Page 214: Mourning After
Mourning After
Summary: Belle tends to Lucienne after Lady Evangeline's death
Date: 16/02/289
Related Logs: Battles of Women
Belle Lucienne 
Lucienne's Chambers, Four Eagles Tower, Terrick's Roost
Tasteful, richly appointed bedchambers.
Sixteenth February, 289 AL

It's the day after Lady Evageline's passing… the day after Lucienne lost her mother, learned the truth of her paternity, and essentially had her world turned upside down. Time for the midday meal has come and gone, but it's not long after there's a gentle rapping on Luci's chamber door. The door opens just a fraction, enough so the knocker can announce herself with ease. "It's Belle, my lady."

Belle has a gift for well-timed presence and absence, both — one honed in the service of the extremely particular and occasionally mercurial Dowager Lady Nayland. In these darkest hours, it's allowed the young Lady Terrick time to grieve, to have words with family. Now, however, it seems time to intrude. The handmaiden carries a large tray laden with temptingly aromatic tea, steeped strong with exotic spices, cinnamon, and cloves. There's small bowl of light broth, a selection of delicate sandwiches, cucumber and watercress. Nothing heavy or sweet, but nothing so plain as to be unappetizing.

She's on the bed, the little lady without a mother, her eyes predictably rimmed in red, her hair a birdsnest of dark curls and her face a tearstained mess. The fabric of her mourning dress is heavy, the rich, unfaded black lending her skin an almost sickly white pallor. The instruction Lucienne issues is probably barely audible, given in such a tiny voice, and there is no clue as to whether the delightful aroma of tea has reached her yet; she barely stirs. "Come in," is what she says, hardly above a whisper. She doesn't sit up.

Belle pauses just inside the door, sympathy and sorrow creasing her face at the sight of the pale, wretched girl. She nudges the door shut with her foot, sets the tray down on a side table, and stands helplessly a moment. Then, as a sister might, she climbs into be behind her lady and smooths her tangled curls. "I brought tea," she says softly. "And some light food. I am going to insist that you eat a little something before I go." That doesn't sound imminent, however.

Lucienne waits as her handmaid settles the tea tray, waits as she stands, waits ever so still as Belle climbs into bed. There's a little whimper at the mention of food, and finally some movement - she rolls over look up with deep, imploring eyes. "I couldn't," she protests weakly, curling her arms about herself.

"Shh," Belle soothes, pressing cool, slender hands to Lucienne's cheeks and brow. Possibly checking to make sure she isn't feverish, possibly just for the comfort of human touch. "You don't have to right this second. Nor very much at all. I know that even breathing hurts right now." She swallows, her own eyes wet. "I only know to do for you what was done for me," she says with a faint, melancholy smile. "A little food — just the tiniest bit — made sure my body remembered what food was for. I didn't want it, either, but my granna knew better."

Her skin is warm, but not feverishly so. Fresh tears well in Lucienne's eyes at that soothing caress, and she blinks fiercely to try and keep them back. "Not now," is her way of agreeing, and she straightens an arm from about her waist to reach for Belle, to feel closer. "I don't know what to do," she admits, her voice choked. "I want to ask her help, and she's not here."

"I know," whispers the handmaid, wrapping Lucienne up in her arms. "And there is nothing that can fill that void, alas. It's like the soldiers that come back from war, missing limbs. They say they still feel them, that they still ache." Her fingers gently tease the knots from her lady's hair, combing patiently and insistently. "You will always feel her absence, Luci. But the pain… eventually, it will be less immediate. Less excruciating. Something you can live with."

"Will it?" That's sheer disbelief, and Lucienne begins to shed her tears. Down her cheeks they roll, no sobs to accompany their silent trickle. "None of us. None of us were ready for this. I - we still need her, Belle."

Belle nods, bending her head into Luci's tangle of curls, shutting her eyes. "It will," she assures Lucienne, without an iota of doubt. "It will. But there is a long road between there and here. I'll walk it with you — all who love you and loved your mother shall." She nods, swallowing audibly. "No one is ever ready. You'll do the best you can — and it will be enough. Your mother was a strong woman, Luci. You are, as well."

Lucienne closes her eyes as well, an attempt to stave off her crying as much as it is comfort from Belle's embrace. Her lashes press tightly together, and her whisper in return is strained but insistent: "I don't feel strong."

"I think it might have been… four years. Maybe five. Before I was able to look back over all the — surviving I'd done, after losing my husband and our child," Belle says softly, fingers once more about the tender business of untangling Luci's hair. "I never felt strong while I was doing it. But one day I was able to look back over that desolate landscape — and I realized I was. I had to have been… because I was still alive." She kisses Lucienne's forehead. "It may be that long before you realize your own strength — though I suspect you'll figure it out sooner, you're far more clever than I — but trust me… I know what strength looks like, my lady. It's in you."

Her guard against tears is broken as Lucienne opens her eyes, and more flood silently down her cheeks as she looks up at Belle once more. Her smile is a twisted thing, more pain than anything, but it's all the show she can muster to express her gratitude. "I…" She falters, and swallows down a very large lump in her throat, her eyes lidding again - perhaps in shame. "Am I a bad person, for not wanting them to know?"

"No," Belle breathes, shaking her head and framing Lucienne's face in her hands, gently thumbing away her tears. "No. Not at all. You want to go on living the life you've always lived, pursuing the same dreams. It's what your mother and Hardwicke wanted for you, as well. Nothing has changed, in that respect, my lady. Nothing at all. You are Lucienne Terrick, and Lucienne Terrick you shall remain."

"I do," Lucienne admits selfishly, nodding her head in Belle's hands and searching her handmaid's eyes for truth. "I could do so much, as a Terrick. With Middlemarch. I know how - I do, I could run a castle, I could be Lady. Just like she was." There's quiet desperation in her voice, clinging to fragile hope that it might just be so.

"It's not selfish to want the life you've been raised and groomed for all these years, Luci," Belle assures her lady. "And nothing is going to take it from you. I promise. People may suspect — I did — but no one will ever be able to prove it. Everyone whose word matters in the slightest will swear in the heart of a Sept you are Lord Jerold's daughter. Please, my lady, in all this grief and loss, set at least that burden aside. You are safe."

Reassured at least a little, Lucienne moves to wrap her arms about Belle for tight hug. "Thankyou," she says, and for a long moment that's all… until she adds with grave sincerity, "I'm so glad Ser Hardwicke found you."

Belle returns the hug just as tight, laughing softly — an expression of warmth rather than mirth, wet with her own unshed tears. "You are welcome," she whispers. "He loves you more than anything in the world, Luci — it takes my breath away, how intensely and devotedly he is able to love. He will always love you, and always protect you." She kisses the top of Lucienne's head softly. "And so will I."

That all brings about another small smile from the grieving lady, a soft and tender little thing lost to Belle's shoulder. "He's…" There are words, Lucienne knows, though just what they are takes a moment of thought. Finally, she concludes in a fond, childish tone, "The nicest. And so are you, Belle. Maybe I could face some of that tea? It smells… lovely." Not quite enthusiastic, but it's a start.

It's a start, and one that brings with it an encouraging squeeze of Belle's arms. "Of course, my lady," she says, fond and approving. "Some tea might be just the thing." And she withdraws from the bed to make it so.