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Someone was playing a lute in the little parlor.

Up in her chamber, Margaret adjusted her new French hood so that her hair ran smoothly back from her forehead. The new gown, a deep red, set off her black eyes and fresh complexion. The musician playing downstairs was her uncle George's charge, the Scottish boy captured at Solway Moss. "Be kind to him, Margaret," he had said. "It may prove useful." She smiled at her reflection one last time and left the room. Her feet in their Spanish leather slippers were quiet on the floor of the upper passage and on the stairs.

She stopped in the doorway of the parlor. The boy was slight and fair-haired, not overly tall. She knew him to be sixteen years of age: likely he did not yet have his full height. His hands on the lute were already a man's, long fingered and a little large for him. The tune was an Italian piece, she thought, and he was playing with such concentration that he had not noticed her. His profile was that of an angel on a church altarpiece.

She stepped forward, and when she was almost within arm's reach, the notes faltered at last. He looked up, wide-eyed, and moved as though to stand.

"No, please, keep playing," she said sweetly, and after a moment, he did so. His eyes were cornflower blue, with outrageously long pale blond lashes. When the tune had wound to a close, he stood and then dropped to one knee, still clutching the lute. "My Lady Douglas," he said.

His voice seemed well-broken: a man's tenor, with no hint of a squeak or crack. "You have my lute, Master Francis."

As expected, he flushed and started to offer it to her. She waved it off and seated herself on a cushioned stool near his chair. "No, please - it was mine when I was a child. Just play for me, and I shall be content. Do you know the songs of Christine de Pizan? I should enjoy to hear the one that begins 'Command of me'."

His flush deepened as he resumed his seat, and he nodded. She smiled warmly, enjoying herself. "Can you sing it? Your voice has settled?"

His lips parted soundlessly, then closed, and he nodded. There was the faintest trace of white-blond down along his jaw. He adjusted the strings of the lute and began:

"Command of me, my Lady and my queen,
All thy good pleasure, as I were thy slave,
Which I shall do with glad and humble mien
That whatsoe'er thou willest, thou may'st have ... ."

Potrait of Margaret Douglas, altered to make her look younger, as in the story

His singing voice matched his spoken timbre, and it was true and only very slightly husky. She watched him closely, smiling faintly, and he began to meet her gaze more openly, singing the words directly to her:

"I owe no less,
Being bound thereto for so great pleasantness,
More than to other lovers may betide:
For sweeter are thy gifts than all beside ...

The poor lad. He had no notion, as yet, of the truth of what he sang. Her smile deepened, but she felt a pang, still, at how easily the round had been won.


(Portrait of Margaret Douglas in middle age from Wikipedia, Photoshopped; necklace and gown design adapted from Holbein's portrait of Catherine Howard.)