Forget not the look you gave that day
So searing ‘cross a crowded room
Past wandering eyes and lingering hands
Oliver holds back the huff that threatens to escape him as he looks up from the secluded corner he’s found away from the frivolity of the court.
“Lord Allen, what a pleasure,” Oliver greets, holding back the grimace that threatens to spread across his face as the younger lord takes a seat next to him.
“It is, a pleasure that is. Your poems are all anyone is talking about, you know? By Jove, none of us had any idea you were such a wordsmith. A practical Shakespeare,” Lord Allen comments with a chuckle as he moves closer to Oliver, forcing the older man to move ever so slightly away.
“I do not claim to have such power over vernacular as the bard himself, though I am glad to hear my poems have gained such popularity,” Oliver answers politely, his eyes flitting between Lord Allen and his parchment impatiently. He was in the flow of things, his brain perfectly conjuring the look of her stark blue eyes and now…
“You are the talk of court, Lord Queen. Every lady wishes to know if she is the… what was it? Oh yes, the ‘dancing dove of peace and light’ you speak of so fondly,” The lord before him grins, nudging Oliver with his elbow in a way he finds most unsettling.
“My poetry is not an invitation to speculate about my romantic life, Lord Allen,” He counters, raising an eyebrow, and the younger lord blushes, shaking his head.
“Of course not, but there must be some lady who has caught your eye. By Jove, no man could be moved to such extreme declarations without some incentive,” Lord Allen laughs, gesturing to the parchment in Oliver’s hands. Oliver moves it out of his sight, not yet content to share the thoughts before him with the world.
“You seem to be more in the know regarding these things, Lord Allen. Please, enlighten me,” Oliver asks, resisting the urge to roll his eyes as he does so. He has never been one to enjoy court, since he was old enough to attend he’s found the entire facade a waste of time. That resentment has only grown with time and whilst he’s more than content to serve his king in any way he wishes, he wishes there were fewer pleasantries involved in the whole affair.
“Well the talk is that it is the elder Lady Lance who has caught your eye,” Lord Allen smirks at him and Oliver frowns, his mouth settling into a singular straight line.
“I should hope it were the elder, the younger is hardly of marital age,” He quips with a raised eyebrow and his conversation partner freezes a moment and huffs, before he looks quizzically at Oliver.
“So there is some truth to it?”
“Not at all, Lord Allen. I was merely commenting on your distinction between the two sisters,” He chuckles, looking wistfully down at his parchment.
“You a fickle man, Lord Queen.”
“Hardly, Lord Allen, I simply choose not to engage in the frivolous gossiping that so clearly motivates many at court. I find it to be childish and altogether a waste of time.”
Oliver knows his tone is curt and probably inappropriate to the man before him but he grows increasingly tired of this relentless questioning. His life is not a game upon which for the other members of his class to bet and should he never declare his intention to marry, he does not think it any of their business.
“Yet your poetry speaks so clearly of love and loss,” Lord Allen frowns and Oliver cannot hide his laugh at that, his eyes rolling.
“Those are distinct emotions that can utterly consume one’s soul. It is not a passing fancy or a comment made on the life of someone else purely for my own useless entertainment. If you will excuse me, Lord Allen, I should like to continue to write in peace,” He tells the other man, gathering up his things and standing, clearly demonstrating his attention to end the conversation.
“Well, I…” Lord Allen splutters and Oliver rolls his eyes, moving away.
“Good day,” He finds himself calling over his shoulder, unable to hide the small smile that spreads across his face as he manages to make it into the throne room without Allen catching up to him.
Oliver jumps at the familiar call of his name, turning to face the large throne dominating the end of the room. His king sits upon it, staring at Oliver with a curious expression, and Oliver swings into a deep bow, not wanting to offend his patron and king.
“I can hardly take two steps today without your name being spoken. The queen showed me some of your poetry, you are rather good,” The monarch comments, a small nod accompanying his words and Oliver smiles. King Charles II is not the sort of man Oliver writes for, in fact, Oliver would state he does not write for anyone but himself, but to hear such an endorsement from the king brightens his mood nonetheless.
“I thank your majesty for his kind words, I am grateful to have found such pleasure in the act,” Oliver explains honestly, nodding at the queen who smiles at him from the throne adjacent to her husband’s.
“I suppose you will be off on some trip any day now,” The king declares with a smile and a flick of his hand, causing Oliver to frown.
“I beg your pardon, your majesty?”
“Oh I know how it goes with you writers and artists, you find your passion, and away you run to some corner of the country to focus. Where is it you have chosen?” He looks at Oliver expectantly who frowns. He has heard of such trips, he knows that many choose to take them and he cannot deny the appeal. Running any from the court, not having to deal with imbeciles like Allen, all day alone with his love…
“I am not quite sure yet, your majesty,” Oliver finds himself saying despite having had no intentions of such a trip before now.
“Ah, a secret keeper as well. Be as it will, Queen, I wish you all the best,” The king nods at him and Oliver moves into a bow once more, turning to the queen as well once he rises.
“Thank you, my king,” Oliver nods and takes his leave, ideas spinning around in his mind.
Oliver does not settle until later that evening.
If he is honest with himself, he does not settle until this hour most days. Until his sister has retired to her rooms and he slips outside, not daring to take a candle as he makes his way to the bench where he waits for her. He sits and watches the window to his sister’s rooms, watches their silhouettes move in the candlelight until the movement settles and the anticipation within Oliver grows.
It is then that he turns his attention to the back door, waiting for it to swing open and her small, lithe form to slip out before she rushes to him.
“I thought you may never come,” Oliver sighs as she finally rushes into his arms this night and he pulls her to him as if she may disappear if he does not hold her in a vice-like grip.
“Your sister requested a particularly intricate hairstyle this morning, my lord. It took some time to take down as I prepared her for slumber,” Felicity explains with a small chuckle, clearly content to revel in his tight embrace.
“Of course, you are so admirably dutiful,” Oliver smiles as he pulls back, cupping her beautiful face in his hands. He notes the pretty flush on her slightly tanned cheeks, darkened by her time spent outside hanging washed clothes and sheets on the lines.
He cannot say that he fully remembers how this began. Felicity has been in his family’s employ for a long time, since before his parents’ tragic passing. Oliver has watched her grow from a timid girl to the beautiful woman he sees before him now and his affection for her has grown with them. This closeness is a relatively new occurrence, but he would not trade it for the world. He has not felt so alive since he ran through the fields as a small child. She is entirely the reason and he knows he would do anything for her.
“My lord and his sister are good employers, I should hope anyone who shows such kindness to their staff are repaid with good service and hard work,” Felicity smiles up at him, her tone that same gentle one she uses when she clearly finds things to be much simpler than Oliver views the world.
“I should hope anyone who has enough luck in this world to afford staff would show them the respect and care they deserve,” Oliver shakes his head, his thumb caressing Felicity’s cheek. He knows his words to be true. It does not matter that Felicity is his truest love, he and his sister treat their staff with the respect they deserve, from the housekeeper all the way down to the stable boys. He thinks incredibly badly of those he hears who do otherwise.
“You are a wholly baffling man, my lord.”
“How so?” Oliver questions with a quirk of his eyebrow. He invites Felicity to sit next to him on the bench and she complies, smiling as he grasps both of her hands in his.
“Your thoughts are so unlike other men, you care for those around you and look after those you can, not out of a sense of duty but due to a real want to give back to those who have helped you. I think you may be the most singularly kind soul I have encountered,” Felicity smiles at him, her beautiful eyes shining that gorgeous shade of blue, the one which reminds Oliver of the sky on the best of summer days.
“I believe that to be a gross overstatement but I will accept if it earns me a kiss,” He grins, leaning in towards her but Felicity’s eyes widen, nervously flitting back to the house.
“My lord…” She starts a little nervously and Oliver smiles, running a hand up her arm in an attempt to calm her.
“Have I mentioned how beautiful you look in the moonlight?”
“Your sister may still be awake,” Felicity immediately counters his compliment and Oliver shakes his head, grasping her hands once more.
“I grow tired of having to hide my affection for you,” He tells her, and Felicity sighs, this conversation is not a new one, and whilst Oliver knows her stance on it, he wishes to try one last time before he unveils his plan to her.
“My lord, your reputation will be entirely ruined and I shall never work again. We cannot be found out.”
“I do not care what they think.”
“I do not care of their thoughts of me but I am far too poor for you to ever marry and therefore, I would be cast out from society, penniless. If not for your own reputation, please think of mine,” Felicity pleads with him, her eyes wide and Oliver sighs. He understands her concerns and it pains him to know that she is the one who would suffer most were their love revealed to the world. He simply wants to be able to love her freely and show her off to those he cares about, the thought of the pain society would put her through maddens him to his bones.
“Run away with me then,” He suggests, his hand returning to her cheek and he watches as her brow furrows, the confusion clear on her face.
“We shall go to the lakes. I shall buy a property where no one will bother us and no one will know anything of either of our stations. We shall live freely, just the two of us,” Oliver explains, talking slowly and his breathing light as he imagines it. He knows that they both could be incredibly happy there, he just needs her to agree.
“It is a beautiful dream,” Felicity tells him after a long pause, her hand coming up to rest over his own on her cheek.
“Let us make it a reality,” Oliver pleads with her, his heart aching at the thought of continuing in this charade for even one more day.
“My lord, it cannot be,” Felicity shakes her head as she slips back from him, turning away from him with a pained frown.
“You do not love me?” Oliver questions, his heart clenching as he thinks of what her answer may be. He has always been more open with his words and affection, his position allowing himself more liberties, but he’s pretty sure she feels the same way… or at least he hopes.
“I love you with every fibre of my being. I simply do not have the privilege of engaging in such thoughts. I must ground myself in reality, else I will end up more hurt than I could ever imagine,” Felicity turns back to him and the pained expression in her eyes makes Oliver want to cry. He knows that she is probably right, that people will talk even if they are removed from society and the position that would put Felicity in should she ever wish to return is unspeakable.
“...I think I shall go,” Oliver tells her after a long moment, looking up at her nervously. He does not wish to leave her, but the suffocating nature of society continues to grate on him in ways far deeper than just his marital status.
“To the lakes? I think it is an excellent idea, my lord,” Felicity perks up, smiling up at him and Oliver frowns, reaching for her hand.
“You just said it cannot be,” He reminds her, and Felicity chuckles, shuffling closer to him.
“We cannot be together, but I think the fresh air and an extended leave from court would do you the world of good,” She explains herself, her hand rising to his neck and Oliver hums, leaning into her affection greedily.
“I do not wish to be without you,” He sighs and Felicity hums, nodding her head.
“We may as well get used to it. You will be able to write as much as you wish,” She counters and Oliver’s heart aches at the thought of not being able to see her stunning features each day, knowing that he may not kiss her for months on end.
“Without my greatest muse? I shall be struck with the dreaded block, I can already foresee it,” He groans, looking down at her with a pout, and Felicity chuckles, her hand rising to gently brush her thumb over his lips.
“You speak too kindly, my lord,” She shakes her head and Oliver chuckles, shaking his own head.
“You underestimate my affection for you, my love,” He grins, delighting in the squeal he elicits as he pulls her into his lap to finally kiss her properly.
If they were a little less wrapped up in each other, they might have noticed Lady Thea Queen watching them from the window of her bedroom. The only light left on in the house, the young mistress watches with rapt attention as her brother and servant speak in clearly hushed tones, their hands grasping desperately for one another.
Oliver leaves for the Lakes two days later.
The trip itself is miserable. It rains the entire carriage ride and Oliver cannot write due to the constant movement of the cart upon the rough road surface.
The rain does not cease upon his arrival in the Lake District. In fact, Oliver spends the first three days of his trip by the large window in the hall, watching the way the water pelts against the glass. He was right when he spoke of being struck with the block, his words do not come without Felicity. She is the march to his flame, he needs her.
On the fourth day, he finally ventures out.
The rain has not stopped but he cares not. He pulls his thickest coat over his jacket and ensures he laces his toughest boots around his ankles. He wraps his papers tightly in his leather bindings and stores them safely within his coat, should inspiration finally strike him whilst he is out. The middle-aged housekeeper of the house he is renting begs him to reconsider his flight but Oliver ignores her, assuring her that he will not stray from the path.
He needs to get out, to feel the rain on his skin and allow the sorrow of his separation to wash away, even if only momentarily.
He walks for what seems like hours. The rain continues to pour and the lakes seem to fill before his very eyes, the water dripping from the surrounding trees like small individual waterfalls. The sound is deafening but more than welcome as he tries to think of anything but Felicity’s sparkling blue eyes.
The housekeeper rushes out onto the porch when he finally makes it back, soaked to the bone but feeling better for the trip. He assumes she wishes to usher him inside before she speaks.
“My Lord! I tried to tell her to come inside, I truly did! She insisted on waiting for you back there, she must be frozen, poor lass!”
“Mrs Gregory, of whom do you speak?” Oliver frowns immediately, not expecting company in the slightest.
“The girl, the lass! She arrived within the last hour with a letter from my Lord’s sister. Said she works for you back at your home in Starling. She’s ever so nervous, my lord, I’m worried she’ll never warm again after standing out in all that rain,” Mrs Gregory flails, gesturing through the house and Oliver’s frown deepens as he attempts to process the information she’s divulged.
“A letter from… she works for… Mrs Gregory, where is this woman?”
“By the fountain, my lord. In between the rose bushes,” The housekeeper explains and Oliver blinks, trying to spot the figure through the large doors of the entry hall and the large glass doors that line the back of the house. He tries to ignore the way his heart jumps when he spots blonde hair.
“Excuse me,” He nods at Mrs Gregory before he rushes through the house, bursting out the back doors as he rushes over to the small figure. The elation at realising that it is in fact Felicity is quickly replaced by fear as he takes her in. Her clothes are thin and logged with water, clearly heavy against her skin and she is shivering, teeth chattering against each other as she notices his approach.
“M…my… my lord,” She stutters out and Oliver does not hesitate to pull her close. His clothes are wet also but he prays his body temperature may warm her slightly.
“Felicity, by Jove, you must be freezing,” Oliver breathes out, amazed at the ability to hold her when he had resigned himself to not seeing her for many months. To know that she is here, and with him, away from the pressure and prying eyes of court.., it is more than he could have possibly dreamed of.
“You must come inside at once,” Oliver shakes his head as she stutters once more, fear gripping him as he notices the ferocity with which she is shaking.
“The… they will talk,” She stumbles and Oliver shakes his head, turning her head to look at him with a gentle hand beneath her chin.
“So let them. A little gossip is not worth you risking your life, now in,” He insists and Felicity stares at him for a moment, her bright blue eyes shining with the fire he has always admired within her.
“Yes, my lord,” She finally relents as a shiver comes over her. Oliver breathes a sigh of relief and scoops her into his arms, ignoring her light squeak as he carries her into the house and through to the front sitting room where a fire is already roaring.
“Mrs Gregory, towels, lay some down by the fire, and a dry dress. I assume you brought a trunk?” He tells the housekeeper who is hovering by the door, watching Felicity nervously. She produces towels from behind her, clearly having come prepared and she lays them over the rug, allowing Oliver to place Felicity down before she wraps a few around her shoulders.
“A b…bag, but it’s probably all sodden too,” Felicity replies to Oliver’s query, her breathing evening a little even now.
“One of my shirts and a set of breeches then, and a belt,” Oliver frowns, glancing down at Felicity’s tiny waist with a decisive nod.
“My lord!” Felicity exclaims with a gasp, looking up at him in shock.
“Shush, the only thing that matters right now is getting you warm,” Oliver waves her off, nodding at Mrs Gregory with a decisive look. The older woman scurries off and Oliver turns back to his love, watching her shivering form with a concerned look.
“You are wet too,” Felicity notes looking over his sodden leathers and Oliver shakes his head.
“But I was moving and under these… I am dry,” He explains with a chuckle, shedding his outer layers, boots, and socks to leave him in his shirt and breeches.
“Come now, let’s get you out of that wet thing,” Mrs Gregory calls as she reappears, ushering Oliver out of the room as she urges Felicity up. He waits outside until their movements stop, popping his head around quickly before he enters, stopping at the sight before him.
Oliver has never seen a woman in his clothes before but he does not think it would matter if he had. He knows that it would not compare even slightly to the wondrous sight before him of Felicity in his shirt and breeches. They are almost comically large on her, cinched in and held up at the waist by a belt that has been tied due to the eyelets not running far enough along the leather. Her hair is tumbling out of its style, the weather having taken its swing at her curls as well as her clothes and she looks like a beautiful, wild nymph.
Oliver thinks he may have just fallen all the more in love with her.
“Mrs Gregory? Some tea please,” He clears his throat, nodding at the housekeeper as he swallows thickly, Felicity rocking clearly nervously on her bare feet.
“Some soup as well, I think,” The housekeeper declares, her critical gaze watching Felicity’s small frame.
“An excellent idea,” Oliver agrees, smiling at the woman who nods and disappears, leaving the two of them alone.
“I like her,” Felicity comments with a small smile as she makes her way back towards the fire.
“I’m glad,” Oliver smiles as he pursues her, stopping behind her to slide his arms around her lithe waist and press himself up against her back.
“Hmm, my lord she shall be back,” Felicity notes even as she leans her head back against his shoulder, her nose nuzzling against his hair.
“I do not care, I am so happy you are here,” Oliver hums into her neck, pressing kisses to the soft skin where her shoulder meets her clavicle.
“You may thank my lady for that,” Felicity muses and Oliver frowns, Mrs Gregory’s words from earlier coming back to him.
“She is a very intelligent young woman. She had us from the start,” Felicity laughs and Oliver coughs in surprise, releasing his hold on his love a little so that he may look her in the eye.
“All this time?” He questions disbelieving and Felicity smiles, nodding her head.
“All this time she was waiting for one of us to tell her and then when you declared you were coming here, she threw a small fit,” She explains softly, leaning back into his arms and Oliver frowns, his head spinning.
“Here. She requested I pass this to you and insists you respond within the lunar cycle so she may know if her plan was successful,” Felicity grins, reaching up to the mantle and handing over a letter.
“Of course she did,” Oliver chuckles as he looks down at the parchment, his sister’s loopy hand recognisable anywhere.
“I will let you read,” Felicity smiles, slipping away from him but Oliver shakes his head, grasping her wrist. He is far too soon reunited with her to let go of her so soon.
He pulls a large armchair closer to the fire and settles in it, gently tugging Felicity down next to him so she is half on his lap, “Let us both sit, come here.”
Felicity smiles and inches a little closer, leaning her head against his shoulder with a contented hum as he unfurls the paper to read.
My dearest brother,
I know that this letter may come as some shock to you as yourself and Felicity were so sure of the clandestine nature of your affair. Please know that I hold no resentment against you for its existence or your holding it from me, I only wish to see you happy.
I am also aware that you have been unhappy at court for quite some time now. I see how drained the days make you and how you wish to be able to write. It is why I was so in support of your trip when I assumed you would be taking Felicity with you.
I know that it was not your decision to leave her behind. I have spoken with length at her on the issue before penning this letter and I completely understand both her reservations and your need to make the trip nonetheless. I pray you do not think it too forward of me to take action, however, I truly believe the two of you belong together and I wish to do anything I may to assist you to do so.
I have told our housekeeper that Felicity’s mother has suddenly taken ill and she has returned home to care for her. This will give Felicity months to spend with you without suspicion. I know that your choice of the lakes was mostly for its secluded nature and I am sure you will have selected a minimal staff with much discretion. This is why I have no fear in sending her to you.
Be careful with her, brother, she loves you so but she is scared. Our privileges afford us much in life and the ability to do more without fear is one of the greatest rewards. Felicity is not at such a liberty. If I hear any tale of you disrespecting that, I will make sure you eat only mutton for a month.
Wishing you all the best,
Your loving sister
Oliver shakes his head as he stares at that ogre before him, his eyes flitting over the words time and time again as he tries to wrap his head around it all. Thea, sweet little Thea, still with her governess Thea has known all this time and she convinced his love to come to him so that they can be happy. He truly doesn’t know what to say.
“She truly knew all this time?”
“We are clearly not as stealthy as we thought,” Felicity smiles cheekily up at him, her chin resting on his shoulder and Oliver freezes for a moment before he grins, his arm slipping around her waist.
“I will show you stealthy,” He laughs as he pulls her fully into his lap, his hands racing over her sides as he tickles her. She squeals loudly and Oliver tries to ignore the way her wriggling form so close affects him.
Their laughter is interrupted by a loud clearing of a throat and they pull apart a little to see Mrs Gregory placing a tray of tea and soup down on the table before them. Oliver cannot be sure but he swears he sees a slight twinkle in her eye as she glances at Felicity.
“Mrs Gregory, Felicity will be staying here as my guest. Please ensure the room next to mine is prepared accordingly,” He tells her before he loses his nerve, ignoring the way Felicity gasps from next to him.
“Of course, my Lord. I shall see to it myself,” Mrs Gregory nods, her smile real this time as she bobs into a curtesy and leaves.
“My deepest gratitude,” Oliver calls after her, relaxing once they are once again alone. He wraps an arm around Felicity’s waist and tugs her close to him once more, rubbing the tension from her shoulders as she leans into him.
“You are so forward, my Lord,” Felicity shakes her head and Oliver frowns, looking into her bright eyes with a gentle smile.
“Please… call me Oliver.”
“Oliver….” She tests the moniker and Oliver swears his name has never sounded so sweet. He thinks he should not wish to hear anyone else speak it but her. She looks up at him, all wide blinking eyes and Oliver knows he’s a goner. “Will you kiss me?”
“Every day until the end of time,” Oliver whispers before he leans down, finally capturing those soft lips in the most perfect embrace.