Soul Of A Highlander – Emilia Ferguson

The hall was filled with people. Francis stood at the edge of it, feeling slightly awkward. At twenty, he was tall and well-built, nevertheless, he felt out of place. I still wish I looked like everyone else. No more so than now. He would have to be socializing with young ladies. “Francis! Son!” Conn grinned at him. “Come! Meet Lady Ettie. You must remember her father, the baron of Castelles?” “I do,” Francis bowed to the lady. At that moment, her father and his estate were the last thing on his mind. The sweet, well-formed young lady with the bosom filling the lownecked gown she wore was everything. He stared at her. “Lord Francis. My, but you’re tall.” Francis went red.

“Th…Thank you, milady.” She smiled at him, her face a heart-shaped one, neat and pretty. Her mouth made a small “o” of surprise. She giggled. “You are funny,” she said. Francis blinked. He wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be a compliment, but he hoped so. “Thank you, milady.” Lady Ettie rolled her eyes toward her companion, a shorter lady with dark curls and dark eyes. She smiled at Ettie.

“Go on, Ettie!” she said. “Dance with him.” Ettie giggled and let Francis lead her toward the dance floor. Breathe deeply. Walk. Don’t fall over your feet. Francis felt desperately awkward on the dance floor. He had grown to be taller than his companions, broader in the shoulder with pale auburn hair. His face was a long, fineboned oval shape with his father’s strong brow and jawline. With full lips like his mother, and wide, hawkish eyes, he had an undeniably handsome face.

It just didn’t look like anyone else. Which was still a problem. They don’t tend to like me. He bowed to Ettie and let her lead him into the dance. It was a Pavane, slow and stately. He acquitted himself reasonably well, which surprised him. However, when Lady Ettie bowed, she disappeared back into the hall again, blushing and smiling, and looking for her companion. Francis sighed. Why am I so hopeless with girls? He had no idea. I suppose I’m not that bad looking, he thought self-consciously.

The thought reassured him, especially this evening. The day before he went to Court in Paris for the first time ever. He rolled tense, thick-muscled shoulders under his linen tunic and turned to face his mother. “Remember, you are from the house of Dunkeld and Lochlann. Great estates in Scotland,” his mother said encouragingly. “You have a lot to be proud of.” “Yes, Mother. I know. But I am also an eighth French.” It was important to him, that eighth.

It made him feel like he belonged here when people insisted on staring or calling him “foreigner”. His mother sighed. “Perhaps,” she said. “I suppose that is important at court. Where, I remind you, in case you’ve forgotten, you will be going tomorrow.” Francis felt himself sadden. “Mother, I doubt anyone at the court will even notice I’m there. It’s not like Annecy is such a big estate after all.” His mother raised a brow. Those sky blue eyes looked frosty with hurt.

“It’s not small either, Francis,” she said coolly. “You don’t need to make us out to be insignificant.” Francis felt instantly guilty. “I’m sorry, Maman,” he said gently. “I know. I spoke out-of- turn. I was just worried. I’ve never been to court before.” His mother grinned, her anger evaporating. “I’ve only been twice, son.

I know it’s a daunting prospect. However, I trust that you’ll enjoy it. It’s very…diverting. And there are many more opportunities there.” Francis nodded slowly. He knew what sort of opportunities his mother meant. Opportunities to gain renown. To connect with important people. Most importantly, opportunities to find a prospective bride. “I hope I’ll enjoy it,” he said cautiously.

“And take advantage of the…diversions…on offer.” His mother smiled. “I’m sure you will son. Now. I trust you’re all packed and ready to go already. But I do have something to give you. It’s upstairs on your bed.” “Oh?” His mother grinned. Strikingly lovely, when she smiled like that she lost the look of age and could have been no older than he himself. “Yes.

I made it.” After the ball, when Francis was exhausted and strangely disheartened, he found it. She had sewn it herself, he guessed from the perfect, neat stitching. Her gift to him was a doublet, quilted and padded in the latest fashion. It was a rich green silk, the color of gray-green fields under winter sky. It was stylish and exactly what he needed on his quest to be acceptable to the critical French nobles. “Mother!” he said, voice raw. She wasn’t there, but he couldn’t help it. He felt his throat tighten for a moment. She did understand! He hadn’t known she cared so much about how he felt or how hard it was, potentially, for him to mingle in this land.

He sighed and climbed into bed. Memories of the ball drifted round his head. Ettie, giggling and saying how tall he was. Disappearing after the dance. Will I ever be halfway acceptable? He had no idea. With big muscles and admirable skills at the tournament and practice ground, he was exactly what a young man was supposed to be. Somehow, though, it never carried over very well. It must just be because I’m different. He wore the doublet the next morning, when he was to leave for court. When he appeared for breakfast in the solar, his mother smiled.

“You found it.” “I love it!” Francis chuckled fondly, kissing his mother’s golden hair. Scented with rose-water, glossy in the daylight, he could barely see the strands of white he knew were there. “Oh, well! Don’t you look handsome in it?” His mother grinned at him, stepping back so she could admire him from across the room. “You cut a fine figure, son. Look at yourself.” She gestured to the mirror and Francis walked across to look shyly into it. A lean, handsome face stared back. His pale auburn hair slightly curling, the face was endowed with green eyes with heavy eyelids like his mother’s, which gave him a hooded gaze like one of his father’s hawks. His full lips were peach-red and his neck firm and muscled below a strong jaw.

I like the color of the doublet, he thought. It made his eyes seem bigger, somehow. A shade darker than his pale green eyes, the doublet brought out the contrast with his hair and made his face – which he’d always thought of as funny-looking – seem aloof and interesting. He felt a small smile lift the corner of his mouth and abruptly hid it, trying to look serious. “Thank you, Maman,” he said again softly. “It’s a wonderful gift.” His mother chuckled. “It suits you, son. You cut a fine figure. I’m so proud of you.

” Francis swallowed hard. He hadn’t ever considered that before – that his Maman, beautiful, cool-headed and accomplished – was proud of him. It meant a lot. “Thank you, Maman,” he said gravely. His voice was raw and he cleared his throat. She smiled. “I’m sure even Yves thought it suited you,” she grinned. Francis nodded. Yves served as manservant to both himself and his father. He was a curmudgeonly old man with a fine sense of humor and if he thought it suited him, it did.

“He did, Maman.” “Well, then. There you are. You must know it looks exceptional, if Yves said it is just passable.” Francis chuckled aloud. “I could wish you and Father were going to come too…I’ll miss your good company. Why should I face all that ceremonial heaviness without it?” His mother smiled and impulsively kissed his cheek, reminding Francis of the formidable, determined girl she must have been in her youth before he was born. “Well, I am sure you’ll enjoy it. It’s not all ceremonial and dreary. There’s lots of fun to be had if you let yourself just enjoy it.

” “I trust you, Maman,” Francis said fondly. “If you say it’s fun, it probably is.” “It is,” his mother said, tipping her head back and letting a laugh escape that long, pale throat. “Now, then. I should let you get on with your preparations. I need to go downstairs and talk to the cook.” “Thank you, Mother,” Francis said fondly. “I appreciate it.” “Well, you will if I can persuade Cook to stop using the smoked ham and give you something decent to take with you on the journey. It’s not winter anymore…we have fresher things in the pantry.

” Francis chuckled and kissed his mother on the head fondly. “I’ll leave it to you, Maman.” He grinned. “She’s unlikely to withstand your active persuasion.” His mother’s happy laugh followed him out. Even as he rode out in the coach, he found himself turning over his mother’s predictions of fun at court in his mind. He wondered if she was right…If court would be fun and diverting and if he’d enjoy it. It wasn’t how he imagined it turning out. I imagine long, tedious audiences full of protocol and talking to the older lords about the productivity of the farmland here at Annecy. He let his imagination run away with him.

He filled it with a vast castle, wide courtyards, massive ballrooms filled with people. Fountains. Groves of trees. Walks. Balls, parties and opportunities to get to know others of their social status. A time and place for making matches. The thought made Francis nervous. Not only because of lots of young ladies, but the prospect of trying to choose a wife was really difficult. How did one even go about it? I suppose I find someone I like and ask Maman if she thinks they’re suitable. That seemed the simplest way forward to Francis.

All that matters to me is that I can talk to her. That was, he realized, the problem. The eligible young ladies he had met were like exotic birds – happy, chattering and playful. They seemed to think mainly of balls and parties and who said what to whom. He felt bewildered and didn’t even know how to start talking to them. The few encounters he had with them had been strained and daunting. I hope I don’t find they’re all like Marguerite, Henriette and Matilde. These were the daughters of the Baron of Moreau, Castelles and the count of Paysanne, respectively. Even just seeing them makes me feel awkward. Beautiful and refined, the three girls were like something from another world.

An unapproachable, inaccessible world that had no intersection with his. He chuckled. “I’m talking myself out of this.” The idea of marriage was appealing to Francis. He thought about it as he felt the jolt and roll of the carriage underneath him. He had a wonderful example at his home, after all… his parents were best friends as well as lovers. He liked the thought of a true companion after a life where so often he felt alone. Of course, the idea of someone with whom to share the act of love did appeal to Francis, sending a thrill through his loins. He shook his head. Easy, Francis.

You’re not considering a pretty lass from one of the villages nearby. This is your wife you’re going to choose. His loins were stirred now though, and he bit his lip, wishing he had time to seek Charmaine, the kitchen maid, with whom he’d had some happy trysts. The girl was friendly and willing, but he sensed she was reluctant now that they were both reaching an age to find a marriage partner. He respected her wishes to keep herself to herself. He needed to focus on his own future. If she could be so level-headed and practical, the least he could do was follow her example! He himself had the succession of the estate to consider. “Especially now. When I’m on court business.” “Whoa!” the coachman was calling.

Francis looked out through the window, seeing the landscape change from wide farmed fields to valleys and wooded hills. They were on the road north. To Paris. The thought made his stomach tingle with excitement. He was on his way to Paris in the summer. To find himself a wife. The thought had daunted him before. However, things had changed. Was he anticipating it now? Strangely, after his conversation with his mother and the realization that, though different to most, he was not ugly, he found that he was. He wanted to see what life had in store for him.

.

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