After witnessing Fortuno’s dressing down of the ‘overly-enthusiastic’ guest, Miranda Warwick ensured that Lord Weaver was made aware of the situation. Mr. Evans was swiftly thrown out on his ear, so as not to disturb the happy day.
It was only once she returned to her duties that Miranda noticed a stranger standing on the threshold of the manor, smiling at her. Behind him was a tall, muscular, dark-skinned man dressed in anthracite grey, presumably his manservant.
‘I hope I’m not too late for the ball.’
‘No sir, but I’m afraid you must have an invitation to be admitted.’
The man’s smile did not flicker. For the first time Miranda looked him directly in the eyes, there was a great depth to them, they almost seemed to draw you in, so that once you looked, you found yourself unable to tear away.
‘Maurice, show this delightful young lady my invitation.’
The manservant, Maurice, removed a slip of paper from his lapel and showed it to Miranda.
‘Lord Savernake at your service.’
He gallantly took her hand and kissed it. Miranda was forced to turn her face slightly to conceal blush that had appeared on her cheeks.
‘My apologies for doubting you sir. His Lordship is in the gardens, if you’d like me to take you to him.’
‘That won’t be necessary, but thank you.’ Savernake strode off into the garden, the manservant, sticking to him like a shadow. He seemed more like a bodyguard than a serving man, and Miranda was sure that she caught the glint of a dagger underneath his coat.
Miranda left this encounter somewhat puzzled; something had seemed strange about the man, and she was almost certain it was not his name on the invitation she had read. But it was not her place to ask questions. Keep your head down and your lips sealed was what her mother had always said. A lot of good it did her in the end. Life had treated Erica Warwick brusquely towards the end, and eventually illness had taken her when Miranda was still in her early teens, and it was only because of Lord Weaver’s kindness that she was here today. But her mother had always taken a wry view of life, she taught her daughter to grin and bear things, and to make the most of a bad situation. Miranda had a benevolent master in Lord Weaver, and a loyal friend in Rosemary. The mistress of the house (ever since Persephone Weaver had succumbed to smallpox) had been like a sister to her from an early age, and Lord Weaver like a father, despite the snide remarks of his peers that he shouldn’t be mixing with the common servants. His behaviour had been such that certain of the gentry even suspected that Miranda was his own illegitimate offspring.
Walking along the corridor, Miranda managed to surpress a sigh of despair as Jonathan Negan approached her.
‘Miss Warwick. It’s good to see you again.’
‘Is there something I can do for you Mr. Negan?’
‘You don’t have to play the servile routine with me.’ He paused. ‘I thought it was about time I apologised for the way I behaved towards you before.’
‘There’s no need to apologise Jonathan. I’m not letting you ease your conscience by settling accounts with me so you can feel free to chase after Rosemary.’ She moved closely into his face and whispered. ‘Rosemary is a sweet young woman, and sometimes she lets the wrong people too close to her heart. If you hurt her, then I shall damage a lot more than your pride.’ Miranda smiled sweetly and walked off, leaving Negan quite taken back. She hadn’t slapped him like last time, but she might as well have done.
While she savoured her little victory over Captain Negan, Miranda Warwick was troubled. She could see the stranger talking to Lord Weaver and Dr. Emerson in the garden, and while nothing seemed amiss, she could not shake off a feeling of dread from her mind. She was almost silent as she returned to help Rosemary to prepare for the ball that evening.
‘Penny for your thoughts Miranda?’
‘Oh nothing much…’ To hell with it, Miranda thought, if she couldn’t tell Rosemary, who could she tell? ‘A strange man arrived today in a red coat…a Northerner I think… he had an invitation, but something about him seemed wrong. Do you know him?’
‘Well, it’s no good asking me. I haven’t even heard of half the people on this guest list. They’re all either friends of Dad, who are sucking up to him, or influential and fashionable people that he’s sucking up to.’ The two women laughed.
‘As long as they keep bringing you gifts, I suppose you don’t mind.’
Rosemary pretended to be hurt.
‘You must think me so shallow.’
‘Not for a moment.’
Miranda continued in silence. Despite herself, she began to think about the Queen’s man, Mr. Fortuno. She had to admit that he was handsome, if a little rough around the edges, and he wasn’t nearly as brusque as most of the men who visited the Weaver household, but there was definitely an air of oddness about him, Miranda could have sworn that she had seen him earlier talking to a small cat on the edge of the gardens. While she had sometimes been described as quirky, Miranda thought it might be wise to draw the line between affably odd and just plain strange. Even if he did share her dry outlook on life, and was rather dashing in a nervous way… Miranda closed her eyes and willed herself to stop thinking about it. You’re a grown woman, not a love-struck adolescent. She fingered the silver heart necklace around her neck her mother had given her and soon recovered her composure.
‘There we are.’
She paused to reflect on the completion of her work. Rosemary now had her thick blonde hair tied back, and around her neck she wore a necklace of white gold with a single sapphire stone set in the centre.
‘The belle of the ball.’ Said Miranda, standing back to admire her friend.
‘You don’t look so bad yourself Miranda. The Queen’s man will be all over you.’
Miranda didn’t brush the comment away as she had done that morning. In fact, for some reason, she almost accepted it.