Rating 12 (non-explicit femslash)
Summary: There seems to be some confusion about Lady Smallwood's full name
“I should probably explain my rules-“
“Shouldn’t we introduce ourselves properly first? I do know who you really are, Mrs Norton and I presume you’ve identified me.”
“Of course, Lady Smallwood. Or would you prefer Elizabeth, since this is an intimate session?”
“Alicia, please. I use my middle name nowadays. After far too many years of ‘Elizabeth’ or sometimes even, God help us, ‘Lizzie’. My fault, I suppose, getting born in 1952.”
“But you still used the name?”
“George liked it, and so did the constituents, unfortunately. But George is gone, so I can put an end to ‘Lady Elizabeth Smallwood’. And fortunately my mother also liked ballet.”
“Who is something of a merry widow, in a careful way. Well, after George’s disgrace, my escutcheon’s rather blotted already. These things rub off on you, as it were. But let me make myself clear, Irene. I am aware that reports of your death have been exaggerated, but I believe some of my colleagues are not. I presume you’d like to keep it that way? So please don’t do anything rash."“Mutually assured destruction?” The Woman smiles.
“Followed by a little detente,” Alicia replies. “By the way I won a Commonwealth medal on the balance beam, and am still surprisingly flexible. So you can be imaginative with the bondage.”
Rating: G (this chapter), PG-13 eventually
Chapter 1: In which Boy climbs a tree and Jonah makes a friend
The Pleydells are an ancient family; if we cannot say for sure that our forefathers arrived with Norman William, yet in the fifteenth century there were men of our house among the great wine merchants of London. These City-men, wearying of their trade in canary and sack, came at length to love the Saxon villages and plant their own roots there. The Pleydells of White Ladies in Hampshire may have found no place in the history books, but it was men of such a breed who assembled with Good Queen Bess at Tilbury to face the Spanish menace. And even if we cannot trace our roots back before the days of Prince Hal, my cousin Berry certainly has the nose and morals of one descended from the less reputable Roman emperors.
We are an ancient family, and also a close-knit one. When my father inherited his portion in White Ladies, he thought it shame to force his co-heirs to sell even an acre of land. Instead, he and Bertram Pleydell shared the estate, although my father, since he was a MP, frequented London much, while his elder brother preferred the life of a simple country squire. My sister and I divided our youngest years between London and Shrewsbury, my father's constituency. Yet, as he always told us, White Ladies was the true home of the Pleydells and always would be. Indeed I have been told that I spent my first months there in Hampshire, since my mother sought repose after my birth somewhere closer at hand to Westminster than the borders of Wales.
The first I remember of White Ladies, however, was also the first time I met Berry. I can have been three at most, still in my knickerbockers, when I ascended the steep stairs to the nursery with my big sister Daphne.
"Why look," said their nursemaid as we entered the cosy room, "Here's your old friend Daphne and her brother. What's your name, my little man?"
"Boy," I told her proudly and the boy beside her laughed.
"Now, master Bertie, behave," the nurse-maid said reprovingly and the boy replied haughtily:
"It's Bertram, Nursey." He seemed a giant to me, already in long trousers, a tall, fair, high-coloured boy with the look of one who enjoyed his food.
"His name's Bois," my sister told him. "Be nice to him, Berry, he's the only brother I've got." She was not yet five, but wise for her years and the smile that she gave Bertram – Berry – would have melted any male's heart.
"Very well, Boy," he said. "Come with me and I'll let you play with my old toy cars. Just be sure you don't break anything."
I cannot remember whether it was during that visit that Berry ate too much cake at tea and was horribly sick afterwards. Perhaps it was the next year, when I was four and tried to kiss Madrigal, another cousin of mine, under the nursery table. She bit me on the nose. It was the first rejection I had by a member of the fairer sex and one of the more painful ones. My early memories of White Ladies largely blur together now, but one still stands proud and distinct in my mind. The brilliant heat of July and the first time I met the Mansels.
My father was in London, for the House was still sitting, but our mother wanted country air for our lungs. Daphne and I were therefore to spend three glorious weeks in Hampshire with our cousins and without our governess, before we went with our parents to the South of France. When we arrived at White Ladies, I spent a few minutes with my host and hostess and must needs go with them to the nursery to admire their new plaything. This was my baby cousin Jill Mansel, with the blonde curls already coming on her pretty head and huge grey eyes.
But I was seven and a half and wary of girl cousins, after Madrigal. When Berry promised to show me a badger sett in the woods I left Daphne playing with Jill and followed him. The sett was indeed a fine construction, but the day was so still that even in the wood the heat soon grew oppressive.
“I need some lemonade,” Berry announced. “Cook’s made some specially and if we don’t get back soon Daphne and Jonah will drink it all.”
“Who’s Jonah?” I asked.
“Jonathan Mansel, Jill’s brother. Wasn’t he around when you arrived?”
I shook my head and Berry went on. “He’s always wandering off on his own, but he takes good care to be back in time for tea, so he can scoff the lot. So we need to get back.”
Berry himself was not underfed, but I knew better than to arouse his wrath by saying so. Besides, I had just spotted a tree that begged to be climbed: a most ancient beech whose study limbs seemed ripe for my ascending.
“Are you coming?” Berry demanded.
“In a moment.”
Berry shook his head in exasperation. “Well I’m off. Stick to this path and it’ll bring you straight to the back of the house.”
He stumped off and soon the cathedral of nature that is an English wood was mine alone. With eagerness I rapidly ascended my ancient quarry and was soon ten feet off the ground. A few slightly more perilous movements and I was still higher, lording it over the universe, or so it seemed to me. Yet my triumph was short-lived. The desire for lemonade was beginning to awaken in me too, but as I looked down at the ground far below I felt suddenly dizzy. How had I climbed up and how could I now descend? My nerve had snapped and the descent seemed impossible.
I yelled for help then, first from Berry – long since departed, of course – and then for anyone. Hot and thirsty and dizzy, I yelled till my tongue cleaved to the roof of my mouth, then I slumped back onto the perch I had made for myself.
I took off my belt and tied it round one sturdy branch and one wrist. I was no longer in danger of falling, no matter how giddy I became. But until my absence was noticed...an hour, two hours or more perhaps, here I must remain. The boy stood on the burning deck, whence all but he had fled. I could sit down, but then my belt pulled cruelly at my wrist. Yet if I stood, I found my eyes inevitably drawn downwards, towards the temptingly soft green sward so far below me. Perhaps if I jumped, I might not break my neck...
I did not dare. Instead, I sat and bewailed my fortune for many a weary minute. The there came a rustling in the undergrowth. It could not have been the wind, for it was a still afternoon. A badger perhaps, returning to the sett. Would it see me and depart in fear again? Despite my dizziness, I looked down, scanning the ground around the beech.
What emerged was not a badger, however, but a boy of about my age. He was tall, fair-haired and extraordinarily grubby, and as I shouted – or rather croaked – he looked up. A smile lit up his pleasant face.
“Hello up there,” he yelled. “That’s a good lookout spot.”
“I’m stuck!” I wailed, and in a moment he was alert, searching out the great beech’s secrets. Then he was climbing up, as easily as a man might climb a ladder. He swung himself onto the branch beside me.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll have you down in no time at all.”
“I can’t...” I said, and I fear I began to weep, in my childish panic.
“If you got up here, you can get down again,” he said, untying my belt, and there was something in his voice that stilled my fears. “Only you must do what I say, because I’m better at climbing than you are. I’ll go first and tell you what to do.”
He scrambled down the tree again, and then announced.”First of all, you must stand up. Put your right hand on the branch you tied yourself to and then bring your left foot up.”
It took only a few minutes to descend, but to me enfeebled mind it seemed nearer an hour. Yet I did not lose heart, for my fair-haired friend was below me, now encouraging, now calming. When I got to the ground, my legs shook so much that I was near to sinking down to my knees, but he held me under my arms and in a moment my weakness was gone.
“And now,” he said firmly. “What villain left you alone in these woods? You’re well brought-up and I’m sure you wouldn’t have trespassed if someone else hadn’t led you astray. This land belongs to a Justice of the Peace, and he doesn’t like strangers roaming around here uninvited.”
“I was invited,” I replied indignantly and my rescuer clasped his hand to head.
“I should have known,” he said. “You look like a Pleydell, even though you’re dark.”
“I have my mother’s hair,” I said, for the Pleydells are a fair-headed breed as a rule.
“You must be Boy,” he said, and stuck out a grubby hand, which I shook gratefully. “So was it that fat swab Berry that abandoned you here? I bet he’s gone back to skulk indoors again with my sister.”
“You’re Jonathan!” I said in sudden realisation. “Jonathan Mansel.”
The boy shook his head.
“Jonah Mansel,” he replied. “They call me Jonah so I’m not mistaken for my father.”
Jonah led me back to the house, telling me about the trout he’d almost caught down in the brook and insisting that we should both go there tomorrow and have another try.
“Berry can’t keep quiet for long enough for them to come out, but I’m sure you could,” he said and I felt the warmth of his smile on me.
But Jonah’s smile abruptly faded as we entered the house, to find a tall fair-headed man picking through the post left on the hall table. He looked up as we approached and hastily slid a couple of letters into his pocket. His resemblance to Jonah was striking. This must be my Uncle Jonathan, I realised, even before he addressed Jonah languidly.
“Your mother’s been looking for you, Jonah. Fool of a woman was worried you were getting into some mischief.”
“No, sir,” Jonah replied promptly. “Boy and I have been exploring in the woods.”
“We found a badger sett,” I added, grateful that Jonah hadn’t mentioned my mishap.
Jonah’s father was clearly uninterested in nature.
“I told Daffy you’d turn up like a bad penny,” he said. “Now cut along to the nursery, you two, and don’t bother me.”
I stood there for a moment, looking at him. He was a handsome man, but there was something in his face I found troubling. A puffiness in the cheeks, a gaze that lacked his son’s directness...
“Come on, Boy,” Jonah said firmly, pulling at my sleeve and I followed him as he went silently towards the nursery stairs. At the foot of the stairs, on an impulse, I turned, to see Mansel senior tearing open an envelope, before crumpling the letter inside into a ball, his face working.
I was too young, of course, to recognise the signs of dissipation for what they were. Jonathan Mansell was a man being blessed with good looks, a fine lineage and wealth. Yet there was a fatal weakness within him that even I, as a boy of seven, could already sense.
In the nursery we found Jonah’s mother with little Jill. I remember Daphne Mansel now only as a soft cloud of perfume and furs, smiling at relief at the return of her son. Of far more interest to me were Jonah and his sister.
They were a sweet sight together. Jill cried out in delight when she saw her big brother and he lifted her up tenderly, for even though she was not yet a year old, she was desperate to be up and moving. Jonah held her so that her little feet might touch the floor and she shuffled them merrily, if in wobbly fashion. Her grey eyes beaming, she was already afire to dance. I found myself wishing for a moment that I had a little sister as sweet as her. Or a brother as true as Jonah. As he gazed down protectively at his sister, I felt a strange tightness in my chest.
I find it almost impossible to believe now, but Jonah was in only his seventh summer when I met him; though he was tall as I, he was a year younger. Yet the child was already the father of the man. In that day I first saw Jonah Mansel as he would become: intelligent, devoted to his family and a man whom I, like others, would follow anywhere.
Rating: 12 (non-explicit femslash)
Summary: Anthea's trip to the opera brings some strange effects
Many thanks to Kalypso for betaing
Several months ago, fengirl made some requests for the Five Acts meme. She asked for sleep and bedding themes and her pairings included Anthea/Ella or Anthea/ACD!Irene. Inspired by her Sleeping Beauty sequence, this is the result.
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