Sunday, 24 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 24 Word Count 1632

Phillip had finally begun to grasp Melissa's character and he recognised the wild flash of hope in her eyes. He reached out and grasped her hand, shaking it slightly in an effort to convey the conviction he felt.

“Do not,” he urged her “under any circumstances except the most dire, give that device to anyone. First – anyone you entrust with it you must entrust the whole truth to and how many men would pass by the opportunity to use immortality and access to all of the history of the earth to build an empire for themselves? Second – you are already marked for your involvement in Andy's escape. That was my doing and it cannot now be undone, but it means that you will be followed, you will be monitored and you will be put at risk. I fear the worst may happen without the protection the device gives to you.”

Melissa sniffed. “I can take care of myself, thank you. I do not need a device to protect me.”

“Without Mary by your side you would have died the first week you were here. How much of that was her, and how much was caused by the device finding a world which held your perfect companion and caretaker? You cannot possibly know how much of your life is owed to the way in which this history is manipulated by the device.”

“It's not capable of that!” Melissa's exclamation was torn from her. “You make it sound like a person – as though it has thoughts and feelings of its own. A machine cannot have a survival instinct!”

Phillip looked steadily at her; his stillness in stark contrast to her unnerved gestures and tics. “I do not believe in coincidence when it falls to an extent as great as that which I have perceived around you. My own actions are highly suspect. That first night we met, I should have used any force necessary to extract information from you. Instead, you batted your eyelashes and I let a potential French spy saunter around London in company with some extremely well connected people, and known to pass information across the border. Furthermore, not only did my superiors accept that I had done so without any qualms or questions, they also allowed me to build my relationship with you as I chose. My recent injuries occurred – to the best of their knowledge – at your hands and yet they have not uttered the slightest concern as to the wisdom of allowing you to reside here.”

Melissa felt her eyes widening as he spoke. The litany of behaviours she had been allowed to get away with was frankly shocking: any of those activities by British law should technically have meant her imprisonment and potential execution. Hearing them recounted in such a way made her feel incredibly vulnerable. Seeing he was getting through to her, Phillip didn't push it any further and merely concluded with his belief: “Surrendering the device may protect another individual temporarily, but without whatever is clouding the minds of the greatest of British tacticians and intellects to protect you, I fear your arrest and execution would be imminent.”

She slowly withdrew her hand, rose to her feet and paced the room, deep in thought.

After she had repeated her pattern of steps two or three times, he interrupted her in an effort to direct her thoughts elsewhere. “You said you could protect yourself; and as I recall at our first meeting you were certainly able to incapacitate me briefly. Do you have any additional tricks?”

She had by now enough experience of the world he lived in not to take offence at his assumption of her weakness and instead outlined the combat procedures and activities she was reasonably proficient in: “I have some skill with pistols and knife fighting although I prefer hand to hand combat, where possible. Although your understanding of boxing is somewhat different to mine, I believe I can claim a little proficiency there also. My experience of fencing is limited – in a situation with mixed weapons I have always endeavoured to bring my opponent as close to me as possible so although I have formal training with swordplay, I have no freestyle experience as such.”

Phillip was stunned and for a moment suspected her of mocking him, but he had seen too much and experienced too many oddities around her to quibble now. “Although you have a history of experience, I would be surprised to discover,” he probed delicately, “that you have had the opportunity or equipment to continue in this vein since you arrived here?”

She nodded reluctantly. “I own it has been somewhat frustrating to me: the lack of physical activity available is so confining. So far I have only found horseback riding as an acceptable activity which will also physically exhaust me. As far as my combat skills are concerned, it seems to me that I may forget some of the manoeuvres I have learned without the opportunity to practise.”

“You will,” he confirmed. “Many of my friends are physically active men and those that lapse their boxing bouts return a few months later and need to relearn a lot of the motions that were almost second nature to them before they rusticated.”

He lapsed into silence and she was caught up with recalling her frustrations as she had learned time and time again how the activities she had been accustomed to were not merely frowned upon when attempted by a woman, but completely unthinkable. So much so that boxing as a sport was not acknowledged to exist by women in polite company. When she had first heard that the sport was popular, she had thought she may watch a bout and she had caught up a flyer advertising such an event. One of her neighbours had seen it in a pile of sheet music and had brought it forth to enquire about it before realising what it was. One looked at the woman's suddenly purpling face and the girlish giggles or matronly coughs around the room as they simultaneously recognised it caused Melissa to cry craven and she disclaimed any knowledge of it. She had, she declared, dropped a few sheets of music in the street and simply gathered up the papers nearby with the help of two urchin boys. One of them, she surmised, may have included it in the papers they gathered.

She had blushed heavily as she uttered the lie, but the assembled ladies simply accepted it as proof of her innocence. Later when she had recalled the affair in Andy's presence she had queried about boxing matches and he had confirmed – no ladies ever attended. No ladies attended any competitive affairs it seemed. Nor did they gamble, drink, smoke or participate in any vigorous activity. Having been accustomed all her life to being coerced into activity even when she had no interest in it, the concept to Melissa was bizarre.

“Unfortunately,” Phillip's voice broke into her reflections, “you cannot afford to lose the skill set you have. I cannot possibly offer you my services given my current state, and I doubt your young friend's are experienced at anything beyond a schoolboy level. In the time they have been observed they have certainly not participated in any training at Jackson's or places of a similar ilk. James has been showing more interest in developing combat skills since witnessing Andy's death, but he is not experienced to what you term a “freestyle” degree.”

Melissa was alert and focussed on him. She had not, in all her time here, been able to devise a manner of practising her combat skills that Mary had not immediately shot down as wholly unworkable for reasons of society, practicality or safety. If Phillip was able to conceive a plan she would be deeply grateful. He mused for a few moments, then raised his head and focussed on her.

“I wish you to understand,” he said clearly, “that I mean you no offense, but I can only think of one route out of this difficulty. It requires a degree of improper activity from you, but I believe I can protect you from almost all negative reactions if the proper steps are taken.”

“I'm listening.”

“Only men – gentlemen – may enter a training room unless they are employed there. That goes for boxing, fencing, any manner of fighting. One must be male and one must be of an appropriate social ranking.” Melissa nodded. This was not news to her. “Once within the rooms however, one may have a private lesson with the proprietor of the establishment. There are closed rooms for this purpose which contain all the equipment required to enact the relevant activity.” This was news and Melissa already saw where he was tentatively leading. Suspecting the forthcoming requirements, she struggled to compress her lips into a straight line and keep her face relaxed: he was helping her and she must not embarrass him now!

“If you were able,” he had begun to blush, “to furnish yourself with male attire and a mask, I could escort you to a training room and engage you with the proprietor in a private room for an hour. I would be there to ensure you suffered no discomfort, should any offence be forthcoming from the proprietor.”

He was not able to look at her as he suggested she wear breeches and she, prepared as she had been, thought his naivete was astonishingly sweet. For a moment she was distracted by that, but rapidly regained focus and verbally assured him that whatever she could do to ensure her participation in such activity on a long term basis, she would.

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