When Women Understand

When Women Understand Each Other
Written by Trish

Disclaimer: The following is a work of fanfiction based on the characters and
places from the 1992 television series Covington Cross. No copyright
infringement is intended. No profit has been made.

The afternoon was proving to be hotter and more humid than Eleanor had
expected, or possibly it only felt that way through the cumbersome, extremely feminine, riding habit her father had forced her to wear. The long silk skirt clung to her legs, and the high neck bodice made it difficult for her
to breathe. She could feel beads of swear rolling down her back. How could
anyone stand to wear so much clothing on such a warm day? She was thinking of the humiliation she had suffered when her father had demanded that she ride today in the lady-like posture, side saddle. She comforted herself imagining all sorts of tortures that she would inflict upon her brothers for the way they laughed at her sitting there with her legs dangling awkwardly over the horse's side. Once she nearly fell off, her the best horsewoman in the shire. Even Damascus, her ebony stead, was sensing her uncertainty, and snorted his disapproval. For all of that, excurtiating as it was, there was one thing about this afternoon from which she was sure she would never recover...her father's choice of a riding partner for her today...Lady Elizabeth.

Eleanor barely made eye contact with her father's...lover. The word stuck
in her brain like a stubborn splinter. She did not dislike Lady Elizabeth as
a person, in fact there were times that the older woman's kindness and
intuition amazed her. There was even once when she wished to be like her, but
that had not lasted long. It was Lady Elizabeth's place in her father's life
Eleanor could not abide. She knew her father loved this woman very deeply,
like he had once loved her mother. That was the point to which Eleanor's
thoughts stuck like glue. It seemed that her father had nearly forgotten all
about his late wife. There were still times Eleanor cried herself to sleep
longing for her mother's embrace. She spent long rainy afternoons staring
down at her grave from the castle. Sometimes she even caught herself talking
to her in her mind. She would not allow Lady Elizabeth to take her place. Now
she was forced to ride beside the woman as she prattled on incessantly.

Elizabeth rode beside Eleanor in the heat of the afternoon. 'Really
Thomas should not have forced her to ride with me. She hates me.' Elizabeth
thought to herself as she searched desperately for a topic that would spark
Eleanor into conversation. The silence was actually frightening her a bit.
She was certain she was droaning on like an idiot, but she just did not know
what to say to the young girl. Eleanor was one person Elizabeth could not
read, and she was an expert at sizing people up. Three bad marriages, and
fighting to keep herself financially solvent had forced her to become so.
The truth was there were times when she felt uncomfortable around all of
Thomas's children. She tried her best to ignore the veiled looks that
sometimes found her direction. She knew they were not trying to hurt her
feelings, they just missed their mother, and they saw her as competition for
the dead woman in the heart of their father. Armus, and Cedric were usually
the kindest to her. Cedric had not really the chance to know his mother and
had very little memory of her, and Armus had such a pragmatic and sympathetic
way of dealing with people that she marveled at his insightfulness for such a
young man. It was with Eleanor and Richard that she never quite knew where
she stood.

"Don't you agree, Eleanor?" Elizabeth asked nervously.

The mention of her name brought Eleanor back to reality. 'Oh no what did
she ask me?' Eleanor thought to herself. 'I have to say something.' She
chose the time tested method for dealing with such a situation. She smiled
feebily, nodded a little, and muttered "Hmmm," feeling it was probably best
to agree with anything Lady Elizabeth said at this point.

"Oh, then you agree with me, Cedric should shave his head." Elizabeth smiled
understandingly at the girl.

"What?" Eleanor looked at her wide-eyed. She knew she had been tricked. She
could feel the embarrassing rage begin to boil up in her.

"It's alright, dear." Elizabeth said, realizing her little joke had not gone
over well. "I know you did not want to come along today. Truly, your father
should never have forced you to come." She eyed the girl sympathetically
seeing her discomfort, "or to wear that riding outfit. I know your not
enjoying this, and that I would be your last choice for a riding partner."

"Oh, no it isn't that." Eleanor said taken completely aback. She was
surprised that Lady Elizabeth had realized how she was feeling. "It's just, I
had things to do."

Eleanor looked over at Elizabeth sitting so poised astride her smaller white
horse. There was not one hair out of place, and not a single drop of sweat
rolled down her neck. Eleanor quickly wiped away the hot moisture forming at
her hairline. This woman was truly a lady, the kind she knew she could never
be. The truth was, she knew she could learn form Lady Elizabeth, but she
would never admit that to her.

The two ladies brought their horses up along a narrow stretch of path.
Eleanor was thankful that the tall trees overhead shielded them from the sun.
They were poised on a small hill, one embankment rose above Eleanor on the
left, the other dropped off slightly below Elizabeth on the right. A tiny
brook babbled below, the sound of the water adding to the cool feeling of the
glen in which they had stopped.

"Eleanor, I know that you don't like me." Elizabeth said, her eyes ernest.

"I, ummm. I." Eleanor had not expected this. She had not thought they would
be having a heart to heart talk this afternoon, and was in no mood for one.

"It's alright, we don't have to pretend." Elizabeth was always one to say
exactly what on her mind.

Eleanor decided to be honest as well. "It isn't you I don't like." She said,
looking Elizabeth squarely in the eye.

"It's my relationship with your father." Elizabeth finished her thought.

"Well, yes." Eleanor looked away.

"I love him, Eleanor." Elizabeth assured her, and then more seriously added.
"And he loves me."

"He loves my mother." Eleanor lashed out as the other woman.

"Yes, your right. There will always be a very private and special place in
his heart for Anne. One that even I will never be allowed to enter. But there
is also a special place for me." Elizabeth grew defensive. At times she
wished that she and Thomas had met each other, before his marriage had been
arranged to Anne. Things may have been very different for both of them.

Eleanor flinched at Elizabeth's statement. She knew her father loved this
woman, and she was right, she did know his heart.

"Things can't go back to the way they were, Eleanor. Your mother is gone, why
don't you want your father to be happy?" Elizabeth questioned.

"Are you sure he's happy with you?" Eleanor was grasping for any hurtful
thing she could say. Of course her father was happy, she could see it in his
eyes whenever he looked at Elizabeth.

"Eleanor." Elizabeth reproached her. She knew the girl could see how her
father had changed for the better. He was no longer brooding and confused. He
was joyous, hopeful, and exhuberent.

"Dear, as much as you might hate it. I am a part of your father's life, and I
hope to be for a very very long time. You will just have to resign yourself
to that fact." Elizabeth said matter-of-factly.

Eleanor's anger was growing with each passing moment. She hated the way
Elizabeth always made her feel ten years old. But most of all she hated that
she knew the woman was right. A final act of desperation crossed her mind and
she spurted anger at the elder woman seated on the horse next to her. "And
you can just go back to France with your own children!" Eleanor yelled as she
reached out and slapped Elizabeth's horse on the haunches.

She had only meant to scare the animal. She figured it would take off
running down the path for a while, and give Lady Elizabeth a good scare.
However, the spooked horse jumped and rared up on its back legs. She could
see Elizabeth struggle to reign in the raging animal. It was to no avail.
Eleanor sat helplessly and watched in horror as Lady Elizabeth fell from her
mount, a gasp, not even a scream escaping from her throat. She hit the ground
hard and crashed down the embankment out of control. The frightened white
horse on which she had sat only a few moments before could find no secure
footing, and slipped down the hill rolling head over hooves. Eleanor heard a
sickening crunch, and saw the horse's heavy body land on top of the tiny,
motionless Elizabeth.

Eleanor quickly jumped from Damascus, and ran down the hill not caring about
the rocks that tore at her legs as she fought to reach Lady Elizabeth through
the heavy dress she wore. The horse though scared was unhurt, and had
quickly hopped up and began to run back in the direction the two had come.
Lady Elizabeth lay seemingly lifeless at the bottom of the gulley. She was
half emersed in the little brook, her head turned to the side on the bank.
Eleanor reached her as a trickle of blood began to form at the side of her
lips.

"Oh dear God, don't let her be dead." Eleanor pleaded.

The young girl knelt beside the older woman, fearing the worst. Elizabeth's
breath sounded at once feeble and frantic, as though she were fighting to
stay alive. Unsure what to do Eleanor, crying and panicked, could only sit on
her knees too afraid to even touch Elizabeth. "Oh, please, please, I'm so
sorry." She cried. "Please be alright."

As if in a flash she realized she had to get help. She took off her cloak and
covered Elizabeth's body with it. She then raced up the embankment to where
Damascus waited for her unaware of the drama that had played out below.
Eleanor jumped up on his back and spurred him toward Covington Cross, tears
streaming down her face. She had to get her father.
------------------------------------------------------------
The afternoon had passed lazily at the Covington Cross. Armus and Richard
had busied themselves with the finer points of sword sharpening in the
courtyard, while Cedric had preferred a more pleasing activity, wooing one of
the servant girls by the well. Sir Thomas had come out into the afternoon
sunshine to stretch his legs after reviewing business contracts in his study.
He turned his face to the sun and drank in it's warmth through his closed
eyelids. He was enjoying the peace of his home, and wondering how Eleanor and
Elizabeth were getting along.

Suddenly the tranquility was broken by the thundering sound of hooves.
Everyone looked up to see Lady Elizabeth's horse returning riderless into the
courtyard. A few moments later Eleanor came screaming through the gate
riding at full speed. "Father!" She yelled hysterically through her sobs.
"Lady Elizabeth...She fell...The horse...fell on her...She's not
moving...There's blood...Hurry!!!!" She begged.

"What!" Sir Thomas roared, his mind racing to comprehend the situation, as
his sons rushed over to stand around him.

"Hurry!" Eleanor repeated, barely able to stand even this small delay.

Thomas felt his heart sink to his feet. Elizabeth was hurt. He had
nightmares of things like his happenning, but had prayed they would never
truly touch her. He had lost one love, and he often found himself being
overly protective of his new love. He was so frightened of losing her too.
Now she was lying, hurt along the road to Covington Cross, and he had to
reach her. Sir Thomas did not even stop to give orders to the boys, or to
saddle his horse. He ran to the stables, Armus, Richard, and Cedric close on
his heals. Grabbing his strong white stallion from his stall Thomas jumped
on and ordered the horse to gallop with a strong flick of his feet into its
side. Armus and Richard did the same with their horses, although by the time
they crossed under the portcullus there was no hope of catching up to their
father and sister. Cedric realizing they would need a vehicle to transport
Lady Elizabeth back to the castle had climbed into a wagon one of the
servants had hitched to take goods to market. This was more important.
Slapping the reigns against the horse's back, he was off to follow his
brothers. Everyone rode at full speed to the spot where Lady Elizabeth had
fallen.

Along the way the road branched off toward town. Armus pointed and yelled to
Richard keeping pace behind him, "Bring the physician, Richard!"

"My thought exactly, Brother!" Richard agreed, jerking his horse in the other
direction.

"We'll most likely be back at the castle by the time you return, so ride
straight for home." Armus odered.

"I will." Richard said as he broke from the group, a cloud of dust rising
behind him on the road to town. The others rode on frantically.
------------------------------------------------------------
"There, Father. She's down there." Eleanor shouted still in tears as she and
Thomas reached the reached the ravine.

Thomas stared terrified at the ledge. He had expected to see Elizabeth small
body lying along the road, but now he understood she had tumbled down the
ledge, her horse rolling behind her. For a sickening moment, he felt as
though he needed to bring up his lunch. He could not stand the thought of
Elizabeth lying at the bottom of the small gorge. He jumped from his horse,
not bothering to pull up the animal, he had no reigns to use anyway. Still
carrying the momentum of the ride with him, Thomas fumbled over the
embankment. His heart stopped as he saw Elizabeth lying still at the bottom
of the hill. He ran to her not bothering to find footholds along the way.
Eleanor followed, equally frantic, however she had a secret that she could
not find words to voice.

Sir Thomas let his legs go limp and slid on the ground as he reached Lady
Elizabeth. "Elizabeth!" He yelled, trying to will her back to conciousness,
as he brushed her hair away from her face. The blood coming from her mouth
was now a steady stream, and a dark bruise was forming at her temple. She
made no signs of movement. He could hear her struggling to breath as he he
gently rolled her over to face him. Her head fell back as though she were...
He could not even think that. She was still breathing, and he had to help
her. Thomas felt useless. He hated that feeling. He remembered it when his
Anne had layed sick and dying. Now he felt it again as his Elizabeth lay
possibly dying in his arms. No she could not. He would not let her. He would
not let her go. He sat holding her close, stroking her face, usure what to
do. Eleanor had reached him, and sat sobbing watching her father hold the
woman he loved in his arms. She now realized the depths of his feelings for
Lady Elizabeth as she saw him fighting back frightened tears. It was all her
fault.

Armus and Cedric made their ways clumsily down the hill to were their father
sat cradling Lady Elizabeth, and their sister sat helplessly watching.

"Father, we have to get her out of here, and back to Covington Cross." Armus
said. Sir Thomas did not move, lost in his fear. "Father!" Armus yelled.

Thomas raised his head, just then realizing his sons were sitting next to
him. "We have to get Lady Elizabeth out of here." Armus repeated.

"Yes." Thomas agreed, vaguely coming back to himself.

"I have a wagon on the road." Cedric informed his father.

"Good, we'll put her in there." Thomas said. He began to stand, gently and
carefully lifting Elizabeth into his arms. She moaned slightly, and he knew
the movement was hurting her. He knew he should not have moved her at all,
but it was the only way to get her to help.
Thomas slowly climbed the embankment, cursing every step that sent ribbons on
pain through Elizabeth's body. He could tell by the way her breathing was
changing. He marveled at how tiny and light she felt in his arms. She did not
seem strong enough to withstand such an ordeal, but he knew that she was a
fighter. His children followed close behind him, Eleanor strangely
overcome. Her brothers had never seen their sister like this.

Finally they reached the road, and the wagon. Thomas layed Elizabeth's
unconsious form down into the soft straw that covered the bed, and climbed in
to hold her. Armus took the reigns and pulled the wagon away as Cedric and
Eleanor quickly collected the horses and followed behind. Thomas rested
Elizabeth's head against his strong chest. Every bump in the road was causing
her distress. He whispered to her, as his tears fell across her face. She
did not awaken. Finally they pulled into the courtyard of Covington Cross,
Richard and the physician already awaiting them there.
--------------------------------------------
The town physician quickly examined Elizabeth, forcing Thomas to relinquish
his hold on her. He listened to her breathing and her heart, pulled back her
eyelids, and checked her pulse. Thomas stood beside the wagon impatiently.
"Well, what's wrong with her? Why hasn't she awakened." He asked frantically.

The physician did not answer but barked an order at the servant standing
concerned nearby. "Get her upstairs and into a bed. I need to work."

"What do you mean, you need to work? What's the matter?" Thomas demanded. The
children staring at them equally concerned.

"Not now," the physician said. "Well, who's going to carry her?" He asked
impatiently.

Thomas was not used to being treated this way, but he knew he had to swallow
his pride for Elizabeth's sake. He picked her up softly from the wagon bed,
and carried her upstairs to his bed, where he layed her down as gently as if
she were a bird with broken wing. She was to him. The physician then
unceremoniously ushered him from the room, and shut the door.
----------------------------------------------
Armus, Richard, Cedric, and Eleanor had remained below in the courtyard.
Eleanor clung to the side of the wagon, unable to control her crying. The
boys were unsure what to do to calm her. Eleanor was nearly hysterical. She
shaking uncontrollably. The boys thought it was the trauma of actually
witnessing Lady Elizabeth's accident. They tried to comfort their sister.

"Eleanor." Armus said putting his hand on her shoulder. "We're all praying
that she'll be alright."

"It's my fault." Eleanor blurted out through her tears.

"There was nothing you could have done." Richard spoke up.

"No, you don't understand. It's all my fault." Eleanor repeated raising her
eyes for face her brothers. "I slapped her horse. We were having words. You
know the way we do, and I got angry and slapped the horse." She could not
stop herself now, she had to tell the whole story. "I thought it would just
run off down the road a bit, and scare her a little, but it rared back and
she...fell. She could die, because of me.

Armus, Richard, and Cedric stared at her and at each other struggling to take
in what Eleanor had just told them. She was responsible for Lady Elizabeth's
injuries. They knew their sister did not like the older woman, but they
never thought anything like this would come of it.

"What were you thinking?" Richard demanded.

Eleanor's tears started anew. "I wasn't. I never meant for this to happen."
She swore.

"You've never made her life easy around here, you know." Cedric spoke up,
defending the closest thing to a mother he could remember having. "She is
wonderful person, and she makes father so happy. All she has ever tried to do
is be you friend. She woud never..." Cedric broke off. He could see anything
he might say would not be as bad as the quilt that now plagued Eleanor's
mind.

"You have to tell father." Armus said. He believed deeply in honor and
honesty.

"He'll hate me." Eleanor cried, realizing how her relationship with her
father could change over this.

"No, he won't." Armus assured her. "He'll be angry, but he won't hate you. He
loves you."

"He loves Lady Elizabeth, and I may have killed her." Eleanor sobbed,
shrinking into her brother's shoulder.
---------------------------------------------------
A hopeless eternity passed that night, each person trying to will Lady
Elizabeth back to conciousness. The boys had found chairs and sat down beside
their father and sister watching for any change. Thomas and Eleanor continued
to hold vigil on their knees.
Thomas whispered to Elizabeth all night, holding her hand to his face,
burying his tears against it.

The first light of the sun entered the room illuminating the air with a
strange unearthly glow. Thomas, who had let his head fall to the bed, deep in
prayer, heard a soft and familiar voice call his name. "Thomas?" The near
whisper filled his ears like heavenly music. He raised his eye to greet
Elizabeth's confused face staring at him.

"Elizabeth." Thomas babbled barely able to believe she was awake and
coherant. He kissed her hand, her face, stroked her hair, and laughed like a
small boy. His excitement had awakened his children who had drifted off
sometime in the early hours of the morning, everyone that is except Eleanor
who sat gravely silent by the bed. The boys jumped up unable to contain
their happy smiles.

"I'll get the physician." Cedric volunteered. The old man had spent the night
in the solar.

"What...what...happened?" Elizabeth questioned, for now unable to bring the
events of the previous day to her memory. Her breath was not coming easy, and
it hurt her to talk. She could barely manage a whisper.

"You've had an accident." Thomas informed her calmly. "You fell from your
horse, remember?" He wanted to tell her, but not to frighten her, so he chose
his words carefully. He told her of her injuries, and why she was in pain.
Then he lovingly assured her that she was going to be alright. A diagnosis
confirmed by the physician a few minutes later. As Thomas stayed by her
side, she became aware of Eleanor sitting quietly beside her, and the
accident suddenly came flooding back into her mind.
Involuntarily she stared at the young girl. She could see the guilt eating at
her.

Eleanor could not hide from Elizabeth's eyes. They seemed to bore their way
into her very soul. She knew what she had to do. "Father...." She said
gravely. "I have to tell you something...I...It's my...It's my fault." She
managed to say.

"What?" Thomas asked not understanding.

It was then that Lady Elizabeth took Eleanor and Thomas by the hands.
"Thomas." She struggled to say. "El..." She could barely manage to breath.
"Eleanor...tried to..."

Eleanor sat in shame and horror as the sound of a "c" began to come from Lady
Elizabeth's lips. Or was it a "k", for kill. 'She's going to tell him I tried
to kill her.' Eleanor thought, tears coming to her eyes.

Elizabeth took as deep a breath as she could bare and began again. "She tried
to 'c', 'k', 'calm' the horse. It was too strong for her." She said, and then
looked at Eleanor her eyes revealing the fact that she would never tell their
secret. She patted the girls cheek. "It wasn't your fault. It was an ...
accident." Elizabeth smiled meekly at her.

Eleanor stared shocked at Lady Elizabeth. This woman who had very nearly died
because her actions was protecting her. Her mind raced to grasp the meaning
of what Elizabeth was doing for her. She realized that the woman truly wanted
them to be close. She smiled meekly at her father's new love. Both women
realizing what the moment meant. Eleanor looked over at her brother's who
were watching their sister and Lady Elizabeth with surprise and respect. They
too understood what Elizabeth was doing.

"Eleanor, how thoughtful of you to be so concerned." Thomas smiled proudly at
his daughter. She could only look at him, knowing she did not deserve his
accolades.

Just then the physician interrupted them. "Lady Elizabeth needs to rest now.
Sir Thomas, you may stay, but children if you wouldn't mind." He said
motioning toward the door.

They knew that Lady Elizabeth needed quiet, and their father needed to be
alone with her. The boys smiled lovingly at her as they left.

"It's good to have you back with us." Armus said to her before he left,
Cedric and Richard nodding their agreement. All Elizabeth could do was smile
at them, pain still written on her face. They made their way silently out of
the room.

Eleanor rose slowly, without a word. She stared at Elizabeth for a moment,
the depths of the woman's understanding and compassion confounding her. She
stopped for a moment by the door. At once a conversation they had some
months ago came flooding back into her mind, and she heard something
Elizabeth had told her them. 'It's always good when women understand each
other.' repeated in her head. She looked back as Lady Elizabeth lying in her
father's bed. The younger girl smiled at her understanding now what she had
meant. The older woman smiled back at her lovingly.