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Hampton Court Palace, June 1556

 

It had been weeks since their first, and last, encounter. Every flash of red and blue had her eyes chasing around, only to stumble upon a servant, or even once a portrait of a late queen. She was even embarrassed once to have her focus on what was decidedly not human, but in fact the arse of a fine red horse. It had promptly expelled its bowels of gas straight into her face before she could step away. Of course it would be an arse that reminded her of him, he was a complete and utter arse, flipping her life upside down just from one night in a chapel, one simple touch of a hand, and immediately leaving her sight. 

 

She had no idea what was wrong with her. Perhaps it was one of the ailments many women of the court seemed to succumb to, compelling them to never leave their chambers, even at meal times. She was mad, of that she was certain. She could not banish him from her mind. Maybe he was some spirit, some demon she had confronted not long after her encounter with the decollated queen. For what else but the devil could sway her so? 

 

Lord Randall was relentless, and she escaped his many pedestrian conversations allocutions through daydreams. At least with the earl a chaperone was always required, and their meetings were always in broad daylight in the gardens. Most of the time she excused herself from the luncheons due to her quite ‘delicate constitution’. No, the constant heat and sun rays would not do. Claire was quite pleased with herself when Lord Randall always insisted she rest at the first sign of what he assumed were weekly ‘womanly attacks’. He was none the wiser. Women were an enigma to him. It was on one of those days of picnic and feigned interest, when the air outside was sweltering and she was plucking up the courage to faint for some entertainment, that a rider dashed through the narrow pathways of the gardens. Hooves clopped roughly against the grass, picking up clumps of dirt and spitting it out at unsuspecting victims. One of those victims was a very unenthused Earl de Vere. Claire smiled behind her teacup at the sight, watching him furiously brush out his poofy trousers and impractical cape. When he roared for a servant, she slipped away. 

 

The horse was a rather strange sight indeed, given the stables were at the opposite end of Hampton Court. She did notice the flash of red atop the black beast but thought nothing of it after weeks of mindless searching. What struck even more odd in the peculiar situation, was that the man riding the hellish thing had a skirt. And a rather short one at that. 

 

She felt the short, quick breaths on the back of her neck before she saw him. “Lady Beauchamp.” 

 

Claire twirled herself back to face him, nearly giving herself whiplash in the process. “J-Lord Fraser.” 

 

“I was wondering if you'd be so kind in allowing me your company for the afternoon.” He was clearly making a concerted effort to tame his accent in the presence of the public. “My manservant shall accompany us of course. One of your lady’s maids can escort us as well.” He plucked something from inside his jacket and offered up a sprig of forget-me-nots. 

 

“I-” She gripped the stem of the flowers in her hand. “Where have you been?” 

 

“Miss me Sassenach?” Jamie teased. “I was needed at the borders. There was a wee stramash up there. I’m surprised the news hasn’t reached the gossip circles and their flapping mouths in English court yet.” 

 

“Are you alright?” Claire’s eyes widened at the red trail on his temple. “For God’s sake you’re bleeding, you fool!” She untied the lace of the linen around her throat and pressed it against his temple, having to reach up on her tip toes slightly. 

 

“Naught but a scratch lass. And who would ken that a proper lady such as yerself would take the lord’s name in vain and call one a fool in the same breath.” 

 

“Be quiet or you’ll be very sorry.” She pressed into the wound more firmly than necessary at that and he winced. “You haven’t told me the cause of your injury.” 

 

Jamie wanted to voice that she had just told him to be quiet and then demanded the opposite of him in her very next words, but bit his tongue to keep that particular comment from fleeing his mouth. 

 

“Weel Donas…”

 

“That demon horse that just rushed through here?” 

 

“Aye.” He rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. 

 

“It’s a wonder you aren’t dead yet.”

 

“I suppose my chances o’ survival have improved since meeting you. Ye have quite a soothing touch. You’d make a great healer.” 

 

“Well, I am a woman. So no use arguing that point.” 

 

Her triangular kerchief was stained a slight pink from his blood at one of the corners, so she decided against refastening it around her neck. There was no place else to put it, so she expertly shoved it into one of her pockets before Jamie could notice. Only having met the man once before, she knew he would make a fuss and apologise profusely for ruining her clothing. But she couldn’t care less, as long as he was healthy and not missing any limbs. 

 

“Ye ken, in Scotland, there are places where women can learn of such things.” A glint of mischief passed through his eyes. “Tis also wi’ those women that ye can learn of spells and hexes. We Scots are a superstitious lot alright. You would fit right in Sassenach.” Since it seems you have bewitched me already, he thought .  

 

“I’m glad my run in with the dead queen has humoured you so.” 

 

All traces of humour in Jamie vanished. What reflected in his eyes had an underlying seriousness Claire could not place. Respect? Compassion? Or was it what had been such a heavy weight in her heart and what had made her head take flight all these weeks? The thing she couldn’t quite place yet within herself? That made him attached to her every waking thought. Well, and dreaming too. 

 

“Well it did lead you to me.” His gaze never wavered. 

 

Jamie reached out his hand to place hers within it. No obligatory kiss to the knuckles as decorum would demand. It was enough to simply hold, to anchor himself to her through one small point of contact. The dance of their hands was more intimate than anything Claire had felt. It was almost too much, that she broke her gaze away from his intense one and her cheeks flushed. 

 

“Yes, that it did.” Her thumb stroked the golden skin of his knuckles. 

 

“The range is set up. If you would care for some archery today?” 

 

“With you, I presume?” Her fingers traced over the calluses inside his palm. 

 

In turn, he brushed against the smooth skin on the back of her hand with the pads of his fingers. “Aye, and my nosy page, my godfather, and whoever you deem fit to join us.” 

 

“Can you have your boy summon my maid Suzette?” 

 

Her attention was stolen by a young boy racing out of the corner of her eye. A slew of French swears passed through her ears. Her head turned to spy the boy more easily. His mop of brown curls bounced with each skip he took and the stick in his hand whacked against the hedges at irregular intervals. He stopped shortly near Jamie’s side and beamed. 

 

“Och, speak o’ the devil,” Jamie voiced. “Lady Beachamp. This is my page Fergus.” 

 

The scrawny boy swung out his leg and took a dramatic bow before her. He then gestured to his own chest. “Milady, you have the most beautiful bosom.” 

 

Jamie lightly cuffed the boy’s ear. Though he had the same thoughts, his mouth never ran him into trouble as often as Fergus’ did. Sure, Jamie was known to be an idiot sometimes, but he was working on it. 

 

“Dinna be an eejit, lad. You’re talking to a lady.” 

 

Fergus’ eyes widened. “Oh, I am sorry, milady. Please do not let him take out the whip again. My skin is already so sensitive from the last lashings. He never feeds me. Always has me feast on the rats in my dank room down near the dungeons. Would you take pity on this poor soul?” Claire would have been shocked at his admittance of such things, if it weren’t for the telltale twitch of his lip and the glint in his eyes that emanated something more mischievous than truthful in nature. 

 

“Fergus.” Jamie scolded again. “You know I do not hold wi’ that sort of punishment.” 

 

Jamie pulled Fergus to his side and gripped his shoulder tightly. “I am so sorry Lady Beauchamp. I found him in Paris not long ago and decided to take pity on the wee clotheid. We are still working on manners, aren’t we Fergus?” The boy nodded glumly, Jamie having taken away all the fun of the moment.  

 

“No it’s- it’s quite alright. Really no harm done. Boys are often wont to let their mouths carry them away before their minds can pick up the aftermath.” 

 

Fergus tugged on his lord’s coat and Jamie bent down to his level. He grabbed the tall man’s earlobe and pulled it down near his mouth to whisper. 

 

“Did she just call me an idiot like you did milord? But with far more words?” 

 

“Aye.” He grinned with pride at Claire and straightened up. 

 

“Now Lady Beauchamp wants you to fetch her maid, Suzette, so she can come along wi’ us to the archery range. Think you can manage that without causing even more trouble?” 

 

“Oui, milord.” He gave a curt nod and then dashed away into the maze of hedges. 

 

Through the whole exchange, Jamie never relinquished his grasp and Claire’s hand, and neither did she. They could feel each squeeze and tug, an extension of their minds and hearts at those moments. And they waited. 

 

Louise and Mary, content in each other’s company for their daily walk around the garden, as they ambled past Claire and Jamie. They threw some knowing looks at Claire and whispered to each other. The only thing Claire could do in response was roll her eyes at her ridiculous friends. They were notorious gossips, but not maliciously so. There’d not be a word uttered from them about Claire. Louise sent one last teasing look towards Claire, before the hedges of the garden swallowed up her friends once again. 

 

Not long after, Fergus dragged a frazzled Suzette towards the pair. The group gave her a moment to collect herself after what was no doubt an unnecessarily frantic run through the gardens. 

 

She smiled up at Claire and curtsied somewhat. “Milady.” Her gaze moved towards Jamie and she sent another short nod. “Milord.” 

 

“Suzette. Thank you for escorting us.” Claire expressed. 

 

“Of course, milady, you know I would do anything that you require.” 

 

Claire reached out her free hand, the one not captive to Jamie’s, and squeezed Suzette’s hand. Jamie scanned the area. Clearly there was someone missing. 

 

“Fergus, where is Murtagh?” 

 

“I do not know milord. Last I saw he was at the stables.” 

 

“Weel, we can not leave wi’ out him tae escort Lady Beauchamp. A trusted man must be present to ward off rumour or suspicion.” 

 

“But, milord, I am here.” Fergus stood up from his slouch. “And I am a man.” 

 

“Not quite, lad.” Jamie ruffled the boy’s hair and rested his elbow on top of it. “Unless ye wish to show me ye’ve grown hair on yer baws as proof.” 

 

Jamie paused to look at Claire and Suzette, then back to Fergus with a sigh. “Alright lad. I suppose you shall be the one escorting us.” And, sure enough, the boy visibly brightened at his lord’s trust.  

 

Fergus shuffled over to Claire and stood directly before her. His head did not even reach her shoulders yet, but his face held such solemnity and confidence. She was sure he would fight to his last breath, having only just met her. He stole Claire’s hand from Jamie’s and captured it between his lanky fingers. Fergus tugged her other one into the small sphere of protection as well.  

 

“Do not worry, milady. I shall defend your honour.” He tapped the handle of the blade on his hip. “If need be I shall kill the swine myself.” 

 

“Swine? Remember who keeps yer belly full lad.” Jamie jabbed from Claire’s side. 

 

“If you are dead I am sure Lady Beauchamp will take pity on my poor soul and place me under her employ. Right, milady?” 

 

“Um-” Claire started, unsure. 

 

“Fergus stop blethering, and let us be gone.” 

 

“Aye.” 

 

Fergus grabbed two bows, which looked giant compared to his small frame, the quiver of arrows, and led the way to a small rectangular space hidden by walls of hedges. The only way to spy inside was through the small opening at the corner. Suzette and Fergus stood guard at the opening, but turned to face away from the pair. 

 

Jamie grabbed the quiver and set the arrows within the wood cylinder on the ground. He rested the bow against the cylinder and walked back to Claire, hands open for the taking. 

 

“Shall we make a game of it, my lady?”

“Pray tell, what shall the game entail?” 

 

“Weel tis simple, the most targets hit, determines the winner. The winner earns a favour from the loser.” 

 

Claire’s gaze dropped to Jamie’s lips for a fleeting second, and then back up to his eyes again. Her tongue darted out to wet her suddenly dry bottom lip. Jamie’s grip tightened on his bow and he resisted the urge to swipe his thumb over the moisture clinging to the plump curve. 

 

She cleared her throat. “And what would that favour be?”  

 

“Well, that would ruin the fun if it was known beforehand. Would you not agree?” 

 

She smiled at the possibilities of what his favour would be. Another meeting like this? Perhaps even a dance at the upcoming Great Harvest Feast. Or perhaps… she would leave the range with her first kiss fresh on her lips. Without thought, her hand reached up to her mouth. 

 

“Oh, yes. We may keep our secrets for now.” She smirked; her request was going to be far more ambitious. 

 

“Ladies first.” Jamie gestured to four small flour sacks suspended beneath a wooden pole, held horizontally by two large stacks of rock. 

 

Claire took up her natural stance, and then slouched slightly to her left. Jamie leaned back, arms crossed, enjoying the scenery of the gardens, though his vision was only truly  fixed on one spot. There was room for more than one game here. She took a deep breath, aimed at the top left corner of the small flour sack, and then nocked her arrow. Releasing the arrow with a small exhale, she hit her intended target perfectly. That is, the point farthest away from the dark dot in the middle, without flying past the sack of flour completely. She was no stranger to the sport. No, not at all. 

 

“Oh my, I must tell you I am completely hopeless in this sport. Would you mind terribly, helping me?” She sighed, and it came off a bit more dramatically than she had intended, but still sent across the message well enough. 

 

“Of course, my lady. But ye ken it’s highly frowned upon tae have yer opponent shoot fer you.” 

 

Claire set one end of the bow by the inside of her foot and pulled another arrow from its holder. 

 

“Oh, is it? I’m sorry I haven’t the faintest idea about archery.” 

 

Jamie uttered a sound that Claire couldn’t quite place, but found herself accustomed to as a part of him. He toed the inside of her shoe with his boot, widening her stance slightly. Planting his feet on either side of Claire’s, he gripped her hips and pulled them perpendicular to the second target. His hands leisurely wandered up the fabric of her sides, finally resting on the curve of her shoulders, and he too adjusted those accordingly. 

 

“Ye ken, it’s all about the stance wi’ archery.” His breath was hot against the shell of her ear, causing gooseflesh to rise on her skin. 

 

He trailed his fingertips back down the silky fabric, moving up and down her sides. Claire could feel the muscles of his abdomen push and pull against her back and her heart beat in concert with the movements. Finally, his hands found purchase on her hips once again, content to rest for the time being. 

 

“Really?” 

 

“Aye.” 

 

“And is this the correct…” Her body itched to be closer to him, but that was impossible, considering there was already no space between them. “positioning my lord?” 

 

She wriggled her arse against him and Jamie prayed to God that he would leave without an embarrassing cockstand. He thought of the most unpleasant images he knew of. His dead gran. The kitchen maid covered with smallpox, grinning down as she placed a puss covered biscuit in his hands. His mother’s cat Adso, full of maggots and fleas after he snuck away for two weeks. The- 

 

Claire harrumphed and pushed further back into him, seeking the tingle she felt before from the friction. She moved to the left in his arms slightly and- Oh. Was that?

 

Wicked wee besom. Two can play at that game. 

He pulled his right hand from her hip and splayed it across her stomach. Claire knew he was large and tall, even when one spotted him from a distance, but it was an entirely different matter the way only one hand was needed to span her entire abdomen. Her stomach flipped with excitement but there was some part of her, some deeper part, that raged to be let loose. To claw at Jamie and, well she didn’t quite know what yet but the desire was there. His hand slowly inched lower and lower on her stomach and he stopped once her breath hitched, smirking to himself. 

Removing his hand from her middle, he grasped the arrow in her right hand. Jamie wrapped his hand around hers and guided it in drawing back the fletching against the bow string. His hand moved to her elbow, nudging the angle of it slightly. At that point, his head was nestled up on her right shoulder, his nose close to the curls that wanted to spring free from their unfortunate confinement. Those damn veils. With a sure squeeze from Jamie to signal for the release, the shaft of the arrow sunk perfectly into the target. Again, and then again. Three out of four hitting the mark wasn’t too shabby, Claire thought to herself. Reluctantly, Jamie stepped away from the warmth of her body. It felt as painful as ripping his own skin away. 

 

His turn. Surely, he could beat her aim. Well, it was really more of his aim than hers. 

 

Jamie stepped up to the marker and glanced back at Claire who stood unassumingly off to the side. Nock. Draw. Breathe. Release. He hit the target dead on and grinned back at Claire. That wouldn’t do, not at all. Claire stretched her arms behind her back, pushing up her chest and emphasising the lack of a kerchief to protect her modesty. It was a simple gesture, but one that she knew would catch him. Jamie gulped, trying desperately not to look where his attention was pulled. 

 

“May your aim prove true, my lord.” Her face transformed as a dazzling smile overtook it. 

 

He loosed the arrow, just barely striking the edge of the black mark. Christ . Claire struggled to keep the smirk that so desperately wished to appear tucked away. He looked back at her again, unable to tear his eyes away for longer than a second. A yawn from Claire. Another stretch. At this point it was a wonder that his eyes didn’t completely bug out of his head. This time, the arrow missed the sack completely. 

 

Ah Dhia. ” He swore silently to himself. 

 

This time, he would not look back. He would not give in to that particular temptation. No matter how bonny the lass looked. Or how the rich green of her bodice complimented her milky skin. Ah Dhia, how the swell of her breasts demanded that his eyes be on them. The brilliance of her smile. The way she held herself, strong and sure. There hadn’t been much conversation between them so far, but Jamie could already sense the underlying cleverness within her. 

 

His fingers expertly nocked back his fourth arrow and drew back. His eyes flicked back momentarily without his permission again and he already knew he had missed once more. Maybe this competition was a bad idea. The only hope he held onto was his curiosity towards Claire’s decision for her prize. Yes, he would lose, but gladly so. 

 

His feet took long strides towards her side; they knew where they belonged. He towered over her, but it didn’t intimidate her in the slightest. Their chests were practically touching, and if she concentrated hard enough, she could feel the minute shift of his body against hers as it took in and released air. 

 

“Ye wee devil. You set me up.” He pouted. 

 

Jamie took a slight step towards Claire and she stumbled backwards, losing her footing over a small rock in the ground. She shrieked and Jamie hugged her close to him. In the process, he too lost his traction and they came tumbling down into a mess of giggles and tangled clothes. His knees naturally positioned themselves next to Claire’s hips, boxing them in. Gripping her wrists, he leaned even closer. He could feel the shallow breaths puffing against the fabric clinging to his chest, and saw the imperceptible rise of her chest. His eyes blinked in what Claire was sure was a poor attempt of a wink. 

 

Claire could feel him between her legs and she began to panic. So many conversations flew through her mind at that moment. Her mother, ladies of the court, even the Queen herself. All of them leading to one conclusion. Being with a man was tolerable at best, likened to an itch that needed scratching, and could be extremely painful in the beginnings, or even long after. Her throat began to close and dread dropped down through her head to her toes like an anvil. Her mind yelled for escape and she began to squirm. 

 

“Get off me!” 

 

In an instant, Jamie rolled off of her, worry etched on his face. Claire pulled herself up, grabbing her knees to her chest in comfort. 

 

“I’m so sorry lass, I didna mean to hurt ye.”

 

“No, no- you didn’t. I-” She frantically reached out her hand to him and he took it, understanding her silent plea. It was easier when they touched. “I want to. Believe me , I want- but I-” 

 

“Ye dinna have to explain yerself, mo ghraidh. But please, tell me if ye feel that way again. Trust that I never wish to harm you.”  

 

“I know, thank you.” She gripped his hand, feeling the reassuring calluses on it. “Now about my favour.” She changed the subject, hoping he’d forget all about what happened moments before. 

“Awright, lass. What is it ye wish from me? A new kerchief?” He looked down at the exposed expanse of skin and then back up, his ears reddened slightly. “Or mebbe… a kiss on the cheek?” Only the cheek lad? Claire thought to herself and grinned. 

 

No, none of these requests would do. She knew they had only just met, but some marriages were formed on even less than that. A bride meeting her groom at the altar. Besides, there was something she couldn’t quite explain about him. About them. What the hell , she thought, might as well come straight out with it. 

 

“Ask for my hand.” 

 

“Are ye- are you proposing tae me?

 

“I suppose I am, yes. Do you have a problem with that?” 

 

“No, it’s only, I’ve already planned to ask ye and then yer father, but I guess you plucked up the courage before I could.” 

 

“Well it seems I don’t have the luxury of time, or inaction for that matter.” 

 

“The Earl?” Jamie spat, his voice laced with venom. 

 

“Yes.” 

 

“And you don’t prefer… a man with a greater title and larger vassals? I’m a second son, Claire. I can’t properly deck yer bonny neck wi’ as many jewels and gold as he can.” 

 

“No, Jamie, he’s the last thing I want.” And you are all I’ll ever want. “I don’t care about those things.”

 

“I will speak to yer father when next I see him. I promise.” 

 

“I’m going to hold you to that James Fraser.” 

 

“You have my word. Claire… Beauchamp.” Like a foolish lovesick boy, he would try out the other name later, when he stayed up late, not able to sleep from thoughts of her. 

 

***

 

“You have the most beautiful… eyeballs.” Claire rolled the roast duck inside her cheek with her tongue and nearly choked on it at the rarity of such a comment. 

 

“Eyeballs?” She didn’t know how many more of these meetings to conduct a ‘proper courtship’ she could take. Just lock me away for a year until the wedding day. I’m sure I’d have slightly less resentment not having my ears shrivel up and die from his horrid squawkings. 

 

“Yes, they are perfectly spherical.” Francis wiped at the corner of his mouth with a cloth napkin. 

 

“Oh, Lord Randall, you do flatter me so.” 

 

Francis cleared his throat and wiped his mouth with the napkin again, nervous. He reached out his hand to hers and she obliged for the time being. His fingers were lithe and hairless. Nothing like the leathery and warm hands of Jamie, kissed golden by the sun. He worked for what he had. It didn’t just fall in his lap like most of the nobility in court. 

 

Francis planted a sloppy kiss to her hand, and she wanted nothing more than to wipe it off. 

 

“Claire, darling, by now I-”

 

“Lady Beauchamp.” 

 

Francis’ bemused expression irked Claire more than she cared to admit. “I beg your pardon?”

 

“It is Lady Beauchamp, my lord.” 

 

“Well, Lady Beauchamp. ” The Earl of Oxenford spoke the title with contempt and it took everything within Claire to not roll her eyes to the very back of her head. “I have heard tell that you and the young Lord Fraser enjoyed some archery Saturday the last.” 

 

“You are correct.” She popped another bite of the meat into her mouth, thankful for the barrier preventing her from speaking more than necessary. 

 

“I must inform you that this young boy’s-”

 

“That young man is nearly half a year older than I.” 

 

“Yes, well, I have spoken to your father about the matter. I do not believe it wise for you to seek company with him any longer.” 

 

“Very well.” She shrugged, tearing off a chunk of bread from the middle of the banquet table. 

 

“You’ll just let it go that easily?” Francis said in disbelief. 

 

“Oh I think you misunderstand. I’ll do whatever I desire, Francis , without your permission, as you are not yet my husband. Not for a long time.” Claire murmured under her breath. “Not ever.” 

 

“Be that as it may, I will not have a sullied bride, Lady Beauchamp, is that understood?” 

 

“With the way your health is now,  I’m not quite sure you will rise to the occasion if we are indeed to wed.”  

 

“Why you bi-”

 

“Mind yourself, Lord Randall. I thought you wanted respect in our union? And if there’s not I’ll be sure to let the Queen herself know. She has been rather fond of my mother as of late.” 

 

That quieted him down, if only for a minute. The sounds of those dining around them filled the silence, utensils clanging against the intricate designs on the clay plates and bowls , mouths smacking against particularly dry foods, and quiet moans of approval at some specific dishes layed out. 

 

“I understand you have an interest in flowers, my lady. I have spent days mulling over the perfect one for you.” 

 

He pulled out a simple red rose from within his poofy coat and thrust it into her hand. Claire could feel a small pinch on her finger and tears welled up within her eyes. She dropped the flower to the ground and shook her injured hand. Francis looked peeved at her actions, and shook his head patronisingly. Ignoring propriety, she shoved her finger in her mouth, sucking out the blood and pain. 

 

“Really, Lady Beauchamp. There’s not much to fear from a simple flower.” 

 

Her finger pulled out with a pop. “That’s easy for you to say, when you have escaped unmarked.” 

 

“Darli-” Claire sent him a withering stare. “Lady Beauchamp. I’m sorry you deemed to find offense in my words. But, I was sure a woman would love such a gesture.”

 

“You assumed wrong. Good day Lord Randall.” 

 

“We still have much to discuss, my lady.” 

 

“Good. Day. Lord Randall.” 

 

Claire was terribly hungry before, but could stomach her food no longer in the man’s presence. She glanced longingly at the large dishes of roast duck, ham, and various stews, but would have to pass on those particular luxuries tonight. 

 

She rose from her seat and felt steady hands wrap around her arms. She sighed and closed her eyes, imagining if she could not see anything, it surely could not be real. 

 

“Claire bear.”

 

“Yes, my lord?” She turned around to look into the eyes of her father. 

 

“Your mother wishes to speak with you presently. We must discuss a great many things.” 

 

“Of course, sir. I shall be at your chambers later tonight.”

 

“Now.” His tone brokered no argument. 

 

Lord Beauchamp angled his body towards Francis and nodded tersely. “I trust my daughter enjoyed her time with you, the well-respected gentleman that you are.”

 

“Of course, I do believe we are quickly coming to some form of rapport.” 

 

“Good, good. We will see you at the Great Harvest Feast, Lord Randall. Until then.” 

 

Henri enfolded his daughter in his arm, and spirited her off from the hall. His grip on her shoulder was tight and controlling, and she knew she was in trouble. She mentally prepared herself for the reprimands that would follow from her mother. 

 

***

 

Claire left her parents’ chambers disheartened, but not defeated. She bore the brunt of her mother’s verbal lashings without a word in edgewise herself, and she was properly chastised. The only words she was able to utter in her presence were those of a promise. A promise that she wouldn't carelessly play such sport with that boy again. 

 

And she did promise that. Because they had threatened to move the date of her impending doom to the coming Great Harvest Feast instead of the next. 

 

Yes, sadly she’d never play archery again. Those were the exact words of the promise, and she would take it literally. She knew her parents thought of it in more broad terms, but she would follow the promise to the letter.  And she had to limit what exactly was seen in the public eye. 

 

While she was fuming on her way to her own chambers, she spotted a slight French boy out of the corner of her eye. Her hand slipped into her pocket where she kept the discarded paper of her charcoal drawing experiment, which ended up being a total failure. She traced out a simple code, one she knew only he would know. It was all sort of thrilling to her, the secrecy of it all. 

 

“Fergus.” She called out and her voice echoed in the empty stone halls. “Send this to your lord.” 

 

She slipped the paper into his coat and scurried away.