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Delivering a Package | Saturday the 17th – mid-late morning

Duncan Melville

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¨Ophelia understood it, you ken? She knew the MacBains were kin. That is why she sent me here. The gift was just the means. The end was to remind me I have family here¨. She was a wise woman, my Book Mouse. Wiser than I ever will be.

As Duncan approached the dining table, he saw enough food to feed a small party. ¨Och, lass! I am only a mere Lowlander, not that bottomless pit your Highlander brother is!¨ The Viscount sat to the side of the Lady´s seat, sending a message to the household: Lady Alyth is the master of the house, and I am in no way challenging that. They probably did not need the message, but if there were any spies in her household, and as a mistress of the King Duncan was certain there were more than one, they would report that he respected her position. I must thread lightly. I love her as if she were my own sister, and I do not want any rumours that things are otherwise. I would have to hunt and kill those that spread falsehoods.

After serving himself a generous plate, and making sure the help was well out of earshot so  they could not be overheard, the Viscount asked between mouthfuls, ¨what is going on with Fiona? Has she gotten into any kind of trouble? How can I help?¨ Just as Cat felt Duncan was part of her family, so did Duncan feel the MacBains were part of his.

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Cat was used to feeding the bottomless pit that was Douglas, so the amount of food seemed perfectly reasonable to her.  "Have no fear that anything will go to waste.  Douglas has promised to take the girls Sunday after church.  I wouldn't send him out of here with the horde without food stuff."  Douglas probably expected it.  


"Ah, Fiona.  I partially blame myself.  When I left for Scotland, Douglas was still in town, so I thought it safe to leave her in London.  I forgot my brother has a job to do, so she ended up being unsupervised."  She picked up one of the shortbread cookies, not eating it.  "She acquired a secret admirer who has turned dangerous.  Though, since I've been aware of it, there haven't been any more nasty surprises.  The last one was a black asp in a box.  She had, by that time, run to Lord Langdon," perhaps a small sneer crossed her lips, but disappeared almost instantly, "who killed the snake before it could bite anyone.  He wrote me and I hied it back to London.  Supposedly, there were threats made against myself, Nessie and her sisters, which was why she didn't contact me."


She put the shortbread down on a plate and dusted her hands.  "Thus the increase in guards in and out of the house.  One of the men must have recognized you or you wouldn't have made it to the front door without questioning.  I'm starting to think it was all a ruse for...something else.  But Douglas and I are working on the issue.  The only other thing is that Fiona will be getting married soon.  We just have to find a groom."  And if Fiona was sneaking around, listening at doors, well, Cat didn't care.  She had given Fiona plenty of rope, but in the end, she jumped too far so it snapped tight.

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Duncan continued to have his fill. He had not realized how little he had eaten in the past weeks until that moment. Cat encouraging him to have as much as he wanted helped him eat as much as he could.

Then, Fiona. Duncan listened intently. His face grew grim. A would-be assassin was nothing to laugh at. That the threats included all the girls was worrisome to Duncan. “Do you need additional men? I can have some of Melville House’s staff come. There are a couple with actual experience that could be useful”. A thought. “Was Douglas included in the threats?” Still another thought. “Could Lauderdale be behind this, pushing you and yours towards accepting his… protection?” The last word was almost spat out. “If he wants to protect Shona or Aileen, I promise you. A restorative will somehow find its way into his tea... or a dagger into his kidney”.

Those were dangerous words, especially for a Scotch, but the girls were kin.

Duncan had heard rumours about Fiona. Most, if not all, of court had. He would not voice them, but Cat’s words made him give the grapevine credence, at least on that particular topic. Of course, he would defend her reputation, with basket-hilted sword if necessary. But Cat stating that the Viscountess had to get married soon made matters weightier. “Perhaps His Grace Charles should be approached. No one denies Him”. At least no one in their right mind.

Duncan fell silent for a moment, both to continue eating, and for Cat to speak her mind. Douglas and the Osborne girl still needed to be discussed, but Fiona took precedence.

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Duncan's offer of additional men was met with a shake of her head.  "All the men with us are our best, though I appreciate the offer.  Remember, they're all ex-military."  There were barely a handful of male servants in the entire Alyth staff that weren't hired on from the veteran's hospital.  "As for the threats, no, he wasn't included.  I don't think it can be Lauderdale, though all your suggestions of what might happen to him sound lovely.  But this is too directed at Fiona.  Besides, Lauderdale isn't stupid.  He'd know he'd be the first suspect."


As Duncan mentioned the King, she shook her head.  "I already have Kingston making a mention of getting Fiona married off to the King.  I'm not going to march in there and make demands.  Besides, I only want her married off because I can't take the disrespect any more.  She's not pregnant by some grace of God, so there'd be no cuckoo in anyone's nest."  She wanted to bang her head into the table, but such actions were not done, even around chosen family.  She let out a long sigh, finally taking a bite of the demolished biscuit.  Perhaps a drizzle of honey coating the end.  It would be perfect with a black tea. "I'll find a way.  It's been mentioned to me that I should stop being a nice sister and take a hard line as a guardian.  Which is what I'm doing.  Hopefully."


She got herself some tea and offered some to Duncan.  It was her own blend, of course.  Black tea with dried lemon and orange peels, it gave off a nice citrus aroma.  

Edited by Catriona MacGregor
Stupid computer, yeah, the computer
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Duncan accepted Cat’s rejection of sending a couple of additional men. It was an offer he had to make, even though he knew it would be rejected. Still, perhaps he should have Thomas and Brian join him in Windsor, just in case. The first had been a piper in Dumbarton’s, while the second was a drummer in the Tangier Horse. Although not as good as active-service soldiers, they still had what it took to defend someone or something. I have to think about this.

“If it is focused against Fiona, it might be less dangerous for the rest, but not so for her”. The girl was difficult, that he knew. And those you loved sometimes had to be protected even from themselves. Kingston. The Lowlander smiled. I ought to write to him. “Lord Kingston is a good man. He will know how to best present the situation to His Grace Charles. I just pray to the Almighty that He does not think the solution to the problem is the master of Melville Castle”, the Viscount chuckled trying to make light of the situation. "If He does, I might seriously consider to reenlist".

The way Cat spoke about Fiona not being pregnant confirmed what he had heard. The girl liked the libertine lifestyle. She does need a husband, and quickly. Her luck will run out otherwise. Duncan allowed himself to squeeze Cat’s forearm. “Things will get better lass. They will. You are not alone. You have friends… and family!” He withdrew his hand before it could be seen as improper, but not so quickly that the message did not come across.

“You can be both. You can be there for her when she needs you, while at the same time keeping her safe. Iron fist in a velvet glove”. Duncan thought it doable, perhaps because Beatrice had been easy to be entreated. He had not lived with Fiona, though, so he could be terribly wrong.

As Cat offered the tea, he accepted it with a smile. “Thank you. I will have a little honey or molasses if you have them”. Sugar was much more refined, of course, but the taste lacked depth. “It is delicious!” He said contentedly.

“Now, what is this about Douglass and Bridget Osborne? Does he know the kind of grief that would be like?” Duncan seemed to be more like himself. His mind was already racing here and there, trying to understand problems and find solutions to them.

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Cat had to chuckle as Duncan made his feelings known if he was chosen as Fiona's husband.  "Don't worry.  I'd never ask you to suffer so.  I'll block the door and you can run for it," she teased.  Of her sisters, Shona would be best suited for Duncan, but he had just lost his Ophelia.  The man needed time to grieve in his own way.  


When Duncan put his hand on her arm, she put her other hand over it and gave it a squeeze.  It was a family gesture and thus didn't register as anything else in her mind.  She gave another chuckle.  "Can I just smack her upside the head with the iron fist?  And I do appreciate my friends and family helping me.  I've very bad at accepting help, but in this situation, I'll take all the help I can get."


As she used sugar, honey and molasses in her baking, she had each.  She chose honey as she knew it was a good pairing.  She handed him the cup.  Then the topic turned to Douglas.  "He has it in his head that only a disgraced family would accept a bastard as a son-in-law.  He discounts all the achievements he's made for himself without having to use a father's name."

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“I will thank ye for such a kindness if it comes to it, lass”, Duncan smiled. “I mean, Fiona is beautiful, and has her own title and lands. Not many eligible ladies are in that situation. But I think my Book Mouse spoiled me with her gentleness. I do not think I would make a good husband for a spirited Scotch lass such as Fiona”. Ophelia had shown Duncan what gentleness of spirit was. His exposure to it had changed Duncan in ways he was not yet fully aware of. I miss you so, Ophelia!

“As much as you would want to sometimes, you better not. I think she would set herself even more in her path if you did. Be firm but try not to get angry. I may be wrong, but I think that the one that gets mad first loses the battle”. A tall order when it came to Fiona. “As for family and friends, we are here. And I will help whether you ask for it or not. As you said, we are family, and families take care of their own”.

The tea was delicious, and Duncan closed his eyes as he enjoyed the first sip. Honey had been the best choice, of course. “Everything I eat or drink in your house is so above everything else. It both reminds me of home and makes me miss it a bit less. Thank you for being a balm for my soul”.

Then it came to the second most complicated MacBain, Douglas. The man was brave, and he went above and beyond in everything he did, never fearing to put his life on the line. But the boulder on his shoulder was big and always there, which prevented the Baron from enjoying his accomplishments. “Sir Cedric told me once that whenever he profited from a venture, he always took half the profits out, so that he could enjoy life and invest in something else. I followed his advice, and that is how I bought Melville House. I think that principle applies to other aspects of life too. Douglas does not enjoy what he has because he has not known contentment, I think. If he does not change, he will never be happy, and he will never think he has enough, in any area of life”.

Duncan ached for his friend. On the one hand, Douglas wanted to prove, perhaps mostly to himself, that he was a nobleman’s equal or better. On the other, polite society would have none of that. The Lowlander had tried to show Cat’s brother that there were other ways to go about it. Perhaps they would have to have another chat. The Osborne girl though…

“Bridget Osborne is a huge trap, through no fault of her own. I pity her. But although it is true that a disgraced family might accept Douglas, it would only be advantageous to him if the disgrace is temporary. Otherwise, they would drag him down with them. Sadly, in this instance, I think it is either permanent or it will be so long that it is not worth it for him. My advice is for him to stay away”.

Duncan could not tell Cat why he thought that way. He had been instrumental in Danby’s fall and had thought about the whole affair many times since then. But he had also given His Grace the King his word that he would forget what he knew. Had Duncan known more about what Danby had done, he would have voiced his opinion in even stronger terms.

“I do see a way forward for Douglas, one that may even have a Lordship of Parliament in it, but he must play the long game, and weigh every little thing very, very carefully. Good things come to they who wait”.

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"No, you and Fiona would never do," Cat agreed.  After all, she liked Duncan.  The advice of not losing her temper first was a tall order.  "Not lose my temper?  You are aware I'm Scottish, right?"  Cat and Fiona fought differently than Cat and Douglas did, but it was still a show of short tempers.  "All I can do is try.  And even when I push back, because you know I will, I appreciate the help.  No matter how cranky I get."


"My table is always open for you.  So don't stand on ceremony and come whenever you want or need to.  Douglas does, so family raiding my pantry is a tradition."  Indeed, she had a wonderful cook who hated sharing space with anyone, even her employer.  Cat needed to get her hands on a second kitchen for all the baking she wanted to get done.  


"I agree.  But getting that message through his thick skull won't be easy."  She, as always and truthfully, blamed their father.  May rats of unusual size eat his organs from the inside out.  "He won't listen to his little sister.  I already tried once and he about jumped down my throat."  Of course, she argued back but it was what worked for them.  "I just want him to move past the past and focus on his future."  Easier said than done, but she was a bit of a hypocrite in this area.

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Posted (edited)

“At least fight only the battles worth fighting. At times it is best to retreat from a battle, so you do not lose the war”. It was as valid in the military as in many other aspects of life. “As for help, if there is anything you need, anything, not only related to Fiona, please promise you will let me know. I might not be able to help all the time, but I would hate it if I were able to, and you do not let me know”. Cat was not one used to rely on others, which was why she had gotten so far. But there were times when self-reliance was not enough. Trusted friends were much needed then.

“In exchange, I promise I will raid your pantry when needed, which will probably be often. Your cook might complain though. Not as much as with Douglas, but I am certain she will”. The Viscount had just shown how much he could eat when hungry. “Is there any particular ingredient she likes? I would like to send her some, so she grumbles less next time I appear at your door”.

“I will speak with Douglas. Over a bottle of uisge. Perhaps he will see reason”. Douglas had seem to listen to him in the past. “I just need to rest a bit first. And eat. I had not realized how little I have been eating”.

Duncan made the motion of getting his pocket watch, but he carried none. As a sign of mourning, he had decided to wear minimal jewellery. Also, his clothes were mostly black, but they had been made by a good tailor, and had a few touches that suggested wealth.

“I think I better get going, lass. I sent my luggage to the Castle in advance, lest they gave my room to someone else, but I do not want to push my luck. Second floor is not bad, I was surprised”. The Lowlander got up. “Thank you very, very much. I now realize how close to the brink I was, and you pulled me back. I probably would have ended in Bedlam if you hadn't”. And Ophelia knew it, so she sent me here.

If Cat got up, he would give her a long, heartfelt hug if she allowed. He would then kiss her on the forehead, before taking his leave.

OOC: Fin?

Edited by Duncan Melville
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"Well, I'd be pretty daft not to take battle advice from a  veteran," she replied.  Now, if only she could figure out which battles were the right ones to really get riled up about.  "And I promise to let you know if I need your help.  Or Douglas will, if I don't.  The big tattletale."  She was teasing the last part, but she was glad to see some of that load that had weighed her friend down lift from his shoulders.  This was a different man from the one who came through her front door.  Not quite healed, but at least on his way there.


She pondered for a moment what her cook enjoyed.  "She was over the moon when Lord Mountjoy sent a conny and some wild mushrooms.  Leeks were included, but since I can't eat them, she did something with them that had the servants very happy.  I think she'd be happy for any ingredients not involved in baking.  I have to sneak into my own kitchen to bake anything."  This was said with a smile, so there was no worry that the woman who put on larger spreads with little notice would ever be fired. Have a raise, yes.  Fired?  Never.


"Second floor?  I wonder if it was the one that I had been assigned.  I spoke with Lord Beverly yesterday to tell him it wasn't needed."  You are still sneaky, Ophelia, she thought but didn't voice.  "Any time you need the MacBain/MacGregor form of sanity, call for me or come right over.  I mean it.    She rose when Duncan did and not only accepted the hug, she returned it tightly and chuckled when he kissed her forehead.  "Go get some rest now."  A servant walked in with a small bag.  "She's right.  I don't pay her enough."  Inside were several scones, fig and apple jam, and a small jar of honey, with a smaller bag with the tea leaves inside.  "Off you go.  Make sure you eat everything in there."  She walked him to the door and waved him off.  


-Oui, fin-  Merci, mon ami!

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