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Dark Truths | Evening, December 26th- Xmas 1677


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He'd arrived home late in the afternoona and found, amongst his mail, a parcel had been returned. Curious, he looked at the label. Sofia Castelo?

 

That was... unexpected. Douglas felt a chill grip him; surely she couldn't be dead? It was the only immediate explanation that presented itself. She'd always responded so positively to his letters and little tokens. She never wrote off her own bat, but if he did then she always wrote back fondly, like a sister who missed him. Surely she couldn't have died, he would have heard something?

 

Or would he? He wasn't exactly known as a close friend of hers. Might something have happened, and he simply hadn't heard? How to find out? He could ask Whitehurst, the man knew Sofia and might know. Or he could ask around, though that might seem a little random.

 

Or.... Fuck it. She only lives up the road. He could go and find out. Douglas much preferred the direct approach.

 

So it was that a heavily cloaked and hooded Douglas found himself riding along a familiar lane in the early night. He could remember the first time he'd come; late summer afternoon, the sunlight golden, the air warm and fragrant, the little farmlet like a painting of some country Idyll.

 

Now it was dark and cold, his breath and that of his horse steamed in the air by the light of the lamp he carried. He hedgerows seemed more overgrown than he remembered. At last the little house came into sight, a light in the window, thank God. Hers, or the new owners? A treacherous little voice asked.

 

What if the parcel had been returned because she was dead? It almost didn't bear thinking about, so sweet and innocent a lady, passed on with almost no notice. Then again, what if she was fine, but she'd sent the present back? Although greatly relieving, it would be even more puzzling because he couldn't imagine why she would.

 

Either way, he was determined to find out, to reassure himself that she was alright. Dismounting, Douglas steeled himself for what he might find and knocked on the door with gloved knuckles.

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A knock after dark was not a common occurance out here, Sophia for all of her years service to Queen Catherine, had scant few remember her, and less to visit. So the knock caused her to jump, dropping half a dozen stitches of her knitting. Who could it be? Don't say it was the neighbour complaining about another break in the fence - life in the countryside was far more chore than pleasure in winter.

 

Carrying her lantern with her, she approached the door and opened it a little. A cold blast of air whooshed in. "Who is it?" her thin voice called out to the dark, while her own face was illuminated by the lantern, it's light did not reach out past the door very well.

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The light in the window was dim, and moved with the faint footsteps within. Was she only burning one candle? He realised he knew precious little of how she had been keeping, whether she was looking after herself, or being looked after. Whether she had enough. Well, he would find out now.

 

The door cracked open and he saw Sophia's face, etched by the light of the lantern, in that gap. It had been too long. Gloved hands reached up to pull back the cowl of his heavy cloak, revealing his own gaunt features.

 

"Tis me, Douglas."* He said in his deep, rumbling voice.

 

Subtitles

* "It's me, Douglas."

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It was a hollow feeling, hearing his voice again after so long. A part of her wanted to close the door and make it all go away, but he must be frozen, and, why was he here. Was there a message from someone for her? That was not very likely.

 

"You best step inside." she opened the door and let him in to the hall, though she did not escort him through to the sitting room. Instead she simply waited for him to say why he'd called.

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The wave of relief at seeing Sofia alive and apparently well was tempered slightly by the realisation that the parcel must have therefore been returned deliberately, which meant she didn't want it.

 

He half expected her to close the door in his face. He still didn't know why however, nor why she sounded tired and resigned; what had happened to change the lively lady that he knew?

 

Hailing from Scotland and wearing a heavy wool cloak with a wolf-fur on the shoulders, Douglas was proof to the cold for a little while, but he didn't hesitate to step into the hall when she invited him in, a few snowflakes dotting his shoulders and melting on his black hair. Blue eyes looked her up and down but saw no signs of illness, at least not of the body. She wore an air of tiredness.

 

"Whin the parcel cammed back I thought ocht haed happened tae ye." He said simply. I thought you had died. "I haed tae see ye were alricht. T'eases my heert tae see ye hale an' whole."* And that was the honest truth. He liked Sofia, considered her a close friend and cared for her future.

 

Which begged the question. "Did ye nae like't?"** He asked bluntly, confused. That fox fur stole would have looked very fetching against her dark complexion.

 

Subtitles

* "When the parcel came back I thought something had happened to you. I had to see you were alright. It eases my heart to see you hale and whole."

** "Did you not like it?"

 

OOC: If we don't get this thread finished before you go we can always pick it up afterwards. Or Sofia can kick him out.

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"It's not appropriate for me to accept gifts from you Lord Dundarg, I never opened this last. " Sophia replied, her tone distant, infact she felt distant too, even though she was stood but three feet from him. The cold of outdoors radiated from him, even from this distance she could feel it.

 

"As you can see I am well, just as well as when we first met." that last comment was unnecessary, and she closed her lips on it.

 

"It took me some time to realise your gifts were not of intent, but were some manner of charity. You are a good person Lord Dundarg, and I mistook your kindness for a hope of a future together. There, it is said now. Perhaps I should fetch your other gifts and return them, for what once brought me joy is now but a slap in the face."

 

"I have learnt the lesson you promised to teach me. Now, will you please leave."

 

It was fortunate that she'd spent so many years at court, had learnt to control her voice through emotion, for she felt emotional just now, but managed to hide it well. Or so she thought.

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Intent. That was the word that caused the penny to drop. Your gifts were not of intent. She’d thought he’d wanted to marry her. She’d been a romantic when he first met her; he recalled her revealing that she’d lost her maidenhead to another Life Guard because he’d promised to wed her. Foolish girl. And somehow she’d thought that he intended to do so. He’d broken her heart without even trying.

 

The big man sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. Sophia was certainly not someone he’d ever meant to hurt. But as ever he seemed to be a bull in a china ship, destroying things just by turning around. Everything he touched turned to dust; even this sweet young woman.

 

“Sofia, I’m sorreh.” He admitted, sounding tired. “I didnae think a fine lairdy like ye wuid want the likes o' me.”* He admitted. Sofia was a whole league ahead of him in birth and a world away from him culturally. And she deserved better than him.

 

There was no right answer. He couldn’t give her what she’d thought he’d offered, and he couldn’t ask for what he wanted. “Keep the gifts, they’re frae a fond friend. I thocht the pigeons an’ the rabbits wuid help ye. That’s whit friends do, they help each other.”**

 

Subtitles

* “Sofia, I’m sorry. I didn't think a fine lady like you would want the likes of me. ”

** “Keep the gifts, they’re from a fond friend. I thought the pigeons and the rabbits would help you. That’s what friends do, they help each other.”

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"It is I who am sorry." she replied with words that sounded right, distancing herself from him and from the hurt that still existed. "You told me your position when we met, your belief that affection, perhaps love, was for the fools. It was my mistake to think that you wanted me to prove you incorrect."

 

She fell quiet then, to nod as he said to keep the gifts.

 

"They were very thoughtful." she said quietly. Douglas suggestion to use her scrap of land to raise Rabbits for the London market had been the best advice she'd had from anyone. She was able to get by, albeit on a humble scale in compare to her past life at court, past lives if she counted live back home.

 

"Fare well, Lord Dundarg."

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  • 2 weeks later...

His full lips curved into a sour, humourless smile. He had wanted her to prove him wrong, but had known that she couldn't. Instead he'd proven her wrong, in the most painful way. And he couldn't help but wish that it were otherwise. "I cuid love ye, but I cuidnae wed ye, an' ye deserve better thain that."* He said honestly. How easy, he thought in that moment, could it have been to lead her on, to promise what she wanted and then love her but never marry her. Easy and dishonest. Perhaps he was too honest.

 

And who had been the fool? Had he not fallen hard for Heather and she played him the same? Perhaps they were all each others' fools chasing something impossible; if they turned around, might they realise that happiness lay just behind them?

 

Well, they'd each said what they felt needed to be said. The question remained whether anything could be salvaged of their friendship in future; for now he sensed it was best to leave well enough alone.

 

"I hae other ideas o' whit cuid be dane tae improve yer lot." He said quietly. "If yer e'er fergi' me an' want tae hear thaim, let me ken."** He offered.

 

"Until thain, fare weel, an' God keep ye Sophia."*** He touched his hand to his forelock, and let himself back out the door.

 

Subtitles

* "I did want you do. And I could love you, but I couldn't wed you, and you deserve better than that."

** "I have other ideas of what could be done to improve your lot. If you're ever forgive me and want to hear them, let me know."

*** "Until then, fare well, and God keep you Sophia."

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"Yes I deserve so much better that I shall die alone on a rabbit farm." she replied with lips twisting, emotion rising to writhe through her body. He was lying. He'd gained a title of his own now, and who was she but a ruined exile unable to return home. No Viscounts, Earls or Margraves called at her door, nor their sons, nor their distant cousins for that matter.

 

"You want someone better than me. I know the truth, I am not blind. Ideas, you are full of ideas, as long as they did not involve you." Her mind churned, working through what he said, "If you have so many ideas, why have you never told me them before now? You didn't because you have been leading me on. You enjoyed it." she realised, and was shaking as she carried on, "I knew of men like that at Whitehall, but had never truly thought you to be that kind."

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That wasn’t what he’d meant, and surely she knew it. Oh for fuck’s sake. What was it with women only hearing what they wanted to hear? He’d meant she was too good to be a mistress, but even being a kept woman would be better than where she was now.

 

“Why the heel er ye angry wi’ me,” he demanded, frustrated, “whin my ainly crime is nae livin’ up tae yer fantasies?!” Honestly, what had she expected? “If ye ken the truth then why er ye surprised?”* Of course he wanted a marriage for political and – hopefully – monetary gain, it was how it was done. Which she would know, having been at court far longer than he had.

 

Leading her on? Well, maybe a bit. He’d thought she might be interested in sleeping with him, but knew that what she really wanted a wedding, so he hadn’t pushed things. Perhaps he should have, then at least he’d be guilty of what she accused him of.

 

“Aye, I enjoyed yer letters, an’ ye seemed tae enjoy mine.” He still couldn’t see that he’d done anything wrong. “An’ I sentit ye the rabbits, an’ the doves.” Those had been meat birds, also cheap to feed and good to sell. “I thocht yer brothair wuid be a sensitive topic.” Which was why he hadn’t brought it up before.

 

Subtitles

* “Why the hell are you angry with me, when my only crime is not living up to your fantasies? If you know the truth then why are you surprised?”

** “Yes, I enjoyed your letters, and you seemed to enjoy mine. And I sent you the rabbits, and the doves. I thought your brother would be a sensitive topic.”

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"Well there is to the truth of it, I am not angry at You Lord Dundarg, I am angry of myself." she wished he'd leave, and not see her teary eyed like this. "Because I am the fool here. You are just a kind man being a friend."

 

"Please. Leave now. I cannot bear the heartbreak of seeing you, and knowing everything I had hoped for, everything I had dreamed, was a fanciful lie I'd invented. It may not be your fault, but the sight of you brings me such a feeling of loss. It may have been imagined, yet the love I felt still ran deep. Please, leave. Leave me to try to mend."

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He’d been about to leave, and her words had called him back. Like his sister he had trouble letting someone else have the final word, but at the same time it seemed that although her words said leave, other things said stay. She had loved him, still loved him, and that wasn’t something easily got rid of. God only knew how well he knew that.

 

“Ye dinnae really want me tae gie.”* He said quietly, knowing how torn a heart could feel in such circumstances. He couldn’t leave her, distraught, all alone. Who knew whether she even had any other friends to turn to, in her current straights?

 

Instead he stepped close, put his arm around her. “Kim ‘ere. S’orricht, ye kin cry, thairs naebody here tae see but me.”** And he didn’t care. If anything he should be witness to her tears, since he caused them.

 

Subtitles

* “You don’t really want me to go.”

** “Come here. It’s alright, you can cry, there’s nobody here to see but me.”

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  • 5 weeks later...

Curses on him, but he was exactly the sort of gentleman she wanted, needed in her life. Though she knew it only confirmed her own pitiable weakness she let him draw her into an embrace, and burying her head into his jacket she wept.

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Was there ever a time when a man felt more like a heel, than when he held a weeping woman in his arms and knew himself the cause? And he knew that pain; God but he knew it. Heather had dumped him for royal lovers, twice. He’d promised himself he’d not be her fool the third time, but it had cut him to the bone. And as yet Sofia was still his fool, that was plain. She wanted him, as no other woman ever had, or so he thought.

 

Perhaps, somewhere in the vastness of the multiverse, the Trousers of Time tore. Somewhere, Douglas made the decision that the woman in his arms was enough. Somewhere they wed, lived quietly on the income from the estate and his commission, had bouncing babies, and disappeared into obscurity. The bastard and the banished, happy together, and forgotten.

 

The problem was that he was too many things, wanted too many things, for that to happen. He was conflicted, and didn’t know how to resolve it. Too soft of heart to give her the cold shoulder of pure ambition, too greedy to give her what she wanted, and settle for less himself. Would it be less? He wanted wealth, political connections, good breeding, to counter all those things lacking in him. In that he was, perhaps, like Fiona. Wanting what he couldn’t have. There, with Sofia weeping in his arms, he had a little epiphany. Focused as a fart, FitzJames. You can’t have everything, pick a direction. Not something he could do in an instant, but something that could become a mindset. Something he would need to think about. The woman in his arms was one possible choice.

 

Right now though he had something to make at least a little bit right. “Kim on, let’s nae stand in the haw. Ye sit doon an’ I’ll git ye a drink.”* He suggested quietly, leaning back a little so that he could give her a faint smile and run the back of his fingers down her tear-stained face.

 

Subtitles

* “Come on, lets not stand in the hall. You sit down and I’ll get you a drink.”

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But to Sofia he was her only dream.

 

Perhaps that spoke of a lack of ambition in the woman, to have given her heart to a man who's lot in life was to ever struggle. Though it was just as likely that the way he continued on despite the odds, that had her eyes overlook all his flaws, even those glaring.

 

But for the moment she lived in the now, in a hug, the first and quite possibly the last.

 

Till she was coaxed inside, taking a seat as he sought the drinks cabinet. She meanwhile sought her handkerchief, drying at her eyes, and ruing knowledge that she undoubtedly looked a mess. Ashamed of herself, she wished she wasn't still glad that he was her with her. So much for her claims of independence.

 

The drinks cabinet was somewhat understocked, with a decanter of common gin as one option and a still sealed bottle of double malt scotch as a possible other.

 

Balling her handkerchief she gave a feeble smile as she accepted a drink.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Was it worse to have many dreams and only hope of achieving one or two, or to have only one dream, and not achieve it? Probably the latter. As he looked around her cottage he mused that it was perhaps worst of all to have the things you hadn’t even needed to dream about taken away. She at least had a home and a stipend, but ten pounds a month wasn’t enough for a noble lady to live on. It was a wage.

 

That was a puzzle he’d pondered. He knew her brother had supported the now ousted idiot King of Portugal, and believed he had been banished alongside the man, hence Sophia’s need to remain in England. But what of their estates? Was she being punished for her brother’s sins? These were questions that perhaps the Ambassador could answer.

 

They wouldn’t be questions that Sofia herself would want to face right now, he didn’t think. Taking two glasses from the cabinet, he poured a finger of gin into one, and took the liberty of opening the bottle of whiskey with the sgian dhu from the top of his boot, pouring a finger of amber liquid into the second. Not enough to get anyone drunk, just enough to take the edge off your cares.

 

Placing the glass of gin into her hands, he settled next to her on the settee in improper but companionable closeness, his own glass resting in his big hands, blue gaze staring into the middle distance. “You’re richt.”* He admitted quietly.

 

Right that he could give her what she wanted, and chose not to. Right that what he had, however little, was so much more than what she had. Right that his motives had not been particularly noble, though he genuinely cared for her. Hell, he’d once spoken to Cat about marrying her, and his sister had firmly disabused him of the idea. He wondered now, given some of her other views, whether she’d truly done him a favour

 

The question was, what did he really want in life? And he didn’t know the answer. But that wasn’t Sofia’s problem. Hers were far more immediate.

 

Subtitles

* “You’re right.”

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They were simple words, and plainly spoken.

 

Sofia looked at the drink in her hands, supposing she should feel pleased to his verdict. Usually being told you are right brought a sense of self worth, or, or something? She inhaled, fresh tears welled, but she did not want to wipe them lest it draw attention to the weakness. Instead, she drank the gin in a single gulp. It burned, but pushed away the tears readily enough.

 

It was an impasse.

 

"Thank you for saying as much, I suppose. At least, its all out in the open now. At least, I don't need to wonder if, if saying something would have made a difference."

 

Where was the decanter? He'd not brought it with him, besides, she knew drinking did not solve anyone's problems.

 

"I think I shall be alright now, Douglas." she felt read to be on her own again, and come to terms with confronting her emotions. "Do you like the scotch. It was for you actually, a trade. You can take it with you, I shant be drinking it." talking sensibly was the thing, it helped. As though the words grew an insulation around her, pressing her away the sensitive areas.

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  • 1 month later...

“I ken t’isnae whit ye wanted tae hear.” He said quietly, sipping the whiskey in a more moderate manner. Part of him wanted to tell her what she wanted to hear, but it was only one part, and other parts wanted other things. “I…” and he stopped, “I dinnae ken whit I want.” He admitted. Then he snorted. “Nae, that's nae entirely true. I ken some o' whit I want, but t'isnae whit ye want.”* There was bitterness in his voice as the truth of the matter came home. Rather he wanted all of it, like child in a sweet shop, and knew that he had only enough coin for one sweet.

 

He hadn’t a lot of coin at court. What he spent it on would have to be decided carefully. “Fer me?” He repeated, a little surprised that she’d kept scotch here for him. “Tis kind. A trade fer whit?”** He asked, not certain what she meant. It had been kind of her to think of him.

 

Noticing that her glass was empty, he went to the cabinet and returned with the bottle and the decanter, pouring a measure of gin into her glass before turning his attention to the bottle of scotch, wondering whether it was of any particularly interesting origin.

 

Subtitles

* I know it isn’t what you wanted to hear. I… I don’t know what I want. No, that's not entirely true. I know some of what I want, but it isn't what you want.”

** “For me? That’s kind. A trade for what?”

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Sofia was quiet of that, she thought she knew what he meant. Probably. He was right that was not what she'd dreamed of, but life was not what you dreamt of was it.

 

"Did you want..." she refrained from actually saying it. Bleary eye'd still, she looked at the man who'd come to mean so much to her. "Perhaps what you had wanted, will be enough for me too?" her eyes looked haunted even as she suggested it yet with a yearning so deep and strong too. "There is not a fairy book ending for anyone is there, life is not what we dream of, but what we can hold to us, for what ever time it might be."

 

"For rabbits." she managed a huff of a laugh at his loaded question. He did not really think she was trading anything else did he? Oh yes, she's said... well she'd said many things in her upset.

 

She drank back the scotch, felt it's burn down her throat, and then looked up at him. Her eyes hopeless, yet still hopeful, and the tears brimming again.

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It hadn't been meant as a loaded question; perhaps her reply said more than she wished. “I’m glad the rabbits worked fer ye.” He said of the rabbits. “An’ did the doves take?” They would be another source of meat, and self-feeding, like the rabbits. He remembered that she’d been granted four acres here in Chelsea; that was a goodly amount of land for a smallholder. “D’yer tenants work weel?”* He asked, thinking that surely provided some form of income for Sophia. As a lady she couldn’t work her land herself, and a small part of him worried that she might not manage it well either, though being the sister of a Conde he should probably give her the benefit of the doubt.

 

Did he want? Oh yes. He had wanted for a very long time. But he also knew what she wanted. He’d warned her what happened to dreams. And still in the back of his mind was the thought that she was yet an option; but he knew there were better ones. But he also wondered what options she had.

 

Would want he wanted be enough for her? “Ye tell me lassie.”** He said softly, reaching out to tuck a stray strand of hair gently behind her ear with one big hand, turning the gesture into an excuse to run the back of his finger down her cheek. He could give her affection, even love, just not the marriage she had craved. But she had already told him twice to leave. The fairy-tales all held that the third time was the charm, and if indeed she told him now, he would go.

 

As with any fairytale man she could have him, but she couldn’t keep him.

 

Subtitles

* “I’m glad the rabbits worked for you. And did the doves take? Do your tenants work well?”

** “You tell me, lady.”

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"The doves stayed, but not bred yet. Perhaps in spring. I've workers that tend the land, do not worry of it Douglas. It is fine. It is all fine." She got by, though not so well to indulge in attending court events any more.

 

He tucked a strand behind her ear, and their eyes met; the question heavy in the air. She wanted to lie, and tell him that it was enough, or even more than enough. But it was not. She.. she was raised to think more of herself than to be a soldiers now and then mistress. And he was out of London far more than he was ever here, this past year she'd only seen him a couple of times. Perhaps if they were lovers hed visit more often, but perhaps too, not. Mistresses had no hold over a man, she would have no right to want to see him more than she ever had.

 

"No, I need something more." her eyes lipped from his and she looked down at the glass again. The gin was hand warmth now. It barely even burned as she drank it back.

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“Aye, I didnae think sae.” He said fondly, and leaned in to kiss her chastely on the cheek, like an affectionate brother. “An’ ye deserve more.” He assured her. It was perhaps a measure of his regard for her that he didn’t try to convince her otherwise, much as he would like to. The thought of her exotically dark skin against his set him afire, and he didn’t doubt he could persuade her if he tried, and she would like it. But something stopped him.

 

Instead he set his glass on a side table and rose to his feet, putting the bottle back into the cabinet. “Keep the whiskey.” He said simply. “I’ll return whin I hae guid news fer ye.”** He promised.

 

Or I won’t return at all.

 

Subtitles

* “Yes, I didn’t think so. And you deserve more.”

** “Keep the whiskey. I’ll return when I have good news for you.”

 

OOC: Fin? Thank you for a fun thread!

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