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Will o’ the Wisp
Ciorstaidh watched through the window of her carriage as the countryside passed her by. The highlands had given way to the flatter terrain of England days ago. She’d been traveling a week now, so the shock of being sent from her home had settled into a silence in her chest. She sat with a tartan blanket in her lap, finishing the edges with a bit of thread. It was MacGregor red and green; supposed to be a gift for the Duke when she arrived. Procrastination had always been a fault of hers, and she had yet to finish it. At least the kilt and arisaid were done. Her mother would have been proud at that in the very least.
Her maid was dozing across from her. The older woman’s head nestled into the corner of the carriage and bobbed with each revolution of the wheels. Kirsty had no idea how she managed to sleep in these conditions. In truth, she was a little envious. She was going to miss her, but her mother required the woman to return upon dropping off Kirsty. It seemed the only person in the household Lorna MacGregor could spare was her daughter. Kirsty should have felt worse about that than she did. Actually, the only person she was really going to miss was her father. Who else was going to play cards with her and allow her the freedom she’d always enjoyed?
“What if they don’t like me?” she asked for probably the thousandth time. The maid’s eyes didn’t even bother to open; her answer was always the same. “Then they’d be fools, and ye know what to do with fools, bonnie child.” Kirsty was hardly a child; she’d been a debutante since she was sixteen. But the maid had known her from birth. Old habits were hard to break. She grinned at the woman’s answer and continued to sew. They hit a rather large bump in the road, and Kirsty pricked her finger on the needle. “Fuck.” A bead of blood emerged from the wound, and she immediately put it in her mouth. The maid’s eyes shot open and she looked upon her charge fondly, “No, ye’ll not be wanting to do that,” she chuckled.
Kirsty shot her a mischievous smile and shook her head, “You’re probably right. I’ll just do as I’m told and try not to embarrass Ma or Da.” The maid nodded and went back to sleep. They both knew that wasn’t completely true. She would try, of course, but she would fail. She always did. If she wasn’t occupied, the girl was apt to grow idle hands. Idle hands were the devil’s playthings, and they soon grew to idle legs. Idle legs put on pants and went out for target practice when her hands should have been practicing needlepoint.
Just as they were pulling into the Stratton Estate, she finished her blanket and folded it neatly. The maid would see to it that it was stored in the gift luggage to be opened at the appropriate time. Kirsty’s gaze widened as she sat back in her seat, fighting the lump that threatened to rise in her throat. It wouldn’t do to be seen with moisture in her eyes. This wasn’t supposed to be a punishment, or so her mother had said. It was temporary. Just as soon the baby was born she could return home. So a few months’ holiday in England- with complete strangers who would most likely hate her- was all she had to endure. She could do this. “I can’t do this,” she whispered.
The maid fell to her knees in the carriage and wrapped the girl into her arms, shooshing and stroking her back. “Ye can and ye will. Yer a MacGregor. The bravest of them all. Ye can do anything.” Of course Kirsty knew this to be true, but in that moment she doubted the words very much. The English and Scottish didn’t exactly have the friendliest of relationships. It didn’t matter that she held both bloodlines, when the Scot was so prevalent. She pushed herself upright and breathed deeply as the carriage came to a stop. She waited for the footman to open the doors before casting one last, longing glance at her maid. With a curt nod and a half-hearted wink, she took the footman’s hand and allowed him to help her from the carriage.
Ginger hair plaited proudly in a crown about her head, Kirsty emerged from her cocoon. She was dressed in a traditional traveling tartan. Her mother had sent her along with some gowns in the English style. She’d hoped that her daughter would don one upon her arrival; an attempt to blend in rather than celebrate her Scottish heritage. Those hopes were in vain, however. Left to her own devices, Kirsty would always choose appearing bright and in full plumage. Even if her features were wary with nerves. More doe-eyed than she would have preferred, she surveyed her surroundings. It was a marvelous estate, and the surrounding wood looked as if it needed a good exploration.
As the footmen and maid gathered her belongings, she folded her hands demurely at her waist. She probably should have cast her eyes down when approaching the household, but they wouldn’t comply. She studied each face with an intent to memorize their identities as quickly as she could. Escorted by another footman, she fell into as low a curtsy as her attire would allow; eyes finally thrown to the ground. “May I present Mistress Ciorstaidh MacGregor,” the man’s voice boomed for all to hear.
I will destroy myself
before I let anyone else destroy me
Lorna MacGregor had written to her cousin several weeks ago with the hopes of securing a place for her eldest daughter while she was confined during the impending birth of her child. In the letter, she'd told the Duchess that she wished for the girl to be introduced at court, but was in no position to do so herself and that the girl was getting older and more spirited by the day. The idea of such a thing reminded her of Charlie in a way...who'd been born into this world with a fire in her that was difficult to tame.
But with many years of governing and etiquette training, her eldest daughter had become a staunch advocate for propriety and moral decorum. ...So much so she sometimes wished Charlie would ease up a bit if only to find a husband. The duchess was not so blind to the ways of men and their need for a woman who at least enjoyed their company and didn't stare at them as if she'd swallowed a lemon.
Hannity, on the other hand, had taken to her lessons and to court like a natural. As the youngest of the family and the baby, she was often spoiled and doted upon; more so as her first season had been so wildly successful.
Either way, the Duchess found herself reluctantly acquiescing to her cousin. The girl would perhaps be a good companion to Hannity and Charlie...and in the process, her mother could be assured she would be introduced to society properly and with a descent understanding of etiquette that would be provided long before the new season started in January.
As their household was a well oiled machine, greeting a guest that was staying indefinitely was always a formal affair; especially for family. There had never nor would there ever be a time where someone simply arrived in a carriage and...knocked.. on the front door. That may have been how things were done in the city, but this was where the Duke of Kent resided. Only staff and menial labor knocked on a door and it was always the one at the back of house near the kitchen.
The staff was informed that the girls arrival would be at a quarter past ten. The trip from Scotland would take a week as there would be numerous stops in between to rest. By then the girl would most likely be spent from traveling, so her room was made ready the day before their arrival. At ten past ten, the staff lined up outside; a show of luxury and wealth that had become standard for the titled peerage. When the girls carriage was sighted across the vast expanse of land that prefaced the estate, their butler, Collins, made the announcement and the family joined them at the front of the house. Such a show was rather second nature by now for any guests that stayed.. but it would probably be far more unsettling for someone who'd never been acquainted with the custom.
When the carriage finally arrived, one of their own footmen went to open the door for the girl and her attendant; offering her a hand to help her down. As the matriarch of the household, Lady Kent immediately stepped forward to greet the girl who, dropped into a curtsy in front of her. Taken aback, she covered her smile with a gloved hand before starting as the footman announced the girl as if she were at a grand ball. ..Charlie and Hannity stared at each other for a moment and then Charlie stepped forward as well. As Ciorstaidh was family and it was only a Wednesday afternoon, there was no need for such pomp.
Lady Kent leaned forward and took the girl gently by her arm to help her stand. "There there, child.. there's no need for that. You need only curtsy for the queen. Come! Let me look at you.. I've not seen you since you were scarcely able to walk...." She held her out by the shoulders and stared at her with blue eyes that mirrored that of her daughters. She was slender in form, with golden brown hair that had streaks of grey threaded through it. She had a kind face that belayed all the bemoaning of her oldest son who probably believed her skin peeled back to reveal a crocodile skinned demon. A sigh escaped her as she couldn't believe how much time had passed.. how it kept marching on and they were powerless to stop it. Her finger lifted to turn a lock of that fiery red hair about her fingertip; remembering the girl having it even as a toddler. Her mother prayed she would outgrow it, but it suited her now.
"Lovely.. My word, but you have so much of your father in you.." She turned and wrapped her arm around her shoulder to guide her to meet the Duke and Joseph. "You may call me cousin informally, dear.. or Lady Kent. Publicly, I'm sure you're aware you may call me Madam." .. Ciorstaidh would have been well versed beforehand as to the Duke and Duchess's formal title, but as they were family, there was absolutely no need to refer to each other as such. "This is my son Jos-" Just then the footman announced Joseph by his formal title as well and Lady Kent glared back at the man. "THANK..you...I will manage from here..." Honestly he was going to give her a heart attack. Joseph, ever his "cordial" self, offered to take her hand and then bowed over it as he brushed a kiss along the back. Lady Kent pursed her lips. If only he used his power for good instead of evil they would all sleep far better at night.
Keeping her arm wrapped protectively around the girl, she lead her to the Duke. "..Your cousin, Charles....you may also refer to him as cousin informally.. My Lord Duke, when in society." The duke wasn't one to banter about the bush. Though he had trouble catching a decent breath most times, he liked to think himself sturdy enough, though rather short in stature like his son. He also took her hand and brushed a kiss against the back of her knuckles. "What a pleasure.. a pleasure indeed. It will be exciting to have a bit of the highlands so far south.."
Lady Kent turned the girl to Charlie and Charlie held out her hand to shake gently. "Lady Genevieve... " Charlie gave her a soft smile that didn't quite reach her eyes which seemed more dull than her mothers or fathers; flatter and devoid of energy.
Lastly, Lady Kent stepped to Hannity, who also held out her hand to the girl to shake in greeting. "Finally, my youngest.. Lady Hannity. This was her first season and it was wildly successful. She's been received in some of the most exclusive circles.. I'm sure the two of you will get along splendidly... you're both of the same age." Hannity was staring at the girl with open curiosity; measuring whether she would be a friend, or worthy adversary. After a moment, she offered a smile, but didn't bother saying anything.
The girls staff was gathering her belongings and making an overall fuss about it which distracted Lady Kent for only a moment before Collins broke rank and went to the carriage to inform them that they could bring the girls belongings around to the back and the house staff would have them brought up. The family escorted Ciorstaidh into the side door and main entry to the massive estate; trailing behind Lady Kent as she told her of the main staff; the head Butler (Collins), the under butler (Mr. Frederick) the housekeeper, (Miss Maple) the chef, (Miss Stepford) whom she wouldn't see very much of, and the footmen... Josiah and Abel. The rest would of course, come with time but Lady Kent was sure she was already overwhelming the girl. "If you like, Charlie can show you to your room so you can rest and change if you'd like before lunch? Or if you need some time, afternoon tea is at 4 and dinner is at 8. Simply ring the bell in your room and someone will fetch you so you don't get lost.."
Welcome to the Bird Cage
Will o’ the Wisp
A corner of her lips curled into a grin as Lady Kent drew her from her curtsy into a standing position so she could get a better look at Kirsty. While the girl was used to attention, it wasn’t normally of this sort. She was more accustomed to light scoldings from the maids for getting mud on her skirt hems, or insincere chastising from her father because she’d disappeared for a few hours. No one ever grabbed her by the shoulders and appraised her. Kirsty wondered if this was what cattle felt like as they were being sold from ranch to ranch. “It’s still difficult for me to walk, cousin,” she began with a glint in her eye, “Not when running gets me places quicker and with more excitement.” Probably not the best thing to admit upon an initial greeting, but Kirsty wasn’t much for pomp and circumstance. And since Lady Kent had already broken the air of ridiculous formality, Kirsty was immediately set loose from those constraints. Whether it had been intended or not.
She couldn’t say it was an unpleasant experience. Lady Kent seemed to have an amiable disposition about her, and she’d called her lovely with much of her father in her. It might have been the best compliment she could have ever hoped for. Kirsty adored her father. If her cousin could see him in her without her having said a word, the girl counted herself lucky.
As the older woman wrapped her arm around Kirsty’s shoulder, the girl almost felt like a co-conspirator. As if walking down the line with Lady Kent and being introduced to the rest of the family was something hush-hush and they would whisper about it in a corner later.
The first relative up was an interesting man with kind eyes. His curly hair reminded her of the children she’d often see running about in town. Kirsty found herself wondering if he retained that child-like spirit just as he kept that hair. She allowed him to take her hand and brush his lips over her knuckles. Though she had to stifle a giggle at the way his facial hair tickled there. “Suppose you’ll have to call me Kirsty then, Joseph. Can’t have only half of the conversationalists being formal.”
She would have liked to stay and start one of those conversations with the man, but as Lady Kent’s arm tightened around her shoulders she was led away. “See ye efter!” she called to him before being presented to the Duke. Her hand was kissed again. She could get used to that. While there had been balls and things of the sort back home, the gentlemen were… different. Much more the type to steal a kiss on the cheek during a dance than rake their chin across her knuckles. She found she enjoyed both forms of attention equally. She beamed at his mention of her home and nodded emphatically, “I’ll have you all eating haggis by the new year.”
She would have liked to talk to him a little longer too, but it seemed now wasn’t the time for all of that. Lady Kent seemed in a rush to push her down the line and get it over with. Which sat just fine with Kirsty; she was itching to get out of this dress and into something more comfortable. The next face was Charlie. Her smile was pretty, But she seemed to have lost all matter of life within her eyes. Which was a shame because Kirsty could imagine those icy blues would have been stunning with a glint of humor behind them. She broke out into a full on grin at mention of how her name was spelled, and shook the woman’s hand with a tight grip. “If you think that’s unique, you should see how we write Charlotte.”
She would have liked to speak more with Charlie, but there was a line to get to and Kirsty couldn’t be late. Lady Kent wouldn’t allow it. During the introduction and subsequent staring from the Hannity, Kirsty took the opportunity to shake her hand with a firm grasp as well. No words of greeting were given from the girl who had apparently made such a stir this past season. So they liked them quiet down here. Too bad for them Kirsty was anything but. Not that she much cared about being invited into exclusive English circles. “I’m sure you’re very pleased with your accomplishments. Congratulations on a job well done.”
She would have liked to have stayed and tried to pry some kind sort of word arrangement out of the girl’s mouth, but there was business to attend to and Kirsty would be damned if it didn’t get done straight away. Kirsty resisted the urge to turn back and say something to her maid. It would make things harder on the both of them. And if her mother kept her word, it would only be a few months before she could return home. Instead, she listened as patiently as she could about all of the household staff and their names. She was never going to remember all of that; at least not straight away. In the meantime, she’d just have to name them herself.
At the mention of food, Kirsty’s stomach grumbled, “Oh aye,” she said wistfully and pressed a hand to her belly. “I could eat a whole bloody elephant right now. Won’t be needing much rest, my arse is already sore from a week’s worth of sitting. Just a change of clothes and a basin to wash up in would be fine. I’ll be down for lunch.” She was going to say something about how getting lost in a new place was half the fun, but it didn’t seem appropriate. She was trying to make a good impression and be on her best behavior. For her mother’s sake.
I will destroy myself
before I let anyone else destroy me
Kirsty had pretty much charmed all of the Stratton family right off the bat save for Hannity and her mother. Once she'd escorted the girl inside, she understood completely why her mother had sent her to them for the season. Hannity wandered off on her own and Lillith paused only to ensure she heard the girl right. (Did she really just say arse??) She gave a strangled chuckle before turning her off to Charlie who was finding it rather difficult to laugh. If she kept it up she was sure the woman's head was going to explode. With Joseph's suggestion about visiting the stables, she lit up.
Charlie was enamored with her accent.. then again, anything that spoke of someplace other than England fascinated her. She took her time climbing the stairs to listen to her and when they arrived at her room, she opened her door and showed her into the well appointed, though feminine guest quarters.
Descending the stairs, she joined Joseph again.. their mother having left to ready for lunch.
Welcome to the Bird Cage
Will o’ the Wisp
She’d seen the look on Lady Kent’s face mirrored on her mother’s many times. It was the sucking lemons look that often accompanied Kirsty’s colorful declarations. The girl couldn’t help but be satisfied that she’d managed to bring that little piece of home to England with her. She had thought she’d missing it. Hannity almost seemed in the same state, and Kirsty almost felt sorry for the girl. Walking around with a stick up one’s ass had to be difficult. There wasn’t a moment to express her condolences however because the lemon twins quickly made their exit. Perhaps later.
Her eyes brightened as the more amiable Strattons remained and offered to give her a tour of the house and grounds. “Aye, that sounds lovely,” she nodded at Joseph. Though being a last resort because someone had nothing better to do wasn’t exactly the most flattering of ways to phrase the offer. At least he was being honest. Which was a quality that Kirsty very much admired. Too many people allowed lies to fall from their lips. She nodded again as Charlie asked if she rode, “Like the wind. And if either of yous is brave enough to stand still, I’ll shoot an apple off your head with my bow.” It was a new trick that she’d been perfecting with some of her friends. So far there hadn’t been any substantial injuries. Just a few clipped ears here and there. Nothing to be too worried about, so Kirsty didn’t see the point in mentioning it.
It was then that she shown to her rooms, beautifully decorated in the latest English fashion, Kirsty was sure. In time, she’d make her own adjustments to create a more Celtic aura. Maybe she’d find some sticks and band them together, just to frighten the servants into thinking she was a wood witch who did magic. “Thanking ye very much,” she said and gave a little wave as Charlie and Joseph disappeared behind a closed door. And then she was alone. For the first time in a week.
The very first thing she did was strip to her underthings and jump onto the bed. It had fine linens and duvet she was certain was made from clouds. Which meant it had only one purpose. The girl stood on the mattress and began to bounce. Tentatively at first, but as she eased into the motion, Kirsty’s knees were brought to her chest each time she lifted into the air in an attempt to jump higher and higher. Eventually, she lost her balance and fell onto the cloud in sweaty, giggling heap. A knock on the door announced the arrival of her things, and she beckoned the servants in whilst she found her breath again.
As soon as they were gone, she set to finding an afternoon dress. This one a light blue with only faint thistles embroidered on the skirt and bodice. Though if they were going to go riding, she’d want to change again. No way on God’s green earth was she riding in a dress. She didn’t want to offend Lady Kent by wearing pants to lunch though. A woman could only take so many lemons at a time before her stomach grew acidic and bile spilled from her mouth. Kirsty would have to ration it out slowly.
She washed her face and other important areas before fixing her hair and doing her corset and other fiddly bits on her dress by herself. The Scot didn’t want to bother anyone for something she could do on her own. Ensuring only the smallest amount of hair was out of disarray was a precarious balance between stuffy and far too carefree. But she managed it. And then she was ready to greet the rest of the day.
So on through the doors, down the hall and staircase, and into the foyer she went to find Charlie and Joseph once again. “How many bloody battles d’ye think this place has seen?” she remarked while her eyes climbed along the walls towards the ceiling. “D’ye think you’ve got any ghosts?”
I will destroy myself
before I let anyone else destroy me
Charlie couldn't say very much about her archery skills. It was a hobby she never took up. That would mean she'd have to leave the stables for an extended amount of time. However she'd never be so foolish as to replace herself as a target. She grinned brightly at the idea of having someone else to ride with; especially if she did so with as much spirit as she did. For as much as she pushed her brother to let go, he always seemed a bit uneasy with her recklessness in the saddle. ....But if one was not willing to take chances, one couldn't find new limits.
Returning to Joseph after she'd shown Kirsty to her room, she chuckled and shook out her dress.
When Kirsty had finally come downstairs after changing, they set off to lunch with Kirsty delving into the ghost stories of the house. Charlie gave Joseph a disapproving stare.
The Duchess was attending tea while their father read from a paper at the head of the table. Hannity sat across from her mother reading over a few letters she'd received. Breakfast and lunch was never terribly formal at the estate.. at least not in their mother's opinion. ...Though for an outsider it was probably rather ostentatious. Looking up from tea, Lady Kent smiled at Kirsty. "Oh wonderful..you've decided to join us! Please..do come sit next to me. I'd love to hear how your mother is." Charlie gave Kirsty a knowing look before going to the other side of the table to sit near Hannity.
Welcome to the Bird Cage
Will o’ the Wisp
There was disappointed twist to her lips when both of her cousins refused to stand with an apple on their head and let her shoot at them. Where was that famous English bravery her mother was always chattering on about? As far as Kirsty was concerned, this only proved Scottish superiority. Not a thought about recklessness or taking undue chances entered her mind. She took the rejection with a playful pout and a shrug of her shoulders. “Gimme a nag and I’ll turn her into a racehorse,” the glint in her eyes was unmistakable. She was a tyrant when it came to adrenaline rushes and finding something exciting to do with the vast amount of time she had in a day. She couldn’t abide the thought of sitting in a corner and sewing her day away. And she’d been cooped up in that carriage for a week. Something needed to happen so she could expend her restless energy.
When she finally came back down for lunch, she was pleased to take Joseph’s arm and listen as he told her a chilling tale of their resident ghost. Her eyes never left his face as she became engrossed in the story, fingers curling around his arm in anticipation of the specter appearing around the next corner. The tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. That was until Charlie broke the spell and informed her it was all a lie. Her shoulders slumped slightly at that. She’d really wanted to see a ghost! It’d been far too long since her last haunting.
“As we were visiting an uncle in Edinburgh,” Kirsty couldn’t help but add her own story into the mix. “I managed to find myself alone in the catacombs under the city. Don’t ask me how I did that, I won’t be telling ye.” A girl had to have some secrets, and if she was intending on slipping away as often as possible, Kirsty couldn’t tell them how she always managed it. “Wandering the blackness and cold damp, I began to get the distinct feeling I wasn’t alone. You know what they did down there back in the middle ages? It was a city beneath the city, the thriving underbelly of the Royal Capital. The selling of corpses for science was the trade of the day. And woe to the weary and lonely traveler who found himself in a dark corner.”
Her voice had taken a darker tone, each word fell heavy into the air and her Scottish lilt far more prevalent than it had been before. “Footsteps were following me, my heart raced against my chest. This would be the end of Kirsty MacGregor, and no one would know where to find my body. I ran. Deeper and deeper into the catacombs, my footfalls echoing off the ancient stone, breath growing ragged with exertion. A dead end! Warily, I turned, back against the moss-ridden wall. If I was to be murdered by a wandering spirit, I was going to face him and die honorably.”
“Turned out to just be a cat that mewled angrily at me,” she chuckled and inserted a little levity into her tale before continuing. “But then! Then the worst of it happened. An invisible and impossibly cold hand wrapped around my throat,” she pressed her fingers around her neck as if remembering the touch. “In my ear, the unmistakable voice of a man rasped, ‘Gonna getcha.’ I wee’d my pants and dashed out of there quicker than I’d ever moved in my entire life. No idea how I managed to remember the way, it was like my legs had a mind of their own. But I survived.” Obviously, she was standing right there. “Or am I a ghost too?”
She was laughing as they entered the dining room. Her eyes grew impossibly brighter at the spread on the table, and her stomach immediately growled, insisting on eating five of everything. She’d just chosen the first seat she came to when Lady Kent offered a place next to her instead. It didn’t matter much to Kirsty where she sat, as long as her belly wound up satiated. She did as she was told and took a place next to the older woman, grabbing a slice of bread on the way. Plopping into the seat, she took a monstrous bite and barely chewed a few times before deciding on exactly what she wanted to say about her mother. “She’s a right old bitch,” she swallowed and continued. “I feel most sorry for the defenseless child in her gut that won’t have me around to protect from her vile mouth.” Oh the ham looked nice. Kirsty reached over and began filling her plate with tasty morsels.