Monday, May 30

The church service had been interminably boring.

The only thing good about the sermon was that it had ended without bloodshed. The nobility filed out of the chapel with glazed eyes, blinking in the sunlight and the sharp wind and the fresh, clean smell.

"You look like a cranky toddler up from a nap. What's wrong with you?" She sounded almost cheerful. He grimaced.

"That man is a bore. He hasn't got anything to say that will apply in the real world." He took a step in silence as they rounded the corner of the building and turned back to the royal quarters. "Arguing over technical differences in the syntax of ancient whatever has no bearing on the way I live my life."

"Oh, I see. I still find it interesting most of the time but you're right, it isn't very practical." She walked precariously on the cobblestones and he wondered if she would ever think of asking for help as she looked ridiculously like a monkey on stilts when she wobbled on her shoes.

Turning into the shaded side of the great hall, they went along with the other nobles back into the main corridor.

"I think you should take a nap. You've enough time before luncheon."

"I think you should stop wearing those shoes, or you'll not have toes nor heel by luncheon."


The corridor echoed with their mingled voices and slowly untangled the voices into footsteps as everyone went their separate directions, preparing a pseudo-intellectual commentary that would make it sound as if they'd actually been listening that morning.

Friday, May 20

Signs outside the airport said "Drive on the left" in 5 languages.

I blog here not only because it is different and new and weird, but because I get my entries emailed to me and then I can forward them to other people; also, because I have wireless internet in my hotel room (*GRIN*) but limited battery on the compy and no place to get an adapter till tomorrow morning.

The meeting with the course coordinator for the MPhil was awesome; got to talk to two students and two professors, which was wonderful! Am on the right track; their best advice was to read things that I liked. Imagine, me--reading!? Sandy, thank you for praying, my dear. This totally = jewel-in-crown type material:D

Also got to drink multiple innocent smoothies (YUM) and have just now stolen down to the local Spar to get a bottle of water and some jaffa cakes (on sale: am inexorable thrift fiend when it comes to frivolities) accidentally stole into my hands as well. Whoops. Well, I've also spanned two different countries in the same sentence.

Can't wait to write more about Ireland in full. Things have changed even since the brief period between last fall and now . . . incredible! And I also took a bunch of photographs that I'll post later--again, when I have the battery for it. Will have pictures of where I'm at now up as well, eventually.

What a crazy couple of days, already. Looking forward to taking a shower and finishing up some reading tonight. A whole week ahead of me, too! I'm so excited:D

yours ever,


Monday, May 16

There were even turrets.

Originally uploaded by anstruther.

She hated playing secretary for her roommates, she really did. Especially in the middle of a chapter of something quite gripping.

"Yes," she said, nodding unconsciously. She raised her eyebrows once, but the chatterer on the other end was oblivious.

Fiddle-dee-dee . . . What were all those plastic jars hanging about the table? Cat would get them, use them for toys . . . Why can't they pick up after themselves!? Roommates, not cats. Plug adaptors and votive candle holders ballpoint pen refills, and caps to pens of whose genus or species she dare not guess; all littered the table.

The chatterer took a breath and the line was mercifully cut short. She had meant to pick up the doodads and thingummies that were scattered over the tabletop but found herself faced instead with a castle the majesty and glory of which had never been seen before. There were even turrets.

Friday, May 13

She was a very private person.

Just when I found this from Mrs. Dalloway, I must admit that there are parts of Woolf's novels that strike a sudden chord, and one looks about the room wondering "Does anybody else realise that I know the characters in these novels?" but finds oneself to be the only Reader.

The following excerpt is from Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse, which I'm reading for a class:

"Lily Briscoe watched her drifting into that strange no-man's land where to follow people is impossible and yet their going inflicts such a chill on those who watch them that they always try at least to follow them with their eyes as one follows a fading ship until the sails have sunk beneath the horizon."

Tuesday, May 10

Swords and shields of a more orthodox nature.

A man's anguished scream rang out from the end of the tourney field as his opponent fell. Somehow, something had gone wrong. Was his armor loose? Perhaps he wore only a coat of leather rather than mail rings. Did his horse stumble? The winner of the round hastily dismounted and ran back to where the other man had fallen. A small crowd of people had already gathered close and someone had run to find the midwife, who was tending to other tourney scrapes and bruises in a nearby tent. The champion's face was sweaty and his breath came in half-gasps as he stared into the face of his fallen rival; it was pale.

The injured man, called Will by his companions, lost the use of his legs from that day forward. He lived on with his sister in the house their father left them and they moved his bed to the window so that he might see the sun rise over the edges of the trees in the morning. The news spread over the village in the space of a few days, and the man who wounded him was off on horseback to his uncle's manor within an hour of his hearing the consequences of his joust. Many people noted his actions as suspicious, and some few gossips muttered foul untruths.

After the first wave of visitors (mostly lasses escaping work who took the opportunity to fawn over the fallen and console with his sister Carrie, but also the priest who spoke in a rasping voice and brought what could be spared from the poor box), Will was shocked to think how much he had taken for granted and not prepared for. Not only the ability to walk about and sit on a horse, work everyday, but it struck him as sister left for market day that he couldn't protect her if some bristling smelly fool should take a fancy to her curls. He wondered if the door to the house was strong enough to withstand a few heavy blows and whether the corner of the ceiling that he fixed last fall was actually strong enough to hold through.

Humming a little to lessen the eerie silence, he thought with chagrin about evenings in the local public house that he would miss very much. The problem of his livelihood had been present in his mind and it was this that he pondered when the door opened and his former opponent stepped nervously into the room.

Will felt physically vulnerable and had a wild thought about yelling for help, but before he could do anything aside from composing his face into a frown, the man was on his knees before the bedside. Will maneuvered himself with his arms until he could lean against the wall.

"Am I to suppose you came back to apologize?" Will sighed. "I'm not angry with you, if that's what it is. Things like that happen in tournaments, sometimes." For a moment the man before him bowed his head, but then he took a deep breath and not without effort did he look at Will's face.

"I am sorry. I hope you can forgive me." He trailed off into silence for a moment and Will's expression changed. "I mean to say, please let me repay something! It's my fault. I can work for you. My uncle gave me my share of the inheritance and I have the money. You could at least make a start at something with it." Will looked puzzled but he could see the man's ears turn a frighteningly rosy pink color. "I don't even know your name," he said in disbelief, and found himself speechless.

"Tom. My name is Tom, from Cairn Wood. I've got one brother a sailor, other one a farmer—I'm a third son, see. " Will whistled. A third son was generally considered good luck but a nuisance to provide for—he either went to the church or took a uniform and it was clear that Tom wanted neither. They looked at each other for a moment in realization that they may as well have exchanged places and both been the happier.

There was some talk in the village when Tom took over management of Will's farm, but it died down for the most part when the lasses stopped giggling and nudging themselves about Carrie's prospects (now very slim) and the men replaced stories of Tom's disappearance with the one regarding the occasional evening when a wheelbarrow would appear whimsically tipped to the side against the pub's outside wall and Will's laughter rang from his usual place on the bench against the wall.

Monday, May 9

A dweem wivvin! A dweem.

It was a dark night--and it was stormy, and there was a flood. The town's small cinema was on higher ground than the small motel, so while the water was ankle deep, the few guests had headed up the crumbling pavement to the small theatre; several people were already sitting on their sleeping bags and playing cards by the light of a propane lantern in the foyer. The older man, who seemed to the be the leader of the group, asked if they could go into the auditorium to sleep since it was less crowded.

"Sure, I guess, if you want." The young man at the desk, still in the greasy burgundy vest that seems to be a staple of all theatre uniforms. He flicked his flashlight on and off while she spoke. "The only thing is--there's a dead guy in there. I mean, he was at the morticians' but they got flooded too and had to find a place to put the guy, so he's on the stage."

"Do they mind us in there? We're exhausted." There was a young couple and two girls behind him, all sleepy-eyed and shivering.

"Uh . . . They're still in there; you can ask, if you want to." He jerked a thumb towards the darkened door.

The six tired figures, laden with nondescript bundles, filed into the theater. It smelled of stale popcorn, and something else they couldn't put a finger on. The burgundy carpets weren't lit down the sides since the electrical power was out, but there were lights on the stage--flashlights--and there was a man in a white jacket with the cliched clipboard standing next to a covered stretcher.

The leader of the group went up to speak to him while the others leaned against the wall or sat down on the folding chairs, letting their bags and bundles fall to the floor. Only one of the girls followed him after dropping her rucksack on a folding chair.

" . . . Yes, it is rather an interesting case; you see this man isn't recently dead--that's why we can place him here." The man in the white jacket was not the type of person to push his glasses further up on his nose, nor was he the sort of person who would ever have a crooked bowtie. He hugged his clipboard protectively to his chest. "His grave was exhumed shortly before the flood started because we were afraid of the ground giving way. It's a good thing we did get him out of the way before the rains came because then we certainly would have had some trouble."

"So he's decomposing? If it's unsanitary, we should stay in the foyer until this can be cleared away." The leader was scarcely stomaching the images of washed up bodies whose graves had been violated by the most thoughtless of criminals, Nature.

The white-jacketed man's voice grew more excited. "No no no; it's perfectly safe. This is incredible! Simply unbelievable! The man died sometime in the sixties, to judge from the coffin type--but we can't find a record of him or any of his relatives or anything of the sort--but he hasn't decomposed! Not a molecule, as far as we can tell! It really is fascinating. But we haven't figured out anything so far that might put anybody in danger. Just don't touch him, and it should be alright for the night. We'll get him out by morning."

"Okay." He was thoroughly nauseated. "Yeah . . . Thanks."

The man in the white jacket took the flashlight that he'd been holding and walked swiftly up the sloped floor and out into the foyer. For a moment the theater was in complete darkness, until the young man at the other end of the room flicked the switch on his flashlight. The leader and his young companion hurried away from the dark stage.

The leader told everyone what had transpired and suggested they set up camp at the far end of the theater, away from the body, and everybody concurred.

After a little while, they remembered the car. How could they have forgotten the car! Somebody needed to go see if the car was alright. The young man volunteered to go, and though the leader was chagrined about his going, allowed it, gave him the keys, and turned on his own flashlight.

The young woman had curled up with her legs over the arm of a chair, and the girl that had not eavesdropped on the leader's conversation with the man in the white jacket promptly fell asleep against the wall. The other girl shook her flashlight until the light flickered a dim yellow and then took out a battered paperback novel. The man sat in a thoughtful silence; he didn't like the looks of the people in the foyer, and he was the only one in the present company who could stay up half the night. Somebody would have to share shift with him sooner or later.

In a short few minutes, the young man came back with the news that the car was indeed safe, but that there were a few homeless people rummaging about, ransacking people's cars that had left things open and ran, so he'd be comfortable sleeping in the car if that was ok. It was, begrudgingly.

In the next half-hour, it was evident that he had dozed, because he heard a voice from outside the small circle of dim electric light--wait, no; her flashlight battery had gone--and he hadn't seen the theater door open or close. She was probably asleep. The voice was conversational and calm, sounding as if it was glad to be out of the storm as well.

For the next hour, he and the voice riddled and spun old stories (He'd forgotten about Paul Bunyan and the blue ox, Babe) and talked about the fields and the sky and the wind in the summertime. Then the leader remembered the young man. He realised that he'd taken no blankets, and the night was cold--that he'd taken no light, and the night was dark.

The girl, who had not fallen asleep but lay listening, fighting exhaustion, seemed to read his thoughts and startled him a little with her whisper; "Jamie hasn't got any blankets, Dad." On common consent and since the car was not far away and Jamie would be awake, the girl tucked a polar fleece camp blanket under her arm and put her jacket over her head to ward off at least a little bit of the rain. She could bring her raincoat back with her since she'd left it in the car to begin with.

The street was not raised, like others, so there was a kind of river that she had to wade before reaching the car, which was in plain sight from the time she left the cinema doors. The water had risen to a height above her knees, and it was a struggle to keep the blanket dry. In the rain, it was hard to see whether there were people about, but she thought she saw a figure to her left a dozen or so yards away, keeping time with her. Probably just the reflection of light on the choppy, muddy waters. Or it could have been something floating in the water.

When she got to the car, she could see the figure moving slowly but steadily nearer. Giving way to a tired fear, she frantically beat on the window of the car. Jamie had fallen asleep, and was groggily squinting out the window at the small figure beating at it from the outside.

"Open it, Jamie!" she cried. "Please!" The figure seemed to be wearing a white t-shirt, now drenched, and denim jeans. Somehow it seemed old. She caught a glimpse of his head, bald on top with grisly long grey hair streaming down the sides. At any other time the style would have seemed absurd. Jamie opened the door and she handed in the blanket as the figure drew nearer.

"Move, Jamie: let me in, too!" But it was too late; the man had reached the girl and clutched her shoulder with a crooked, arthritic hand. She swallowed a scream and calmed slightly as the man started to mumble something about being lonely. Only a creepy homeless guy, maybe? she thought, wondering at the oddity and trying not to be afraid.

"No," she said, "I have to go. Don't touch me." She shrugged his hand off of her shoulder and looked up. Jamie seemed paralysed inside the car. There wasn't much he could do.

The man's eyes were lidless and had no pupils, as black as the night and round, shiny like the water in which he stood. He smiled an unearthly smile and looked down at her. Too stunned to gasp and trying not to show she was afraid, she said, half sobbing, "Don't!"

And then she woke up, like people do after nightmares are over.

Sunday, May 8

The rose gardener.

Nobody was ever sure exactly where the rose gardener had come from. He would declare, if questioned on his art, that he had been growing and tending roses since he was old enough to walk. He would also declare, when questioned on his accent, that he had once been a gypsy prince and went into hiding in this barbaric foreign country when he was wrongly blamed for the murder of his father, who had actually died, as he related to anybody who would listen, by greedily feasting on a dish of poisoned apricots.

Somehow it was passed along to him that gypsies were rovers and so couldn't have gardens, and so his story changed to having been a prince of a land with a name so long he couldn't remember it. There were forests and wars and oceans to be fought, but he was taken captive by pirates and swam ashore when their entire ship fell victim to a terrible plague (this part took a consecutively longer amount of time to tell), and had been wandering the earth ever since, looking for a rose garden to call his kingdom. Roses were the only flower that grew in his kingdom, with a name so long he could not now remember it.

A young page once suggested with unpardonable insolence that perhaps the old man's accent was nothing but a speech impediment, but nobody listened to him either.

Friday, May 6

On a WWI poet:

Strange Meeting (Wilfred Owen)

. / . / . / . / . / I.
It seemed that out of battle I escaped
. / . / . / . x / . /
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
. / . / . / . / . /
Through granites which titanic wars had groined. II.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,-
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand pains that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
"Strange friend," I said, "here is no cause to mourn."
"None," said that other, "save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also, I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair, III.
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here. IV.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled. V.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled,
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery, VI.
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.

"I am the enemy you killed, my friend. VII.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now . . ." VIII.

I. I've scanned the first few lines with meter, caesera, etc. but the whole poem would make it more difficult to read, and there are some inconsistencies/puzzling bits which I'm not sure of--that's take a dissertation, and I am merciful. However, these three lines scanned are enough to show that the poem is mostly in iambic pentameter. There are definite trochaics, though; I just have a bit of trouble with them.

II. Look at where I've places the italics running for a few lines downwards--though there is even a paragraph break, you can see how the assonance is created; not rhyming, but nevertheless creating an audible similarity, absolutely laden with meaning (compare some of the words, look at their connections).

III. These three lines are the only place where the assonance is tripled instead of grouped as a couplet; almost all the rest are couples.

IV. Between the repetitive "grieves, grieves", there is a caesura disguised as a comma . . . It is repetitive because of the use of the same two words and emphasized by the pause; like in Tennyson's Mariana with the whole "aweary, aweary", the poet wants you to stumble and look back at those words.

V. This line is curious

. / . . / . / . / . /
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.

That would make the line a little awkward, but read it out loud; the word you are caught on is the first "pity". We'd read it:

The PITY of WAR, the PITY x WAR disTILLed.

So he makes you stop with the first "pity" because of the dual syllables. I suppose you could read it thus:

The PIT-yof WAR, the PITy WAR disTILLed.

And yes, I meant to squish "pity" and "of" together--but that just sounds stilted. The second example seems to make most sense to me; strike a chord with anybody else?

VI. The two lines are trochaic (I think).

/ . . / . / . / . /
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
/ . . / . / . / . /
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:

At least, they start out with trochees. This is, again, to emphasize the qualities being named. The repetition is here, too, and the assonance to a height--"mystery" and "mastery" are far closer than "hair" and "hour".

VII. Antithesis! Oh, that is much better, something I'm more used to. Death does make men brothers far more quickly than anything else I can think of at the moment.

VIII. There are some more trochees before this, I think, but I agonize over them. For this, this line is the only one that doesn't have repetitive assonance, or anything of the sort; it breaks off into silence without even filling the meter guidelines. This, again, to emphasize the quickness of death and how it simply brings men down to a common denominator.

Thursday, May 5

The King and His Daughter (and a teensy little LOTR rant).

"They will be so angry when they return!" she cried, meaning her sisters. The Knight of the Single Eyebrow had proposed another item of social protocol for the royal houses of the five kingdoms.

Her father gave a short laugh and assured her that very few of his proposals ever made it to a state of reality and would she please lay back on the pillows and stop letting her temper get away with her! Just because she was convalescing didn't mean she was sure of absolute recovery.

She made a face at him and lay back against the pillows, the multimillion embroidered pillows at which he had thrown a sardonic look before stationing himself by the fire. Guards were waiting outside, and the night behind the windows of the small sickroom had settled into a fitting purple, since he'd slung his formal, heavy ermine robe over the end of the bed. Another half hour, maybe, until he'd have to leave and attend to the feast.

For a little while they both retired into their own thoughts; she was wondering what had happened that day during the long meetings that could make such a fuss? The Count with the Mustache must have said something unsettling, or maybe it was the Knight with Yellow Hair? Was it the Lady in Purple who was always sniggering?

She sighed and let the problem go, assuming she'd be told in due time but still annoyed at not being kept up. Perhaps Fiona would hear something in the servants' hall.

The King stood with his back to the window, not aware that the sunset threw a majestic glow on his grey hair and dark tunic. He tried to take off such titles and honors when speaking to his own family members, but it was usually useless as he always had a piece of information that he wasn't allowed to tell them or a barrier he had to put up to observe formalities and conventions. It began to weigh on him a little, and showed in the lines around his eyes, the tenseness of his shoulders. She pitied him, sometimes, and he knew it.

He shuddered. What a position! To be pitied by his own daughter! It would be uncomfortable for any man. But she did respect him--he could not scorn her pity so or not value her love to spite its mistakes. It was a gentle heart that served him.

Well, writing that last line, for any Tolkien fan, is very meaningful. So I daydreamed awhile on the internet, looking for pics of Faramir. Well, though I much respect David Wenham for his role in playing one of the most awesome heroes EVER, I am very upset with the group of people that messed his character up. They never showed they way he thought so clearly, or the way he studied and read--he was the one who first had the dream, remember!? He was "the wizard's pupil"! But nooooooo, don't put that in the movie. Make it a love story with a fickle Eowyn who was afraid to fight. Faramir was a man in his own right, wasn't he? He was captain of Ithilien! Come on, people! And it isn't like Eowyn was such a wimp, either! She thought clearly even then! They actually had normal conversations, not peppered with enough poetry and flirtatious smiles to make a Tolkienite puke . . . I hate it when they mess stuff up in movies like this. How come they can't get the heroes right? The purpose of heroes is not to fall in love. Gah!!! Faramir had a personality.

Well, that's what I get for watching the movie. Everybody, please go read all the bits about Faramir before coming back. Esp. the bits with the interrogation scene and the one around the fireplace when Denethor is talking with Mithrandir. The House of Healing stuff can wait until you've read the entire book and know it isn't characteristic. Ahem.

Wednesday, May 4

Monday, May 2

Swords and shields of a most unorthodox nature.

As he entered through the far end of the darkened hall, something caught in his throat and he coughed; the sound was startling as it echoed upwards and was muffled by the high beams of the roof. In the corner of the room by the dais, a door was lit with torchlight that stopped at its threshold but a comfortable clatter of pots and pans could be heard a little way into the hall as the assistant cooks and scullery maids swept the last round of dishes into the washtub and talked in familiar patters of the events of the day.

He hesitated to step into the light and decided that he would wait until they left to venture forth, noticing as he stood that the stone floor was quite cold to his bare feet. There was a large fireplace on one side of the hall and in front of it was a worn sofa; it seemed as good a place as any to wait, and warm. Wrapping his robe close about him, he sat down on one side of the oversized couch and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly, and stretched his feet towards the hearth.

The fire was a pile of vigilant embers in the darkness of the large hall, making the objects nearby seem small and disproportionate. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the brightness of the ruddy glow but when he did, he realised he wasn't alone; a familiar figure with her knees drawn up to her chin was on the other side with her head on the arm of the sofa. It looked like she was sleeping.

He didn't particularly feel like conversation and felt himself extremely fortunate to have avoided human contact thus far in his search, so it was ironic when there was a resounding clang as somebody dropped a metal pot or pan (it sounded like a gong) in the kitchen and she awoke. He pretended not to have noticed, and kept looking at the fire. Go back to sleep, he thought, which, of course, she did not do.

"Oh, hello." She saw him, and yawned.


There was a pause, and then an echo of laughter came in from the lit doorway. They both watched the fire for a minute or two before she spoke again.

"I've just recognized who you are, I couldn't see you clearly before, and you weren't sprawling every-which-way like you do normally."

He grunted and wondered if there was something he could say or do to deter conversation without being rude. Unfortunately, he didn't think quickly enough.

"You don't look so good; are you ill?" Her voice was concerned with just enough of a tinge of anxiety that he was annoyed. "Maybe it is the dim light," she conceded with another yawn.

"No," he said shortly, "I've been crying." He could tell she was at least a little taken aback by this admission, and realised that he was rather uncomfortable with having blurted it out like that.

"Oh," she said awkwardly, looking at the couch cushion. "Are you alright now?"

"No." He racked his mind for some other place he could be alone, but the only possibilities were in the biting cold, outdoors. He shivered involuntarily.

"Do let me know if I can do anything for you, then. I'm sorry for being such a chatterbox at you; I can leave you alone if you'd rather be by yourself. I was just waiting for them to leave so I could make myself a cup of hot chocolate." She gestured towards the flickering rectangle of torchlight. At that moment the light dimmed and was snuffed. The laughing voices died away into a farther passage. She got up from where she was sitting, watching him warily as if he might break into sobs at any moment. "Let me make you some hot chocolate?"

"What? Oh. Sure. Thanks." She stole silently into the corner and disappeared into the now-invisible doorway.

There was a short space of time where he felt the relief of being alone and not having to guard his facial expression. It felt strange to him to be suddenly prey to an overwhelming emotion, and in its aftermath he was drained and exhausted. He listened to himself inhaling and exhaling. The air was clear and cold in the hall, and the coals in the fireplace were burning very low. There was a stack of firewood somewhere in the dark; he found it and put a few small pieces onto the bed of embers, stoking it a little.

She presently returned with two mugs of chocolate and offered him one. He took it, and by this time was feeling more in control of himself. "Sit down and finish yours; I don't mean to scare you off of your own furniture."

"That's alright. There is hardly a nook in which anybody can find a moment's peace in this place. I usually keep to my rooms when I can, but people do find you out." She said this with a bit of chagrin, which made him laugh.

"Oh, sit down. I'd rather you stay and keep me company." She sat down gingerly on the other side of the couch. "Tell me; where is Fiona? You shouldn't have to come down to the kitchens for hot chocolate, especially not by yourself, and not at night."

She yawned sleepily. "It's Fiona's day off. Nobody would have known I was here till you came in; and you should let your valet run your errands. Why did you come down, anyway?"

"I can't remember now." He shrugged and inched his feet closer to the fire. They sat in silence, and she was the first to empty her mug.

"I'm going back to my rooms." Standing up, she stretched. "You'd better bring your mug back down in the morning, or they'll complain we've left them more dishes to do overnight; in the morning they don't even notice the extra cup or two." He nodded. The fire crackled and light glinted off of the mug in her hand. "And--you will be alright?"

He nodded again, and gave her a half-smile. "You are very sweet. Thank you."

"It is no easy task to let a friend be alone and hurting, and me helpless to do anything about it! " she protested. "Do get some sleep, ----. Good night."

"Good night," he said, and she disappeared into the shadows and darkness outside the small circle of light around the hearth.