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12.24 - Afternoon - (Never) Living Life by the Book - Open- Xmas 1677

Diana Butler

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Royal Library

The ceilings of the Royal Library are 15 feet high. Shelves of polished walnut climb the walls to a height of 10 feet and are filled with books. Bindings of rich brown calf are interspersed with jewel-toned volumes of red, blue and green.


Windows set high in the walls above the shelving fill the room with light. A number of comfortable chairs in rich tobacco coloured leather are dotted about for the use of those reading for pleasure. For those who have a serious purpose, several tables and upright chairs are provided.


Damp is the natural enemy of the book. With the palace so close to the river, the battle is waged continuously. The Library has 6 fireplaces: fires are lit every day. The size of the blaze depends on the weather.


Mr Potts is the Keeper of the King's Books. It is rumoured that Mr Potts never sleeps and that he has forgotten his way home as a result of his devotion to his beloved volumes. Nonsense, surely, but Mr Potts does always seem to be in the Library...


His desk, well supplied with paper, quills and ink, is situated near the main door of the library. It is here that he works on his catalogue of the King's books. He also has an excellent view of the room and the doings of those therein, as well as seeing everyone who comes and goes.


The greatest treasure of the Library is situated by Mr Potts' desk. Held in an ever-locked case of walnut and glass, lies the Bible of King Henry VIII, who founded the English church. Bound in the finest of ruby-coloured leather, richly ornamented with gold and jewels, the book is a thing of great beauty quite apart from it's historical significance.


A swish of pale pink skirts was the only noise Diana made as she moved along another shelf of books in the royal library. There was something refreshingly quiet about a library. Her hand rested on the spine facing her before she took another unhurried step, slowly dragging her hand across the spine of the books until it found one that interested her. Antony and Cleopatra. Plucking it from the shelf, she opened it and scanned the lines.



I saw her once

Hop forty paces through the public street,

And having lost her breath, she spoke, and panted,

That she did make defect perfection,

And, breathless, pour breathe forth.


Without thinking she’d turned, leaning her back against the shelf. She let herself consider the meaning to that… the sound of someone else in the library caught her attention then briefly, causing her to hazard a quick glance in the direction of the sound. Closing the book, her index finger holding her place she turned back to the shelf and made one more quick glance over it not seeing anything she’d prefer to read over Antony and Cleopatra.

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John had read his Petty straight through and wondered if there was more. Naturally the place to seek such things was the library. Lacking self-control when it came to dusty old tomes, he had accumulated a merry little pile of books and stuck his nose deep into them.


He’d gone to pick one up and had, with shaking hands, dropped The Anatomy of Ireland. A woman glanced over and John smiled apologetically at her. She went back to looking and John, not wanting to get up, picked up his cane to try and fish the book back. After playing hockey with it for a little bit he eventually seemed to have a bit of a hold on it…


But he was deceived! And the book went speeding across the floor to rest against the leg of the woman who’d just glanced at him. John followed its trail in shock and looked at a woman with a face so mortified she might have imagined he did her some real damage. He visibly cringed and clutched his cane and waited.

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Diana blinked, she was looking at the books but not really capable of focusing on them while the other gentleman tried to fish his book closer with his cane. Biting her bottom lips, she was moments away from just turning around and picking up the book and deliberately thumping it back upon his pile of books.


Sucking in an annoyed breath, she prepared for confrontation when the sound of a book skidding across the floor to lay at her feet stopped her. This was a library for the sake of everything good in the world! In an easy, quick movement she plucked the book up off the floor and was about to follow through with her plan of using it to make a point when she noted the title and paused in her fluid movement.


Darting a glance at the man, again at the book, then back again to the man only this time with a raised brow. Losing her place in Antony and Cleopatra as she tucked it under one arm. “The Anatomy of Ireland.” Taking a step forward she offered him the book. “Unusual reading… I hear the Irish are a curious race.” Diana's grey eyes seemed to be detailing everything about him, she had a hard time believing in coincidences.

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John was different than most lords. His head jerked from time to time and his entire body shook slightly. His body seemed like it was twisted in some odd fashion and one of his legs didn’t move very much.


On top of that weakness, though, was clothing as befitted a lord. Sitting down the main visible garment was his coat, which red. It was detailed with gold seaxes and blue swallows, and a stitched image of a white horse over his chest. If she knew heraldry very well, these were among his house symbols. Even if she didn’t, it would tend to imply he was from the southwest of England.


As the beauty strode over gracefully and stared at him, John’s look of horror turned to one of mild panic. He felt (somewhat correctly it turned out) he was about to be upbraided.


But she only offered him the book and made a noncommittal comment. John took the book gingerly, his hands shaking. He looked at her and obviously didn’t like being inspected. He fidgeted a bit and looked very uncomfortably. “Whuh-whuh-whuh…” John paused and finally managed to force the words, “What have you heard?” His tone was one of curiosity, though the discomfort of being examined still shone through.


John, despite still looking uncomfortable, made a gesture giving her leave to sit in the seat across from him.

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Diana wasn’t exactly an amazon warrior but that hadn’t stopped more than one person from shifting uncomfortably in her presence. She seemed to have that effect on some people and she she seemed even less interested in remedying that idea. Despite that glitch in her personality, Diana was neither purposefully cruel nor was she faint of heart. Her childhood had been quite unconventional and she’d seen things… people even that could make others lose their composure. This man’s appearance didn’t seem to provoke any sort of reaction one way or another from her. In fact, she almost appeared not to have noticed it.


A small bit of glee filled her at the look of mild panic… or perhaps it was horror on his features as she strolled closer than offered him his book back. Arching one brow at him as he spoke and his panic gave way to curiosity. Letting out a deep sigh as she felt the moment disappear. What had she heard? Her lips twitched as if she found something secretly funny.


He gestured that she could sit across from him and she slid into the chair in one graceful, catlike move. Grey eyes slanted at towards him again this time more curiously. “What have I heard?” She murmured softly as she set Antony and Cleopatra upon the table in a slow almost indolent manner. “Oh, I’ve a very reliable source… They are a temperamental, high strung lot…” Her gaze flickered out a nearby window as she thought about it some more, “Rowdy and Bull-headed too. I hear quite a few people believe them to be quite rudimentary...but I grew up in the East Indies… so I expect something a bit more feral than Irishmen by that term.”


With a shrug, “Someone else told me they they could be rather superstitious… quite found of their little people.” She looked at him again, “Musical. It seems every family has someone blessedly talented either in singing or playing an instrument… and I’ve yet to meet one who wasn’t related to royalty… they all seem to claim to be related to some Irish King or Queen of long lost far enough back.”

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This morning John had lost a battle of wills with an actual mother cat. Presumably this graceful, catlike beauty would prove a tougher challenge still. As she sat and seemed to return to normalcy, though, John shifted to look a bit more comfortable. He still seemed uncomfortable on the whole and seemed to take an undue interest in the stacks of books before him. He smiled a bit meekly, hoping she might seem a bit friendlier if he did.


She turned curious at least. And John nodded along, obviously interested in her description. His interest seemed to rise to even greater heights when she said she grew up in the East Indies. “Whuh-whuh-what was it… l-l-like there?” John had heard stories from Lord Melville, but the area was still mysterious and interesting to him. Then again, most areas that weren’t southwestern England were mysterious and interesting to John.


But as she finished, John thought, from the amusement tugging at her cheeks and her resorting to a ‘reliable source’ that she was Irish herself. And so decided to take a more humorous tack. He did his very best to seem genuinely shocked, which was not hard for someone nervous like him. “Oh my. If thuh-that’s how the m-m-men are, I can only speculate… about their women. What are they l-l-like, those who… muh-marry temperamental, high strung, rowdy, bullheaded, superstitious rudiments?”


Despite this, his façade failed slightly and he too had an amused tugging as he finished. He didn’t do a great job of hiding it, in fact.

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  • 2 weeks later...

A slow smile formed on her lips as his interest was perked at the mention of the Indies and she batted her lashes as if she was drawing upon her memories of the place she’d once called home. “Well…” Diana began softly, “Much warmer, even our summer days here have nothing to the warmth there. The flowers and plant life are different too...the flowers are… Hmmm… they seem almost wild compared to ours, as if they have a mind of their own.” Drawing amused grey eyes back to him, “And the elephants… extraordinary creatures. Have you ever seen an elephant broke in like a horse… it’s much different though a bit the same I suppose.”


She blinked for a moment, her accent was English with just the faintest hint of the Indies dialect when she lost her temper. “The women are something fierce too…” Giving a small roll of her eyes as she thought to a few of the Irish women she’d met. Tilting her head in thought for a moment before she relaxed in the chair, laying her book on the table as she did so.


“Those who marry men like that… I suppose they are like me. Diana Butler, Countess of Gowran.” Extending her hand towards him wondering if he’d heard the rumors about her rather unorthodox wedding to John Butler.

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“I imagine the c-c-colors must be spectacular. T-t-tell me, how buh-big do the leaves get?” John had focused in on the plants almost immediately, “Oh, and what sort of p-p-plants do spices come from? Like… cuh-cinnamon, is it a truh-tree or a woody bush or… whuh-what?” John was getting very excited, which was itself unusual for him. He leaned forward and there was a zealous grin on his face.


John nodded no. He hadn’t ever seen an elephant. He’d seen pictures of them though. “I’d luh-like to see them, but they’re n-n-not much to be had in England.” He sounded disappointed with this fact.


He leaned back as they returned to mundane matters, “Ah yes,” John said, “I’ve huh-heard of you. The L-l-lord Maldon.” John shook her hand with a small smile.


There was a pause. Well, this is awkward. Lord Cavendish was the point of their connection. Lord Cavendish, one of the leading anti-Catholic politicians in England. To Lord Gowran, a known Catholic.


Finally, John spoke, “Luh-Lady Cavendish is well, last I heard. I huh-hear too little Lizzie’s outgrown d-d-dragons, though, which means I’ve g-g-got no idea what to get her.” Lady Cavendish, Diana's sister in law, and her daughter, Elizabeth Cavendish, Diana’s eight year old niece.


“Even I haven’t outgrown d-d-dragons.” John said sullenly.

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“Every size imaginable, from the enormous to the tiniest of ferns. Everything about it from the colors to the smells is spectacular. Cinnamon is actually a bark from the inside of a tree. Did you know that…? Actually, the natives use it medicinally for all sorts of ailments. Personally, the smell of it makes my mouth water and I can’t help wanting it on baked apples.” She sighed at the thought, her sweet tooth rearing it’s ugly head. “It’s unlike anything you could have ever imagine seeing…” Diana’s voice took a whimsical tone to it as she thought the location she’d spent her childhood. “Perhaps, I am but a little partial though.” She added with a cheeky wink.


“Yes. Yes, I don’t think they are quite as popular here in England as they are there… Pity, really…” She bit her bottom lip in thought. “They really are magnificent creatures though…”


As he mentioned he’d heard of her, her eyebrows shot upwards. “Oh? Well… Only believe half of what you hear. The good half preferably… though the latter is probably the truer.” She grinned again. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lord Maldon.”


Awkward moments passed before he spoke again, this time mentioning Lady Cavendish and Lizzie. Looking down at her hands she wasn’t sure what to really say to that. Clearing her throat softly, “That’s good to hear, I’ll pass the word on to my husband…” He mentioned he hadn’t outgrown dragon’s yet and the awkwardness she was feeling dissipated. A throaty chuckle rumbled out of her, “Dragons are very real… you should convince young Lizzie of it next you see of her!” Pausing, “I didn’t have the pleasure of becoming well acquainted with that branch of my husband’s family recently… they were not in Ireland when I was, I don’t think… but that really doesn’t surprise me.” Her eyebrows raised a little again curiously, “But… that doesn’t surprise you really either does it… considering I am Catholic.”

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John listened in rapt attention as she spoke of the plants and distant lands. He nodded negatively to knowing about cinnamon. He’d been able to tell from the powder it came from a kind of bark but not much more. His head spun with a thousand questions. He restrained himself, realizing he might be pestering her, and smiled somewhat apologetically.


John was … not shy exactly but he was in a very real sense afraid of people he didn’t know. There was a great deal of bitter experience there. So her dreamy look and a wink produced a small somewhat uncomfortable smile. “Well, it’s only n-n-natural to love your home.”


John chuckled at Diana’s quip, “Honesty… b-b-becomes you. The p-p-pleasure is mine.” John’s knowledge did not run deep. Lord Gowran, Irish Catholic earl and brother to Lord Ormonde, had married a Catholic Howard lady named Diana recently. They had no children and their estates were in Ireland.


John mentioned exactly who he was. Diana seemed to become nervous. John was unsurprised. His relations were the sort to make any Catholic nervous and rightfully so. But John was not trying to intimidate her and soon she was comfortable again.


“Oh?” John said, actually believing her when she said dragons were real, “D-d-did you see them… in the Indies?” John asked excitedly. He’d never been far afield. A dragon really seemed little more fantastical than an elephant.


John was perfectly happy to keep the awkwardness that Diana was an Irish Catholic Howard in the background (and could not conceive that any part of the awkwardness came from being an English Anglican Cavendish). Yet Diana decided to press the issue. “And, I b-b-believe, a Howard.” John said soberly. “No, n-n-not really.”


John didn’t know how well Cavendish knew his Catholic brothers in law. John certainly didn’t know them well. He was interested though. Lady Henrietta had all but won his affections and so he was currently considering a suit. And it was useful to know about a family’s Papist sheep.


John looked at Diana as if to indicate it was still her move. He had no idea what she wanted by just plopping the fact of her Catholicism in front of him.

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  • 3 weeks later...

His uncomfortable smile seemed to go unnoticed by Diana. “Quite true, Home is home…” She bit her bottom lip and glanced down at her book, her fingers tracing the outline of the title.


What he knew pretty much summed up her life, well… the important parts anyway. His chuckle wasn’t something she’d been expecting after his uncomfortable smile. She smiled, “Honesty becomes everyone, the difference is knowing when to speak and when not to. Right? Expressing their honesty… knowing that is far more becoming.”


Was that a moment of surprise as she leveled her gaze at him again. “Dragons… did I see them? Yes. There… but I do believe I have seen just as many of them here in England too. Have you not seen them…? Most of them are of the two-legged variety though I am afraid.”


Diana didn’t usually offer information unless there was a reason. She had her own agenda by pressing her Papist beliefs at a topic. Giving a single nod of her head, “Yes, a Howard. My cousin is Norfolk.” Her calm grey eyes seemed to study him again as she offered that information. He didn’t seem like the sort prepared to run her out of town though. She couldn’t be too careful though.


John might have noticed her fingers had tightened around her book, “Hmm…” Her gaze lingered for another few seconds and she sighed, her grip loosening off the book. It was all this talk about Cavendishes… things were complicated enough between the Cavendishes and the Howards. “Forgive me for pressing the issue… not everyone is as welcoming as they appear.”

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Diana looked down at the play and seemed a tad forlorn. “Do you m-m-miss it?” John asked. That was all he could think of. He felt great sympathy for those brought far away from their homes. He’d never experienced such a loss himself so he imagined it must be immense. “I m-m-might be able to… help a little.”


Her thoughts on honesty made John chuckled again. “Well said. You are c-c-correct, of course.” John replied with a wide and genuine smile. She struck him as very well bred, especially for someone from the colonies. “D-d-discretion is the buh-better part of… many virtues.”


John seemed eager until she said they were in England too. Then he was perplexed. Then she said they were two legged and John felt tricked by a metaphor. His tone turned a bit somber and serious, “I d-d-don’t think there are dragons… with two legs, lady. Just p-p-people. B-b-bad people sometimes, but never anything m-m-more.” John had been accused of all sorts of things on account of how he was. Being possessed, demonic, a curse, possessing cracked understanding…


John shifted uncomfortably as she examined him. He was used to being found wanting. Yet after a moment she seemed to be satisfied and relaxed again. Ah John thought. She had been testing him. “You are suh-satisfied, then?” John noted her with a bit of new interest. If she was Norfolk's first cousin she was a distant relation of John's. Not that that connection to the Cavendishes had ever counted for much with either side.

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Missing something, whether it be a place, a person, a feeling was a often complex. The truth was you didn’t always miss them but after the shock of the loss was gone and all it left was the memory, the feeling of missing them snuck up on you slowly and carefully. When your mind was tired or left alone and allowed to wanderer to happier times. For Diana, it was the weather that had her longing for the Indies… that and perhaps a bit of cowardice. After her father’s death, Diana’s life had never quite been the same again. Maybe that was what she longed for, her life before her father’s death.


I m-m-might be able to… help a little. Lord Maldon’s words brought her back from her drifting mind, back to the reality of the world. Her thin eyebrows arched at his offer. Polite ladies never assumed a comment was to be taken the wrong way, but Diana had found few people ever offered help without some sort of repayment and her guard was almost always up. He’d seemed nice enough but Diana was sure that Eve had felt the snake in the Garden was nice enough too once up a long time ago. “Oh?” The curiosity disguising her wariness. “You might be able too? How so?”


“It might be the better virtue, but not always the most fun.” Diana shot back cheekily and sighed with a overly dramatic flair, offering him another smile in the process.


For her usual playfulness, Diana didn’t want to lead anyone on. She was who and what she was, part of her charm was the fact that she rarely played that game. She noted the somberness as he realized that she was speaking of people and not St. Georges’ mystical nemesis. “Very true. The dragons I was thinking of are merely people, bad people, but the parallel to their behavior often is quite similar to those qualities of any good storybook dragon.” Shifting in her chair, she relaxed a little. If he thought she was accusing him of being possessed, demonic, a curse, or possessing cracked understanding, John would have found an interesting argument of, ‘So what?’ From Diana, being a woman, usually she was called all of those things at least once a month. Life was what it was… people rarely were dealt the hand of cards that should have been given to them and by all appearances, John Bramston seemed to be making the most out of his cards.


“Well, I haven’t seen you pull a pitchfork and a torch from under the table yet...” Diana replied wryly as a slow amused smile formed on her lips. “So unless you plan to persecute me later?” Raising a teasing eyebrow at him, she smirked and bluntly teased. “Do you plan to persecute me later knowing I am a papist? If not, I believe I would steer the conversation away from our differences and more towards our common interests.” She nodded towards his stack of books, “How many of these have you read? Which has been your favorite so far?”

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John smiled, “Those p-p-plants we spuh-spoke of? I’m t-t-trying to muh-mount an expedition to get some. The ships m-m-might bring things there, or buh-back for you.” And in return she would hopefully help them with her contacts back home, or at least be supportive. John did have his prices and motives but he tried not to be sinister. He did not like to think of himself as a dragon or a snake, even to the Catholics.


John laughed again at her mock dramatics. “And what is the m-m-most fun, lady?” She had a pleasing wit to go along with her beauty. Her husband, it seemed had married well. To think the warmest of them is the Catholics. John thought in surprise. Diana was not the first of Ormonde’s relatives he’d met but she was among the pleasanter ones.


John shifted slightly as she spoke of bad people and dragons. He felt as if he, or at least his family, was being lightly accused. But as he’d just said, discretion was the better part of many things. And moreover, there was no fun to be had in recriminations. At least not for John. He imagined certain sorts of people got all sorts of enjoyment out of condemning others.


He himself didn’t think even many people were evil. He imagined everything always made sense to everyone from their own perspective.


John smiled bemusedly as she asked after his pitchfork and torch, “Oh, they’re only f-f-for… formal occasions. It’s n-n-not as if I m-m-make my fruh-friends swear the Test.” Of course, to his knowledge John had no Catholic friends. He still wasn’t sure if he could have them, but he was perfectly willing to try.


As to the books, they were mostly nonfiction. Or rather, the authors intended them to be nonfiction. No doubt some of the notions within were rather fanciful. They were mostly related to history, trade, and politics. Spain, Ireland, and companies seemed to be the theme. “I’m n-n-not reading them straight through mostly. P-p-petty I have.” John gestured to The Anatomy of Ireland.


“He’s vuh-very good, informative. But I d-d-do think you might hold him as a dragon.”

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Diana raised a curious eyebrow at John as he spoke of importation. Her father had invested in import and export there, so it was a world she did know about. She studied him intently for a long moment then looked away. “An expedition, hmm…” She murmured more to herself, she couldn’t say that she was all that surprised. “The Dutch have primary control down there right now.” Her grey eyes met his again. “And they are not the easiest to get along with in regards to their spices. When I left, they were burning a great many trees and sabotaging nutmeg seeds to prevent their competition from purchasing them to grow their own trees.” Diana’s lips thinned a little at that thought, her father had purchased a large number of “milk of lime” soaked seeds, it’d been the turning point in his financial gamble… the one that caused a chain of bad decisions from there on out as he tried to recoup his losses. Was this man really prepared for all that went with making money in the Indies?


“Don’t think I am trying to dissuade you from your endeavor though…” She continued after having gave him a moment to ponder on that. “Quite the contrary. It’s a good idea… the Dutch can’t keep it all forever.” Biting her bottom lip, she considered the world down there for a moment. “How do you feel about the French? You will need allies down there and they are just sneaky enough they might possess the ability to level the playing field with the spice trade.” Letting a quick glance around the library before she nodded her head, “Consider what I’ve said and if you are interested in discussing it a bit further… feel free to call on Gowran House. I usually go to the chapel quite early but by late morning I am usually back.”


And what is the m-m-most fun… The lady gave an almost wolfish smile, allowing it to curl slowly up on one side showing a dimple in her cheek. “Who’s to say, my lord? I suppose that is different for all people…” Diana teasingly diverted with a nonchalant shrug.


“A generous soul, I see.” Diana laughed at his joke about torches and pitchforks for formal occasions. Maybe she was lightly accusing his family, but her thoughts had actually been towards some other people that she knew. She’d once considered setting her cap for the young, Henry Cavendish. Diana wasn’t about to point too many fingers at them with that in mind.


Reaching out she lifted a couple of the books to glance at them as he spoke. Spain. Ireland. They weren’t the sort of books one read to relax on a cold winter day that was for sure. He gestured towards The Anatomy of Ireland. “A dragon you say…” She murmured and opened the book flipping through it and scanning the pages. “St. George made dragon slaying sound fun…” Glancing momentarily up at him, she offered a small smile then glanced back at the pages. “My advice… Ireland can not be described in a manner to do it justice. It must be experienced if you don’t want just information but you want truth.”


She closed the book and offered it back out to him, “These are just words, in a opinion of one man. There may be similarities for everyone who visits but you will never know what it is like if you do not experience it yourself.”

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Diana had mistaken John’s intent. He was a gardener who had wanted the plants for their own sake. Yet her plan was appealing. And frankly, harming the Dutch after how they’d treated him seemed appealing. Especially if that harm was bringing benefit to England. John thought there was little profit in revenge, but where revenge brought profit on its own…


John looked at her, obviously hanging on her opinion. He had been planning on using the Iberians, the Spanish and the Portuguese, but John was not really opposed to the French. He was opposed in principle but principles withered in the face of practicality. He nodded to her invitation. He would be over.


John smiled back at her artful dodge and laughed briefly. Unlike his voice his laugh was a clear, joyful thing. “You,” John accused without the least bit of seriousness, “Are w-w-worse than a Papist. You are a tease.” He pointed an accusing finger. And he laughed along at his generosity, though in truth nonconformists might find comfort in John’s indulgence.


“It is.” John said of dragon slaying, “If you and your… husband w-w-want, I’m g-g-going to have a little snowball siege on the… thirty fuh-first. There’ll be d-d-dragons but you might be on my side.” John smiled. It was a childish bit of fun but he was eager to bring along everyone he could.


But then she took his study more seriously. John was burdened, if not with ambition, with the weight of inheritance. He took the book whens she offered it.


Truth. The truth was John was English. And truthfully, there was… ugliness in that. Ugliness John was but rarely aware of. There wasn’t ugliness per se in his love of festival fires and peasant songs. But the same people who sung those songs and danced around the flames would march to make sure men like John would determine the fate of people like Diana.


Yet John was decent. And the books had tugged at his sense of decency. Perhaps the people of Essex and Suffolk were not wrong to invest their faith in him, “Is that an invitation?” John asked, with due gravity. If she wished to teach him, he wished to learn. His thoughts had been… well, not entirely noble but done for love, which made wrong feel right.

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  • 2 months later...

Being the poor little orphaned Howard had taught Diana one very important lesson. Loyalty was something as easily traded as any goods, bought and sold by those in power. Truthfully, Diana would have sold her loyalties to anyone who could have provided her a means to escape the hand fate had dealt her. Thankfully, fate had smiled on her and she’d not had to sell her loyalties as cheaply as she’d once feared. Gowran might be a lot of things, and hardly a saint of a man but she knew there could be worse… and left it at that.


Her lips spread in a slow knowing smile as he stuttered out the truth of sins. Worse than a Papist, she was a tease… it was something she thoroughly enjoyed which made it all the more forbidden. He pointed his finger at her laughing easily in a manner that caused her smile to spread even wider. Glancing sheepishly down at her book, “Guilty is charged, my Lord. I won’t even deny that accusation.”


“A snowball siege…” She breathed it out, seeming to chew on it for a long moment. It sounded like a good way to get into trouble. It sounded undignified and something she by all means should turn her Howard nose up at, but those were also all the reasons she wanted to go. “I’ll have to check my schedule but how can I resist the temptation to slay a few dragons if the opportunity arises? It sounds like quite a time…” It wasn’t a yes, but it was not a no… It was a definitely maybe.


He took the book, not quickly but not slowly either. He seemed to have to think about what she said which was more than most people gave her. She figured most people thought that pretty is as pretty does - for that record… pretty didn’t do very much very often but every now and then it managed to get the upperhand.


Was it an invitation? He asked with far more gravity than was called for in her book. She raised an slight eyebrow just enough to challenge him. “Yes.” It was a blunt, non-flowery sort of answer. “If you decide you should like to see Ireland and you wish to study the difference of opinions of your books and the natives then you are welcome at Gowran Castle. Besides I am always in full support of a bit of adventure… it is good for your health.”

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John laughed some more at her admission, dissolving into aftershocks of chuckles. He smiled at her sheepishness, though, which was play-acted marvelously. “Well, it’s… not as if I hate it.” John said, backing away, “I f-f-find your company very pleasant, truthfully.” He said with an easy smile.


John grinned knowingly as she gave a delightfully politick answer to his siege. “Tease.” He said. He was quite happy to let her flit about as she wished. There was nothing he’d said that actually demanded gravity. “Do t-t-tell me your decision when you make it.” He was not going to press her. Yet he felt, in the world of definite maybes, this one was a little less than definite, and a little leaning towards ‘yes, though I shouldn’t’. Which would do marvelously.


John had rather odd attitudes about women, something he was only now discovering. They were in line with his experiences of his family, though, where there had been two decade long regencies led by women within living memory. Where women published under their own name, travelled, were educated, and so on. So John did not automatically take a woman for a fool, even a pretty one. So far, the only result was he was beginning to feel the ladies of court were a bit starved for mental stimulation.


John smiled wanly at her reply, “Before I t-t-travel so far, perhaps I should have some Irish and Catholics adventures here.” Besides, John wouldn’t feel comfortable in a place he believed was hostile. Nor did he want people to talk about taking such a long journey to meet Irish Catholics.


He placed the book on the table. He had less need of it now, though he’d also already read it through. “I have heard much b-b-bad about your… faith, your family, and your c-c-country. I l-l-look forward to seeing its good.”


There was weight there, at least for John. He’d just offered an opportunity, if not to change his mind, at least to sway his opinion, to moderate it, on one of the most important political issues of the day. It was given easily but not lightly.

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“Truthfully!” Diana batted her lashes with feigned surprise giving way to a throaty chuckle and a shake of her head. “You are flattering me, my lord… How can I be anything less than charming?” She returned his easy smile with one of her own.


With an affirmative nod of her blond head, “I planned to do nothing less than let you know my decision once I’ve checked my schedule. Where shall I send word?” He hadn’t pressed for an answer… lucky for him… he might have seen a less than charming disposition from her if he had of.


Diana could understand his weariness to travel so far, especially under such misguided ideas of what was to be expected when you arrived. Her gaze flickered and she nodded knowingly, it was a wise move on his behalf though she didn’t tell him so. Tilting her head she paused a long moment then sighed and spoke, “I think the Irish and Catholic adventures that are here might be as hairy as anything you might find in Ireland, perhaps even worse…”


“The adventures you will find here will be the ones that are quite a bit more dangerous. Here you are practically on the frontline of the battle. You are here where the politics are decided, and where the hatred burns a little hotter on both sides then it does anywhere else.” Her mouth tightened momentarily before she forced the lines to relax. “The adventures here are no less hostile than those to be found elsewhere in the world.”


He admitted to having heard bad things about her… faith,family and country. Diana’s features were schooled but she gave another affirmative nod. “I should expect no less of the things you’ve heard. That does not surprise me in the least and do not expect to hear me exclaim any sort of innocence for any of the above but there are always two sides to a coin and I hope you will not be disappointed in the other side of that particular coin.”

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John let out a small puff of air and smiled back. “My London house, if you p-p-please.” And John gave the address. Fortunately, for both of them it seemed, John had manners, especially in the simple decencies. “And d-d-do send over times for tea as well.” He was most interested in meeting her husband, if nothing else because propriety demanded he not carry on an association with her without meeting her husband.


John looked back at her as she seemed to consider, “I’m sorry if this is disquieting.” He regretted he could not be warmer or lighter.


John listened intently to her speaking of danger. His reply had a firmness, a certainty to it. “This is my home. I live here. My home c-c-county is p-p-perhaps five miles east of here and London… was p-p-part of it for some time.” John said, “If I c-c-can’t win here, then I’ve lost.” John felt safer in London not because it was safer but because it was his home.


And because, rightly or wrongly, he felt even the commoners of the southeast would recognize him as one of their own. If a London rioter accosted him, he would shame the fellow for daring to molest a pure-bred Anglican English lord. Tory or Whig he could list off numerous relatives who had fought and died for their cause. In Ireland, all that was gone. He was just a foreigner at best, and possibly even an oppressor.


John fell a little at her schooled features. He had not mean to drive her into discomfort again. But, he supposed, this was not going to be wholly comfortable for either of them. Bridges between people of genuine differences of sentiment built over more than a century of division and blood were not easily engineered.


“If you are the other side, I d-d-don’t think I shall.” He smiled. “But that’s all I ask. No one is a d-d-dragon in their own mirror. That’s what I w-w-want to see.”

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With a nod of her head, Diana wanted to be certain he didn’t have an office which he preferred his letters to be sent too. “Of course, my lord. Are there any days in particular that are best for you? We are quite at our leisure in the afternoons most days.” She might have been a morning person, but Gowran was rarely up before noon.


“Life itself is disquieting, there is no need to apologize for that.” Diana sternly reassured. “I am not a lily about to wilt from being stepped on. The world is not perfect and I am capable of accepting that there are things we don’t always disquiet us.”


She spoke of danger, of the unease in London. You would have had to been living under a rock not to have know about the problems with Catholics and against Catholics. The riots were made to draw attention to that fact. He spoke in a confident manner that ebbed a bit more respect for him in Diana’s eyes.


After a long moment, Diana gave a soft nod of her head. “Well said, my lord. What sort of lady would I be though not to bring issue to the dangers of it though.” Grey eyes settled on him, “I do not doubt your ability to win here, or in Ireland for that matter. It is the ones who have never known a hardship that need the true warnings. I do not suspect you are one of them.”


“Now who is the tease, my lord. Disappointment isn’t something that instantaneously hits us. It had a tendency to creep up on us with reflection.” She chuckled, “Admiration works the same way too.” Nodding, “Well, then I hope you see what you want, experience both the pleasant and the unpleasant, but may the unpleasant be less then the pleasant.”

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“Monday or T-t-Tuesday afternoon would be… lovely.” John said with a smile. John too was an early riser, very early many days, but he was happy to accommodate the sleeping in of others. Truthfully he was a bit jealous of it, at times, but he had trouble sleeping comfortably. A habit bred into him by the need to wake up before his mother if he wanted to leave for the day without bother.


“I d-d-didn’t imagine you weak,” John rushed to assure her, “But it’s n-n-natural to prefer pleasant things. I certainly do.” Fortunately, he did not rise to that delusion that speaking of unpleasant things was unpleasantness caused by the speaker. “I do not wish our relationship to be d-d-dominated by unpleasantness, I suppose.”


If nothing else she was a sort of family. John often played the game of distant connections with even obscure cousins, but she was not obscure. Cavendish was her brother-in-law. Even if Cavendish took his relationship to John more seriously, that didn’t make them unconnected.


“An uncaring one,” John replied, “And you d-d-do yourself credit by your warning.” And John hoped he had done himself some credit by his reply. He was not unaware of the dangers. Yet this seemed, to him, worth doing. There was no innocence in ignorance and certainly no safety. A snake in the Book had taught him that long ago. He simply sighed and nodded when she confirmed he’d suffered hardship.


John smiled at her observation, a bit obvious but nevertheless true. He nodded at her well wish, “Thank you, my l-l-lady. I hope you might… find me agreeable, even upon reflection.” Despite their births which were, to say the least, divergent.

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It was a rare day that Diana slept in. After arriving back in England, she’d found it difficult to be asleep for too long without jolting awake. It had seemed easier to be awake in the mornings and late unto the evenings and for the most part she’d seemed to adjusted well to that particular schedule. She could sleep when she was too old to enjoy many of the things she did enjoy. Nodding, “That would suit us well too.”


Offering John a slow smile that said she was sure he hadn’t meant it quite that way. “Our relationship, any relationship is dominated by what we make it. Unpleasantness doesn’t just appear… it is made. I do not think either of us wish to make it unpleasant for the other.” Reaching out she patted his hand reassuringly and shifted to rise back to her feet in preparation to leave him to his reading.


“I sort of do, do myself credit by the warning don’t I?” She teased with a impish grin and a wink, “I am sure you’ve heard a great many things about the Howard modesty.” PIcking up her Antony and Cleopatra book, Diana held it close and grew a tiny bit more serious, “I find you quite agreeable already, my lord. You’ve been nothing but politeness to me, and in that I can find no fault.”


Glancing towards the door, before looking back at Maldon. “However, I fear I’ve kept you long enough. I pray you a Happy Christmas Eve, Lord Maldon. It was a pleasure to meet you.”

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John smiled gratefully at her assurance and then let out a puff of air at her tease.


He stood as she did. He made no move to follow, though. It was simply a sign of respect. He grinned, “I’ve heard they’re the b-b-best at being modest, yes.” John said. The smile faded into something a bit more genuine and nodded when she said she found him agreeable. He found her so as well.


“Happy Christmas Eve, Lady Gowran.” And after she had left, he went back to his reading.


OOC: Finis, and thank you for a lovely thread!

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