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The walls of the house were spared and his mission succeeded.  All in all a very good day.  There was still a house to invade -- the one with the man behind the plot.  That was his favorite part … busting in and bashing some heads and arresting everyone.  He smiled as he thought about it.  There was talk that the blackguard was a noble.  If so, that complicated his plans to arrest everyone.  Just to be safe, he would need to gather all the intelligence he could on the man.  The testimony of a ghost was not likely to hold up in court.  Would the letters reveal anything other than the love between the Lion and the Swan?  He hoped so.  Love letters could be so boring unless one were the recipient.

Lord Langdon rode back to his office at Somerset Palace so that he might get a good look at the letters before meeting with Susan.  If nothing else, perhaps they would learn the names of the Swan and Lion.

OOC ~  Done here but happy to carry on here or in a companion thread to get a summary of the contents of the letters.  :)

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The chest was not locked. Upon opening it, Charles would find a stack of folded papers, their edges yellowed with age. The first one had a brief note on one side written in the flowery handwriting he would recognize as the Swan's. 'This is our little cub. I wish I knew where you were so you could be a part of his life.' On the other side was a beautiful charcoal sketch of a newborn baby, rich with detail. Before he could pick up another of the folded letters, Gillis appeared in the doorway. There was a matter that needed his immediate attention.

 

(OOC: He can explore the letters more in another thread in the current timeline, either before, during, or after his meeting with Susan :).)

 

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So, they had a child together, Charles spoke to himself.  The charcoal drawing was interesting.  Was not Tamsin and her grandmother also good sketch artists?  Perhaps it ran in the family.  Could the Swan be Tamsin's great-great grandmother?

It was then that Sam appeared in the doorway.  Charles replaced the letter into the box.  "Come in," he bade.  "Is something amiss?"

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Sam stepped into the room, her eyes traveling to the box on Charles' desk. “It is just an administrative matter that only you can attend to.” she said and explained what had come up. It was so difficult to keep her expression neutral when she was alone in a room with him, and she wished that he wanted to continue what they had started long ago. Yet he treated her as no more important than his other soldiers. Maybe she would ask him to ride with her again when they both had a day off, but in truth, she wished that an overture would come from him.

 

~finis

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Charles had enough women problems already.  He was in the active mindset of reducing lovers as opposed to enlarging that circle.  Fortunately he had seen little to nothing of Fiona McBain.  She had threatened to come to his office dressed a s a man to sneak in.

Sam was not just another soldier to Charles.  She had saved his life and she had his complete trust.  She had tricked him into having intimate relations at Newmarket more than a year ago by pretending to be another woman.  She had later pledged herself to him in an ambiguous way not free of some emotional and then had disappeared when he had assumed that they were two friends and allies pledging their loyalty.  She had grown distant for a time but then renewed regular contact.  They seemed to be getting along well as two officers that are good friend might.  She would give her life for him and he would do likewise if she were in peril, but he had thought little about intimate relations with her.  It seemed especially dangerous because such a relationship could jeopardize a rare friendship.

"Come in have a seat.  I'm having a sip of wine to celebrate my discovery."  he pointed to the chest.  "The pieces of the puzzle are falling into place.  Now what of this administrative matter?"  He was ready to pour her some wine. 

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Sam was surprised that Lord Langdon invited her to join him for a glass of wine. Was this the overture she had been waiting for, or did he only think of her as a friend? Her feelings for him were so complicated. Sometimes she was happy with the way things were between them and at others, she wanted more.

 

She had chosen to live as a man when she joined the military, but inside she was a woman with needs and desires that she had tried to deny. Maybe she was mistaking admiration for affection, or perhaps she really did have romantic feelings for him. He often haunted her dreams, but could that be because he was the only man she had allowed close to her?

 

She couldn't become too friendly with the other soldiers or they might discover her secret. Sam endured their goodnatured teasing about how she never discussed her conquests with them or made any comments about pretty women. She also went off alone to relieve herself so that they wouldn't notice that she didn't pee standing up, and never undressed in their presence. She had to remain detached so they just thought she was a bit shy.

 

Deep down inside, Sam knew that she didn't have a chance with Lord Langdon. He was an Earl and her only status came from her promotions. She knew how popular he was with pretty young noblewomen. Why would he be remotely interested in a woman who could so easily pass as a man? Yet a girl could always hope.

 

Shaking those thoughts from her mind, she sat down and lay some papers before him. “This needs your attention,” she said formally. Sam took the glass of wine he poured for her and glanced at the chest. “So there really was a chest of letters in the house and you didn't have knock down any walls to get to it. So you now really think that you saw a ghost? And what kind of puzzle are you trying to solve?”

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Unaware of her thoughts, Charles was thinking of business.  He looked at the administrative order and it seemed appropriate.  "This is fine," he pronounced.

This freed him to discuss the chest of letters.  "You questioned whether I was looney, didn't you?" he jested as he took a sip.  "The ghost told me they would be there, and they were."  He felt triumphant on that point.  Opening the chest, he pulled forth a letter to read it.  If it was saucy enough he might read it aloud for amusement.  "This will give me the name of the ghost ultimately."

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Sam pulled the papers back toward her and stacked them neatly on a corner of the desk, too intrigued by what he was telling her to just walk away. Any moment of time he was willing to spend with her was precious, even if his story seemed a bit preposterous. “It never crossed my mind,” she said when he asked if she thought he was crazy. Actually it had, and still was, though she would never admit it. He was taking this ghost business very seriously.

 

“Where did you meet the ghost?” she asked. “And how did it tell you where the chest was?”

 

The second letter Charles pulled out was also written in the Swan's hand and she was once again addressing the Lion. She wrote about the growth of their son Seth, who was  three years old and she seemed dismayed that he called her 'Auntie.' The missive ended with: “If you were here, we could raise him together and there would be no need for all this pretense. Where are you, my love? Why don't you come back to me?” There was no drawing on the back of the piece of yellowed paper.

 

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Charles replied absently to Sam as he read the first letter or two.  

"I found a secret room in the dungeons below the palace in the secret passageways.  There was a skeleton there which was an obvious victim of a murder," he revealed as he scanned the contents of the letter

The son's name was Seth and the Swan was viewed as an aunt.  Might the Lion and the Swan be brother and sister-in-law?  That would be interesting.  The letter must have been sent after the Lion was murdered; butthen, why would it be in the correspondence chest?  There were things that did not add up for the young officer.

"I went back to the room at midnight on New Years Eve.  I thought if there was ever a time a spirit might be able to communicate, it would be then.  It spoke with a flicker of a lantern light Sam.  It was quite the sight," he exclaimed as he perused the next letter.

 

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Sam had been down in those tunnels herself but had not gone very far.  It was too easy to become lost. All of the walls had looked the same to her. Though it was difficult to believe Lord Langdon's story, she supposed there could be a room hidden somewhere in the labyrinthine corridors. But what had provoked him to explore them in the first place? It didn't seem like he kind of thing he would do for fun and she doubted he was pursuing anybody.  To her knowledge, those passageways were a well-kept secret known only those whose were tasked with protecting the King. 

 

And there had been a skeleton in the secret room? Was it still there? As for the New Year's Eve incident, Charles was probably as drunk as everyone else and he might have imagined that the flicker of a lantern was the ghost communicating with him. If he had imagined it, then how had it told him that there was a chest hidden in the walls of a certain house?

 

Sam knew how he liked to tease ladies and she didn't think that he had told anyone else about the ghost. Maybe he was  jesting and somebody who actually drew breath had given him the location of the chest. “Is the skeleton still there?” she asked. “I would like to see it.” Most likely, she thought, he will tell me that he no longer remembers the location of the secret room.

 

The next letter was rolled up and tied with a faded golden ribbon. It was a love letter from the Lion to the Swan going into explicit detail about how they would celebrate after they ran away together. It looked a bit older than the rest of the letters and as if it had been read quite often.

 

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Charles might have been better advised to say nothing to Sam about the adventure, but he was feeling in high spirits with the discovery of the letters.  "I can show you the secret room and the skeleton, but you will need to keep it a secret.  There is more to the plot."  He paused for dramatic effect and nodded knowingly.

"There was a dagger.  A special one.  It killed the lord and I have it.  Now someone is trying to kill me to get it.  Remember that house the two urchins led us too?  The person living there wants the dagger for some reason and I plan to barge in there, arrest everyone and then sort t out later," he declared with pride.  "And you are going to help me."

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Sam was surprised that Lord Langdon agreed to show her the skeleton in the hidden room. So that part, at least, must be true. “Of course I'll keep your secret,” she said. “You know you can trust me.” Just as she could always trust him. At any moment, she knew that he could tell his superiors that she was a woman and she would be dismissed. But he wouldn't. She was one of his best soldiers and he respected her.  As for her feelings for him ... those were best ignored.

 

His tale became even more bizarre but did explain why he had been so adamant about finding that house. He had a dagger that had been responsible for death of the man whose bones he had found and someone was trying to kill him for it. How had all this happened without her notice? Still, he couldn't be making it all up. Lord Langdon believed that the person who lived in that house wanted the dagger. Maybe he or she had been the one who had tried to kill him?

 

“Isn't that a bit rash?' Sam asked. “Perhaps you should question them first. What if they have important connections? Arresting them could land you in deep trouble.” A short pause and then she added: “Do you keep the dagger here? I would very much like to see it too.”

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"I trust you completely," he responded.  "That is why I am telling you this now."

She thought him a bit rash, to which he smiled.  "You know me … I like arresting everyone, just to be sure."  He was only partially jesting with her.  "The man had a gang of thugs attack an innocent lady that he thought had the dagger and then sent some villains into our very own secret passages to kill me but they could not find me because I was hidden in the room.  At least that is what the spirit told me.  If true, this man could be a threat to the King and Queen … given his ability to access passageways.  The urchins led us to the right house, so I think we need to be vigilant.  We could be walking into a trap."

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A pleasant sensation permeated through Sam's mind and body when he said he trusted her completely. It wasn't all that she wanted from him, but it was a start. She felt privileged that Charles chose to share his story with her … however improbable it sounded. Whether or not there was any truth to it, he believed it, and there was no reason to doubt that there had been an attack on an innocent woman and thugs roaming the passageways trying to kill him. Somebody had murdered the skeleton in the secret room and if Charles had the dagger that had done the deed, then the murderer would want it back.

 

The only part of his tale that she didn't believe was that he had communicated with a ghost. Surely he was protecting whomever had given him the information.

 

“One day that propensity is going to get you in trouble,” she jested back. Sam knew he only arrested those whom he had good reason to suspect. But in this situation, with his life in danger, he might become reckless. She did agree  that if somebody other than the soldiers knew about the passageways, they could use them to harm the King and Queen. The Queen was particularly vulnerable now that she was pregnant. His Majesty's enemies would do whatever they could to make certain he never had an heir.

 

“If we're walking into a trap, then he will be expecting us if we just barge in. We're quite conspicuous in our uniforms and there are other houses in the neighborhood. As soon as we enter the area, it won't take long for the word to spread, particularly if there are children around. We need to be stealthy in order to incriminate him.”

 

An idea occurred to her. “How long ago the man in the secret room was killed? Maybe you can find out his identity by checking if anyone has gone missing lately.”  Sitting across from him, she couldn't see the letters in the chest and didn't know how old they looked.

 

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Sam counseled caution, which seemed counter to his strategy of direct confrontation.  Charles had a notion that a direct approach would give him the element of surprise and disarm his enemy.  Yet, he paused to consider her words.  The enemy knew him and his uniform, so if he was banging on the front door, it was possible that the villains would slip out the back, or not answer the door.

"Stealthy," Charles repeated as he thought how to accomplish that.  He was not a person accustomed to stealth.  Maybe we hide in a wagon, ride up to the door, jump out and batter the front door."  After he thought on his words, he was guessing that such a plan was not as stealthy as she had in mind.  "Maybe … we find a lady to approach the door and gain admittance and then she holds the door open for us."  Darlene would relish the role, but dare he place her in danger?  "We hide in the coach with pistols," he added to make clear his plan.

"There is the rub," he admitted when Sam thought the murder was fresh.  "The murder happened 100 years ago.  That is why I am confounded why this blackguard still cares.  We have letters that should identify him.  From there we will need to look to their heirs.  I do not know why the dagger is so important."

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She listened as Charles proposed a few methods of surprising the owner of the house, shaking her head when he suggested getting a lady to assist them. “If there's danger, we shouldn't involve civilians. We know how to defend ourselves, but they would be vulnerable and we would have to divide our time protecting them and interrogating the residents.”

 

Sam took another sip of wine. “Perhaps we can pose as a couple who has been set upon by thieves and needs a place to hide until they're gone. See how they react, if they want to alert the authorities for us or try to talk us out of it. We can conceal our pistols beneath cloaks in case we need them. Maybe we can say we'd like to freshen up and snoop around his house for anything suspicious.” She was just throwing out ideas. Ultimately, the decision would be up to him.

 

Her eyes widened at Charles' revelation. “One hundred years? Whoever killed your skeleton is long dead by now. Since he got away with it, why was the incident not forgotten? All I can think of is that the murderer confessed to somebody, perhaps a brother or a son, and the story continued to be passed on. Whoever holds the secret now might want the murder weapon back so that the truth will never be discovered. But I have no idea why it should matter after all this time.”

 

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Charles pondered the various alternatives, finding none to his liking.  "I'd not risk our troops seeing you dressed as a woman," he whispered.  Protecting her secret was of great importance to him.  For her to be discovered would be to take away the very thing she wished to maintain.  "Better to have one of the men dress as a woman," he offered with a smile.  "We must preserve your secret."  He sat back as he pondered the scene conjured.  "They might admit the couple for a few minutes, but would not be likely to let us wander.  Likely we would pull our weapons on the servants while the master fled."

 "I am thinking we need more information before crashing down the door."  This was unlike the Earl.  He favored bold action.  "We need to question some of the servants of the house.  They can be bribed or arrested, but they can tell us about the gentleman and family that lives there.  Once we know more, we can better capture the villain."

As for the revelation about the age of the crime, Charles found himself shaking his head.  "It is very strange, I admit.  Why should a descendant care so much?  Why the dagger?  If they recover the dagger, it is nothing.  It is not proof of guilt.  They have nothing to fear.  If it is merely an heirloom, then why fight so hard to recover it?"  It did not make sense.  He had thought on the motive long and hard before.  

He took the dagger from its hiding spot in his jacket and laid it on his desk.  "There must be something more to this."  he examined the dagger anew and showed it to Sam.  "Maybe there is a secret compartment full of rubies," he offered hopefully as he looked for sign of a latch.  At least that would make some sense to him. 

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“Oh but I would be the man,” Sam's smile was mischievous. “You would be the woman.” Her desire for Charles to see her as a woman had momentarily eclipsed her good sense. It was unlikely that any of the men would think she was really a woman even if she wore a gown. People usually saw what they expected to see and they believed she was male. And she didn't have to fake the awkward way she walked in women's clothing.

 

Yet what if some perceptive individual saw her in a dress and put two and two together? After all, she never undressed in front of the other soldiers, went off alone to relieve herself, and had no facial hair. If one or more of those things had been noticed, and then she wore a gown and a wig (for her hair was kept short), her secret could be blown and that would be the end of the military career she had worked so hard for.

 

Her plan wouldn't work anyway, as Charles pointed out. If the owners of the house had something to hide, they would not let strangers snoop around. But their unwillingness to alert the authorities about robbers roaming the streets could prove that they were concealing something, though it might not be what they were hoping for. It could just be an illicit affair.

 

At least he no longer wished to storm into the house and arrest everyone in it. His aggressive methods worked well in most situations, but in this one, it was best to be subtle. “You should be the one to question them, since you know more about this mystery than anyone else. The servants won't have any idea who you are or what you look like if you dress as a commoner and give a fake name. You will need to pick a day when you know the owner will not be there so there is no chance of you being recognized.”

 

If he asked her to do it for him, Sam wouldn't protest. She would just need to know the entire story in order to ask the right questions.

 

She watched with interest as Charles removed the dagger from his jacket. Did he keep it with him all the time to be sure that nobody stole it?  It was beautiful and quite well-preserved. “May I hold it?” she asked. “Any collector of historical weapons would like to get his hands on it. Maybe the owner knows its value and wants to sell it. But attempting to kill you for it seems a bit extreme."

 

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Charles could not help but gape and then dissolve into laughter at Sam's jest.  "I would be a horrible woman.  I would be quite the sight!"  He continued to chuckle.  "How could I run after the villain in skirts?"  More importantly, he dared not be seen by his men dressed as a lady.

As the idea for gathering intelligence evolved, Charles commented on Sam's suggestion.  "I'm thinking we have some men dressed in street clothes watch the house, front and back.  When a servant leaves and walks down the street, the men will escort the servant here to Somerset Palace.  I will interrogate the servant and then send him or her back to the house."

He had grown to be concerned that the dagger would be burglarized from his house.  If someone was willing to kill for it, why would they not send a tthief in to steal it?  As such, it was better to keep the dagger with him at all times.  It was the safest place.  He was only too happy to hand it to Sam for inspection.  "It would be extreme to try and kill someone for the dagger if one only wanted to sell it.  There are better ways to earn coin.  There must be something special about it."

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Lord Langdon's expression was priceless and Sam's laughter joined his. She wished they could share more moments like this, just two friends laughing together. Playfully, she appraised him. “You have a point. You don't look anything like a woman.” No, you are definitely all man, she added silently. “I've seen woman run after their children before and they seem to manage it. Trijntje does it too, when one of the kitchen maids catches her stealing a treat.”

 

She listened intently as he outlined his new plan. “I think that would work quite well. But how will you stop the servants from telling their master that they were questioned by a high-ranking officer in the King's Life Guard? If he finds out that you have been asking about him and he does have something to hide, he might either flee or come after you.”

 

Sam took the dagger, her fingers accidentally brushing against his as the exchange was made. Holding it up to the light, she examined it carefully. “Maybe it's the only one of its kind? I've never seen anything like it before.”

 

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