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Play the Devil by Lululuna
Chapter 7 : The Burrow (Part II)
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7

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The Burrow (Part II)
This chapter is dedicated to Tudor scholar and humanist Sir Thomas More, for writing a scathing history of Richard III back in Tudor times, and leaving the task for us to correct it through the imagination. More, like certain other characters in this story, met a grisly enough end.
chapter image by milominderbinder at tda


“What the bloody hell!” I muttered to Louis, ducking my head behind him in case Scorpius happened to look towards the back door at that very moment. I nudged Al again with my foot-not so gently this time, and dragged them around the corner and out of sight of the main sitting room where everyone was assembled. My palms were sweaty and my head felt a bit light at the very thought- with rage, not desire, though I did subtly check in my reflection in the bathroom window to make sure my hair looked alright.

Al threw up his hands, green eyes wide. “I swear, Rosie, I had no idea he was going to worm his way in here. I’m just the messenger.”

I scowled, feeling the threat of tears pricking at my eyes. I squeezed my hands into careful fists, digging my nails into my hands and willing myself to be calm, not to let Scorpius bloody Malfoy get the better of me. Albus looked uncomfortable: he and Scorpius had actually been quite chummy during the year and a half we were together, and the pair had often spent time on their own when I wasn’t around. My cousin had assured me after the incident that he was firmly on my side and that Scorpius was scum, but I knew it must be awkward for him as well. Louis put a brotherly arm around my shoulder and I nestled into his side.

“You smell like a shady underground club,” I informed him, pulling away. “Enough cologne? I feel sorry for poor Grandad when you hugged him, it’s lucky he didn’t choke.”

Louis blushed and shoved me gently. “I didn’t shower today, so burn me at the stake,” he said. “And stop stalling. Talk to us.” I saw Albus press his lips together and brace himself for some girl talk. Louis had two older sisters: he was used to it. Lily Potter would rather drink from the toilet than talk to her older brothers about boys. I sighed.

“I mean, how does he even know Lucy? Are they, like, dating now? Because that’s really low of him and not fair to Lucy either. It’s gross. I mean, at least take it outside the family. Is he doing this just to drive the stake even further and completely destroy my self-esteem?”

At the mention of self-esteem I saw Al take a little step back as if it was too much for him to handle. Pep talks were really not his strong point, and he tended to balk whenever angry conversations took a turn for the serious. I rolled my eyes at him and then snapped my fingers in his direction. “You. Go inside and spy. Find out what exactly Scorpius is doing here. Be my eyes and ears.” Albus muttered something about being older than me and not taking orders from a ferocious ginger, but shuffled his sorry feet inside all the same.

“He’s having problems with James, you know,” Louis said idly. I turned my eyes on him.

“What kind of problems?”

“I think they’ve just always been very competitive and James got used to being an only child again this year,” Louis explained. “James likes all the attention to be on him and his problems and when someone who is so different from him, like Al, steps in and takes the spotlight it’s really hard. Remember what he was like your first year at Hogwarts?”

I remembered. James had written home several times about all the supposed trouble Albus was getting into, causing Auntie Ginny to send a concerned owl to the Headmistress and general confusion and suspicion to ensue. Another time, he’d put an enormous rare toad from the greenhouses into Al’s bed, and told the Herbology professor that Albus had stolen it to sell on the Black Market.

“James and Freddie pick on Al a lot when they’re all together,” Louis explained. “It’s funny, I don’t think James sees Fred as competition because he’s a couple years older, or me because we’re completely different and generally avoid each other, but whenever he sees Albus be successful it makes him compare his brother to himself. It’s pretty messed up, I feel for the kid.”

I nodded and pulled Lou in for another sideways hug, taking care to hold my breath this time and not be suffocated by his man perfume. “You’re really observant, you know that?” I told him.

He squeezed me around the shoulders, and we looked back at the mess in various shades of purple we had implanted in the garden. “That’s what they tell me. Speaking of Fred, how ridiculous is it that he and Victoire are the only ones of us graduated cousins that have actually moved out of the parental nest? It’s kind of embarrassing. By the time Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny were Victoire’s age they already had a kid. Hell, Auntie Ginny had already had a career and retired from it when she was Vic’s age.”

“It’s sad,” I agreed, watching a gnome dart forward and start swinging around on the rungs of one of the chairs set out for supper. “Well, there’s also Dominique, but…”

“Nobody knows if she’s properly moved out, or if she’s just homeless,” Louis finished my sentence. He bumped his shoulder against mine, bending down slightly to do so. “Listen, Rosie, I know you’re upset. I’ll slip some U-No-Poo into Malfoy’s dinner if you like. I’ll set Lucy’s hair on fire until she confesses if you really insist. But don’t you think you’d prefer to be polite, and calm and relaxed, and not let him ruin this glorious night with your beloved extended family?”

I set my teeth and ran a quick hand through my hair. “You’re absolutely right, Louis Weasley,” I said decidedly. “I’ll be the bigger person. He’ll never know I was upset.”

Louis looked at me like he wanted to say more. He had opinions about the break-up which I refused to hear about: opinions that maybe Scorpius had dealt the final blow, but that we had been fighting and acting immature for months; that I wasn’t always the nicest girlfriend either. But Scorpius had lost his right to pity after what he did, and my cousins – well, at least these two cousins – were obligated to see my side and my side alone.

Entering the sitting room when everyone was still saying their greetings was like swimming through a forest of seaweed. The rest of the Potters were milling about. Teddy Lupin and Victoire were set to arrive after the meal, Uncle Charlie was obviously in Romania and Dominique missing-in-action, but it looked like the rest of the clan was here. I made it my goal to get to Al, who was sitting next to Grandad and trying to look invisible; I almost grabbed Louis’ hand so I could guide him through the path as I forged it like an intrepid scuba diver. But I was first accosted by Auntie Angelina, who was lovely at the worst of times and wanted to hear all about my job and how I was getting on with Hazlehurst. They had gone to school together, and she always had an amused expression on her face when discussing him.

I then ran straight into Molly, who had her hair in a carefully crafted messy bun and was wearing lipstick. Part of my irritation towards Molly was that she was so bloody short: being around short people made me feel hulking and awkward, and what Molly really wanted was to talk about her job and how wonderful it was. Resisting telling her that Dad had muttered to Uncle Harry that Molly was the next Umbridge, which I assumed was a Ministry inside joke for a pretentious employee or something along those lines, I dodged her and took the long way around the room to avoid where Scorpius and Lucy were talking with Roxanne and Uncle George, a dumb-founded yet slightly smirking look on the latter’s freckled face. I suspected that Scorpius had best protect his drinks from more than one Weasley lest he wanted to ingest some U-No-Poo. The rest of George’s siblings had been called into the kitchen to help Nan prepare supper: apparently, she didn’t trust her fifth son around hot things or around other people’s meals.

I finally broke through and sat next to Albus, crossing my legs and smiling at Grandad. Louis sat with Grandad and struck up a conversation about whatever was for dinner that night, though he was quickly interrupted by Lily passing around a tray of appetizers.

“Hey, Rose!” she said brightly, watching as I took a piece of shrimp from her tray and dipped it generously into the cocktail sauce. “This is my boyfriend, Matt- I don’t know if you’ve met? Babe, this is my cousin Rosie.”

Matt had clearly been enlisted to help with offering around appetizers: he smiled at me with very white teeth. He was a tall black boy with short curly hair and a lanky build, and towered a head over Lily’s pixie-like frame.

“You can call me Rose. Nice to meet you, and welcome to the madhouse,” I told him, smiling and gesturing around.

“Lovely to meet you too, yeah,” Matt said in a thick, rich Northern accent. Albus shook his head at the tray of some mysterious snack Matt was offering around, and Lily bounced over in the direction of Uncle George.

“Watch out for the gnomes, they bite intruders!” Al called suddenly after Matt, who gave him a slightly puzzled look and a polite, albeit confused, smile. I nudged my cousin in the ribs.

“Don’t be weird! I think Lily actually likes him, look. She’s on her best behavior.”

“Yeah, he’s alright,” Al mumbled. “It’s nice to see her dating, getting out of my hair. He’s a Slytherin in her year, apparently they met in Care of Magical Creatures and took care of one of those twig creatures together.”

“You mean a Bowtruckle?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

Albus stared at my enviously. “I wish I could do that.”

“What? Be an expert in classes you aren’t even enrolled in?”

He scowled. “No. Raise one eyebrow at a time. Is there a special spell you learned to contort your face like that?” Louis was deep in conversation with Grandad about his job in Mysteries, waving his hands around fervently. I bent my head a little closer to Al’s.

“So, my little spy, did you find out anything about You-Know-Who?” Scorpius was looking over here. I could see him out of the corner of my eye: he had turned his pale head in my direction. I was sure of it.

“Actually, we spent a whole term studying him in History of Ma-”

“You know who I’m talking about, prick,” I whispered furiously, painting a tranquil smile across my face in case Scorpius looked this way again.

“Okay, I may have had a quick word with Auntie Audrey before she got a hold of Dad,” he conceded, voiced lowered. “She told me Lucy and Scorpius are friends from Slytherin, they’ve been spending time together with some other snakes and today he was round hers and they felt it was right to invite him to dinner tonight. Relax. The only ones who know about you and him are your parents, mine, and Louis. Maybe Lil. And possibly Hugo, he has a habit for spying.” Al glanced at Scorpius, whose conversation had been joined by Auntie Angelina. It was clear he was charming her. I frowned. “Don’t you feel kind of silly now?” Albus added thoughtfully.

I frowned. “And why in Merlin’s name should I feel silly?” I asked haughtily.

Albus rolled his eyes: I felt it rather than saw it. “Because, Rose, everyone likes him,” he muttered. “You spent a year and a half hiding him from the family because you thought they’d judge him for being a Malfoy and judge you for snogging a Malfoy.”

“Well, nobody thinks he’s snogging Lucy, so they’re less inclined to jump to protect her,” I said, jumping to my own defense. “And it would have broken Grandad. He loves me far more than Lucy.”

Al glanced at Grandad, who was enthusiastically telling the story of the first time he had ridden in a Muggle golf cart, on his sixtieth birthday. “A marvelous game, golf,” he was saying excitedly. My heart warmed a little. Grandad was just so sweet. Albus gave me a patronizing look.

“Maybe he only loves me a tiny bit more,” I mumbled, feeling a little apologetic.

Dinner, surprisingly passed without any direct encounters with the Malfoy intruder. I waited until he was seated between Lucy and Lily’s boyfriend Matt and then chose a seat at the opposite end of the table with my henchmen – Al and Louis – blocking my view of the ratty blond face which I had so often seen from a very close perspective. Mum and Dad took turns sending me concerned looks across the table, and Hugo sent me one too, though it may have been mistaken for anger over my snagging the slice of chicken he had his eye on. Aunt Ginny wrote a note on her napkin asking if I was alright with a little heart around my name and sent it down the table. I wrote that I was fine, just a little queasy and sent it back along the table where it was intercepted by Freddie who took the meaning of the note completely wrong and started teasing me loudly for having indigestion and other crude things while that unfaithful Uncle George snickered behind his hand at his son.

The food itself was scrumptious as usual, and I found I had a large appetite despite all the stress riding on my mind. I kept the satchel containing the time-traveling potion close just in case Victoire or some other twit went looking through it for a tampon and stumbled upon the potion: if that was found then Malfoy was the least of my worries. Nan had done her best: two entire roasted chickens, larger than any Muggle-reared chickens, were seasoned to perfection and sliced up with rich brown gravy. A huge pot of mashed potatoes hovered above the table and presented itself to anyone whose plate was looking a little haggard, and Louis was pleased to find cooked carrots and sweet potato, two of his favorite celebratory dishes. The wine was flowing, the evening dusk was warm, and soon we were all full and nearly content.

When everyone was finished, Nan asked shrewdly which of her sons was going to help clear the table, a problem which was neatly solved by suggesting that we start a Quidditch game in the back field – since we had enough people for two full teams – and anyone who didn’t want to play could clear the table. This was cheered by popular vote, and Mum, Auntie Audrey, Uncle Percy, Roxy and Molly quickly volunteered to clear up, along with Uncle Bill who had a bad back.

Those who had played on a team at Hogwarts quickly banded together: Aunt Ginny, having played Quidditch professionally, was made captain of one team and Uncle Harry the captain of the other. I was quickly picked for Team Ginny as a Beater and Uncle Harry picked Scorpius for his team, and I was grateful for how perceptive my favorite aunt and uncle were.

Grandad and Roxy set up two chairs under the pretense of keeping score and playing referee: Roxy kept up a steady stream of chatter about her travels to Grandad while watching the rest of us warm up on the old broomsticks kept at the shed at the Burrow for these very occasions. I was on Uncle Fred’s old Cleansweep Seven, a reliable broom even if it was rather stubborn at times. I had hurried into the Burrow to change into the jeans and light jumper I had brought for this very occurrence: flying in a dress was risky at the best of times.

The game started surprisingly vigorously. The ancient Snitch was charmed not to leave the clearing at the top of the hill, though it was still quick enough to dart around in the fading dusk. My team had a quick meeting in the air: the Potters had flown over from their home in a neighboring county and therefore had the advantage of better brooms than the ones we kept at the Burrow. We had three Potters on our team, which was a good beginning, although the other team had Lucy and Lily and they both played dirty. I glanced down to where I had laid my bag (with the offending potion in it) down next to Roxy’s chair, and had her promise on her pet pygmy puff that nobody would touch it.

Uncle George hit a high-five with me. “Let’s show no mercy to those bastards, Rosie,” he cried, and winked, and for a moment I wasn’t so sure that Uncle George didn’t know about the Scorpius affair as well. Dad looked quite unhappy to have Scorpius on his team and once the game started was quite pointed about not throwing the Quaffle to him after any of his saves.

Though at Hogwarts Dad had apparently been quite a nervous Keeper prone to good and bad games, playing with the youthful puppies as he called us gave him confidence. After a spectacular save which involved him hanging half off his broom to divert the Quaffle’s path Roxy and Grandad on the ground started up the old song Weasley is Our King, which pleased most of the people in the air as the majority of us were in fact Weasleys, and the noise level escalated once the dishwashers showed up and drew up their own chairs, Uncle Percy swaying along to the rhythm. Roxy even began to switch up the words, whispering them to Grandad before bellowing each new set.

Weasley is our queen,
Weasley is our queen,
She ditched the Harpies,
But she ain’t no Barbie,
Ginny is our Queen.

And when Fred narrowly prevented Harry from ending the game early with a spectacular feint dive:

He swooped into the Chosen one’s path,
He’ll piss his pants and we’ll have a laugh,
Freddie is our King.

Freddie made a very rude hand gesture to his sister after this particular verse.

As lightly as everyone else was taking the game, I soon decided it was my personal quest to take down Scorpius. Merlin had blessed me with playing a Beater for a reason: to bash Malfoy brains across the grass of the field outside the Burrow. Or, if that was a little extreme, this was the perfect cover for hitting some Bludgers really hard and delighting in his little squeal as he dodged them and dropped the Quaffle and sent a reproachful look to the position in the air where I had been a moment before. Scorpius was a decent flier but not a very good Quidditch player due to his lack of hand-eye coordination, and this meant his doging the Bludger skills dropped considerably whenever he was in possession of the Quaffle. Uncle George seemed to realize what I was up to, and though I’m sure he secretly approved he likely didn’t want to be the one to explain to a former Death Eater and his wife that their son had been attacked with a Bludger on Weasley territory.

When Auntie Ginny called a quick-time out, I circled up ahead and was surprised when she flew up and raised her eyebrows at me. “I think you need to work on your aim,” was all she said. I noticed Albus giving me the stink-eye from across the makeshift pitch and shifted uncomfortably on my broom.

I was getting more and more worked up, and nearly took out my own little brother with a poorly aimed Bludger from behind. Roxy started up a song in my honour.

Weasley is our queen,
Weasley is our queen,
She’ll knock your nose right off your face,
She’ll hit your arm sockets out of place,
Weasley is our queen.

I seriously considered sending a Bludger in the direction of the spectators after that.

The real trouble started when a casual Bludger aimed for Scorpius hit Lily’s boyfriend Matt in the face instead, and he flew unevenly to the ground, hand over his face and blood seeping out between his fingers. I swore. Roxanne shouted out for a time-out (my family was hardcore enough about Quidditch that this was necessary for a pause in the game) and everyone floated down towards the ground. Mum sent me a disappointed look as she quickly conjured up some bandages: Aunt Angelina, who knew basic first aid training, was trying to pry Matt’s hands away from his face as Lily clung onto his arm and appeared to be trying to kiss him.

I looked down and saw Scorpius looking up at me, his lips pursed, and felt my face erupt into flames. All of a sudden my head felt really light, my limbs weak, my body heavy and helpless. I adjusted my sweaty grip on the broom and stared at the people on the ground. Mum gave me a meaningful look. Louis beckoned me to come down. Uncle George was securing the Bludgers. Scorpius crossed his arms and stared, taunting me silently, daring me to come down.

It was seeing Albus move towards my bag that made me snap and run. In hindsight, he was probably only moving it out of the way so Matt could sit in the chair Roxy had vacated when all the excitement began, but something inside me went into panic mode. I aimed my broom in Al’s direction and sped down towards him with the full force of an ancient Cleansweep Seven past its prime. Albus yelped and leaped out of the way as I jumped off the broom and snatched my bag away from him.

“What the hell is wrong with you, Rose?” Al called after me as I stormed away. I turned around to yell that I was going to get Matt some water- anything to get away- when I saw Scorpius start to jog towards me. Frustrated, I seized the broom I was still holding and hopped on it, taking off a little sloppily with my broom still in tow.

I was breathing heavily, irritated and suddenly overwhelmed with my large family, with Lucy and Scorpius, with everyone knowing my business. In that moment, all I wanted was to be somewhere in which nobody knew my name: in which I could hide from my problems and not worry about any of the wretched problems which plagued me here, not to have to worry about Al and James not getting on or Scorpius stalking me by hanging out with my Slytherin cousin, about awkwardness with Victoire or Maude or Mum looking at me sternly or Grandad getting old.

I touched down just beyond the Burrow. Checking swiftly, I saw that nobody had followed me through the air: good. If I knew Scorpius (and I think I did) he wouldn’t risk causing a scene by grabbing a broom and flying off in the wake of poor Matt’s injury.

Fumbling in my bag, I drew out the flask. The potion had turned a thick, solid green, sloshing and stirring against the constraints of its prison. I pulled out the cork with shaky hands and held the potion to my lips, and I took a large swig.

It was warm, this time: it burned my throat a little at a heat impossible for something which had been outside in the cooling summer night. I coughed a little, and wished I had water. Then I took the broom in one hand, my bag in the other, and recklessly, not truly thinking it through, I thought of the face of the stranger in the past – for he must have been in the past – who had kissed me so sweetly. I thought of his face and I turned on the spot in a perfect, graceful movement, and I disappeared from that Devonshire hillside near the Burrow. I wouldn’t be back there for a time.

The Road from London, Summer 1468

It was the final year of peace before the carefully fought for quiet would be turned on its head. Richard didn’t know it then, but he had a feeling of foreboding that something was going to happen, something terrible which would unbalance the systems of power in England and affect him and his brothers and the country he loved. He was not frightened, for a royal duke must be strong and brave at all times, yet he could not help but know that this peace was but a calm eye of the storm, that forces were writhing and contorting underground and waiting to emerge and feast on King Edward’s England.

For now, Richard was going home, and he was glad of it. He had been with the court for several months, but the hot summer heat made disease spread quickly in the city and many of the great nobles found excuses to flee to their country estates where they could live like little kings amongst their own wealth, back to their tenants and faithful servants and mistresses among the villagers. Richard’s lip curled in distaste at the thought of it. He himself hoped to clear his head in the country: to free it from thoughts of the snakelike courtiers, always hoping to surpass each other in the king’s favor, slippery as eels, only loyal as long as it was in there interest to do so, for there were other candidates for the throne who might be a little kinder, a little more generous, should Edward’s allure as king waver.

Richard was young, but he had grown up in a country racked by war and betrayal: even when he was a boy he had hardly been a child. When he was only eight years old Richard’s father and brother had been slain by the Lancastrian forces: for Richard, still, his father was a sort of martyr, a heroic, celestial guardian watching him from the eyes of the host when he knelt down in prayer, his dead brother Edmund an avenging angel. When he prayed, the glass eyes of the colored glass in the windows of the royal chapel seemed to watch Richard: he dreamed they were the eyes of the devils who had infiltrated his brother’s court and were worming their way through to the king’s pure heart.

Another concern was Richard’s brother, George, the handsome young duke of Clarence. He was an able knight, the perfect prince: he could shoot better than any other marksman, he rode a horse with fine ease, he fought well with a sword and was respected and loved by his followers and men. Yet there was something which troubled Richard: though George was the perfect courtier: a fine dancer, a connoisseur of fine wines and ales – Richard had to smile at this thought – able to communicate in several different languages, there was something shallow and rotting in him; a sense of false entitlement, perhaps, as if being the greatest duke in the land, second only to the king, was not enough.

Richard had been born and lived through his early childhood at Fotheringay Castle, which was his current destination: it was where he had known his father and dead brother, where he and George had played together happily as boys and not worried about which young boy was the finer man, where he had been the beloved youngest son, loved by his pretty sisters, who had laughed with him when he told them, bright-eyed, of the fairy woman he had met in the wood, with her hair the color of fire and her strange clothes, who had told him they had a great destiny together. They had laughed and kissed him and said he was a delightful child. Yes, the old estate of the murdered Duke of York would do him good, and it was as good as his at this time when the rest of the nobility clustered around the king’s court.

But the young man had grown up in another place, too: Middleham Castle, the traditional fortress of the mighty Neville family who had protected the north for generations. Richard had gone there after his brother secured the throne to be raised as a knight, as a fine young gentleman: he had passed many years there training his beloved charger, jousting with the other noblemen’s boys, learning how to do battle under the tutelage of the Earl of Warwick, the greatest military commander England would ever see. It was Warwick who also troubled Richard: he knew his old mentor was upset by the favors laid upon the Rivers family, the family of the common wife Edward had plucked out like a common fruit from the English gentry and raised up to the ordained seat of kings. Richard had agreed to love the new queen Elizabeth: indeed, when they had wed he had been just a wee boy himself, and had half fancied himself in love with his brother’s beautiful wife! A small smile curled across Richard’s lips at the thought of it, and he glanced quickly to ensure none of his men had seen it pass. They were weary as well: they were eager for a comfortable bed and to put their tired horses to stable and water.

When they arrived at Fotheringay, Richard sent his men ahead to the castle, where he knew the servants were expecting them. He told them he would join them in a moment, that he had to speak with a tenant who had beckoned to him from her thatched cottage in the village. Drawing up his great black horse, he dismounted with a gentle grunt and pulled the reins over Apollo’s head and draped them over his elbow. Then he bent down to kiss the tiny old woman’s weathered cheek.

“Sire,” the old woman said, releasing his gentle grip on her shoulders to drop into a low, careful curtsy. “Yer Grace, I welcome thee back to this, thy ancestral home. I hope Yer Grace is in good health.”

“Really, beloved Agnes, there is no need for such formalities,” Richard told her, smiling broadly. She was not really old, by twentieth-century standards: she was perhaps in her fiftieth year. She had been his nursemaid for the first years of his life: she had cared for him and loved him as a mother loves a son who was born to go on to greater things than her humbleness could comprehend. Yet she was also a wise woman, a respected and slightly feared voice in the community: she knew things the other peasants did not, she could speak to a grand duke of the realm with the respectful devotion of a woman who was loved dearly by her former charge while others might only stutter and bow.

Auld Agnes smiled, revealing several missing and blackened teeth. Her nails were long and dirty, her body thin: Richard chided himself silently for not asking after her, for not ensuring that she was better provided for. She had no husband to tend to her needs, nor children to take care of her in her old age: she had only him, and her strange powers which he was loathe to try and understand, for fear of discovering something he did not wish to know.

“Sire,” she whispered urgently. “Can thee remember, that day in the thicket? Does thee remember how I told thee, precious, clever boy thee was,” here she paused, and looked at him fondly, as if she were still seeing that small, dark boy with the same heavy eyes. “Can thee remember what I, auld Agnes, told ye about the fairy lady?”

“Agnes, I am grown now,” Richard said gently. “I am a grown man, and I have set aside those foolish dreams and fancies of the past. There never was a fairy lady, Agnes. It was all my imagination, silly child as I was. It was but a dream.” His smile was gentle, yet a part of him mourned that lost child he had once been.

Agnes showed more teeth. “Thee must believe again, me boy, fer I’ve got somun inside I reckon ye’d like ter meet.” She beckoned him towards the slightly ajar of her small, thatched cottage. Resigned, Richard let go of Apollo’s reins and hoped silently that the weary horse would not walk up to his comfortable stall in the stables of his own accord. The young duke ducked his head beneath the low doorframe of Agnes’ home: all the wooden window shutters were shut, and he fumbled a little in the dark, nearly tripping over an old broom Agnes had leaning against the wall. He squinted.

“Hello, Richard,” a voice said from the dark and gloom, a voice with a foreign, strange accent in English, a voice he thought he recognized yet which was so alien he wanted to touch and understand it, shape it into something tangible.

As his eyes adjusted to the gloom inside the tidy little cottage he realized the speaker: it was a woman, unlike any woman he had ever seen, wrapped up in a long blanket, her long legs peeking from the end exposing bare ankles and clean shoes. Richard stared for a moment. He had never seen, to his embarrassment, a woman’s bare ankles: the sight unsettled him. His eyes moved up her body to her long, thin neck, to her shoulders, one cocked upwards, her ringed hands tapping a nervous rhythm on the table in front of her. Her hair was long and wild about her face, not contained by the hoods and bonnets the women of his experience wore. Her face was lively and intelligent, taking in every inch of him. He noticed that she did not rise and curtsy, or greet him as befit a great noble: she addressed him as if they were equals; nay, more than equals, as if she were the highest lady in Christendom and he a mere underling whom she could address as she wished.

“Richard, yeah?” The red-haired stranger said again, rising unsteadily to her feet. She took a step towards him: he stared at her, wondered what mischief lay behind those wide blue eyes.

“Agnes, I have never seen this woman before in my life. Now, my horse has had a long journey, and I must dine among the local lords tonight. I must go.”

Agnes frowned. The girl sat back down again, biting her lip nervously. Richard turned towards the door, then glanced back over his shoulder at her. She was very beautiful, he admitted with a faint warmth around his ears. He walked out the door, nearly hitting his head on the frame, and looked at her once last time, thoughtfully. Her eyes were lowered and modest now, like a proper English maiden. He thought she looked disappointed.

Author's Note: Thank you for reading! This will probably be the last chapter before the queue closure as I'm hoping to update one of my other stories before then, so I hope you enjoy this chapter. Please consider leaving a review if you have the time, I'd love to know any thoughts and reactions. Happy holidays lovelies!

Coming up: A medieval village, a hedgewitch, and some questions.

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