For your reading pleasure, the result of the Regency Group Write is below. Thank you to everyone. The comments were great!
The Adventures of A Blade Named Excalibur
Miss Jessica Darby had long ceased minding that Fred, a dog of indeterminate ancestry, had curled his body around the heated bricks on the floor of the carriage. Fred, she decided, made a decent enough substitute. Naturally, her mind soon wandered to thoughts of pi.
“Are we there yet?” said Miss Sally Elizabeth, looking up from her embroidery hoop.
“Another eleven point four minutes, if I’ve correctly calculated the slope of the terrain, the speed of the horses and the weight of the carriage.”
“Well,” Sally said. “Of course you have!” Jessica, Darby to those who loved her, knew her dearest friend would support her no matter if she had a few dog hairs clinging to her slippers. The knowledge gave one a certain sense of contentment. To be loved unconditionally, that, indeed, was a life lived in all the right angles.
As the carriage made its way further into the depths of Cumbria, Sally interrupted Darby’s musings on the properties of the hypotenuse. “I think perhaps you’ll be forced to accept Hartless’s proposal,” Sally Elizabeth said, keeping her gaze carefully on her embroidery. “If his worst fault in your view is that he didn’t take a first in maths, I’m afraid you’ll have to keep digging for a legitimate reason to say no.”
“I’ll think of something.” Oddly enough, at that very moment, something occurred that completely disrupted Darby’s attempt to recalculate their estimated time of arrival. Darby and Sally knew the road that led to Harlech Castle had been plagued by a notorious highway man that the authorities had yet to catch. They sighed their relief as the castle came into view and no one had yet relieved them of their jewels, but then the carriage came to a lurching stop and hoof beats could be heard.
“Blast,” Darby muttered.
The fracas outside had Sally too worried take Darby to task for her language. To the accompaniment of what sounded like a gunshot, Darby checked her watch and noted the hour, minute and second at which the carriage slowed. She must know the exact duration of their delay if she was to correctly derive the moment of their arrival.
“Heavens!” Sally cried.
Fred slumbered on.
At the very same time that Darby and Sally were in considerable danger of their lives, a devastatingly handsome man stepped out of the castle where he was awaiting the woman he intended to marry and the woman he intended to seduce. Hartless Hartley studied the blue sky, and wondered if the square root of eleven could possibly predict tomorrow’s weather. No, he didn’t think so, and wondered why Darby would imply such a thing; she must have decided his blond hair indicated his intelligence, to his detriment.
He’d rather enjoyed her letters until she began casting aspersions. He ought never to have sent her the miniature of Excaliber, as he so fondly called his nether part. So many women lost their heads when they saw him for the first time that he’d wanted all parties involved to be prepared for their first encounter. He ran his fingers through his blond hair. Excalibur an extraordinary weapon, and he would be well pleased to demonstrate that essential truth to Miss Darby and anyone else who doubted him.
Downhill from the castle where Hartless, the eleventh duke of his line contemplated both the art of war and Eros, Darby was saying, “No you certainly may not!”
“I think you’d best let him have the thing,” Sally whispered. “It’s not worth your life.” She put her mouth closer to Darby’s ear, never taking her eyes off the masked man. “A gentleman highwayman, I promise you.”
“Oh, very well.” Darby tossed her reticule at the highwayman who caught the dainty bag in midair and, with a kiss into the air, turned his steed and thundered away.
The carriage started its uphill journey again.
Sally, overcome by emotion, burst into tears. “There, there,” Darby said, wishing it were possible to give her friend a handkerchief, which it was not on account of the item having been in the reticule now in the possession of the highwayman. “Have no fear, dear Sally. We shall arrive at the castle in precisely fourteen minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Provided there are no more interruptions.”
The carriage rumbled through the gates that marked the nearest border of the estate, passing, unbeknownst to the ladies, a curious scene. William FitzAndrew ducked behind a hedge trimmed into the shape of a duck and, holding the reticule at arm’s length, gently tugged it open. Inside were various…female things. Also a note, on crisp ivory paper sealed in scarlet wax. He broke the seal and read outloud, “Any man so unfortunate as to share the names both of Sir Walter Scott and his ponderous novel has good cause to be disagreeable.”
He also withdrew from the reticule, an exquisite miniature loving framed in gilt oak. As he stared at the painting, a gentleman in fawn breeches and a coat the color of rain on Sunday emerged from behind the duck’s herbaceous tail feathers. In the background, it was possible to see the carriage making its way up the hill.
“What can Hartless possibly see in this chit? She’s plain as a Quaker’s cat.”
With difficulty, FitzAndrew withdrew his gaze from the object he held. “She’s a damned sight better than his last wife and no mistake.”
“At least the chit has both of her eyes and most of her wits.”
“Point taken.” A few of the leaves that formed the duck’s wing brushed the back of the mysterious gentleman’s neck. But he took no notice as he was busy tucking a pistol into the waistband of his breeches. “What is that thing you’re holding?” He snatched the painting and paled.
“You recognize the weapon, sir?”
At the top of the hill up which the carriage was yet making its way was a dark and mysterious castle. To the left was a mansion designed by none other than Capability Brown himself. And inside, where Adam had left his mark, Sir Waverly Scott was not used to being made to wait on the master’s ‘pleasure’ or anyone else’s pleasure for that matter. Yet, there he was cooling his heels in the drawing room doing just that.
That left only one thing to do. Pour himself a dram or two of FitzAndrews’ Scotch. Ach, but there was not enough time to become the sodding bastard everyone saw him to be.
At half past four, Sir Waverly had finished the Scotch. He was a wee bit annoyed. He faced down the butler with the courage of half a bottle of bootleg whisky under his belt. “I won’t stand for this, do ye ken?”
By half past six, Sir Waverly was at the castle which he accessed through a secret door that led to the kitchen if he went downstairs and, should he go upstairs, to a locked room to which he possessed the only key. He went down. “Tint the mashed carrots red tonight, Cook!” instructed Waverley, “Let’s see how long it takes Miss Darby to notice! I have a bet with Miss Elizabeth about the means by which she’ll seek to dispose of them!”
“Here we go again,” thought Cook. The good woman was far more right than she knew.
The weather, William FitzAndrew thought from the comfy confines of his carriage, was as appealing as a plate of cooked carrots–which is to say, he thought gleefully, dreadful for his best friend’s fiancee and delightful for FitzAndrew. Because it was raining and the entire wedding party was headed to the only open-air castle in England owned by Sir Waverly Scott. And FitzAndrew did not like Darby, not at all, not since she corrected his maths from Oxford while visiting FitzAndrew’s best friend Hartless.
What right had she possess a likeness of Excalibur, after all? If she loved Hartless, and what woman did not, Excaliber would even now be pressed to her bosom with fervent ardor. He checked his watch. Damnation, he was going to be late for his own party.
Rain streamed down the windows as Jessica Darby gloomily contemplated the boiled carrots that were all that remained of the lavish dinner served in honor of the Duke of Hartley. Hartless he might be; certainly his grace was not stomachless. What other appetites might the Duke possess? Jessica Darby poked the red mass on her plate suspiciously. Sure as 0,1,1,2 would be followed by 3, these were no beets.
“What on earth is that?” she cried.
‘Thank Heavens for Fred and Sally!’, thought Miss Darby as she calculated impact and trajectory before surreptitiously tossing her pork chop into her best friend’s mashed carrot, causing it to splash on her bodice, causing her to shriek, causing all diner’s eyes (but One) to turn to that unfortunate miss as Miss Darby used the opportunity to dump her carrots under the table for the dog.
‘Blast inventive women, anyway!’ thought Waverly, staring at Miss Darby, resigned to having to pay up on his bet.
“Come my dear,” Hartless said, including Sally in his invitation. “Allow me to show you ladies my private–“
“Oh!” Darby said with a charming blush shared by Sally. “Do you mean–“
“Yes.” Hartless smiled in that way that had so famously made seven ladies swoon. “Excalibur in the flesh.”
Darby snapped open her fan. “I confess I have been longing to admire it.”
The ladies joined Hartless, both of them eager to see the famed weapon. A black cat ambled across the cold stone floor of the castle’s huge hall, directly in their path.
Fred let loose a low growl and the black cat ignored him as only cats can. “Colin!” Sally cried. The duketightened his grip and hauled back on Fred’s collar and the hound instantly obeyed, sitting at his feet. In as lady like a manner as Jessica could manage, she dropped her uneaten carrots at Fred’s panting mouth.
The butler scuttled forward. “Leave the bloody hound be, won’t you? He can’t lead you somewhere he’s never been.”
“Quite right,” Hartless said as he led the ladies upstairs.
In the dinning, room, FitzAndrew at last joined Sir Waverly. They engaged in a conversation that sent chills down the footman’s spine. “We’ll set Darby to work. No doubt there’s a relationship between the width of the crenellations and the number of rejected proposals. We’ll call it the Hartless Constant.”
“Oh, he’s constant, all right,” the footman thought. “Constantly showing off that damned weapon of his.
Like the cook, the footman was more correct than he knew.