding ring and I am years too old to be single. Even widows hang on to their rings, so I cannot claim to be in that happy estate. Besides I would be a rich young widow by default, and that is every bit as dangerous as a single young rich thing.” Her mouth twitched, “I do not want to test your combat skills against a group of ambitious types who see much to gain by abducting and marrying me for my supposed lands and riches. We might be investigating unscrupulous clergy, but extortion is thankfully very different to performing marriages on unwilling victims.” Eleanor blushed slightly and focused intently on her hands clasped in her lap, “I need you to get me a suitable ring. I can hardly go out and buy one myself.”

    “Now there’s a story to tell my grandchildren – the day a princess asked me to get her a wedding ring.”

    She burned a deeper red, “Oh, shut up you chain mail wearing twit!”

    Fulk bobbed an ironic half bow, still sat down and being careful not to spill his food, “As you command, oh crimson one.”

    Eleanor watched him, squinting very slightly as she decided whether to pursue that line or not. She decided not; let him have the last word if it meant the whole subject was nicely dropped before she hit beetroot red. “Then there is the hair.” She pushed a hand through her tresses, sweeping them back from her face, only for a few strands to immediately flop back out of place again. “I still have no one to style it and anything I do with it myself falls to pieces within an hour. Wandering about with it loose only attracts attention, as well as making me look like I am perpetually on my way to my wedding as a virgin bride; not at all a good thing, and you have no idea how much that bothers me.”

    “I can help on that one too.” offered Fulk as he scrapped his bowl clean and licked his spoon. Truth be told he rather liked her hair as it was, and he suspected no style was the only style that it would ever agree to.

    The squint returned, along with a slight frown, “An entirely disreputable story lies behind that expertise, no doubt. I do know how these things are usually learned, and I cannot see you disguising yourself as a maid and learning that way, nor do you wear a wedding ring yourself. I do not wish to know; I just ate and I do not require my stomach turning, thank you.”

    “It was entirely honourable.” replied Fulk quietly, supplying the rest in the privacy of his own mind, ”In a disreputable kind of way.”

    “Really?” asked Eleanor sceptically, “How nice for you. The hair neatly brings me to the final, and most obvious, point. Even including that archer our party is too small by at least one person; I should have a maid. It would be easy to hire one but we would only have to kill her as soon as the mission was completed. If we did not Trempwick would; the way we will be operating she would know too much if questioned. So, no maid; murder is Trempwick’s passion, not mine. Currently if asked to describe me our hosts will use terms like bossy, loud, or noble. The more they see the more likely they are to provide a description that could help someone locate me, and to note and speak of those aforementioned oddities. We leave tomorrow; I will only leave this room when we depart. That way they will not have much extra time to think or see. You had better go; you have no excuse to linger any more. We will plan further on the road tomorrow; it will be quieter and safer than here, and easier to spot any listeners.”

    Fulk didn’t move, “I haven’t done anything about your back; I am determined to be the best royal cut tender ever. I don’t want to be demoted or replaced, oh barefooted one.”

    “You have no reason to stay, and so our hosts will grow suspicious.” Soothing might be all right in its place but its place was not here or anywhere in Eleanor’s life, thank you very much. Better to avoid a potential path that would only lead to disaster if followed; the damned man had already saved his life by being too likeable and she could see a possibility peeking out of the shadows at her. She did not like it, not at all. “Remember Adele…”

    “Then I shall tell you a story while I work.”

    She scowled, hoping to insult him into leaving, “After that last one I am very much inclined to stab you before you have chance to breathe so much as a word; you are the worst story teller I have encountered in my life.”

    Fulk only grinned, “It’s about a dragon who captured a damsel and then spent the next few years picking fights with knights in the hopes of getting rid of her. She was a bit of a nag.”

    The princess conceded defeat with scant grace, annoyed at how easy it had been for Fulk, and the prospect of those hands combined with that balm, to sway her, “Oh alright.” She made a shooing motion with her hands, “Go see if you can persuade our hosts to part with a bit more of that pottage and I shall get ready.”

    All that writing about pottage has made me hungry, wish I could have a bowlfull myself.

    Thanks, PB-DK, I shall include that in my sales pitch

    Hell, coz1? Oh yes, Hell with a captial 'h' and italics. Details are beginning to emerge from this part onwards. Just wait until she talks about the sword incident...
    Last edited by frogbeastegg; 19-08-2004 at 10:18.
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  19. #39
    He was coming, hunting her, and if he found her then it was all over. Eleanor shrank back in her hiding place, barely daring to breathe. After a while she could hear footsteps crunching over the leaves and grass. A shadow blocked out the sun’s light.

    “Now I wonder where she could be?” said a man’s voice, exaggerating the question just enough to make it clear he knew she was here. Eleanor stopped breathing. The footsteps got closer. “I thought she would be around here, looks like I was wrong.” The footsteps retreated but the man was still nearby. Eleanor’s chest was feeling tight; she was running out of air. Cautiously she exhaled, then started to breathe in. A pair of hands grabbed her and pulled her out from the little cave under the tree roots. Eleanor shrieked and kicked her legs as Trempwick swung her up into the air.

    The spymaster grinned and set her down before collapsing onto the ground next to her, sitting with loose-limbed untidiness that shrank him down into a less intimidating figure, his left arm draped across his raised knees. “Found you, sweetling. I win. Care to play another game?”

    “You’ve not won yet!” Eleanor stuck her tongue out at Trempwick then turned to run.

    Trempwick grabbed a handful of her skirts, and she fell over when she tried to flee. He stuck out an arm to catch her and break her fall, unbalancing himself so he jointed her face down on the grass. Recovering slightly he tickled her in the ribs, “Boast when you have got clean away, or else you only give your foe warning to prevent your escape.”

    Eleanor rolled so she was sitting up, folded her arms and sulked, “You cheat; you always cheat! I’m not playing any more.”

    “Cheat? I?” Trempwick looked horrified, “Never.”

    “You always find me, you must cheat or else you wouldn’t. “ Eleanor scrambled to her feet and jutted her chin in the air, “I’m really good at hide and seek; no one can ever beat me unless they cheat!”

    “Ah, but they are not agents like we are, so of course they are no good.” Trempwick got up and held out his hand to her, when she didn’t take it immediately he wiggled his fingers. “I shall show you how I always win.” he coaxed. Timidly Eleanor slipped her hand into his and followed him back over to the entrance of the little hollow between the tree roots where she had hidden. Trempwick pointed at the ground, “You see how the grass is disturbed?” He turned and pointed back towards the manor, “And if you look back you can see a faint track. Princess, you leave a trail easy that is to follow to those with the eyes and mind to read it.”

    Eleanor looked at the grass with a rapt expression, “I want to learn that.”

    “And so you shall, I promise. Come, now, let’s go back to the manor. It is nearly midday.”

    Still hand in hand they began to walk back, Trempwick’s pace slow so the child could keep up. “You still cheat, sorta.” said Eleanor carefully. “I mean if you follow my track and all, well you’re always going to win and you didn’t even say so.”

    Trempwick stopped and dropped to one knee beside her, looking her in the eye, “I will always find you, if you leave so much as one tiny clue I will find you. There is a lot more to tracking than simple trails, and I will teach you it all.”

    “But you’ll still be cheating every time we play this game.” insisted Eleanor, not even slightly mollified.

    “Yes.” laughed Trempwick, “But then if you learn to hide your trail, to hide your thoughts, to be unpredictable, and to baffle me, well won’t your victory be all the sweeter?”

    “I ‘spose so.” allowed Eleanor reluctantly, “But it’s going to take a long time, right? Like weeks, or maybe even months.”

    “Years, sweetling.” Trempwick patted her on the head, “So I’ll offer you a piggyback back to the manor to make it up to you, fair?”

    Eleanor stood up tall, freeing her hand from his and putting on every ounce of regalness she had, “Not really, but I’ll settle for what I can get.”

    “You remind me of your lady mother, she always drives a hard bargain!” Trempwick hoisted her up onto his shoulders and started walking home.

    Eleanor drifted awake, the remnants of the dream still clinging to her. She always slept poorly when lying on her front, but currently it was less uncomfortable than lying on her back or side. She got up, cautiously, not making any sudden moves that make reopen her back or make enough noise to bring Fulk and his stupid questions. Opening the shutters, she looked at the moon; it was a couple of hours too early to get up. Sighing she got back into bed, wishing it was time to get up so she could avoid courting any more such dreams. As she drifted off into slumber again she wondered why on this occasion she had been dreaming of the good times.

    Consider this a reader request for a certain coz1. Details will be appearing in the story reasonably regularly for plot purposes, but since it was asked for several times I thought I would expand a little. Of course this probably raises more questions than it answers, what with "the good times"....
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  20. #40
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    An excellent scene between the young Eleanor and Trempwick. And if the story goes the way I have a feeling it might, a very good lesson for her to learn and remember.
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