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  1. “I will write down his name for you.” Fiona didn’t want Charles to have to remember it now, which might take part of his attention away from the evidence she presented. “He’s staying at the Red Lion, so he should be easy to find.” She didn’t believe him when he said that men weren’t after her title. To her, her title and property were worth far more than they actually were and it never occurred to her that a Scottish peerage was not worth as much as an English one or that nobody would want the responsibilities of running an estate in such a remote place. Scotland was her home and she was quite fond of it. Therefore, other courtiers must be too. Charles’ compliments had the desired effect. Fiona was pleased that he thought she was beautiful, charming, and alluring. A bit of her natural flirtatiousness surfaced from behind her fear. “Oh?” she asked coquettishly. “And who would that Life Guard officer be?” Then he opened the box and an adder slid out of it. She screamed in horror. It looked like it was about to strike! Fiona backed away as well, but stayed close beside him. “Be careful, Charles.” she whispered. Charles was able to pick up the cushion and draw his sword. The snake did, indeed, strike the cushion. It immediately released its hold and attempted to dart away. It was quick but he was quicker, and while he missed its head, he managed to cut it in half. The two halves fell to the floor, wriggling ominously. Fiona, for once completely speechless, stared at it in shock. Adders were poisonous. The scoundrel who was tormenting her had meant to kill her this time. The world began to darken around her and she swayed toward Charles as she fought to keep herself from fainting.
  2. Sam found the skeletal hands in a pile of dust and bent down to observe them. It didn’t look like it would be possible to put them back in place. Nor did the spirit seem to care much about the remains he had long since left behind. In spite of her misgivings about the existence of ghosts, she had no doubt that what she and Charles were experiencing was real. There was simply no other explanation. As she rose, she stepped on something hard. Bending back down, she saw a carved gold button on the floor. Scooping it up, she was about to tell Charles about it when she noticed the glittering brooch he had discovered. Compared to the valuable piece of jewelry, the button seemed unimportant, and she tucked into one of the pockets of her uniform. Perhaps she would keep it. For some reason, she wanted something to remember this evening by. The flame in the lantern danced as if it was laughing again, and Sam wondered if the ghost had read her mind. All of Charles’ questions received two flickers. It had not been a gift from either of the lovers and it wasn’t a clue that would help them find the murderer. Whether it was important or not to their investigation, Sam did not know.
  3. Judging by his formality and forced smile, her husband was not happy to see her. Then again, he had not expected her to intrude uninvited into his sanctuary. Everyone, whether male or female, needed their own personal space, and Louise may have reacted similarly if he were to burst into the sitting room that adjoined her bedchamber. I should not have been so impulsive. He will never forgive me now. Yet now Cadell was apologizing to her for his less than exemplary behavior. It looked as if he was recovering from a hangover and she knew his drinking partner had not been the bust sitting next to the bottle on his desk. Where had he been last night? Had he visited a house of ill-repute? Though the thought disconcerted Louise, she knew she could not expect him to abstain from sex just because his wife was not allowed to perform her marital duties by royal decree. Gentlemen had needs that had to be filled. Nobody knew that better than her. The Duchess nodded graciously, accepting her husband's apology. She wanted to help him tie back his hair but she didn’t know if he wanted her that close to him in his current state. At least he wanted her to stay with him for awhile. Louise sat down when he pulled out a chair for her, smiling a bit tentatively. “Oui," she replied. “It is partly my fault. I should not have been so distant these past few days, and for that, I apologize as well.[/i] She almost added that she had been troubled lately, but she wasn’t certain if Cadell wanted to hear that she had been immersed in her own problems. They did concern him in a way, but he might not wish to be reminded of her relationship with the King. He called for a tray and Louise was confident that the cooks would fill it with the fare they had cooked for breakfast instead of letting Duncan grab whatever he could find in the kitchens. The food had not yet been brought to the dining room, as far as she knew. “I am glad to hear you are feeling better. I have been quite worried about you.”
  4. Now her husband had forsaken her too. No, that’s not really true. I have made no effort to see him since his injury acted up and he closeted himself in his study. Louise was not good at offering sympathy. Though she and Cadell had formed a bond with each other in France and had enjoyed their time together, she wasn’t certain if he would appreciate her barging into his sanctuary, nor was she sure she wanted to. Wouldn’t he have called her if he wanted to see her? He seemed to want solitude but it felt like abandonment to her. He had still not contacted her either. Louise had retired to her home after the Easter observances. Begging to see him and sending him letters requesting an audience had not worked, so she had decided to ignore him instead, letting him believe that she had given up on him entirely. Surely that would injure his royal pride and he would send for her. But it had been three days now and there had been no word from him. Maybe her absence had not bothered him yet, or perhaps he thought that she was tending to her husband. Wouldn’t that make him jealous? Though she had not been informed of the arrangement he and Cadell had made before they were wed, Louise was fairly certain that her husband had been forbidden to be intimate with her. They had not slept together in all the months they had been married. It wasn’t possible that she disgusted him because she had been the King’s mistress or he would never have wanted to marry her at all. In France, she had been quite popular with the gentlemen. She was often praised for her childlike beauty, which she had considered an insult at eighteen but a compliment at twenty-eight. She didn’t think that Cadell thought her ugly. The only explanation that made sense was that the King wanted her all to himself. He would send for her. She would just have to wait it out. Louise didn’t want to go down to the dining room this morning. Every day, she had hoped that Cadell would join her, and every day she had been disappointed. However, she knew that he had gone out last night so he must be feeling better. Maybe he would finally share breakfast with her. She considered not showing up just to give him a taste of his own medicine, but that would be mean, and so she left her room and descended the stairs to the first floor where the dining room was. Shortly after she took her seat at one end of the table, she noticed Cadell’s manservant enter and look around. If her husband wanted him to being him a tray, he would have gone straight to the kitchens. Had he been sent to see if she was there? Was he truly trying to avoid her? Had he run into Nell last night and been poisoned by her lies? Of did he simply not know how to approach her after being away from her so long? It was time to take matters into her own hands. Standing up, she flounced past the servant without a glance and went to Cadell’s study. The door was ajar and she didn’t even hesitate before walking in. “Good morning, my lord,” she said in French, smiling warmly. “Are you feeling well enough to join me for breakfast or should I have a tray brought in for the two of us?”
  5. “You think a woman is stalking me?” Fiona asked incredulously. “I don’t fancy women, Charles.” She had misunderstood him. He thought that she might have offended a woman in some way. “I’ve insulted a few ladies. I certainly don’t remember who they were and I wouldn’t have done it if they hadn’t insulted me or my family first. Some people still say bad things about Cat because she was the King’s mistress. If you heard them, you would them in their place. too." She knew that he and her eldest sister were close friends. Her eyes remained on the ornate box as Charles turned it toward the window and then moved to his hands when he donned a heavy pair of gloves. Did he think that something inside was going to explode? She was glad that she had not opened it herself. “I’ve only seen one gentleman this season … a Baronet who is new to court” Fiona usually went for gentlemen of high status and still held out hope of marrying a Duke. The only reason she dated the Baronet was that he looked and acted a lot like Charles. “He said he wasn’t married and I had no reason not to believe him, especially when he proposed marriage. I turned him down, of course. He took it well and we still see each other occasionally. I think he believes he will charm me into marrying him.” Fiona sighed. “He probably just wants my title. That’s what everyone wants.” As Charles lifted the lid, he would hear a hiss. A long adder uncoiled itself and slithered out. Fiona screamed and the snake immediately raised itself into a strike pose, its head turned toward Charles. It looked ready to lunge at any moment.
  6. Sam did the same, sweeping off the dust and examining the skeleton closely. She was more interested in inspecting the bones than she was in finding a hidden object. Though she had seen many corpses in her career, she had never seen an intact skeleton and was unlikely to see another. It was quite intriguing to observe how well the bones fit together. “It’s missing its hands” she observed. “I wonder if the killers cut them off before they stabbed him.” She was unaware that they had fallen off when Charles and Susan fond it, revealing the chest that it held. Underneath one foot, Charles would find a small small diamond brooch tangled in the remains of the sole of a shoe. Accented with gold, it was clearly quite valuable.
  7. “You won’t doubt me when you see the proof." Charles did not name a spot where the servant could set the bag down, so Fiona waved him over to the desk. As soon as he released it, she untied the string that held it together and reached inside, bringing out a sheaf of papers. She handed the first one to him. “I no longer think a commoner is behind it because most of them can’t read. I’ve been so distraught I haven’t been able to think straight." The piece of paper had been pasted with words that looked as if they had had been cut from a book. There was no handwriting at all on the page. It contained a simple accounting of what the author had seen while looking into Fiona’s bedroom window from outside the manor. “I thought I had a secret admirer,” she explained, “and I was intrigued by the idea that a gentleman would go to such lengths just to be near me.” Fiona handed him two more. “After the first two, I began to put on a show in front of my window, hoping he would eventually reveal his identity.” A crimson blush stained her cheeks. “I’m ashamed of that now. I left the bawdier notes at home.” She picked another item out of the bag. It was the girth of a saddle. The strap had torn apart close to the middle. “During this time, I went riding in the park and my saddle slipped off. I fell to the ground and my escort saved me from being trampled by my horse’s hooves. I thought that the stable hands had been careless and it was just an accident. The letters continued to come.” The next object was a simple box with a lid. Fiona sat it beside the bag and opened it. It contained nearly a dozen expensive chocolate candies. “A servant found this on the doorstep nearly a week later. Before it got to me, one of the maids took one, probably assuming that I would never notice. And I wouldn’t have if the glass inside had not cut her mouth. Be careful if you touch them,” she warned Charles. “I knew then that somebody wanted to harm me. The letters became more threatening and claimed that I would pay for what I had done and that he wished me to live in fear before he made his final move. If I told anyone, he would harm my sisters. He mentioned them by name as well as our estate in Scotland.” Her voice quivered, as did her hands. “I didn’t know what to do. I was scared to tell anyone what was going on. Then yesterday I got this.” The final item in the bag was a beautifully ornamented silver box. “That’s when I hatched my plan to ask for your help.” Fiona held it out as if it was about to bite her. “I haven’t opened it yet. I’m afraid of what it may contain.”
  8. Sam felt as if she had been punched in the gut when Charles revealed that Lady Susan Herbert was involved in the mystery as well. She had hoped that they would share a secret known only to them. Did he fancy Lady Susan? She was beautiful and feminine and noble, everything that Sam was not. And he could marry her if he chose to do so. Then again, Sam had no delusions that he would ever marry her. Earls did not wed commoners and even if they broke the rules, their wives would never be accepted into court society. Once a peasant, always a peasant. Even if the rules changed, he would want her to quit the military and become a proper wife, which she had no intention of doing. She loved her profession and the freedom that posing as a man gave her. The best she could hope for was to be his mistress and ... if she was lucky ... the love of his life. If he married, he might be more likely to take a lover, as many noblemen did. I’m just fooling myself. We’ll never be nothing but friends. I should forget my romantic notions altogether. After all, illicit love had done the ghost no favors. It had gotten him killed and now his spirit was stuck forever haunting this room unless his bones could be buried next to the woman he had loved. Her inner turmoil did not show on her face. Soldiers learned quickly to keep their expressions neutral. “I hope you’ll fill me in on everything the two of you have discovered. A new perspective could be useful. I’d like to inspect the skeleton again but it shouldn’t take very long. I doubt there is anything else to be found.” The lantern flickered once. Sam’ eyes widened. “There is something that has not yet been discovered?” Another single flicker. She turned to Charles. “Do you want to join me?"
  9. Aria

    Away & Here Notices

    Thanks everyone. I found out today that just getting an appointment at the eye clinic could take up to six months, so I'm just going to have to learn how to live with it for awhile. I'm posting again, but please forgive any typos and other errors. And I can't do them all at once anymore. Marie, I've never heard of talk to text. I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the suggestion.
  10. Aria

    Away & Here Notices

    I'm sorry that I haven't posted in so long. For about a month, there's been a constant film over my right eye, making it very difficult to see. I've known for about a year that I have a cataract in that eye, so that is likely the cause. I'm waiting to get my booster shot (in the second week of January) before I go to the eye doctor, so I'm stuck with poor vision for awhile longer. It's frustrating not being able to post when I have so much inspiration. On my better days, I will try to write, but I probably won't be able to post to all my threads at once like I usually do. I'll post them in the order I received them. There might also be more typos than usual. But I will do as much as I can until this annoying problem is solved.
  11. The lantern flickered twice. Sam frowned. Why would the ghost … if he existed at all … want to keep the dagger away from his great-grandson? “Maybe somebody from his own family killed him?" The lantern flickered three times, even though she had not asked the spirit a direct question. The long dead lord seemed to have no idea who his murderer was. Either he had not seen the killer, or an enemy hired an assassin to do away with him, as Charles had already suggested. It seemed like the smartest course of action. She raised her eyes to her superior officer. “I can see why you are so intrigued by this mystery, my lord. It’s drawn me in as well. Will you let me help you solve it?” If so, it would take some of the pressure away from him. He was dealing with a lot these days. Sam glanced over at the skeleton. She still wanted to inspect it more closely before they left.
  12. Fiona twisted and squirmed, trying to break Charles’ grip. Her efforts caused pain to shoot through her wrist and she stopped struggling, looking up at him with accusing eyes as he insisted that his plan would solve all her problems. True, the suspects were both thieves and he could lock them up and throw away the key. Nobody would believe a commoner over a noblewoman. She knew the servant’s name and the other man had already been arrested, so he would also be easy to track down. But what if it wasn’t either of them? Then she would make two more enemies who might try to do her in. In fact, considering the evidence that should arrive soon (unless the servant was caught by the culprit and eliminated), she doubted that either of the suspects could have done it. Neither of them … Her train of thought faltered as Charles spoke of his own foes. Making enemies was part of his job description and he had known what he was signing up for. Fiona was willing to bet that none of them had threatened his family. He would be singing a different tune then, she was certain. Instead of letting him embrace her, she pulled away and faced him, cradling her aching wrist with her other hand. “You know nothing, Charles Whitehurst! My situation is not at all like yours. You have your soldiers to watch your back and you carry weapons all the time. You are a man and skilled at fighting.” She sighed. “I’m just a young lady on my own. I ‘m not sure if Doug is even in Scotland. He may be off on the King’s business again. If he was here, he would have already taken care of the problem and I wouldn’t have had to come to you. I take a knife with me wherever I go, but my stalker has not attacked me in person. He uses more insidious means to hurt me. And I don’t …” The same soldier who had escorted Fiona to the office entered again, followed by a man in livery who was carrying a medium=sized bag. Before he could speak, Fiona turned and ran toward the servant. “He has the evidence. Now you will be able to see what I’m up against. Where can he set it down so that I can show it to you?”
  13. After her guest left, Lisa walked over to the window and looked out over the garden. She had not expected Lady Lucas to be so compassionate toward Margaretha, considering her origins. In fact, she had considered the possibility that the older lady would storm out of the house after hearing that the girl had been born on the wrong side of the blanket. Instead, she seemed willing, perhaps even eager, to help Margaretha thrive in England. The blonde Countess smiled as she thought back on their conversation. She had made a good choice in asking Cordelia to assist her in finding Margaretha a husband. The lady had impressed Lisa greatly, and impressing such a jaded courtier was not an easy task. With one last look at the garden, she turned around and went to find her ward to tell her what had transpired since she had left the room. ~finis~
  14. Sam didn’t answer Charles immediately, because she wasn’t certain what she felt. Were they really communicating with a ghost? There were no windows in the room for a gust of air to blow through, and the room smelled a bit stale, which likely meant that no fresh air was getting in at all. Nobody could control the flame from another room, assuming there was one. Everything she had seen indicated that ghosts did exist and that they could communicate with humans. Still, it was difficult to believe. “The facts are in your favor,” she said finally, not yet ready to commit to the idea. At least I know he isn’t mad. His sanity was more important to her than the existence of ghosts. “I do have a few more questions.” Sam focused on the lantern again. "So it’s possible that Lewin is the descendant of the killer and for some unknown reason, wants to get his hands on the murder weapon. Did the dagger belong to the man who killed you?” Two flickers. “Did … I mean does … it belong to you?” One flicker. Her gaze moved back to Charles. “Why would the killer’s descendants want it if it isn’t even theirs? If Lewin is the spirit’s descendant, then the story of what his ancestor did must have been passed down through the generations, including the description of the dagger.”
  15. When Charles took her hand, she looked up at him, with what appeared to be genuine fear in her eyes. Fiona listened as he spoke. His smile and the way he gently squeezed her hand was comforting. She knew he meant well, but … Pulling her hand away, she stood up and began pacing nervously around the office. “A trooper can’t follow me around, nor can you threaten the two thieves.” Her voice was becoming more panicked with each word. “He said he would harm my sisters if I went to the authorities. I had one of my maidservants dress as me and leave in my carriage this morning, then I dressed as a servant and took a hired coach to the strand. After changing cloaks, I took yet another coach here. One of the servants is doing the same thing and should arrive shortly with proof that this awful person is out to get me.” Fiona was shaking more violently now and the speed of her pacing increased. “I’m living in Cat’s house, but none of my sisters accompanied me this season. The servants know what’s going on and are trying to protect me. They take turns patrolling the grounds night and day, but it doesn’t help. His messages and his ‘gifts’ still get through.” She turned on Charles when he suggested that something else was bothering her. “You don’t believe me, do you?” Her voice was becoming more panicked and shrill with each word. “You think I’m making this up! I risked my sisters’ safety to come here and you …” Crossing the space between them, she balled her hands into fists, fully intending to pummel him if he didn’t stop her. (OOC: Up to you whether he stops her or not. Since Charles has good enough reflexes to stop unpredictable criminals, he can stop a teenage girl who isn't trying to hide her intentions if he chooses to.)