Wednesday, 27 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 27 Word Count 1998

Phillip was adamant he needed to be working again with three or four months remaining before the known deadline in order to conceive a plan to protect Wellington. Under Chan's tutelage he took up T'ai Chi – an activity that required him to move slowly and stretch each of the muscles in his body gradually. Initially he could only do a few minutes of movements, but frequent repetitions and continuous development of the routine soon extended that time.

At the point that he came to return to contact sports, he found the routines had prepared him for ducking, lunging and punching – the muscles in his arms were not easily tired and, although it was nothing like standard boxing, the motions for Melissa's style of fighting were recognisable to him from his own activities. While he wasn't able to do full combat, he entered into a few light sparring sessions with her.

Three months after she began at Jackson's, all the men in her entourage were practising this new style of fighting and the other patrons of the establishment were becoming more and more curious about what was happening behind those closed doors. Initially the event had been quiet, but with a large group of competitive men in there, the final bouts of the day were now a major event and, with the ability to identify particularly clever or impressive moves, they had begun cheering and making friendly bets on likely outcomes. On the other side of the door, the rapid thuds and heavier crashes of bodies hitting the floor in wrestling or kicking manoeuvres sounded nothing like the regular thumps of heavy punches in a traditional boxing match and more than one gentleman had tried to take a peek as the participants entered and exited the room.

Finally, the younger group cracked and Michael's friends cornered him with a demand to know what was going on in there. He refused to tell them immediately, but visited Melissa the next day to ask what he was allowed to tell them.

She was surprised to hear about their interest but thought it through. She eventually decided that, given her reputation was at such a risk, she only wanted the people she trusted enough to know about the device to know about her involvement in the saloon and requested Michael to keep their sessions private. If the interest kept up, they would have to form a private club which Chan and other combat tutors could visit. When she next saw Phillip she made the suggestion and he rapidly agreed. When she expressed surprise he told her of the difficulty he was having arranging a private session for her with a fencing master. If they had a private club, they could summon one. No fencing master would offer a private room, or make a call for a single pupil. For a group of seven however, he was sure one of the Masters in London would make a group visit. Phillip instructed her to leave it with the men as her contribution to such a club would be easy enough to trace and utterly destructive to her reputation.

In a turn of conversation he informed her of his impending return to work and his plans for gathering information. His feeling was that he should make enquiries about the assignments of Napolean's known operators. Typically the French operated by assigning a high profile victim to two or three assassins so Phillip had two potential approaches: either issue an order to his own operatives to secure the identities of those who had been instructed to target Wellington, or collect the information about all known targets and sift through the known operatives to identify who was most likely to go for Wellington.

Melissa's feeling was that asking about who was interested in killing Wellington might look a bit too specific and Phillip agreed. However, the other process was significantly more time intensive and required a lot of research and guesswork. At her request, he outlined his expectation of the whole process and she drummed her fingers on the arm of the chair as he spoke. She was in her male guise – as she had found she preferred, due to the release from corsetry and expectations of proper behaviour – and she leaned back and casually crossed her legs.

As she was mulling over the information, the door opened and, to ideal square footaMelissa's surprise, Francis was shown in.

He made a brief bow to them both and Phillip casually waved him to a chair. As he took the seat Phillip filled him in on their discussion about forming a private club to avoid the interest of others at Jackson's. The two men fell into a spirited debate about preferred locations and ideal square footage. They briefly detoured into a discussion about potentially splitting off rooms for different exercises – both men had taken a liking to Chan's meditation techniques and were adamant that it was something they should include in their future studio.

While they talked, Melissa let her mind wander and speculated on the best route for gathering the information they required. A thought occurred to her and she interrupted the men saying: “We don't need to get concrete information. We only need the basics of names and last known location and we can investigate it.”

Francis looked bewildered and Phillip glanced a brief warning at her before asking what she meant. She flushed and muttered something about her mind wandering. Francis had long been aware that there was something tying the rest of the group together that didn't include him and, knowing Phillip's role in the government and being reasonably intelligent, he suspected it was something to do with either the war or ongoing preventative work with smugglers. That being the case, although he was intrigued, he didn't concern himself by asking questions he was unlikely to receive an answer to.

The two men returned to their conversation and Melissa bowed herself out and returned home. Her route between her own home and Phillip's had been simple at first but she had been unable to justify frequent “visits” to the hospital. Hence she had begun a routine of taking job horses and swapping the stables used. There were a number of hostelries that she had discovered which had convenient small rooms which were frequently unpopulated which she nipped in and out of. Her costume change she had turned into a fine art and could practically dress and undress while moving. Her skirt was easy, she would simply haul it out of the satchel and shake it like a table cloth before winding it around herself. The first few weeks her skirt had been terribly crumpled and she'd noticed a few raised eyebrows at the state of the fabric, so she had asked Mary to weight the hem at the base in the hopes that it would pull the fabric taut and eradicate the worst of the crumples. Her ploy had been successful so far, as long as she wore only matt fabrics. She'd tried with a forest green velvet skirt one day – Mary was still trying to return it to its proper state six weeks after the event.

Now she had a dark red brocade style fabric which fell in swathes around her ankles. The matching jacket had a waistcoat inlaid which sat snugly over her blouse and completed her outfit with minimal effort. She'd found that switching the youth's black shirt for a white one was the easiest way to transition between male and female. Additionally, the solid black had incited a few queries and condolences regarding the fact that she was in deep mourning and she felt it best to make herself as unnoticeable as possible.

Arriving home she retreated to her bedroom and bathed quickly. Although her habits raised eyebrows among the servants, she couldn't bear the acid smell of her own stale sweat after it had fermented for a few hours.

She fell back into contemplation of the possible resolutions to their information dilemma and had devised a more complete solution which she was able to murmur to Phillip during the course of their waltz at a ball the following night. He concurred and she heard nothing more from him for almost three weeks.

She and Francis had resolved their differences shortly after she had discovered his sincere interest in improving his combat skills. They had tried a few bouts together at the saloon and although she had soundly beaten him, she had been impressed by his rapid improvement. From that mutual appreciation it had been difficult to hold onto a grudge. Tonight was one of their nights together and they lay recumbent and sleepily satisfied, chatting about nothing in particular when rapid footsteps outside her bedroom startled them both. Phillip burst through the door and the two of them sat up abruptly. Mary had clearly heard the disturbance and came rushing through also: hissing at Phillip that he could not be here and superbly ignoring Francis' naked form in her mistress' bed as she insisted that her Lady had a reputation to uphold.

Phillip, panting, ignored all that and clinging onto the door frame informed Melissa: “It's time.”

She leaped out of bed and he, as a gentleman, averted his eyes. Hauling a robe around herself she scampered across the room to her cabinet which stored her male clothing. A new addition was a harness which fastened around her waist and thighs and held a number of implements, including knives, shot and a few smaller items that none of the gentlemen locally would recognise.

Within fifteen minutes she was dressed, Mary not allowing her role as lady's maid to interrupt her scolding of all and sundry. Francis had clambered from the bed as Melissa dressed and hauled on his own breeches in a much slower fashion. She was fully clad by the time he pulled his braces over his shoulders and followed both Melissa and Phillip to the door of her dressing room.

“Sorry, Frank. Mary will show you out.” Melissa called over her shoulder to him as she led Phillip through the door. Francis arrived in the open doorway in time to see them disappear. He shook his head slowly as he looked around the room.

“Sir Francis?” Mary held his jacket up to help him into it.

“I... didn't see which door they went out of.”

“The servants exits are hidden from sight. Madam likes privacy while she bathes and so has arranged her private rooms to seem as secluded as possible.”

“Oh, I see.”

Accepting her calm assurance, Francis dressed and left the property. Mary returned to the room Melissa had departed from and gazed around it .She knew full well that there was only one entrance and one exit to this room – the door Melissa had entered by. She had also been contemplating for a long time the sudden reappearance of Melissa all those months ago after she had disappeared without warning. It wasn't difficult to put the two situations together and she felt certain there was something her mistress was hiding.

She was alone for several hours and all that time thought long and hard about what she should do.

Melissa and Phillip, however, had a list of names and locations and they were travelling rapidly around, making acquaintances and having conversations. Some of the questions they asked would be mentioned later on and recalled; but as they were hitting all known points within 24 hours their questioning would be finished at roughly the same time as the alarm was raised.

By the time they arrived at Melissa's house once again, it was almost 30 hours later and Melissa was missing two throwing knives, twelve bullets and Phillip was sporting a fantastically bruised jaw. Bath were blood, sweat ad mud stained and utterly exhausted. Yet they both had an edge of triumph about their persons.