Breath-taking chapter image by lotrfan185 @ TDA
Author’s Note: Please keep in mind, this chapter takes place a year and eight months after the last, in the fall of 1777.
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Rowling’s work. However, all OCs mentioned herein do belong to me.
Chapter Twenty Sarabande
What a wicked game you play
To make me feel this way
What a wicked thing to do
To let me dream of you
--Chris Isaak “Wicked Game”
London, England. Fall of 1777.
Farrell didn’t think, but held out his arm to help her up.
Artemisia took it, uncrossed her legs and rose, pushing back the gilt-edged chair with her hips. “Merlin’s bones,” she said in a thin, moist voice. “It is so piteously cold. You would think Lord Hackle would be more considerate of his guests. This is his daughter’s wedding, after all. Poor Dickey Hart, marrying into such a family!”
Farrell waited until she had dropped her hand from his red sleeve before he peeked beyond the large, walnut doors into the ballroom. He saw the orchestra, all thirty pieces of it, plucking out a boring tune meant to bubble just beneath the guests’ conversation. Tapered glasses frothed with champagne. Silk fans twitched. The ladies wore lace, the gentlemen brocade.
They were standing in the foyer, which was almost distasteful in its size, more cavernous than grand. Artemisia had tired of dancing and she had tired of the other guests and she wanted a “drop of quiet”.
What she intended to use that drop of quiet for, he had no idea. It was she, after all, who had been officially invited to the wedding of Dick Hart. Farrell, although acquainted with the man, had been invited more as courtesy to Artemisia. Auror Lufkin needed someone handsome and dashing on her arm if she was to uphold her reputation in society. And although Farrell had been her lover for over a year, he was beginning to tire of being known only as “Artemisia Lufkin’s man” in the Ministry’s social circles. True, he was a squib and squibs often weren’t mentioned at all by prominent politicians, but that didn’t mean he was entirely contented with his lot either.
Although he would never, never say such a thing to Artemisia.
“Do you think it’s so very ostentatious?” she asked. She was fixing her low collar, running the tips of her fine-boned fingers along the back of her heavy skirt. In the candlelight, the rings on her fingers glinted fire. “My brother Tarquin said this house is vulgar, and I must say I agree. And…and I don’t care if Dick Hart is marrying Lord Hackle’s daughter, this wedding is distasteful.”
“You mustn’t blame him,” Farrell put in, clearing his throat with a grunt. He felt some measure of sympathy for Dick…why, he wasn’t entirely sure. Although a man of exceedingly good prospects, Dick was a younger son and therefore, could claim no title for his own. He had, however, successfully courted Lord Hackle’s only child, a quiet young girl named Portia, and subsequently managed to marry above his station. It was no easy feat, Farrell knew that, but still, he felt bad for Dick. No man should have to grovel to gain rank.
“I hate these gatherings.” Artemisia inspected her nails now. “And I cannot countenance the tedium, I cannot…oh.” A sigh made her stiffen “I think I’ll go mad. No wonder my poor mother was buried so young. See, this is what they don’t tell you when you are a child. It’s all nursery rhymes and magic tricks. Tutors and pony rides. And you make friends with the servants because you think it is quite acceptable.”
Her discerning eyes cut over to him and Farrell dropped his own gaze.
There was an insinuation in her voice, an insinuation that made it difficult to ignore what lay between them. The gap. The great divide. And Farrell thought, in these cold, autumn days, that he had perhaps been a fool to ignore it in the first place.
But instead, he found he loved her all the more.
Artemisia circled him and he heard the measured click of her shoes on the marble floor.
“What a ghastly place,” she mused, looking overhead at the carved cherubs and faux-antique urns brimming with pale lilies. “Like a mausoleum. So cold.” She shivered. “I feel like I’m being watched with all these damn carvings. And I hate to be watched, you know…all those eyes.”
He smiled at her then, enjoying the paradox she had birthed with her own tongue. In his opinion, Artemisia very much liked to be watched. Over the past year and a half, she had garnered attention as a rising-star Auror, the young prodigy the increasingly beleaguered Ministry sorely needed. Capturing the highwayman Perkins had just been the start of her career and she had worked successfully in the field for some time now, bringing purported American spies and smugglers to justice with enthusiastic ferocity. And yes, Artemisia Lufkin was a good Auror, a damned good Auror…but she was an even better politician.
Although he had only heard her speak twice (once before the Wizengamot when giving evidence against a privateer, and once in front of his companions at the King’s Own Regular) Farrell sincerely believed that she was a gifted orator. One of those charmed speakers, like that Roman fellow, Cicero.
Artemisia knew how to speak and she knew how to weave her way seamlessly through the often times murky backwaters of the Ministry. And there was already talk that someday, yes someday, she might take Dick Hart’s place as Head of the Auror Office.
But now she was displaying none of her rare talent, only bitterness. And Farrell wondered how a promising young woman could be so bitter…
Inside the ballroom, the orchestra paused its languid sarabande and a lone harpsichord picked up the unadorned tune. The conversation lulled ever so slightly.
Artemisia stopped her pacing, her face tightened with disgust.
“I despise this song,” she said suddenly and turned right about. “It’s the most awkward sarabande I’ve ever heard, so uneven. Listen to the notes.”
“It’s passionless,” Farrell replied roguishly.
His suggestive smile was lost on Artemisia, however.
“Do you hear it?” she asked, “there…it’s just there.” She kept the beat with a twitch of her hand. “Certainly not a song made for actual dancing. I don’t think I could…but I could try.”
Artemisia stepped forward and initially, Farrell wanted to recoil. He sensed some dangerous barrier had been broken and it troubled him. The soldier in him did not like to be approached so directly, by a woman no less.
It made him seem weak.
But she put one hand on her hip and grasped his arm with indelicate authority.
“See, it should be like this.”
She reeled back and he was obliged to follow. To the side, then diagonal.
Farrell knew he was a fair dancer, but apparently not up to her standards, for halfway through their caper, she stopped and commanded,
“Dance, Farrell, dance, damn you!” But there was no anger in her voice, only that dangerous playfulness he had come to fear as a precursor to mischievousness.
And, by God, he hated it when she was mischievous. It upset the balance of things.
Suddenly, Artemisia rolled against him and he was prompted into a sort of a half step that made his boots squeal on the marble.
She came close enough so that he could smell her modest perfume and the powder on her wig.
Her elegance was nearly shameful. And it shamed him.
After the sarabande, she insisted that they at least try the new minuet the Royal Dance Master was promoting.
But Colonel Charles Euston, the only other squib who had been I invited to Dick Hart’s wedding, came out into the hall and interrupted them with a loud cough.
“Only madmen and paupers dance in the drafty halls,” he said, offering his usual sense of mastered grace as he surveyed Farrell and Artemisia arm-in-arm. “You both look like a pair of lost pups. Come inside, they are about to announce dinner.”
“Ah.” And just as quickly, Artemisia whirled away from Farrell, patting her powdered wig to look pert and pretty once more. “Excellent. I was going mad just waiting, Colonel. No wonder my poor mother was buried so young. See, this is what they don’t tell you about growing up. It’s all nursery rhymes and magic tricks when you’re a child. Tutors and pony rides.” She glanced back at Farrell. “And you make friends with the servants because you think it is quite acceptable.”
The barb stung him for a moment, but then the music blared and the entire house was filled with false candlelight that reflected off the gilded molding and furniture, but beneath, Farrell knew, there was naught but wood and stone.
And into the lair of pretense, he blindly followed the woman he loved.
In the years to come, Farrell would not remember much of Dick Hart’s wedding. He would not remember lingering with Artemisia outside the ballroom, dancing the sarabande and entertaining her sharp wit because she happened to be lacking an audience. He would not remember the sumptuous dinner that followed and the series of lengthy, useless toasts that many a worthy guest offered to the happy bride and groom.
But he would remember, until his dying day, when it came to be Artemisia’s turn to speak and she got up on the chair next to him, raised her crystal goblet and pronounced the war in the colonies an egregious crime against Britain’s own brethren.
He would, of course, not remember the groans of protest that follow, nor how Artemisia drained her glass amidst the catcalls and smiled with all the radiance of an Olympian god.
And yet, until his dying day, he remembered thinking then and there that she was not really his and perhaps, yes perhaps, she never fully would be.
But after the wedding, she was his…for a time. Farrell had always considered himself a jaded sort of fellow. A cynical soldier. His heart was no longer the heart of a youth and it did not quicken at the sound of musketry…or at the sight of a beautiful woman’s smile.
Artemisia had been his lover for some time and by all rights, the romantic thrill of the chase was spent. They were accustomed to each other, acquainted with kisses and caresses that had once been foreign and undeniably exhilarating.
But now, in the low light of her bedchamber, (and the scent of rose water thick, so very thick) Farrell felt his heart thump unevenly in his chest, felt it gallop when she pressed herself to him and laughed, yes laughed.
When all was said and done, he watched her extract herself from the tangle of sheets and find a dressing gown to toss over her thin shoulders. And without the least bit of modesty or coyness, she sat in front of her mirror and brushed out her hair with a silver comb. Hair that he had mussed with his ungentle hands…
“They are a decent match, I should say,” Artemisia trilled. She was working carefully at a knot, her lips pulled into a frown, the light freckles on her cheeks more prominent now that she had removed her white facial powder. “Lord Hackle’s daughter is a biddable girl. Quiet. Dick couldn’t do with a wild, competent woman. He needs that soft femininity…you know what I mean, don’t you, Martin?”
Farrell propped himself up on his right hand, his elbow sinking down into the feather mattress. “Aye.”
Artemisia’s dressing gown had slipped off her right shoulder and the full curve of her pale neck cast angular shadows on the Oriental carpet.
“Do you think Dick is handsome? Oh, I do. So very handsome. A true gentleman. But I would destroy him, don’t you see? We could never be married. We couldn’t even be lovers.”
“How fortunate for me,” he replied.
She turned to face him. “Merlin’s bones, Martin, do you think I am a whore?”
Her voice was playful, high and lilting. He was reminded of an opera they had seen together a month ago. Something by Handel. Farrell wasn’t quite that interested in the opera himself, but the music seemed to suit Artemisia well. She was an aria herself, something tempestuous and teasing and yes, dark.
“What was it called again?” he asked, rolling onto his stomach. “The opera we saw, I mean.”
Artemisia put down her comb with a sigh. “I think it was Rinaldo. Though how should I know? I slept through most of it.” She rose, pulling her dressing gown back over her shoulders. “Do you know how very much I hate weddings, Martin? Especially when they are ostentatious. Gaudy affairs. Ugh.”
“So you don’t intend to marry then?” Farrell yawned. It didn’t surprise him, really. Artemisia wasn’t a temperate sort of woman. Not biddable, as she had termed Dick’s new bride.
Her reaction, therefore, stunned him.
“I cannot talk about this,” she said and there was something of great distraction in her countenance. “It made me nearly sick to be sitting in that church today. Do you know what marriage stands for, Martin? Nothing. Oh God, it’s nothing.”
She recoiled then, her face perilously pale.
Farrell was on his feet in an instant. The sheets slipped down his torso and he didn’t bother to cover his nudity even as he took her into his arms.
“My, such emotion,” he laughed lowly, his husky tone matching her shuddering breath. She exhaled against him and he felt her chest rising. Rising and falling.
Her hands were cold.
“You do not want me to marry you then?” he asked after she had stilled some.
Artemisia looked at him hard, her expression bordering on quizzical. “Are you asking me?”
The silence that followed was close to deadly. Farrell’s throat clenched and he struggled to swallow, coughing instead into his forearm.
Artemisia drew away and crossed her hands in front of her. She looked very much like a Ministry official then, too dignified and important to afford him any meaningless reply.
But was it so meaningless, Farrell wondered. Certainly, the logistics of the matter were against them. He was a squib and squibs, no matter how well placed, did not marry Pureblood witches. But Artemisia was not one for convention. Had she not scorned it tonight at Dick’s wedding by launching into that fiery speech?
And if he asked her…if he asked her to marry him, would she not say yes?
Farrell wasn’t certain the question deserved answering and he himself was afraid to pose it.
Hesitantly, he dropped his hands over her shoulders, his fingers gracing her smooth back.
And she looked at him and there was determination in her glance and something vicious that almost frightened him.
The wine from Dick’s wedding swam in his head and he thought, for a moment, that she seemed to pity him.
But then her house elf came in with a tray of brandy and the clattering of the goblets distracted them both.
Artemisia jumped, startled. “Take that away, Bitty,” she muttered. “Another drink will be the death of me.”
Bitty did what she was told, leaving Farrell to muster a brave smile and face his lover once more.
No, not his lover. His beloved.
Yet when he held her, when he held her so close and smelled her wine-spiced breath and felt her fair hair brush against his bare chest he knew that something was wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.
And Artemisia knew what she was hiding from him and it embarrassed her. Shamed her.
She pushed his hands off her shoulders and breezed past him. “Do you think she was pretty?”
Farrell watched as she sank onto the bed, the simple act causing warmth to spread to his stomach.
“Who is that, lass?”
“Dick’s new wife. Lord Hackle’s daughter.”
He inhaled, conjuring an image of the girl in his mind. She had dark brown hair, an high forehead and an appropriately aristocratic nose. Through the yards of fabric that made up her elaborate gown he guessed her body to be soft and rounded, the skin perfectly pale.
Farrell glanced at Artemisia. Artemisia who was tall and lean and thinly muscled from her time as an Auror. Artemisia who had to cover her sun-tanned skin with powder and looked more Anglo-Saxon than Norman.
He shook his head. “No, she wasn’t very pretty.”
She offered him a wild smile and leaned back on her bed. “No, I suppose not.”
He came to her, eager to renew their love and passion that had never died and perhaps never would.
Or so he hoped.
And when they were done and the candles were extinguished and the night deepened, he thought her heard her crying.
Crying even as she laid in his arms.
Word of Artemisia’s impromptu speech defending the American cause leaked out to the press and was featured in all the London papers by Tuesday morning. It helped, of course, that a writer from the Daily Prophet had attended the wedding, although Farrell was certain the public would have found out anyway. Artemisia never could keep her mouth shut and she had a remarkable talent for making her voice heard even in the most noisy English city.
On Tuesday afternoon, he took a copy of the Prophet (the editor of which had trouble deciding if Artemisia was a pacifist or a rabble-rouser) to her apartment. The landlady was more than used to his presence by now and she only managed to sniff airily as he headed up the long staircase. The lodger who lived across from Artemisia was preparing to leave London in favor of a countryside resort and there were a fair number of packing crates in the hall. Farrell’s boot scraped over the straw scattered on the floor and he peeked into one of the open boxes which contained a rather odd collection of books on the Bacchic rituals.
A house elf tripped past him, nearly knocking a wig stand into his path.
Farrell raised a brow. He knew Artemisia had her eye on the apartment across the hall and with her tidy Ministry salary, she could certainly afford to rent the entire third floor. In the back of his mind, he ever wondered if she would propose he move into the vacant apartment. Farrell wasn’t quite sure how he would feel about such a suggestion; the flat was certainly a step up from his own quarters above a silversmith’s shop, although he didn’t fancy the idea of being “kept” by a woman.
Frowning, he squeezed himself past the crates and made it to her front door, his broad palm settling over the doorknob. He was just about to set the key into the lock when a loud squawking sound nearly scared him out of his wits.
Farrell jumped backwards, his hip connecting with one of the crates. A hiss of pain escaped him and he dropped the Prophet. A barn owl ruffled its feathers indignantly, offended at the prospect of being trampled on by the heavy boots of a soldier. Nonetheless, the bird held out it’s leg and looked expectantly at the Captain.
Farrell groaned, stooping to pick up the paper. The owl hooted and he was obliged to untie the scroll fastened just above it’s talons.
“You’ll have to beg a bit of bread off someone else,” he told the bird, “I have nothing for you.”
The owl, however, stayed underfoot. It was only after Farrell had kicked the creature out of the way and stumbled into Artemisia’s apartment that he had time to look at the scroll.
It was a letter, of course, from some strange fellow named Maximilian Rondelet.
Author’s Note: Ah, poor Farrell! He may be a gruff soldier, but he’s also a man in love. And I do think Artemisia is being terribly wicked by stringing him along. But, on the upside, Maxime is finally back! I’ve definitely missed the little, neurotic demagogue.
Thank you all so much for taking the time to read and review! Every review I receive literally makes me jump for joy. You guys are the best!!!
The next chapter should be posted soon. Take care and be well!
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