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Back at the Room Saturday Dinner Time 9/17


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Room of Lord Langdon

 

The chamber is small, but comfortable, a large oak bed resting against the west wall. The bed is hung with rose-colored damask, the fabric trimmed with same-color tassels. Across from the bed is a stone hearth whose crackling fire keeps the chill at bay. Small porcelain doves have been affixed to the edges of the mantel with silver satin bows and to the tie backs of the drapes and bed curtains. A window is set into the south wall, overlooking the Long Walk and Castle Hill. A small carved oak table and chair set rests to the right of the window while a small door, hidden behind a rose-colored curtain with thick tassels, beside the fireplace opens into a little closet. Candelabras rest on the table and mantel, casting long shadows over the polished wood of the floor.

With the assistance of two pages, Langdon delivered dinner for himself and Sam Gillis.  Two roasted lamb haunches and potatoes and a small keg of ale.   Elam was bound for London so Charles was on his own fending for food.

Knocking at the door before unlocking it, he gave time for Sam to ready herself.  She had the room until mid-afternoon so Charles was sure that she would be dressed in her uniform by dinner time.  Tipping the two boys a few pennies, the Earl took the bucket of food and the small keg and moved into the room, kicking shut the door behind him.  The food and ale was placed on the table as Charles sought to greet his roommate.  Much had happened to him in the last couple of days and he was dying to tell someone.

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 Sam did not call out for Charles to come in, nor could he hear her moving about the room. When he entered, she was standing at the window wearing the men’s clothes she always slept in. Her face was turned up toward the sky as the sun began its colorful descent. An expression of pure pleasure suffused her features. She did not give him any indication that she knew he was there.

 

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Why was she not dressed?  She would be on duty in the span of but a few hours.  He placed the food and drink on the table and then went to lock the door.  Might she be sleepwalking?  That seemed odd.

Charles moved to stand beside her and whispered to her, not wanting to startle her out of her sleep. Perhaps she would awaken as she heard his boots approach.  "Sam," he whispered.  "It is time to awaken.  Dinner is here."

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When Charles whispered her name, Sam turned toward him. Cold blank eyes stared at him for a moment and then life returned to them. She swayed, grabbing onto his arm to steady herself.  Glancing at the window and back to Charles, an expression of surprise and bewilderment crossed her face. “I … I must have walked in my sleep again.  Why do I always wake up in front of a window?"

 

The smell of food made her stomach rumble. “Is it time for me to go on duty?"  She seemed more than a bit confused.  "I need to put on my uniform.”

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Charles could not remember ever having met a person that walked in her sleep.  There had been stories of such things, but it seemed unbelievable, until now.  He steadied Sam with his arm.

"You were staring at the sun and smiling, as if yearning for sunlight," he observed.  "You have no memory of getting out of bed?" he asked, already knowing the answer.  "You must be looking for something in your dreams." It was the first idea that popped into his mind.

"No, it is merely dinner time," he assured.  "There is time to get dressed after we eat.  "I thought you might like to hear of the crazy things I have been doing and we could have a nice dinner to laugh together."  He waved her over to a seat at the table as he dropped the lamb and potato on a pewter plate for her and then himself.   He poured a liberal amount of ale into two mugs and then sat down with her.  He assumed she was still groggy.

"First, anything interesting that you have heard or seen on watch?" he asked as he removed his hat, uniform coat, and belt with scabbard, sitting with a knife and fork to cut the potato into wedges to soak up the lamb juice.

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 Sam frowned when Charles described how she had looked. It seemed odd to yearn for sunlight when she could enjoy it on clear days. In summer, it sometimes annoyed her when her duties took her outside. Her uniform was stifling in the heat. On those occasions, she often longed for rain.

 

She blinked at his suggestion. “I’ve never considered this before but I don’t remember my dreams when I sleepwalk.” Sam shrugged. “Maybe you’re right.” And maybe it is you I am looking for, she added silently to herself. Sharing a room with Charles wreaked havoc with her feelings for him. It was fortunate that they slept in shifts. She would be mortified if she crawled in bed with him in her sleep.

 

Pushing those thoughts aside, she grinned. “Now I’m curious.” She was always flattered when he confided in her. Fully conscious now, she took a seat at the table and accepted the plate that he placed in front of her.  She took a generous sip from the mug of ale.

 

Setting the cup on the table, she began to cut the lamb into pieces. “It was a quiet night, just like the one before. Quite boring, actually.”

 

Taking a bite of meat, she chewed it and washed it down with a sip of ale. “So tell me … what kind of trouble did you get into today? Did it by any chance concern ladies?” Sam knew of Charles’ reputation with the ladies and liked to tease him about it.

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"Bad and good," he replied as he mixed chunks of lamb with the potato slices.

"I called on the King, unannounced," he imparted, arching both eyebrows to signal that this act took some temerity.  "Before I forget, he instructed me to spy on courtiers," he chuckled.  "He was keen that we look and listen to courtiers meeting. to discover what plots are afoot.  So, you need to do likewise and instruct our trusted men to keep their ears open for anything or anyone who might cause trouble for the Crown."   He paused to wash down his food.  Sam wished to know more about his lady trouble, which was a bit out of the ordinary, but he viewed her as he might a male soldier, with a care not to do anything that might offend a woman with a proverbial thick skin.  He had trusted her with the secret of the golden dagger as he needed an officer to trust with his delicate projects.  She had displayed her loyalty many times.

"Two things," he began with a sour face.  "I think some of the men may have been loose lipped about my Fiona McBain ... close encounters back at Somerset Palace.  Her sister, Lady Alyth, took it quite poorly and I was not in a position to deny that there had been some tomfoolery.  No harm done mind you.  But Lady Alyth saw it as a betrayal and insinuated that she would tell the King, as she is his ward.   You know what that could mean."  He leaned down to take another mouthful but his eyes were upright looking into Sam's eyes in a knowing fashion.  "A lovely libertine lady but I had not been imagining marriage."  He need not provide the reasoning.

"So, I sought out the King, knowing that my reputation for fathering a child with Catherine Sedley, as well as potential dalliances with other ladies, was impacting my ability to seek a suitable match."  Time for another swig.

"His Majesty was quite kind, understanding that we young gentlemen, at times, lose our way in the pursuit of ... merry ways.  He is such a good monarch.  We are so lucky to have him Sam.  He could have treated me poorly, sent me to the Tower until I recanted my ways."  Charles laughed knowing that scenario would have been unlikely for the Merry Monarch.

"He told me I needed to stop seeing Miss Sedley, and I will.   Bradley may be interested in marrying her, but you need to keep that quiet."

"So we talked about who I should marry."  He decided to give Sam the abbreviated version since she was not schooled in the art of matchmaking.  "Susan Herbert," he announced bluntly.  "She is the only daughter of a wealthy and powerful double earldom.  She is a Queen's lady, which is good for a Life Guard officer.  She has also helped me with this golden dagger mystery along the way and we like each other.  So the choice is easy.  The King agreed, so I will ask her mother for permission to court her," he announced.  He avoided details about the Earl of Pembroke.

"Then, he told me that I had insulted the Duke of York with my Sedley affair.  I explained that I thought he had cast her off."  He took another drink to wash the bad taste of the York meeting from his thoughts.  "I saw His Highness this morning and apologized.  He treated me sternly but forgave me with a warning to not do so again.  I owe him a service," he added succinctly. 

"How is that for taking my life in my hands?" he laughed, happy to be free of the crushing pressure and in a relatively good position.  He finished the last of his meal.

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Charles had visited the King without an invitation? Sam’s fork paused in midair, the piece of lamp stuck in its prongs dripping juice onto her plate. It was both a brave and a foolish thing to do. That he was sitting in front of her now and not on his way to London and the Tower meant that his audacity had gone unpunished. She was a bit surprised that the monarch wanted his Life Guards to eavesdrop on courtiers. Did he not employ spies for that task? Maybe they were ineffective. It was not her place to question the King and so she nodded before lifting the fork to her lips.

 

Sam teased Charles about the ladies so that he would never suspect that she was in love with him, or that they had slept with each other once without him knowing her identity. She would always cherish the memories of that pleasurable interlude, despite it being as risky as approaching the King unannounced. There was always the possibility that he would find out the truth someday, and then their friendship would come to an end.

 

She had suspected that he had been having an affair with the pretty young lady he was protecting. It figured that some of the men would think the same thing, as she had stayed in his office every night. Trijntje had spent a lot of time with her and had told Sam that it was not safe for her to go home and that somebody was trying to kill her. She doubted the soldiers had believed that story at all.

 

Sam listened to the rest of his account as she ate. She knew about his relationship with Mistress Sedley. Sometimes it seemed as if soldiers gossiped as much as old women. He had been advised to give her up and marry Susan Herbert instead. Charles had spoken highly of that lady when he had mentioned her involvement in the dagger mystery several months ago. It did seem as if she was suitable for him. Though she cared for him, Sam had never entertained the thought that he would marry a commoner who pretended she was a man.

 

And he had also confessed to the Duke of York and lived to tell the tale. Her heart soared at the sound of his laughter and she joined in.  “I doubt that most lords would have survived all that.” She pushed back her empty plate. “You are really ready to settle down now? And does Lady Susan know of your intentions?”

 

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His meal finished, Charles sat back to drink his ale.  Drinking made him either tipsy or sleepy as he was not much of a drinker.  That is why he preferred ale to the harder liquor.

"It was not so dangerous," he laughed.  "If an officer of his Life Guard cannot ask for an audience, then this would be a sorry place indeed."  He did not wish to be considered too reckless.  The visit with York had been more dangerous.  "Still, it was a perilous adventure.  The King might have ordered me to marry Sedley and York could have done the same.  That would have been unfortunate."  

She asked questions about Susan Herbert.  "I think she would encourage a suit.  I do not say I understand ladies at all," he chuckled "but I am fairly certain she likes me."  He made no mention of his secret meeting that was not a meeting with her.  "I will ask her mother on Sunday at chapel.  I am confident she will approve my suit given how dashing I look in my uniform," he laughed, trying not to keep things too serious.

He dropped into a whisper.  "The King said I should bed whores, actresses and widows and stay away from unmarried ladies."  At first he had been surprised by the advice but, upon reflection, he understood it completely.  "I do not know any whores or actresses and I am a bit timid about approaching one about paying for a romp."  Here he fought a blush.  He was about to lament the absence of a suitable widow as well, but stopped short.  "Woe is me," he teased while he wondered if he might find someone suitable at Windsor.

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 “You led me to believe that you just barged into his apartments,” Sam chuckled. “Of course he would see you if you asked for an audience. He might have believed that his life was in danger. Or the life of his new heir.”

 

She wondered why Charles was against marrying Mistress Sedley, as he had not hidden their relationship and it was common knowledge that she had given him a child. Maybe marrying one’s mistress was simply not done.  Though a commoner, Sam understood more of noble society than most because her job brought her close to it and she had to interact with nobles on occasion. There seemed to be a plethora of unwritten rules governing their behavior. She was glad she had not been born a noblewoman.

 

She could not help being a bit jealous of Charles’ affection for Lady Susan. That lady did not know how lucky she was. And of course she must like him. She might even love him. There was nothing disagreeable about him. He was handsome, courteous. and honorable. What more could any woman want?

 

And he also had a great sense of humor. “I think it will take more than your good looks to impress her,” she laughed. “If I had a daughter, I would make her suitors prove that they were worthy of her before granting them permission to court her. If you want to practice, I can pretend to be the mother and ask you some hard questions.”

 

His voice lowered to a whisper as he repeated the King’s advice. Sam knew both kinds of women in London but not at Windsor. And none of them were good enough for Charles. “I would stay away from whores and actresses. They might give you the pox. Maybe a respectable common girl would be more suitable. I’m sure there are plenty of them who would be pleased to win the favor of a lord.” Including a woman you know well who pretends to be a man, she added silently to herself.

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"Well, I sort of barged in and asked if I could meet with His Majesty alone," he chuckled.  "I think he was intrigued as he sent his men away."

As for Susan Herbert,  "fortunately I am not relying on the looks of my uniform alone," he played along.  "I am an earl and a baron, have estates, my own private army.   I am the Lord Lieutenant of London, and a Major in the Life Guard.  If that is not good enough, then I will wish her mother good luck finding someone better.  There are other fish in the sea for me, if necessary."  His remarks were all in good nature.  He had convinced himself that Lady Pembroke would have little choice unless she was appalled by the Sedley affair.  If that were to occur, he could combat it with the King's own words about young men and their follies.

On the topic of whores, he agreed with Sam.  "My thoughts exactly.  You cannot rid yourself of pox they say."  Of course, the King had said that high class whores were not sick.  "Yes, a clean respectable common gal with no father or brother to feel outrage," he agreed.  "Or a widow.  Maybe that would be best.  Everyone expects them to be merry."  He knew only Heather, Cat and Darlene that fit such a description.  He laughed to himself that Susan's mother was a widow.  He had no excuse for breaking into a laugh imagining himself carrying on an affair with Susan's mother during the courtship.  He waved off Sam if she thought to inquire.  "It is just the drink," he lied.

Edited by Charles Whitehurst
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 When Charles listed his credentials, they did sound quite impressive, at least to Sam. She had no idea what went on in the head of a noblewoman with a marriageable daughter. He did have a reputation with the ladies. It was possible that she might hold that against him. Sam hoped that Lady Susan’s mother approved of him, though. She liked to see him happy, like he was now, even if thinking about him with another woman broke her heart.

 

Yet she also enjoyed being his friend and confidant. If Charles did take her as his mistress, she imagined that he would ask her to live as a woman. Living as a man gave her much more freedom and she wasn’t ready to give it up. And she really loved her job. The best thing to do was to quit thinking about that interlude at Newmarket and to embrace the easy camaraderie between them. Unfortunately, such a thing was easier said than done.

 

That he was comfortable talking with her about his love life was another sign that he trusted her. Sam was glad that he didn’t plan on associating with whores. She wasn’t certain if widows were much better if they were extremely merry. But that was none of her concern.

 

His laughter made her smile. "Right." Sam glanced at him skeptically. She didn’t think that Charles was drinking that much ale. "What's so funny?  Tell me."

 

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He was oblivious to Sam's thoughts obviously. As for the interlude at Newmarket, he knew only that a woman named Samantha had come to him and guided him into the barn, hiding her face as if her life depended on it.  She had given him a necklace and he had kept it in his locked chest back home with other personal things.  He never expected he would encounter her again.  Perhaps he was dense, but he had yet to connect the name Samantha with Sam..  This was largely due to the fact that one was a woman in a dress and one was a woman masquerading as a man who had saved his life and served loyally.

The ale had yet to addle his thoughts even though he was not one to hold his drink.  Instead, it merely allowed him to be a bit more relaxed and a bit more cheerful. 

She asked him what caused him to laugh.  There was no way he was going to reveal that.  "Oh just laughing at the situation." That was mostly true.

"And what of you Sam?  Is there a guy or gal that has caught your eye?"  It was time to turn the tables.  Since she preferred being a man, he guessed she might prefer women as lovers.  If true, it would not bother him much.

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 Sam accepted his response. Charles seemed in a much lighter mood than usual, and perhaps that was because he no longer had to carry around the burden of his past mistakes. He had confessed to the King, apologized to York, and was looking forward to marriage with a young lady he got along well with. The only hurdle in his way now was that lady’s mother and he seemed to be looking forward to his meeting with her.

 

Again, she thought how much she enjoyed seeing him in such a good mood. She hoped this wasn’t just the calm before the storm. The man who wanted the dagger had supposedly come to Windsor, but seemed to be laying low at the moment. They would need to confront him at some point.

 

Charles’ question caught Sam off guard and she hid her astonishment by taking another swig of ale. Why the sudden interest in her love life … or, more accurately … the lack thereof?   Was he simply curious or was there a chance that he was taken with her too?

 

No, that couldn’t be. He could have any beautiful lady he wanted. Why would he waste his time on a young woman with cropped hair who had been passing herself off as a man for years? She had even fooled him.

 

“There was someone once,” she said, a sad note in her tone of voice. “But I never told him how I felt. What man in his right mind would want a woman who chooses to live as a man?”

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Charles was, indeed, in a lighter mood.  The royal visits had lifted a burden from him that he had felt heavily.  Only Darlene and Catriona could lift most of the rest, and he expected neither to try.

Sam would likely find it odd that he was in such a light mood too because their normal encounters typically involved chasing villains and assassins, hardly light fare.  Sam revealed that she preferred men, which came as a mild surprise.  How could she like men and be surrounded by half naked men all the time and not be aroused?  He had not thought on that before.  If he was disguised as a lady and was surrounded by scantily-clad ladies, he would be hard-pressed to not act on it. 

"Did he know you were a woman in reality?" he inquired.  "If he did and was not put off by it, why not at least hint at it?  You never know.  He might have warmed to the idea, though it would be hard to carry on as a normal couple with you in uniform with him."  He chuckled at the visual image.  "I suppose you could just pose as friends and roommates and no one would know your secret," he offered, thinking that they would need to explain their situation to neighbors.

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