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Frozen [24/12, afternoon, open]- Xmas 1677

Sophia de la Cerda

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The Park was once a marshy water meadow, but now is a thriving attraction with all of London's elite. Charles' grandfather, James I, improved the drainage and controlled the water supply. Other royalty had made improvement to the park over their reigns, but it was Charles II who made dramatic changes. The Park was redesigned, with avenues of trees planted and lawns laid. The King opened the park to the public and is a frequent visitor, feeding the ducks and mingling with his subjects.


In summer, it was fashionable to drink warm milk, freshly drawn from herds of cows placidly grazing in the London parks, at a kind of milk bar provided for the purpose. The milk sellers would advertise their wares by calling: "A can of milk, ladies, a can of red cow's milk, sir!"


Followed by her bodyguard, Sophia strolled through the park, hoping to lessen the nervous energy that always afflicted her in the hours leading up to an important performance. The excitement and anticipation made it difficult for her to remain still and although she didn't tolerate cold temperatures well, she felt stifled inside the house. Her fur-lined cloak kept her warm enough, and walking briskly helped as well.


She wasn't the only person in the park today, evidenced by the shoe-shaped impressions in the snow that blanketed the ground. During her years in Venice, snow had been a rarity, but she recalled how fond she had been of it as a child in Germany. On some mornings, she would wake up and run to the window, hoping to see snowflakes falling outside. They had seemed quite magical to her and she adored running outside and watching as they fell around her, occasionally sticking out her tongue to see if she could catch one. Sophia had often joined the servants' children and those from the surrounding farms in making snow forts and having snowball fights.


A soft smile of reverie graced her lips and she bent down and scooped some snow into her gloved hands. It was cold, but it was beautiful, sparkling under the winter sun. She rolled it the way she had done as a child, adding more snow until she had formed a good-sized snowball. As she rose, she admired it for a moment and then impulsively hurled it as far as she could, heedless of whether there was anyone directly in its path.


{OOC: Anyone want to get hit by a snowball or maybe even participate in a snowball fight? Everyone is welcome!}

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Andraemon was a swift horse of Spanish extraction, smaller than most English breeds but lighter of foot and unusually more stable of temperament, but altogether well-suited to his master's needs, up to and including its odd, decidedly unfashionable pintado coat. What the unfortunate beast did not excel in, and indeed (had his thoughts been able to have voiced in a coherent manner) would have described as altogether irritating, were dealing with the startling unpleasantries of being hit by a snowball in full stride.


The horse flinched somewhat as its frozen assailant made impact, veering briefly from its brisk gallop -an old habit newly returned, now that both horse and rider were in the same area once more- down a well-worn path along Saint James Park, startled nearly to the point of rearing before his master James O'Neill, whose mercurial nature did no favors for Andraemon's skittish reaction, reigned him in with a rather loud exclamation. “Easy! By Jove, lad, easy!”


It took several long, anxiety-ridden moments before the Jennet was calmed, having escaped with its rider to a small nearby grove of trees. “Who in God's name targets a damned horse? Irresponsible in the utmost” James muttered to himself, finally certain enough of Andraemon's stability to begin to tie him to a nearby oak, grimacing somewhat as he craned his neck in the direction of the snowball's flight once the horse was secure.


Lady Toledo, apparently. The German lady was visible through the barren branches and stumps, although whether or not she had caught a glimpse of her erstwhile target was unknown. “That was rather un-gallant, my dear lady!” As startled as he was amused, and as irritated as he was planning a bit of retribution, James called back from behind the grove, one gloved hand reaching from behind him to reach for a clump of snow. Balling it up, he moved forward and away from cover, smirking to himself as he approached the young woman, boots leaving a very distinct mark in the snow.


Louder, James added, “You owe Andraemon and I an apology!” And it was with that -her attention hopefully gained and diverted, and the distance between them bridged so as to ease his aim- the arms crossed behind his back gained a sudden purpose, a snowball launched at Sophia in counter-attack.

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The galloping horse seemed to come out of nowhere and Sophia blinked as her snowball slammed into it and burst into tiny soft crystals that sparkled in the sun. She had unintentionally spooked it, and she ducked behind a bare bush and watched in horror as its rider fought to control it. She didn't recognize the gentleman from this distance, but she hoped he either hadn't realized what had happened or that he had an excellent sense of humor. With any luck, he wouldn't notice her at all but continue on his way.


This was exactly the sort of thing she wasn't supposed to do anymore. Once again, her impulsiveness had caused a bit of accidental mischief, and now that she had risen in status, it would not be so easily overlooked. Despite her tender age, she was a foreign Ambassador's wife and was held to stricter standards than if she had been a naïve maiden new to court. Esteban would be displeased if she wound up in trouble because of a hastily thrown snowball. She should have known better, but the damage had been done and she would have to face the consequences.


The breath she had not realized she had been holding whooshed out of her as horse and rider entered a nearby grove of trees. The gentleman had not seen her. She was safe and no retribution was forthcoming. Deciding to remain concealed for a few moments longer, Sophia glanced toward the grove. They had apparently stopped, judging from the sounds she heard. Maybe she wasn't safe after all.


And the disembodied voice that scolded her confirmed her suspicions. Her breath caught in her throat and her heart thundered in her chest. Of course, the bush didn't hide her very well. Her fair eyes, skin, and hair might have blended into the snowy background but her cloak was a pretty shade of violet and the splash of color was like a beacon pointing out her location. She moved out onto the pathway, knowing that it was no use trying to pretend that she had not been responsible.


The voice sounded familiar and when the gentleman stepped out of his own hiding place and strode toward her, she recognized Master O'Neill, the Irishman she had met in the palace library last season. Sophia had thought she had made a poor impression on him at the time, and how much worse he must think of her now! She gulped when he demanded an apology. Concentrating on finding the correct words to say that would express her remorse and mollify him at the same time, she didn't see the snowball hurtling in her direction.


It hit her right below her bosom, splattering her cloak with glittering white flakes. Startled, she looked up at him, surprise apparent on her fair features for just a moment before a slow smile spread across her face. “Very well,” she conceded, a note of playfulness in her lyrical voice. Without trying to hide her intentions, she scooped some snow from a branch of a bush and balled it up in her gloved hands. “One apology, coming right up!”


And once more giving into her youthful impulses, she let the snowball fly.

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Sophia's less than stellar first impression had been one made on a James O'Neill cut from a wholly new cloth than this iteration. That James had been sullen, agitated, overwhelmed by his own circumstances, and plagued by the twin woes of bitterness and nostalgia. It had been no more pleasant than it could have been considered under his own control.


But this James was a different breed. He was the thundercloud in the dead silence of the night and the static that brought goosebumps to the skin; a man on the make, in possession of his own future and all the necessities to make that future brighter than the sun.


He was unstoppable and far, far past uncontrollable. Suffice to say, he hardly recalled his last meeting with Lady Toledo.


As if dubious of his own intentions, he watched Sophia with a curious gaze and a slight pursing of his lips, however amused he may have been by his own accuracy. Green eyes drifting only slightly down to the snowball's eventual target, with a completely un-repressed smirk the poet could not help but think, Ha! Now there is a subject worthy of the bawdiest Catullus! And then vengeance -icy, brutal, and perhaps deserved- flew straight and true, leaving him only enough time to do the Christian thing and turn his cheek...


And as it made its cold impact, falling to the ground gracelessly, James couldn't help but wheel backwards several paces on impulse alone. “My, my, Lady Toledo,” he said, reeling backwards at the direct hit. “And here they said you were becoming quite the proper Spanish lady. What will people say?”


Making a brief tsk sound with his tongue, he drove backwards, towards Andraemon and the trees....lobbing a snowball her way in retort, though the aim mattered little. James was simply biding his time till he reached the trees and the young woman followed, all the better to grab onto a branch and make its contents descend downwards... “Besides,” he continued, grinning as he pivoted and made an about-face, breaking into a brief sprint. Impulse had taken control, and consideration of propriety was less than an afterthought.


“You still owe an apology to Andraemon. Not I, my lady. Not I.”

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Sophia remembered quite a bit about James. She had first met him at Lord Melville's party. He had recited a poem he had written and when they had met a few days later in the library, he had told her the story behind it, which she still remembered quite well. He had been to Italy and spoke a bit of Italian ans she had suggested that he have his poems put to music. She had found him intelligent, witty, and charming. And like her, he had an artistic soul. Yet after she had described Venice to him at his request, he had quickly excused himself and fled, making her wonder if he found her recollections insufferably dull. Or if she had accidentally said something that had upset him.


Whatever she had done, either he had forgotten all about it or she had been forgiven. His playfulness delighted her. She knew she shouldn't be lobbing snowballs at a handsome gentleman who was not her husband … or even the handsome gentleman who was … but he had asked for it by tossing one at her. The first one had been unintentional and she felt a bit guilty that it had hit his poor horse. Acapella would have probably have acted the same way.


Sophia expected him to move out of her way when it became clear that she planned to retaliate, but he stood where he was, almost as if he didn't believe she would really do it. But her 'apology' flew toward him and hit its mark and she laughed as he reeled backwards and then headed toward the trees where his horse was tethered.


“They will say I have an excellent aim!” she teased. Lifting the hem of her skirt, she ran after him, managing to avoid the ball of snow he pitched at her by dancing sideways. What a wonderful way to lessen her pre-performance jitters! Her nervousness was all but gone.


She continued to pursue him as he made for the copse, stopping once to scoop up another handful of snow. “OF course I'll apologize to your horse. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I never meant to hit him.”


Sophia hurled her next icy projectile, not paying attention to the snow on the branches above her. “You, however, are a different matter entirely.”

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  • 2 weeks later...

Playful, certainly, was one adjective that could have been used to describe James O'Neill. And in that moment, several others could have been equally applicable: he was ablaze, truly; mischievous would not have made the mark in its entirety, and rampant would have been insufficient. He wanted nothing short of the entire experience: life in its fullest was for the taking, the feeling; he wanted to touch, taste, and hear all that was to offer.


The mere descriptor of 'playful' would have been nearly insulting, like comparing a candle to a sunrise.


“Is that so, my lady?” James barked a laugh, briefly envisaging the sort of scenario in which court would discuss their little duel. “A delightful fiction, to be sure. Perhaps you ought to consider a literary career, hm?” He led her further into the woods, bramble scraping against his new boots all the while. A plan was beginning to formulate, and all he had to do was distract the young girl with his obvious charms all the while...


Her own dodge was not a surprising thing, nor was, he suspected, his own...behind a branch and around a tree went their uneven path, closer to his own ambush. James found himself grinning, then, before turning to the lady. “Andraemon is just around the corner, my lady...”


Suddenly, he raised a pale hand to the branch an arm's length above him, all the better to bring more of the tree's snowy contents down upon his pursuer. “Though I believe this shall satisfy his own honor. Your cloak besmirched and chasing after strange gentleman...my point stands, my dear Lady Toledo.”

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Fiction?” she asked, one pale eyebrow quirking upwards as she ran after him. “I hit you, did I not? I think my assessment was quite accurate.” Sophia laughed as she dodged the snowball he threw at her. “But perhaps you are right. Maybe I should write poetry.” It took her several long moments of frantic thought before she ventured:


“From Lady Toledo's hands a snowball came

And hit its target with startling aim

Yet when Master O'Neil tossed his own

It missed the lady when it was thrown.”


Sophia was no poet, but she knew enough English now to make simple rhymes. Perhaps she had made a rather poor attempt at verse, but she was quite proud of herself for coming up with anything at all coherent while chasing the Irishman through the park. Her second snowball missed as well, and she wondered if he would retaliate with a poem to immortalize her failure.


As she entered the grove of trees, she was unable to lob another snowball at him. Her hands were occupied pulling her skirts out of the way of fallen branches. After she apologized to his horse … which she fully intended to do … she would dash behind a tree, which would give her time to make another snowball.


Sophia followed him trustingly, blissfully unaware that he was leading her into a trap until a flurry rained down upon her from above, sprinkling her hair, face and cloak with a liberal coating of glittering fluff. Startled, she jumped back, lost her balance, and fell on her backside with an undignified thud. “And you don't fight fair!” she exclaimed, chuckling as she brushed some of the snow from her hair. “Although I suppose I asked for it. I hope your horse is satisfied now.”


She held up a slender hand, hoping that he would help her up, her mind whirling with possibilities.

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The chase began in earnest, James setting off at a brisk jog through the snow. With an absent tug at the silver clasp of his cloak, he gave a slight smile at Sophia's quip, albeit one made more at the attempt than its contents. He was not so arrogant, surely, to begrudge her the motions of humor...though perhaps just arrogant enough to retaliate with an impromptu conversation of his own.


“Does frostbite sour our autumn peach once sweet...” A glance shot over his shoulder towards the German lady would have revealed a sly smile, his tone low but pleasant. Peaches, naturally, held a peculiar symbolism within the literary and artistic world, one speaking as much of femininity as it did innocence and naivety. “...that the fair fallen fruit must adopt a poet's conceit?”


Their mad dash gave him the momentary advantage, and his ruse seemed to go off without a hitch, prompting another grin on his own humble behalf. “All's fair, my lady!” James shouted back in between chortles of laughter. This was easy. This was losing himself in the moment, forgoing all restraint, all higher thought for base impulse. What felt natural became natural, and all was -would be- forgotten.


“A very wise man once said that, I believe.” Nodding for clear emphasis, James spotted the fallen lady, lips quirking in what may very well have been a demonstration of amusement as it was concern. “But I'm sure Andraemon's honor has been satisfied...” He took a few cautious steps forward, wary for the girl to pull some sort of trickery on him, before a pale hand, its first two fingers calloused with the wear of penmanship, was offered in assistance. “Yet let none say I am without the self-same gallantry as yourself, my lady.”

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His simple verse put hers to shame, but then he was a poet and Sophia was a singer. She would definitely not attempt another rhyme anytime soon. Her already flushed cheeks took on a slightly deeper hue, a bit embarrassed that she did not have an eloquent way with words. She could have blamed it on her poor command of the English language, but even in German and Italian, she was dismal at poetry.


The race through the park was exhilarating and helped to dispel most of her nervous energy. The opera was momentarily forgotten as she concentrated on catching up with him. With her skirts hindering her movement, that was impossible, but she wasn't about to give up. Oh, how she wished ladies could wear breeches. She could run much faster then and throw snowballs at the same time.


Master O'Neill's revenge was as creative as his poetry and she found herself sprawled upon the snowy ground. The cold had not yet penetrated her cloak and the layers of her skirts, but she knew that it would soak through and chill her if she didn't rise to her feet soon. Sophia looked up at him when he claimed that all was fair, a mischievous twinkle in her ice-blue eyes. “The man who said that must have been too wise to fall into one of your traps,” she replied. “But I have learned my lesson. I will never trust you again.”


But would he trust her? Sophia noticed that he seemed a bit hesitant to help her up, and for good reason. Her plan was probably a bit obvious and rather uninspired, but if he didn't see it coming, it might work.


When he finally did extend his hand, she grinned. “Ahh yes, we are well-matched when it comes to gallantry.” To prove it, as soon as her gloved hand grasped his, she tugged it with all her meager strength, hoping that he would lose his balance and tumble to the ground beside her.

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“Never again?” James barked a hoarse laugh, throat raw with nights of sleeplessness and days of mad, constant conversation driven by the same desire to burn, to live, talk, and experience as that which had set him upon his ride through the park. “Why, my lady, are we finally learning?”


“Perhaps I ought be proud.” He allowed the young German a wry grin and a wink, letting playfulness overcome caution for a moment. Not that such requires “Normally, the process of winning a maiden's distrust is a long, drawn-out affair, and one that requires far more subtlety. Although...” A twitch of his lips belied either some personal amusement or an uncontrolled tic, but seemingly ignoring this, James pressed on, declaring merrily “I suppose the danger is no less extreme. No?”


A statement that proved itself remarkably true within no less than a minute, as the karmic retribution towards his gloating came in the form of Sophia's gloved hand suddenly pulled him towards the ground. Startled, James went to sidestep his landing, thinking to avoid falling directly atop the lady, only to spin around in a half circle and attempt to brace himself with his left hand...


...which provided little and less in the way of cushioning or softening the impact. Indeed, it twisted slightly as the graceless fall was completed, his free hand slipping from Sophia's grasp, and he immediately let out a sharp gasp of pain as the ground made its wretched presence. “For the love of--” Hissing, he twisted away from the awkward position, gazing from his suddenly sore wrist back to the lady as pale fingers ran through his scalp to a rapidly-forming bruise. “-whatever is...ah- whatever is sacred!”


Cradling the swollen part of his hand, James winced. “...well-matched indeed,” he managed in between sharp exhales, perhaps somewhat overreacting to the pain. “I yield, my lady. Well...fought.”

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“I had no reason to distrust you before this.” She grinned impudently. “I will be wary of you from now on.” Sophia was just teasing him. She would not avoid him simply because he had gotten a bit of well-earned … and creative … revenge. He was rather capricious, scolding her one moment and dumping snow on her the next. It was a trait they shared, as well as the desire to live life to the fullest and savor every moment.


What kind of dance partner would he be, she wondered? Would he dance with the same exuberance he was displaying today? Maybe if there was a ball tomorrow, she would find out firsthand. She was married, but it was perfectly acceptable to dance with other gentlemen. Esteban would never forbid her that innocent pleasure, knowing how much she enjoyed it.


“Ahh, but danger intrigues me,” Sophia responded as she yanked his hand downwards. She had expected that he would know what was coming and be able to keep his balance, therefore depriving her of her own retribution, but he lost his footing and plummeted to the ground, a bit harder than she had intended. The petite blonde flinched when he landed in an awkward and painful position, and she immediately felt guilty.


His wrist was swelling and he ran his fingers over his scalp. Her teeth nervously worried her lower lip He would be angry with her now! Yet after a mild curse, he seemed to take it in good sport, declaring that the two of them were well-matched in the art of mischief. “I accept your surrender,” she assented, looking up at the branch he had shook, now bare of its snowy finery, “although the victory is yours when it comes to ingenuity.”


Rising to her feet in one graceful and lithe movement, she held out her hand to him this time. “Are you all right?” she asked. “I am sorry. I did not mean to cause you harm.”

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Did they, Irish poet and German soprano, possess a number of traits in common? James would not have been so sure, had the thought been capable of forcing its way through a score of its compatriots and into the forefront of his psyche. True, they were possessed of a similar sense of mischief, one that teetered between the whimsical and erratic with an alarming lack of balance...but such a mind for mayhem did not quite a friendship make.


Life was founded on unpleasantries and the art of escaping thereof. So too did James find the soul of his inner circle: only those who lived enough to create a sort of friction and those madder still to live in the chaotic flames that followed could have begun to have a place in the young man's heart. From courtly balls to soirees of the libertine set to the snow-covered field of St. James Park, the rest was merely detail.


But these were considerations for another time: the now required his attention, and the now was if anything else, diverting.


Not least because that diversion had come by way of a painful throbbing in his wrist and a sizable (if perhaps easily exaggerated) goose egg on the back of his head none too far from the part of his dark hair. His feeble, forced attempts at averting the use of profanity ultimately successful, James turned back to Sophia, grimacing as he did echoed her words. “All right?” A glance back to his wrist, less swollen than a serious injury might have been, and a half-hearted smirk shot in the lady directions. “It seems my wounds are largely pride, if that is what you are asking. And...a headache in my near future, I believe.”


“Wary of me, she says,” he muttered further as he reached with his good hand for her offered one, lips twitching in unintentional amusement and rising to his feet with a slight groan. “By Jove, my lady, you're a bloody weapon.”

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Sophia was idealistic and perhaps a bit too optimistic. She thought of everyone she met as a friend unless they proved otherwise, which either resulted in disappointment on her part or disdain, the latter mainly when she was shunned for being foreign. Pompous, narrow-minded individuals didn't deserve her friendship and she considered the loss theirs, not hers.


In truth, she wasn't certain where she stood with Master O’Neill, but that was something to ponder at a later time, if she even pondered it at all. For now, they were partners in crime, two artistic souls caught up in mischief of their own making. Eventually they would go their separate ways, but Sophia did hope that their paths would cross again and that further encounters between them would be cordial and pleasant.


He didn't seem injured badly and she grinned when he said that it was mostly his pride that had been wounded. “As was mine when I slipped and fell. I think we are even now.” Sophia hurt too, but mentioning the location of her pain would be unseemly. A lady didn't mention her aching bum in front of a gentlemen.


When he took her hand, she provided balance so that he could rise easily to his feet. Once he was standing on the snowy ground, she dropped it and began to brush the snow off of her skirt and cloak. “I do not think I have ever been called a weapon before.” Her smile was mischievous. “I think I like it. But you are equally formidable in a far more subtle way, which makes you more dangerous than I.”


She tilted her head to the side. “Would you like a rematch? Lord Maldon is going to build a snow castle here in the park and hold a siege on the last day of the year. I am playing a villain so if you play a hero, we will be on opposite sides of the fight.”

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“Even? After all that?” James stared at Sophia with an expression of mock incredulity, finding his footing as she let go of his hand. “I certainly hope so, Lady Toledo! Pride is fickle as a young lady,” he paused, flashing her a toothy, mischievous grin as a note of melodrama dropped into his Ulster brogue, “and I cannot take a further blow on her behalf. I simply could not bear it.”


Cupping his hands and placing them over where his heart would lay for theatrical emphasis, he set out about busying himself with the thankless task of brushing what snow had not melted from his cloak, mindful of the silver clasps as Sophia went on to speak of Lord Maldon and another snowball fight. “A castle?” Querying eyebrow raised, James' eyes flashed with bemusement. Maldon had not, in their brief meetings, seemed to be the type who would indulge in frivolities, for good or ill. “With a siege? How charming.”


And childish, perhaps, but he was not one for such concerns save where it suited a whim or served the few responsibilities he could be bound to. Amusement and diversion were ever paramount, with the exception of his work...but ah, there was Sophia playing on his sense of the theatrical.


“A snow queen...fair of hair and fairer of skin, but...dark of heart?” James considered the point with a laugh, deciding he rather liked the idea. “Why, I knew I had cause to distrust you. Although, mm, I've always preferred the tragically misunderstood villains myself...nonetheless, I suppose,” he drawled the world out, “I might now be obligated to stand against you.”

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Sophia found his grin quite charming. It was still difficult to believe that this mischievous gentleman was the same serious fellow that she had met in the library. There was apparently many facets to his personality and she rather liked this one. How would he react when they saw each other next? Would he be friendly, would he ignore her altogether, or would his response be somewhere in between? If there was a ball tomorrow, perhaps she would find out.


She was equally beguiled by his playful theatrics. Her eyes widened with faux offense. “Are you calling me fickle, good sir?” Following his lead, she performed a melodramatic gesture of her own, placing the back of one hand over her forehead. “Woe is me, but you wound my pride again! How cruel you are to treat a lady so!” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she laughed and winked at him, to show that she was only jesting.


“It does sound like fun, does it not?” she asked, referring to Lord Maldon's planned event. “It is a refreshing change from the usual party." Sophia did not share James' opinion of Lord Maldon. She had seen his playful side and the way his eyes lit up with wonder when she showed him something new. He shared her adventurous nature and her desire to learn and experience new things. Childish? Yes, perhaps he was, but he was not nearly as childish as she.


The young Baroness liked the way Master O'Neill described her part in the upcoming snowball fight, and for emphasis, she circled around him, smiling in a humorously menacing way. “My heart is as black as night,” she intoned, attempting to sound villainous. “My soul is even darker. No mere mortal can defeat me. That is the tragedy.” Stopping in front of him, she raised her hands skyward and threw her head back with a theatrical flair. “I will be victorious!”


It was hard to look terrifying when you were so petite that you had to look up at your opponent. “You can stand against me if you wish, but you will never win!”

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“I do have an unparalleled sense of tragedy, do I not?” James sallied forth at Sophia's appropriately dramatic mirroring of his words, as if made of nothing but bluster. Or, indeed, perhaps more than a mere seeming...ah, there could be no mincing of words. He was yet alight, and whatever else could be said, it was preferable to the alternative.


Certainly, he must have seemed a marked improvement over the aloof, pained sort that the baroness had met in the library. Not that such concerned him overly, not when each moment arced like a whip across the sky before cracking into the next, and months ago held the same lack of importance as years and even hours.


Or so James would assert, silently and rather too optimistically. There were moments in which even fire could be but skin-deep.


And perhaps the mention of tragedy had came with a hint of irony, latent and irrepressible...but it remained a mere hint as Sophia spoke, prompting further laughter on his behalf. “You play your part well enough, I'll grant,” he allowed knowingly, tone slow and smooth as he raised a dark, teasing eyebrow. “But isn't betrayal ultimately more villainous? A mocking, sneering knave may be seen from miles off...but it is an Iago who wrenches our heart more.”


James' eyes turned to hers as he began to drift towards where Andraemon was still tied up, more out of a nagging desire to move and occupy himself accordingly than any need to leave. “Just as the best heroes are the ones who, ultimately, fail in the end.” His smile softened somewhat, and with it went a solitary dimple, before a soft yelp of a laugh came as suddenly as the addition, “One wonders what Lord Maldon would say if he found his snowball fight being analyzed from such a perspective.”

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“Dumping snow on me was certainly tragic,” she responded, again looking up at the bare branch that had been heavy with snow only a few moments before. Was the tree relieved to be free of that burden? Were trees even able to think? “I would definitely say you have an unparallelled sense of mischief.”


As did she.


In that, too, they were evenly matched.


Sophia liked the sound of his laughter. When she had met him in the library, he had not seemed capable of laughing. Now she wondered what had caused his melancholy mood that day. He had been amiable enough, but something had seemed to be bothering him and she had been afraid that something she had said had offended him. If so, he must have forgotten all about it … or at least forgiven her for it.


“Why thank you,” she said when he complimented her acting, curtsying to him in a playfully exaggerated fashion. She was accustomed to the one-dimensional villains of operas, which was what she had been imitating. Tragic villains were not common in a genre where tone of voice and gestures conveyed the story to those who didn't speak the language in which the opera was sung. But he did have a point. Iago was the kind of villain one loved to hate. His betrayal was absolute and his vengeance terrifying in its intensity.


“I would not say Iago wrenched my heart. I was glad when he was punished for his crimes.” She followed him as he moved toward his horse, grinning impishly. “If I have my way, the heroes of the snowball fight will fail and fail quite miserably. There is the potential for betrayal as well. Maybe some participants will change sides in the middle of the fight.”


As to what Lord Maldon would think of his event being analyzed, he would probably join the discussion with his own views on heroes and villains. “I guess I could be a sympathetic villain,” she mused. “To me, those are the best kind. They believe that what they are doing is right. Their reasoning might be twisted but you cannot help feeling a bit sorry for them when the hero defeats them.”


A momentary pause. “I do not care for the perfect hero who is always gallant and can do no wrong. A flawed or reluctant hero is much more appealing."

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“And one lends itself to the other so well,” James offered in retort, breezily accepting her sally with a slight incline of the head. Mischief and tragedy, a pairing so often overlooked... Irony, it seemed, came as freely today as the December snow, and for an instant, an odd twinge of remembrance gave his nonchalant bearing pause- and then just as suddenly, the moment was gone, and with it, self-examination.


There would, as always, be a time and a place wherein those capabilities returned to him. Whether this would transpire nights from now or as soon as his erstwhile partner-in-crime departed was unimportant, presently. The moment was enough.


As their talk moved to the safer tides of heroes and villain, James' own tone steadied from its excitability, transforming into something matter-of-fact until it bordered pedantic. “Ah, but if you prefer your heroes flawed, you begin to see my point. I found Othello too...pure, honestly.” Perhaps a better example would have been the enthralling Lucifer from Paradise Lost, were it not for James' latent suspicions that talking to a young woman about the controversial Milton would have been as productive as seeing how painfully one could stub one's toe.


Thoughts of Maldon's snowball fight were pushed out of the way by a mind too literary to consider their practical applications. Half-smiling as they moved closer to Andraemon's makeshift post, he shook his head in dismissal of the character, romantic the Moor may have been. “He was sensitive, I'll grant, but...Iago's villainy was simply...exhilarating. 'I am not what I am'...” He heaved a sigh. “Shakespeare may be dreadfully common, but the man had a gift for characterization.”


“Including for our aforementioned sympathetic villains, and their tormented heroes” Smile turned on Sophia with the brief glow of one discussing their true passions, James paused at her own conclusion, using the opportunity to glance towards Andraemon, the spotted jennet now fully in sight and wholly impatient with his lot in life, tail waving briskly. “Impudent creature,” he murmured under his breath, giving a stilted, quiet laugh. “It seems my friend still expects his apology, Lady Toledo.”


(OOC: So sorry about the delay!)

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“Unfortunately, this is true.” Sophia thought back to the brief kiss she had shared with Lord Dundarg last spring and her smile faded slightly. The aftermath of that incident had certainly been tragic. Lord Kingston had spanked her and she had been forbidden to see the handsome Scot again. And even now, her husband didn't trust him. “I prefer mischief that does not end in tragedy myself … the kind that ends with humor or delight.”


She shook her head when he claimed that Othello was too pure. “He had at least one flaw … gullibility. If he had been clever, he would have discovered Iago's treachery and would not have killed his own wife. Yet then it would not have been a tragedy, I suppose. He was a victim, and I felt sorry for him when I watched the play in Venice.”


Sophia's literary opinions were not erudite, viewed as they were from the eyes of a romantic and naïve teenage girl who was more familiar with German and Italian translations of English works than their original incarnations. As for Milton, she had never heard of him, so any discussion of 'Paradise Lost' would have been futile. However, had James mentioned it, she would have wanted to read it. She was still at the beginning of her journey into English literature.


However, she did agree with him on Shakespeare's gift for characterization. “Ja, he was brilliant. His characters make you feel for them, whether that feeling is love or hate or anything in between. Even reading his plays is an exhilarating experience. You do not have to see them performed.” Sophia had yet to see one of his plays performed in English, but she had read a few in that language and had understood them quite well.


They had approached the place where Master O'Neill's horse was tethered and he didn't look too pleased. Was he still upset over being hit with a snowy projectile or was he just impatient to be on his way? “Even sympathetic villains rarely apologize,” she laughed, “but I will make an exception because I like his name.”


The petite blonde approached the horse slowly. When she was just out of reach, she curtsied theatrically. “My dear Lord Andraemon, I am sorry that I pelted you with a snowball. It was an accident and I promise I will never do it again.” Holding her hand out, she took another step forward, bringing her close enough to touch. “Do you forgive me?”

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Is that a hidden depth I sense?


The slight wilting of Lady Toledo's smile was caught by the naturally sensitive James, prompting an unbidden quirk of a dark eyebrow upwards in somewhat morbid curiosity. “It takes a good tragedy to bring about perspective, doesn't it? He countered immediately, slight smirk belying no realization that the lady, perhaps, had her own woes. “Life, as in art, must require its own sort of catharsis.”


Or maybe it merely took a colorful mind to find such a worrisome sympathy with tragedy, as a prisoner might learn to adore his captor.


That self-indulgence (at least, in a hypothetical where James could realize the origin of such thoughts) was tossed aside with the haste one might normally reserve for objects on fire, Sophia's objections to his thoughts on Othello diverting his mind almost immediately. With a shake of his head to mirror her own, he interjected, “No, no. Gullibility should not be a sympathetic flaw.” It was crude, woefully boring, and evocative of far too many meager men. And our society loves them all the same.


“Give me a villain given to dark ends because of pride, or a wrathful hero like Samson, laid low so easily. Even envy, greed...desire are preferable.” His speech, quite promptly, began to sound pressured, picking up in pace and Irish brogue becoming far more pronounced, lyrically emphasizing his points. “A man driven to torment by his hungers and needs, perhaps...such a character is far more captivating. Give me no idiot heroes, I beseech you.”


As if (but not actually) realizing that he was beginning a full-fledged lecture, James halted, and then nodded along as he breezily assessed her fondness for Shakespeare. “It is good that you find him appreciable. He makes for an excellent...introduction to more modern works of considerable merit. Much is made of his influence, for whatever it's worth.” He shrugged, not entirely attached to the man when there had been such progress within living memory in literary endeavors, countless innovations in the standards of meter and verse, new-found freedoms in exploring theme, tone, and subject...


And then they were back at Andraemon, cold air still biting at the extremities, December snow still underfoot. If James was impatient, very few cues were there to show it beyond a restless drumming of fingers at his side. “He's a very calm horse,” he snorted, declaring the fact drily and rather unnecessarily, as the horse showed no signs of flinching at her approach. “Undeserving of the name of a Roman champion lauded by the greats, truly. I don't doubt he'll forgive you.”


(OOC: It seems we're moving towards a good place to stop! Shall we start to wrap?)

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Does he know what I am thinking?


Sophia hadn't realized that her smile had faltered or that her gaze had taken on a far away look. It was with surprise that her curious ice-blue eyes returned to Master O'Neill. He couldn't know what had happened. There had been rumors, but she had never been named. It was a well-kept secret … and one she would never be ashamed of. “


"Yes, I suppose so.” Her voice was soft, distracted by her own reflections. Perspective. She could not have married Lord Dundarg and remained the mistress of Don Juan. Her choice had made for her by her guardian, although he had no idea he was sending her into the arms of a Spanish Prince. Would his choice had been different if he knew that her marriage to Lord Toledo was a front for her affair? She would have had to elope with Esteban then, for she loved Juan with all her heart and could not bear to lose him.


If Shakespeare was still alive, he would probably turn her life into a play.


But would it be tragedy comedy, or drama?


The melancholy moment passed quickly as the conversation returned to Othello. “I felt sorry for him for falling into Iago's many traps, but I hated him too, for being too stupid to tell he was being deceived. In that, too, art imitates life. Who has not been deceived and hated themselves for it afterward?” Sophia's youth and inexperience made her vulnerable and she had been fooled many times, which might have been why she could sympathize with the ill-fated Moor.


Perhaps in a few years when she was more mature, her views would change.


Master O'Neill had quite a bit to say on the subject of heroes and villains and she listened as she followed him to where his horse waited. His opinions were much like her own. She adored the villains that you loved to hate and had often joined the applause when they were defeated. And she didn't like heroes who were stupid and saved the day by sheer dumb luck … unless the play was a comedy that didn't take itself seriously.


“I was introduced to Shakespeare in Germany when I was a child, and really started appreciating his brilliance at characterization when I lived in Venice. And now, here I am in England, reading his plays in the country and language in which they were written.” Maybe that didn't sound very impressive to James, but Sophia found the notion quite profound. She remembered that he had recommended two other playwrights who were influenced by Shakespeare. The petite singer had bought a book of their plays but had not yet had time to read it.


They reached his horse and she delivered a theatrical apology. When he said Andraemon was calm, she stepped even closer and stroked his nose. “My horse is nothing like his name, either.” She turned back to James and grinned impishly. “He is called Acapella but I have never heard him sing. He is very arrogant, though. What is a good name for an arrogant horse?” Her voice lowered conspiratorially. “Maybe I should rename him after somebody from court.”


At least one idea had already popped into her mind. Would he think of the same person or would he decline to give any names at all?


“It is getting late, Master O'Neill. I have much to prepare for before the opera.” Sophia held one delicate hand up to be kissed. “Will you be there tonight?”

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The soft, suddenly sullen nature of Sophia's silence prompted James to tilt his head in (admittedly morbid) curiosity, mingling with an errant pang of sympathy that was brushed away promptly with the return to Othello, Iago, and the comfort of idle chatter. It was not something to be ungrateful for, of course. Tragedy, for all its romantic connotations, seldom held a candle to the tingling warmth found in this diversion.


“I was unaware that the Bard of Avon's influence had spread as far as An Ghearmáin,” James drawled, putting a bit of theatrical lilt on the gratuitous Irish as he arched a single eyebrow. Truly, it was an interesting consideration, as he had heard only of small troupes of English actors broaching the Continent-at-large, and generally so with more popular writers such as Jonson, Fletcher and Beaumont. Perhaps the lady was remarkably well-read, and he had misspoke earlier. “Still, it is appreciable that you had the...wherewithal to learn.”


After all, the Italian propensity for artistic endeavors that had developed in the last century had faltered when it came to the literary world in recent years, particularly with the death of mad, beautiful, glorious Tasso. They burn their heroes and imprison their geniuses. How fortunate that we under His Majesty are more...civilized. An amusing thought, truly, when this era seemed so torn between the best minds that had ever graced the three Kingdoms and the absolutely asinine.


In regards to Andraemon and the state of her own horse's regrettable name, he smiled blandly, moving towards the spotted Jennet without much in the way of ado. “Oh, my lady,” he murmured, as Andraemon bobbed his head appreciatively at the soprano's gesture, “I would never be so crass as to reveal my opinions in regards to that. And ruin my sterling reputation in the process? God forbid.”


And with that remark, he grinned at the lady, bowing with flamboyant reference as she raised her hand to be kissed and providing the necessary courtesies. “I am scarcely a man who make plans, but..you may certainly count on my appearance at the opera.” Provided my own obligations do not concern me first. “Perhaps we shall meet later?”


Moving towards Andraemon, he grinned, tossing the lady one last wink. “If your lord husband allows it, of course” Gripping the reigns of the horse, he gave Sophia one last look, offering her a bow. “Buona sera, mia signora.


And thus, James O'Neill was off, to whatever flight of fancy took him next.


(OOC: Fin for me! And thanks for the mischief )

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Sophia had not actually read Shakespeare in German or Italian; she had just seen his plays performed in those languages. It was only when she had moved to England that she had begun to use his plays to practice her acting and improve her English at the recommendation of her voice teacher. Until Master Greyson and Master Cole had written theirs, there had been no English operas to act out. She hoped tonight's opera would be the first of many, unless Master Greyson decided to make his home in Italy. It was where she would reside if the choice was hers. Now she was obligated to Spain by marriage and by love. She doubted she would ever live in Venice again. At least Spain was warm.


“Some of his plays are performed in Germany. They are more popular in Venice, probably because quite a few of them take place in Italy.”


If she had known his thoughts, Sophia would have disagreed with him about England being more civilized than Italy. She thought the island was a bit backwards when it came to culture. It was still difficult to believe that most of the English had never seen an opera. Those she had met who were acquainted with her favorite art form had visited the Continent, where opera was becoming popular in quite a few countries.


Andraemon seemed to like her, and she continued to stroke his nose and his soft mane, only stepping away when Master O'Neill moved toward him. “Oh, you are no fun!” she pouted when he refused to provide names for an arrogant horse inspired by English courtiers. “Then I shall keep my opinions to myself too, at least for now.”


He gallantly kissed her hand and when he promised that he would be at the opera, she beamed. “It will be much enjoyable. Perhaps we will see each other there after the last curtain falls. My lord husband will be attending as well, and I can introduce you to him.” Sophia wagged her finger at him playfully. “Just do not mention our snowball fight, please. He does not need to know everything I do.”


Her smile brightened when he bid her farewell in Italian. She had forgotten that he spoke it. “Fino a stasera*,” she replied and then turned around and began walking back the way she had come. It was time to go home and prepare for tonight's performance.


*Until tonight.


{OOC: ~finis~ And thank you for the fun as well!}

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