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Chapter 59[]

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A Warrior's Family[]

Dinning with the Countess[]

Federated Suns
January, 3030

When Harold got the countess and her bodyguards back to the company area he thought he'd slip up to the barracks and get his lance ready for a morning inspection. Anastasia met them and the Countess invited them to come and look at pictures and holos she had brought. She told Hap she wanted to show him their family photos. Hap was certain this wasn't something he could refuse. She selected a few bottles of wine from their shopping trip and gave them to Hap to carry.

Anastasia led them to the galley, and took a tray that had several loaves of French bread, slices of ham, butter, and soft cheese. This was also given to Hap to carry. Anastasia and the Countess began discussing their days as they walked up the Dropship's stairs. Anastasia talked about having the dress fitted and the countess explained how she had the dress modeled after her own wedding dress that had been passed down by several generations of Capetian women.

As the countess recounted their day Hap figured he'd eat with them, have some wine, see holos from Anastasia's childhood and then he'd probably try to call it a night. When they got to the executive crew deck and entered the state room Hap was surprised by how large and spacious it was. It had a sitting room with a small couch, chair and a holo viewer. There was also a small kitchenette and a small bathroom with a shower and a private bedroom. It did feel luxurious, certainly for a military drop shuttle, but Hap knew the countess could have easily found much larger accommodations.

The countess told Anastasia to prepare jambon beurre and asked Hap to pour the wine while she collected her pictures and holos. Hap took the chair and ate his ham sandwich as the countess and Anastasia got comfortable on the couch. Hap enjoyed watching the holos of happy family vacations and holidays.

"Anastasia, you told me your childhood was lonely, this doesn't look so bad." Hap said.

"You're seeing the times when we are all together. These were the happy times." Anastasia said.

"Honestly, this is also part of why I wanted to come. I realized I spent so much time working, and now that Anastasia was gone, and Edmund is no longer with us, I found myself looking at these pictures and realizing how much I had missed of Anastasia's childhood." The countess advanced to the next set of photos and Anastasia did seem to be taller and older than the previous set.

Anastasia cozied up to her mother, "I am glad you came. I've missed you too."

"So as I was thinking about visiting I also realized, I may not have another opportunity to see you all for quite some time. Then it occurred to me that I wanted to be at your wedding, and the only way to ensure that was to see you married while I was here."

"I was going to ask about that too." Hap got up to get more wine, and another jambon beurre. "I was a little surprised when you announced you were here to see us married."

The countess shrugged, "Why are you surprised? You had asked for my blessing, and Annie wrote of her feelings for you. The more I thought about your relationship the more I concluded things between you were going a certain way. I could come and see you married, or wait for you to tell me you had eloped and pray it was before Anastasia got pregnant."

Anastasia looked like she was about to protest, but the countess gave a penetrating look, "You're going to be the countess some day and you don't want people whispering behind your back in court, or someone trying to make the claim that your child was illegitimate and therefore has no claim to our title and lands. We're better off having a wedding now, and just getting it out of the way. Besides, Major Braun explained that if you were married the military will generally keep you two together, so it's beneficial for everyone, even me."

"Even you, Mother?" Anastasia gave her mother a curious look.

"Grandchildren, my child. I want them, sooner rather than later. I'm becoming a lonely old woman in a large house. If I had grandbabies though…" She shrugged and gave Anastasia a similar curious look, "Also we should relook you returning to NAIS to work in their secure facilities. I had advocated for you to decide if you should remain with the mercenary company or return to research the work you and Edmund were doing."

"I was glad you had chosen to fight for the Federation. The symbol of a noble woman that defends her nation and risks herself for the Royal House, and our national ideals is potent and virtuous. However, now that I understood you are especially targeted by some dangerous group, I'd prefer-"

There was a knock at the door and Ashley stuck her head in. "My Lady, I wanted to drop off your official mail. I've marked what needed to be signed, or required a decision from you." Ashley set down a bundle of papers on a small table near the door. I also wanted to know if you wanted a wake-up call."

"The inspection will be at nine, so please call on me at seven." The countess said, "and that will be all for the night, Ashley."

Ashely curtsied and retreated back out of the room. Hap refilled the countess and Anastasia's wine and got comfortable next to Anastasia on the couch. The countess opened up her scrapbooks and began to tell Hap about her family and more of Anastasia's childhood. For the first bottle of wine Anastasia and the countess spoke mostly in English, by the second bottle was mostly French, by the third bottle Hap was pretty sure he could understand French.

There were a few more bottles of wine and more family stories than Hap could remember. He saw a few pictures of Anastasia's father, Edmund. Hap assumed there were few because Edmund was usually taking the pictures. But the Countess had a few portraits, holo stills, and news clippings with pictures of the man. He was short and balding but he had clear blue eyes with a sort of mischievous and clever look about him. Hap wondered how the man would have felt about him or if they would have gotten along.

Hap dozed as the mother and daughter talked about various family members and close friends. He woke a few hours later when Ashley came to wake up the countess. Hap and Anastasia were snuggled under the blanket on the couch, but at some point in the night the countess had retired to her room.

Anastasia and Hap had to race down to the barracks and get everyone awake and moving. Due to the cold weather the Commander directed them to form up in the 'mech bay.

To Hap's surprise everyone seemed to be in good spirits about having to stand in formation for the countess. Hap had learned that most of the company were royalists, at least the ones from Donnegal. Having a countess visit was a reason to celebrate and demonstrate some of their martial skills and discipline. The fact it was Anastasia's mother seemed to make it better. Everyone wanted to meet her.

The countess for her part walked around, spoke to everyone for a few moments and seemed to enjoy getting to know her daughter's unit. Commander Kelly was glad to walk her around, explain the purpose of the lances and gave her a tour of their facilities. When the inspection was complete the countess decided to spend time with Anastasia and sent Harold to pick up the things they had ordered yesterday.

Ashley approached Hap as he was signing out a vehicle, "Hap can you take me to the ComStar office. I need to send this paperwork back to Hazelhurst."

Hap nodded, "Sure, but I'm going to need some help carrying stuff. I can drop you off. Do you think you could ask any of the countess's body guards to help?"

Ashley shook her head, "They usually won't leave the countess's side, and I don't speak French."

"Maybe I should go to ops and see who I can find. I think Mark is off duty today-"

"I'd prefer not to see Mark or his brother again." Ashley said.

Joker and Mags happened to be walking by and overheard the conversation. Joker nudged Mags, "You wanna help Hap with wedding stuff?" Mags gave a noncommittal shrug. "Guess we're in." Joker said.

As they drove toward the shopping district, Joker asked Ashley, "You can't speak French? Anastasia told us that was the official language of her mom's house."

Ashley nodded, "The countess and her household do mostly speak French, but the countess is a very gracious and kind woman. Although, if I'm honest, I have felt left out on a few occasions. It made me question some of what I was told about the job."

Hap glanced over at Ashley, but she was looking out her window. "What had you heard about the job?"

"The job was to be the personal assistant for the countess. Generally admin duties, scheduling her appointments, making sure she got to them, keeping her calendar. The head cook generally served as the majordomo of the house so I mostly had to try and keep up with the countess."

"Yeah, she seems pretty high energy. She must have read all those papers and signed everything while Anastasia and I were running to change clothes and get in formation." Hap said

"Well it was mostly routine stuff, but yes she's generally 'high energy' as you say. At least until her husband died. I had worked with her for six weeks before her husband's accident. She had me cancel everything for three days, and then she only did essential meetings until the funeral. I thought his death had broken her, but she immediately went back to 'business as usual' the day after the funeral."

"So she just cried for three days, and then everything was back to normal?" Joker asked

"The countess didn't cry, she mourned." Ashley said, "And she's not quite back to normal. Sometimes when she isn't busy she gets an odd look in her eye and she'll spend hours looking at old pictures and holos. She did it a lot on the voyage to New Avalon which is when she decided to make this trip."

"The countess mentioned you told her not to come out here, what was that all about?" Hap asked

"Um…You're MechWarriors in a mercenary unit, I figured you'd be constantly going off world to destroy things. Honestly I don't know what you do, but it seemed unlikely you'd stay on Monhegan when there is a whole galaxy at war." Ashley said as they pulled up next to the ComStar office. "I'm going to be here for a while if you can come back in an hour or two that would be best."

Something seemed wrong to Hap, and the situation with the strange note from her brother came to mind. Hap leaned over to talk to her, "Do you want some help, maybe we should come with you?"

"No, just come and pick me up in a few hours." Ashley said and slammed the car door.

Hap watched Ashley climb the steps to the ComStar office as Joker asked, "Everything alright, Boss?"

Hap shook his head, "I don't know. Ashley is a little…it's hard to explain."

Before Hap could explain a car behind honked and Hap had to move the car. Hap thought about trying to explain the strange memo or letter or whatever it was, but it as he thought about what to say it just seemed too obvious and too stupid. He changed the subject and the rest of the day went by quickly for Hap. He drove the car and Joker and Mags helped him complete his errands and then they picked up Ashley. Ashley seemed happier as she got back into the car.

"Everything go okay?" Hap asked

Ashley nodded, "Yes. It went better than I had thought. The office ran very efficiently."

"You sure? 'Cause usually when I go to the ComStar office it doesn't take two hours." Joker said.

"I wasn't sure how long the line would be, and the countess had a lot of documents that needed to be sent with confirmations or other certified systems. Sometimes that can take a while." Ashley said.

"Don't pay attention to him. He never sends anything to anyone. When we go to ComStar it's to send my Dad a letter or money." Mags said.

"Still I go with you, so I know it doesn't take two hours." Joker said.

Ashley shrugged, "Some ComStar stations run better than others, be happy you have a good one here."

Everyone got quite as they returned to the company area. Once the vehicle was unloaded Hap walked back to barracks with Joker and Mags while Ashley went her own way.

Hap walked into his room to find Anastasia dressed in a burgundy colored ball gown. She was sitting at the desk putting the finishing touches on her makeup. When she saw Hap in her makeup mirror Anastasia smiled. "I was starting to worry you'd make us late."

"Make us late?"

Anastasia nodded, "For the formal dinner for my mother."

"Oh yeah the dinner in honor of mother." Hap nodded, "Are we really going to that?"

Anastasia gave him a mock-shocked look and a playful push, "Go get dressed before we're late."

Hap opened his wall locker, "Did you have a nice day with your mother?"

"We did. We talked, and got our hair done."

Hap turned to see that Anastasia's hair was loosely braided and neatly styled into a tall elegant arrangement. There were several small gold and pearl pins keeping her hair up and in place. "How did you, where did you go?"

"Tomax's wife. He may be a real terror as the unit trainer, but his wife is quite nice. I'm amazed I had never really spent any time with her before. Mother mentioned we needed to get our hair done to Elinor, and Elinor told us to find Siforah. She did this for our wedding."

Hap looked at the complex and artistic tangle of her hair. It made Anastasia seem taller. The pins glinted and sparkled, and she was wearing a complimenting necklace and earrings. "That looks pretty complex." Hap reached for one of the pins and Anastasia swatted his hand away.

"It is complex. Don't touch."

"That's for the wedding tomorrow? How are you going to sleep with that?"

"There are a few pins I can pull and it comes down easily, I just can't unbraid it. Siforah will touch up in the morning." Anastasia said as she gently primped her hair. Hap reached for her hair again and she held a warning finger and gave him a threatening look. "Hurry and change."

Hap returned to getting into his dress uniform. "Did your mother tell you all the gossip of Hazelhurst?"

"Mother is not much of a gossip, but she did tell me what was going on with her household staff, a few of the family friends, and politicians. We also talked about daddy."

Hap glanced up to see her dab her eyes, then she smiled at Hap, "Then we talked about you."

"Well it sounds like the wedding is still on so I'm guessing my first impressions weren't that bad."

Anastasia smiled, "Mother said she enjoyed yesterday. She particularly liked the French restaurant you took her too."

"I took her wherever she told me to go, or where I thought you'd like to go"

"Good choices." Anastasia walked over to Hap and straightened his collar, and helped him with his starburst , "Mother said she liked spending time with you. As you know I never really had a boyfriend, but I doubt she would have been this happy with just anyone"

"Well that's comforting." Hap said. "I'm just glad that she didn't get annoyed because I wouldn't call her by her first name."

Anastasia tried to suppress a laugh, "She did mention that. She likes teasing you, and as someone that spent several years routinely defying her, she probably enjoyed the fact you weren't just another 'yes man'. She often told me how much she preferred people 'of character with backbone'."

"I think she preferred to make me uncomfortable. It's hard to think I should call someone like her Je'anne."

"After tomorrow you can try calling her mother."

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