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James O`Neill

Prosody Problems, evening, 13th April (Open!)

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Privy Garden

 

The Privy Garden at Whitehall is laid out in ordered blocks with statues in the center of each square, the classical creatures easily draw the eyes of lovers of art. The different statues depict the nine Muses (Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania) and the three Graces (Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia), each holding or surrounded by that which is most associated with her, such as a lyre or scroll. As one wanders, it is often noted that the red roses remain on one side of the garden while the white ones remain on the opposite side, thus creating a pleasant contrast throughout. About the garden are scattered several benches, but none are secluded

The sun had been aloft in the sky when James had arrived at Whitehall, but its inexorable march downwards had since come close to its denouement. Courtiers, he was reasonably certain, had come and gone through the Privy Garden in the time since an uncertain feeling tore him from the hallway to the Lord High Steward’s office to a bench overlooking the statue of Calliope. Perhaps a few of them had even been annoyed that the Irish poet had set inkwell and paper sprawling across the entirety of said bench, all the while giving no visible sign that he was, in fact, aware that he was occupying an unnecessary amount of space – and making fitful, slightly-too-loud grumblings to himself about the “blatant unfairness” of something or other in between long periods of scrawling in a book, frowning, looking up at the statue opposite him, and then frowning once more.

Nor, for that matter, did he seem to be cognizant of the significant ink stains slowly spreading across his dominant hand.

He was not a superstitious young man, by any means, nor did he respect the convention of asking the Muses for their blessings upon beginning a work, but Calliope in particular was a target of his disdain for having occupied his mind for months on end. Boudicca, the Romans, allegory…they had all been nigh-on the only things James O’Neill felt capable of strongly caring about that didn’t carry the stigma of the “profligate”, or whatever noun the Baron Iveagh had last used to describe his son and heir. But now, having been drawn away from his duties to Ormonde by virtue of finding the man somewhat intimidating, he had gone about – and evidently failed at – being productive. In his own manner, of course.

Tight-wound chains do bind me to thee…no, no. Too many pronouns. I, me, thee. It was all wretched, overwrought, anaphoric shit.

“Damn your eyes,” James growled at the statue, louder than intended, still seemingly unaware that he was in a public space. The Privy Garden had previously been a paradise of mirth for him, but today could not see fit to even provide an ounce of productivity in the poetic realm away from his nearly-complete epic. Irritation had caused his brow to furrow, green eyes dancing from the pages of his journal to Calliope again. His Ulster brogue betrayed no irony as he continued, louder – and still blissfully unaware of this fact – now, “I scorn you, marble wench. Your wisdom is bloody cruel.”

Edited by James O`Neill
capitalizing April

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It was pure whimsy that brought Anne-Elisabeth to the gardens. She had been out exploring the city with a group of acquaintances who had agreed to show her around and after sharing dinner with them, she was looking forward to studying the stars through her telescope. Her carriage was passing the palace when the notion struck her to visit her favorite muse Urania before she went home, just for luck. She didn’t believe that the muses had any power and she wasn’t the least bit superstitious, but it certainly couldn’t hurt. It would be amusing if this was the night she finally discovered a new star that no astronomer had ever seen before. That, she knew, was a long shot as her telescope wasn’t the best, but the young Countess believed that anything was possible.

 

Rising partially from her seat, she rapped on the roof of the carriage and it slowed and stopped. Her coachman knew better than to ask his eccentric young mistress any questions. He simply helped her out and then returned to his perch.

 

Anne-Elisabeth paused at the entrance to the gardens and gazed up at the sky. It was a beautiful clear night and the stars were beginning to sparkle in the heavens. The view was much the same as it was from her backyard, but maybe she should set her telescope up here on another evening. There were people milling about even this late, and she might be lucky enough to catch the eye of a scientist who believed that woman should exercise their minds. Or I could be the victim or ridicule and taunts. I might even get hit by a rotten tomato or two.

 

It was something to think about. Heading toward the statues, she politely greeted the courtiers she passed, all of them gentlemen. Some of them looked at her a bit oddly, as ladies were expected to be home at night.  She tossed them  enigmatic smile and went on her way. Anne-Elisabeth didn’t give a flying fuck what people thought of her. Life was too short to abide by rules that restrained and stifled one’s natural tendencies, particularly those created by men to keep women in line.

 

An obviously Irish male voice cursing brought her to a stop. It was coming from the square alloted to Calliope. Curious, she moved in that direction, hiding behind a hedge and observing a young gentleman sitting on the bench writing with papers spread all around him. A poet herself as well as a novelist (with a male nom de plume), Anne-Elisabeth understood his frustration.  Inspiration was a fickle thing.

 

Unable to resist the opportunity to make the acquaintance of another creative soul, she strolled into view. “I don’t think muses respond well to insults my lord,,” she commented dryly. “Perhaps you should try complimenting Calliope instead.”

 

Edited by Anne-Elisabeth Devereux

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A woman’s voice cut through the cacophony of James’ not-so-silent woolgathering. It was then, and only then, that he realized that it was beginning to be quite late – and, more dimly, acknowledged the sensation that leapt from stomach to heart to mind that told him that there would be no rest until satisfaction was had in the duel between poet and muse. In a more self-aware mood, he would have been able to place this moment as the origin of another strained letter from his footman-turned-watchdog to Lord Iveagh, bemoaning the unwillingness of Ormonde’s messenger to acknowledge the basic needs of the frail human form.

But this was not one of those moods. Without yet acknowledging the origin of the interloping woman, the right side of James’ mouth quirked upwards in a near-smile. “Complimenting…Calliope?” The query was made in the sort of tone that implied that Anne-Elizabeth ought to have been privy to the past several hours of his inner (and outer) monologue, so engrossed was he in his own work. “I should think not! Unless…” Quill touched ink once more, then scrawled across the pages of his leather-bound folio.

‘Kind words repel thee, Marcella, cruel-ty/inspires close-ness’

“…ah, you are onto something!” Manners still forgotten, James grinned triumphantly, and set aside the book to dry, hastily scooping up the remnants of doggerel masquerading as metered verse scattered around the bench. “Not with Calliope, of course,” the Irishman chattered on, words hammering out a fevered, staccato beat. “The wretched lass haunts me yet, undoubtedly. To fortune or ruin, mm, we have yet to see.”

Finally, his percussive ramblings were forgotten enough to chance a look at who he was addressing – although he had not quite gathered enough presence of politic mind to set down his discarded mistakes before rising to offer the necessary greetings. His erstwhile advisor seemed to be a young woman, near his own age, and not unpleasant to look upon in a way that seemed reminiscent of the Spanish or Italians. “James O’Neill.” Arms still full of paper, he did his best to offer a gallant bow, a slip of parchment making its escape nonetheless.

This was ignored in turn, and the poet smiled once more, a dimpled thing that belied his youth. “When not bound to poesy so that Calliope might pick my bones, I am in the service of His Grace the Duke of Ormonde.”

His green eyes turned to her in query, flicking briefly down to the telescope at her side and then back up, full of curiosity. “I pray that you will forgive my previous impudence. Until now, it has been a most unproductive afternoon. Or, ah, evening. As it were."

Edited by James O`Neill

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Apparently, complimenting the muse of poetry was an alien concept to the gentleman surrounded, most likely, with his own attempts at that form of art. Anne-Elisabeth opened her mouth, intending to list merits of her suggestion, but decided to remain silent as he wrote. She knew how annoying it was to be interrupted when inspiration struck. Was he composing limericks by any chance? He was Irish, after all. If so, she hoped he was not so good that he would win the next competition and she would have to give up her self-styled title, the Queen of Limericks.

 

When he was done, his handsome face lit up with a grin and he proclaimed that she was onto something. I'm always onto something ... or on somebody.  Instead of looking at her, he set his book aside and began to gather up his papers, rambling about Calliope’s capriciousness. She had felt the way he had many times, and had occasionally disregarded her own advice, deriding that poor muse with much more colorful language than his.

 

Finally he stood and addressed her, his arms filled with the fruits of his labor. When he bowed and introduced himself, one paper slipped from his hands, and she bent over to pick it up. Rising, she held it out to him, smiling warmly. “I’m Anne-Elisabeth Devereux, the Countess of Cambray.” Her voice had a slight accent that would be impossible to identify unless one was familiar with the English colony in Barbados.

 

His green eyes were just as vivid and striking as Lord Chatham’s single blue one. “There’s nothing to forgive. I write as well, and have have vented my frustration against Calliope many times myself. In fact, I’m here to visit one of her sisters on this lovely clear evening. I’m an aspiring astronomer and I hope that Urania will bestow me with luck when I study the stars tonight.”

 

Anne-Elisabeth hoped Master O’Neill wasn’t one of those stuffy traditionalists who believed that ladies should stick to pumping out children instead of dabbling in masculine pursuits like science. If he was, then it was best she found out as soon as possible. Hopefully, he was a forward-thinking gentleman and saw no problem with her unconventional interests.

 

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(OOC: I was dumb and didn't consider that a telescope would be a hefty thing to transport, so I'll act as though James saw nothing!)

“I write as well, and…”

The first four words – what was that intriguing accent? Some new breed of Sasanach barbarity? – were enough to instigate a reaction in James, a rapid-fire thing of minute gesticulations accompanying a gracious flourish as he retrieved the errant paper from Anne-Elizabeth. At first, his eyelids flickered again, his head cocking slightly to regard the Countess of Cambray anew. Shortly thereafter, his lip furrowed into the slightest of frowns as he took in the full measure of the woman, restless eyes searching head to toe – not leeringly, but in the manner of a skeptical appraiser. That she was of the fairer sex made no difference as to her potential talent – chief among the reasons here being the poet’s time in Italy, where women were far freer to pursue the literary arts, to say nothing of the likes of Sappho – but instead, James was simply concerned as to whether or not Anne-Elizabeth had talent.

W he had not been at court long enough to actually meet much of its literary set, James was familiar enough with their works to know that he found the majority of their works trite, soulless, and air-headed.

But then, as quickly as his scrutiny started, the good lady mentioned Urania and astronomy, and James concluded a logical leap that believed that one serious pursuit begat another. He started in with courtesy, saying “The honor is distinctly mine, Lady Cambray, to so readily make the acquaintance of a polymath,” the poet’s head bobbing twice in obvious approval. “After all, it was Urania who guided Milton to the heaven of heavens*, displacing Calliope in her own home.”

James’ smile became something of a smirk at the mention of the controversial Roundhead author. It was his own way of testing the waters – Paradise Lost was revolutionary in form and subject, and the man’s detestable support for the Butcher of Drogheda happened to be second in importance to that. “I, too, have exiled her from her art form in favor of someone greater. Hence, she haunts me yet, jeering at my attempted iconoclasm,” he offered up in vague explanation, glancing at the statue momentarily before turning back to Anne-Elizabeth.

“Mm.” His jaw tensed, unable to decide if it wished to come to the aid of the self-sure expression on his lips. “I suppose being so near her doesn’t help matters.” Light-hearted obsequiousness crept into his tone, then, as he asked, “Would my lady deign to allow me to accompany her to Urania? I’m no astronomer, I’m not, but a poet must be an eager student of all sources of inspiration.”

*Milton invoked "the meaning" of Urania, not the muse herself, choosing the Holy Spirit instead as a muse

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 Master O’Neill was quite quick about taking his paper back, but at least he did so graciously and didn’t snatch it rudely from her hand. Anne-Elisabeth wondered if he was afraid she would read it. As she had said she was a writer, maybe he thought she would give him a scathing critique. And she would have if his poetry was abysmal, which she seriously doubted it was. However, she was not callous enough to read someone else’s work without their permission. She knew how she would feel if the same thing was done to her, though she was not the least bit modest and was perfectly willing to show her writing to anyone she knew and respected.

 

She appraised the Irishman as frankly as he did her. Some gentlemen were not comfortable being looked up and down by a lady, which was one of the reasons she did it. The other was her boundless curiosity. Anne-Elisabeth liked what she saw. Her first impression of him did not change. Master O’Neill was a handsome fellow and she adored those green eyes.

 

"You flatter me with a compliment that I am not certain I am worthy of.” He had passed her test as he didn’t seem annoyed at her scientific interests. When he spoke of Milton. she wondered if he shared the same political views as the deceased poet. Anne-Elisabeth had tried to read Paradise Lost but it had been a bit to dry for her and she wasn’t a fan of thinly disguised political literature. One of her lovers had given her a synopsis, and that had satisfied her inquisitiveness. He had mentioned Urania, but had not explained that Milton had not been talking about the actual muse. When the subject came up, which is rarely did, she wondered why a Christian writer would call upon a heathen muse.

 

“So he did,” she replied. “Urania would be my choice too, if I needed a guide to the heavens.”

 

Who, she wondered, was his inspiration now? An actual human being or another personification of art? “I imagine that muses don’t like to be jilted.” She grinned teasingly. “If I was Calliope, I might haunt you too. But I would never sneer. That is a rather petty form of revenge.”

 

Master O’Neill’s mood seemed to brighten in an instant. “Of course you may accompany me. Maybe Urania will be more benevolent if I don’t approach her alone. My dream is to discover a new star that no astronomer had yet noticed. I need all the help I can get.”

 

With his arms full of papers, Anne-Elisabeth didn’t expect him to offer one to her, and so she began strolling in the direction of Urania’s alcove. “So what kind of writing do you do, if you don’t mind me asking?”

 

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James did not feel the eyes on him mirroring his own examination, nor did he for a second stop to consider that his intentions might have been misconstrued as improper – welcome or not. The only certainty he knew was the integrity of the artist, and from the minute Lady Cambray professed to being a writer herself, the scales were to be weighed against the veracity of that statement, and that alone. The spirit of the libertine age was all well and good, but poetry was the incandescence of his psyche, illuminating the dark recesses of the world.

At the very mention, he became warm, incisive, incendiary, glowing in what Lord Maldon once termed his very own Irish fire. “I beg your pardon, my lady,” the poet began, looking back up to the palace whose shadow they stood in. “But if you truly find unwarranted flattery a repulsive notion, there’s fairer climes than Whitehall, there are.” Wit and willingness to entertain had been his only reliable allies since arriving in London, and superficial charm was an easy enough habit to lapse into when provided a sparring partner.

Politics were more difficult, and James ought to have been grateful that the lady had the sense not to delve into the topic, being nothing of a statesman himself. In truth, Milton’s views had already slipped away into the nether, chased away by meter, verse, and banter with a curious specimen of a countess. “Are there forms of revenge that aren’t petty, then?” He asked, returning her pretty grin with a dimpled one of his own. “Or do you simply possess a greater capacity for cruelty than a daughter of Zeus?”

Before receiving an answer, James breezed forward in both conversation and towards their newfound destination with an emphatic, “Hm. That too could make a serviceable line…” The train of thought ended as soon as it began, however, he made to offer an arm before realizing the impracticality of doing so and finally managing some silent gratitude. “As to what I have written, my conceit is to write as a Gael would in an English manner. Tales of tragedy, rebellion in blank verse…” He prattled on, eyes roaming around their environs. “A lyric poem about these very gardens, once.”

Finally turning back to Lady Cambray, James did not even make an effort to mask his own cockiness as he mock-confessed sotto voce, “His Majesty rather liked what he heard of that one, I believe. It is my hope that what the sisters Hibernia and Britannia have conspired to steal from Calliope with my aid will soon be even more well-received.” Which was, in all, a rather convoluted way to say ‘I have been writing an epic that will either make or destroy me, and I have the pretension to think it concerns the whole of the British Isles’.

Rather than say that, however, he asked in turn, “And you, Lady Cambray? Have you outdone Hesiod’s Astronomia?”

Edited by James O`Neill

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Anne-Elisabeth chuckled. “I adore compliments as much as any lady, but I strive to live up to them and I think I have a long road ahead of me before I can be considered a polymath. I am just starting upon my journey. Still I thank you for your vote of confidence.” The young Countess often feigned modesty when meeting new people. Her natural vanity and arrogance tended to annoy them, especially if they also thought highly of themselves.

 

Master O’Neill’s grin emphasized his attractiveness. “That’s for me to know and you to hopefully never find out.” Let him make of that what he would. She didn’t see herself as particularly cruel, but she was definitely no pushover and gave as good … if not better … that she got. “I don’t believe that revenge is petty if it is justified. And I rather doubt that you deserve Calliope’s ire. She should be content that you write poetry, which indirectly praises her.”

 

Urania’s statue was not very far from her sister’s, but Anne-Elisabeth walked slowly so that her charming companion wouldn’t drop his papers again. Tragedy and rebellion … she liked his poems without even reading it. From the eloquent way Master O’Neill spoke, his works would probably put hers to shame.  Even so, she looked quite forward to reading them if he ever offered. As they had only just met, she didn’t foresee receiving that honor today.

 

Her gaze followed his as he surveyed the gardens. She could see their lovely surroundings inspiring all forms of art. When their eyes met once more, her dark orbs widened. “You impressed the King? I have heard that is not an easy achievement. You are well on your way to fame if he endorses your poetry.” He had enjoyed her limericks as well, especially the way she was able to come up with them on the fly. Perhaps both she and Master O’Neill would eventually be invited to join the King’s entourage.

 

“Unfortunately I haven’t read that one. I’d like to but have yet to find an English translation. The original is … well … all Greek to me.” She stepped into the alcove allotted to Urania. “In truth, I have never written about the heavens. I’ve been focused mainly on entertainment value. Humor is universal and everyone understands it. I’m fairly new to England, having been born and raised in Barbados, so I am still learning the kind of subjects the English enjoy reading about. I doubt they would be captivated by odes to brilliant turquoise water, pristine white sand, and the sultry heat of the sun.”

 

She looked up at the muse of astronomy. “Well, here we are. She looks quite lovely, doesn’t she, surrounded by her halo of stars?”

 

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Having been content to let Lady Cambray brush off his overt flattery, James barked a short laugh on the topic of Calliope and cruelty. “’Hopefully to never find out?’” He quoted with obvious amusement, eyes gleaming. “You do me little credit, my lady. Save where the Chief of All Muses is concerned, my work is at its most profound while languishing under cruelty.”

Let her make of that what she would. It was not even dishonest: thoughts of his Bianca, of Lucas, and the demands of life’s mundane rigors had inspired his recent sonnet. Would that I were less ambitious, James contemplated, not serious in the slightest. I would by now be London’s most prolific – and its least inspired.

For that was the problem with what the young Irishman had read of the court’s poetic set – satire lost its bite when it was de rigueur, comedies had little in the way of soul, and of the rest…well, he had already lambasted them in a previous work as a 'Desert, Dreary, and most Desol-ate.' In his mind, The Rising reigned supreme over sonnet and satire for it would, with Fortuna’s blessing and carefully-applied charm, become a blow against the established literary order.

It therefore should have been unsurprising that James frowned at Lady Cambray’s explanation of her subject matter, the tonal shift a sudden tempest. “In truth,” he began, . “I’m unfamiliar with Hesiod myself, and while I’ve dipped my toes in the fountain of humor, I must contend that entertainment ought to supplement art. Become it, it should not.” He shook his head, nigh-black curls bouncing slightly as he followed her gaze to Urania, referencing Milton's verse from earlier, "'Up led by Thee...'"

Now absent of any earlier mirth, James sought to meet the gaze of the Countess, to impress upon her advice that was not sought, that was as much to himself as to her. “Whether to the heavens, to my Boudicca’s Albion, to bloody Barbados…” He let out a sharp exhale that was somewhere between a laugh and a vocalized bit of exasperation, although the what and why of the latter was not something he himself recognized. “I entertained His Majesty, surely, as you might. But if you are led to climes different than those preferred by the court, and your work speaks for itself…”

“Well,” and – again, of course – the impolitic choice of words to follow was not a consideration of the poet, “then damn them all.” A light smile returned, an uncertain thing to emphasize his own point.

Edited by James O`Neill

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Anne-Elisabeth smiled. “If your inspiration is driven by cruelty, then perhaps Calliope is giving you exactly what you need.” She almost added that he could come to her whenever he needed insulting, but that wasn’t something you offered shortly after you met somebody. It was possible that he had only been joking. And so far, she had found absolutely nothing about Master O’Neill to insult. He was handsome, charming, intelligent, and he shared her love of writing. Though perhaps he would ridicule her when he discovered that her preferred form of poetry was limericks. No, he was Irish, so he most likely appreciated that form of poetry.

 

He didn’t think much about writing for the sake of entertainment value. It was true that art was generally absent in bawdy plays, but entertaining the masses was one way to become known at court. Unlike most playwrights, she didn’t do it for the money. The ambitious young Countess wanted to make a name for herself. She gazed at Master O’Neill as she listened to his advice. His mood seemed to have changed in an instant, maybe because he was quite passionate about writing what you loved and not what you thought people wanted to read. Anne-Elisabeth imagined that anything he wrote would be brilliant enough to capture the attention of anyone who read it.  She doubted that anybody would be delighted by her poetic descriptions of Barbados.

 

Anne-Elisabeth didn’t even blink at his expletive. Most ladies would be shocked to hear a gentleman curse in their presence, but she was rather foul-mouthed herself and never bothered to hide it. “I agree completely,” she remarked. Walking over to the bench in the alcove, she sat down and patted the place beside her. “My motivation is driven by mirth, and humor is what I adore most. I amused the King a few times since my arrival on New Year’s Eve, and his laughter was my greatest reward."

 

She grinned at him. “Did you know that he commanded a poetry competition to be held this season? I am sure we will hear more about it once the date is set.”

 

After a short pause, Anne-Elisabeth continued. “My poetry about Barbados was more serious, but I believe that humor is where my talent lies. Art can make one laugh, and while my amateur attempts fall far short of that classification, I hope that someday they will be considered such. Writing a play is a new experience for me. Have you ever written one yourself, Master O’Neill? Do you believe that they are worth the effort that goes into them?”

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Posted (edited)

“Mirth,” James echoed as he dipped his head in gratitude and made to join the countess on the bench. “Is a worthy enough goal,” he added, unconvinced and not entirely sure Lady Cambray had seen his point. “For me, it shall remain a means to an end. I haven’t the comedian’s spirit." Unceremoniously set aside his papers and clasped his hands in front of him, pale, slender fingers steepling.

A long pause hung in the air, and he did not look at Anne-Elisabeth as he said, “Do not…take that the wrong way.” There was no hint of insincerity, no jest in the forthcoming explanation, despite the thin smile it came with. “It’s a moral failing of mine.” As were all sicknesses of the soul. Ulster’s finest physicians were keen on making that point.

This unwittingly-grim admission was soon dismissed with Lady Cambray's mention of a poetry contest, which snapped the poet back to reality instantaneously. Initially, it had been his intention to publish his epic with the support of a grey eminence or two, but a contest - which he did not doubt he could win - would garner enough attention that the work would be able to stand on its own merits. Thus James' features were alight with optimism anew, the ebb and flow of the conversation pulling his mercurial mind in yet another direction.

The question of theater was posed, and James turned his eyes onto hers, still trying to find the truth of her talent in those shrewd eyes. The lady seemed honest, if nothing else, which served to redeem her in the eyes of a more serious writer. "Oh, all art that accomplishes its purpose is worth the effort," he proclaimed, elaborating, "Whether that's catharsis or mirth, as well as the how...that is irrelevant."

"Myself, I prefer the strictures of meter, the demands of prosody...order into chaos." He smiled again at this rumination. "I once squandered a chance to write a libretto, and have recently completed a long-form narrative done in the style of a tragedy, but never a true play." It was simply not his strong suit. 

"And yourself, my lady?" James was genuinely curious. "What is this play of yours?"

Edited by James O`Neill

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Anne-Elisabeth was confused, which was something of a rarity for her. What did he think that she would take the wrong way? That he humor wasn’t his strong point? That knowledge actually worked in her favor, as Master O’Neill would never be a threat to her where comedy was concerned. She already had one formidable opponent in that category.

 

“No offense taken,” she replied. “I can’t write tragedy to save my life. I’ve tried, but the humor keeps seeping in and ruining the whole thing. I suppose a moral failing of mine would be the inability to take things seriously. I find humor in pretty much everything.”

 

The Irish gentleman did not comment on the poetry contest., nor could she tell from his facial expression what he thought of it. Some poets would likely find it distasteful. Why should somebody else decide whether your work was better or worse than another writer’s? It all came down to personal preference in the end. In the young Countess’ case, it was an opportunity to show off her wit and become known for it.

 

She was also competitive by nature and wanted to beat Dorset again. He would be everyone’s most formidable opponent. Perhaps Master O’Neill would defeat them both.

 

Anne-Elisabeth was glad he held no animosity against playwrights and was surprised that he had turned down an offer to write a libretto. She would have jumped at the chance herself … and would have probably failed miserably because she wasn’t fond of opera and had no musical talent whatsoever.

 

Master O’Neill was definitely more serious about his poetry than she was, and she found his adherence to its structure quite admirable. Though she would prefer that all her limericks had perfect rhythm, it was nearly impossible when pulling them out of her arse when somebody demanded a poem on a certain subject, as the King had done when she joined his morning walk last week.

 

As for her play: “It’s a bawdy comedy about mistaken identity. Yes, I know, that plot has been done, redone, and overdone, but I’m hoping to give it an original twist. I just don’t know what that twist is yet, so I think I’m going to set it aside for awhile and concentrate on studying and mapping the stars.

 

“Have you met Lord Grey and Lord Chichester? The three of us are planning to collaborate on a star chart.”

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Whatever momentary bout of moodiness provoked by the topic of humor subsided as quickly as it had begun; in these moods James’ mind was one prone to racing at such a speed that it would take a true crash to divert it from its course. Accordingly, he even grinned at Lady Cambray’s response, saying, “I daresay, my lady, that such a failing is not altogether unpleasant. In His Majesty’s court, it may even get you further than my own faults, despite my furtive attempts at merriment.”

Comedy was not precisely his forte, and he certainly did not find it as meritorious to go along with the present zeitgeist, but it took a certain melancholy sensibility (or was it pretension? James did not wish to consider that possibility – and so he simply did not) to write heartfelt tragedy. It was not a thing he would wish on the charming Countess of Cambray.

It was with rapt attention that he listened to her explanation of the play – unsurprisingly, it was a comedy, but more interestingly she did not shy away from admitting its bawdiness. “How scandalous for a young lady,” he observed, barking out a laugh. Male playwrights were allowed to get away with such things, but he did not know of any women who had done so without tarnishing their reputation. Surmising then that they ran in similar circles, the poet did not shy away from his thoughts on the matter. “I quite approve…done, overdone, and redone though it may be.”

“After all, while we may yet end up rivals at the King’s little contest,” he went on, smirking. It seemed to follow that a comedienne such as her would be interested in a competition like that – memories of a strange little game between a Frenchwoman and one Mistress Wellsley, egged on by he and Kingston, attested to Charles Rex’s love of light-hearted entertainment. “But I should not wish to see such a provocative statement languish because of indecision.”

“And as such I feel honor-bound to offer whatever small assistance I can, Lady Cambray. At your pleasure, of course.” There were worse ways to spend one’s time than discussing theater with a striking young woman whose work by virtue of its mere existence would shock critics.

“As to the Lords Grey and Chichester, I believe that I know only of the latter.” James was reasonably certain that it was Chichester who had outbid him at the auction of that strange woman’s estate, much to the dismay of Lucas Cole. “But only just barely. Are they fellow astronomers?” He himself knew little of the stars, but there was an earnest curiosity there. The night sky over Loch Cuan had forever held a place in the young Irishman's heart, such was its inspirational power.

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Her humor had already impressed the King and quite a few courtiers as well. Perhaps she was on the right track to becoming renowned at court, but acclaim could not come fast enough for her. “We seem to be at opposite ends of the poetry spectrum.” Anne-Elisabeth grinned. “But we agree on the importance of each. When the King wishes for humor, he will hopefully think of me, and when he wishes for something more serious and eloquent, it will be you he seeks out. Perhaps in time we will become the most famous poets at court.”

 

Master O’Neill laughed when she described her play as bawdy, but it was more a laugh of approval than ridicule. Most gentlemen probably thought ladies incapable of that kind of writing, or of writing at all, for that matter. But the Irishman didn’t seem to mind. He was definitely a libertine, but most writers were. “We’ve only just met,” she replied. “You have no idea just how scandalous I can be.” That sentence was uttered with a sense of pride, for Anne-Elisabeth was not a bit ashamed of her behavior. Defying the standards that women were held to was one of her favorite activities.

 

“I shall not think ill of you if you best me in the King’s competition. Though I hate to lose, I shall graciously accept His Majesty’s decision.” If she could make an impact, that would be a step in the right direction and there would certainly be other contests where she might fare better.

 

Anne-Elisabeth wasn’t sure what to think about his offer to help her with her play. On one hand, she was pleased that he thought assisting her worth his effort, but on the other, she was wary of showing her incomplete work to a stranger, even one she was quickly developing a rapport with. What if he thought her writing was rubbish? What if it really was? Maybe it was better to find out sooner rather than later, and Master O’Neill might even be able to help her improve it.

 

“Very well. If you would also like to look at the stars through my telescope, we can meet at my residence on the next clear evening. You can even come for dinner if you’d like.”

 

She wasn’t surprised that he had not heard of Lord Gray, as that gentleman had only recently arrived at court. Perhaps he had already departed too, as she had not seen him for about a week. There could have been matters at his estate that he needed to attend to, or he might be ill. It was also possible that he had decided that London was not to his liking.

 

“Lord Grey is an astronomer. He is as intrigued with the moon as I am with the stars. Lord Chichester is a splendid artist. He is going to illustrate the map for us. What we will do with it when it is done, I am not quite sure. Perhaps we shall gift it to the King.”

 

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‘Perhaps in time we will become the most famous poets at court.’

James’ smile briefly grew sharp at this, and his eyes nigh-on twinkled as he replied. “Truly, you shouldn’t say such things.” In time? No, the Irishman was positive that he would be as Milton’s Lucifer, showing the heaven that was court’s idyllic literary nonsense as artistic nonsense. “Somewhere in the County Down, the Baron O’Neill of Iveagh has just felt a cold chill down his spine, and he hasn’t a clue as to why.”

Would, to follow the Miltonian metaphor, his lord father silence him for seeking dominion over Paradise? It was yet another topic unworthy of consideration at the moment.

Better still to breeze along with the banter, charm, and contention of literary styles. His smirk had not yet time to fade when Lady Cambray offered a retort on the matter of scandal, and it was at that moment that he decided this one had potential. “No idea, my lady?” They were each, in different but equal measure, possessed of a certain pride on this matter, one that was palpable as he sallied forth with, “Au contraire, I believe the French would say. My best works are positively glowing with the scandalous likes of you.” This was pronounced with an air of fatal confidence; again, the young woman could make of that what she would.

Nonetheless, James found himself pleased that she would consider accepting his help - having engrossed himself in the Italian tradition, the idea of enabling a disruption of social and artistic mores was a delightful one. Almost as if Lucas were here, it is, he considered, biting back memories of soaring dreams and broken promises with more cheer. "Grand, positively grand! It is decided, then. Your missive will find me at either St. Mark's or the office of the Lord High Steward."

"Assuming you do not mind overmuch my ignorance of the heavens." He exhaled slowly, an errant hand pushed back a dark curl. "I have never looked upon a star chart nor used a telescope - tell me, what drew you to gaze upon them?" A female writer was one thing, but one interested in natural philosophy was a fascinating novelty.

Edited by James O`Neill

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“Why not?” she asked with a shrug of her fur-clad shoulders. “Much stranger things have happened.”

 

From Master O’Neill’s rather cryptic comment, Anne-Elisabeth surmised that his father did not approve of his interest in poetry. The Baron was probably one of those straight-laced gentlemen who opposed of artistic pursuits among the nobility. Most poets were commoners, but many at court were fine poets as well. If not, there would have been no limerick contest on New Years Eve. The King would not hold a poetry contest if there were not plenty of courtiers who would compete in it. Master O’Neill’s father probably spent little time, if any, at court.

 

“Your works are scandalous or full of scandalous ladies?” she asked with a grin. “I have to admit I am intrigued either way.” This accidental meeting was proving quite serendipitous. If she had understood him correctly, he was the perfect person to help her with her play. Anne-Elisabeth was no longer the least bit hesitant about showing it to him. She was eager for his opinion, even though he might tell her to do a complete rewrite.

 

Master O’Neill readily agreed to her suggestion. “I shall send it to both places then, to make absolutely certain you receive it. I stayed at St. Marks last season.” She wrinkled her nose. “It was like living in a closet and I think my neighbors did nothing but fuck. Their mattress was creaking almost all the time. I could hardly write at all, much less sleep. I hope you have quiet neighbors, or better yet, none at all.”

 

The Countess shook her head, her raven curls bouncing around her shoulders. “Of course not. I shall enjoy introducing you to the joys of astronomy. If you haven’t looked into a telescope, you are in for a treat. The heavens seem so close that you can reach out and touch them.” Her telescope was not very powerful, but it allowed one to see much more than one could with a naked eye.

 

Anne-Elisabeth looked up at the subject of her studies. “I’ve been fascinated with the stars since I was a small child,” she said, her voice a bit wistful. “I thought they were so beautiful twinkling in the sky. In Barbados, most nights are clear. I liked to lie in the garden and watch them. Eventually, I began to pick out patterns and discovering what those patterns were set me on the path to learning more about them, which I follow to this day.”

 

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"I oft consider the possibility you mention, but to have another instigating those wretched ambitions?" The rhetorical question was accompanied by a smirk. "That is what might lead to scandal.” Indeed, it already had, but there was no time for such an explanation. Not when his heart pounded a thunderous beat and the lightning strikes of inspiration, ambition, and grandiosity pressed him to segue rapidly, breezing along. “So it goes, though. One must be acquainted with the topic of their work – and I find that a woman untamed expresses…ah, what one might think of as true virtue in a way no other symbol could.”

It was perhaps unconventional to approach the subject in this way, but James could find no fault in his logic. If the Bard could make Macbeth sympathetic, if Milton was allowed to induce one to cheer for the enemies of Christianity, then English audiences could meet the passionate women that the Irish tradition adored.

The miniature lecture was concluded with yet another smile, the Irishman deliberately laying it on a bit thick by way of a half-jest. “I suspect that I needn’t tell you of the merits of defiance, ambition, and passion,” he added with a stage whisper. The topic of St. Marks roused another laugh in him, and he soon agreed with, “Let’s simply acknowledge that I am attempting to write here, and not at my ostensible lodgings, which have the general ambience of a Florentine house of ill repute.”

Truly, he ought to have inquired with Ormonde about more permanent lodgings, but the man was mildly terrifying.

James managed a respectful silence on the topic of the heavens, interrupted only by a subconscious impulse to push his own hair from his face as she shook her head. When she finished, he exhaled slowly, as if he had been holding his breath the entire time. “That is…you say you cannot be serious, my lady, but then you describe the essence of…”

The striking countess was no longer a mere libertine in his perception, having finally been elevated to the level of truly worthy of curiosity. Too many thoughts bubbled up at once, sanguine and choleric humors suddenly at war, making his speech into a vague, manic musing as his green eyes darted between Urania and Lady Cambray. “Patterns…” he sighed. “I think it sounds truly wondrous, it does. Beauty that one might see and measure, but never touch...”

Edited by James O`Neill

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Was Master O’Neill implying that he was intimately acquainted with untamed women? Did he also write erotic poetry?  “I have never been described as virtuous,” Anne-Elisabeth laughed, “but I confess I like the way you think.” In truth, she found him quite fascinating and was glad that she had not passed him by when she heard him cursing at Calliope. She had assumed that he would probably curse at her too, but instead their literary pursuits had given them common ground. The young Countess looked forward to getting to know him better and to learn what else he occupied his time with besides writing.

 

“I assure you that I have first-hand knowledge of the attributes you speak of.” She leaned closer to him, as if about to share a secret. “And many many others. We uninhibited ladies are quite complex creatures. If you need ideas for your female characters, you need look no further than yours truly. I even masquerade as a man on occasion.”

 

Master O’Neill seemed quite taken with her story of her childhood love of the nighttime sky. Maybe he would become intrigued with astronomy as well. “I think the stars would lose much of their allure if we could actually touch them. Their mystery is part of their charm and they have been motivating their admirers since ancient times. I’m sure you have heard some of the mythical tales of how each constellation came to be.”

 

Anne-Elisabeth raised her dark eyes to the sky. “They are full of beauty and power and possibility. If you want to be filled with awe and inspiration, all you need to do is simply look up.”

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Posted (edited)

Lady Cambray had dressed as a man on occasion? Oh, but this was shaping up nicely: James broke into another dimpled grin, almost feeling that he should applaud the countess. “We have met too late for you to be my Boudicca, I fear, and you have said you are not cruel enough to be my Marcella…” His eyes wandered around the garden, ever restless. “Although I now see some similarities, to bethink myself.”

For it was hard to forget the charming ‘Lady’ Lucy, with whom he had shared a kiss in a jest privately at the expense of that boorish Langdon. And what that had led to…

No, no. Bask in the moment. Enjoy your newfound confederate. Find the fierceness in those eyes of hers.

“Virtuous similarities, mind you,” he added in his best mischievous tones, gaze snapping back just as she leaned in. “Passion worn well, in beautiful, liberatory defiance…” His musing trailed off momentarily, and he played up the faux-secret with a stage whisper. “Mm. I suspect I needn’t tell a truly uninhibited woman – nor winsome man –“ for Lady Cambray was not the only one with libertine ideas on sex and gender in the conversation, “how those are truer virtues than that of the moralizers.”

James’ eyes followed hers upwards, to the dimming sky of the late afternoon, contemplating aloud, “As here below, there is an art to the heavens.” He knew the Greek and Roman tales of the constellations, but had never paid them much heed, and his talents certainly did not lie in the field of anything remotely scientific, but Beauty he knew. “Is it not so that the untouchable is ever the more inspiring?”

He leaned away from her slightly, playfully accentuating his point with a smirk. “But then we return again to the topic which began our little conversation.”

(sorry this took so long, had to get my IRL act together!)

Edited by James O`Neill

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“I never said I wasn’t cruel.” Anne-Elisabeth grinned mischievously. “I said I hope you never find out if I am.” Studying his face intently, she tilted her head to the side. “Unless you would like to be on the receiving end of my ire." When she was angry, her tongue was as sharp as a sword and twice as deadly, or so she had been told. It was fortunate she had a good sense of humor and was rarely offended.

 

“I think I would have liked to be your inspiration for Boudicca. I’ve always appreciated women who are fiercer than men. Though I often wish she would have won, the world we live in today would be vastly different than it is now. Whether better or worse is impossible to say.”

 

Now Master O’Neill claimed that her vices were virtues, something she had always believed herself. His mention of winsome men made her think that he might fancy those of his own gender … or both genders, like she did. “Finally someone who agrees with me. There is little to be admired in modesty or piety when they are used to condemn others. Those holier-than-thou fools are slaves to their narrow-minded values and miss out on so many opportunities to truly enjoy life.”

 

Anne-Elisabeth never ceased to be amazed by the heavens and it took her a moment or two to realize what he had said. “Perhaps because we always reach for the untouchable, hoping that in some way we may attain it.” Master O’Neill’s smirk was quite attractive, as was everything else about him. “And so we do, a concept that is both exciting and often elusive.”

 

She leaned back as well,  favoring him with a warm smile and an inquisitive gaze. “Besides your homeland and loose women, what else inspires you?”

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“My Boudicca could be quite cruel as well…albeit justifiably,” James retorted, slyly. “The Britons took no prisoners – as a woman ought not, I should think. If nothing else, it would leave me with precious little to write about. “As for her defeat…” He was no scholar, and lessons on history – save where his work or lineage was concerned – had a tendency to enter one ear and exit through the other, and so his thoughts were characteristically one-sided. “A victor may make history, but are they truly remembered?”

Once more, his head cocked just slightly enough to make it evident that he was not simply speaking rhetorically. “Octavian built the empire, but it is Cleopatra and her lovers that captivate us. Paris slew Achilles, but of whom did the poets speak?”

The countess shored up her own libertine credentials, and James found himself continuing to approve of this one wholeheartedly. “I think, Lady Cambray, that I will return your missive with a previous piece of mine. We are of one mind here, and work might benefit from a feminine viewpoint.”

His female friends had been receptive to The Pursuit of Diarmid and Gráinne, after all, and it could not hurt to curry favor in that department.

By the time Lady Cambray had followed his rather circular train of thought, it had already shifted, driven ever-onwards by a mind engaged in a footrace with the beating of his heart. “Put that way, my lady, you make the stars sound almost chivalric – hm. ‘My love is close as the heavens above…’” His smirk furrowed into a frown, and his thought process vocalized into a slightly rambling Ulster brogue. “A dreadful internal rhyme. Pedestrian, but...workable. Might I steal it?”

“As to the rest, ah – mine is the blood of the Gael. There is little else besides Hibernia and women with sharp tongues and soft arms.” His grin returned, lascivious – and then he abruptly turned away, rising to his feet to examine Urania a touch closer. “Truly, I haven’t the means to answer that question, I don’t. Poetry is…a broken heart,” he turned again, with a glance towards his notes from earlier. “A private jest at an unworthy rival. The stars. A pattern, as you said. The way to understand, well…everything.

Watching the lady from his new vantage point, he shook his head, dark  curls bouncing, as if suddenly aware how quite mad he sounded.

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“An excellent point,” she remarked with a smile. “It is not only the victors that captivate us. I have always been more fond of villains myself.”

 

Anne-Elisabeth’s smile broadened when Master O’Neill offered to send her one of his poems. She had already made up her mind to show him her play as it could benefit from a male perspective. They were definitely on the same page where writing was concerned and their styles were so different that she was positive that they would compliment each other.

 

“The stars are many things. I discover more about them every time I study them. Considering all that they have given me, ‘chivalric’ might not be far off the mark.”

 

It seemed as if her obsession with the heavens had inspired him. She had no idea why the charming Irishman believed she had a claim to his poetic line, but she decided not to ask. “It’s all yours, and in truth, it is not all that bad. I hope you will let me know what you do with it.”

 

Anne-Elisabeth laughed at Master O’Neill’s description of himself. She had spent most of her life on a tropical island and knew little of the Irish. His accent was as intriguing as he was and she hoped that she would hear more of it. “And to me, poetry is dancing among the flowers and laughter in the rain. It is a pattern that everyone sees in their own special way and those like us wish to convey our vision to the world.

 

“My inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere.” She smiled mischievously. “Even from you, a gentleman I have only just met."

 

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Posted (edited)

James could not help but approve of the young countess more and more; despite his initial skepticism of her literary talent, her elaboration that she oft preferred villains marked her even more deeply as a kindred spirit. “Gift upon gift, yet you and they shall never meet,” James observed, upon the matter of the stars, drawling, “A rather old-fashioned sentiment for such a modern woman, if we accept the analogy.”

Barking a laugh, he nodded in gracious acquiescence as she consented to let him use the line – plagiarism among the artistic set was a common enough practice, but he was not one to do anything save with his own merit. “Oh, grand." Always grand. "You shall hear of my progress forthwith, once I have dispensed with the day’s sonnet to move onto this newest idea.”

He grinned. “I suspect that the subject of both pieces would not care for a third work, were they to know of it.” And he will, one day. Of that James had no doubt.

Lady Cambray did not, in fact, seem to perceive him as imbalanced, nor did she seem to have difficulty following his rather erratic, rapid-fire description of poetry’s personal meaning. “Dancing in the flowers, hm?” James asked in jest, glancing around towards the roses of the garden, smirk still sharp. “That sounds like a story – one befitting a comedienne in particular, even those whose erstwhile muses run a shade darker in temperament.”

The poet’s eyes glimmered at his own self-deprecation, quite intrigued at the idea of being an inspiration. “You are quite transgressive, it appears. I’m unused to being the inspiration, rather than the inspired.” Voice lowering slightly, "I should like to see where that vision of yours leads."

Edited by James O`Neill

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Anne-Elisabeth chuckled. “Even modern women appreciate chivalry.” Because chivalrous men are easy to control, she added silently to herself. Maybe that comment would have amused Master O’Neill but she wasn’t willing to risk his ire considering how well they were getting along. Maybe she would mention it at another time once they knew each other better. Perhaps it would incite an idea for one of his tragic poems. Or she could keep it for herself, as she was now envisioning a comedic scene she could add to her play.

 

“I shall look forward to it,” she remarked. She did not consider that line as her invention, and ideas were free, after all. The young Countess might have reacted differently if she did not enjoy his company so much. If he had been tiresome and boring, she might have claimed it and tried to sell it to him for an exorbitant price. Then again, their conversation would probably not have lasted very long. There were endless excuses one could use to leave a dull person’s presence.

 

Master O’Neill was definitely not dull. Nor did Anne-Elisabeth have any problem following his mercurial thought processes. All poets she had known wandered from one subject from another, depending on where their muses took them. When one was accustomed to such ramblings, especially in one’s own mind, they were quite easy to understand.

 

Her gaze echoed his over to the rose bushes. “Perhaps. I would have to try it first, so I could write from personal experience. And I don’t think I would wish to dance through roses. Too many thorns. A field of wildflowers would be best. I shall have to find one.” Her grin was both impish and challenging. “Maybe you would like to come along.”

 

She had suspected that Master O’Neill would be surprised by that comment. “You will be the first to know. You will surely recognize yourself immortalized in verse or prancing across a stage.”

 

Anne-Elisabeth once more raised her eyes to the darkening sky. “I hate to cut our intriguing discussion short, but I should be heading home if I want to have dinner before the stars began calling to me tonight.”

 

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“You have my most sincere thanks,” James said, usual smirk fading in favor of a more gracious bob of his head. “In all sincerity, my lady, it is most pleasant to find another of our craft who isn’t so damnably set in their ways.” The playwright, Grayson, had immediately found the Irish poet appalling, while Rochester may have given advice on the matter of witticism, but something proud within him bristled at the notion of conceding anything to the established literary set.

Something told him Lady Cambray might have found that sentiment agreeable, but that would be a conversation for a different time.

James let out another laugh and shot back with a jest and metaphor, “I’ve danced enough in roses to know the thorns, I have.” The wave had begun to sweep him up again, visions of poesy and dancing becoming quite grandiose. “A field of wildflowers sounds vastly more preferable. Although…” He paused when she described her vision, answering with sarcasm, “I hesitate to provide you an example of me prancing. Heaven above, preserve my poor masculine pride!”

His green eyes rolled back, emphasizing the disdain he had for those traditionalist ideas. It was a subject that truly befitted a rant, but then the countess looked skyward once more and announced that she ought to have departed. “And I,” the poet said with a deliberately-melodramatic sigh, “ought to return to the offices of His Grace my master, before he takes note of my absence.” Ormonde was a rare figure that James had true respect for – not to mention a fear of irritating the temperamental duke. His position, after all, was all that stood between his lord father recalling him to Greyabbey and his future at court.

“Until we meet again, Lady Cambray,” James bid her farewell with a sincere bow. “Whether it be words or wildflowers, I truly look forward to what trouble we might stir up.”

(fin for me! Thank you for a great thread)

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“I feel the same way,” Anne-Elisabeth confessed. “Maybe when we are older and fabulously successful, we will become set in our ways, but I rather doubt it. To me, fluidity is an important aspect of poetry. One must be open to new things and new ideas, for our art is ever-changing, and we must grow with it.”

 

She assumed that Master O’Neill was being metaphorical about dancing through roses and experiencing their thorns. Figuratively, she had done the same thing. The young Countess smiled impishly. “Perhaps if you go with me, I can persuade you to dance with me.”

 

It seemed that he needed to get back to his duties as well. “If he does notice, I’m sure you will be able to come up with a creative and plausible excuse."

 

Anne-Elisabeth winked cheekily. “I look forward to that as well. Now that we have met, court will never be the same again. You will receive an invitation from me soon. Farewell, Master O’Neill.”

 

And with that, she headed back to her carriage, pleased with the way this impromptu venture int the gardens had turned out.

 

~finis~

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