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HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM LEE ROWAN!
“A what?” Lord Robert Scoville seldom raised his voice (and never to a Foreign Office Minister) but the situation was, to say the least, unusual. He took a quick sip of punch from the cup in his hand, and collected himself.
“Don’t yelp,” the Minister chided, glancing around at the walls which did not, to all appearances, have ears. “A bomb of some sort. Disguised as a packet of sweets, or nuts, or whatnot. Calvinist madman, though you’d think after all these years they’d have accepted the idea of a Christmas Tree. After all, Queen Charlotte had one in 1800, didn’t she?”
The point hardly seemed worth arguing. “Can’t the Royal Family be ushered out until it’s found?”
“Perhaps, but what about all these others?”
Lord Robert glanced around, and the splendid hall, which only a minute ago had been nearly deserted, was illuminated by crystal chandeliers. It was suddenly full of servants, members of the Court, and, of course, the Royal Family, Their Majesties fondly watching as the children gathered near the gift tables beneath the glittering, candle-bedecked tree suspended from the ceiling.
“Very well,” he said. “What must be done?”
“As each packet is removed from the tree, it must be inspected before it is given to the Princes and Princesses. “
That’s insane, thought Robert. “Sir, I must protest, The risk to everyone in the room—”
“Oh, that’s nothing, we’ve recruited your man to do the job. He’s good with finicky bits, I’m given to understand.” The Minister pointed to the ceiling, where a figure in a white robe, wings, and a halo was slowly descending—on a rope of some sort, no doubt.
As the figure drew closer, Lord Robert recognized Jack Darling, his gentleman’s personal gentleman, looking like some sort of refugee from a Christmas pantomime. It was outside of enough. Heedless of the crowd, Lord Robert shouted, “Darling, you get down here this instant!”
“Be with you in a moment, my lord,” Jack said, floating down alongside the tree. He did look angelic in the white robe, but the wings—absolutely ridiculous.
Lord Robert turned to speak a word of protest to the Minister, and found himself looking instead at Prince Edward Albert, eldest son of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, who gave him a friendly wink. “Not exactly my line of country, but he does wear the togs well,” His Majesty said in his affable manner. “Think he’ll do the trick?”
His attention distracted between the innudendo and the royal personage, Lord Robert attempted to be reasonable. “Your Majesty… would it be improper of me to suggest you escort your family to a place of safety?”
“Oh, no, wouldn’t miss this for the world.” The Prince waved a casual hand toward the group at the table. “My parents look forward to this all year, as much as the youngsters.”
As though hearing his words, Her Majesty glanced over and bowed benevolently, and beside her, a dignified but kind-faced man smiled.
Lord Robert blinked, his attention distracted at last from his dangling valet. He opened his mouth. He closed his mouth. He looked again. “I do beg Your Majesty’s pardon, but… isn’t your father the Prince Consort… well, not to be too crude, but is he not—”
“Dead? Of course he is, and so’s she, but it’s Christmas, after all. The family is always so much merrier if they stop by for a visit.”
“Of… of course, they would be.” He took another look upward, and saw Jack toss a small, brightly-wrapped packet down to the throng below him. But then he frowned, took another item from the tree, and with an arm that would have done him credit on the pitch, flung an object through a window – somehow without breaking the glass. The Christmas tree started to spin like a giant top, throwing candles and gift bundles far and wide. “Jack!”
“Time to go, my lord,” Jack called. Spreading his wings, he swooped down and snatched Lord Robert from under the jovial grin of King Edward.
Ah, this was more like it. Even in this ridiculous circumstance, there was no place he liked better than Jack Darling’s arms. He yawned, suddenly sleepy. What was in that punch?
“Wake up, my lord,” Jack advised. “Wake up!”
“I’m not asleep.”
Jack laughed. “Oh, yes you were.”
“Oh, no, I wasn’t.” He caught himself. “Oh, yes, I was. Thank God!”
The pageantry of Windsor Castle was gone, replaced by the lesser grandeur but greater comfort of his own bedroom, complete with Jack Darling beside him under the covers. As had become their habit in the last couple of years, he and his lover had the house to themselves, having sent the cook home to spend the holiday with her family.
“What were you dreaming about?” Jack asked, his dark eyes alight with curiosity. “I thought I heard you say, ‘Angel wings?’ and then you called me, and started to doze off.”
The dream was already beginning to fade, and as far as Lord Robert was concerned, it could not go too quickly. “Something about a Christmas tree,” he said. “Remind me that I never want to hang one from the ceiling.”
“And, Jack – don’t ever let me have rum punch with brandied fruitcake before bedtime!”
A link to some seriously indulgent period holiday fare:
Lee Rowan has been writing since childhood, but professionally only since spring of 2006, with the publication of her Eppie-winning novel, Ransom. She is a lady of a certain age, old enough to know better but young enough to do it anyway. A confirmed bookaholic with a wife of many years, she is kept in line by a cadre of cats and two dogs who get her away from the computer and out of the house at least once a day. Learn more about her at http://www.lee-rowan.net
Lee will be giving away a print copy of “Speak Its Name” which features the original story from which this is an Easter Egg.
The Bonus Quiz has finished – email your 24 answers to firstname.lastname@example.org and the winner will be announced tomorrow. In the event of a tie, a name will be pulled from The Programme “The Hat.” Good luck!!