"Well?" Serena said, eyebrow raised, "Are you looking forward to it?"
"I feel a fool," Bernie grumbled, "The letter was addressed to Captain Wolfe and I'm looking like this." She tugged her skirts, trying to settle them in better order.
Serena caught her hands, stilled them. "You look perfect, Bernie. And he knows you're a woman, he won't be surprised by a dress." She tickled Bernie's hand gently. "But there's a surprise for you in the wardrobe that might make you feel better."
Serena watched with a barely concealed grin as Bernie crossed the room, opened the wardrobe curiously. "Serena!" she gasped.
"What can I say. Maybe I've missed Captain Wolfe a little too." Bernie drew out a doublet of deep green out from the depths. "Welcome back," Serena winked.
Twelve years had made so many changes in Holby, Serena thought, as she wandered into her garden. Elinor grown up, married. Jason, living with his own household in Serena's old dower house. And Bernie. A constant at her side and in her bed.
“Serena,” Bernie called and Serena turned.
“Oh,” she sighed. The outfit had been her surprise to Bernie but still the sight of her almost took her breath away. Gold braiding in the doublet made her sparkle, the breeches emphasised her long legs and slim figure and the hat – feather waving jauntily in the summer sun, it took Serena straight back to the day they first met.
The feather tickled Bernie’s nose and she sneezed, then brushed it sheepishly aside. “Well? How do I look?”
Serena crossed the gravelled path more swiftly than she had done in years. “You look fantastic,” she said. She slipped an arm around Bernie’s waist, drew off her hat with the other hand. “Absolutely beautiful.”
Bernie kissed her thoroughly then drew back. “Should a captain look beautiful, do you think?”
Serena laughed. “Dashing? Handsome?”
“Better,” Bernie murmured as she drew her in for another kiss.
Serena trailed her fingers down the gold buttons. “How much time do we have?”
“Not that much time,” Bernie said regretfully. “Later, though?”
“I’ll hold you to that.”
“Soldiers!” The cry from the drive was the same one she’d heard thirteen years ago, but this time in a much deeper voice – Mikey had grown up too.
Serena smiled at Bernie. “Well? Ready for this?”
“As I’ll ever be.” Bernie held out her hand to Serena, who squeezed it before letting go regretfully. “Take my arm,” Bernie suggested, “I need Lady Campbell close by.”
Serena laughed. “You don’t, but I won’t say no. Come on then,” she slipped her hand around Bernie’s arm, “Let’s go and face the music.”
By the time they reached the drive the servants had assembled in a neat row by the porch, facing a rank of soldiers. Serena thought, hysterically, that they looked ready for battle themselves and smothered a giggle with difficulty. They took their own positions and then there was a muffled order and the soldiers stepped aside to let a tall, dark man stride past them.
Serena had time to note dark eyes that sparkled with amusement and a neatly pointed moustache before she dropped a deep curtsey. “Your majesty,” she said.
“Lady Campbell,” he said as she rose, and held out a hand for her to kiss, “Captain Wolfe, what an absolute pleasure to meet you. And don’t you look the part!” he added, eyes sweeping over Bernie. “I’ve heard such a lot about you, it’s a pleasure to meet you at last. I’m so looking forward to hearing all about your adventures, but first, I have a little surprise for you.”
Bernie and Serena exchanged puzzled glances, but the king turned around and beckoned. Two soldiers came through the ranks and Serena laughed as she recognised them. “Raf! And Dom!”
Bernie strode forward to clasp the hands of her old lieutenants. “How wonderful to see you both again.”
Serena smiled as Bernie hugged both men tightly. They’d had a few cautious letters from the pair over the years but this was the first time Bernie had seen them since the disastrous battle at Naseby.
The King also watched the reunion with a smile, then clapped his hands impatiently. “Captain Wolfe is not the only member of this household I’ve heard all about. Lady Campbell, I am eager to make the acquaintance of your chef.”
“He will be delighted to meet you, sir,” Serena said. She glanced at Bernie, who was too caught up in her reunion to pay much attention to her king, “If you’ll come with me, I’ll introduce you.”
As His Majesty King Charles the Second leant back in his chair and swung his feet up to rest on the table in front of the fire, Serena reflected that hosting royalty, at least this particular royalty, was easier than she had anticipated. “What a wonderful meal,” he said contentedly, “I don’t suppose Henrik could be tempted away from you? What a pity,” he said as Serena shook her head.
“Another glass of red?” she offered, and poured it out for him.
“If you’ll forgive me, you don’t seem the model puritan lady I was expecting when I heard you were Edward Campbell’s widow,” Charles said as he sipped.
“Ah, well, I never had my husband’s fervour,” Serena said easily, “And then of course, things changed.” She slipped a sidelong glance at Bernie, who surreptitiously brushed their fingers together.
“Ah, of course. Your friendship with the Captain here. And did you really have no idea of her true identity?”
“None at all,” Serena admitted, “Until she was injured and I had to treat her.”
“And you kept her secret.”
“Of course,” Serena said, bristling a little.
“You seem to have inspired loyalty in all your men – and women,” Charles said, smiling at Bernie. “A remarkable feat. And you were yourself loyal to the cause, for which I am grateful.”
“Not as loyal as I should have been,” Bernie murmured, flushing. “I ran away after Naseby.”
“Given the circumstances,” Charles said gently, “I could not have asked for more. Which brings me to the reason for my visit. It wasn’t merely to satisfy curiosity; I intend to reward you.”
“Reward me?” Bernie gasped.
Charles raised his voice. “Di Lucca, Copeland, join us please.”
Raf and Dom, who had vanished to the hall to renew their friendships with the household staff, reappeared with matching smiles.
“I am pleased you are suitably dressed for the occasion. A dress would have felt out of place.” Charles said to Bernie, who frowned, “Now, Captain Wolfe, if you would be so kind, take a knee,” Charles stood up with fluid grace and gestured at the floor in front of him.
“I don’t understand,” Bernie said.
Serena gripped her hand and squeezed it tight. “Why don’t you do as you’re told, Bernie?” she suggested softly.
Bernie squeezed back, then lowered herself carefully to kneel in front of the King.
With Bernie’s old lieutenants flanking him, the King drew his sword. “For services rendered to my father and myself, I dub thee Sir Berenice Wolfe.” He tapped her lightly on the shoulder and offered her his hand.
Tears sprang into Serena’s eyes as Bernie kissed his hand and rose unsteadily to her feet.
“Your Majesty,” she said, and Serena could tell she wasn’t far from tears herself. “I am honoured.”
After a long afternoon of drinking and reminiscing, the King took his reluctant leave. Bernie and Serena stood side-by-side in the porch to see him off.
“We’ll visit,” Dom murmured as he hugged Serena and shook Bernie’s hand.
“We’ve missed you,” Raf added, “We’ll be back soon.” The two men disappeared to find their horses while another soldier led the King’s horse to the porch.
“Well, Sir Berenice, I would have loved for you to join me in London,” Charles said with a regretful smile, “But somehow I don’t think anything would induce you from your good lady’s side. Adieu.” He swept them a dashing bow and mounted his horse.
“Farewell, your Majesty,” Serena said, as Bernie stood in stricken silence, “Safe travels.”
“Did he?” Bernie managed eventually as the soldiers disappeared from view.
“Yes, he did.” Serena turned Bernie to face her, “But he didn’t mind.” She reached up to pull a ringlet gently. “Well, Sir Bernie, how are you feeling?”
Bernie shook herself. “Sir Bernie,” she said with a laugh, “What am I going to do with that?”
Serena trailed her fingers from hair to neck to buttons and toyed with one. “I have an idea for what we could do while we think about it,” she said with a purr.
“You do, do you?” Bernie said, and smiled. “Well then my lady, take me to your chambers.”