Cakes for the War Effort // prompt: first impressions // Daisy, Sybil
Of the three, Lady Sybil was the one who frightened Daisy the least.
Lady Mary had always scared her. She seemed cold, almost cruel though you couldn't say so in Carson's hearing, and Anna too would defend her mistress to the end. She supposed Anna knew best but even so, every morning when Daisy slipped into Lady Mary's room to build the fire she held her breath as long as she could, terrified all the while that she might turn to see those cold eyes fixed on her. It hadn't happened yet, but somehow she never could shake the suspicion that it might, someday.
Lady Edith had been kind to her the one time, but only because she'd wanted to hear what Daisy knew about that poor Mr. Pamuk, (even now that name made her uneasy) and as the older girl put a comforting arm about her shoulders Daisy had caught a glimpse of the greed in her eyes. Lady Edith was a tricky one – Mrs. Patmore had said so once, and after that day in her room, Daisy could wholeheartedly agree.
But Lady Sybil was nice, everyone knew that. She was the type to ask after your mother (though she never had after Daisy's, and a good thing too because Daisy didn't think Mrs. Hughes would approve of the kitchen maid telling her whole sad life story to a daughter of the house.) It was Lady Sybil who helped Gwen when she'd wanted to leave, and now it was Lady Sybil who wanted to go off and become a nurse. Daisy thought that was an awfully nice thing to want to do, even if she did wonder how a highborn lady would ever bear up under a real workload.
So when Lady Sybil came down to the kitchen for her first lesson in cooking, Daisy just smiled – maybe a little shyly because she'd exchanged barely two words together with most of the family, let alone taught one of them to bake a cake.
"But we haven't been properly introduced," Lady Sybil said. "It's Daisy, isn't it?" she asked, though it was clear from her smile that she knew it was. "I'm ever so grateful for your help, Daisy," she went on brightly. "You must know such a lot, and I'm sure you think me quite foolish!"
Daisy opened her mouth to deny it – though, truth be told, she was rather more surprised at Lady Sybil's assertion that she knew "such a lot," which was certainly not something Mrs. Patmore had ever accused her of. But Lady Sybil cut her off before she could speak.
"Oh, it's alright, really! I know I am. I feel as though I haven't learned a single really useful thing in my life. I don't suppose even the prettiest curtsey will do much for the war effort!"
Her laugh was warm and genuine – it was odd to think that the daughter of an Earl could have a laugh just as real – and just as infectious – as Gwen's or Anna's or anyone else's. But even as she thought it, Daisy found herself grinning at Lady Sybil, then laughing right along with her.
Almost Unwelcome // prompt: house guests // Mary/Matthew, Mary/Richard
Mary kept the back of Matthew's head in sight. She let her eyes flit surreptitiously back to it periodically, tracking its movements, noting its enthusiastic approval of the grand staircase, the towering tree in the hall. From where he was locked in reluctant conversation with Granny, Richard's eyes were similarly trained on her own back – she felt them quite clearly and it made her stand stiffly, shoulders tensed. How she wished that Matthew cared a little less about pleasing her father – if he'd had enough sense to decline their invitation, they might all have spent a more agreeable Christmas.
At a break in her mother's chatter, Mary looked up to find blue eyes fixed on her; anxiety plucked at her stomach, but his gaze seemed to bathe her in warmth, softening the practiced set of her features. But of course, it could only be the champagne that made her feel so very lightheaded.
"I see that Mr. Crawley approves of the décor." Richard's voice dripped with familiar bitterness, his fingers resting with controlled ease on her elbow.
"I'm rather tired of looking at it. Shall we step outside for a breath of air?" It was easy to talk gaily, to slip her hand into the crook of Richard's arm with those blue eyes out of sight. As they stepped into the fresh snow covering the courtyard and the noise of the party fell away, it took almost no effort to glance approvingly over the quiet grounds and silvered trees. The night air slid over her, cold and quelling.
"Well?" A half-smile crept toward his eyes as he looked at her. They were the blue-grey of winter, of morning. It was easy to turn up her face to his kiss; she felt a small fraction of her heart curl inward as if in shame.
A New Beginning // prompt: new beginnings // Rosamund/Marmaduke
He kissed her much too soon, impertinent man, directly on the mouth in the drawing room of her father's London house. She was twenty two and had been kissed before – first inexpertly by a Viscount's younger son in a tepid conservatory, then rather better by a man who stood to inherit a large estate and the title of Duke. They were both what her little brother would, in a rare show of wit, have called dull dogs. But Marmaduke was a different sort of man; she could tell by the way he watched her, sharp gaze trained on her carefully arranged features.
"You kiss rather well for an Earl's maiden daughter," he said almost disinterestedly.
"I have seen four seasons." Rosamund let the retort take on a careless tone, crossing to the window seat and smoothing her skirts with feigned nonchalance.
"Should you care to see a fifth?"
Rosamund could not decide if his half smile was charming or offensive. "You know there's nothing I like better than a turn around the ballroom with an insufferable bore stepping on my toes and regaling me with an account of his last great hunt."
"Would you marry me, then? You'll forgive me for not kneeling – I wouldn't want to bore you with all that nonsense."
Her heart did not jump or skip a beat as hearts in books are wont to do; she only turned to look him in the face, her own expression guarded. She thought of his money, how it would pay for a house that was hers alone – not her father's, not Robert's – and of the circles in which he moved, circles from which the Crawleys and their familiars were very definitely absent.
A new beginning, she thought. A new life altogether. "Yes," she said, "I believe I will."