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Unfamiliar Waters, September 15th, afternoon


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ANGUS AND ROBERTSON FINE BOOKS

A small shop, rather dark, but for those enamoured of the printed word a treasure cave. A cheery fire crackled on the compact hearth, warming the space and liberating the fragrance of fine paper and calfskin. All the modern English authors are in the collection and topics available range from embroidery to exploration, cookery to cuckoldry. The editions are of the finest quality - no cheapjack woodblocks here. At least one of the partners are always in attendance, Mr Angus being a stout Scot of about 45 and Mr Robertson an Oxford graduate of about 30.

He wasn't much of a reader, which really begged the question of why the tall Scotsman in the Life Guard's uniform was in the book store in the first place. He was looking for a book (duh), but not for himself. Which possibly made his quest that much harder. But he'd been reminded of something. Seeing Bridget Osborne had brought to mind another young lady whom he'd considered a possible future partner, and whom he'd unfortunately been entirely too forward with. Overconfidence could be both a weakness and a strength. At least it was Mr Angus currently overseeing the store, and his fellow Scot could direct him to something that might fulfill his requirements. 

The lady he had in mind was said to be an intelligent woman with a good head for business, so in seeking an apology present he'd gone not to the jewellers or the knick-knack store, but to the book store, hoping to find something that might appeal to her interest. He didn't really expect it to change things much, but as a gentleman he should at least offer that apology. Maybe something on the Americas? Not something frivolous or light hearted, nor overly soppy. She didn't seem the soppy type, though perhaps that was because he'd never been allowed to see past her public face. Well, he could only work with what he did know. Hmm... something she could find useful... 

He ran a finger along the spines of the books, engrossed in carefully reading the titles. 

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And so, with the morning’s reception over with, James was free to resume a search for Afflatus, holy inspiration. Which, naturally, brought him to a bookstore.

Well, that wasn’t strictly (or at all) true, for his quest was truthfully for the fabled curiosity shop that was said to exist nearby. A certain taste for eclectic portraiture had overtaken him of late, and his pockets still jingled with a summer’s worth of winnings at the card tables. Seldom were gamblers given to such luck; never were they given to any amount of self-control.

Thus, naturally, the coin called out to be spent, and (of course) this was in the name of Artistic Inspiration, the highest calling in all the world. And doubtlessly it was these visions and rationalizations that preoccupied James O’Neill so that he had swept into the bookstore without quite watching where he was going, stumbling slightly as he opened the door and hacking slightly at the above-average amount of dust.

“Ah, excuse me,” the Irish poet apologized to nobody in particular, before taking a look around, realizing where he was, and nodding emphatically to himself, perhaps reassuring that particular nobody of a sentiment along the lines of yes, I meant to be here, and yes, I meant to do that. Besides, there were topics he was presently interested in that could also serve to inspire, Greek stories of hubris (perhaps a topic rather close to home) and Scottish tales of the Otherworld that differed from those of their (in his mind) more-learned brothers from across the Sruth na Maoile.

Regaining composure, James fiddled with the hem of his charcoal grey frock coat, toying absently with a thread of its dark red embroidery, and he began to pass the shelves with newfound, albeit unexpected, purpose. In doing so, he passed a vaguely-familiar, incredibly tall, man (was that the Scot that Sedley had pointed out earlier? He had no great memory for faces) in the uniform of the Life Guards, and - breaking neither stride nor gaze from his goal - let out a quiet-but-tactless assessment, murmuring, “A soldier who reads, brava. Takes all kinds, it does.”

It was meant approvingly, inasmuch as it wasn’t truly meant at all, but James had already set off for a book one shelf down, examining its stem, almost unaware that he had made such a remark to begin with.

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Ah, excuse me.

Someone had entered the shop, and started coughing. Douglas was further in amongst the shelves and couldn't see the door from his station amongst the books, but it wasn't a voice he immediately recognised, so he paid it no mind. Windsor was bulging at the seams with court in attendance, and it might even be a local. He'd found a section containing volumes on the New World, and was busy working his way through the titles, waiting for something to jump out at him as interesting, or useful. It would help if he had a better understanding of the intended recipient's tastes, but no matter.

He could hear footsteps, and then another figure moved passed him. Glancing over his shoulder, the Scotsman thought that it might have been the same pale fellow with dark hair that he'd seen with the Merry Gang during the opening festivities, but there were plenty of pale young fellows at court, given overly to literature or alchemy or some other form of academia, and not visiting the outdoors enough, in his opinion. 

Still, their difference in height wasn't such that Douglas didn't overhear the man's murmured comment. A soldier who reads, brava. Takes all kinds, it does. The big man frowned, hackles raising on an moment's instinct, but if time at court had taught him anything it was that there were times for temper, and times for wit. A shame he lacked an abundance of the latter. Besides, the man wasn't actually wrong, most of the busy young men of the Life Guard would rather do a great many things than read, himself included. He guessed they were just as likely to see the other man down at the firing range.

But the other fellow had drawn his attention, and he glanced over his shoulder a second time, giving the man a more thorough inspection. The charcoal frock coat almost looked like mourning attire, save for the distinctive red border with it's embroidered hands. It had to be the same fellow from this morning, he remembered the motif. Douglas wasn't overly fond of the Merry Gang; not because of their libertine tendencies which he shared, but because they had a habit of being gross and shocking purely for the sake of it. Rebels without a cause to his eyes, and convinced of their superiority. Some rubbish about the mightiness of the pen. He thought for a few moments, pretending to examine the book in his hand.

"A so'jer kin read
But wuid readin' men
Face ano'er man's blade
Wi' jus' thair pen?"
*

Subtitles
*"A soldier can read
But would reading men
Face another man's blade
With just their pen?"

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Her name was Lily von Seitz. She was eighteen.

Black Haired and blue eyed with skin as creamy as milk. Small waisted and slim of hip she was the type that men thought they had to protect. She was far from fragile and docile but she preferred to let that image of her be her calling card.

She was the step-niece of the English Queen Karoline and like her German as well. She and her twin brother Louis had landed in London recently with the intent to cause some mischief. Life had become boring back home so they devised a plan to come to London to take up residence at Whitehall because as 'relatives' were else would they stay? The Truth was a far different tale and one they kept well hidden. Born the wrong side of the blanket to a Father who was the same that stigma had prevailed all of her childhood which made many of those related to them turn away or pretend to care but did little to actually aid. She had grown up knowing that she and her brother were both victims of shallow treatments despite their father being the English Queen's step-brother. It was true tho that their grandfather (the Queen's father) had been nice and generous but it never was enough for them.

Now with herself 'established' at this English Court she was on the hunt. And the tall man in the scarlet uniform was perfect   ...........

He was deep in thought over some book but then his attention went to another gentleman that entered. One who was the opposite.

Oh good. TWO at one time!

It was so easy to drop the small volume she held so it hit the floor with a small 'thud.'

Which of the two men, she wondered, would retrieve it first? 

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Orphic Hymns was the title of the first likely-looking tome, seemingly a translation of some surviving theogonies, done in typical Greek hexameter. “Rather fond of killing their musicians, hm?” The poet observed to himself, recalling Orpheus only dimly. Marsyas was a visceral story of hubris and truth spoken to power, flayed for such a feat, whereas the murder of Orpheus had as much to do with the prophet-artist’s choice of lover as it did any heroic accomplishments. Familiar, that.

Thinking it a likely purchase, James glanced around, pale, slender fingers running up the spine of another nearby text in absent reverie. It was then, feeling eyes on him, that he turned – just in time to hear a brief, Scots-tinged ditty from the soldier he’d just thoughtlessly remarked upon.

Instantly, James broke into a grin, revealing a boyish dimple, and barked a merry laugh on the verge of inappropriately loud. Despite having his own private ideological quarrels with the Merry Gang, he was still a libertine of literary inclination, and appreciated quick wit done in rhyme. “This one very well might, sir,” he tittered, amusement flavored with notes of Ulster. “’twould accomplish the same grand nothing, and at least my hand would be comfortable in its last moments.”

His moods shifted enough that in an hour or two, there might have been cause to seek offense, unfair as that likely was. But the young Irishman was yet buoyed by the return to court, and finally aware that he had prompted the brief exchange of barbs besides. Seeing that the Scotsman was younger (and quick enough of tongue that he was reminded more of cousin Cassidy in Spain than say, that cretin Langdon) and assuming that one with such a strength of accent was unlikely to be particularly standoffish about manners, he chose to extend a hand rather than offer a bow. “James O’Neill-“

Thump.

James glanced to the floor and then the original source of the sound, a fair young thing, svelte, not-unpleasant, and with hair as dark as both his and the Scot, and he made to retrieve the book with a courteous, “-ah, allow me, madame,” though a longer-armed interloper such as the other man could certainly beat him to the draw if he so chose. Whether or not he was successful in this endeavor, James would shoot Douglas the type of knowing smirk young men often gave one another upon sighting unfamiliar women, drawling, “My soldier friend has done heroics enough in his life to spare me this one moment.”

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The book in his hand, Of Plymouth Plantation by a William Bradford, might just do the trick. Flicking through a few pages, it was worded simply without the usual floweriness of literature, so that even he could easily understand it. It detailed the establishment of the colony of Plymouth, from it's inception through it's early days of survival and establishing production and trade. Written by the Governor of the place. It seemed likely to contain more useful information than the alternative he was considering, a collection of poems written by a woman named Anne Bradsheet, who never the less seemed to be possessed of good wit and a strong mind. Either might appeal, though he was leaning towards the one that might possibly contain useful trade information. 

Muttering to himself over his books, the other fellow in the hand-print frock coat smiled and even barked a laugh at Douglas's quick and very short rhyme, allowing that he might indeed face a sword with a pen, and at least be the more comfortable for it in his last moments. That assertion drew a wry chuckle from the big Scotsman, appreciating the other fellow's graciously self-deprecating manner, despite his apparent lack of any filter between brain and mouth. As he spoke Douglas noted a lilting manner and slight burr to his speech; the burr alone might indicate a Scot, the lilt a Welshman, but together they suggested an Irish fellow, historically the kin of his own people across the Sruth na Maoile. And not one to stand on ceremony, as he held out a hand in introduction. Douglas grinned and reached for the proffered appendage in turn, "Dundarg-" but the shake itself was forestalled by the dull thump of dead trees onto the floor of the shop, and both men turned to look. 

My but the little establishment was growing crowded, and with those of terribly similar complexions. A shame that the goth scene was several hundred years away.

O'Niell moved first, and whilst Douglas had automatically twitched in the direction of the fallen book - instincts to help a lady engaging before any braincells could - he stopped himself, letting O'Neill be the hero of the moment. Or the victim. Douglas had four sisters, including one distinct little minx, and as thought caught up with instinctive action he mused that such was a very easy way to gain a gentleman's attention. Not that a man generally minded, especially when the lady was as fetching as this one. He returned O'Neill's smirk with a faint, knowing smile. "This lovely lassie clearly appreciates literature, I'm sure she'd appreciate th'aid o' a literary man."* He returned, with a genteel nod of acknowledgement in the woman's direction.

If ever a lady had a choice of opposites, it was the two men in the book store. 

Subtitles
* "This lovely lady clearly appreciates literature, I'm sure she'd appreciate the aid of a literary man."

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She looked between the two of them a half smile on her lips and then it was the other gentleman who offered the book adding a quip to the other. And then an exchange back.

ah so they know each other and with some competition as well  ....

She reached out a slim hand to the book allowing a brush of her hand with his fingers adding a small curtsey.

"Thank you Sir. But is was worry as to which I should turn - you both seem so qualified to aid a Lady."

Her accent was clearly not English. And her eyes were filled with amusement as she looked between the two.

"I do hope that I create no problems ..... I should like it not if I cause that."

She could not resist her little double meaning word play. She always did a bit of testing as it were to see which way she had to play.

There were benefits to both being forward and retiring and what she was after. These two, well, obviously had so much to offer - both together and alone.

"Might I ask for your help   ......."

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“But of course,” came the answer, on the matter of her thanks. Obligingly, James handed back the book, and reciprocated the curtsy with a respectful bow. A handful of seasons at the English court and a Continental tour in Spain and Italy were insufficient to render one immune to feminine manipulation, particularly those who – under the influence of certain turns of the moon – were not predisposed to considering the notion of consequences. What is that accent?

Dundarg (a title, surely – no name was offered, and it had the particular ring of Gaelic-influenced topography as well) had turned out to be a sporting fellow, at least initially. Much better than the last Scotsman of that dialect I chanced upon, James mused, thinking back to bad first impressions leading to arguments, arguments leading to understanding, and a shared love of Catullus leading to furtive kisses. Whatever had become of that red-haired firebrand? A strange people, our Albanach cousins. Many O’Neills, in fact, hated the Scottish nigh as much as the English, over the matter of the Plantations and their militias  – but the poet had never given much regard to sectarianism, finding it dreadfully boring.

“I’ll speak not for Lord Dundarg,” he began, operating off the earlier assumption of the man’s title. “But regardless of my qualifications, literary or otherwise,” and here, he resisted the temptation to elaborate upon the former. His smirk grew sharp, still revealing that youthful dimple, and he drawled, “I remain gentle as a lamb, a point which our friend here was just attesting to before your moment of need.”

A chuckle bubbled up from his throat as he concluded, “And therefore the possibility of you causing any problem between us will remain remote, it will.” Ah, but such harmless fun with a lady was invigorating, after a summer with a feminine presence largely limited to the daughters of his master, Ormonde. Glancing back over at the soldier for a moment, James clucked another laugh. “What do you think, my lord? Will our truce hold long enough to assist a lady in distress?"

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Douglas preferred to give his title before he gave his name, purely for the fact that his name so clearly marked him as a bastard, and had been used as a slur against him before he'd gained his barony. Yet another reason he cherished it so. Unfortunately they'd been interrupted before those introductions could be completed, but when one considered whom they'd been interrupted by, one couldn't really be too irritated. 

She wasn't familiar, but she was attractive. That accent suggested to Douglas that she was either Dutch or German, and given the Queen's nationality he would guess the latter; perhaps part of her household. He only hoped that she wouldn't have too much difficulty understanding his accent; foreigners sometimes did. Heck, Englishmen sometimes did. But she seemed to understand them well enough. Well enough to ask for their aid, and express the hope that she would not cause any problems between them. She spoke diffidently enough, but was clearly aware that two men might quarrel over a lady, at least if they had no maturity and the brains of a fish, in his opinion. But then Douglas was quite libertine and not tied to ideas of exclusivity. Still, he was interested to see where this was going. 

He smirked as O'Neill asked if their truce might hold long enough to aid her. "Aye, I think sae." He allowed, as though assessing a tactical situation. "Sae guid a cause shuid unite men, nae divide them."* He opined, clearly amused. He found he rather liked the other man's sense of humour. Plus it might be fun to play the lady off between them, just to see what she did. Despite her cautious approach, his instincts were suggesting that there was an almost playful air to her. It might be fun to find out. 

"Please tell us m'Lairdy, hou micht a so'jer an' a scholar aid ye." He said, "Fer surely atween us, we kin resolve yer problem."** At least he hoped so. Certainly he and O'Neill would have a wide range of skills covered between their spheres of interest and expertise. 

As he asked, he realised that the young woman hadn't introduced herself. Her name would be a great place to start in working out how she fit into court. "An' micht we ken wha we're aidin'?" He added, noting that she hadn't yet introduced herself. But then they'd hardly given her the opportunity to. 

Subtitles
* "Yes, I think so. So good a cause should unite men, not divide them."
** "Please tell us my Lady, how might a soldier and a scholar aid you? For surely between us, we can resolve your problem."
*** "And might we know who we're aiding?"

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Well at least ONE of them could be understood but she had a bit of a hard time not allowing her forehead to wrinkle up as she tried to translate in her head  .....

"Ah. I am forgetting manners. I am Lily von Seitz. I have but come to this Court from the German one. I am to stay with Family."

She made the introduction with a pretty curtsey that took them both in.

"Ah. So you are Lord Dundarg and You must be ..."

She favored the paler gentleman with a smile but her eyes assessed in much the same way they had with the one in uniform.

"I have not been in London long yet I shall have need to go out you understand? My Aunt is recovering from delivery of her son and so she is not to offer me anything amusing. And so I am on my own."

"What I am needing now is to find some book that will amuse ...... poetry perhaps I think."

"I am not familiar with this place so I wander about the dustiness searching searching ..."

"But I have no distress! But yet I shall look with fondness on those who offer me to help."

Her English was not at all perfect but she was practiced enough to be understood.

She had also given the impression that she was of some relation to the English Queen as her reference to the German Court might be seem.

Well it was not a lie for she WAS related to the Queen just not readily accepted but that was not her fault after all and she had no intention of ever letting it be found out.

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The thick Scottish accent of Dundarg was less of an impediment for James as it was, perhaps, for most of the Sasanach court, courtesy of the aforementioned division growing within Ulster. The Baron O’Neill of Iveagh was a moderate man in most things; he had never demonstrated to his son any outward partisan leanings and instructed him to mingle with the more important of their Scottish neighbors as any gentleman might.

The same was not true for the lady from the German court, James’ experience in that field being limited in scope to a handful of encounters in Spain and that girl once connected to Lucas Cole's opera, Lady Toledo. It was a strange, dissonant tongue, but coming from a young lady, it was made all the more bearable.

“Quite so, my lord,” James replied, once Dundarg agreed to his truce. “Let us away and be an example to all gentlemen, hm?” He grinned another ready smile, the sort belonging to those with no small estimation of their abilities in a given field, and when prompted, introduced himself with a bow and slight flourish. “James O’Neill, my lady, heir to the Baron O’Neill of Iveagh, and – contrary to the exceedingly-generous evaluation of the good Lord Dundarg here – more single-minded in my pursuits than most scholars.”

“If I am a student, it is only the study of the human condition, through prosody, consonance, and prose, which I pursue.” Which was, altogether, one of the more alliterative, pretentious, and potentially less-translatable ways of describing oneself as a poet.

The implication that she was related to the Queen was not quite lost, but James did not quite understand how to navigate that situation, and thought it best breezed over. Perhaps Dundarg – to whom he looked after the mention of her “aunt” – would have a better methodology here. “Fortunately,” James continued, following that glance towards Dundarg, “that makes the pair of us uniquely suited to your dilemma, hm?” One of them, at least. No sense leaving the Scotsman out of the fun, however…

“What, pray, manner of poetry do you believe your aunt has an interest in?” He refrained from adding For I have recently come into the most fascinating ode to a passionate Queen of the Britons, written by a charming upstart from the County Down…

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Lily von Seitz. He'd never heard of her. But she confirmed that she was German and the implication, if she was here with family, was that she was related to the Queen, although Her Majesty wasn't the only German in the English court. For all he knew she might be a relative of Lady Toledo, or even Lady Mountjoy, both of whom were German so far as he knew. And she hadn't introduced herself as a princess, which the Germans seemed to have an inordinate number of. 

James introduced himself fully, as heir of Baron Iveagh, so the two of them were close in social rank. "Douglas FitzJames, Baron Dundarg." He added politely in turn, finding the opportunity to give his name as well as his title, interested to see whether it made any difference to either companion. 

Ah, but Lily's 'aunt' had just given birth. That ruled out the Margravina, for surely Mountjoy would have happily announced such at the reception, and Sophia quite obviously hadn't popped yet, though she'd looked like she might at any minute. Probably the Queen. But Karoline had been a princess before she'd wed, so surely her siblings should be the same. Would that also make their children princes and princesses? It didn't always work that way, different countries had different traditions, and he didn't know what the Germans did. He gave up on the puzzle for the moment, time would no doubt tell. Best to proceed respectfully, though that was generally the case. 

Still, if the lady was looking for a volume of poetry to amuse her, that wasn't Dundarg's field of expertise. His vague competence with rhymes derived from too much time singing Scottish folk songs, usually drunk. Not quite the calibre that he imagined Lily was looking for. O'Neill kindly included him in the hunt however. "I believe the buiks on poetry are o'er thair." He nodded in the direction that James had come from. "Haps Master O'Neill kin recommend ocht amusin'?"* He suggested. Over to you, not my forté. 

They might all be having a little difficulty with each other's accents and grasp of English however. Douglas didn't know if James spoke Irish Gaelic, but Lily clearly spoke German first, unsurprisingly. "An' whit amuses ye, m'Lairdy?"** He asked in turn, keen blue gaze watching her with interest since he suspected from her words that she was looking for something for herself rather than the Queen, but he could be wrong. Besides, he hadn't specifically asked what poetry amused her, but rather left the question more open. 

Subtitles
* "I believe the books on poetry are over there. Perhaps Master O'Neill can recommend something amusing?"
** And what amuses you, my Lady?"

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She looked between the two them enjoying the by play that men always seemed to engage in whenever a lady was present. Of the two she felt more drawn to the Irishman and now that they had provided introductions she knew that were of the same Rank so that helped.

"Ah ..."

She gave a half glance in the direction indicated but made no move to go there.

"I have much heard how the Irish have honey on tongue when it comes to Poetry is that not the case Baron Evah?"

"And yet the Scots also can claim it is that not true Baron Dunarg?"

Her lack of English made their names badly pronounced but she gave no sign that she was bothered by it.

"I do not seek for mine Aunt but for myself. I require something to amuse. Book's I brought with me have read many times so I look for new."

Her eyes rested on the Irishman once again.

"You will suggest please? I like tales of Times Past ... of Kings and Queens and battles won."

"And tales of Love .... and other things ...."

She gave a half smile as she said those last words.

She was really hoping that at least ONE of them would understand what she was alluding to. It would be awful if neither one took her up and her efforts were wasted.

"is there such here perhaps?"

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And so they were all introduced – an Irish poet barely born into the nobility, a German lass who alluded to being a relation of the queen, and a Scottish lord who was, apparently, a bastard, unless Dundarg was instead descended from one. At the mention of his name, James’ eyes flickered over the uniformed Scot, briefly processing that information before discarding it as mostly irrelevant. His ancestry, after all, was mostly obscure if one was not familiar with the Irish clans and their rebellions against the English.

Additionally (and more importantly) the omnipresent feeling of being pulled in two directions, one choleric and another melancholic, had left him with a soft spot for outsiders of all kinds.

“Not a baron yet, my lady,” James corrected gently, an old tic resurfacing with a tense of his jaw. “That distinction belongs to my lord father, and for now, I am merely Master O’Neill.” Such matters of propriety seldom concerned him, but appearing dutiful and respectful with regards to his family was part of the balancing act that was necessary to his remaining at court. “As to honeyed tongues…Ireland is the land of the bard, a distinction we Gaels hold as dear as our nobility.”

“In our magnanimity, it is a tradition we passed on to our Scottish brothers,” he concluded, shooting their soldierly companion a grin.

Dundarg, meanwhile, had sussed out Lily’s request with more accuracy than he did, but any potential for embarrassment paled in the face of a soaring mood and topic of his expertise alike. Love and…other things, hm? Intriguing words from a young woman, prompting James to smirk. Approvingly, he declared, “Excellent subjects all, my lady – and ones that have inspired my own work time and again.”

He then pivoted back towards the poetry section, gesturing for the other two to follow. “Cowley’s The Mistress is popular, at once sentimental and possessed of parlance bold…’Tis nobler much for me, that I/By her beauty, not her anger, die…’” Voice trailing off at the quote, James paused, green eyes meeting the lady's before offering another dimpled smirk. It was difficult for him to speak with any sort of brevity on matters literary. “But Poems by Thomas Carew will e’er hold a place in my heart. When he is not calling upon his audience to carpe diem, he explores love and…” A chuckle as he quoted the girl. “'Other things' with an inimitable, indefatigable intensity.”

“There are other anthologies, too, if you prefer a more general overview…” He glanced upwards, towards Douglas- and assuming he was at least somewhat familiar with two relatively prominent poets of years past, given his quickness when it came to verse, he inquired, “I suspect that those may be fitting, wouldn’t you say?”

Edited by James O`Neill
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O'Neill glanced at him as Douglas introduced himself properly, and it was a look he was well accustomed to, but the Irishman said nothing. The Scotsman could only hope that the fact of his birth wouldn't sour the infant friendship, but only time would tell. He doubted that Lily, newly from Germany, knew of the naming convention used in Britain for those born out of wedlock, unless her aunt had complained of her husband's many bastards. He did note how careful O'Neill was to specify that is was his father who was the baron; courtesy or sign of a strained relationship? None of his business really. As an old soldier in the Regiment du Dumbarton had once commented, 'all of God's children've got problems'. 

"Ireland haes more bards than coos." The big Scot agreed, backing up his friend's assertation. "In Scotland we lean a wee bit in t'other direction." He added with a wink to James. Their people were linked by blood, history and myth, and once the twin Kingdoms of Eire and Alba had called them a single people. Still, he wondered what exactly would appeal to the lady, and whether 'she wants something with sex in it' would translate well from Scottish Gaelic to Irish Gaelic, but judging by James' smirk he needn't bother. 

And James had ideas, both of which were likely to deliver the combination of entertainment and titillation that Lily seemed to be after. "Aye, I think they wuid." He agreed. "But we lack a tale o' auld." For she had also expressed a preference for stories of times past and royalty. "Haps ocht frae th'Ulster Cycle?" He suggested. "The Tochmarc Emire haes heroes an' royalty, romance an... other thin's."** Often thought of as Irish mythology, it was actually part of their peoples' shared heritage. The particular story he'd named, which detailed the hero Cú Chulainn's wooing of his wife Emer, was set in both Ireland and Scotland. 

Subtitles
* "Ireland has more bards than cows. In Scotland we lean a little bit in the other direction."
** "Yes, I think they would. But we lack a take of old. Perhaps something from the Ulster Cycle? The Wooing of Emer has heroes and royalty, romance and... other things."

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Lily was perplexed. She had not expected the two of them to take her so seriously but rather to see past the poetry and more towards her word play.

It had always worked before  ....

And now it seemed that there was to be some kind of one up that men did to the other to gain the upper hand or the Win. Honestly. Sometime they were such stupid creatures.

'Ah so now you will both claim to have what is better no? I am much unfamiliar with those works but interest I do have."

She pretended with conviction.

"Perhaps might I hear then who has the better between you .... Shall you each say something and I shall pick the favored one."

"A reward naturally shall be coming to one who tempts me to that Poetry."

She tugged at a chair that was set just so and settled herself into it.

"Shall you play then? Unless time is bad and so I must be disappointed ......"

She looked up at them from beneath her lashes a smile playing about her pretty mouth.

Her eyes went to each Gentleman and then returned to linger on the Irishman. She had caught the glimmer of something in his eyes and so made a guess. She wanted to find out if she was correct.

Both had merits that she liked but the Scotsman was far too hard to understand but she was not giving up on him either.

A time may come when talking would not be needed.

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Dundarg fired back on his comment about bards, pointing to the Scottish love of pastoral pursuits. James, in turn, barked a throaty, amused laugh. “Ah, well,” he began, before – without consideration that Gaeilge would have been even more confusing to poor Lily von Seitz than the linguistic quirks of English – switching to that particular tongue, saying, “Níl saoi gan locht.*”

He was unsure, of course, if he would be understood, but he was given to understand that those who spoke one of the Goidelic tongues could parse out what another meant. The bards of both countries, after all, still wrote in their own, unified variant. That was, of course, assuming Dundarg spoke the Scottish variant – but given the man’s accent, it seemed likely.

As to the lady – there was a conundrum. Her wordplay, it seemed, was a means to an end – a pity, really. As fair (and evidently game for…diversion, a remarkable trait in a young woman) as she may have been, James relished a chance to speak on his raison d’etre. On the other hand, of course, the poet did so adore a challenge…as well as the chance to throw one back.

“You are cruel, my lady,” he retorted with a grin. “And yet well-adjusted to life at an English court already, to attempt to set Gaels apart so brazenly. I understand now why your people have a land named Saxony. Nonetheless, seeing as I lack the feats of valor Dundarg can likely recite…” He paused a moment, lips pursed. My, but court is a competitive thing today. First the Merry Gang and Lady Cambray, now this."

“A mistress cruel is a wrenching thing/For unfair Fairness does so pain the heart.

And this one's tongue rejects the Poet's art, Yet cruelty Fair still brings a bard to sing.”

There was an extra syllable on the last one, ruining what was a perfectly good meter for something so off-the-cuff, but he doubted either of his companions were counting his syllabic style. "I've said it before, but a gentle lady revealing her claws puts all the Muses to shame." With a japing little bow and a wink in her direction, James turned again to Dundarg, considering his suggestion of the Ulster Cycle – a suggestion which, by point of fact, cemented James’ notion that they ought be friends. “Emer indeed! With perhaps a touch of Scáthach, tochmarc aside.”

 

*There’s not a wise man without fault, i.e. “we all have our weaknesses”.

Edited by James O`Neill
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She waited with expectation but was a little unsure of what the Irishman meant about something that sounded like it started with a "G" and it was brazen ...... next came the reference to "Saxony"  .... and then about the Scotsman and valor .....

He then said something about a "Merry Gang" and then offered up what she assumes is a poem.

"So you speak of me yes? I am this gentle lady  that outshines everyone else?"

"That is a good start to which I am pleased."

His wink and bow made her eyes sparkle for it was clear that he was taken by her.

He then turned to the Scotsman and said something she did not understand which was becoming something of an annoyance. 

She then turned her gaze to that gentleman curious to see what he offered up.

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'Ah so now you will both claim to have what is better no? I am much unfamiliar with those works but interest I do have."

Lily seemed amused by their suggestions, apparently thinking that they were competing to find the tale that would most appeal to her. Was it what she saw, or did she project what she wanted to see? Douglas was getting the impression that she was less interested in the books and more in having the two men entertain her.  "Surely ye arenae sae slow a reader that one buik wuid entertain ye an entire season?"* He suggested in turn. If she were really after books, one would not be enough. But he didn't think that she was. Alas but she wasn't really his type. Dark haired and tiny, he'd probably break her. Plus her connections complicated things. How close was she to the Queen? Close enough to whisper good words about a man who pleased her? Or close enough to see a man punished by their very proper Queen for touching her relative? Danger, danger, William mac Robyn. 

James said something in Gaelic - presumably Irish Gaelic - about thoughts without fault, or sin. Most of the words translated, save the first, which he guessed was a negative. No thought without fault. Too true, they all made mistakes, especially if they assumed too much. And he was wondering whether they assumed too much, or thought too little, in this particular case. Certainly it was easy to do, when a pretty woman expressed an interest in other things

Lily certainly seemed interested in pitting the two of them against each other, eventually proposing a competition when the men seemed more inclined to work together. James seemed to thrive on the challenge however, offering words which might or might not be from the poems he'd suggested, but certainly seemed apt. If it was impromptu, then his talent was impressive indeed. Certainly the words were fitting, for Lily did indeed seem a cruel mistress, or at least one intent on getting what she wanted, her own way. 

They were each struggling with the other's English, but Dundarg thought Lily wanted a fragment from their proposed works. The only problem there was that the tochmarc emer wasn't actually poetry. It did tick all the other boxes though, and O'Neill seemed quite entertained by the suggestion. So Douglas decided to go with it. Rather than rendering it into English, he went with the original bard's Gaelic, counting on James to understand it as well as he did, and the rhythmic nature of the storytelling to hide the fact that it wasn't actually poetry. 

"He said that it was true, and that the chariot-chiefs performed marvellously, but that were Cuchulain to go to Domnall the Soldierly in Alba; his skill would be the more marvellous, and if he went to Scathach to learn soldierly feats, he would excel the warriors of all Europe. But it was for this that he proposed it to Cuchulain, that he might not come back again. For he thought that if Cuchulain was in her friendship, he would get death thereby, through the wildness and fierceness of the warrior yonder." 

It wasn't from a scene between Cuchulain and Emer, or Scathach, but rather his meeting with Forgall the Wily, Emer's father. The very man who sent Cuchulain to Scotland to learn to fight, in the hope that he wouldn't come back. All punishment for daring to woo his daughter, herself a princess. Douglas performed the piece with the lyrical manner of a Gaelic bard, animated and lively for Lily's benefit, but the words were more for James's. Touch a princess, and the Queen might well send you over the sea, if indeed princess she is, and the Queen cares. It was a risk that Douglas might otherwise take - God knew he'd upset the King once by sleeping with his mistress - but Lily's continually trying to manipulate them into competition over her was more off-putting than anything.  

Subtitles
* "Surely you aren't so slow a reader that one book would entertain you for an entire season?"

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Despite her not understanding a word she could not help but be captivated by what the Scotsman was saying.

Just as she had done with the Irishman she knew he too was speaking about her and as his was longer it must be even more flowery and full of praise for her!

Never once did it even cross her mind that there was an undercurrent at play and that in reality she was not as 'special' as she imagined.

She wanted to clap but given that they were in a shop could hardly do that and so she beamed up at him from her chair.

"Oh! Your way with the words ..... It is bad that I do not understand  ... but I think I can imagine what you said."

Her eyes then went back to the Irishman clearly waiting for him to 'top that.'

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“A gentle lady and a mistress cruel,” James answered Lily, laughing to himself. “And unfair Fairness as well. I believe it was Propertius who would have deemed this impromptu conflict a means of demonstrating a woman’s ability to manifest sweet fetters with which to yoke a gentleman.” He did not expect the reference to an elegiac contemporary of the more-famous Virgil, a successor of the innovative Catullus and predecessor to his beloved Martial, to be immediately recognized by a young lady or a soldier, but he’d been wrong before.

And besides, the quip spoke for itself. Lady von Seitz had made clear her desire, and James inherently adored an audience – however, Dundarg was a canny fellow, with thoughts of his own on the matter.

Oh, but it was inspired, to use the bardic rendition of Gaelic to convey a different message to each of them. James, of course, knew this tale, and as he began to comprehend what it was that Douglas was implying, his recognition was betrayed by various tics – first a glance in the Scotsman’s direction, then a slight tensing of the jaw. The static sensation in his fingertips, the staccato beat of his heart, the soaring sense of self were thus at war, his natural tendency to throw caution aside given pause by a new friend.

‘For he thought that if Cuchulain was in her friendship, he would get death thereby…’ A fascinating notion, that.

For James was a creature of impulse, with most of his self-control delegated to behaving properly around Ormonde and the like, but the manner in which Dundarg called to his attention the absurdity of the situation was enough to give one pause. But then, so too did the idea of prospective danger seem morbidly intriguing. At the end of the recital, he gave his approval, saying, “Well done, my lord. I was for a moment transported back to the Contae an Dúin*.”

Then, to Lily. “It is as I've written: have I not already offer'd up my calf of pur’st gold?” Playing for time, the question – a paraphrase of a sonnet he had finished over the last recess – was asked with a grin, although his nostrils flared in further, silent treachery demonstrating a battle for self-control. “Has the gentle lady not received her pagan forfeit?” Implying worthy idolatry could be considered a compliment, while the questions themselves could serve to push back against the competition.

*County Down

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is he saying that I am CRUEL but gentle at the same time   ..... why does he speak of egg yoke that are sweet  ......  but he has given me no animals and certainly not Gold   ....... and why must I forfeit anything ......

Clearly things were not going as usual for her and she was fast becoming annoyed with them both.

"No. No. No."

She wagger a finger at them as she pouted prettily.

"I want to hear things to me but all I hear is strange words between the two of you  ..... You play unfairly I think in saying things in way I can not understand yet you have not the trouble to know."

"I feel not amused. But I offer another change to be fair yes?"

She looked to James first

"You have way with words and good memory for them so I think you are quite gifted. Perhaps you speak to me of your own things rather that which I do not understand."

Then to Douglas

"Even tho I have hard time to understand I like the sound of your voice so it would please me to hear more of it."

That she held a high opinion of herself was clear as well as the plain fact that she was used to getting her way - at least with Gentlemen. She had played on her Royal connections from an early age and had grown up expecting it for any that she encountered. That she was also charming to look at and had a pleasing manner she also was fully aware of. That she had taken over an establishment never occurred to her. If she was impeding business she did not care. She was just glad that her twin Louis had gone in the other direction. It would sour everything if HE came looking for her   .....

************

well concealed behind a large bookcase a young man watched the scene with some amusement. He would let it go on for a bit but then he would make himself known and release the two other Gentlemen from the web that his sister was trying to weave. He would help them escape without creating any problems for who knew if they both might encounter them again here at Windsor and it was best to not do anything foolish. They had been well enough received at Whitehall and even had rooms. He knew that here too they were being watched. It was always the same no matter where they went. 

 

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"Oh! Your way with the words ..... It is bad that I do not understand  ... but I think I can imagine what you said."

It was true that imagination was kinder than reality. Lily had fed off his enthusiasm and lyricism, whilst not understanding a word of what he said. If she had he doubted that she'd be quite so thrilled as she now seemed, especially given O'Niell's far greater ability with words. The Irishman had the literary education and interest that the Scotsman lacked. Still, he seemed to appreciate Douglas's rendition - had he understood the intended meaning? - and the Scotsman smiled in return.

Unfortunately Lily seemed to pick up on their interplay, and she was not happy, chiding them for speaking to each other instead of focusing on her, then demanding more of them to prove their worth. In that moment, that lightening quick change of fancy and favour, he had her. Douglas knew her type all too well, his sister Fiona was exactly the same. Lily would have a very high opinion of herself, likely higher than the not-a-princess deserved, and expect everyone to pander to it. 

Perhaps it helped that Lily wasn't his type, being too much like the women of his own family. Perhaps it helped that past foolishness had taught Douglas a certain small measure of control in the matter of base desires. Or perhaps it was his temper beginning to rise as the lady tried to play him, demanding yet another verse. "I'm pleased I pleased ye, but I believe that t'is yer turn, m'Lairdy." He said with a knowing half-smile. "If ye wuid hae a game, ye mun play."* Would they get a tantrum? Or was she wittier than that? He was interested to see. And if O'Niell fancied her, she was all his. 

Subtitles
* "I'm pleased I pleased you, but I believe that it's your turn, my Lady. If you would have a game, you must play."

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Ah, but this was in danger of becoming less-than-fun rather quickly.

Pouting women were, as a rule, lightning bolts: pretty from a distance, illuminating in their effect, and altogether ruined by proximity. So too was the initially charming game of Lily von Seitz’s creation being jeopardized by her own obstinacy (and, if James were to be entirely honest, the lady’s seeming misinterpretation of his work). He relished a challenge and an opportunity to dazzle a winsome face with his life’s purpose; but “easy-going” had never been an attribute of James O’Neill’s, with which one might have been better equipped to weather a storm of demands, inspiring as the accompanying lightning strikes may have been.

’Twould be a shame to lose such a promising, comely diversion, however… The poet frowned slightly, considering this, before Douglas – a target of the lady’s critiques in his own right – came forth with a most entertaining suggestion. “Lord Dundarg has the right of it, I fear,” he added swiftly, mercurial expression again becoming an amused smirk. “We have, I would say, begun to make our cases for our respective suggestions.” Appreciated or not.

“If they are not to your liking, then certainly, we may bear some of the fault.” James, too, had sisters, and was not unaccustomed to using flattery to maneuver a young lady into a more amenable frame of mind. “But were you to join us, we might gain some understanding of what it is, nay, who it is that we ought tempt to Poetry.”

“Surely the lady would be kind enough to do two gallants this service, and join in our game?” In the midst of the monologue, his features had lit up again in mischief – the lady had her charms, and Dundarg had his ideas. If the former could be talked into demonstrating more of those charms and less of her bratty demands, there was great potential for amusement both present and future.

And the combination of entertainment, poetry, and pretty faces was what it was all about.

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"I did not say that faults are found with you two Gentlemen. Indeed I have said I am pleased by both."

"To join? What means this? You wish for me to now say words and such and then we play a game?"

She looked to each of the two men and then a slow smile appeared and she narrowed her eyes a bit.

"Ah. So I must say what things have pleased me ...."

Lily was not the most educated but she had a good memory for what words other men has said to her. Words whispered into willing ears that always led to pleasures shared.

And clearly these two wanted to taste what she was offering - well at least one did. The Irishman with his eyes that danced with mischief when he looked at her.

she is beautiful and therefore to be wooed  she is a woman therefore to be won

She thought she was very clever in giving them a hint in the right direction.

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she is beautiful and therefore to be wooed  she is a woman therefore to be won

Douglas couldn't help himself, he burst out laughing. And people accused him of being too blunt and forthright. It was too much. Normally he'd be all for a dalliance with a lady, but there was something about Lily that did not sit well with him. Whether it was the risk of her being a relation to the Queen, or simply her similarity to the most troublesome of his sisters, for once he wasn't interested in waxing his wick. Not wanting to offend completely, he added belated applause. "T'is a guid start lassie."* He said, but made no move to impress her further.

Instead he clapped his hand onto O'Neill's shoulder. "Tha's a talent whit wants developin', an' Master O'Neill here is a far better poet thain I. I dare say he'd be glad tae gie ye a few lessons."** He gave the other man a wink. Yes Douglas had seen the gleam in James's eye, and held no particular inclination to spar with him over this particular lady. There would be others, politer and less potentially dangerous, whom he could pursue if he chose. 

Subtitles
* It's a good start lady."
** "That's a talent that wants developing, and Master O'Neill here is a far better poet than I. I dare say he'd be glad to give you a few lessons."

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James arched an eyebrow at Lily’s participation in their little “game”, an entrance that was not so much blunt as it was an entire cudgel. He, too, laughed, but it was a light, appreciative thing – it did not take a practiced empath to notice the slight hint of derision in Dundarg’s bark of amusement. Nor was it a great feat of genius to note that the Scotsman seemed to lose interest, and that was before he made to support the poet’s bid.

“A good start,” James echoed, chuckling again. “And bold. The lady knows what she wants, hm?” He shot Douglas a wry look, which morphed into a grin as the baron clapped him on the shoulder and suggested that he ‘give her a few lessons’. “’twould be a pleasure, it would, to help the lady make…” Deliberately, he waited a beat, letting the pause speak for itself as his gaze moved to Lily, lingering there. “Poetry.”

Irresponsible, perhaps, to press on after Dundarg’s warning, but James was buoyed by a confidence born of imbalanced humors, a love of challenges, and an Artistic philosophy of libertinism. He had digested the lesson imparted by the Scot, but with the lady’s obvious interest, the choice to ride the lightning or become struck by it was no choice at all. And besides, the game was simply fun, bizarre thought it may have been. “A moment, if you please.”

The Irishman bowed, heading towards the shelves of poetic volumes, whispering to Dundarg as he did so, “Tá deoch agam duit.*” It took a few short moments to locate the anthology of Carew he had suggested earlier, knowing the Cavalier poet to be one of the more sensuous writers of the previous era. Walking over to Lily, he flipped through it, until he had found the piece that her words had reminded him of, gave Dundarg a nod of appreciation, and placed the book in her hands. “Here, my lady. Your first lesson.”

Opposite her, he pointed to a certain line in the poem, even he knowing it impolitic to be so forthright as to read the whole poem in public, with others around. Poor Dundarg's too good of a sport. Instead, he dropped his voice low and recited the line in question, “’Shall I your mirth, or passion move’ …”

The rest went unsaid, words for another time: ’When I begin to woo; Will you torment, or scorn, or love me too?’

*Literally ”I have a drink for you”, meant in the sense of “I owe you a drink.” Or at least I think that’s what Google Translate is getting at.

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The Scotsman was out that was not hard to see by the way he laughed. And even if he HAD shown interest she thinks he is making fun of her.

But the Irishman  .....  Well yes he did laugh too but not in the same manner  .... and so she leaned a bit forward anticipation clearly on her face as to what would happen next.

She nearly clapper her hands at his bow but held herself back. He returned with a book which he then passed to her saying it was her first 'lesson".

Looking up at him then to the page she followed his direction and his voice pitched to an almost whisper prickled her flesh as he spoke the words that only she could hear.

At first she did not catch the meaning but as she read what came next - left unsaid by him - she smiled and gave a small nod of her head.

"Perhaps we should test each one yes?" was whispered back. "I am not good with books and so I will need maybe help to know which is best."

There was no pretense now. She knew that He knew what they both meant. 

"But I wonder if you have strength enough. Maybe tis much for you to take on. I have heard that I can be .... what was word ..... a 'hand full."

Would he continue and suggest what was to happen next? Obviously nothing could happen where they were but he would no doubt make arrangements."

Eyes full of mischief she breathed in his scent and waited.

***********

From his place behind the book shelf Louis watched the scene.

He couldn't hear the conversation between his sister and the Gentleman but judging from her reactions he could easily guess what was going on. He would not interfere if this ended naturally with all three parting. He would go after his sister either way.

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Once Douglas would not have passed up the opportunity of a possible tumble with a willing lady, and a lady's fancy directed at him would cause him to all but take leave of his senses, but experience had made him more circumspect. Now he was a little more choosy in his companions, and a young, seemingly unwed lady who might be a relative of their terribly proper Queen, and who happened to remind him of his bratty sister, wasn't ringing his bell. Still, she seemed to be ringing O'Neill's, so as far as the Scotsman was concerned, the Irishman could have her. 

Having recommended the two to each other, Douglas stepped aside, even as James drifted past after a book, murmuring a few words in Irish. Something about them and a drink, even so. It didn't translate into Scottish Gaelic exactly, but Douglas thought he got the gist of it. He'd be more than happy to have a drink with James later, especially if he got to find out whether Lily had indeed lived up to her promises, so he acknowledged the murmur with a silent nod. For now the young fellow could enjoy himself, and if he was courting dangerous quarry, he should at least be old enough to manage things himself. 

Leaving them to it, Douglas drifted back towards the shelves he'd initially been perusing, selecting the volume Of Plymouth Plantation and then moving on further to see whether anything else caught his interest. And kind of interested to hear whether Lily would be as difficult with her targets reduced to one.

He was half regarding the books in front of him when a movement nearby caught the eye of the big Life Guard. Instinctively on guard for trouble, even in the absence of Royalty, Douglas  watched from the corner of his eye whilst he pretended to examine a book he'd drawn from the shelf. There was movement, and somehow it struck him as odd, though he couldn't have said why. Book in hand, he drifted closer, ostensibly perusing the books on the shelves. Yes, there was definitely something odd about the person there. Douglas stepped around the book shelf. "Are ye richt thair laddie?"* He asked, in the kind of tones one said 'are you looking at me?' in a pub's taproom. 

Subtitles
* "Are you alright there man?"

 

Edited by Douglas FitzJames
Accidentally deleted a bit whilst correcting spelling.
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At twenty-three, James was, in theory, old enough to manage his own mistakes in this arena. Certainly, the worst case scenario of a scandal would not be his first – one fading rose by the name of Constance Mercer, a widowed operator of a publishing house, still awaited his word on releasing The Rising of the Britons to the world. True enough, that had nearly seen him recalled to Greyabbey, but the poet had begun to work on proving himself valuable to Ormonde, too valuable to the family to recall.

Before that, before even his unrequited ardor for Lucas Cole, there had been a whirlwind affair in Florence. There, a hazel-eyed, sharp-tongued creature by the name of Bianca, who had stolen his heart, returned it damaged and worn, and had it sent back to Ulster with a word whispered to her father. His education in Italy had been cut short, and he had been packed off to Whitehall instead.

All of which was to say that James O’Neill was familiar with the consequences. His subconscious decision-maker had simply elected to ignore them.

Dundarg, meanwhile, had given them some space – good sort, that one. he was clever, like-minded, and seemingly game for some trouble-making without being boorish or crass about it – as well as a Gael. He meant what he said about the drink, but for now…with one eye out for any eavesdroppers, James leaned in, taking in the measure of her features. “We may explore each line if need be,” he promised, brogue low.

He grinned at her, revealing again a dimpled cheek, brushing a strand of hair away from his eyes. “T’is different among poets, my lady. A girl who is a handful only inspires. That is where our strength comes from, the workings of the heart.” Melodramatic, perhaps, but not even untrue. If he was authoring his own disaster, then the pages that would be written would be glorious.

He glanced over to Douglas, briefly, but nothing seemed amiss so Lily received his attention once more as he asked quietly, “Where are your lodgings in Windsor, my lady? Have you a chaperone?” For a meeting, the bookstore had been excellent, truly the Irishman's element. For anything else, it was less than ideal.

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