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   Chapter 13 A pleasant outing

The Curse of Kalaan By Linda Saint Jalmes Characters: 23111

Updated: 2018-05-18 10:20


How can you possibly feel alone in a castle with the hustle and bustle of the personnel moving back into their quarters? Well, one way would be to have a late breakfast after a restless night.

This is what happened with Virginie by her own fault, she had to admit. She didn't think she would be able to get to sleep after seeing Catherine climb back into her room; but she did, and it was a very deep sleep.

Just as she was getting ready to leave the table, Clovis, the ever-devoted butler, pulled out her chair for her.

"Thank you, Clovis."

"At your service, Mademoiselle, " he replied, bowing his head respectfully. Virginie smiled at him.

Before leaving the dining room she went over to the tall windows and gazed out at the clear blue sky above the beautiful countryside. It was a perfect day for an invigorating winter walk.

Holding her breath, she asked, as she did every morning, if there were any letters for her; Clovis replied, as he had every morning for the past few weeks, if not since Virginie's arrival on the isle, that no, there was nothing for her in the post. His reply left her quite distraught and she felt she really had to get some fresh air. On her way out a footman helped her with her coat and gloves, but kept her beribboned bonnet, which she decided not to wear. Once outside, she briskly walked towards the park.

When Virginie reached the edge of the park, where the walled paths began, she heard the pounding of hooves and the crunch of gravel behind her. Turning around, what she saw gave her a fright. She was standing face to face with a... monster and a dashing high-spirited Catherine, on its back.

Virginie's first thought was that Catherine was laughing at her fear, an attitude to be expected of a lawless wildcat. And what in heaven's name was she riding? The young woman had seen horses before, but this thing with flaring nostrils snorting and blowing hot air into her face, was nothing like them. This beast was positively deviant!

"What… is that thing you are riding?" she asked, taking out a handkerchief to wipe her cheeks.

"A Breton horse and his name is Tulip!" Catherine exclaimed, sitting proudly on the beast's broad back.

"I know it's a horse, and I know it's Breton, because we're in Brittany. What I meant to ask was how did he come to be so… so… deformed, the poor creature?"

"'Tis the breed — Breton horse!" Catherine said laughing. She gave Tulip a little nudge with her heels so he would turn his flanks to be side by side with Virginie. "He's not a mutant, nor ill. He's just young and loves to gallop, although most of his breed is used for working the fields."

Virginie's eyes widened when she saw the size of the animal's rump, which was just as big as his chest and… the rest of him. Her astonishment grew when she realized that Catherine was bareback and that her thighs were spread wide on each side of the horse's back. Despite her unusual position, Kalaan's cousin remained as charismatic as ever.

"Are you coming?" she asked, leaning down holding out her left hand to Virginie, who gasped and took a step back. Her? Virginie? Riding that beast? Just the type of hair brained idea Catherine would have!

"Oh… no, thank you! That is…um... I'm not wearing my riding clothes, " Virginie stammered, trying to hide her fear from Catherine who was watching her with amusement.

She couldn't admit it to the proud lady buccaneer, but she was terrified of horses and always had been. If normal horses frightened her, then imagine the effect Tulip had on her, Tulip was anything but a normal horse!

With a little legwork from his rider, Tulip moved closer to Virginie, who, a second later found herself lifted into the air. Catherine had leaned over and grabbed her by the waist, placing the young woman, with surprising ease, in front of her on Tulip's back.

The young marchioness let out a cry of fear and surprise at finding herself so suddenly on the horse's back. But she soon forgot her fear as she wondered where Catherine's strength came from. She was as strong as a man, with solid muscles, as Virginie soon discovered gripping her arms as Tulip galloped happily along the paths, his heavy caramel colored mane flying in the wind.

Much to Virginie's surprise, despite Tulip's size, he was as graceful and light in his movements as an Arabian and soon, her fear completely evaporated, leaving a sweet feeling of euphoria in its place.

She felt freer than she ever had before. Her hair, now undone and flowing freely down her shoulders, danced in rhythm to the horse's gallop. Her velvet skirt, lifted by the wind, revealed her boots and white petticoats and sometimes even her legs in their silk stockings, but Virginie did not care in the least. She laughed with Catherine who had a protective arm wrapped around her waist while holding the reins in the other hand. As they rode towards the forest, the two women were one with the elements, entranced by the magnificent green landscape, untouched by the winter.

Catherine soon slowed the horse down, bringing him to a walk and he whinnied in protest.

"This is the first time I've been in this part of the isle!" Virginie exclaimed.

Catherine could hear the joy in her voice. They left the walled path and took a track rarely taken if they judged by all the bracken that clung to their legs.

"So, you see? It's good that you came with me, " Catherine's silvery voice murmured in her ear.

A shiver ran through Virginie's body taking her breath away, and she stiffened. The bliss of the moment faded when she began fighting the emotions and contradicting feelings that were resurfacing. What she was feeling was wrong. It felt like she had a physical attraction for… Catherine.

A woman cannot love another in that way! Virginie repeated to herself. Her back stiffened and she sat up straight so as to not touch her friend anymore.

"Is something wrong?" Catherine, noticing Virginie's change in attitude was worried.

"No, nothing!" Virginie replied, a little too quickly. "Where are we? Where are we going?"

Catherine sighed heavily, but the young marchioness made a point of not turning to look at her. She didn't want Catherine to see her distress.

"We've just left the farm land, and now, at my cousin Kalaan's request, we are going to inspect the forest. He would like to know if the woods were damaged by the storm."

"And he sent you?" Virginie was so surprised that she turned her head and looked Catherine in the eyes.

She is so beautiful! Virginie quickly turned back, embarrassed by her inappropriate and unwholesome observation.

"Of course! He knows he can count on me, just as well as with a man." Catherine laughed out loud.

If only that were the case. If only you were a man, Virginie thought with a sigh. For then at least, she would understand her attraction.

As they neared the edge of the forest, some

ing to have a heated discussion with her this evening! But right now he had to get Virginie back to the castle as soon as possible. The poor creature, despite being nestled against him, was shivering from the cold and he didn't want her to catch a fever.

The minute they arrived at the stables a groom rushed out to help them and take care of the horse. Kalaan immediately shrugged off his three-quarter jacket and placed it around Virginie's shoulders.

"Your lips are blue, " he growled, pushing her towards the fortress' entrance.

"Oh! Not again! We are not going to take leave of each other in this way!"

"I beg your pardon?" Kalaan was puzzled and had no idea what she was talking about.

"Yesterday you abandoned me here and strode off pouting. I cannot allow you to do that again! Not after the wonderful time we've just had. We are friends now, aren't we?"

Kalaan smiled at the little fury and ruffled her hair. It was the only way he could touch her, as Catherine that is. If he were himself, he would pick her up in his arms, warming her with his body heat and remove all traces of her irritation with a long languid kiss.

"Virginie, I am only worried for you. You are frozen to the bone and must take a hot bath, immediately!"

"Oh… yes, well... in that case."

"Off with you now! Unless you would like me to give you your bath?"

Virginie let out little squeak and blushed bright red. Then turning away from Catherine she ran inside and disappeared from sight.

Kalaan began to laugh, but in an instant became serious. At that moment he was Catherine, but on hearing his words Virginie reacted as if he were a man who made an indecent proposition. Why? After all, was it not customary for women to help each other when they bathed? Perhaps not so much in our day, but in the past, he was sure.

The bells of the village church began to toll and the lighthouse horn began to sound the alert too. Kalaan rushed back to his longhouse from where he had a view of the port below. All the racket announced the arrival of an unknown ship.

There was indeed a ship sailing into the cove after passing the ramparts. It was a small transport ship, the kind more often used to operate between the mainland and the other islands of the Pink Granite Coast, but they never came to Croz. What could they possibly be doing there?

By the time Kalaan reached home, got out his spyglass and took his position on the plateau, passengers had already boarded a dinghy headed, towards the embankment.

"Lad! Yer here!" Lil' Louis shouted, out of breath. He'd just climbed up the path from the village and was lumbering towards Kalaan.

"Where else would I be?"

"Oy dunno, at ole Jaouen's cottage with Salam?"

"What? You're not calling him crazy anymore?"

Lil' Louis started muttering in his beard, but decided not to respond. Kalaan brought the spyglass back up to his eye.

"So? What is all this din about?" his chief mate asked.

"Ye d'know yer filthy dirty, don't ye? Ye look like ye've bin playin' with da pigs and rolled in da muck…though ye don't smell as bad…"

"Blast it all, we've got a problem!" Kalaan spit out, cutting off his friend.

Seeing Lil' Louis' surprise, he continued, his voice harsh with anger, "'Tis the Duchess Delatour who's arrived. She's the biggest gossip in the kingdom! What's more, she is accompanied by two men. The one in the cassock is her grandson, I presume. He's in seminary school, studying to become a priest. As for the other, the one with the white hair, that's Darius Borgas!"

"That 'orrible devil?" Lil' Louis gasped, narrowing his eyes, his face set in a bitter expression.

"Yes."

"Wot's he doing here?"

"I doubt my mother invited him. As for Her Grace, I have no idea…Blazes!"

Kalaan swore again, and after a quick glance at Lil' Louis added, "I must go change, put on a dress and all the paraphernalia. If the duchess ever sees a woman dressed in men's clothing, the Croz reputation is ruined!"

Kalaan threw the spyglass to Lil' Louis who caught it in midair. The next minute the young count was striding up to the castle, leaving his poor chief mate alone with his thoughts. The lad clearly was not having much luck. He came home to the isle to find refuge and in fact what he found was the complete opposite.

"Oy'll go say a prayer at da church, Oy will, " Lil' Louis thought as he went back down to the village.

But, rather than going to the house of God, he took another path and went in the direction of Rachel's Inn. A good invigorating drink would do more good than all the prayers in the world.

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