Page 143: An Early Return
An Early Return
Summary: Lady Lucienne is chased home early by rumors.
Date: December 5, 2011
Related Logs: None (YET).
Lucienne Hardwicke 
Stable and Kennels — Four Eagles Tower
The Tower's Main Stables are nestled into the corner of the courtyard near the portcullis to facilitate quick, easy exits when required. The rear of the structure is backed right against the interior wall of the castle with the heavy wooden roofing gently sloped down towards the slate out front, the floor of the stables kept to dirt. Thick wooden beams are plunged into the ground and serve as a base for the walls between each stall. Hay serves as most of the flooring in the area with a large stack of it off to the side. Each stall has a thick layer on the ground to serve as bedding, with most of the space dedicated to horses though a few have pens of dogs and hounds. An enclosed structure at the end serves as dry storage for riding equipment and saddles.
December 5, 288

There's a little rumour going round in the days following the ball at Stonebridge, and considering there are already too many bastards in that particular town for anyone's liking, the Lady Lucienne (Terrick? Rivers? Tordane?) has cut her visit short. Having ridden early and pressed hard, she's made good time to see her horse stomping through the portcullis before lunch. Her head kept down, eyes not available for contact by anyone, she swings to a dismount to lead her dear Ticker inside for a brush-down.

Coming in on his chestnut mare, Hardwicke pulls her to a stop as they enter the stables. Dismounting, a stablehand glances over, but, upon recognizing Hardwicke and knowing his habit of tending his own horse, leaves him be. That is, until Hardwicke catches sight of Lucienne and, after a quick frown, glances at the stablehand to jerk his chin toward Delylah. The boy bounds up to take her off while the knight approaches Lucienne. "Lady Lucienne," he greets her gently. "We didn't expect you back so soon."

The stablehands don't get so much as a huff from Lucienne, despite their hesitant waves aimed to steal her attention; it seems they're not so interested in trying much harder to interrupt her, either. Hardwicke's voice earns him a flash of her face, though - just a brief, silent look. Her mouth is set in a terse frown, but her eyes convey a world of hurt, wide and glisteny. She darts them quickly to the floor and swallows a lump in her throat so that she might croak out a shaky, "Ser." She may like to say more, but the waver in her voice gives her pause.

Hardwicke watches her, something difficult working in his expression. Then he glides a hand down her horse's neck. "Ticker looks well," he tells her. "You have always taken good care of your mounts."

Her jaw ticks, and a tear starts to well, but Lucienne valiantly lifts her chin and blinks it back, setting her gaze upon her favourite sworn sword again. The edges of her frown twitch. "And for that, they've always served me well," she parrots in a way not unlike days long gone. She swallows again, her chin dipping a little, and then insists: "It's not true. She would never."

For a moment, Hardwicke says nothing at all. Then he reaches to try to gently unwind her hand from Ticker's reins, even as he shoots a pointed look at the nearest stablehand. "Come," he tells her, gentle but firm as he leads her to an empty space towards the back of the stables.

Her fingers are stubborn, hard to unwind, but eventually Lucienne gives up her horse. Her handmaiden must be somewhere in the vicinity, for once she's disentagled from Ticker's reins, the lady doesn't resist being led further inside. "It's not," she continues to assert, her quiet voice trembling. "I'll have the heads of anyone who says otherwise."

Once back at least a little out of direct sight of the stablehands, if not Lucienne's handmaiden, Hardwicke turns her to face him. He tips his finger under his chin, his own gaze direct and determined. "Milady," he says, "any man who dares to speak so openly will have the challenge of my blade."

There is one long, drawn out moment, while Lucienne stands facing Hardwicke, her face tilted upward to look upon his, their eyes met… in which it looks as though the fragile lady might burst into a mess of tears and sobs. But Terrick women are stronger than that, and such is her conviction that instead, she lifts two hands to place them heavily upon his shoulders. "S-Ser Hardwicke," she says, ignoring the falter of her voice, "Thankyou. Thankyou."

Jaw firm, some quiet feeling behind his dark eyes, Hardwicke passes a callused hand over her hair and bends to press a kiss to her forehead before gathering her up in his arms. "People talk, Lulu," he says quietly. "But you are a Lady."

Her own arms slide about his neck fluidly as he embraces her, longer now than those tiny little arms from her childhood, but still as slender. Lucienne smiles weakly. "I am," she agrees softly. Not daring to entertain even a shred of it as true, she insists, "And so is she. She would never. By the Seven's grace, if I find the shrew who dares sully my lady mother's name, I will… I'll…"

"You will respond in the manner of a Lady," Hardwicke says in gentle reminder. He swallows and sets his chin atop her head. His expression, where she cannot see it, is tight. "Your mother would never dishonor herself or her family," he says evenly.

"I will," resigns Lucienne, with a tired little sigh of breath to follow. Her lashes fall to her cheeks, resting there as she rests against Hardwicke, and he against her. Unaware of the tautness of his expression, her smile grows a little, reassured. "She wouldn't. I know it."

Hardwicke drops another kiss to the top of Lucienne's head before finally pulling back. "In a few weeks, no one will remember this," he promises. "Talk is just talk without someone willing to fight for it."

Lucienne keeps her smile, nodding gently as Hardwicke kisses her and draws back. "We are above this," she says decisively, her hands moving from his shoulders to claim a defiant place in her skirts. "By your leave, Ser, I'd like to go see my father." She ducks her head a little guiltily, adding, "I'll bring Ticker an apple later." To make up for allowing someone else to groom him, no doubt.

There is a beat, and then Hardwicke says, "Of course, milady." He smiles, tight and faint. "I trust you to keep your word on that. Ticker will remember if you don't."

"I know," says Lucienne, lifting her eyes to search out Hardwicke's for one more meaningful look. No less delicate than the tiny child she's grown from, she says in earnest, "I promise."

There is something quiet and earnest hidden away at the back of his gaze, but most of what Lucienne can find in his face is a deep, secure affection. "All right," he says. Roughening with humor, he says, "Get you gone, then."

She doesn't waste any time in doing just that: a girlish grin flashes at Hardwicke, and then Lucienne curtsies, and retreats.