Lady Elisa has arrived - DONE
Lady Elisa Henrietta von In der Maur auf Strelburg und zu Freifeld
Curious | Spoiled | Willful | Independent Thinker | Charismatic | Manipulative | Tease | Dreamer | Reckless
PERSONALITY & HISTORY
As a child, Elisa was a little rascal, despite the sweet innocence that some may have read upon her angelic grinning face. A bubbly and mischievous ray of sunshine, she’s vivacity personified. She has always had plenty of energy and is a real chatterbox who isn't afraid to speak her mind. She never sat still, found a way into everything, and was more than a little bit feisty. Swift and clever, she learned early on how to easily wriggle out of a tight spot. And her parents were no solution, many would say. They spoiled her rotten while also encouraging her free spirit, contrary to the norms of England’s noble etiquette. Adaptable, inquisitive, cunning, and quick as a wink, she hates routine and appears to glide effortlessly through life, somewhat naïve to its potential dangers or she’s simply too stubborn to adhere to what she considers to be archaic disciplines. Although she has enough glamour and she's enormously seductive, deep down she isn't particularly feminine at all, at least not by society's standards. She loves movement, speed, and travel. An adrenaline junkie, she craves excitement, and adventure; too enthralled with taking risks. She obtains enormous pleasure from her accomplishments and adores the glory of a victory.
Energetic and imposing, and somewhat egocentric and impatient, she intends to be the winner in the game of life, and she doesn't see why she should wait. She is charismatic and shamelessly brazen and knows how to grab life's opportunities with both hands. However these qualities can easily twist themselves around into weaknesses: she can be restless, unstable, and aggressive, at times lacking subtlety and good judgment. She lives life at a killing pace, although luck tends to be on her side most of the time.
Until non-conformity collides with reality… then scandal erupts. In her opinion, modern society had invented rules of decorum expressly to keep women in their place, and Elisa had made the biggest faux pas when it came to the opposite sex. Provocative and individualistic, she is a law unto herself and has frightened off more than one admirer… often falling in love in the blink of an eye and out again just as quickly before suddenly leaving poor men blinking the sand out of their eyes and wondering what happened. Upon her initial introduction at Court, she’d accepted then spurned a fiance at the alter in front of a horde of guests.
Elisa decided that she’d rather stay single than be in an unsuitable relationship that did not measure up to the love she has witnessed her whole life between her parents. But if the blabbermouths and busybodies thought to quell her spirit they’d been in for a shocking discovery. The initial restrictions she’d suffered after the incident were torturous, however, she refused to show even a hint of shame or remorse over her decision to the offended aristocracy. That isn’t to say that she doesn’t sometimes feel a vague sense of loneliness in the depths of her being and feels misunderstood most of the time.
Elisa is attracted to adventure and rarely passes up an opportunity to travel and discover a new elsewhere. Since the scandal, she has tagged along with her parent’s travels on the continent or spent time at her mother’s Duchy in Westmoreland. She remains very expressive and doesn’t beat around the bush. If she feels a line has been crossed she is sure to let it be known. In her opinion, being regulated to the sidelines is the worst sort of punishment.
It’s been years since she joined a season. Her parents had all but given up on the idea that she would outgrow her rebelliousness and settle into a proper match. They wanted her to be happy but they also wanted her married with a secure future. It took some convincing, but they finally put their foot down. She would return to Court and join the upcoming season. Luckily for them, with the few friends she has, plus her brother, congregating in one location, she feels it's an opportunity she cannot refuse to take advantage of (seeing them, that is... not looking for some overbearing husband.)
⚜Loves art, beauty, and physical comfort⚜
⚜Loves words and intellectual conversation⚜
⚜Hates any form of child abuse⚜
⚜She’s a polyglot⚜
(English, Spanish, German (a couple of dialects), Latin, French, Italian, and Dutch)
⚜Hates awkward silences⚜
⚜Loves picking fresh berries and eating them from the vine.⚜
⚜Hates scary stories & frights⚜
⚜Loves exploring, horseback riding (racing, hunting), nature in general⚜
⚜Like her brother, she has little interest in religion but unlike him, she likes philosophy⚜
This is Elisa's 2nd time serving Elizabth after her disastrous 'introduction' to the Court at age 18.
Father Lord Maximillian von In der Maur auf Strelburg und zu Freifeld, Burgomeister of Berneck and Freiherr von In der Maur | Age 46
Mother Duchess Colette Issabell von In der Maur auf Strelburg und zu Freifeld, 4th Duke of Westerland, Viscountess Kirkton | Age 44
Brother Lord John, Viscount Kirkton, future Duke of Westerland | Age 25
Brother Lord Klaus | Age 17
Brother Lord Diego | Age 14
Has spent time at the English, Bavarian & Spanish courts over the years so she's familiar with many people from those locations.
⚜⚜⚜Lord John (older brother) | They love each other dearly but John has been quite frustrated and annoyed by her outrageous behavior. They have not seen each other in over two years but write often.
⚜⚜⚜Prince Ferdinand (cousin) | Experienced a huge school-girl crush for Ferdinand as a teen (which he dismissed outright considering her a pesky child)
⚜⚜⚜She likes/gets along with both Princess Elizabeth & Princess Mariana and has spent time with both of them over the years (separately of course)
⚜⚜⚜Admires/looks up to Lady Cecilia.
⚜⚜⚜Mutual dislike with Lord Richard since meeting him at the Bavarian court before her 'come-out'
Lord Richard | Lord Walter | Prince Ferdinand
(plus Lord Charles, the princesses, Lord John, Lady Cecilia... idk! Too many I'm interested in I think)
JOINING HUNT OR STAYING INDOORS
Elisa will attend
Chapter One: Year's End, Life's Beginning - DONE
So Cliché - DONE
I dragged in a deep, ragged breath and lifted my face to the brisk wind that had rosied my cheeks long ago before tugging on my hat strings, resisting the breeze that threatened to whisk it away. My heart raced as the horse beneath me squished the soggy terrain, heaving its frosty breath after the swift gallop that brought me to the edge of the Eltham estate. It was a mesmerizing sight, the castle off in the distance but more so the raw beauty of the wild forests surrounding it, whose branches whispered and creaked of its secrets that were just waiting to be exposed.
If only the looming building didn’t hint at less desirable fascination… words like duty, responsibility- marriage conjured and flooded my mind with the desperate tone of my mother’s well-wishing voice. How could I yearn for such conventions? A tiny crack of a smile tilted my lips as I recall my father’s often exasperated but teasing reminder that I was surely Mother reincarnated.
Three riders raced up the hill behind me, circling with fierce scowls at having been outdistanced the entire league of the journey from Westerland to the King’s winter abode.
“My Lady, your father would kill me should some harm come to you…”
“I’ve managed on a horse’s back since I was three… even before that should you recall my perch on father’s mount before that!”
“None the less… you can’t keep taking off like that! A storm’s a brewing and there are icy patches all over. One missed step and you could be thrown or worse.”
I wondered briefly what could be worse than being thrown but simply continued to drink in the beauty surrounding me. When I finally leveled my gaze on his, the severity and anxiety were hard to ignore, even under the dark bushy eyebrows that nearly veiled his eyes. I imagined his jaw flexed harshly too under the wild, grey-speckled beard claiming the lower half of his pink-hued cheeks. Linus had been with the Duchy even before Mother inherited the land and title and was now one of the most loyal guards in the ranks.
I smirked, and he, perhaps too used to me after all these years, wound his reins tightly in one fist. His mount seemed just as edgy, prancing around with the same nervous energy its rider displayed. Ignacio, beneath me, quivered and lifted his head with a loud snort.
“Don’t you go lookin’ for no more trouble today, miss…”
The irony was… trouble was as easy to find as the sun rises in the morn and the moon illuminates the night. Asking me to avoid it was like asking the birds not to sing and the bees not to buzz. I glanced back at the dark clouds scuttering across the sky leading to the castle still a couple of miles across the flattened lawn ahead before shifting the faux skirt draped across my mount and pantaloons below.
Ignacio needed little encouragement and bolted into a full sprint the moment my thighs squeezed into his sides. Clumps of mud were kicked up on my would-be escort before they managed to circle around to give chase… again. The bright, sunny laughter spilling out of me was in sharp contrast to what might seem a bleak dreary day to most. Recklessly, I pushed my mount hard, bending low over his back as we galloped up the hunting lane with wild abandon. By the time we came to a plunging halt at the royal stables, both of us were panting violently.
There was no doubt, the ride invigorated me but there was another jolt that rushed through me as soon as my boot crushed into the bustling yard. Stable hands hurried with newly arrived mounts, unholstering and stalling with the trained expediency to be expected at a King’s court. I grinned, shaking out my split skirt before swiping dark leather gloves down Ignacio’s sleek, sweaty neck and whispering encouragement and praise that sought to calm his wild heart.
At that moment, I caught a glimpse of the strange expression from a tall, dark-featured man hovering around the outbuilding’s entrance. He wasn’t dressed too fancy and the unfashionable cut of his shaggy hair suggested he was of a lower class, but he was certainly a pleasure to look at. Impressive even. Big, bulky, and rugged… if one were to ask me. There was an air around him, guarded but also unperturbed over what others might think of him. In some small way, I could relate.
“Good day…” I muttered, striding closer to the scoffed annoyance of my guards who’d finally unmounted behind me.
He didn’t even speak, simply nodded his head with the briefest hint of acknowledgment. My smile didn’t diminish, not after such a restorative and exhilarating trip, but I was certainly curious about the thoughts that were unraveling behind that stoic glance.
“Shall I give you my mount?”
One brow rose sharply before he dragged his gaze over Ignacio.
“He is a guid looking stallion, guid stamina based on whit I can see…” The aspirated inflection and rhotic roll of his accent gave me chills instantly, dabbled with a great bit of curiosity. Scottish I guessed, by my ear, but hardly as rough as he looked. Indeed, he sounded more cultured and tutored than his appearance might suggest. And I didn’t have a clue which dialect he might speak from. Perhaps he was an educated companion of one of the guests rather than a stablehand. But his words pulled me from my thoughts, drawing a burst of smugness out of me. I gave the stallion another prideful stroke before becoming perplexed when he continued speaking, “but then, whit will you do for a mount if you give him tae me?”
“Pardon?” Instead of responding, he stepped closer, giving his hand to the horse’s nose before inching to his opposite side and treating him to a gentle caress from crest to shoulder with a firmer brush over loins and flank. Striping off my gloves, all of my curiosity was focused on him moving with exquisite and precise expertise before his words sunk in. “I… I meant to bunker him down, not to…” I chuckled, “Not to have.”
“Ahhh…” he muttered, peeking at me over Ignacio’s back, “fur ah wirk ‘ere…”
There was something sharper, harsher, and more guttural in his tone that I was given no time to decipher, Linus and the other guards drew closer and the man across from me stood taller after letting his hands fall away from the horseflesh quivering under his touch.
“I can take that, my lady…”
“Lady von In der Maur…”
Both Linus and the stable boy spoke simultaneously drawing my attention away from the stranger. My mount was ushered away, parting the way between the Scotsman and myself. Not that he’d ever really dropped his shielded expression but now he just looked even more cagey. Self-consciously, I swatted my gloves against my thigh before shaking out the fabric covering the custom riding pants below. I was certain I’d blundered something, but what I could not figure.
“We should see that your maid has arrived, My Lady.”
I nodded, darted a gaze to the stranger once more, and bobbed my head a little still offering a bright smile.
“A good day to you then…”
He hesitated, his arms across his broad chest before he nodded. “‘N’ ye…”
It took some time to pass through the hive of activity leading towards the front of the building, both through livery servants and the array of guests that they were ushering forward. A stern-faced manservant seemed to guard the entry like an ornery hawk. His long, pointy nose faced the sky and his shoulders were as straight as a board. The rank-and-file retinue assembled behind him stood aloof but prepared for whichever task or guest was assigned. And despite the awkward feeling I’d just left behind at the stables, every nerve in my body was tingling with anticipation as I cast my eyes back, forward, up and down while using the gloves to dust away more travel debris.
It was all so familiar despite the number of years that I’d been away. The hint of doubt I’d felt before trekking to the English Court that morning had been shoved aside belligerently. I wouldn’t be alone here, John had confirmed his arrival in our last correspondence, and both Elizabeth plus Mariana were set to be under the roof as well. Though, how those two would get on was anyone’s guess. In my opinion, they were a lot alike… which could be harmonious or utterly cantankerous. My hope, of course, would be that they would find the other as delightful as I found each of them. It had been too long since I enjoyed either’s company firsthand.
I was really looking forward to seeing them both. Just not so much others… the ones that would look at me now and still remember the scandal… and persist with the vicious whispers about me behind my back? I angled my chin similar to the haughty butler, tucking a stray curl under my riding bonnet as I made my way forward behind the visitors that arrived just before me. I was no coward and I’d never let the gossipers stop me before when the scandal was a freshly bared wound. Why would I start letting any of it deter me now?
The door was flung wide open, giving a quick glance to the already crowded hall just beyond. Even before I trailed across the threshold, holly was draped from the eaves which enveloped my senses. There were more smells within, cinnamon cloves and evergreen, fragrant winter spices floating from the crackling logs bellowing from the gigantic fireplace steps from the doorway. Instantly, inviting us all to warm our spirits and our shivering toes after escaping the blistering day behind us.
After following a soft-spoken servant to a prepared chamber and refreshing I made my way from the room. Instinct and memory propelled my direction through corridors I’d run through a time or ten in the past, guiding me to the Princess’s chambers where a pristine guard made the announcement of my arrival.
I rushed forward, clutching the familiar hands with great fondness.
“Liz! It’s been entirely too long!”
Years melted away for me instantly, she was still the beautiful girl I remember; charming, sweet, and mischief-filled. Her eyes danced with merriment as introductions were dispersed. So many of her ladies were quite unknown to me after my self-imposed hiatus. But there was at least one that leaned closer to a nearby companion to whisper something upon my arrival. Perhaps it was just a coincidence. I ignored it either way.
“You’ve grown so much, Lady Elisa.”
Spinning on my soft-soled heel to reach out for Lady Cecilia’s hand with a wide grin and tugged her closer.
“How I’ve missed you both.”
“By my troth! I swear it.”
“You wouldn’t have stayed away so long if it were true…”
“I wrote regularly, Your Highness.”
“Oh, cease with your false propriety... You wrote as you traveled further and farther afield.”
“They say absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
“Tis' a lie! I’ve hated so much your frivolous writings of those strange places you’ve gone. The New World even! How uncivilized.” Her fake pout turned quickly to a smirk. She pulled me to a seat, tucking my arm into hers, “What was it like? What did you see?”
“Boring,” I pouted now, “and nothing much. Father was relentless in his effort to keep me aboard the ship. He even tried to restrict Mother from disembarking.”
I giggled full-heartedly, “Little good that did him.”
“Still, she was no better luck at my getting off that boat. No matter how outrageous my tantrums grew. I wondered out loud why they bothered to allow me to make the voyage.”
“I cannot believe they did. Was it as horrible as I’ve heard?”
“It was difficult.” I nodded, thinking back. “And long. But… I loved it. And there, the waters are so clear you can see the fish and sand bottom… the trees are enormous, with strange hard fruit that makes milk so sweet you could die happily sipping from it. So gorgeous, but hot… humid. The crew aboard the vessel Grandfather owns made the trip many times before and knew exactly where to go. Mother was considering ways to modernize Westerland’s agricultural methods or produce or something.” I waved a hand dismissively, “I have no clue. She didn’t seem too happy about the prospects. But it is beautiful there.”
“Edward should put together an exploration… all the other countries are bringing back riches and more…”
“I’m sure if you had it to do you would make a way.”
She grinned wickedly, “I’d definitely not let the Spaniards and French take all the glory!”
“Of course, you wouldn’t!”
We giggled again, some of the other girls crowding around for more tales of the strange new world across the sea and my embellishments of what I had barely seen in reality. We chatted about her newest patronages and all the expected dignitaries that had already arrived or were soon to come. There were a number of them that I ached to question her about... the Scottish visitors and Princess Mariana but I held back. Time passed much too quickly and supper would be upon us all far too soon. Elizabeth dismissed all but a few to prepare for the grand meal planned in a matter of hours.
Before the night's end I'd have time to put names to faces and speak to other friends I hadn't seen in ages.
The Art of Party Crashing - DONE
Well, it had to be said… at least they weren’t pretending that the hostilities between the parents didn’t exist. In all honesty, it was perhaps a good thing to be upfront and acknowledge the past… though there could possibly be a more constructive way to do it rather than the velvety-tongued barbs shared between the Tudor Princesses.
Although, I’d probably handle the situation in a similar fashion if I were party to the hereditary conflict. The Tudors sure knew how to complicate matters… or at the very least the last patriarch of the family did. The last king blundered things quite royally if you asked me. Then had the bad taste to go and get killed, leaving his mess littered across three countries. It was quite odd to me that my parents, who would likely stab the other through the center of the eye should either of them let just that part of the other stray, agreed on that king being a namesake for John. Albeit a second name, still… it was odd. To me, they were two of the most rational, genuine people I had ever had the pleasure of knowing. How could they hold that abysmal man in such high regard?
I shook my head after plucking a mug and slipping away from the far end of the long table I’d been seated at and began shifting through the crowd getting reacquainted, or newly acquainted in some cases. So many new faces filled King Edward’s Court. Including one very esteemed Lord Stewart who was anything but unfashionable in his gold-etched tunic and bright white cuffs when he was pointed out to me by the mature Lady Devonshire.
It was during this time that the silence fell, causing the hairs on the back of my neck to raise up. A deafening silence, if it could be believed. My pulse started to race and I found myself scanning around, expecting to find the back of some hand, or two, cuffed under a darting, contemptuous look directed right at me. That sort of non-sound, or wickedly hissed silence that only a recipient of salacious gossip could define with such ease.
But there were no targeted looks or snarky taunts directed toward me. The commotion, whatever it was, came from the furthest portion of the grand hall, with a crowd of bodies and heads blocking my view. I couldn’t at all fathom what might cause such a shift so suddenly, but I also did not wish to investigate just yet. I attempted to continue the conversation I was having with the woman who seemed to remember Mother fondly but she was much more curious about the goings on down the hall.
I tried a couple more times with others but found the effort far too tedious. Instead, I stepped across the nearest threshold onto the exterior corridor lining the bailey to escape the smothering heat. And perhaps, a little bit, the noise. I’d said it far too many times that day already, but it really had been a long time since I’d been to a royal event. Perhaps I was growing rather reserved with age.
I chuckled at such a silly notion, taking a swift sip of the mulled wine and swirling the folds of my dress in the darkness seeking some relieving coolness on that chilled, winter night. The cold was swift and mostly unforgiving, but I withstood the assault, pacing a couple of steps in an attempt to build up a frigid shroud as a cocoon before returning to the crowded, muggy hall. If Mother were there, she’d deem me quite mad both for even suggesting even a drop of inhibition flowed through me and my love of the dismal English weather. I laughed a little bit louder.
By the time I returned to the hall, I was feeling much more comfortable and a bit more curious. Even defensive for whoever was the recipient of all the whispers floating through the air. Some nobles were worse than meddling magpies. But as I walked through the multitude of courtiers and guests, certain words started to register and my pulse began to race again.
Prince… Duke… future king… old King… son… brother… Bavaria…
That last bit hastened my steps. The separations between the various sovereignties and delegations made it pretty simple to locate the target of the uproar but still, I came to a full stop just beside some lesser nobles. And it didn’t seem to matter much that I’d been barely a teen and he a much younger man the last time I’d seen him. Sitting there in the middle of the Bavarian entourage, he looked exactly as I remembered. Effortlessly virile and as vain as a peacock. The fantasies I’d had way back then seemed so immature and pathetic now… a far cry from the musings that I’d had in the more recent years of my life of much different men in far different places. But still, the tickling of that attraction settled on me and pulsed, I assumed out of some sort of nostalgia for that young girl’s rambling delusions. Not to mention a high dose of vivid embarrassment. Mortification actually. All the woeful infatuation and adoration I’d heaped at the heels of that young man who disdained me at best… and utterly dismissed me at worst. I pined for him in the most ridiculous way. One of my more absurd fixations. Back then, I didn’t even scratch the surface of that future king's exalted musings. Luckily, I’d grown out of that childishness by now.
So why then did I catch a breath when his gaze wandered through the crowd in my direction? Whatever he was looking for, or at, certainly wasn’t me but still our eyes connected for a brief moment. Held. He had noticed me, the slight dent of his brow in my mind had me guessing he tugged at some memory, perhaps? But there didn’t seem to be any recognition. As quickly as it landed, it darted away again. And as stupid as it sounds, that breath that had gotten stuck in that tiny little moment in time eased out.
I laughed. At myself, and that silly girl I’d been back then. There was much that I had learned since then, wisdom and confidence. I was far more mature and didn’t lay in fields swatting at butterflies dreaming of happily ever afters anymore. Besides, I truly had no idea what sort of man he was at all… my dear cousin. He’d been widowed twice in as many years as I’d seen him and whatever musings I had of him were grounded in the dreamland of some child’s mindset. I cast my gaze aside and smiled a bit wider, finding my footing again to take me the last few strides to the table of three.
I was, despite my mental resistance, quite aware when he looked again after I approached. His gaze dipped, I was sure it did, and there was a tug at the corner of his lip that reminded me of the times I’d witnessed him eye random women ages ago. Looks, that back then, I’d had no experience to distinguish or comprehend. But I wasn’t a child anymore and a look like that, subtle as it might be, wasn’t a look of disinterest. That is until after the sudden display I caused, throwing my arms around his companion and squeezing with all my might.
John jumped to his feet and started to straighten his appearance, oozing distinction and dutiful manners like they were honed weapons in this sea of vultures. But it was only a matter of seconds before his arms slung around me and pulled me close. I hardly gave any thought to the gathering that might find the show of affection utterly disdainful. And he was sure to know I’d make quite the scene if he were to try to discourage this reunion right then and there.
“I’ve missed you, brother.”
He laughed against my ear, “yes… leave it to you to make it known in the middle of a royal party.”
I grinned widely, pulling back and pressing my hands against his whiskered cheeks.
“If they had a brother like mine they wouldn’t judge my enthusiasm so foolishly.”
John shook his head but turned, easing my arm into the groove of his own, so that we both faced his companions. It was only then that the third man registered and my lips almost curled into a snarl. Almost! I might have even patted myself on the back for how wonderfully I contained the sour taste salivating in my mouth behind a pressed-lip smile.
John took the moment to reintroduce me to his companions despite the fact that we had all met before. And in those first few moments, all was well. Calm, courteous, tepid. I am not even sure why I started in… perhaps the redhead breathed too hard, or slurped too loudly. I was certain he had to have done something to irk me in some way.
“Ahh… well, the whispers all make sense now,” I murmured glancing around the room to a sea of sly faces far too interested in the men nearby. “It must be a thrill for you to finally return to England after all this time, Mister Seymour. Do you think they are praying that their souls don’t get snatched away with a monster sleeping under the same roof this very night?”
Three sets of eyes leveled on me with varying degrees of suspicion as they all picked up quickly on the thinly veiled jab. The redhead man’s initial curiosity and lightheartedness specifically turned acidic in a matter of seconds and I noticed that my sugary-sick smile was not met in kind after a patronizing little bob. Maybe I fancied ruining a mood that I conjured fully in my head. There was some sweet pleasure in that for me. Later I might wonder why spoiling his night would give me so much joy.
“Well, it’s unfortunate to see you’ve not changed a bit in seven years.”
I smirked as I leveled my gaze on him directly. He aged much more than Ferdinand, perhaps because he’d been a boy the last time we met, just one year my senior. If he wasn’t such a pompous ass, I might have complimented the way he’d filled out his once lanky limbs and torso.
“Unfortunate, is it? It’s interesting to know you’ve dreamed of me softening towards you after all these years.”
“Do not flatter yourself.”
“Would you two stop it?”
“Stop what?” we asked in unison, with me blinking curiously at John until he rolled his eyes.
“Trying to bait each other.”
“Oh, hardly John. I’ve certainly learned to stop crying when ruffians yank on my pigtails.”
Richard snorted, “You’ve certainly never cried… and more likely to have been the ruffian in said circumstance.”
“No… no, I’m most assuredly a spoiled brat. I throw tantrums, and the rare fisticuffs when a true blackguard needs a pommeling.”
“At last, finally one thing we can agree upon.”
I wrinkled my nose, realizing far too late that I walked right into that one. The arrogant tilt of his lip did not suit me one bit. Nor the soft chuckles from my brother and the prince8 after the sharp put down.
“That is mighty bold of you… most scoundrels take efforts to hide their blackened hearts. But then again… considering your, lineage…” I shrugged and felt both giddy and deplorable at the same time. There was an initial burst of shock on Richard’s face before a bland expression shuttered into place.
Ferdinand laughed, joining in unexpectedly. “One would need to have a heart for it to be blackened.”
“That seems like more your brag, your highness, not his…”
Something flashed in his eyes and it sent a chill down my spine and a droplet of heat between my cleavage. Or maybe it was just that the hall was still sweltering with all the bodies moving about and blocking the airways.
“I thought your barbed tongue was reserved for my good friend tonight, cousin.”
“I can use it on two… it wouldn’t be the first time.”
“Elisa!” I peered up at John, blinking my long, dark lashes innocently. Well… misleadingly at best. I shrugged again, passing a look between the three of them as the conversation had grown so very tedious. My heart raced frantically though, as my eyes locked with Ferdinand once again.
“No,” I murmured with a tap of my finger after another brief moment. “He has a heart… that still beats and hurts, you… I’m not so sure.”
“What would you know about such a thing?”
I felt trapped by Ferdinand’s question and intent gaze for several more moments before I caught a glimpse of John’s watchful expression and I turned a dazzling smile toward him with another silly shrug
“How do people know anything about anything?…” I turn back to Ferdinand once more, “We read…”
“Perchance you’re reading a bit too much.”
A bubble of laughter spilled out of me when John and then Richard grumbled.
“Why are men so afeared of an educated woman… we’re not living in prehistoric times anymore. And you John, of all people, should celebrate it, your mother is a Duke.”
“Exactly!” Another bright smile was spread to the three of them before I sighed. “Alas, it is time that I take my leave of you handsome fellows… I’ve promised a few gentlemen dances this evening.”
John was the only one of the three that disturbed by my words.
“Don’t fear brother…” I leaned in and spoke low enough that only the three of them could hear. “Perchance one of them will be my future ex-fiance and strip away some of the vicious gossip from the shoulders of your friend, the old king’s youngest born.”
The range of looks coming from the three of them as I turned to leave tickled me pink.
Thunderous Serenade - DONE
Frost waved over the palm of my hand as I stifled a yawn and peered at the rest of the hunting party, some already mounted and rearing to go. Spirits ran high, some people still gathered around the large breakfast laid out ahead of the chase. My other hand clutched Ignacio’s reins lightly, letting him take the lead casually around the yard. It wasn’t long before I came across the Bavarian compliment and then him. Our gazes clashed before I made the decision to approach, but once they did there was really no question if I would.
He watched as I trotted over, riding astride a ton of spirited horseflesh and I was aware that he noted the men’s breeches beneath the open folds of my tawny, fur-lined cassock. His brow raised and I waited to hear his chastisement or disapproval, it wouldn’t be anything unusual. Ignacio, eager and feisty, pranced 360 at his side, testily but his sixteen-hand gray Arabian gave little heed to the attempted intimidation. He smirked
“Good morning, Lady Elisa.”
“Morning, Your Highness.”
White vapor puffed from our lips but there was a swirl of heat racing through me as my gaze dropped and my tongue darted across my suddenly parched ones. Seeing him seemed to evaporate my fatigue. My pulse quickened… but I was determined that it was all in anticipation of the upcoming hunt. I hoped I evoked a casualness that I was certain I did not feel. But I reminded myself that no one could possibly know how rapidly my heart was beating, especially him.
“Is John not joining us?”
I did another scan of the crowd. Anything to drag my leering eyes from his stupidly handsome face. Most of the participants were men, but there was a good amount of women joining today as well. And surprisingly, I noticed that there was more than one missing side-saddle; ladies opting to value safety and comfort over modesty and intolerance. The horses were getting riled up and grooms rushed about the excited riders as time drew near.
“He is not.”
“Of course, he isn’t.” I released a disappointed sigh.
“Were you expecting him?”
I frowned, “Not especially, but I had hope.” I twirled the reins around the pommel between my thighs as the dogs were taken out to set up the relays. Ignacio was anxious, it would soon be time to let loose and he could sense it. I smiled, leaning forward to whisper and stroke his crest and shoulder gently. “I was looking forward to the competition.”
“Competition?” Ferdinand snorted. “That beast is leagues too big for a little girl like you to manage. You’d be better off stabling him and going back to the safety of the castle.”
I laughed. “Well, it was bound to be one of two things…”
“Either you’d dismiss my sportsmanship or you’d scold me for my attire.”
His eyes ran over me again. “I neither dismissed nor scolded you, child. You are neither competition nor mine to discipline.”
His words were meant to be scathing, and perhaps they were. But the words only made me more invigorated to challenge his notions. I peered at him with a twist of my head and smirked.
“I’ve not been a child for several years now.”
“You’re barely out of the nursery…”
I laughed, but before I could utter another word, spouting something profound and enlightened, a horn erupted to gain everyone’s attention.
A deafening call exploded from all of us hunters and those still standing surged into nearby mounts with excited, enthusiastic smiles.
I caught Ferdinand’s gaze again, but what he was considering I could not tell. A second later he shook his head. “It's a good sized group… situations like these invite accidents. Stay far to the back so that your brother does not kill me when you break your foolish neck.”
And with that, he nudged his mount towards the front of the pack leaving me gawking after him. He hadn’t even noticed the wide-eyed protest that I’d been just about to unleash on him. Ignacio began to dance impatiently, sensing the sudden outrage. Even though most women rode to the back, I never did. And had no intention of starting that practice now. I gritted my teeth as another horn blared towards the sky, I could hear the hounds howling in a resounding chorus, and I had to concentrate on calming both myself and the stallion down.
I understood the dangers, and I wasn’t planning to let his dismissiveness hurl me into a rage-filled ride.
I started slower than I might have without his unwelcome antagonizing and jostled around the middle of the pack regaining my composure as we cantered behind the braying pack ahead of us through the first meadow. The air was crisp and cold, with a bleak gray overcast that stabbed frostily into my cheeks. I grinned as the horse's rhythm rocked into me… or I him. Whichever, we were one, setting off at a gallop and outpacing the mounts beside me as we approached the first fence, a low stone wall.
Snorting nostrils blew raggedly as several horses cleared it, then a handful more. Some in tandem with the drifting sound of thrilled squeals getting lost in the wind.
It was when we crossed into the forest that individuals began to spread out. A couple of the men looked startled as I galloped past them. But I paid little heed, approaching then sailing with sheer pleasure over a small stream. I didn’t even break stride, trudging faster into the mad-capped ride. When I came upon and passed Richard to my left he too looked utterly shocked. I careened to the left, avoiding the ragged stump of a downed tree, soaring over it at an angle and collecting him before his front hooves clumped into the leaf-laden earth.
Ferdinand was ahead, matching pace with the huntmaster, far in the lead. Stubborn and determined, that horse pushed to the front, hurling gracefully over another wall. On the other side, I let him run, stirring up decaying foliage and mud all along the way. Ignacio stretched out into a full gallop with me stretched over him as far forward as I dared, praising him with a Cheshire grin etched across my face.
“What the hell are you doing?!”
His sudden shout was nearly drowned out by both sets of powerful hooves stomping into the ground simultaneously as I drew abreast of his charging Arabian.
“Watch out!” I shouted back, still grinning madly five strides from another barrier of split logs. He had no choice but to focus on himself and ended up matching pace when we collected and then sailed, perfectly matched across the four feet high obstacle.
“You little fool! Get to the back… you’ll kill yourself!”
Defiantly, I pushed harder, enjoying every pace of the turbulent ride… and dare I say it… his anger. With nothing but my skill and my body controlling the magnificent stallion I felt invincible. Hot and powerful and superior.
The hounds continued to howl ahead, and I had no intention of slowing down. There was no way he could stop me without hindering or intruding in a far more hazardous way. I laughed in the face of adversity, thrilled as we shot through the wind and dodged trees in the deliberate trail of wilderness.
An hour later, it was all over. The prey, packs, riders and all set back on the trail towards the castle. Ignacio strained against the tight walk I set him on, and snorted louder, still wanting to run.
“Later…” I purred softly, petting his sweaty flesh as I dragged towards the rear of the group making our way back to the castle. I bit the inside of my cheek, restraining my exhilaration and glee in the face of the Prince’s tight-lipped consideration when he passed me to go further ahead. It was not his place to chastise me, he’d said it himself before we started out. I was sure his anger was likely a jerk reaction to my blatant defiance of his outright command. And even though I felt a hint of frustration that he wasn’t recognizing I’d grown up, nothing could diminish my euphoria at that moment.
I’d never enjoyed a hunt more!
Flake-tipped Lashes - DONE
I grinned, privately, well, semi-privately. But Polly didn’t count, she was my ultimate secret keeper. At least, as far as she knew. And she was bundled so tightly in about four layers of clothes that there was little doubt that my maid would catch anything of interest in what she vocally considered devil’s season. She and Mother both had that in common. So I grinned, tilting my head up to the chunky flakes still cascading to the earth with wanton abandon. I could hear the sounds of the others, those that bothered to venture out into the icy landscape, on the other side of the lawn, closer to the lake as I strolled towards the stables for a quick visit.
I didn’t expect to bump into him again, but there he was, hovering near the paddocks as if he were meant to be there. I frowned, but continued forward, knowing the exact second that he realized and recognized who exactly moved towards him.
“Hello again, Lord Stewart.”
His brow rose, peaking beyond me to the heavily bound woman of indefinite age and size. He reached up and tilted the plaid cap upon his head.
“Lady von In der Maur.”
The lilt of his voice still sounded magical, there was beauty in words and in languages. I smiled softly.
“I owe you an apology…”
I nod firmly before stepping a bit closer.
“I made some horrible assumptions.”
I frowned. “Well… because I assumed you worked here, and you do not.”
“And what would be wrong with working here?”
Dumbfounded, my mouth opened and closed, then repeated, once, twice more.
“No…nothing, I don’t think.” I frowned again. “I fear I am putting my foot in my mouth again somehow and do not know how to retrieve it.”
“Well…” He murmured, the tone deep and slow as his gaze drags down to the snow-packed earth beneath my boots, “that can’t be very tasty.”
I wrinkled my nose, following his gaze then looked back to him, “I… I do not mean that literally.”
Something flashed in his eyes, “I do realize that, Lady von In der Maur.”
I blushed, although the cold most likely provided more than enough concealment of that fact.
“Of course you do.”I shook my head ruefully before chuckling. “It’s a wonder you do not think me a bit water-brained.”
“Who says I do not?”
I wrinkled my nose again. “Well… serves me right. For now. Perhaps I’ll have the opportunity one of these days to prove that wrong.”
The very corner of his mouth ticked up a fraction of an inch. I liked to call that progress.
“Perhaps. I’m not sure I should hold out much hope.”
“I’m quite the stubborn and determined lass…”
“A bonnie lil’ thistle, are ye?”
“Perhaps… maybe? I don’t know exactly what that is but I supposed we will have to wait and find out…”
I laughed merrily at the droll, exasperated tone.
“Well,” I lifted a couple of apples from my pockets, “I’m off to reward my dear boy for all his hard work this week… until we meet again, Lord Stewart.”
“And you, Lady von In der Maur.”
I grinned cheekily when I continued on past him.
By the time I exited the barn some fifteen or twenty minutes later, the Scotsman was gone.
And the snow was still falling, the crowd was still yelling and laughing off in the distance, and Polly was still miserable.
“I’m going to go join the others, Polly, but you don’t have to go, I’ll be perfectly fine with the group.”
Her eyes lit up… and I did my best not to grin when her chattering teeth blessed me for my mercy and took off at the quickest pace I might have ever seen her move. Hell, she might have given Ignacio a challenge at that moment.
But, unlike her, I strolled, tugging off my gloves and catching bits of fluff to watch it melt on impact. Mother would be traumatized and running for the hills like poor Polly.
Not me. I stretched out my arms and took a spin, my head once again lifted up and I blinked, seeing the crystalline fragments dusting the thick dark lashes until they too melted away.
The loud squeals and laughter drifting through the wind did not actually call to me. Instead of the right, I turned left, wandering off the path to the fresh, unblemished snow-packed lawn. That first soft crunch of my boot breaking the surface and sinking several inches was so very satisfying.
It isn’t until I’m a good 10 paces in that I realize I’m not actually the first to touch this newly fallen wonderland. Tiny paw prints, a squirrel, or a rabbit perhaps, had scurried across and disappeared into the forest up ahead. I felt so alone, so special. To be the first… and only human to create the first imperfections of this white paradise felt significant. Influential.
It wasn’t long before I was sinking my fingers into the icy cold and squishing, rolling, patting, and stacking snow into that age-old familiar shape. I grinned even as my fingers grew numb. I was just stacking up a small mound of twigs next to my build when a loud crunch startled me.
I drew up straight and frowned seeing the massive clomps of packed snow trailing behind the completely and utterly unwelcome sight mere inches away from where I stood. I rolled my eyes heavenward and said a hymn I hoped would magically usher him far from my sight.
“What in the world are you doing?”
Perhaps it would have worked if I had some sort of faith to support my provisional prayer.
“What do you want?”
I grimace almost immediately. I should have just ignored him, perhaps he would have gone away on his own.
“I asked first.”
“So?” He reached down and plucked one of my stick arms from my stash which I immediately snatched away. “Go away.”
Richard did his own eye roll and snatched the branch back. When I went for it again, he pulled back, stretching his arm high above his too-tall frame where it was completely impossible to reach. I tried anyway, stretching on my tip toes and pulling at his arm.
“Good gracious!” He hollered, “Your hands are like ice!”
“Why are you so childish?”
I grumbled and stepped back to look for a replacement stick.
“You’re the one being difficult… I asked a simple question.”
“You can see perfectly well what I’m doing. Why do you even care? I’m having a plenty good time all alone and do not desire your company.”
I smiled again, happy to ignore him when I found another branch of a similar size and weight. But when I turned to go back that rotter was shoving the stick he held into my snowman. It might sound silly… petty even. I surely needn’t have felt like that branch stabbed into my gut instead of that patch of well-formed oversized snowballs. But I absolutely felt that. Then he picked up another from the pile and I saw red.
Reaching down, I screwed a mound of the heavy fluff into the tightest, most compact ball I could manage and sent it flying.
I reached down again, rushing as I formed the next projectile and sent it cascading, missing that one but moving intently on to the next, then the next. By now he was lifting an arm like a shield.
“ELISA… would you stop!”
“I didn’t ask for your help!” I shouted, another white ball crashing into the side of his unprotected face.
“ARE YOU CRAZY!”
He peeped over his arm and saw me going low again, so he followed suit, scooping a huge wad as he moved to the right, trampling my winter wonderland before he sent his ball awkwardly in my direction. I easily dodged it, shaking my head as I pelted him with one and another, a huge jolt of satisfaction flooding me when one splattered against his neck and he screamed of it inching down his shirt.
“GOOD!” I heckled. He tried again to retaliate but his throws were sluggish and untrained as if he had never thrown a snowball before.
Well, bully him. My brothers were constantly target practice every winter… well not so much John now that he had been gone.
Another ball exploded on his back as he tried to spin away from it.
“Dammit!” he growled. But instead of reaching for snow, he stormed forward, coming right at me.
Swift as can be I pivoted to the right and laughed loudly when he went sliding through the messy patch I’d been working in and crashed right onto his ass.
“I’m going to kill you!”
I laughed again, watching him struggle to get out of the sloppy muck as I stood several paces away tossing a snowball from one hand to the other to alleviate the icy sting.
“No one told you to bother me… it’s your own fault!”
He finally made it to his feet again and turned his gaze on me. And I knew he would come. I’d seen that look in more than one of the von in der Maur boy’s eyes over the years.
I took quick peaks, left and right, trying to calculate my chances of escape but I also had one more ball to trip him up.
“Don’t do it, Richard!”
His red nose flared wide as he reached up and flicked snow out the crevice of one ear. I waited… hoping to time my last throw perfectly before racing to safety.
And then he was off, I threw with all my might but surprisingly, Richard lifted his arm and broke the snow with his forearm. Eyes wide, I squealed and rushed to the left, knees bending as high as possible to stomp through some of the unbroken snow instead of risking the messier, slippery patch closer to the path.
But I calculated wrong. Richard’s long legs cut the distance in half and I cried out hearing his heavy breaths sneaking up behind me. I tried scooping a palm full but he was already on me and before I knew it, the big oaf propelled himself at me. My eyes went wild as arms snaked around and knocked me, back flat, into the snowy field.
“Oh, bloody hell!” I gasped, he gasped… did we both yell? Within a moment he was on his elbows, his body pinning me into the cold wet ground. “Bloody hell, are you okay?”
I stared up at him, stunned and quickly getting drenched while he looked utterly stunned and frightened. His fingers, as icy cold now as mine, trailed across my face as he continued to ask if I were okay, praying that I was okay.
“Bastard” I whispered and clutched two fat globs of snow in both fists before smashing it to each side of his face and rubbing it down his neck. He yelled, jumping up and I managed to get the wind back into my lungs.
It took me a few more seconds to finally get to my feet again but I was shaking my head and laughing, by that time. He looked at me as if I had lost my mind but then looked down at the mess covering him and grimaced.
“We, um… probably shouldn’t enter the castle at the same time looking like this.”
I shook out my arms, mud and snow and icy water flung in all directions.
“You’re probably right.” he nodded and frowned as the cold started to seep through his layers. “You better hurry… I’m not sure how much longer I can hold out.”
“You can go first… I’m probably more used to it.” I said skeptically. He really did not seem to have a good grasp of the stuff.
“You’ve been out here longer… besides… ladies first.”
I frowned, watching his teeth start to chatter.
“Fine!” I mutter and began to stomp away. “This doesn’t mean I like you any better. Or forgive you!”
“No worries duchess… I’m pretty clear on that fact.”
I stomped a few more steps but a tiny grin spread as soon as I found solid footing along the pathway to the castle.
Navigating Polly’s alarm, confusion, and suspicions once I got to my room was far more complicated.
Last edited by BambiFoxx (06/01/2023 at 19:40)