Status: Very Active [Camp Nanowrimo 2018]

La Douleur Exquise

Chapter Three

The girls had left Alice's room at the stroke of midnight, heading down the hall to occupy spare bed chambers for the night. Cassiobury house was irrationally large with more bedrooms than ever could be filled by even the largest of families. It seemed like a larger than life home, somewhere from a fairy tale. When they were younger it was a childish playroom with never ending corridors of tall walls and rich colours with splashes of gold, and throughout their lives the house seemed to grow with them. The corridors were as endless as they had been, but now instead of being a joyous daydream they now stretched out like a hollow nightmare. There was something so haunting about a hall of doors, each leading to a room that lay furnished but without life. A body dressed for an open casket.

Isabella took the bedroom opposite from Alice's whilst Susan and Henrietta occupied the two rooms slightly further down the hallway.

Alice rose at seven o’clock the next day, dressing herself in a tailored riding dress and jacket in shades of soft greens, before knocking on each of the rooms of her friends.

"We break fast at eight, then I thought we could spend the morn riding about the grounds?" Alice asked each girl, who nodded though still half-asleep and unsure of what they had just agreed too after being woken by the sharp knocks and calls of Alice outside their bedchamber doors.

Breakfast had been more talkative than the night before; the idea of a morning ride had kept them cheery and when conversation was struck they spoke eagerly. After eating, they headed to the stables; Susan and Henrietta dressed in Alice's spare riding gear.

"The joys of wealth." Susan whispered to Henrietta, earning a giggle in reply from Henrietta.

Isabella was dressed in her usual royal shades, her dark hair and eyes always complementary to the deep shades of blue, purple and red she so often sported. Though not nearly as wealthy as the Capell family, Isabella had certainly earned enough money to have designated riding outfits too.

"Would you be needing your horses today, my lady?" The small stable boy politely asked Alice as the four girls entered the stables.

Alice nodded, reaching out and gently stroking the nose of the closest horse; a dappled grey with dark eyes and nose that warmed to her touch. "I will take out Percival. Alert me when they are ready for riding."

"Certainly, my lady." The boy replied before quickly rushing to gather the tack needed for the four girls.

"Are all the horses named after mythical heroes?" Henrietta asked, eyeing Percival with a nervous eye. The horse was tall and almost foreboding in appearance, despite the calm in how Alice stroked him. Henrietta was a somewhat experienced rider; from a children they had ridden often with Alice, but as they aged and no longer had their childish freedom and had to become proper ladies so the time spent riding dramatically reduced. For Henrietta it had been many a year since she sat atop a horse and the sheer height of Percival made her question how she'd ever been able to ride in the first place.

"More so the Knights of the Round Table. And do not fret so, Safir is much smaller than Percival here and would be far more appropriate for you to ride." Alice smiled, calming down the nervousness that Henrietta had been feeling.

Whilst talking Isabella had been roaming the stables, drawn to a dark chestnut horse.

"And what is this beauties name?" Isabella asked, reaching out and running her fingers down the neck of the horse who appreciatively nuzzled towards Isabella's shoulder.

"Dinaden." Alice replied.

"The knight known for bravery and wit." Isabella stated. "He will do just fine."


The weather was darker than yesterday as they took to their ride, the wind sharper and the sky full with thick clouds on the edge of bursting. The red brick of Cassiobury House seemed to be a dark brown as the countryside darkened around them; almost gothic in the lack of light.

They set off with a slow pace, Alice allowing the other girls to reacquaint themselves with riding. They headed northwards, away from the backdrop of the town of Watford and towards the expansive fields of green. The soft misting of dew still sat on the grass, muffling the noise of the hooves on the ground. As they travelled the fields became more sloped and filled with trees. Still untouched by humans and free from the encroaching development and industry.

"I remember the days when these forests were forbidden to us." Susan pondered aloud as they rode together on the edge of the forest.

"They used to speak of highwaymen hiding away in here." Isabella joined in, remembering the stories with a nostalgic fondness. "Though now how foolish that seems."

"Though it still kept many a child from venturing this far." Susan continued.

The edge of the forest was dotted with shrubbery. Brambles and hawthorns with sharp spines seemed to act as a foreboding warning. The berries brightly gleamed in the lines of sunshine that briefly broke through the grey clouds. Enticing in appearance but surrounded by the sharp spines that easily made a snatching hand bleed.

"Would it not be fun to venture within?" Isabella had a wicked smile upon her face.

Susan glanced across to her, a matching smile pulling at her lips. "See if highwaymen truly lay hidden within the brush."

"Don't be silly." Alice was stern in her tone. "Though we still see ourselves as young, we cannot return home in torn gowns and leaves atop our head. We're ladies now. Eligible young ladies."

Susan and Isabella glanced towards each other once more.

"More so a reason to." Isabella giggled.

The two girls pulled at the reins and slowed their horses to a standstill. With a quickness they jumped from the saddles to the wet ground.

"Isabella! Susan!" Alice was sharper in her tone now.

"It is but fun!" Susan replied, her voice almost daring Alice to follow them.

"Don't be such children!" Alice turned her horse sharply and brought it to a stop by the two abandoned horses Isabella and Susan had climbed down from. The girls now stood at the hedgerow, looking for a gap in the bramble to ease their way through.

"Please, listen to Alice." Henrietta sighed. It had taken her a moment longer to slow her horse and she nervously wobbled in the saddle.

"Oh Alice." Isabella had found a large enough gap and had pulled her skirt tight so she could easily move through. "When did you become so haughty?"

Alice frowned, Isabella's words hitting sharp. "It is not haughtiness. I have learnt not to make a fool of myself for the expense of others. It is maturity."

Susan had followed Isabella through the brush now and both quickly became engulfed in the shadows cast by the overhanging of the trees. Autumn was still early and had yet to take the forest; the leaves remained in a thick canopy of green.

"Let us be children once more." Isabella contested, "Henrietta, join us."

"I will not have you pitching Henrietta against me!" Alice hissed, reaching out a hand towards the reins of Henrietta's horse.

"Henrietta, come!" Isabella face was still slightly visible in the overhead shadows but it made her eyes darker and her skin look hauntingly grey.

"I-" Henrietta drew off, looking nervously at where Alice's hand held tight to the reigns of her horse.

"Henrietta, please, do not go into the woodlands." Alice was not angry but Henrietta could sense that displeasure in her voice. That motherly worry when her child wandered too far from her grasp.

"Alice, she is her own woman, let her be. If she wishes to enjoy her time then she is free to do so. You cannot control us with your appearance and wiles like you do to others." Isabella called back. It was a playful voice that she spoke with but Alice felt the underlying sharpness to what she spoke.

Henrietta was quietly weighing the options of staying with Alice against exploring the forest, when Isabella had spoken and the jolt of Alice unintentionally tightening her hands on the reigns made her jump.

"What does that mean?" Alice said, her voice deep and the anger Henrietta had not seen suddenly pushing through her usual ladylike restrain.

"Alice, could you release the reins." Henrietta said nervously, trying to stabilise herself.

Alice was ignorant to Henrietta's request though, her hands firmly held on the reigns with her eyes shooting daggers towards the trees. Henrietta knew there was no persuading her in this mindset and in a motion she felt she would regret, she nervously stumbled down from her horse.

"Henrietta!" Alice called, eyes snapping back towards Henrietta

Henrietta could not think of an explanation to give her that Alice would find reasonable. Years of seeing Alice and Isabella's rivalries had taught her the best way to get them to to recover from arguments. Alice needed the silence of her mind to argue amongst herself, Isabella needed the surroundings of people to bounce her complaints off. They always reached the same conclusions, and would quickly rekindle, but until then, Henrietta would do best to run to the forest.

As Henrietta disappeared through the brambles and into the dark, Alice's voice shouted out to them. "Why do you play pied piper?"

Isabella's giggle rang brightly out as her silhouette began to slink into the forest with Henrietta in tow; her reply ringing out through the trees, "Should you not ask why they choose to listen?"


Within the shadows of the forest, Isabella, Susan and Henrietta quickly rushed to each other's side. Susan was laughing as the shouts of Alice quietened down in an admittance of defeat, as if a childish game of war had been won.

“That was cruel.” Henrietta spoke softly, nervously dragging her feet as she walked with Isabella and Alice.

Isabella shrugged, unconcerned. "She brought this upon herself."

Susan nodded in agreement to Isabella's words.

"You did not have to taunt her in that way. She is most upset." Henrietta continued. She felt guilty for leaving Alice, but it was the right thing to do. Alice was smarter than her appearance would lead you to believe, her wide eyes and youthful face making her seem innocent and childlike, but her mind was unbelievable in its brilliance.

"I did not speak any lies." Isabella replied, fast becoming annoyed with Henrietta's complaints. "Why did you choose to come with us if you are so unhappy with how I behaved?"

Henrietta sighed, "Because I know Alice. She is best left alone when displeased."

"But you do not protest my truths."

Henrietta looked towards Isabella as they walked. Her face was sternly, looking forward as they trudged through the undergrowth of leaves and intertwining roots. "You fail to understand."

Isabella's eyes shot to Henrietta for a second, but quickly darted back to face the expansive woodland in front of them, feigning innocence.

"You spoke to hurt her personally. It does not matter what truths you spoke, you said it to hurt her." Henrietta carried on. "She was worried about us."

"Did you simply come to lecture me, Henrietta?" Isabella tried to sound strong, but Henrietta could feel the acceptance seep underneath. Henrietta did not need to answer, Isabella had realised she had done wrong.

They carried on in silence. The space between the trunks becoming thinner and the roots reaching higher as they became cramped for space in the soil beneath, forced above ground.

"It is darker than I thought." Susan softly spoke, her words quickly absorbed. "One could easily lurk silently here."

Suddenly the tales from childhood felt more truthful.

They walked in silence, the only sound being the snap of fallen twigs under boots. The canopy was much to thick for any ground cover. Exposed dirt was only broken by the light shades of sticks and thick roots that raised from the ground. In front of them the trees stretched out in an indistinguishable mass of vertical bark.

"We should head back." Susan suddenly felt guilt for abandoning Alice.

Isabella sighed, she knew that Susan was right but she did not wish to so easily admit her defeat.

Susan had drawn to a stop and turned to face the path they had trekked. Henrietta reached out and tugged at Isabella's sleeve, urging her to stop. Isabella paused and grudgingly glanced up at Henrietta's face. Henrietta looked suddenly so motherly with her arm on Isabella's. Her cheeks were still dotted in the remnants of freckles from the time spent wandering in the sun and even in the dark her near ghostly pale blue eyes shone with an intent that Isabella understood. It was not the time for stubbornness. With another sigh Isabella accepted Henrietta's lead and they walked towards the trees from where they came.

Silence arose again though this time the tensions that gripped tight had loosened and Isabella felt herself breathe easy again. She was wrong to say such things of Alice, to call her haughty and controlling was unneeded and mean without purpose. She knew she could blame it on her profession. There was a need to be domineering and overly stern because it bought protection and kept distance between her home life and the bed sheets she lay between. It was a different types of men and women that Isabella communicated with on a daily. They were suspicious types and looked for something to gain from Isabella as most people who chose to work or seek services at brothels did, but Alice was not one of them. Alice had moments of confrontation when she was trying to the best for them. She was about maturity and painting an image of a suitable woman so when she spoke out against Isabella it was not to be controlling, but to be protective. In the heat of the moment Isabella had forgotten that, instead trying to overpower Alice's with harsh words.

Alice had been right, she had played Pied Piper and pulled Susan and Henrietta like rats towards the river.


Alice realised soon after her friends departure that no matter of shouting could make them turn back. The horses were slightly restless, pacing back and forth without someone atop their back to guide their movements. Annoyance ran through Alice's blood and her fingers felt hot with anger, but she knew better than to let it inhibit her behaviour. With a pat to the back of Percival's neck, Alice climbed down from his back and quickly gathered the abandoned reigns of the other horses. They calmed in her presence, glad for direction, and followed her towards the woodland where she tied their reigns to the branch of a tree so she would not be overwhelmed by them, and could quietly wait for her friends to return.

She felt rude for snapping so. Like an angry parent quick to judge the good intentions of a child which had been wrongfully misplaced. They had been insolent though, acting without inhibition under Isabella's guide to tease Alice. Though Alice knew it was but a show to make Alice less controlling and to get her to embrace her inner child, she could not help but anger. It was unladylike. It was immature; in ways that would just cause embarrassment and shame. Isabella was used to this way of life. She lived dangerously and did not have to worry about the ramifications of her behaviour on a social setting. She was surrounded by the safety of her sexual acquaintances which protected her from any harm, but the same could not be same for Susan and Henrietta. Though their behaviour was not highly damning it could have ramifications that made their lives miserable. With a shake of her head, Alice pushed the thoughts from her head. She had just wanted to do right for her friends and keep them safe.

To stop her mind from wandering into a wealth of worry, Alice began pacing along the edges of the brambles, occasionally picking off blackberries to nibble at. If she stood and waited then her mind would only crowd with worry and make forgiving the girls harder. In the distance, the soft rumble of approaching thunder echoed. Nervousness welled in her stomach. If her friends did not return soon then the storm would arrive and likely scare the horses into shock. Though a more than proficient rider, she could not control four horses when scared and would not be able to ride them all back to the stables. Even if she was capable of doing so, she could not abandon her friends to the stormy weather. Her pacing quickened and she silently prayed they would come back soon.

She heard their footsteps crack over the branches before she saw them through the brambles. They were walking in silence, and that alone was enough to make Alice reason that a discussion about her had likely occurred.

Henrietta was the first to climb through the forest and with an eagerness she wrapped her arms around Alice's neck.

"I am dreadfully sorry." She whispered into Alice's ear. "Though if I had not left your side they would still be within those woods."

Alice nodded, silently acknowledging her words and accepting Henrietta's apology. Although Alice had felt betrayed by the abandonment, Henrietta's words made her understand the reason for why she had followed Isabella and Susan in the forest. Alice was stubborn, she understood that, but Isabella was often more so and Henrietta knew how to work with that.

Susan and Isabella were quiet when they left the forest; as if ignoring the awkwardness of the situation rather than addressing it.

Alice tried to think of a word to say; something to initiate an apology and start the conversation but she found her thoughts evaporating faster than she could snatch at them.

Instead she quietly unfastened the reigns and let the girls climb back onto their horses to return home. The clouds overhead were threatening to break, bursting to the edge with rain.
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I didn't realise how much conversation was in this chapter until now. Ah well, I hope you all enjoy this!