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My True Love Sent To Me

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My True Love Sent To Me

It starts with little things. Small things he sends her after they meet. A fan, a brooch. He sends a young man with a jewel that she has encrusted into her favourite comb, wears it often in the beginning. {When she sees it in the mirror, she thinks of him and smiles.} It is innocent, she thinks, as much as this sort of thing can ever really be.

One day she finds a new horse in her stable. It has been months since she has seen him, she was sure by now that he had forgotten her; just another Lady, charmed by the handsome, exotic Prince. And yet, the horse is a stallion, smooth legged, calm and gentle, but when she rides him across the back fields, when she kicks her heels and really lets go, he flies across the ground.

{The wind whips her hair beneath her hat, pulls apart all the careful style and poise. When she finally slows she is a state, but laughing, her cheeks red with her blood pounding beneath the skin.}

For years he sends her gifts. Never by name, but there they will be {a tortoiseshell brush, a necklace, a painting she spoke of admiring} and she knows who they have come from. She knows him, knows his tastes, the way he thinks. She shouldn't know — she met him only a few times after all — but she understands him better than she does her husband, better than the Princess ever will.

{That is the real secret; not the gifts, not the nights tucked away in the corner together when they should have been circulating, should have stood with their partners and not danced, bodies close, for just one more song. The betrayal was not the whispers and smiles, was not the hands clasped together in the dark or even that night, that one night when he held her after, kissed away her tears and asked her to run away with him, to become his wife in a country that he was sure would love her as he did. No, the betrayal was the feelings, the openness they allowed to grow between them, the things she told him that she has never told another before or after, the words he spoke into her stomach while she wrapped his hair around her fingers.}

She keeps the gifts, scatters them about the Abbey, when people ask she tells some truth, that a Russian Prince sends them to be remembered by the Great Earl and Countess of Grantham he once met.

The gifts stop eventually, as these things always do. When Robert is old enough for a wife and young child and Rosamund is already a widow. He remembered her longer than she could ever have imagined, longer than she would have allowed herself without his reminders.

It is only later, when Rose brings the Russian refugees into their dinner talk, that she turns her thoughts to him again, wonders how he faired, if he still lives; as old as she. {Sometimes, when she sees maids serving, notices that Carson has only Molesley as Footman, hears the damn vacuum contraption as the maids work, she hopes Igor died long before his world fell down around him.}

She finds herself imagining how he will have aged, how his hair will have lightened, grown course now, not the soft strands she played with. His waist will have widened, his chest softened. Age is not kind to many and she knows how her skin has crumpled like tissue paper, her hair lost its shine. She is no longer the lithe thing she was when they met. She thinks she will not know him now, will not recognise his face, his voice. Will not see his hand and remember how it held hers. And he would pass her in the street, she thinks, walk on by without turning his head.

{She is wrong of course. Fingertips stroking the fan, she recognises his voice like he has been whispering in her ear all these years. She meets his eyes and she knows him.}

Later, weeks and months later when she visits him for tea and he hands her a glass cup, sits across from her in the dim light. Later still when he says things he has said to her before, when he asks her again to run away with him, to let him love her as she would not in their younger days.

Later, when he is penniless and without true title or home, his Princess no longer his, she finds a gift beneath her Christmas tree with her name and his on the card.

She goes to Robert and Cora's party that night, stands with Isobel as the young ones dance. Wears the burgundy silk and her favourite comb.

{And the ring her Prince offered her a lifetime ago.}