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Old 07-05-2010, 11:01 PM   #14
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Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Kirkwall/The Free Marches
Posts: 3,181
Current Game: Dragon Age II
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Chapter Four: My Opponent's Strategy

TOMORROW IS ELISE'S WEDDING, and I must think faster than ever. Our house is full to bursting, what with all of the relatives, friends, and common people of the village who have been hired by my stepfather to help us make the final preparations! I mustn't forget the noblemen and merchants that I've already mentioned before. Unlike our real father, who would have been glad if this wedding were a small and private affair, Auldric wishes to make this nuptial day a grand event. He seeks to show off his wealth, which is no surprise. That's why he's asked several people that Daniel Elise, and I don't even know! In my stepfather's eyes, the more who are beholden to him, the better. There are going to be quite a few souls who are going to be expected to do him several favors for being invited to this wedding...

No matter. That business is between Auldric and them, and if those people don't know any better than to accept an invitation from a snake, then that's their fault. Let them all come!

Elise wanted the number of guests at the wedding to be rather small. However, she's invited all of our aunts, uncles and cousins, and quite a few friends besides! Anne and Catherine, who are very close to her, are going to take part in the wedding. Even though Anne is going to play the mandolin and sing a hymn of praise to God, and Catherine will read a portion of the Holy Scriptures, my sister has chosen me to be her maid of honor! I couldn't be happier. Not so long ago, Elise was going to choose her bosom friend Juliette for this role, but they have since parted ways. I will do my best to honor my sister tomorrow. Wish me luck!

I only hope that our stepfather doesn't do anything stupid, either at the wedding or the feast afterwards. This includes making my worst fears come true. If that happens, I'll flee.

On second thought, I'll refuse him, as I always have, if he happens to propose like an idiot!

Say! That puts me in the mind to write a poem. I'll have to wait until all is quiet tonight...

For right now, I'll keep one eye on Elise and helping her, and the other upon Auldric.

Today, we're all venturing to the chapel in the center of our village to prepare it for the wedding. Since it is being held in the midst of a glorious fall season, autumn is the theme! Elise is having our hired hands adorn the altar with fiery pumpkins, dark green gourds, fallen leaves, ripe eggplant, and amber husks of wheat. It's a magnificent sight! When all these living bounties of the Earth are accented by the tapered white candles that stand hither and thither around the chapel, everyone at the wedding will be enchanted with the blessings of God and the cleverness of my sister, who thought up the idea for the harvest decorations! As a finishing touch, Capucine, Caroline, Catherine, Anne and Elise are tying shining gold ribbons around the candles and the heads of the pews. My eyes almost hurt from the blue brightness of the autumn sky shining through the chapel windows, which have no glass. Wealthier people and villages can afford it, but, alas! Our humble town cannot.

Of course, if Auldric would have tithed any of Goldie's “earnings” to the chapel, this would be so! However, he only gives lip service to God and how He has blessed our family through one donkey. In truth, he pays more heed to the lords of gold than to the Lord Almighty.

“Remy!” Elise cried, rushing to me. “Doesn't it look splendid?” I nodded. It certainly did!

“Have you seen Daniel today?” I asked her. “Or our stepfather?” She shook her head.

“I don't think men get very excited about making chapels festive for weddings,” Elise replied, giving a slight roll of her jade-green eyes. “Of course, that's only to be expected. If I were to make a guess where they were, I'd look for them back at the house, Sister.”

“Very well.” Grinning, I turned to leave, but then turned back. “Do you need any help?”

“As a matter of fact, I do. Outside in the chapel courtyard, there are some wash-tubs set up for all of the pewter plates, mugs and goblets that we'll be using tomorrow at the feast. They've all been stored in the cabinets around here, and they're quite dusty. Some of them even have dried mouse droppings encrusted on them!” Elise made a face. “Quite a few of our female relatives and other village women who have come to help us with the wedding preparations are outside giving them a good scouring. Would you be willing to assist them?”

My face turned hot. “I have to—check on something,” I said and mumbled, “Auldric le Fou.” Before my sister could reply, I grabbed my walking stick, which was propped up against the altar of the chapel, and hobbled out of the sanctuary, avoiding the courtyard entirely. There was no way I was touching anything encrusted with dried mouse droppings, and besides, I found it incredibly suspicious that I hadn't seen hide nor hair of my stepfather today. What was he up to—if he was up to anything at all? I had to find out. Surely he hadn't forgotten!

I needn't have worried. When I reached the house, I found him whispering with some of the noblemen and merchants he had hired to purchase the food, cider, decorations, and so on for tomorrow's festivities. However, I distinctly heard the words “an engagement ring...”

Slowly but surely, I crept up to Auldric and his comrades through the crowded main hall.

“Hello, Stepfather,” I said brightly, playing the innocent girl. “What was that?”

He looked a bit taken aback. “Ah, Remy! The village blacksmith, gemstone procurer and I were just now having a conversation about your sister's engagement ring. Elise still hasn't received it yet from Daniel, because the happy couple says that they want it newly-forged, without using any previous molds. 'As unique as God's creation', they specified, and as God is my witness, it's going to be the most beautiful ring upon which you ever laid eyes! It's going to be crafted of three thin bands of gold swirled into one, representing the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, with a diamond in the middle. Won't that be exquisite, ma gagnante?”

“Indeed.” Somehow, I didn't trust his foolish grin. “From whence will the gold come?”
“From whence it always comes: the ground! Ha, ha, ha!” His belly shook when he laughed.

Does that mean from beneath the ground, or the ground in Goldie's stall? I thought, but kept it to myself. After all, I had promised my stepfather I would tell no one about her. Instead, I chuckled at his little joke and then turned to leave. “I can't wait to see it on Elise's finger tomorrow. Good day, messieurs!” I had other things and people to check on...

I then went to see Capucine. Instead of sitting placidly at our front window, as she usually did when she sewed, I found her downstairs in the cellar aundry. Not only was she hard at work with the needle and thread, but dozens of other ladies—including two of my very own cousins!—were also slaving away over embroidery hoops, petticoats, and great, heaping piles of linen sheets and pillowcases. I dashed over to visit my oldest first cousin, Marthe.

“Remy?!” she cried when she saw me. “I haven't seen you in years! How are you?”

“I'm quite well,” I said, “if you're talking about how happy I am for Elise and Daniel! In other matters, however, I'm having a bit of trouble.” I debated with myself over how much to tell Marthe. She, her husband and two sons did not live near us, and had traveled over many miles to see my sister wed. Perhaps she did not know of Auldric's sudden change in fortune, although by now, how could she not have noticed it? The last time that we visited Marthe, her sons had been infants, and Father had still been alive. Oh, dear Father! If only you were here to rescue me...I sighed and decided to reveal only the slightest of details.

“For one,” I said, “my stepfather is driving me mad, and for two, I'm a terrible seamstress.”

This made Marthe gaze at me fondly. “Oh, my poor girl! No one can be good at everything.”

Nodding and smiling, I looked around and asked, “Where are your husband and sons?”

“At a nearby inn, where we're lodged. They're quite tired from our long journey. I'm not.” Marthe's face was flushed with the glow of happiness and busy hands. I would have sat down beside her and tried to keep the linen sheets she was embroidering off of the floor, but at that moment, my second cousin Christine ran to me and gave me a hug as strong as a giant's! Startled, I whooped and laughed, and quickly introduced her to Marthe. Christine asked to help her, and Marthe accepted, pulling up a second stool for her to sit on. While the two women chatted and continued sewing sheets, I crept over to Capucine's corner.

She was deep in concentration, with her dark curls cascading around her face like ebony waterfalls, and her eyes looked half-closed. Capucine was squinting, embroidering a long and almost iridescent sheet of silk. The thread was shining silver, which I thought was rather strange because the rest of Elise's gown, along with the matching slippers and comb, were adorned with golden thread and seed pearls...I decided to question her about the silk.

“What are you sewing, Capucine?” I asked, trying not to sound suspicious. “It's beautiful!”

“It's a dressing-gown for your sister,” she whispered with a smile, “and a surprise. Elise doesn't know I'm embroidering this. Pauvre fille! The poor girl is so unselfish, never wanting anyone to do or make anything extra for her. She only asked for the wedding dress and slippers. Her bridal comb was my idea, although Elise said not to trouble myself anymore...”

“You work too hard, my dear.” I squeezed Capucine's shoulder and gave a wink. “Don't worry. I won't tell Elise a thing. She'd be shocked if she knew what you were doing!”

“Indeed she would. I've heard that she considers ostentatious underclothing unbecoming.”

“On her wedding night?!” I cried. Capucine gave a loud snort, and we giggled like little girls!

That caused all the other women sewing to stop and stare. I blushed, gave a slight curtsy of apology, and scrambled up the stone steps that led from the cool, damp cellar. There was one more place I had to check in order to see if my stepfather was up to something or not: the stables where he kept his donkeys. If they were all gone—including Goldie—I was lost!

Fortunately for me, the great swarm of people around my stepfather's house hid me from his prying eyes, and any other watchful glares that could have been sent my way. In truth, I was glad not to be the center of attention, because that way I could do my frantic and hasty searching without anyone taking notice. Let me, the maid of honor, fade into the shadows for today, and tomorrow I shall bless my sister by being her sole attendant at the altar...

When I reached the stables, the smell of dry hay and wet manure nearly overwhelmed me! I had almost forgotten how stinky and undignified my stepfather's former occupation had been. Now that he was rich, he left the care of his beasts of burden and travel to the peasants we had hired. Luc was the head farmhand, who also took care of our pigs. He was the one to whom Auldric had threatened to marry me off! Jean, Claude, and Marc served beneath him, shoveling the contents of these stables and spreading them on our fields. Luc did the heavier work when he wasn't tending the swine. He could lift massive stones easily!

In truth, it would not have bothered me to wed him. Tending swine with him, however...!

The stables were empty, save for the donkeys. I checked every stall, one by one. The tall animals bent to sniff me, one after the other, and I giggled as their breath tickled my hand!

“Bonjour,” I told them. “Have you seen Her Highness, Queen Goldie?”

Recognizing her name, the young and lovely mare brayed. I went over to her stall. There she was, safe and sound, with her distinctive gray and white-flecked skin shining glossily.

“Amie!” Stepping closer, I wrapped my arms around Goldie's neck as she bent her head to let me. She nuzzled me with her nose. “Merci, merci! I came to see if you were well.”

Stepping back a little, Goldie gazed at me with worried brown eyes. She seemed to sense something was wrong. Sometimes, when I know no one else is around, I speak to her:

“Shhh...All of this hustle and bustle because of Elise's wedding has got you excited, hasn't it?” Goldie flicked her right ear. “It will soon be over. Just try and bear it for one more day.” I felt a sudden wave of sadness sweep over me. If I couldn't tell Goldie the truth, then whom could I tell? Elise was busy, and so were Marthe and Christine, Capucine, Caroline...

“Pauvr'ane,” I began, addressing the poor donkey, “I'm afraid I have made a grave and terrible mistake! I told my stepfather that I would marry him if he met three conditions. If he could capture the sun and make a ring out of it, catch falling stars in a net and weave them into a veil, and sew a wedding gown for me out of donkey skins, I would be his bride.” Leaning my whole body into the wall of the stall, I sighed. “That means you too, friend. Oh, how I hate Auldric! He is selfish and cruel—even more selfish than I, because I haven't helped Elise prepare for her wedding all day!” That made me feel even more guilty. “He only wants to marry me because Elise and I are the only two who know about you and the 'gifts' that you leave for our family. No one else knows how we've become so rich in so short a time. Auldric knows I'll keep that secret, and that's why he wants me so badly. I told him that if he wished to have me as his wife, he'd have to sacrifice everything, including you! Goldie, dear,” I said, trying not to cry for the third time today, “I made that bet on the theory that he'd never do it. What if he does and skins you, gold or no gold? What if he is willing to give up the source of his wealth, all to have me obey and serve him for always?”

Goldie snorted. “I'm terrible, cherie. If my stepfather—uh—will you ever forgive me?”

The donkey leaned forward and put her head on my shoulder. “Merci,” I said, weeping. I gave her one last hug goodbye and left the stables, hobbling back toward the chapel with my walking-stick. When I returned, the dishes for Elise's wedding feast had all been washed and dried, and then polished like silver. Elise herself was waiting for me, with sad eyes.

“Where have you been, Sister?” she asked. “I've looked and waited for you all this time...”

“S'il vous plait, pardonnez-moi!” Through my tears, I told Elise of my spying and checking. She understood. When I begged her forgiveness a second time, she gladly pardoned me. To pay my great debt to her for not helping with the preparations today, she said that I could assist her in dressing for the wedding tomorrow! Gladly, I agreed, and my despair vanished.

Ah, mon Dieu! S'il vous plait, may my sister and Daniel be happy together, forever!

One thing bothers me, however. In fact, it's driving me mad: What I've learned today is that Auldric has no plan. My opponent's strategy is that he has no strategy. What a waste! I should have been washing the feast dishes, or helping my cousins sew. Quel damage!

Last edited by Tysyacha; 08-18-2010 at 06:07 PM.
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