Tuesday, 26 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 26 Word Count 2784

He waved her to a chair opposite him. She sat down, raising an enquiring eyebrow, but he merely instructed the butler to bring them some Madeira. The two of them relaxed and remained in companionable silence until the butler returned with the requested beverage and glasses and finally left them alone.

Melissa couldn't hold in her questions any more: “Doesn't he think it's odd you're treating a servant with such familiarity?”

“Good God, you didn't knock on the servants' door did you?”

“No, I came to the front door: I had to hand over the note.”

He relaxed and took a swig of his wine. “You are now my young cousin, once or twice removed, visiting with your family in town. Having heard of my need for exercise my esteemed family have arranged among themselves that you shall be the reason and method by which I gain said exercise. In short, I am to escort you to various training sites in the hopes that exposure to you doing so will incite me to further efforts on my own behalf. My man knows that this is frustrating to me and when you arrive uninvited in future he will assume it is another attempt to excite me. I believe he will secretly sympathise with your cause – he was a footman when I was a boy and has frequently demonstrated a paternal sense of responsibility where I am concerned.”

She smiled. “Well, cousin, where do we go from here?”

“I was not expecting you so soon and I have to admit I'm deeply impressed: I haven't heard a whisper of you doing anything at all inappropriate to get those garments.”

“You may perhaps be aware that I have recently taken on a page boy?”

He laughed. “I see. Congratulations.” After another swig he carried on: “There is no reason to delay, we can head to Jackson's immediately. However, I think your costume would benefit from a few adjustments.” He touched the bell beside him. After a few moments the butler reappeared and was instructed to send his man down. When that individual arrived he had obviously had some forewarning of Phillip's intention and carried a small jewel box with him. From it Phillip selected a selection of small, but good quality jewels and bestowed them upon Melissa. “A small gift for you. I hope we can prepare you for your official arrival upon the town next year.”

Meliss stared at the sparkling jewels in her hands and began to blush. She slipped the ring on with some confidence and hooked the fob into her waistcoat, but the other three pins utterly bewildered her and she looked at them feeling forlorn and lost. Phillip's man bowed and murmured: “If you would permit me, sir?”

She jerked, startled, but quickly consented and he deftly placed the pins in the simple knot in her cravat.

“We shall have to teach you some new styles for your cravat! For the moment however, it will suffice. If you are finished with your drink, shall we leave? I fear I will need to travel by carriage, but it is not a long journey.”

“We have to wait while the carriage is called, though, surely?”

“I called for the carriage when I read your note. It will be ready and waiting for our convenience.”

She nodded and drew herself to her feet. Phillip followed suit more slowly and, after a slightly severe glance in her direction, his manservant went to his aid. Once he was upright, Melissa moved to the door and held it open as Phillip used the servant as a crutch. Once in the hallway he was presented with his cane which he took thankfully. The journey to the carriage was clearly trying for him – Melissa felt instinctively that he would never admit to weakness so she made every effort to hide her sympathy. Once they were safely within, she chattered inanely to give him some privacy while he regained his breath.

When she paused, he cut in without waiting for permission: “He was annoyed at you for not being civil enough to offer me your support. As a young man, you are expected to act with a certain level of courtesy towards ladies, the elderly and the inform. By leaving it to Franklin you were being disrespectful to me.”

“Oh.”

He raised his eyebrows at her non committal response and, as she was still gazing out of the window, she turned her gaze to him for an explanation of the sudden silence. His gaze remained steadily upon her and his wordless reproof suddenly burst through to her consciousness. She blushed deeply as his point came through to her.

“I'm so sorry! I hadn't realised... it wasn't intentional, I assure you!”

“You are known to be a callow youth and as such you have a certain amount of leeway granted to you. However, if you make such a mistake again, you will assuredly be noted and close observation is something you must avoid at all costs. I recommend you make a point of researching the social expectations of a young gentleman in your supposed position and be more prepared for your next outing. We are due to arrive momentarily and my expectation of you for the next hour is that you demonstrate a young man's gawkiness – look around as much as you wish, but do not engage with anyone. Offer me your help dismounting from the carriage, but do not offer me any kind of physical support once within the training rooms. I will observe your bout with Jackson from the sidelines. Did you bring a mask?”

She nodded and unfolded the cloth from her coat pocket. At his indication she wound it around her face and tied it off. The carriage stopped and nobody opened the door. Abruptly realising just how accustomed she had become to doing nothing for herself, she remembered his instructions and sprang into action. She opened the door carefully, checking that there was no-one behind it. She then offered Phillip a hand from the carriage, but he thrust his cane into her hands and waited for her to offer her elbow for him to lean on instead. At first she had thought he was being fussy, but when she felt the weight of him she understood – her extended arm would have crumpled beneath him. At least taking the weight on her elbow she had a better chance of managing it.

When he reached the pavement she couldn't restrain a sigh of relief. He glanced sardonically at her and the two of them made their way to the entrance. Phillip got them through the doorway and immediately escorted to the private training room. As they crossed the room she followed his permission and gazed around, wide eyed and with jaw fractionally unhinged. Around her were society men – many of whom she recognised – dressed only in breeches and shirtsleeves. One or two had removed their shirts altogether and she was hard pressed not to briefly check them out. As she dawdled, Phillip had pulled slightly ahead and he looked back and called her to his side again.

The raised voice carried slightly and across the room a blond head turned and glanced disinterestedly first at Phillip and then, when he saw the companion, more sharply and intently. The youth was completely shrouded in black with a few jewels alleviating the monotony, but what had attracted attention was his gait. Sir Francis watched the pair being led into the closed training room and returned to his own activities with a frown. After a minute, he observed Jackson himself enter the room and he unconsciously moved towards that door. Leaning casually against the wall – ostensibly watching a bout going on between two of his contemporaries – Sir Francis listened carefully for sounds from next door.

There were several thuds, thumps and grunting sounds. He bit his lip at one particularly high pitched grunt, but it was a familiar sounding cry that led him to break with the rules of the establishment and open the door. In the centre of the room, Melissa's back was to him but he could see she was still masked and Jackson's burly frame was moving with the speed, fluidity and control that had seen him named champion. Phillip was resting casually in a chair near the wall and Sir Francis wondered at his calm. Within seconds however, he was wondering no more: Melissa had ducked a punch with ease, blocked an incoming left, using Jackson's strength and momentum to shift her position relative to him and once his right was incoming again she ducked backwards and, in a single motion both smooth and winding she somehow swung around the giant's arm and delivered four body blows and, when his guard dropped in response to her focussed attack, she swung her right fist up and across and – to Francis' eye – damn near broke the champion's jaw.

As he staggered backwards, Melissa called out “Close the door, Frank. I don't particularly want an audience.”

Phillip and Jackson both snapped their heads to the door and Francis grinned as he slipped into the room. He leaned against the door and crossed his arms as he observed the duellists. Twenty minutes later, Jackson was exhausted. His training and bouts did not typically include a half hour of continuous effort. Melissa, on the other hand, was accustomed to a full hour session of high intensity exercise and even the indulgences of the last few months had not eradicated her stamina.

When Jackson indicated he was ready to bow out, Francis made his way up to the ring and bowed before her. “If you will permit me, madam, I believe you are in need of a sparring partner.”

She was still angry at him: his letter and flowers had not been sufficient to overwrite the insult she had felt in his words and he was conscious of the distance she was keeping him at. “I understand your reluctance,” he assured her in lower tones, “and I do not expect you to immediately see me as a partner, but you stand in need of either a partner or a punching bag and I am conscious that I need to earn your forgiveness. That being the case, may I offer myself as a punching bag?”

She bowed to him and they took up positions. For a while they measured each other up, casting the occasional shot, but after a few minutes she moved in for an attack. Her motions were as calculated as they had been against Jackson, but underlying each motion now was an intention to wound that she had not felt previously. After fifteen minutes she was beginning to wane, but she pointed out that it was unlikely that any real world encounters would go by the Queensbury rules and she would like, if Jackson had someone in his employ who could help, to fight freestyle for a short time. Jackson nodded and drew two of his men into the room.

It was made very clear to them that they would not be fighting to any known rules. Anything was allowed and to leave the combat they had to move beyond the line that marked the edge of the ring. The two men nodded and strolled casually into the centre, clearly not impressed by the slight youth that stood before them. The bell rang and the two men swung almost simultaneously. She dropped to the floor and span around, hooking her feet around the ankles of the guy on the right and brought him crashing to the floor. Pushing herself upright was significantly more difficult than she remembered it being and she made a mental note to take up a morning routine of push-ups as she brought her knee up into the other guy's kidney. The first had fallen heavily but was fresh and returned to the fight rapidly. Their attitude had noticeably changed and Melissa was hard pressed to manage their aggression. Her advantage was her mobility, their were strength and number – she couldn't keep them both in front of her at all times and each one of their blows had significantly more impact than three or four of hers. Her strategy quickly became to knock one out of play temporarily while working on knocking the other out permanently.

Ten minutes later, the bell rang again and Melissa fell panting to the floor. Francis handed her a tankard of ale and a cloth to wipe her face with and she tried to recover for five minutes before he lifted her to her feet and several hands returned various items of clothing to her. Jackson had ushered his men out immediately after the bout and now remained to shake her hand and invite her back at any time that suited her convenience. Phillip escorted her out again and Francis remained behind redressing and making his way to a club to sit in quiet contemplation over this most unlikely female.

From that point, Melissa received a daily letter from Francis, some brief notes, some more lengthy epistles, but each with a trivial gift; flowers, a small fan, a little clip, each marked as a token of affection. She reciprocated by letting him know the dates and times of her trips to the boxing saloon and the two of them sparred under Phillip's watchful eye. Melissa's fitness returned rapidly to full and she was able to throw herself into the freestyle in a way that always shocked her sparring partners. In time John, James and Michael all attended the training sessions with her and took on the freestyle fighting practice wherever possible. Paul had left the city for business at his parents' home and James was not willing to communicate this practice by letter, so he remained unaware of their latest habits. Jackson himself, after three or four weeks observing her in action, requested her permission to introduce a new fighter to her and brought out a small Oriental man. In her male persona, Melissa exchanged bows and courtesies with the newcomer who was introduced as Chan.

She had encountered Oriental martial artists previously and she was excited to train with him. As all the men around her except Francis were aware of the device she felt no compunction in pretending she had no exposure to Oriental cultures. She invited him to combat in the one phrase that she knew and he bowed. The two of them took their places and the men in and around the room watched their swift, bounding activity with jaws dropped. After less than three minutes, Melissa was pinned to the floor with her right arm in a lock and she cried out involuntarily. Phillip, Francis and John all started forward, but Chan immediately released her and the two took their bows and entered round two. Again, Melissa was comprehensively defeated and this time in under a minute. Her arm was aching, but showed no signs of serious or long term damage, so she merely excused herself from direct combat and requested instead that Chan demonstrate some of the moves he had used against her.

Typically, the gentlemen of the time were used to sparring as a means of learning to fight. What Melissa and Chan engaged in, practising moves without an opponent, or positioning themselves in a peculiar stretch was completely new to them and seemed bizarre to their eyes. To Melissa it was exhilarating and for a few moments she felt she could be at home again.

At the end of the session she made her farewells to Chan and invited him to return to their weekly sessions. As she made her way home with Phillip, Francis quietly pulled him to one side and requested training in that manner of fighting on a one to one basis. Before she left Phillip, Melissa mentioned that the Oriental exercises were extremely beneficial to recuperation and he also contacted Chan to learn the fighting style and develop his musculature once more.


Throughout it all, Phillip and Melissa had been worrying over how best to protect Wellington. She was not overly concerned about the passage of time: she knew the threat was coming but felt they needed to be active at the time of the assassination and prevent it happening. Phillip however was more interested in beginning their preparations and hopefully stopping the assassin on an earlier attempt. However, they were both aware that there was nothing they could do at all until Phillip had once again returned to the offices.