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May 28, 2002

Point Of View Exercise

Okay, as promised long ago, here is the bit I submitted as an assignment for my Writing the Romance course. It's a bit long, so I have put it into the extended entry.

Commentary would be appreciated. Also, it has been so long since I worked on this that I've forgotten some of the details of my plot (sigh). Of course, it doesn't help that this was based on a scene from an RPG, so the plot wasn't all mine to begin with. So I have little idea where to go next with this story. I suppose I should go back and start at the beginning.

* * *

Eponine closed the door behind her and leaned heavily on it. This night had been long, and it was not over yet. But she needed to change her clothes and put a dressing on her wounded hand before going to see Marta. She should be back from the Ball by now.

She stripped hastily and tossed her dress in the same corner where her bloody one from the previous night had been tossed. Eponine wasn't sure if either could be saved, but when she had a moment, she would certainly try.

Her hand cleaned and bound, her nightrail and dressing gown on, she headed toward Marta's rooms.

"She's not back yet," a soft voice drawled from the end of the hallway, causing her to jump into the air and spin toward the sound.

Lord Bryce stood in his doorway, studying Eponine carefully. He had changed from his evening finery into nightclothes and a robe, his hair unqueued and just brushing against the top of his shoulders. He looked very different, relaxed. The sound of his voice and the change in his appearance triggered sense of dČj‡ vu, but she stopped that line of thought before it distracted her from the task at hand. And he was still speaking to her.

"Fear not, I left her in the care of Treville, and the Vicomte looked entirely too caught up in the pretty little Elizabeth to pay any attention to Madame."

He walked down the hallway toward her, hazel eyes observing her shrewdly, pausing on her bandaged hand before continuing his sweep. "But until she returns, why don't you tell me what happened this evening after we parted company?" His tone was light and somewhat amused, for all that his gaze showed signs of concern and worry over her condition. "Shall we repair to one of the sitting rooms downstairs, or the library perhaps?"

"I think the library would be more comfortable," she began, and warily took the arm he offered. Being this close to him made her nervous, but she bid the feeling to go away, and much to her surprise, it did.

He paused in the hallway, pensive. "No, that just will not do. I am in the mood for a cup of tea. Why don't we head to the kitchen?"

Bemused, she allowed him to steer her toward the abandoned room, for no servants were allowed to sleep there, Monsieur Menville's orders. The fire had been banked well; the light from the candle Bryce carried the only illumination in the large kitchen.

"Sit down at the table and let me take care of things," he intoned, and began to open cabinets and doors and peering into the dark cupboards in an attempt to find the tea. Eponine's bemusement had faded into exasperation as she got up and began to follow him around from one cabinet to the next.

"Don't be ridiculous, Monsieur, I will make the -- non, that's not -- M'sieur, please, they're over here..." She took the tea out of his hands after he had finally uncovered the tin and ordered him to sit at the table. "There, Monsieur," she pointed at a chair near the hearth, belatedly realizing that the extended hand was the one she had bandaged.

Bryce raised an eyebrow at her hand, but obediently sat and let her put the kettle on to boil. She stayed away from him while she uncovered the coals and began to get the fire burning again, the only sign of her nervousness a slight shaking of her hands while she measured the tea. She brought the cups over and set them on the table, the pot following. She tried to turn away again, but Bryce caught her hands and forced her to stay near him. Eponine kept her gaze upon his hands, and saw that his own were slightly raw and scraped, one knuckle the slightest bit bloody. He brought them up closer to his eyes.

To his lips.

"Eponine," he murmured quietly, examining her hands closely, turning them to see the damage on all sides, "what was done to you this eve?" One brow rose sardonically, mostly ruining the expression. He pushed her hands down, away from his face, but did not release her. "Or perhaps I should ask, what have you done to them?" His thumbs began a rhythmic stroking along the backs of her hands, carefully cradling the palms, where the damage was worse, taking care not to squeeze them or touch the cuts.

The moment Lord Bryce reached for her hands, Eponine knew she was lost. A dozen men had been so bold before, probably half of them nobles wishing to dally with a servant girl, but none of them before now had made her breath catch when their lips had touched her skin. His hands folded around hers with so much gentleness, and yet with sure strength...this was all wrong, she reminded herself quickly. They were half-dressed and alone in a shadowed room where they had no business being. He was a nobleman, and worse yet, Marta's brother, and also...

"Enough," she said with quiet sharpness. She leaned away from him, although not with enough force to take her hands away. "I'll tell you what you ask, you don't need to do that. I was too late. I should have known that from the start. The cardinal's men were already at the inn, had already taken whoever had come there. I barely made it out myself, but I did not lead them here. They won't know this house was involved," she hoped.

"Ah," Bryce nodded, still holding her hands, "so that was you they were after, then, mam'selle." He smiled at her, chagrined, and then released her hands to turn to the cooling tea. "Yes, I was there as well, and caught quite nicely. No doubt they did follow me back home, for I played the innocent. If I had tried to lose them, it would have only looked as if I had something to hide, non?" He sighed, spooning sugar into both of their cups. "I, of course, learned nothing. Or rather, nothing that would be of any use, other than methods. Did you perchance learn anything?"

Caught? "You're not serious, M'sieur?" she asked incredulously. Eponine looked over at his scraped knuckles and choked on a laugh. "Although if you are, I hope your fist was spent on that sunken-cheeked fellow." Her laughter died as she recalled the scene at the tavern in this new light.

"Mon Dieu, it was you they shot at," she whispered, and studied him intently, though only looking for injuries, she sternly reminded that part of her mind. He certainly hadn't been acting like a man with a bullet through his skin, but...no, if he had been shot, he would not be this spry. At least, so she hoped.

"They followed you?" she echoed hoarsely. Her tentative grip on the situation was slipping fast. "If they followed you here, they might have found me, and if so..." Eponine dropped her face into her hands. "Zut alors, all of it for nothing. Everything I've done has been for nothing," she muttered.

"They're all gone," she lamented, finally answering his question. "I saw them drag out Michele, who knows how many others were taken, too? They're surely in the prisons now, and Georges... he will probably be taken if he manages to live through the night." She sunk down into the chair, her hands remaining over her face, as depression started to sink its teeth into her. "Jean had already told them all. The sunken-cheeked man, Basile, he seemed the leader. At least he was the one to ask the questions. He only had one hand." Eponine began spilling out everything she could remember in a torrent, almost as if Lord Bryce wasn't there, but she needed to talk. Had to tell someone the whole story, and he, of all people, was suddenly the only person she could safely tell it to.

"He didn't seem to know who I was, but he was very interested in figuring out what I knew and how. There were probably around ten men in all there, wearing the cardinal's livery. Basile tried to call," her throat tightened angrily at the memory, "tried to call Georges and his men the traitors to the throne. He must have thought I was a fool."

The anger helped. Then Bryce murmured something she supposed was to be comforting, and the sense of dČj‡ vu was strong enough to nearly blind her with memory. The dark alley. The cloaked figure. The soft murmurs of comfort. She raised her head to look up at the Englishman, eyes flashing. "And while we are discussing people who must think I'm a fool, Lord Bryce, did you appear at the tavern as yourself, or as Le Renard Noir?"

"You forget, Eponine ... you said it yourself." Bryce ignored her anger, and the urge to throttle him rose once more, but this time for different reasons. "Jean saw you this evening, at the Duc's, while in the gardens with myself and Delatois. If he had told Basile, who must be my Monsieur Fouquet, where he had seen you earlier in the evening, the connection would already be made, non?" He blew on his tea loudly before sipping, the attempt recalling the inept, bumbling man of earlier today. His logic made sense, though, damn him! Jean did know all about her. She was already undone.

"And I am in perfect health, except for a few bruises. Alas, I did not get to spend my 'beserker lover's rage' upon Monsieur Basile Fouquet, though now I sincerely wish I had, the Bastille be damned!"

Bryce took her cup of tea and placed it in front of her, drawing her hands around it and holding them there.

"Now, what is this about someone named 'Le Renard Noir'? Your mention was not the first time I have heard that name today." He attempted innocence and curiosity, and to Eponine, failed miserably. Others might be convinced by his foppishness and foolery, but she was no longer.

"You do think I'm a fool," she growled angrily, her eyes challenging, forgetting that he was a nobleman, and Marta's brother. "You thought I'd not notice, with the way you act and the things you say around others, but I have seen you in your true light, Monsieur. I have heard the whispers of concern, of comfort. I recall the way you move when no one is watching, the way you smell, touched my arms, you..." She stopped in mid-sentence, her anger carrying her far enough, but not that far.

Eponine leaned over the table in her anger, everything else but the man before her forgotten. "Have you enjoyed laughing at me, this past day? While I wandered across half the city trying to find out who you were? You wouldn't believe some of the stories I picked up about you, and I was prepared to believe half of them. All so you could make me look the idiot, you rogue! Why? Were you really that bored?"

""Bored? Hardly, mademoiselle," he leaned back in the chair, away from her and her anger. "Actually, it was originally done as a favor. Marta asked that I look after you, as it seemed she was aware that you were up to something, something dangerous, but did not know what." He yawned, as if truly bored, but Eponine could see the calculation behind his hazel eyes.

"I did not wish to know you were being followed, nor who was seeking to protect you. Honestly, I thought it all a game at first, I will tell you this truly, for I thought my sister a bit daft, worrying for you and all." His eyes rolled in the direction of the ceiling. "Then you were attacked, and I had to step in. Just where would you have been if I hadn't, hmm, mademoiselle? I care not to think about that, frankly, nor do you, I suspect. Then, well, then it became a matter of self-preservation. Marta wished you protected, but she did not wish this to be revealed. If I had told you who I was then, you would not have completed your task, non? And while we were too late to save the men, we did find out some information. Tell me truly, Eponine, would you have continued on if you had known that I was Bryce?" He held up a hand to forestall any comment or reply and continued speaking.

"No, do not answer ... I thought I knew the answer, and I acted as I saw fit. No further harm came to you, and that was my task for last evening."

Leaning in close again, Eponine saw that the traces of boredom gone, the blasČ attitude replaced with a combination of heat, of anger and passion that shocked her to the core.

"I did not seek to make you look the idiot, Eponine. I sought to protect someone that my sister cared for, someone that I have come to care for, a great deal more than I should, in fact. Someone who..."

He halted, turning his face away, breaking the tension, allowing Eponine a chance to breathe, to collect herself. And he was doing the same, no doubt.

"Bagh!" Bryce spoke, still turned away into the darkness of the kitchen, his voice rough. "You will believe as you will, and no words I can say will make it better, will they, Eponine? But no, I do not think you a fool, not at all, never a fool. I am the fool ... for seeking to deceive you, for playing upon your emotions, and not counting on your perceptiveness or your curiosity. Or your damned stubbornness."

He finally turned back to her, the roguish grin of Le Renard Noir upon his face, but looking up into his eyes, she thought something was missing. The humor did not quite touch them as it had in that dark alley, and again at the docks.

"Forgive me, mademoiselle. I sought only to protect you. If you cannot do so now, I will understand."

* * *

The brief spurt of triumph, of satisfaction, on Eponine's face was enough to make Bryce smile, though it was inward, where she could not see. She was a bright one, very clever, to see through all his ruses. The others at home had never made the connection, but perhaps it was because they all had known Lord Bryce for years as the fop he pretended to be. She had not had that long to get used to the act, and he was willing to admit that he had not been as careful in Paris as he was at home. Yes, that must be it.

No. There was something else about Marta's friend and confidante that made him willing to invest her with his secret, servant or not. And it had nothing to do with Marta's faith in her ability to keep a confidence. He wasn't precisely certain of what that "something else" was, and that, in itself, was a puzzle enough to intrigue "Le Renard Noir" to no end.

"Lord," she finally spoke, a bit formally, "you're right, of course. I owe you my life, at the least, and I'm very glad to have the chance to thank you instead of your cloak." She smiled weakly. "And I'm sorry - I'm to blame for this mess. If it weren't for me, you and Marta might only have the disappearance of Monsieur to worry about. Instead, you have this enemy to battle, and the Cardinal's men glaring down on the house."

She leaned closer, causing Bryce's heart to skip a beat as her blue eyes glowed warmly in the candlelight. "I'm afraid I didn't give enough credit to Marta. But Lord, let's be quit of the games. I will do whatever needs be done to find Monsieur de Menville and return him to Mar..." She halted, then continued with the formal name of her friend, the one she used when others were around." ...Madame. If that is her wish, I want to see it completed. Please, understand that in spite of all this, my first intention is to serve Madame de Menville."

That took Bryce by surprise. After all that had happened to her, all she had been through these past few days, he was certain that Eponine's first loyalties were to her cause, not to his sister. Either this was a lie and, she was trying to gain his confidence, or events had spun so far out of her control that she was trying to cover all angles and come out on top no matter what happened. A third possibility reared its head -- perhaps this was the truth after all. He stamped down on that notion, preferring to believe that she was trying to cover herself. It was safer for all concerned. But that third option just wouldn't go away.

"We shall have to see what her wishes are in this matter, won't we?" Bryce leaned back away from Eponine, edgy once more. "And we all seem to be falling into that trap. I admit that I do not know Marta as well as I used to. She is a very different person than before she was wed, though somehow still the same. Stronger, yet weaker."

He took the chance and looked into Eponine's eyes, knowing the depth of caring for his sister would be shown there, and trusting her again with the knowledge. "We both need to be here for her. I have a feeling, with what we are up against, we shall need it."

Posted by Julia at May 28, 2002 10:32 PM