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Thread: The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God [M - Hannelorian x DuchessLivilla]

  1. #11
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    Despite the fact that she had been given the afternoon off, Alice continued working. Though in something of a more relaxed manner. It was only when she saw her mistress come down the hall to the doors of the Chapel that she stiffened. Yet, the Duchess said nothing, with her head lowered she simply entered the sanctum, door closing behind her. Once the door was sealed Alice exhaled deeply. Something was amiss, she suspected that the meeting of the sisters, two sides of the very same coin had not gone as she had expected.

    It was equally surprising when she saw John coming down the same corridor. He looked like a man on a mission. It would be in his nature, Alice thought to attend to mid-day prayer. He was one of the most religious in the house. It was no wonder the Duke and Duchess were so fond of him. That and his breeding, one of class and substance made him an ideal candidate for his position. Alice still found him to be the most odd duck. After all he had lost, how could he possibly be so humble, so without bitterness. All he wanted to do was the please the lord, the same lord that had taken everything from him.

    He moved with still more determination, it was almost as though he saw through her walking down that hall. Alice held out her hand and pressed it into his chest as he almost passed her way. Alice shook her head and assuming he had been going to the chapel. "Don't. Her Grace is at prayer." Realizing that her hand had remained for far too long she pulled it away quickly. "I apologize... did you need something?" Alice took a step back as the message that her Ladyship had called for her. It was odd. Or rather rare. It was generally frowned upon for Alice to attend to someone who wasn't her mistress. But, with her mistress being indisposed she imagined it would be acceptable.

    Without delay Alice left John to his own devices and found herself at the door to the drawing room, knocking on it she announced herself and entered. "Your Ladyship, blessed day." Alice spoke as she approached. In her short time her, she had come to understand that Alexandra was far kinder than Arabella. Alexandra usually had reasonable requests and tended to allow them all to speak somewhat freely. There was no risk of bodily harm, which was always a positive thing in her book. "Shall I clear up?" Alice looked to one of the small tables which held the bowl of bloodied water, a bit of other cloth and of course, the Duchess' bloody gloves which could not truly be cleaned and would simply need to be replaced. Alice diligently gathered everything up, placed it all on the serving tray that had been used to bring the supplies in the first place. Alice wanted to say something about how the Duchess seems to be more regularly injuring herself... but thought that would be a line much too far.

    "By chance, did something happen to John? He seemed white as a ghost when he found me?" Alice didn't really have an opportunity to talk to nobility, and being new not just to this house but to the work of ladies maids more generally, perhaps spoke a bit too freely with those she best not. She would be spared no such luxury of the ducal couple. The Duke often rolling his eyes at some of the things she did. Though, to her credit, one Miss Alice Sutton was learning a great deal and had largely improved in her role over the last few months. The Duchess seemed to go through ladies maids and other servants at an alarmingly high rate. Though it was an honor to work for this particular family, it was generally acknowledged as a difficult assignment.

    The Duchess meanwhile had collapsed before the altar. It was clear at this point that the stress of her predicament was causing her to begin to unravel. The tears flowed like rivers from her eyes down her pale cheeks. Through the tears she prayed, and prayed, and prayed. What had her sister done to her? She allowed the pathetic girls manipulations and attempts at kindness to blind her, to sway her. And for what? A pathetic excuse of a ladies maid? One who had disrespected her sister? No, Alexandra had little respect for her. Arabella was after all, a Duchess. Who was she to change the course of a Duchess? Arabella was distraught. Though she really was making excuses for her own struggles.

    "What have I done to displease you so?" With eyes cast toward the massive cross and stained glass windows that adorned the front of the chapel. She spoke directly to God now. "Have I not led the life you wished me to? In your image. According to every last one of the teachings?" For once he questions were genuine and she longed for an answer, for a sign. It had legitimately never occurred to her that she was not the problem. Rather, it was her husband who was likely barren. It was her, she had angered God in a such a serious manner that in all these years he had not forgiven her and granted her the child, the son she had always longed for.

    Surrendering to her own emotion, the Duchess lay against the cold floor. She must have spent hours there, unmoving. Her lips simply moving, mouthing the prayers she said each and every day. There was almost nothing that could stop her, or really phase her in any way shape or form. Even the familiar pang of hunger no longer bothered her. She was so used to going without. She was used to suffering. When she regained her composure, she rose to her feet and straightened her dress. Wiping her eyes she sighed and forced a smile on her face. She left the Chapel and noting the hour made her way to the Duke's study, where she knocked gently on the door.
    Thanks to Hayabusa/Ryoku for the set.

  2. #12
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    Alexandra looked up as Alice entered and smiled kindly. "Blessed day, Sutton," she replied, nodding, "Yes, please, forgive me, I know Her Grace gave you the time off but I know she would be displeased should I take it myself." She glanced at the sleeve of her own gown, stained with several bloody finger prints. "Ah, yes, could you send one of the girls to me to fetch this in a few moments? It will need salt on the stain."

    She paused, biting her lip then said, "Sutton, I know your role is a hard one and my dear sister can be...herself," she said, thinking it perhaps the safest way to describe her, "But I care for her as my sister and the Duchess of the house. I would ask you, as a kindness, to tell me if you are ever concerned for her health. She is very pious and might not notice when she needs help, is all."

    Briefly she wondered if that was a pointless request. It was clear to anyone who cared to look with some human feeling that Alice was terrified of her mistress and likely would not wish to take any risks, certainly not for her! But Alexandra felt she had to try...and not just for her sister. Heaven forbid, if Arabella died, she would likely find herself in her place as the Duke's new bride. It was, after all, rather the done thing. It was in her best interest to see to it that her sister was healthy, happy and, if at all possible, a mother sooner rather than later!

    -

    John meanwhile had gone to the tiny, and rather sparse, room that housed a few chairs and a wooden altar with no decoration, used by service for penance and the like. He was visibly shaking now he was alone. He had been so close to committing such a grievous sin he could barely stand. He held all the family in the highest regard, merely for their rank, firmly believing that they held such a rank because God had placed them there, and so they must be respected for that alone.

    Her Ladyship had done nothing wrong, he would swear to it on his life, but he had no excuse! To walk, or nearly walk, into a room with her, alone! He might have ruined her future with such an action.

    He threw himself to his knees, ignoring the lancing pain that shot through him as he did, and bowed his head, praying for forgiveness. Maybe he had too much of his father's sins in him. Maybe he had not prayed hard enough.

    "Lord, forgive me, I beg of you. I am a worthless worm and deserve it not, but I humbly beg for your favour...Let my senseless actions not taint or stain Her Ladyship. I take all the blame for the sin and will gladly suffer death if you will it..."

    He went on for many hours, almost as long in fact as the Duchess was lying prone on the floor, weeping and praying into the marble.

    -

    The Duke had spent a more pleasant day than the rest of the household, though he too had not eaten. Then again, like his beloved wife, he rarely even noticed the pangs of hunger anymore, and if he did, he firmly believed it was a test to be overcome...not given in to. He was master of all things, his stomach included, and would not be dictated to by such a base desire as hunger like some beast in the field.

    After prayers Richard, as he did most days, retired to his dark, wood-panelled study with it's great desk and leather chair, it's floor to ceiling bookcases, and shelves of collections...ranging from butterflies to eggs with their carefully written Latin names and titles. One got the impression that everything in the room was just so, exactly where it was meant to be. And woe betide any servant who dared put anything back in the wrong place.

    The Duke would either spend his time, his back to the window, at the desk in his chair, writing letters and reading various reports of his lands or state-papers, or else in the one of the two wingback chairs by the grand fireplace, book in hand, glass of brandy at his side. Said brandy was one of his few indulgences but he never overdid it, unlike some. One, perhaps two, and that was it. Drunkenness was a sin, much like eating for pleasure and he would not tolerate it in himself or others.

    As the knock came, he was sitting in the chair by the fire, just finishing a chapter in a Biography of Julius Caesar. Without looking up he called, "Enter." At the familiar tread however, he did look up and smiled, "Ah, darling, forgive me, I expected it to be John with a message about our little gathering. I know you like to see to the invites but I just had John take a few out to the council, the rest I leave in your most capable hands."

    He closed his book and set it, carefully and precisely, on the table to his left. "Come sit, dearest, you must be tired after your meeting with Alexandra..." he sighed. "Really, I do think you have the right of it. Marriage is the only thing for it. I confess, I had hoped she would see the error of her ways without such but there is nothing else for it. It brings shame on the family, as you say, to have her in such a state. What will people say of me? That I allow a young woman, in my house, under my charge, to over-indulge like a...well, I shall not sully these walls, nor your good ears with such words."

    Richard looked over his wife as she sat, "Darling, you look tired, are you quite well? I hope she has not overtaxed you."

  3. #13
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    When the Duchess heard the call to enter but a moment after she knocked, she found herself opening the door and slipping inside. There was always, always a smile on her face when in the presence of the Duke. No matter how tired, or upset, or whatever she may be, he made her smile. There was an instant sense of relief. "There's nothing to forgive my darling." Arabella spoke calmly, almost relaxed. She carried herself with grace across the room to where her husband sat, behind a desk befitting a man of his position. She leaned over with a hand briefly, delicately resting on his shoulder kissed the top of his head. Her eyes fell upon the glass of brandy. Wasn't that just the ticket. Though she never drank, the occasional glass of wine or champagne for a celebration, nothing more. Though if anyone would drive her to drink it would have been Alexandra.

    "God never sends more than we can handle." Arabella remarked, now taking heed of Richard's words and moving to seat herself in a chair on the opposite side of the desk facing the Duke. She sat perfectly tall, ever perfect was her posture. Never slouch. Straight backed, legs crossed at the ankles and hands resting neatly in her lap. "She is rather the handful, isn't she?" Still smiling, she couldn't help but laugh lightly at her husband's sympathy. He knew just what to say to brighten her spirits. He too had his share of Alexandra stories. "There is no other way to put it. I fear for her immortal soul. She feigns her virtue." Arabella's voice sank a bit, as though she were genuinely upset at the thought. In part, this was true. She knew Alexandra wasn't a believer.

    "She had the audacity to send her maid to interrupt mine during dressing this morning. Completely uncalled for. There isn't a matter so urgent it cannot wait for a woman to be properly dressed. It was shameful." Arabella sighed and shook her head, as though she were exasperated with the whole ordeal. "Then, she suddenly acts as though she's discovered respect for her elders and tends to my wounds, just so I wouldn't send the blasted maid to the salvage. The girl cares more for people who are paid to serve her than she does her own family." Arabella purposely brought these items up. She could not rest for even a moment, she would never give Alexandra the benefit of the doubt. A part of her hoped the Duke would overrule his wife and send Hetty to her death anyway. Then yes, Arabella would have changed her mind, but it was not her place to make up the mind of a man, especially her husband.

    With that, Arabella turned her attention to the party. "Not at all tired my darling. Simply at a loss for how to best help my kin. I carry such shame at how she has acted since you graciously allowed us to take her in." She smiled and leaned ever so slightly forward, eyes intently locked upon her husband. She seemed instantly to perk up from just a few words with him. His constant concern for her well being was touching. "As for the other invitations, consider it handled. All the usual suspects. Sutton will see to it first thing in the morning. I've given her the afternoon off. I thought she could use the time to reflect on Alexandra's maid's actions... and do everything in her power never to let herself fall to such a level."

    Arabella focused in on the central issue. "Yes, I had an idea for a suitable husband. If you will be so kind as to indulge me, my love." Arabella had indeed thought long and hard about the matter. "As you remember, the Marchioness of Bath passed some months ago." She had died in childbirth, with her fourth daughter. Of course had borne him sons enough, so who was particularly bothered. Though she would not remind the Duke with her own words of the specifics, for he knew them well and naturally would rather have a dead wife who had done her duty, then a barren wife. "When I last saw the Marquess he seemed interested in our Alexandra. He's out of mourning now." The Marquess was a man of about 50 years old, at one point much like the Duke he had been handsome. He was known amongst the nobility as a man who loved his god, but by god did he love his women and wine more. He was a foul man, rude, often not well kempt and above all even more the disciplinarian than the ducal couple themselves. He ran his house, and he ran his wife, right into the ground. He was strict, bordering on absolute brutality.

    "Better someone who wants her have her before she spoils. And I can think of no better man to keep her on the path than Edward." Arabella detested Edward with every fiber of her being. He without fail would always attempt to seduce her in a drunken moment, or lay his hands on her body. "I also suspect we won't have any better offers from a Ducal or Royal household. This might be the best station she can earn given her shortcomings." It was Arabella's sincerest hope that her husband would agree. "If you agree, I can begin making arrangements. Otherwise I am certainly open to suggestion." She put herself now in her husband's hand, hoping for nothing more than end to this part of her own personal hell. "You have been so patient with my own short comings... that I don't want you for a second longer to suffer any undue embarrassment." Arabella sighed once more and looked up at her husband with loving eyes, knowing her crimes.

    --

    "Yes ma'am." Alice said rather quietly, having now noted the bloody finger outline on the cuff of Alexandra's sleeve. She said nothing on that matter. "Her Grace is absolutely correct, the servants hall and kitchens are no place for a figure of your standing ma'am." Alice may as well have been quoting from the Gospel of Arabella. She did hold a great of fear over saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. They were sisters after all. Alice should have known better.

    Alexandra was perfectly diplomatic. When she described Arabella as well Arabella. There was probably no more sensitive a way to put it. "I'm afraid I don't know what you mean ma'am. Her Grace is most kind and generous. When we sin, we must be corrected or we shall never learn the lessons we need to go to Heaven." What garbage, Alice thought as she spoke. Though she did so now as was expected. The perfect answers to each and every question. She had learned.

    "Her Grace is most lucky to have such an affectionate sister who worries for her so." Alice could not reasonably understand how anyone could find anything redeeming in the Duchess. Though there was something said about blood being thicker than water. It was something that was not her place to understand. "Her Grace is in fine health." She wasn't, Alice knew she wasn't. There was a very real possibility that the Duchess would not survive to the end of the year at this rate. She had to start taking regular meals. Alice withheld this information not necessarily hoping for the Duchess' demise. But more so out of fear and wanting to make sure she stayed on the side she was meant to stay on. "I will endeavor to tell you should anything concerning arise." Alice nodded her head and made her way to exit the room. "I'll send someone up for the dress. While Hetty has come out of hiding, I dare say she won't leave the quiet of the servant's hall for a bit." Alice disappeared through the door, washing in hand.
    Thanks to Hayabusa/Ryoku for the set.

  4. #14
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    Richard listened to his wife, nodding in sympathy as she spoke, and occasionally sipping from his brandy; small, measured sips designed to make it last. Unlike many of his rank, he did not throw it back and immediately pour another. “Hmm,” he replied, pondering the topic of the maid. He himself had noticed how the girl was a hero to her valets. There was nothing, on the surface wrong with such, he himself was pleasant enough to one or two of his long-standing servants, who had proved their worth and faith. But when coupled with her other transgressions, Arabella was right, it suggested something amiss.

    Still, perhaps there was a use in such a weakness.

    “Perhaps,” he voiced his thoughts aloud, “It would be prudent to allow her to keep the girl and see what occurs. Did not,” he began, as if his wife would know -he, like every man, was aware that she, as a mere woman, would not have read such- “The Emperor Claudius, when troubled by a plotting wife, say that ‘let all the poisons that lurk in the mud, hatch out’?” He smiled, his thin lips drawing taught for a moment. “In other words, if we give her enough rope, she might hang herself and be damned for it. Forgive me, I know she is your beloved sister, sweet one, but the purity of the house must be assured and sometimes sacrifices must be made. If she is bent on her own destruction, the Lord compels us to allow her to damn herself…Interfering might drag us to sin and that I cannot allow.”

    The Duke took her gloved hand and smiled tenderly, “For you, my love, I would have taken in a thousand Alexandra’s if it pleased and gave comfort to you. But now we, and you, must be selfish. Perhaps God has not blessed us,” perhaps it was an oversight, perhaps a hint he suspected he might be the issue, or maybe it was to spare her feelings, he said ‘us’ and not ‘you’, “with a child is because God will not allow it until our house is pure. The cancer and rot must be cut out before new life can grow. It is time, more than time, that we listened to him and acted.”

    It was almost staggering the lack of self-awareness that was possible when one’s mind had become so fixated inward, but such would not have occurred to either husband or wife. When one knows one is right, there is little need to second guess.

    “Ah, yes,” he nodded, “The Marchioness, a fine and Godly woman, far too good for Edward, may God forgive my words,” he added, sighing. His gaze turned rather cruel with delight however when he caught on to what his dearest wife was saying. “Ah,” he repeated, the sound gravelly and weak in his hoarse yet high voice. “Darling, you amaze me, you really do…Such a wit is wasted on a Lady, but I love you for it all the same. Yes…Yes,” he warmed to the idea with, to a kind person, would have been alarming quickness, “It would be a good match, I think. Edward, being a large man himself, shall not be repulsed by her weight unlike most others, and given his lusts-“ here he stopped and smiled at his wife, “No, forgive me, such is not for your ears, my heart. I almost spoke vileness, you must forgive it, I pray.”

    He patted her hand and carried on, leaving the implication of his words -that the man was a lecher- hanging in the air. “I think you are right; he would match a good controlling influence on her. His wife, God rest her soul, was the meekest thing I had seen and so dutiful to his needs. I fear he might be the only husband who could break your sister into what she must be. We shall invite him,” he smiled then laughed, “Oh, dearest, perish the thought of any great match for her. I know you would like to do the best for her, as your dear father would have, but it is not in her future to be a Duchess. And as for a royal match, I tremble at the very thought! That our King or Prince would debase himself with such a creature…And the succession must be considered! No, no, no,” he shook his head, visible disgusted with the very idea of it, “Edward is her future, I am sure he shall be most eager to agree.”

    Richard turned in his chair and gently, chastely, kissed his lips before settling himself once more, “Do not dwell on it, dear heart. It is not our failure, but a sign merely from God, that as I said, things must be settled before we shall be blessed. That is all. I wager a month after your sister is wed, you shall be the happiest of women and soon to add the title of mother to your name.”

    He picked up a sheath of paper and tapped it, “Here is the current guest list, I am awaiting John’s arrival with any further invites. I had him send them early, as one can never be too quick with such things. The messenger should be back soon. Everything else I leave in your capable hands,” he smiled. It was clear he trusted her with almost everything, and certainly everything that was her right to know. “If we are to try and arrange the match, the girl shall need a new dress, something…well, if such a thing can be found, flattering to her size. You have my permission to spend as much as is needed to achieve this goal! If it grants us our greatest wish, what is the expense, hmm?”

    The Duke sipped his brandy then chuckled, “Oh, and the same for her wedding trousseau and dress and such,” he waved his hand, evidently not interested in such ladylike matters. He would be happy to pay though if he solved his problems. “No expense is to be spared.”

    Naturally Arabella knew full well he did not do such because he cared for Alexandra…it was all about putting on the proper show. When the sister-in-law of a Duchess was to be married, the Duke must ensure no one doubted he had the means to send her off in style. What her husband then did was not his concern. If her husband kept her in rags, she was no longer his problem. She belonged, body and soul, to her husband and he could do as he damn well pleased, as far as Richard was concerned.

    “Oh,” he said suddenly, as a second thought, “But no diamonds, we must draw the line somewhere! If Edward wants her in diamonds, he can buy them. I won’t have her flaunting such that should be yours.” He reached under his desk and brought out a flat box, about half the size of the paper he had just set down. “Speaking of…For you, my darling. Fresh from London and one of a kind, I am assured.”

    Inside the red box, lined with black velvet sat the most exquisite necklace of diamonds, set in shining silver. At the centre there was a large drop diamond, surrounded by florets of smaller gems, with a tiny pearl at the centre, making delicate flowers. The rest was made up of smaller drops and smaller flowers. Matching earrings were nestled at either side in the box.

    “I hope you like it, dearest,” Richard said, smiling. “It has been made just for you and took a great deal of time!”

    -

    Alexandra watched Alice go and sighed. The girl was too scared, or too clever, to risk telling the truth to anyone. She had to know, she had to, that Arabella was starving herself to death and there was only so long the body could do it. It was not gradual either, it was not as if her sister missed meals occasionally…She rarely ate at all; perhaps 3 times a week, maybe! A little more if there were guests. It was not uncommon for the Duchess to go days without eating and to pass out from it.

    She had been a robust little girl but now, as a grown woman, she looked as if a burst of wind might knock her over. One at a fitting, Alexandra had been horrified when her sister stood in her shift; you could see all her ribs. It had amazed her that when the corset was tightened something didn’t break! It looked as though it should have.

    Casting one last look about the room and left and returned to her own to change her soiled gown. It occurred to her however that she couldn’t actually undo the buttons at the back herself. Sighing, she sat down to wait for the maid to help her. Then she would have to spend the day praying, truthfully, this time too…Hopefully Hetty would remain safe!

    Part of her had accepted that she was unlikely to get out of this place alive, either Arabella would snap and kill her herself one day, or else a crime would be found -there were, she knew, several she was actually guilty of- or she would be married to some vile man…Which was worse was up for debate. Marriage was currently leading, though.

    Alexandra looked to the window and bit her lip, “Help…please, God, help us.”

  5. #15
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    Occasionally the Duchess wondered if of all the Duke's wives she had at least been his favorite. His most beloved. Save for the fact that she continued to remain childless she at least served him well. Arabella worked hard to be a paragon of virtue and faith. Everything in her life she did, she had done for him. She loved him completely, and he loved her in return. Often times she felt spoiled beyond measure, having done nothing worthy of the honors she received. Arabella was raised to think she was perfection incarnate. She was the golden child, the one who rise above the rest. She lived in the finest house short of the King's palaces, she wore the finest of clothes, ate the finest of food (when she had still been eating). Yet when she sat across from this man, her adoring husband, she felt unworthy of him, of this finery.

    Who was she to married to one so pious, so loving and gentle? She gave him everything she had and still it would not be enough. It was not the one thing he truly wanted of her. The thing he needed from her. Arabella's fear of being discarded was never greater than it was at this moment. Love was not enough. She was not enough and God had seen to it that seemingly she never would be. Yet he was still here, comforting her. Reassuring her and even presenting her with the most beautiful of gifts. He was always giving. Was this God's mercy? Or was this God's cruelty for her sins? That she would be so loved but so inadequate.

    The Duchess could have been Queen. Arabella had been a long time favorite at court. Ever since her debut she was loved and longed after. Though at time of her own impending marriage the King had been married, and while his wife was ill, there was no telling how long she would have hung on, so she was married off to the next best thing. The Queen had died only months later, and had now been replaced by a newer model. Thank God.

    Arabella gazed at the necklace and her eyes widened, it was truly one of the most exquisite things the Duke had ever had made for her. She reached down and lifted the creation, holding it to the light as she picked it up before quickly moving to put it on. "My darling, you shouldn't have." She said quietly, almost speechless as her eyes now beamed at her husband. "It is beautiful, stunning really." She continued as she felt the weight rest against her neck. Diamonds were a luxury, one afforded only to the wealthiest of families. The Duchess remembered her mother's diamonds. Most of which she now possessed. How delicate they had been despite their reputation for strength. They shined even against her slim frame and the smallest bit of pale skin not covered by the neckline of her dress.

    "I thank God for you every day my love. Thank you for this precious gift." She remained neatly seated, for a few moments just enjoying the feeling, enjoying every bit of this moment. The Duchess didn't know how many of these moments she would have left. A part of her willing her own death into existence to simply avoid the shame of her colossal failure as wife. Though she would guarantee her sister was married before she died. Alexandra would never, could never take her place. Knowing her sister married her widow, a practice all too common would have simply been beyond the pale. Though she consciously was perhaps unaware of her own mortality.

    "As we are agreed, I will write to the Marquess post haste. I'm sure he will also accept our invitation and use the opportunity for a formal proposal." Arabella seemed relieved, reassured even now that the wheels were finally set in motion. The Marquess was a deplorable man, and he would surely take delight in his new bride. Something so young and fresh as Alexandra, from a family with an equal standing to his own and in-laws above his own station. It was too good an opportunity to turn down. "I'll be sure to give Alexandra the good news once we've heard his reply." There was a smug look on her face now, a knowing one which said cruelty be damned, this is what her darling sister deserved, it was what she needed to be saved. "May God have mercy upon her soul." Arabella concluded, now taking the guest list into her hands, she would fill out the rest.

    --

    Alice sighed heavily as she finally made her way below stairs. "What is wrong with everyone today?" She asked, almost to no one as she made her way to the kitchen with the sullied dishes. Depositing them where the sculleries would take it, she made her way to Josephine, another maid. "Her Ladyship needs assistance. A new dress. The old is to be laundered. You'll need salt." Josephine nodded and like a flash was gone. You did not keep a Lady waiting for anything.

    "Hard day?" A voice called seemingly from behind. It was the cook, Mr. Preston, a fairly young man who had cut his chops in the royal household. Alice, who at this point was seated at the servant's table turned to look and shook her head. "No more than the others." The two often spoke in passing, neither seemed particularly committed to feigning the ways of the faith. "Though John seemed to be in something of a mood." This wasn't particularly uncommon given how high strung he had been.

    "I'm sure it doesn't help that we're all starving like the Duchess." He remarked, and Alice shook her head once more, avoiding the temptation to roll her eyes. "Say what you will, at least it's just a day. I just wish she would stop taking her anger out on us." Another sigh and Alice turned her gaze heavenward, drifting off in thought.
    Thanks to Hayabusa/Ryoku for the set.

  6. #16
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    Richard smiled and rose to come to her, taking her hands into his, “My love, you deserve all the diamonds in the world, and I shall see to it you have as many as your heart desires. Our Good Lord may have said, “Where may I find a virtuous woman, for her price is above rubies,” but my virtuous woman shall have diamonds. Only the best for you.”

    A knock came and he looked up, “Ah, that will be John. Enter!”

    The door opened and John, looking composed and serene, as if he had cleansed his mind of the previous events with his prayer, entered and bowed, clicking his heels as he did so. On a silver tray in his hand were several letters, all sealed and one or two tied with ribbon.

    The Duke waved him over and smiled, “I am sure you would agree, too, would you not, John?”

    “Your Grace?” he asked, his voice soft and respectful, as if he was in church, which to him, he might as well have been. He had been placed here by the Grace of God and would strive to please his Master and Mistress in all things…Such was his role in life now. If the Duke or Duchess had commanded him to kill, he would have, without thinking. Much like the King was ordained by God, so were the nobility.

    “That the Duchess is the best of women, and deserves the very best of all things,” Richard replied, smiling at his wife as he moved around the desk once more and reached for the tray.

    John handed it over and bowed again. “Yes, your Grace. I thank God daily I find myself here, to be allowed to serve her, and you.” Unlike some servants -those who dared anyway- there was no sign of sarcasm, it was clear the young man meant every word of it.

    Richard beamed. “Ah, John, you are a credit to your caste. If only all servants were as, you are.” He opened the first letter and scanned it. “Perfect, Norfolk is coming, along with his good Lady…” he said this half to himself, evidently thinking on topics he had to discuss with his fellow council member. The Duke of Norfolk was a distant cousin of his and more a stateman than a devotee but still, a favoured member of the ducal circle for his skill in council alone if not his faith.

  7. #17
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    The Duchess delighted in the Duke's compliments as he came around and took hold of her hands. She gripped his in her own. For most these seemed mere words of flattery, though the Duke, she felt was not merely trying to flatter her, he meant those words with genuine affection and love. It was only then the peaceful moment was interrupted by a knock at the door. Ordinarily, the Duchess might find such interruptions distasteful, much as she had this morning. But she had a soft spot for John. In John was embodied what could happen when one's family stepped too far. If you broke the rules, there were consequences to be paid. John once landed nobility had been reduced to a servant.

    Whereas most would be bitter at the sudden change of station, John was not. He was not. In fact, he was filled with gratitude and longed to atone for the sin of his family. He was a genuine believer. He was someone the others should look to as a pillar of strength. "Oh John!" The Duchess rose when he entered the room, the smile still spread across her face. A blush of color filled her cheeks for a brief moment when he thanked God for the opportunity to work here. "John, it is us who are thankful to God to have you here. This house wouldn't run without you." The truth was John did a great many things, and as he served to make Richard's life easier, so easier was her own.

    "Ah, Norfolk. Quite wonderful." Arabella smiled still, while the Duke of Norfolk was one of her husband's dearest friends and colleagues, he was something of a bore. Though he was not as much to handle as the Duchess of Norfolk who had a habit of drinking a little more than she should and a result saying far more than she should. Arabella nevertheless would play dutiful host, making her husband proud as she always endeavored to. "Speaking of proposals, John." Arabella began turning her attention steadfastly to the servant. "It's about time you get yourself a wife. I'm sure you have no shortage of options. Every good man needs a good woman." Arabella remarked, almost playfully, though she was serious. As a servant he would be allowed to marry someone of his own station, and start his own family. Working his back into the good graces of society.

    "Isn't that right, darling?" She turned knowingly to Richard and nodded her head a bit. Everyone, the Duchess believed, who strived each and every day to better themselves in the eyes of God deserved happiness and a chance at success. For those who know his mercy also know immeasurable divinity. Arabella nodded and sighed a bit, as she readied herself to retire for the evening, she had many letters to write, most importantly to the Marquess of Bath, but of other invitations as well. "If there's nothing else, darling, I will take my leave, let you back to work." She understood fundamentally that Richard was always busy, there was never an end to the work of government.
    Thanks to Hayabusa/Ryoku for the set.

  8. #18
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    John flushed and looked down, blushing red as he did so. He had not given any consideration to marriage since his family fell; he had been entirely focussed on his new role and serving his betters. Before, when he was Lord John, he had thought of it often, attending the London season and meeting debutants and such but he had never found anyone who he wished to marry. Now he was glad he had not married nor had children before. They would now have been a distraction from his penance.

    “Your Grace,” he said softly, his eyes still cast downwards, “I am honoured and greatly humbled you consider me worthy of such a thing. Marriage is a sacred gift and I had not considered it for myself since the change in circumstances. I shall gladly do as you bid though, and if marriage is what you wish, I am at your disposal.”

    He bowed again, still feeling rather flustered by the idea of marriage. Was he really worthy to be a husband and possible father? He wasn’t sure. He bit his lip then took a risk to voice his feelings. He knew the Duchess was a Godly woman, she would know, she would understand. “Your Grace, forgive me…I…What if I am not worthy? My father turned to the bad, and it is said that bad blood will out…What if I am corrupted and pass such on?”

    Had it been anyone else, kin or servant, likely either or both of the Ducal couple would have been irritated at best and angry at worst, but it being John, he was lucky.

    Richard smiled sadly at the lad and glanced at his wife, nodding to her, giving her permission to speak as she liked to him, rather than waiting for him. He truly felt for the boy -a rare feeling in such a naturally cold man- and yes, while there was a risk of such, he knew the lad’s heart was pure and true. He was guided in all he did by God and his infinite love and compassion.

    All that was needed was a young woman of equal piety and they would be well matched in holy matrimony. Perhaps one day the lad would even redeem his family name. God was, after all, merciful to those who knew their faults. As he sat, letters in hand, he pondered who would suit. Of course, it had to be a servant; he may have been devout and honourable, but a noble lady could not be asked to wed one so below her! It was unseemly, even if he had once had a title.

    Arabella would know more about the servants of the house, perhaps there was one who would suit here…if not, one would be found easily enough, he was sure. The Lord would provide.

  9. #19
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    So intertwined were the couple that they could communicate without words. The Duchess spoke when was appropriate, and the Duke was always there to offer his approval without a single word. They knew every aspect of one another, physically, emotionally, everything. There were smiles, nods and knowing glances. To think on it for even a moment would sweep her away, tearing her from the conversation at all. Pushing those thoughts aside she turned her attention to John now, a saddened look on her face.

    It pained the Duchess dearly to hear the young man speak with such doubt and uncertainty. Of course, she understood it completely. The fall from grace had been hard on him, and he was left certainly scarred by the event. His fear of failure, was almost admirable. Such doubt would only serve to strengthen his faith as none should be so bold to say they were exactly certain in any matter pertaining to the divine. "Oh dear John." Arabella allowed her face to soften into a smile as she approached him shaking her head in disapproval. "You mustn't trouble yourself with such worry." Her voice was soft, kind, maternal in nature. Raising a finger she placed it beneath his chin to pick his head up so that hey may look at her before letting her hand rest back at her side.

    "God has given you a second chance, as he has with all of us who have sinned." Arabella did not directly imply that she herself had sinned, but of course this was absolutely true, she had. "To waste it would be the biggest sin of all." She nodded her head laughed lightly. "As much as you are your father's son, you are also a son of God. It is from that father that you shall go forth and carry on his good word and works." Arabella spoke with a degree of confidence as she hoped the young man would understand her. "Every day since you arrived, you have worked to mold yourself in His image. You have prayed, you have atoned. Nothing in the world could make you more worthy. If you keep your faith, God above will guide your feet and let you take no wrong step. To pass on such corruption, I can't imagine it. You have our blessing, and the blessing of the Lord. Rest easy."

    Arabella moved toward the door to take her leave. "Besides, someone like Sutton could benefit from your piety." Resting her gloved hand on the handle she turned back "I'll see you for evening prayers, my darling." And left the room without further comment, she would retire to her chambers and begin her letters. Inviting the Marquess to take the hand of her sister, and she would get it sent out posthaste.
    Thanks to Hayabusa/Ryoku for the set.

  10. #20
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    John blinked and looked at the Duke as the Duchess departed. He knew Alice Sutton, of course, but he had hardly ever spoken to her and even then, only what was needed. It was not appropriate for them to speak any more than that. He swallowed. Alice was the Duchess's maid and fairly new to the household but she must have impressed her mistress enough for her to suggest it. He knew the lady of the house would not tolerate her if she hadn't.

    Richard smiled. "Ah, yes, Sutton. Her Grace has an eye for those in need. I think you could do her much good, lad. A stabilising influence. We were saying the same for her Ladyship too." He set down the letters and stretched then chuckled, "Off you go then, John. I shall call you when I am ready to retire. Is there any further word from court today?" He added, knowing messages often came late as the King was 'busy' during the day.

    Who with and what he was busy doing was best left unsaid. Man had his weaknesses, even Kings.

    John bowed, "No, Your Grace, not yet, but I shall check again."

    "Good, you may go," the Duke replied, returning to his letters as John departed, closing the door quietly behind him. All the replies were positive; the Duchess of Suffolk was known for her hostess skills and rarely did anyone say they were unable to come. Richard smirked to himself and added to the list before leaning back in his chair and sipping his remaining brandy.

    Edward. It was rather poetic almost. Such a comical match they would make at the altar! Lady Alexandra, young, fresh, somewhat pretty if overlarge of body, and then Edward...He laughed at the image that came to mind. Oh dear, really, it would be too much to bear. Society would be talking of it for months!

    "The wedding night too," he thought, "That would certainly break her spirit! Had she been more pious and of her class, I might feel sorry for her, but God has sent her such a match to teach her humility. It will be a hard learned lesson but she shall learn."

    -

    Meanwhile Alexandra had changed into a soft lilac dress with a white sash, changing the blue ribbons for lilac ones to ensure she looked the part still, before she returned to the chapel so she could be seen to be following her sister's orders. She was rather desperate to see if Hetty was alright but dared, for the girl's sake, not risk it.

    Instead she knelt before the altar, hands clasped on the rail, eyes lowered, showing every sign of being lost in prayer. In reality she was re-reading, from memory -which was extraordinary and held whatever she read as if it was written before her- a treatise on the herbal uses of plants and fungi. It was not a topic she had thought would interest her but it had been rather fascinating.

    It was better company than silent prayer in any case. Or her sister, which would have been worse. She kept one eye keenly focussed on the door in case Arabella burst in but, luckily, she appeared to be all 'prayed' out after her long session. Either that or she was otherwise occupied...There was that silly party planned, and the Duchess did love her events.

    "Maybe I can plead illness," she thought, already knowing the answer would be no. Alexandra could be bleeding to death and her sister would think she was lying.

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