"Wake up!" Emma shouted, pulling back the drapes surrounding the bed.

Nycaise groaned and buried her face deep within her wolf fur blanket, wishing that her nursemaid would disappear and allow her a few more minutes of sleep beneath the warm covers.

She got no such luck.

"That means you too miss Nycaise. We've got much to do today!"

Brix was already out of bed, and wriggling into her corset. Nycaise sat up reluctantly as her nursemaid pulled the covers back.

Moaning and pulling her hair out of her eyes, Nycaise watched her sister hurry through their morning routine. Unlike Nycaise, Brix was never a procrastinator. She found that it was much easier to face hard things if she looked them straight in they eye and never hesitated.

Nycaise was just the opposite. She emerged from the warm bed slowly, her body stiffening as the cold air assaulted her. The stone floor was cold as ice, and a thin layer of frost coated the water in the two girls' washbasin.

"Winter is truly the worst of the seasons," Nycaise murmured softly.

Brix nodded her head in agreement, her long blond hair shaking out it's snarls and knots. "We have so few guests in the winter. It gets so lonesome with just those who live in the manor."

Once the two girls were out of bed, and laced into their gowns, Emma left them be. She would fetch them after they had a chance to get some breakfast. Winter mornings were often slow moving.

Neither girl looked forward to the prospect of a day spent all indoors. Both girls favored comfort, but neither loved boredom. But this winter, seemed even more long and dreary than the past ones. The reason for this, was the girls had been restricted, near the beginning of autumn, to the manor, and were not allowed outside the borders of Lord Cameon's estates without an armed guard.

As was the fashion, both girls were kept ignorant of the political happenings around them. But even woman's inferiority could not keep Nycaise from suspecting what went on outside the manor walls.

Brix was acknowledged as the prettier of the two, and her skill exceeded her sisters in every area but one, logic. Nycaise was the smarter of the two, if physically weaker and plainer. Nycaise learned to gain much from the subtle hints and stories told by the men of the manor. She had heard enough to tell that the Kingdom was in danger.

With the outlaws in the woods, and enemies of Lord Cameon, less than a days reach away, it was a risk to go out of doors at all.

The women were only admitted on occasion, for the necessary task of gathering herbs and medicines.

Most of the time, the two girls, guided by their nursemaid, would spend their days cleaning, helping in the kitchens, or mixing medicines.

Emma, who had been the girls' nursemaid since they were babies was a strong advocate of the value of medicinal herbs. She was a healer her self, and from her the two girls learned much, despite their Lord Father's attempts to keep them ignorant.

Nycaise braided her sisters hair first, as was their tradition. It seemed only natural that the older girls brilliant blond hair deserved the most care.

When she was finished, Brix would attend to Nycaises, leaving Nycaise to sigh and dream of having beautiful blond hair like her sisters, instead of her dark tresses.

Together, the girls were quite the attractive pair. While Nycaise was plainer than Brix, she was still quite pretty, with her soft brown eyes and fair skin. There was something almost exotic looking about Nycaise. Brix however, was blond haired and blue eyed with a personality as sparkling as the sun. She had a tendency to outshine her sister in almost everything.

Brix woke right up after she had consumed her porridge, but Nycaise's feet were still dragging.

Emma did not allow them time to linger. It was off to the storerooms almost at once. Brix's father had directed the women to clear out two store rooms. When Nycaise inquired as to the reason, Emma only bade her mind her own business.

"For lord's sake child! That is no business of yours! Now you will do as your father requested and you will do it without complaint, or it's to the kitchens with you!" The nursemaid scolded.

Nycaise blushed, not daring to try any further. She was the more timid and shy of the two. The fact had to do with her lower status.

Nycaise believed herself to be very lucky. She lived in the manor of a great lord, and was treated like his very own daughter. Yet the truth would never really desert her, no matter how high Nycaise got in life. She was an orphan.

She had been brought to the manner as a baby, and Lord Cameon graciously took her in as a ward. During her toddler years, she had gotten on so well with his own daughter Brix, that Cameon had not had the heart to separate them. The two were treated as equals, by Brix's request, and the fact that they were not truly sisters, did little to keep the two apart.

In fact, both girls thought of themselves as sisters. They had grown up together, and shared everything in life.

The girls gossiped happily after, Emma left to attend to other business, as they transported various items from room to room.

"It's been ever so long since the manor has had a grand feast. I hate the cold season, we get so few visitors!" Brix exclaimed dramatically.

Nycaise sighed. "I suppose feasts are nice. But I can't stand being surrounded by people, all of them more important than I."

"Honestly!" Brix sighed in near irritation, "I don't understand you sometimes, Nye. Guests and feasts are the best part of life! It's so exciting having important people here at the manor. One must make a good impression, an that is where the challenge is."

"It's hardly a challenge for you Brix. You are beautiful and witty and all the men who come to the manor want you for their own," Nycaise reminded her sister gently without the faintest hint of jealousy.

"Yes, I suppose. But there is something wonderful about being surrounded by strangers." Brix folded some scraps of cloth, placing them in a pile as she spoke. "You are beautiful too Nycaise. Just in a different way, that's all. I know you would have many suitors if you weren't so withdrawn and quiet."

Nycaise shrugged and let the topic go as Emma bustled through the door carrying a box full of preserves. She couldn't help the way she was and she saw no reason to try and change things.

At dinner, Brix was still smiling and whispering to Nycaise. Nycaise however was respectful and quiet in front of the man she called father. Unlike her sister, Nycaise held Lord Cameon in great regard, and though she felt comfortable with him, she never truly felt able to speak her mind.

Besides, Nycaise was happiest when she could sit back unnoticed and watch and observe. While Brix learned by asking questions, Nycaise learned by watching.

When Lord Cameon stood and cleared his throat, Brix tapped her sister and almost fell out of her chair in excitement. Her father only announced visitor, feasts, and journeys at the dinner table. Nycaise however, was more composed. She had been expecting something like this. Nycaise was the one who picked up the tiny details, ignored by the rest of the world and put them together to predict what would happen.

Nycaise had noticed that a messenger had arrived the evening before, and had noticed the way Lord Cameon carried himself, as if he knew something that the others did not.

"I have an announcement to make." Lord Cameon cleared his throat formally once again, and glanced at his squirming blond daughter and her calm companion. "Last night a messenger arrived from Duke Bryant of Dellums. He will be sending a military convoy, to ensure peace in my domain. We have formed an alliance, to fight against the forces of the rebellion."

This last part, he aimed at the other men present, turning away from the woman's end of the table.

"They will arrive in one week, and there will be a feast to welcome them. That is all." He concluded, sitting formally to finish his meal.

"Did you here that?" Brix whispered to her sister. "A feast! I'm sure there will be so many handsome men. I hope the Duke comes himself!"

Nycaise only nodded, her mind was on the rebellion that Lord Cameon had mentioned. The two girls, were obviously not meant to understand nor take notice of that part, but those words had only confirmed what Nycaise had long suspected. She knew that there was not peace in the land, and a blind man could see that there were outlaws about.

The girls were no longer allowed to go herb gathering without an armed escort, and wandering off the grounds was strictly forbidden. This would not be so in times of peace. She was a bit afraid that it had come this far, sending for soldiers to guard the manor. It was a drastic step.

That night both girls lay awake, Brix chattering happily about what she would wear to the feast, and how many handsome men she would meet, and Nycaise wondering when conflict would occur between the outlaws and her father's men.

The manor had not been built for defense after all, it had been built in times of peace and prosperity. The idea of enemy's surrounding them in the sylvan forests made Nycaise feel uneasy. She wasn't sure how much fifty or even a hundred men could do to defend a wooden Manor when it came down to it.

After Brix finally exhausted her dreamy fantasies of the feast to come, and Nycaise's worrying hit a dead end, the two girls slowly drifted off into sleep.