Lucille had slept badly the night they arrived back in Lareaux, even with the reassuring weight and warmth of her husband. Benoît had always seemed huge beside her. Huge and solid. She rose early, slipping silently out of the bed and smiling fondly as he shifted and grumbled sleepily at her absence.
Lucille resisted the temptation to go and watch her daughter sleep; she'd not yet seen Aurélie, her daughter having already been persuaded to bed before her mother arrived home. Instead she dressed in a soft plain tunic and wool leggings and left her husband with a kiss to the forehead.
She padded down the hallway in the gloom, not needing to see to feel sure of where she put her feet, silent as a cat. A modest L-shaped one storey wooden building, it was hers only in name. Benoît was the yeoman who worked the fields along with his tenant farmers. She was too often and for too long away to look after the household, and she had neither the skill nor the interest to do so.
She had missed it so. The rushes that carpeted the hard stone floors rustled slightly as she entered the ironically titled Great Hall. The dying embers of last-night's hearth fire bathed the hall in a soft orange glow, making the small room seem even more cramped. She moved past the dining table and ran her fingers lightly over the wood that had been smoothed and polished by countless meals. Comfortably at most it seated ten, uncomfortably you could just about squeeze another two people on the ends. They'd often supped with their entire estate; Jaquan and his two sons, Esmé and Robert, the de Navarre's, Father Jean-Claude Barre...
Not for a long time, though.
Lucille continued on, past the Great Hall into the kitchens and out into the balmy early morning air.
She hesitated outside the small chapel that stood against the woods that ran across their land, but shook herself and went in. Inside it was cool and dark, the stone underfoot radiating cold up through the soles of her shoes. She walked past the pews, each one carved with careful and exquisite depictions of celestials and saints, though they had clearly been worn down by the years. Each one was older than she was, and would remain long after she had gone.
She stood in front of the lectern, staring past it at the stained-glass window that dominated the far wall. It depicted The Saint in all His Holy glory. He looked at peace.
She dropped her eyes, collected one of the kneeling cushions that hung under the pews, and knelt before the image of her Saint. She clenched her fists, her knuckles digging into her thighs, and cleared her mind to pray.
It would be hours before Father Barre came to set up for the day. That was alright. She could wait.
Behind her, the sun had crested the horizon and spread tentative fingers of light over the lush greenery of her home. The servants had awakened and smoke was rising from the chimney in the kitchens. Farmers who had already been working hard for hours prepared for the new day, and a young girl named Aurélie crawled into bed next to her father and sleepily asked for her mother.