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Musket Practise | 31st December, mid morning- Xmas 1677

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Shooting Range

Part of the Knightsbridge Barracks, spilling into St. James' Park, were the shooting ranges. These well-kept outdoor grass areas were used for target practice. The smallest, some fifty paces in length, was used for pistol practice, whereas the larger of the two, two hundred and fifty paces in length, was uses for musket fire. Weapons could not hit a target at such ranges, but a safety area was left in the back, to minimize accidents.




Concealed within a cloud of smoke, Ambrose enjoyed the thick flavour. It was not a scent for everyone’s tastes, but to those of certain ilk it held it's own allure. As it finally wafted away upon the scant breeze, the military man peered to try make out where his shot had hit the target... namely a fresh sheet of paper attached to yonder target by pocket knife.


With a satisfied nod to himself, he then turned to prepare his gleaming musket for another shot.

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Duncan, dressed in his major’s uniform of the Langdon Regiment, arrived at the shooting range but silently waited until the other man, a lieutenant in the Life Guard by the looks of his uniform, made his shot. Not bad. The Life Guard sometimes accept men of quality that can’t shoot worth a farthing, but this man could hold his own. At least he is practicing, in winter, when everyone else is cozy indoors. Such dedication should not go unnoticed… even though it most probably will, alas.


The Scot carried a sturdy .75 caliber smoothbore flintlock musket, designed to fire .69 lead balls from its three-foot barrel using a double wad when clean, or a single one when fouling had begun to accumulate. It was not a flashy hunting weapon, but rather a sturdy piece of English walnut and steel designed not to fail in the battlefield. On his belt there were two paper bullet cases, one to each side, and a more elaborate pistol of the same caliber could be seen at the waist.


As Ambrose turned to reload his weapon, the Lowlander made himself known. “May God grant us both a good day, lieutenant”, Duncan said with a slight nod. “Duncan Melville, erstwhile Major of Dumbarton’s Regiment, and currently of Langdon’s Regiment, at your service. Do you mind if I join you? Lousy weather is perfect for realistic practice, don’t you think?”


Since he had addressed the other man with his possible military rank, the Scot had left out his own title. If the man was a peer, he would introduce himself as such, and then the viscount would do the same. If the other officer did not, then Duncan would most likely not mention his title, unless there was need.

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The shooting range was not where one went to meet the crystallised dandies of court, it was a mans arena, especially in the deep winter chill. Ambrose was aware of another arriving, and was grateful of the mans silence as he took the studied shot. The Lieutenant was pleased enough with it, and gave a satisfied nod of head in self-acknowledgement of that fact.


If the newly arrived gent wished for a silent practise, he was content enough with that, but it was pleasant instead to hear the man's voice greeting.


"Good morning Major Melville, it is indeed a fresh day for it, yet the air... and the stillness, fabulous." Ambrose held his gun with a practised ease as halted his reloading to greet. "But then proper practise aboard ship is rarely possible." he gave a huff of laugher, his breath misting in the air. "One of the boons of life upon Land."


"Ambrose Turnbull, previously 1st Lieutenant on the Frigate HMS Foresight in the Carib, and now Lieutenant in the 2nd." he moved to the side, silent gesture that Duncan take the next shot.


"Whitehurst Regiment eh? That will be the urban cohort... you are the first of his men I’ve had the honour to meet yet Major. I've heard very little of the new initiative I admit, yet would welcome any information you might tell me of it?" Meanwhile Ambrose moved through the well practised rote of cleaning the barrel then reloading. "You must see quite some action?" there was an almost optimistic sound to this question.


Perhaps that is there the action is to be found in London?

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This man is no fop. Good!


“A pleasure to make your acquaintance, lieutenant Turnbull”, Duncan said amicably. “And yes, you would not find this stillness either on the battlefield or aboard a ship. Yet, I find that the numbing cold makes fingers slow, and thus makes for good battle practice anyway”. In the battlefield you needed to go through the motions without even thinking, having practiced so much that every muscle knew what to do, notwithstanding what was going on around you.


“As for practicing aboard a ship, on a trip to the Carib I tried to teach the sailors aboard some fighting. Blades were easily learned, but firearms were a bit harder. Still, I am confident that by the time we got back to Bristol they were in much better shape than when we departed”. That those men manned one of Horizon Ventures’ ships was left unsaid.


A slight smile formed on the viscount's lips as he remembered his voyages fondly.


“Yes, Lord Langdon’s Regiment. When the unit was formed they were a rag-tag militia that would have been more successful with a pitchfork than with a musket, but they have improved much since then. I have drilled the officers and NCO’s, some say too harshly, and they have in turn taken to the men. I am confident to say that if they were to be deployed, they would not be the worst unit present, and would at least give a decent account of themselves”. Many would die, that was for sure, but only a few, if any, would run away.


The Lowlander noticed a bit of pride in his own voice, yet it was somewhat warranted, he thought. The recruits had known nothing when they entered the regiment, and now they had some semblance of purpose and proficiency. Lord Langdon had had to do a lot of convincing and politicking, which had been hard, but then a lot of the training in weapons and small unit tactics had fallen on Duncan’s shoulders. His experience fighting in the Continent had made him the man for the job, he thought.


“Now, action…” how to say things without voicing them… “we have had to contain the mob on occasion, without resorting to violence, but nothing more. Should there be war, though, things might change”. The Lord Lieutenant of London’s regiment had not been tested in battle yet, so they might be given garrison duties and such, but eventually they would have to fight if there was war.


Duncan then removed a paper cartridge from his belt, bit on it, primed and loaded his musket making sure the bullet was seated firmly against the powder, took aim, and fired, the top half of his body disappearing in a cloud of bluish white smoke.

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Melville spoke like a man who understood. Praise the saints he did not need to try to explain battle (he'd tried to explain to one or two ladies - a woefully frustrating exercise!) "There is truth in that." Ambrose gave a stout nod to the others statement.


“And which ship was that on?" Ambrose enquired of Duncan's talk of teaching sailors. "Apart from Langdon’s regiment you serve in naval capacities?" it seemed, and the Lieutenant was interested, if only to remove the unanswered questions that were raised to his mind.


Curious to what the London Regiment actually did, Ambrose listened, and was surprised.


"Oh I see. So they are not deployed already, but are a further regiment being trained for conflict? Well I am pleased to have that clarified. I had quite the wrong idea! I'd thought they were a force to police the city on a daily basis - ha! I'd thought I'd come to see the Regiments men patrolling the streets. It is perhaps just as well, for is sounds like scant few are capable men prior to enlisting them. It could do a restless city no good to have untrained men asserting themselves!"


Ambrose was still uncertain to what it was that Langdon’s regiment was supposed to actually do?


They had been deployed to disperse mobs by the sounds of it, successful of it.


"I see." he nodded thoughtfully. Turning to watch Melville line up his shot.


Perhaps it was not for him after all - he had enough already waiting on the never never to be any use. Still, he thought to comment, "I would have thought Langdon would have done well to hire in men returned from military service, men who hold the essential self discipline necessary."


The flintlock struck and a thunderclap run out, and smoke blew into the air - while Ambrose squinted towards the target spying there the lead had pierced through the paper and splintered the wood. He gave a nod in acknowledgement of a fine shot.


"Yet perhaps we shall see some action soon, if there is war with France." again the Lieutenant sounded optimistic. "I spoke with Churchill and Captain Herbert of it, they had no inside information other than that Cumberland has been preparing since summer."

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It was refreshing to talk to a fellow soldier, instead of a courtier. Not that Duncan was not determined to succeed at court, but the simple life of a soldier was something he missed occasionally.


“The ship’s name is The Three Graces. She is a schooner that does the Carib run under the flag of Horizon Ventures”. Perhaps Ambrose had heard of the company. Its founder and governor was Sir Cedric Doolittle. “It is a civilian ship, so no official naval appointment, but I was glad to be able to teach them to defend themselves. Between pirates and privateers, a merchant crew is not safe at sea”. If it came to war, that would be a grand understatement.


The lieutenant made lots of questions. An inquisitive mind. Not the worst characteristic for a soldier. Still, the regiment walked a very thin line. There had been great opposition to its forming, as many saw it as a royal tool for repression. “Correct. They are still in training. Their deployment in London is not the goal”. It was only a half-truth, but it was as close as the Lowlander was comfortable stating to a stranger. One could never be too careful when voicing certain things. “And we do have some veterans. They are the corporals and sergeants of the regiment, with a sprinkling of a few troopers. But many veterans prefer to go home when they come back, and I can’t really blame them”. The viscount had been one of those, returning home from war first, before deciding to attend court.


Then, the inevitable talk of war. To soldiers, it was like wondering what the weather would be like in the near future. “Aye, war. War would change everything. No one I know has told me much, but then again I do not know that many people. Still, preparations are being made. I even petitioned the Crown for a letter of marque and reprisal, and it was granted". Scotland did not have a standing navy, but its hundred or so privateers could apply lots of pressure to an enemy country’s merchant navy. “We will have to wait and see…”


Changing the subject, Duncan faced Ambrose. “Unlike naval sharpshooters, infantrymen fire in volleys, and we point, rather than aim. Yet, with proper training, a trooper can achieve a sustained rate of fire of six shots every two minutes. That is what I came here for, consistency training with numb hands due to the cold. Less accurate, but murderous when a whole company does it right. Would you like to try?”


Lieutenant Turnbull had arrived at the range first, so Duncan did not want to impose on the man. Yet, perhaps his new acquaintance would like to attempt to do things the infantry way.

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"Ah yes I have heard of her." Turnbull replied. He having been stationed in the Caribbean, assisting the passage of English merchants and the like, he was familiar with most of the ships with right to be there. "One of the better mannered crews if I recall correctly." Which meant they held more respect for the uniform than some upon the sea. "And Horizon ventures... now what did I hear of that company, ah yes, something about mapping? Though rumours being what they are, it may have been nothing of the sort." he invited Melville’s comment.


Onto talk of the regiment, Ambrose listened and nodded his head, it was curious indeed. "So they are intended for the war." which was a natural enough conclusion after Duncan's statement that they were not designed with London’s policing in mind. It was entirely different to what he'd previously heard the regiment was raised for - though he also sensed that Duncan did not want to say any more.


Ambrose chose not to press. He could ask Churchill and Herbert about it later.


"Fair enough." he accepted of the Regiments not recruiting from military ranks, "Though life back at the estate can be dreary dull to a man who's in his prime still." Ambrose had spent a couple of weeks back home, before taking up duty in London. That had been enough for him. "It might be different if one had a wife and children."


Yet to talk of war, a topic most diverting. "A letter of marque, well done." Ambrose was impressed. He also came to suspect that Melville was rather more than just a Major, a letter of Marque implied he had means to apply it. Perhaps on the ship he previously mentioned training so men upon? "The Three Graces may come to fly a different flag?"


"Of course, if there is war, then keeping the trade routs open is even more important. I hope to be called to ship." he spoke of his own prospects if there was war.


Duncan then turned to talk of different shooting tactics. Ambrose was reminded what Churchill had told him, that it was possible that he might gain a land command in a war. That during his Lifeguard training he might pick up the skills to lead such a group. "Hmm... I should like to see a demonstration of such an exercise in speed." he replied. If he did come to command a group of men on land, he needed to know this sort of thing. “And yes, try my hand at it too.”

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Duncan raised an eyebrow. So, he has heard of one of our ships? And it has a good reputation? The men should be complimented… we must maintain the best relations possible with the Navy Royal. “Horizon Ventures sells fabricated goods in Africa and the Carib, and brings back whatever is fashionable and profitable, I guess. Perhaps you have met its founder, Sir Cedric Doolitle?”.


“All of His Grace’s regiments are meant for war. None of them are designed for other tasks. Parliament would raise all types of trouble, and consider it treason, if it was shown otherwise”. Indeed, the wounds of the civil war and its causes were still too fresh. They would need a lot of time to heal, time that had not passed yet. “So any deployment within the kingdoms is only a temporary measure, and never done lightly”. Perhaps Ambrose, being a career soldier, would understand the need to be careful.


The lieutenant’s comment about life back home being boring made the Lowlander smile. He mentioned an estate, and he is a Life Guard, so he comes from a gentle family. “For us officers, perhaps. But many of the rank and file men enlist for the pay, not for the glory and honour, and they are the ones that mostly go home. Career officers and NCO’s do tend to stay, though”. Some of the men stayed too, even after gathering enough plunder. Others were wounded, and had to retire, and others died. War was war, but that was left unsaid.


“Not The Three Graces. She is but a schooner. The Letter of Marque is for The Golden Sun, a frigate that can bring forty guns to bear without sacrificing speed. She would be very dangerous if let loose either in the Carib or in the coastal waters of France. Many a prize could be taken if she had the right captain, the right boarding troops, and God smiled upon her”. Indeed, a fifth-rate would be a dangerous wolf in shipping lanes full of French sheep. “If that is what you desire, Lieutenant, may you be called to the best of His Grace’s ships of the line. The Royal Oak would be my choice, if I were a naval or marine officer”.


When Ambrose showed interest in infantry company tactics, the viscount gave the man an open smile. “Very well!” he said as he took his place. “His Grace Charles’ regimental companies form in three rows, although other nations use up to five. Our way is best…” Didn’t everyone think their way was best? “… as one line kneels, and the other two stand staggered behind them. Then they all point, rather than aim, at the centre of the enemy formation, and fire on command, not at will. A few good volleys can rout an enemy”.


Duncan made sure he was properly positioned.


“There is one more thing to consider, and that is how many volleys a company may fire. Our standard is six volleys every two minutes. The best continental troops can fire eight, while raw recruits can do three or four. If you take fouling into account, a sustained rate of fire of six is not too bad. Let me show you…”


Although the cold bit into the skin, and his hands felt numb, Duncan proceeded to silently prime, clean, load, and fire his musket six times in a little over two minutes, with a steady rhythm born out practice and war. When he finished, he stepped back, and turned to Ambrose. “A little slow, but the cold makes my hands numb. Still, no battlefield is a calm and sunny day in Jamaica, is it?”

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The Lieutenants face froze. Bloody murphy’s law.


"Err, yes I have met the man, though Id not realised Horizon Ventures was his." The back history to the many merchant ships was not important in the role he'd performed. Was not important until now. "I had dinner with his daughter and he last night. It, ah, did not end well I am afraid. If you are strongly allied with him, then perhaps..."


Perhaps a friendship with Ambrose was now impossible. It did not surprise Turnbull so much, he'd not been lucky when it came to trying to settle in to London society.


As far as Whitehurst’s regiment went, Duncan’s' words rung of truth, along with the alarm Parliament might raise of it. Parliament had often worked against the military, Ambrose held little affection for it.


Yes Major Melville proved to be rather more than previously revealed, talking now of a Frigate under his command. Ambrose gave a nod to the highly achieved fellow's opinion upon that... It was all true, nothing the lifelong mariner did not know, though largely worthless to him now he’d left his career. He’d been but a year or two away from making Captain, he supposed. There was not a day he did not regret his decision, and the situation that had made him think it necessary.


The man was good enough to continue his demonstration of infantry style shooting. He explained it in fine detail, and with a certain relish, even pride of it. Ambrose nodded sagely... taking it all in. He could understand the effectiveness, though it struck him as an individually artless form, where there was no individual satisfaction of halting this one or that one for who could ever know where their bullet struck.


Steeping back to allow Melville full room, he watched; The demonstration of necessary speed was indeed impressive! While the staccato of shots finally ended, it was taken up by a slow and solid applause from the spectator. "Impressive, Major Melville, It is indeed a a fine war-machine you have demonstrated." he appreciated.


“Ah yes, the various arenas of war indeed require different tactics. Yet for my own, I hope to command men upon water and not land. Thus, and effort of precision is my aim." he huffed a smile at his accidental pun.


He'd never been a remarkable marine, but slow and steady. Yet to be honest, a swift assent had never really been his aim. Each foothold he’d gained over the passage of his 29 years, felt honestly won, not the stuff of lucky breaks and windfalls.


Yet back to the elephant in the room, the situation with the Doolittles, he stated, "I found myself in the middle of a family argument at dinner, Mistress Ellen is determined for a life at sea, while I sided with her father against it. It grew ugly before I fully realised what was happening. Naturally I then took my leave. But alas, not before damage was done. Sir Cedric considers me a mannerless ingrate, and his Daughter opine is little better. I really do not understand how she could have imagined I would encourage her."


Which really was not the worst interaction he'd had while in London. The Lieutenant gave a resigned shrug - he had a knack somehow, for pissing people off.

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“I am not the regiment’s best shot, nor the fastest. None of the officers are. Still, we need to lead by example, so we train as much as the rest”. In fact, Duncan practiced six days a week, and Langdon’s officers were invited to practice with him in the early mornings at his house in Chelsea. “If you ever have the time and the inclination, we meet at dawn in the back gardens of Melville House, in Chelsea, every weekday but Wednesday. Wednesdays and Saturdays we train with the troops in the barracks. You are more than welcome to join us, and I am certain you could teach us a thing or three.”


Then it was time to listen to the lieutenant’s preference for accuracy. The Lowlander assented. “A well-placed shot can also be of use, of course. Plant a lead ball between an enemy captain’s eyes, and you have done more to rout his troops than a whole company”. There was always a place for sharpshooters, even on land. It was just something one did not have to teach all the troops.


Afterwards, a tale of misadventures at the Doolitle House on St. James Square. First, the viscount’s brow furrowed, yet he kept silent, listening to the whole story. Then his face muscle relaxed and, as Ambrose finished his tale, Duncan did something that was probably unexpected.


He laughed.


If I did not know Ellen, I might object to his behaviour, but I do know her, all too well… There was a detail that was new to him, though. “She wants a life at sea now, does she?” Ellen was family, and he had sided with her more than once in the past, and would do so in the future. Family was family, after all. But Ellen did not need to take it to such extremes. She was not ugly, she could even be called pretty when she made an effort, and her dowry would be gigantic. Her temper, though… it got her in trouble far too often.


Time to help the poor lieutenant. But first...


“Please, bear with me as I tell you a story, one that happened in Sir Cedric’s house hmm… let me see… in May of the year of our Lord 1675. An officer of about your age was invited to dine with Sir Cedric, and not one, but all of his three daughters. You got it easy if it was just Ellen…” By herself, the girl almost behaved rationally… almost. “She is a good lass, lieutenant. She just tries too hard sometimes”.


“Ah, but back to my story. The officer in question ended up marrying Ophelia, Sir Cedric’s second daughter. Ophelia is not beautiful. She is very smart, though, far smarter than most men I have known... and she has made a wonderful wife”.


There was a mischievous glint on Duncan’s eye as he finished his tale. He would let the other man digest it all before continuing.

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"Thank you for the invitation Major." Ambrose replied, "I shall see your regiment with us tomorrow then?" Tomorrow being Saturday, when they joined the Lifeguards practise at the barraks, "I shall look out for you."


"Aboard ship we use an array of attacks, as you must know, the cannon might be comparable to your infantry men now I think upon it. Then rifles as range allows, and if their surrender still does not come then then boarding and it's largely with swords and knives. Yet truth be told those skirmishes are rare things, with a great deal of the time being in the mere patrolling, with chasing sightings thrown in." a pause, "I suppose much like the duties of Landons regiment while it's patrolling the streets of London. The mere presence of authority figures, in my own case His Majesties royal Navy, is enough to keep order."


Then to the trouble with Doolittles.


Of reactions, the very last he'd have dreamed was what Melville gave. Laughter?!


Uncertain what to make of it, he hooked finger into his uniforms cravat and gave a tug at it's sudden tightness. "Apparently it's the only thing she mourns her life is lacking of, well, unless you count a suitors also." He replied, albeit cautiously.


Duncan had something to say about it, but begun with a tale that sounded suspiciously like... and then the punchline, yet it was about his own experience with the Doolittle’s. "Oh. I see." But did he?


Perhaps Duncan’s tale had a message in it for the Lieutenant. But Ambrose’s mind was digesting the relationship here revealed and realising that this was how the Major had come to train men upon the Horizon Ventures ship, The Three Graces, and likely who the Frigate that the letter of Marque would be applied belonged to. So, perhaps Melville was not so extremely different to him after all, or at least had not begun at court so very blessed. (Most people Ambrose met at court outranked him by so much that it was daunting, if not depressing.)


"... well, well well." he uttered of his own verdicts, before adding a "Congratulations Major, albeit belatedly, where is my hipflask, should I raise a toast." He patted pocket looking for the item.

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“I do not think Langdon’s is allowed to train at Knightsbridge, at least not as a unit. Colonel Trentmont oversees day-to-day affairs, and I have been away from London for months, but if things have not changed, we use the grounds of Somerset Palace”. Perhaps things had changed in his absence. The major was not sure. “But if I am there, training with the men, just ask anyone to send word, and they will fetch me”.


Duncan smirked. “Lieutenant, I think men will never understand women, or at least I never will!”, he said truthfully. “Ellen is not unpleasant to look at, has the drive many men lack, and whoever marries her will find himself very well of. I think if she didn’t try so hard to beat men at their own game, she would soon be successful in finding herself a suitor, even a peer”. The Scot was not English, and thus there were subtle differences locals might not understand. For example, you could be a Scottish baron and not be a peer. You had to be a Lord of Parliament for that. And that was but one example. So, it was not so strange that the viscount had slightly different views pertaining to the relationships between gentry and commoners. Yet, Ellen was a bit… unconventional in some regards.


At Ambose’s congratulations, the Lowlander smiled. “Thank you, lieutenant”. With the cold, he would certainly have a long pull of the flask if it was offered. “So, to finish my story, I now find myself married, with a baby girl a few months old back in Melville Castle, and a partner in Horizon Ventures….” Perhaps, at the mention of a castle, the Life Guard would remember Ellen mentioning a Lord Melville several times the previous night.


There was some reason to the story, but what was it? Ah, yes!


“All that, so I can tell you this: Sir Cedric is a good man. He might have been born a commoner, but he has worked hard, and done the best he can to take care of a now dead wife and three young daughters. That in itself attests to nobility of character, at least. He has no sons, I am the closest he has ever had to one. If he felt slighted by your words, and you would like to make amends, all it would take is a note, a douceur, and a meeting with him alone. Not with Ellen, or it may all go astray again, just him. I could even write to him myself, if you wish. It might help”. There was sincerity in his voice. The offer of help was genuine.


The viscount made no comment on whether the Lieutenant would want to make amends to Ellen or not. He barely knew the man and, truthfully, it was none of his business.


“You know, in this city a man could do much worse than having Sir Cedric Doolitle as a friend, especially a man that loves the sea”.

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"Ah, of course." Duncan did not need to say more on that, as Ambrose drew conclusion that the Lifeguards, upon the fact that they were drawn from from noble houses, would not be training alongside common soldiers as a general rule. There were divisions in society that were rarely enough breeched (even aboard ship when you were practically falling over each other). Social distances were kept on either side.


Yet the pair left talk of regiments, war and even the shooting range, as they digressed upon the Doolittles.


Hipflask was found, and Ambrose nodded in agreement as he unscrewed it's stopper. "They are a Mystery - I shall certainly give you that! I've not have a great deal of mixing with proper ladies, had imagined that they would all be much like my cousin Alise. But. They are not." Alise was a modest and quietly spoken sort, her virtues were patience and tolerance. "Then nor are they like the others I've sent time with." he was (as subtly as the man might) referring to the cocky boldness of tavern whores.


Oh how many he'd insulted at court after treating them like one or the other of his experience.


"To your success." he raised the toast, "and a baby girl no less, with many sons to follow," and passed the flask to the man honoured to take the first pull. It was a none so fine whiskey, sharp and a little acrid, though it did the warming trick. A military mans pay was notoriously humble, so perhaps the lack in beverage quality could be excused.


"I thought her pretty." The Lieutenant's tone was at touch defensive as Duncan spoke underwhelmingly of the lasses looks. "But I see I need to explain to you Lord Melville, the same which I now recall hearing about! Ah, but yes I need explain that courtship is not my aim, was never my aim, nor hers. We had both talked of the subject candidly, and she plainly stated that I am not the sort of man her father would wish her to marry. I've no prospects, nothing to bring to the negotiation table. Yet we would have been friends. She would have been my only friend at court actually." he gave a shrug at that too-honest admission, and took his turn of a swig of the liquor. To his palette it was perfectly adequate, and he enjoyed it's heat as it washed away the overly personal talk, a bit too close to the bone.


It was not for men to stand around talking of feelings! Though indeed, he was mighty disappointed to have blown the friendship that had formed.


"Yet if you would vouch for my character, if you deem it worthy of your support, would be appreciated if you might restore the Fathers view of me. It was never my intents to insult anybody. It was a most awkward situation. Reviewing it, I have not thought of any better response I could have had." he blinked and revealed a baffled expression to Duncan. It was surely clear that he was speaking the god honest truth.

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“Agreed. I had to learn quickly that women were not like my sister. Imagine my surprise when I found out that most young ladies are not keen on galloping through the countryside on a horse, nor do they think of a kestrel when the word pet is mentioned”. That had been over half a score years before, but Duncan still remembered his surprise. As for the oblique reference to whores, the major nodded sagely. That was a different kind of creature entirely.


The Lowlander gave a long pull, and let the aqua vitae burn his throat without flinching as it went down. Nasty brew, this one. Yet, he offered, and I accepted. Besides, the toast is in my honour. Although he had gotten used to better spirits after leaving Dumbarton's, he took a second pull, just to show that he appreciated it. “Aye, may God grant me a few sons too!” That was something his heart did desire. An heir, and preferably a spare.


“Oh, please, don’t get me wrong. I do not think Ellen is ugly, not by a long shot. Perhaps I am being a little harsh. It is just that there are some incredible beauties at court, and she pales in comparison. Same thing with us: there are some lords we stand to lose against, if compared to them”. Although Duncan was certain he could achieve a few things, a duchy was not in the cards, he was certain. There would always be others with higher precedence and greater resources than him.


And then the Lowlander listened, truly listened. The lieutenant was being sincere, a rarity at court. No mask, no ulterior motives. All he ever wanted from Ellen was a friend.




“You seem to me to be the kind of man her father is, and I have nothing but respect for him”. He returned the now half-empty flask to Ambrose with an encouraging smile. “There is a difference. A gentleman, even one in the military, is taught to behave a certain, shall we say, less confrontational way, when in polite company. The Doolitles were most definitely not. My wife, for example, is quite direct, and so is her father, always. My mother would never speak to me with such directness, even though she is my mother. I am surmising their directness and openness made you uncomfortable, and that I can definitely understand. I was also taught that certain subjects are broached only in private”.


The major did not see ill intent from any party. It had been two very different ways of being brought up colliding over what should have been a pleasant dinner. Sad, really.


“This is what I suggest we do. You write Sir Cedric a note of apology, and send along a minor token of remorse. Perhaps something edible, as he likes to eat well, but don't spend beyond your means. In addition to that, I will write to him, vouching for your good intentions, and suggest to him that you two should meet again. The meeting could take place at my house in Chelsea, which would be neutral ground, so that both of you can feel a bit more relaxed. How does that sound?”

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ambrose had no sisters himself. He nodded as Duncan spoke of his own, though for a woman his sibling sounded more like a boy. Kestrels and riding. "No, but they seem to like Parrots well enough." he recalled Lady Toledo giving one lessons, and shrugged of it, "they make little sense."


A shot of warmth via flask, was just what was needed in the chill, and the cheery well wish too seemed timely said. "It's only a matter of time, I'm sure." The life of a married man naturally had that focus, while for a bachelor like him, he was in no rush for any of it.


"True that." he agreed of courts beauties. "Though with their beauty they are also arrogant, Perhaps better for Ellen to be merely pretty in compare, and to retain possession of god given modesty. Hm. Perhaps there is some saving grace also, for men who are not so lofty as others, also?"


He paused a moment on that thought. It did not seem very likely, high achievement did not seem to spoil a man upon an equal par to that of beauty in a woman. Churchill, Chatham and Beverly for instance, were all stout and level minded fellows. Melville too.


Melville especially. "You understand." Ambrose nodded is head with Duncan's insightful reply, "I am naive perhaps, but had believed that genteel ladies accept their fathers decisions. I felt very uncomfortable indeed to find myself piggy in the middle of a quarrel between them. Even if these quarrels are common place... er, her sister, your wife, also keeps that habit?" he cautiously asked. Hopeful for Duncan's sake that dinners at home were pleasanter things.


"I would appreciate that." he came to agree, as Duncan proposed he apply a salve of a sort over the poor beginning. All Ambrose needed to do was begin with a bandaging letter. "I'll send him something later this day." he gave a quick smile, "I've no desire to leave a trail of bad impressions in my wake." Although that was what usually happened. “If there is any favour I can do for you?”

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Parots were flighty things, just like most women. Except my Book Mouse… Duncan smiled at the thought of his wife. Not much to look at, according to others, but she was beautiful where it counted, inside. She was a hopeless romantic, yet had a keen head for languages and numbers. An avid reader, and a willing and caring lover. What else could he ask for?


“God willing, time is all it will take”. Well, time, and a certain type of effort, of course, but that was not said in polite company, which the lieutenant seemed to be. An heir would make Duncan sleep at night much easier, true enough. He did not want his father’s hard-won title to go to an unknown cousin after his death.


“Some court beauties are aloof, aye, as are some ladies of high noble birth. But there are exceptions. It is a question of taking the time to know them, and of letting them know you. When they become accustomed to you, some will treat you like a true friend…” like Cat. I wonder where in the world are you, lass? Are your sisters giving you grief? I have not heard of you or yours in quite some time…


Perhaps the Lowlander had made a mistake by using Ellen’s given name. He did not know if the Life Guard had been given leave to do so, and the viscount could be encouraging something that might lead the man into more trouble. Still, what was done, was done. “Ellen will make someone a marvelous wife one day, hopefully sooner, rather than later”. Perhaps I should help her in that regard… she should come with us to Lothian when court is adjourned. “As for those of us who are neither royalty, nor dukes, nor the most powerful of earls, yes, there is a redeeming quality, Lieutenant Turnbull. We can be truer to ourselves than they will ever be”. They had less to lose, so they could wear fewer masks. “And we don’t need to wonder what everyone who approaches us wants to get out of us… because there is not much to get!” This last was said half in jest, but it did contain much truth in it.


And then, back to the Doolittles. “Hmm… yes, but…” How to voice this? “Perhaps Ellen behaved that way because she considered you her friend, and thus thought she needed wear no masks in front of you? I agree that her behaviour was not the most genteel, but I do not think it was meant for ill”. Ellen, the Scot thought, just tried too hard. “As for my wife, no, she is not like that at all. She is shy, and dislikes court and large gatherings. But then again, she has a titled husband to take care of her”. Whatever happened to Duncan, Ophelia would be taken care of. The peerage and its entailed estate could be lost without an heir, but the Lowlander had other wealth besides the estate he had inherited. Still, the need of an heir made its weight felt.


“A favour? For writing a letter? No, not warranted, at least not yet. Let’s see if my mediation has result. Then we may talk about favours, not before”. Not that Duncan expected to ask for something in return, but one never knew.


“Changing subjects, you are experienced in shooting a musket from a ship’s deck. Can you give me some pointers? It is something that does not come naturally to me and, who knows? I may need to be able to do it right one day…”

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"Hmm." Turnbull made a natural noise in reply. It seemed that Melville's experience with the Ladies of court were very different to his own. Why was that did he think? "Fresh from the sea, I was a tad to forward with them perhaps. They are tightly rigged ships, with no slack to give." He'd been crossed off immediately.


Since then, he'd tried to not let himself show, tried to be the uptight courtier that it seemed others wanted. Had Duncan met Ambrose a week ago he'd not have believed him the same person.


All the effort was draining. Yes Turbull was looking forward to war, when he might return to sea, and be himself again.


Ironically, being true to themselves (which Ambrose was currently not) , was the very advantage that Melville said the lower ranked men had.


"If truth is what we have, then in honesty I would counter your claim Melville. Court only wants little mimics of themselves running about. They do not want to see a man for what he honestly is, or how he naturally expresses himself, unless it's a duplicate of themselves." Ambrose said bitterly, "colourfully cuss out of place, or express enthuse premature, and they will snub you or worse."


Ellen Ellen. The topic came and went, with Melville cautious that any favour would be earned. Ambrose understood the caution, it was unlikely after all.


"Ah, there is not so much science to it as rhythm and instinct grown from practise, and it is not something one can practise upon land. Though it is perhaps not dissimilar to shooting from moving horseback, or perhaps shooting clay pigeons from horseback? One needs to work with the rhythm of the rolling sea, and mentally calculate with the movement of the opponent. Then allowing for distance, wind and trajectory make ones adjustments... all within a heartbeat." a pause. "I find standing bent kneed and on the toes like they are soft springs helps."


"Hmm... perhaps shooting clay birds from horseback would actually be similar, I feel a urge to try it, it shall in the least be a fine exercise of skill."

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Duncan smiled. He’s got a point. Courtiers expect replicas of themselves. “Court is like that, true. What I meant was that men like us, you and I, can be ourselves, without masks, among ourselves”. To think that courtiers would behave otherwise would be… foolish. "But courtiers will never know that freedom".


But then a less controversial topic. “A rhythm, you say? I had never thought about that. And bent knees and standing on your toes is new to me too…” on land, a soldier wanted the surest footing he could. Split-second adjustments he could understand, as they were used when hunting. But it seemed that shooting onboard a ship was totally different if you wanted to hit a specific target.


“Shooting from horseback would be an interesting exercise, I agree, even if I make a fool of myself and hit not even one pigeon”. Which I wouldn’t mind one bit, as I am sure it will be quite entertaining. “Perhaps next season, when the weather is better, we can do it again from the deck of a yacht? I happen to have a friend who owns one”. The Lowlander was thinking of Francis. Perhaps the blond lord would consider it fun and agree to it.


The Scot cleaned and reloaded his musket. He then assumed the stance that Ambrose had suggested, bent knees and standing on toes. To simulate the swaying of a ship, he started slowly rocking back and forth, trying to be as regular as possible in his movements. Then, without thinking, he simply squeezed the trigger. He wanted to see how well he did under those conditions.


After the smoke cleared, he turned to the Life Guard. “Lieutenant, please forgive me for being so forward but, could you tell me about your family? I think it would help with the letter I am to write…” he paused, and added, "did you see how I fared with that shot? I am not expecting much of it, but wanted to try it, to see what it felt like".

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"Ah, I see. So those men like Viscounts, Earls and Duke's need keep up their uptight pretence even when in each others company." he gave a nod of that.


"Oh I dont mean that one does not need stable footing, but to keep a lightness to ones carriage as taking aim. The difference with shooting on land is that the ground we are upon adds stability. Yet while upon a vessel that tosses about upon the waves, anchoring ones feet in place would only make one as falliable as the cannon.


"Yet it is no science. If it were we'd not keep out captains and officers standing in such plain view!" he gave a rough laugh at that.


The suggested exercise of shooting from horseback appealed to Melville also - and that it did was another nod by the way of friendship. "Spring then. That shall give me some time to hone my horse-riding skills. I've just brought my first horse I've owned in a decade. Ha. He might be the father of the one I owned back then. But he's a stout enough mount to get my legs on."


"Or your friend with a yacht, if you want to. Though shooting from aboard a yacht in the Thames did not sound like a comparable challenge to that of a running horse." He said frankly.


Duncan took a pose, "lean forwards to counter the kick." Ambrose advised, and then the shot was took... with all the success or lack of that you might expect


"I don’t see how knowledge of my family will help." Ambrose spoke with perhaps a touch of defensiveness. "A older brother who is the new Baron, and younger who is in the Church. While I went to sea as a gentleman volunteer when I was 15, not a remarkable career I'll admit, but I became 1st Lieutenant, and had hopes of making Captain." He was uncomfortable to need to make an accounting for himself. He did not understand why he had to. And it changed the dynamic between he and Melville.


He got the uncomfortable impression that Melville thought there was courtship, and Ambrose did not want to marry, had told Ellen that fact a number of times. "Look. Dont bother about it." Ambrose changed his mind about entreating anyone.

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“Well, there are some of those viscounts and earls that are not that bad, but yes, what you just said is true in most cases”. There were exceptions, of course, and whether Ambrose knew that Duncan was a viscount or not, the Lowlander took no umbrage. He was not, after all, an English viscount. He was Scotch.


As expected, the major missed the target by quite some distance. “I need lots of practice, I see. Well, our outings might help alleviate some of that, I hope”. Although he had fallen in love with the Carib and its islands, he knew there would be much for him to learn if he were to become a proficient mariner. “I think we should do both, lieutenant, the horseback and the yacht. The more we train in our chosen craft, the better”. It was true. A soldier did not know when unorthodox training might save the day.


The Life Guard seemed to have taken exception at Duncan’s question regarding his family. And quite deservedly so. I knew I was being too inquiring, and he has every right to be wary of someone he has just met…


“Please, forgive my question. It was made so I could say something good about your family when writing to Sir. Cedric. After all, he would find it strange if I vouched for you, yet did not provide any details about you or your family. What you have shared is more than enough. Again, my apologies”.


Duncan looked for a way to show there was no ill intent, and suddenly remembered that he also had his flask in an inner coat pocket. He took it out, opened it, and offered it to Ambrose. “Not whisky, I am afraid. I have been trying to get used to other drinks”.


I just hope he sees I meant no offense…


Should the Life Guard accept the flask as a token of peace and sampled its contents, he would find a dark rum that had been aged in new oak barrels in the Carib, before being transferred to sherris casks for another five. Its colour was deep, and its taste evoked a blend of clove, pipe tobacco, coffee, tawny port, and oranges.

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Ambrose did not know that Duncan was a Viscount, rather the Scotts anything-but-uppity manner had him think better of him than to lump him with his poor impression of lofty sorts.


"I look forward to it." a paused, "but I'd suggest you not to invite your womenfolk, I dare say it may take a few sessions before we'd want any spectators!" and he laughed of that. Still, the challenge of trying to shoot an airborne object from horseback vastly appealed to him!


Melville apologised, and clarified. “I see, yes that makes sense. Perhaps it will soften his opinion of me to know that my father was a stout royalist when it truly counted." The Lieutenant replied.


As amends were made, Duncan finished with a gesture of offering his own drink. "Advertised like that, you have me curious. Thank you." he gave a nod of his head at that, and accepting the flask took a sip. Duncan had said he was trying out new drinks, and this was certainly that. That dark and flavoursome rum taste he'd come to love, accented with something brighter - and of a far smoother calibre than anything Turnbull had drunk when was abroad. The expression on the officers face said it all, not to mention the second sip taken and savoured. "I can taste the sunshine!" he remarked as he passed the flask back to Duncan.

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Had Duncan known that Ambrose thought the Lowlander too good a sort to be anything higher than a baron, the Scot would have laughed heartily and, at the end, he would have conceded the point. But those thoughts were hidden from him.


“No, no womanfolk...” except, perhaps, Cat. She can handle her weapons, and would not be above practicing a bit, I think, “but if you wanted to invite other military-oriented gentlemen, I would not disagree”. Even if Duncan were to be the worst shot of the lot, he was certain he would lean much from the practice. “And I am sure that part of the skills learned could be used for hunting, if the opportunity presents itself”.


The Lowlander was not an avid hunter, but he would not avoid the sport either. His killing had been done with men and, although good at it, it was something he did not relish.


“A royalist? Yes. That will help you with everyone at court. The son of a royalist will be seen with different eyes by His Grace Charles himself, if he gets wind of it, especially if there was a cost to your father for being loyal”. The king was known for his generosity towards those that had sided with him or his father during the civil war and his exile. “Make it a point to mention it once in a while, when the time and place is right, and you will see that a number of those uptight lords you mentioned will see you in a more favourable light”.


The Scot smiled. “Dark molasses rum from Barbados. It is made by a very small enterprise, but it is one of the best we have been able to find”. The smiled turned to an open grin as Ambrose mentioned sunshine. “Aye, lieutenant. I can almost sense the warm ocean breeze too…” He took a long pull, letting the liquid heat his throat, and stomach, as it went down. It was indeed a rum of quality. “Do you care for more sunshine?” the Lowlander asked, offering the flask again.

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"Well now you mention it, would you be averse to my bringing along a young London lad who's heart is set on joining the army one day." the idea of inviting Jasper along occurred to Turnbull as a harmless thing, that might mean a great deal to the 12 year old. And Beth would be happy of it. "He's a common lad, but many a household name started out that way."


“Of course most of court claims to be a royalist these days." Ambrose gave a rough laugh with his reply. He was not really the sort for glorifying himself to anyone, which might explain his very slow moving military career. He was more inclined to let other men step up before him, and be the last to set foot on the rung. "I appreciate what you are saying though, I shall be mindful of any opportunity that way, it if comes."


"That I do." he desperately missed the balmy days aboard ship! Nodding his agreement, he was pleased as Duncan offered him the flask again for a further sip. "He must be a master blender, your vintner, or... now what do you call a man who makes rum?" he took his sip and paused to appreciate it, sighing out a satisfied & grateful breath. "You'd heard the saying no doubt - 'Claret for boys, Port for men; but the man who would be a hero must drink Rum!"


He passed the flask back to Duncan.

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Turnbull asked if Duncan would mind the company of a lad, a commoner, to their target practice. On the one hand, Francis might object to the boy boarding his yacht. On the other, if they were talking horseback and land, Duncan would not mind. In fact…


“Tell me, what do you know of this lad?” An idea was forming in the viscount’s head. “Can you vouch for him? If you can, I may have some gainful employment that might be of interest to him. But if you can’t, or don’t know him well enough, perhaps we should wait and see…”


Changing subjects, the Lowlander replied, “aye, everyone claims to be a royalist now, but if you can claim that your father was a royalist when it was not easy to be so, then you have an advantage”. The Scotch officer’s father had been Secretary of State for Scotland under His Grace Charles the First. Those were things that the current king might look upon with favour.


The flask was returned, and Duncan drank from it contentedly. “There is a small distillery in Barbados. They have been at it for years. We pay them a premium for his whole batch every year, as long as he sells only to us. There are some that are better, but not many. As for their name…” the Lowlander grinned, “Sir Cedric would have my hide if I were to divulge his trade secrets! All I can say is that it is made with the best molasses the distiller can purchase, and is aged for ten years. The first five in new oak barrels from the Colonies, the last five in used sherries barrels. That is what gives it its smooth flavour”.


The viscount had been thinking about speaking with Sir Cedric regarding setting up their own distillery in the Carib islands. He was not sure it was worth it, though, due to the time involved in producing a truly great rum. But if they could find another faster, cheaper product that could be sold within the year, to the Navy perhaps, then it might not be such a bad idea.

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Cool, crisp and with an overcast that dulled contrast and required concentration to pick out things in the distance, like targets. It was good practicing weather, particularly if one had a burning need to get out of the house and away from one's siblings. Honest to God, if Fiona whinged at him one more time he was going to throttle her. Or back His Majesty's plan to wed her to some hedge Baronet in the outer reaches of the kingdom.


A distinct series of shots rang out from the firing range as Douglas headed in that direction, two muskets under his arm and his shot and powder on his belt, and mugged him in memory lane. There was a cadence there, the rhythmic reload and fire that was common to many regiments, yet also somehow distinctive; it spoke of the Royal Scots' discipline.


Curiosity piqued, Douglas stretched his long legs to bring him that bit faster to the range, and foundh is answer deep in conversation with another of his own regiment. The former was a face he'd missed this season, the latter one he'd been pleased to meet.


"Major Melville, Lieutenant Turnbull, a verra guid mornin' tae ye."* Douglas called out cheerfully, tapping a salute off the brim of his Life Guard's hat. He didn't approach lest he interrupt, but rather lined himself up with the next target and began inspecting his weapons. One was the relatively short musket used by mounted units like the Life Guard - not his favourite weapon but it was versatile - and the other was an unusual piece that outmeasured even a hunting rifle in the length of it's barrel. Both were well maintained but where the former had clearly seen action, the latter was lovingly polished and cared for, save for a few tiny marks from the flint in the firing mechanism.



* "Major Melville, Lieutenant Turnbull, a very good morning to you."


OOC: I hope you don't mind if I join you?

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"I know next to nothing of him." Ambrose admitted then, "Not actually met Jaspar myself yet, just know he's a young visionary 12year old who wants to be a soldier."


But perhaps if Melville had some other job on offer, Beth's brothers head would be turned. Oddly perhaps, Ambrose was a bit disappointed as his young potential prodigy was diverted of onto a different career path. Though Beth would be pleased. She feared for her little brothers life. Young soldiers were the ones sent in first, were the ones most likely to die. "His sister is a real nice lass, raised well I can tell, I think Jaspar might be just the lad you need."


"Never mind." Ambrose was sure to let Duncan know he was not insisting on the distillers name, "I'm not in the business, and not looking to poach. Just, well thought to educate myself a bit on it. Name drop. Ha. You know the sort of thing. Next time I taste a good brandy, I'd be like 'oh it's good, but not as goods as so-and-sos from there-abouts." he shrugged as he laughed it off.


Men of business could be real precious about their knowledge, but to a simple man with no appreciation of commercial secrecy, it seemed a bit extreme.


It was about then that a lanky Scott strolled along the range, and stopped to greet with a familiar cheer. "Good afternoon Dundarg." Ambrose gave a nod and a smile, "another day another practise." they had met while at sword practise.

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Ambrose did not have much to say about the boy, still he put a good word in for him. Perhaps on account of the sister? It was probable. Although the lieutenant was gentry, he could be interested in a commoner. And who was the Scotch lord to judge? He had married an English commoner, after all, the father's baronetcy not withstanding.


“Remember I told you that the officers and NCO’s of Langdon’s meet to practice with blades and firearms at sunrise, four times a week? With that practice happening in my back gardens, I think that could be a good place for young Jasper to start. He would be among military men, learning from others that know. Yes, he would be fetching things, cleaning foul from muskets, shaping flints, sharpening swords… but that is how I started too. He would not be officially a soldier, but he would get a small salary for his troubles, andt if he behaves and does as he is told, he would have the opportunity to get into the good graces of the officers I train”.


There was no need to state how profitable that could be for the young man. Indeed, if Jasper had what it took, he could land his dream job without even looking for it. And if he was good at it, a recommendation from an officer or two could do wonders to advance his career. All he had to do was work hard and learn from his betters. “Do you think that would interest him?”


It was then that a man even taller than Duncan himself arrived at the shooting range, two muskets under his arm, and with a thick Highland brogue. At the sound of Douglas’ voice, the viscount’s face lit into a broad grin, and a slight burr crept into his speech. “Dundarg! Please join us, my friend. Here I was, thinking that I’d have no one to celebrate Hogmanay properly with, and you appear out of thin air, as if conjured by the sidhe!” Court functions were well and good, but Duncan missed his homeland’s traditions. “Is your family in London with you?” The company of other Scots would make New Year’s Eve so much better.


“It seems that real soldiers are out and about this chilly morning, gentlemen!” the Major said to both his companions. Court fops would not be out in such weather, but those who knew they might have to fight in such, took a twisted pleasure in being abe to practice in it. The Lowlander then noticed the rather long piece that the Scotch baron carried. “An interesting firearm you bring to the range, Dundarg. May I ask the history of it?”

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"Tis but a fine an' mild Scottish mornin'."* He protested jokingly as he wandered over, noting Ambrose down in his mind as a 'real soldier', though he'd suspected as much. Mornings like this sorted the dedicated soldiers from those who played at it, just as Duncan said. It was the kind of weather he'd liked to have his troop out in, but apparently they were too precious. Their loss.


As his two fellow soldiers greeted him, Douglas's smile broadened. The politics of court were deep, dark and unfathomable waters, but amongst those of a military bent he felt right at home. "Nae conjourin' needed, my mither was a sidhe."** Douglas replied, a cheeky wink accompanying the outrageous lie that was his response to Melville's surprise. Wouldn't it be fun if he actually could appear where he wanted, at will?


As for family? "The girls are aw here, thou' Cat's been in bed wi' an ague." Which had made the house a little quieter, not that he was saying that. He made sure she had plates of food and tea sent up, and Nessie at intervals. He suspected a stray onion at the ball. "An er yers wi' ye this season?" He asked with interest. "I'd be glad tae first fuit at yer door, lest ye want tae first fuit at oors!" The Melvilles and MacBains were close, he'd missed Duncan's company. "Hae ye e'er celebrated Hogmanay, Lieutenant?"*** He asked, not wanting to exclude Ambrose from the conversation.


With a soldier's practiced eye, Duncan picked out the odd fish in the barrel, and Douglas smiled with obvious pride as he lifted the unusually long rifle for the others to see. "This m'Lairds is one o' the few Rupertino Rifles e'er made." He revealed. "T'was gifted tae me by His Heeness, fer tae test it's capabil'ties. Tis a sharp-shooter's weapon."+ He explained.


It was his pride and joy; already an unusually keen shot, with this rifle Douglas could hit targets that should have been impossible. That and the fact that, as far as he knew, no one else had one.



* It's but a fine and mild Scottish morning."

** "No conjouring needed, my mother was a faery."

*** "The girls are all here, though Cat's been in bed with a cold. I'll be glad to first foot at your door, unless you want to first foot at ours! Have you ever celebrated Hogmanay, Lieutenant?"

+ "This my Lords is one of the few Rupertino Rifles ever made. It was given to me by His Highness, for to test it's capabilities. This is a sharp-shooter's weapon."

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"Ah, yes yes." Ambrose nodded. It was even better than that for young Jaspar, the Scot held a virtual door open for him to step into a military life. It was much more than Ambrose could have offered him. (He'd been going to give the boy a tour of the barracks, but did not say that now, it seemed a feeble thing in compare.)


"I'll let his sister know, and have him ask for you when he attends."


The Scotts knew each other quite well, and struck up talking of their northern traditions, Ambrose returned to measuring out powder for a future shot. "Heard the word, have no clue what it means." He replied to Douglas, "if you can eat it, then count me interested." he gave a lopsided smile.


It sounded like both men were surrounded by women, Ambrose paid attention to it all, though their lives were alien to him. The way that both men spoke of this being the place of real soldier, made the other think they had both been relieved to get away from heir respective domestic scenes. "Hear hear." he rumbled agreement.


The gun that Douglas carried was certainly one of interest. "From Prince Rupert himself?" no man ranked higher in the Lieutenants mind, and he was in wonder to the weapons proportions. Such a long barrel. "Much kick?"


"I'd like to see her fired." he stepped aside with a look to Duncan ensuring they were in unison with that thought.

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“Aye, a bonny morning. my friend. My fingers have become too used to the Continent it seems, and they can’t get to the cadence of six shots every two minutes. Perhaps I am getting too soft… or too old”, the Lowlander added with a mischievous grin. “And if you were born of a sidhe, I do hope it was from a seelie princess, or the lieutenant and I are in all sorts of trouble!” The seelie were the kind fairies. Even a God-fearing man like Duncan would be wary of the unkind ones, especially back in Scotland. One never knew what guise the devil could use.


The MacBain girls were in London, and that made Duncan glad. He considered them family, close family even. “Please give your sisters my best wishes, and tell them I will send gifts in a day or two. Which reminds me…” the viscount paused, “thank you for the beef you sent to Melville Castle. My mother insisted that I told you that you made her season happy, as she could have proper broth made with those thick bones full of marrow!” Indeed the beef had been well received. “You are growing some fine cattle, Dundarg!”


“As for my own, they stayed at home with my mother. Ellen is too young for winter travel, so perhaps in the fall. But with you lot in London, I will not be missing them as much”. The smile that went along with that thought was genuine. He truly appreciated his Highland friends.


Douglas then asked Ambrose about Hogmanay, and the lieutenant in turn asked if it was edible. That made the Lowlander laugh heartily. “No, lieutenant, Hogmanay is not edible, althuigh food is a large art of it. It is our way of celebrating New Year’s. We hurry to be the first to visit dear friends and neighbours immediately after midnight”. He would leave it to Baron Dundarg to invite the man or not, as they were already been acquainted. “Coal, salt, herring, shortbread, whisky, and black bun are the traditional gifts, but each region has its particular customs”.


The rifle was then produced, and so was its history. The viscount’s respect for Douglas rose a notch or two. To have received such a gift from Prince Rupert was something not just anyone could boast of.


“I’d like to see it fired too”, the Lowlander agreed with Ambrose. “This is a rarity. Please, do the honours”. He also stepped aside, joining Turnbull in his appreciation of the weapon.

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