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The Demoiselle and Derry Chapter 5

Started by Evie, August 04, 2010, 10:23:51 PM

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Chapter Five

   Celsie led Derry back into the stables, smiling at Hassan as he lay bowls of meat scraps and water by the battle-scarred cat, who was beginning at long last to stir slightly in the small storeroom where the lad had sequestered him.  "Be wary of him, Hassan, once he awakens.  He's apt to be a bit frightened.  I've left a few controls in his mind, so he shouldn't attack you, but he might well shy away from you, at least at first.  He also won't be able to roam beyond the boundaries of Chervignon for now, though there's no telling where he might turn up otherwise, so if you see him stalking the dovecote or anything like that, let me know.  Can't have him eating all the squabs.  I trust he'll make a fine mouser, though, once he settles in."  She smiled as the young lad grinned up at her in agreement.

   The two adults walked past the storeroom then, to another door in the stone wall of the stable.  Celsie opened it, closing it behind Derry after he entered.  They stood in what appeared to be a small wood-paneled room filled with an assortment of supplies, with steep stairs leading up to an upstairs loft area.  Celsie ignored that part of the chamber, though, turning instead to press what appeared to be a knot in the wood paneling of one wall.  It slid away to reveal crude stone steps leading down into the ground.  

   Celsie lit handfire and entered the narrow opening, looking back over her shoulder at Derry.  He followed her into the narrow passageway.  The door closed softly behind him as they continued down the steps until they stopped at one end of an underground corridor.  This in turn led a short distance, ending at another door.  The Lady of Chervignon touched a similar stud in this door also, and it slid open to reveal a wine cellar.

   "Handy," Derry said as he exited the secret passage.  "This is just below the manor, isn't it?"

   "Yes," Celsie said.  "Hold on a moment; let me alert Derwin that we're down here.  He'll have been notified of our arrival, of course, but he's probably expecting us to enter by way of the front door, not from below."  Her gaze grew unfocused for a moment as she sent the thought to her steward.  Once her eyes fixed back on Derry's face, she noticed him studying her with a faint grin.

   "Got him used to a mind-link already, have you?"

   "Oh, goodness yes!  Didn't want to scare the poor man every time I popped in and out of here from Andelon."  Celsie grinned.  "I've been traveling back and forth between homes over the past year, you know, to make the transition back easier."

   The Earl looked startled.  "No, I didn't know!  So you've not just recently returned?"

   "Well, I've recently returned to stay, yes.  But I've been stopping by to check on things for a day or two every few weeks throughout the past year."  Celsie pointed out a pattern in what appeared to be newly-laid stone flooring.  "The Contessa and some of her associates helped with that by installing a Transfer Portal."  She sighed.  "I wish Alaric had one at Coroth; that would make travel back and forth so much simpler!"

   Derry nodded.  "I'm sure he'd like that as well.  He's hardly had time to take care of the matter, but now that things are settling down a bit, I'm sure he'll turn to that eventually.  It would save a lot of time on trips back and forth to Rhemuth."   A thought occurred to him, and he chuckled.  "Not to mention he won't want to be outdone for long by a knight's daughter in a simple manor house, when he's not troubled to install one at his Ducal Seat yet."  

   She laughed.  "Would it be rubbing it in if I told him he's welcome to use it anytime he has need for one?"

   "Oh, doubtless!"


   They took the main stairs from the cellars to the ground floor of the manor, although Celsie told Derry there was another secret access which led more directly to the upper level where her study, solar, and bedchambers were.

   Master Derwin met them at the head of the stairs, offering his greetings to the Lady of the manor and her guest and informing them that a light repast had been prepared in expectation of their arrival.  

   "Has a bedchamber been readied for the Earl of Derry yet?" Celsie asked.  Derwin assured her that it had, and that his bags had already been brought up to it.

   "Excellent!   Then once we've broken our fast, would you send one of the chambermaids up to prepare baths, please?   Though not Mirrin or Bess; one of the others would be best, I think."

   Derwin bowed.  "Yes, my Lady.  I'll notify the kitchen that you're ready to dine then attend to that directly."

   The steward left.  Celsie led Derry to a small sitting room just off the main Hall.  He walked around the small room, studying the fabric furnishings, mostly of Celsie's own making.  An embroidered tapestry of fine Opus Andelonicum work caught his eye, prompting a low whistle from him.  "Did you create this?"

   The hunting scene before him seemed almost to come to life as he viewed it.  Derry could almost see the powerful ripple of equine muscles as the hunters rode through the mist-shrouded landscape.  It seemed as though at any moment a slight breeze would cause the leaves overhead to flutter, as though the image had merely captured during a momentary lull.
   "It's one of my earlier works, but yes."  She shrugged.  "I've improved since then, but most of my pieces are commissions, sold as quickly as I complete them."

   Derry raised his eyebrows.  "A supplemental source of income, then?"

   She smiled.  "Well, you've seen a few of my strays.  Mirrin and Bess are my others.  I have to afford them somehow."

   Derry took a seat.  "I thought their names sounded unfamiliar.  And where did you find your new maids?"

   Celsie sat opposite him.  "Bess was in service at another manor.  She was dismissed for immorality when the lady of the house discovered her chambermaid in bed with her lord—not that Bess had been given much choice in the matter.  Her family disowned her as well once they discovered the reason for her dismissal.  I found her at the village crossroads, begging for scraps and seeking respectable work to feed herself, but no one wanted to hire a laborer who was great with child."

   "I see.  And Mirrin?"

   Celsie's lips tightened.  "Mirrin's father sold her to a brothel to pay off a debt.  She had escaped, but was about to go back to her old life because degradation was better than starvation.  I provided an alternative."  She sighed.  "And now I suppose you probably see my former suitor's complaints about my work in a different light.  I suppose simply shoving alms at them and going about my business rather than taking them into my own home would have been more 'respectable,' in a sense."

   Derry gave her a wry smile.  "Probably.  Though I can certainly understand why you wouldn't want to leave either to find her fortune on the streets, either."  He sighed.  "You do realize, I hope, that eventually you won't be able to save all the strays you encounter?"

   "Oh, I know.  Chervignon's coffers are hardly big enough for that, even with the added income from my needlework commissions and the extra I'm hoping to gain from selling Seandry's foals.  I just hope to make some difference in their lives, in whatever ways that I can."  She smiled.  "It's the least I can do, and I can hardly leave it as someone else's problem, given what you and Alaric and Richenda did for me those years ago."

   Their food arrived.  Derry and Celsie forgot all talk of incomes and strays for the next little while as they enjoyed the simple meal of roast squab, a vegetable stew, and berries in honeyed cream.


   Afterwards, Celsie led Derry upstairs, showing him to the room prepared for him.  A tub of bath water had been made ready, the water brought up for it now cooled to a temperature that would be comfortable on a late spring afternoon, neither too hot nor too cold.  A matronly woman, who smiled at him in recognition as he entered, laid a fresh towel on a chair and set soap and a sponge within easy reach, though to Derry's relief she didn't offer to perform the ablutions herself.  Instead, she excused herself, telling him she needed to tend to her Lady now that he was settled in comfortably.

   He climbed into the bath, allowing the lukewarm water to relax muscles still slightly tense from the stresses of the night before, the uneasy night in an unfamiliar bed beside Celsie's warm presence, followed by the rest of the ride into Chervignon, though that, at least, had been at a leisurely pace that had not taken any more of a toll on him.  The scented soap left for him smelled a good deal better than horse and the wood smoke from the croft's fireplace.  Not that he particularly minded the smell of horse himself, but he imagined Celsie wouldn't want to snuggle up to it.

   Now, where had that thought come from? Derry frowned slightly to himself as he lathered up.  As he sluiced clean water over his soaped form, watching the lather sheet away, he had the sudden image of Celsie's soft hands tracing the same path along his wet skin.

   Think of something else!  Derry blinked away the unbidden vision, ducking his hair briefly under the water and straightening to lather it briefly as well, then dipping his head a second time.  This time, he thought he felt a gentle caress along the nape of his neck.  He nearly gasped a quick intake of breath with his head still under the bathwater before remembering to sit up, looking frantically about.  No one else was in the room.

   Must have been a draft in the air, he mused.  He stood, rinsing off the last of the remaining suds before stepping out of the tub and reaching for the towel.

   A vision flitted through his head of toweling Celsie off, kissing droplets of water off her moist shoulders....

   "What the hell is wrong with me today?!"  Derry practically flung the towel back down onto a small table, throwing open his bags to pull out a clean change of clothing as he muttered to himself.  He sank onto the chair, reaching behind him to pull one of Celsie's embroidered pillows out of the way.  His fingertips brushed the silken fabric....

   ...like the satiny softness of bare skin under his questing fingertips....

   "Jesú, I'm going mad!" he said aloud, dropping the pillow from suddenly nerveless fingers.  He hastened to pull his boots back on, running shaking fingers through his damp curls, and left the bedchamber, heading outside to draw some calming breaths of fresh country air.


   Whatever had caused the sudden bombardment of wayward thoughts to flit through Derry's mind, he had managed to overcome those urges by the time Celsie re-emerged from her own chamber.  Upon being told of his whereabouts, she joined him outside, taking him on a tour of her manor lands so she could see the changes that the household he had mostly hand-picked for her had made to the property, and how well it had prospered in the nearly four years  since he'd first come to her aid.  Afterwards, they returned to the manor.  She brought him upstairs to her study, asking Master Derwin to have an evening meal brought up to them.

   Again, Derry's eyes took in the changes made in the chamber since his last visit to Chervignon.  His gaze fell on the most prominent of those changes—a large floor loom with the beginnings of a spectacular tapestry woven on it.   Only the top third of the design had been completed, but even now he could see that the craftsmanship of this piece far surpassed what he'd seen in Celsie's sitting room below.  More than that, he could somehow sense the subtle power of the piece, despite not being Deryni.

   He turned a look of question to Celsie.

   "That's a commission for Sofiana of Andelon," she told him.  "A blessing on her reign and royal House.  What you're looking at there is nearly a year of work, and I imagine it will take me another couple of years to complete it.   But she's paying me triple the price I've ever made on my other work, so it will be well worth the effort once it's done."  She smiled.  "I imagine a thousand gold Andelonian sovereigns will keep me in crop seed and horse feed for a while."

   Derry, with a bit of effort, managed not to gape at her.  "One thousand?!"

   Celsie smiled ruefully.  "And now, I think, you might understand why I'm a bit besieged by suitors in Andelon."  She sighed.  "I hate it, Sean," she said flatly.

   "You do?"  Derry studied her uncertainly.

   "Yes, I do.  Mind, it's flattering to be pursued.  But I hate being pursued for all the wrong reasons."

   "Ah."  He studied the tapestry closely, trying to think of how to respond to that.  "So, being courted because you're lovely and exceedingly talented would be the wrong reasons?" he asked carefully.

   She smiled.  "Well, no, I suppose not, when you put it in such a complimentary way, and if that's not all I have to offer.   I'm just tired of being courted because some think I'd be a lucrative trophy and a decorative accessory...oh, not to mention a plaything and a producer of heirs."  Celsie shrugged.  "You know, the usual."

   Derry nodded.  "You're hoping for more."

   "Yes."  Her blue eyes searched his. "I'm hoping for love.  Or, at the very least, affection and respect.  Someone who values all of me, not just a face, or a form, or my talents and my income, or just my womb and my dowry.  Someone who values my companionship and wants to share a life with me, not simply tuck me away in a little corner of his own.  Is it truly so much to ask?"

   He shook his head.  "I suppose not.  Men feel the same, you know."

   "Do they?"

   Derry nodded.  "Yes.  Well, more or less.  We'd like to think we have more to offer than a roof over a woman's head and lands for her children to inherit, and the social status that comes with marrying into a rank and title."  He gave her a wry grin.  "And, believe it or not, just because we may happen to enjoy the pleasures of the bedchamber, that doesn't mean we want to be viewed as little more than the stud who happens to go along with the estate."

   Celsie laughed softly.  "Yes.  You do understand."

Chapter Six: http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=533.0
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!

kirienne (RIP)

Poor Derry and those unbidden images and thoughts, I do think he's smitten, and I love every minute of it. He does need to settle down, and Celsie would be wonderful for him, methinks. ;)


I like her collection of strays.   But poor Derry!!  He's not having a restful, relaxing time, is he?  ;)


Assuming I can get a chapter uploaded tonight (I came home to a power outage, and the power company is estimating it won't be restored until 9:30 tonight), you'll see just how relaxed and restful Derry's second night is.  Or not.  :D
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!


Oh, and we'll get a bit more insight into those 'unwanted thoughts' also.  ;D
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!