Forever and a Day
AN: So I can choose to write their dialogue in the Queen's English, and have us all muddle through interpreting the language of Shakespeare. But I love myself too much to make my nose bleed. And so, I will be free with the language and you might notice that the voice I use suits more 19th and 18th century English than 16th.
As for the history, Blair and Chuck will interact with GG characters as well as true people from history, presented as fairly and accurately as I can manage. I am planning for some deviations, in Essex's timeline, the real titles and backgrounds of the characters (though I made sure that no one held the title at the time this story is happening). We will follow the places and the events and do some minor tweaking. Right now, I am invoking my literary license to work with Blair and Chuck's story.
She waited as Dorota ran the fine-toothed comb down her long hair. She tapped her fingers on her thigh as Dorota threaded strands of pearl into her hair, and fidgeted in her seat and the maid twined her locks into a braid. Once done, Dorota held to her a hand mirror so she could take a look at her appearance.
Blair smiled, pleased, and patted the sides of her head. "Perfection," she pronounced. "Oh Dorota, style my hair so when I am finally presented to the queen!" Blair clapped her hands in delight. "And of course, I must soon commission fine gowns, and robes. I will fit into the court like a hand-stitched glove."
Dorota was proud of her creation, yet did not show it. Instead, the maid stood as her voice of reason and reminded her, "Many vie for a post with the queen, my lady."
"It is a post with the queen, after all," Blair said. "I vow there must be a hundred girls lining up for an audience with her royal highness."
"Aye. And she may well choose any one of those hundreds."
Blair pouted and looked at her maid. "But I am Blair Waldorf!" She huffed. "My ancestors fought with Henry VII, and served as advisors to the queen's father. My grandparents supported Henry's marriage to the queen's mother herself, and died in Mary's bloodbath!" Dorota, upon realizing her error, consoled her with a hand on Blair's shoulder. "Surely I, more than any other, deserve a place in the queen's service!" she finished on a high pitch.
"You're right, you're right," Dorota said in an effort to pacify her. "Forgive an old woman who knows nothing of aristocracy."
"Exactly," Blair snapped. "You do not know the ways of my world, Dorota. Hush your mouth instead of crushing my only dream."
The maid nodded. "Do you want me to take the pearls out now, my lady? You need to face your visitors in the hall."
Blair held up the mirror herself and drank in the wonderful sight of her mother's pearls threaded into her hair. "I suppose you should," she agreed. In the far reaches of her home she doubted there would be anyone who would call her out on her appearance, but the queen's sumptuary laws were all encompassing. She could not dare break them, not even in the privacy of her own family estate, lest word reached the queen and she never was considered for a place because of one night of vanity. Dorota took the pearls out of her braids. No, this was too important. She had desired this since she was child. "I wish Nathaniel never comes for me."
"Why would you desire such a fate, my lady? There is no future more unbearable and terrible to a woman than a childless one."
Blair gives her maid a secret smile. "Why, who ever said a woman needs a husband to have a child, Dorota?" Her voice dropped, and then she leaned closer to share her secret so juicy and delectable. Her secret would make Dorota's ears burn. Truly it would! Why, if her mother were with her she was sure to scrub her tongue clean for daring to utter such scandalous news. "I hear tell of a lady from Warwick manor, who has been locked up in her chambers for bearing a son while yet unmarried. The lord and the lady of the house were enraged, Dorota," Blair shared. Dorota's brows furrowed and she looked down at the floor instead of her eyes. "I knew it! Blair exclaimed. "You knew of this news before I ever did. Dorota, why hide such titillating story from your charge?"
Dorota waved her hands before her. "I cannot repeat such news, my lady—especially not to your dainty ears. It was a scandal. Truly. Lady Cecily would that the news never reached anyone else."
Blair slid forward and grasped her maid's hand. "But is it true? Did Lady Lilian bear a son unmarried?"
"She did," Dorota admitted forlornly.
Blair eyes sparkled with her interest. If it were truly possible, and her parents were not there to oppose it, then it could be the very future for her.
"Please, Lady Blair, do not think it."
Her lips curved. "Take heart, Dorota. I would do nothing that could come in the way of my service to Gloriana." Blair clasped her hands on her lap. "Very soon, I will be one of the queen's ladies—the very best of them all."
"And then you will marry the good man that Lord Harold and Lady Eleanor had chosen for you," Dorota reminded her. "Certainly, my lady, your dream of Elizabeth's court does not cause you to forget the very dream your parents had for you. They chose a fine man for you."
Blair reached up and plucked a lock of hair from each side of the braid and allowed them to fall freely at the sides of her face to soften the look. "My queen rules England with a mighty hand, and she does not need a consort," Blair pointed out.
"The queen does not have a betrothed as fine as yours, my lady."
Blair rolled her eyes, then stood. "If Nathaniel never comes for his bride, I will be happy. Then off I will go to court and have a fine time of it!" She stood and looked at her muted green gown. "I would wear purple yet," she muttered. "I would look wonderful in purple. Do you not think so, Dorota?"
Dorota bit her lower lip. Blair raised her chin proudly as she walked out of her chambers to meet the visitors that had been announced earlier in the day. Dorota hesitated and thought too much of the implications of her answers. Someday she would wear purple without fear, because she would have every right to do so.
"Remember, my lady. Your mother has always cautioned you about your thoughts."
Blair looked back at the maid following closely behind her. "That they would be my downfall?"
"Tempered clothing, a tempered mind, a tempered passion," Dorota recited for her charge's benefit.
Blair shrugged her shoulders. "Have you ever heard of anything more self-conflicting than those, Dorota?" Her parents had been, like many of her family since Henry's time, Protestants. And they tended to lean more Purist than even their monarchs. Blair disliked the thought of always being in somber clothes and moods. "It is a prison!" she exclaimed. She had heard about prisons despite never having seen one herself. "What is a tempered passion? It refutes itself," she pointed out. Instead she liked Elizabeth's reformist style. The queen, from all stories told, was colorful in mind and manner, and could cuss out more than even her father Henry. "Believe me, Dorota. I would have the right to wear my gold and silks and pearls when I am in court."
Blair picked up the skirt of her gown, and heard Dorota's exclamation when her action caused her petticoats to peek through from underneath the hem. She hurried out to the hall where Dorota had told her the visitors waited.
Of course it would be her father. It was her father and his good friend Sir Roman, come back from the Netherlands with a surprise. Perhaps a nice little pet she had wanted since she had spied the little baby hedgehog that was owned by her cousin.
But there was no pet, no father, nor a father's friend. Instead there was only a small group of strangers in their stark black doublets and austere hats. Their shoes were dusty from their travel, and Blair found displeasure stirring low in her belly. "Are you in such hurry then, that you choose not to freshen up from your travel before sending for me?" was her first demand.
The man at the forefront of the group stepped towards her and murmured his apologies, then held out a rolled parchment on his palm. Blair looked down at the scroll, then reached for it with hesitation. The man cleared his throat, then offered in a low voice, "Do you wish for me to read it for you, my lady?"
She huffed, then plucked the scroll from his hand. Blair unrolled it and she narrowed her eyes at the script. She squinted, then tried to sound out what letters they were that she recognized. The man in front of her watched closely, and she chafed under his scrutiny. Finally, she cursed, "God's blood! Could the writer not have had the supreme grace to write in a more legible hand?" And then, almost as if it was a challenge, she held out the scroll to him. "See if you can make sense of this hand, master."
The man reached for the scroll, then said as he looked down at the parchment. "You are most certainly right, my lady. The scrawl is illegible at best." He ran his eyes quickly through the document and rolled it up once more. Her heart soared at the simple gesture of grace from the commoner. "Fortunately, I was told of the contents of the missive, and I can relay to you the message of Lord Vanderbilt."
"Vanderbilt," she repeated with a sinking heart.
"You are requested to travel at once to the castle. It is time for you and your betrothed to wed, my lady."
"Nathaniel Archibald cannot be bothered to ride into my keep and fetch me for himself?" Blair inquired. "He sends one of his men."
And the reader bowed to her. "It was my pleasure, Lady Blair."
"Is it, sir?"
"Daniel Humphrey, my lady."
Even in her great offense, so she traveled. It was one of those, she told Dorota as her maid helped full her trunk with the dresses she so adored. She had always known she was to marry Nathaniel. Perhaps her adventure would soon begin after all. The Vanderbilts were notorious for their summers and winters with the court.
Yet dreams of the luxuries and the spectacles of court faded by hour as the journey to Nathaniel drew longer and longer. Almost by the journey's end, Blair spied a tempting brook that dipped into a pond. It was night and Daniel Humphrey informed him that they would be in the castle by daybreak. She had caught a glimpse of herself in the sand mirror that Humphrey used to scrub his chin free of his the tiny shadow of his beard that covered the lower half of his face.
Her fiance's first look at her should not be one of a gravelly, dusty mess. Blair crawled out of the makeshift camp and spotted a smooth stone by the water. She placed her drying cloth and a change of apparel on the rock.
She looked around and was grateful that the traveling party was a good distance away. Blair shed her riding gown and stood out in the cold air only in her linen shift. She tested the water with her foot, found the pleasant warmth of the pool. Encouraged, she walked into the water. The farther she went, the higher it climbed around her. Her shift stuck to her body like a second skin, and every time she rose the breeze blew cold. The hairs on her arms rose to attention. She dipped her full length, up to her chin, in the water. Her breathing slowed and ripples radiated from her out onto the smooth surface of the water. The moon's reflection danced upon it. Blair grew rapidly fascinated by the reflection of the light and the shadows of the trees as they played upon the pond.
Blair heard the neigh of the horse. There was the sound of a broken twig that drew near, and finally the scuffle of boots by the grass. Her eyes grew large as she waited for the new arrival to emerge. Blair saw the shadow from the other end of the pool. She took a deep breath and lowered herself more into the water.
The man shamelessly shed his clothes, and Blair turned around to find a place to hide. The smooth rock at the center would do well as a shelter. She made her way there and peered out, found him completely naked as a silhouette standing at the edge of the pool. She gasped. It caught his attention, because he straightened and glanced at her direction.
Blair slapped a hand over her mouth and hid behind her rock, then pressed her back against the hard surface. She heard the splash that he created as he entered the water. She closed her eyes and kept quiet, although she would not blame herself if a mewling sound would escape her throat.
Moments later it was silent. She released a breath of relief, then silently crept around her large rock. Blair looked over her left shoulder as she tiptoed to the right.
He must have gone.
Another step, then another. And then she bumped into something warm and wet. She slowly turned her head and looked up wide-eyed at the presence before her. His eyes widened like hers. Blair blinked up at him.
"Are you some fey water creature?" he breathed into the night air.
Blair swallowed, painfully aware that his hands had settled onto her hips, where only thin, wet, linen served as barrier between their skin. She felt his fingers curl and dig deliciously into her flesh. "You've no clothes on. Mayhap you are faerie." In truth, he was every bit as beautiful as the dangerous creatures in the books that her father brought for her to study reading. In Elizabeth's court she would be sure to learn to read, and she would know more about these creatures like the one before her. "Have you come to lure me to my death?"
His eyes crinkled with pleasure at her words. "If you are no fey creature, then who are you?"
"I've come for a bath, is all," she answered. Her fingers lifted, and with shameless curiosity she touched the glistening skin of his chest. The moment she touched him, he sucked in his breath. Blair's lips parted. He cocked his head to the side, and he regarded her with marvel in his gaze. Blair met his eyes. Her gaze then fell to his lips. She fidgeted under the water, which had once been warm but now had become rather hot. She drew back her hand. "Forgive me."
"For what?" he whispered.
"For being too bold."
"I enjoy boldness in a woman," he told her. She flushed, because she had not been called a woman before. She was a girl, a girl of sixteen. "And now, with roses on your cheeks you are enticing like a fruit."
She did not move to leave, yet she said to him, "I must depart."
"Let me take you where you will. There are thieves about." And neither did he move to take his hands off her hips.
"They cannot hurt me," she assured him. Surely any scuffle, or a small cry, and Daniel Humphrey and his party would charge to her rescue.
He leaned down, and their lips were a mere breath apart. She felt the warmth of his exhale against her face. "If you are no faerie, then you must be a goddess to be so certain you can bring such vile men to heel."
She caught her breath, almost in a soft sob, when he laid his lips on hers. Blair closed her eyes and almost wept for the strange, new, overwhelming feeling that wrapped around her like an ermine cloth, that threaded through her limbs like spun silk. She heard the sound of her murmured groan from the depths of her throat.
She had not thought this feeling existed. His lips teased her mouth open, and he nipped kisses on her lower lips. Blair's eyes closed and she shamed herself for weeping. His hands lifted from her hips, then settled on her cheeks as he patiently placed kisses on the edges of her lips.
When he looked down at her, she met his eyes and wiped at her tears. She backed away from him, aware of the heavy shift that now stuck around her and showed her form.
"Wait," he said. "Tell me your name."
She shook her head. When she reached the edge she climbed up and took her clothes from the dry rock. She flung the drying cloth around her and stumbled back to the camp. Blair settled down on the grass beside her maid. She stared out into the fire, then touched the corner of her lips.
"My lady?" she heard Dorota asked as she drew herself up. "My lady, you will catch your death of cold." Blair blinked, then allowed Dorota to dry her hair with the cloth.
And then, Dorota pulled her towards the trees to help her out of her soaked shift and into a new one. Dorota clucked her tongue. "Where have you been, my lady?"
"Oh Dorota!" she exclaimed. Blair grabbed her maid's hands and clutched them tightly. "I have committed a marvelous sin."
"What sin, my lady?"
Her fingers touched her lips once more. "I kissed a man," she shared.
Dorota raised both hands to hush her lady. Blair nodded in understanding. Dorota only ever had her good in mind, more than her mother who had long since gone back to her family in France. Her father was still away in the Netherlands on his interminable mission for the queen. But Harold had wanted this marriage to Nathaniel Archibald, and he could not disappoint such a loving man.
Blair managed to doze for a little while, and even in her sleep she did not escape the dark eyes of her faerie man. And so when Daniel Humphrey woke the party to make the last distance to the Vanderbilt castle, Blair bulled herself reluctantly from the bed. She turned to Dorota, who offered her the blinding diamond ring that she was supposed to wear. Blair slid on the token of her betrothal.
True enough, Nathaniel and Lord Vanderbilt both appeared pleased at the sight of the family heirloom sitting on her fingers upon her arrival.
"We are pleased you found your way safely to your family," Lord Vanderbilt told her.
Blair nodded and smiled. "I am pleased that my guide was so dedicated to my safety."
Daniel Humphrey looked up at her in surprise, then tipped his hat in gratitude for her words. Nathaniel offered her his gloved hand, and she placed on it her own gloved hand. "Let me introduce you to my good friend, who only just arrived shortly before your party." Nathaniel drew her towards a man in a dark red leather doublet. "My lady, this is my friend Warwick. Bass," he said. "Chuck Bass," he repeated.
Slowly, the dark head turned. Blair held her breath when she recognized him. Chuck Bass' eyes widened at the sight of her. He recovered quickly, the sign of a true courtier. He took her gloved hand in his, then turned it over to reveal the open part of the leather, that showed off her pulsepoint? He placed a kiss on her wrist, then looked up at her from beneath thick, dark lashes. "A pleasure."
Blair slowly released her breath lest she become even more lightheaded. "Certainly, Lord Warwick," she said unsteadily.
"Such a faerie creature can most certainly call me by my name. Chuck. Say it," he urged.
And so she did. "Chuck," fell from her tongue so easily.
"Tell me your name," he suggested now, just as he did only the night before when they were near naked under the moonlight.
"This is Lady Blair," Nathaniel answered for her.
And Chuck said, "Blair."
Nathaniel waved to the woman she did not know, and he excused himself. "Forgive me, Lady Blair. The preparations for tonight's festivities are underway, and I am called."
"Of course," she said, flustered at the sensation of Chuck Bass' thumb drawing circles on her bare wrist. To keep him from doing so she covered his hand with hers.
"Let me take you to your chambers. I believe I know the way to your bed even with my eyes closed," he said to her, and Blair sucked in her breath at the implication.
When Nate walked a little ways away, she turned to Chuck Bass and said, "Say nothing of the pool." And she took as brisk steps as he did on their way to the bedchambers.
"You were not wearing the diamond. I would have known if you were."
"I was taking a bath," she defended. "It was a moment of lapse."
"Is this another lapse?" And then, taking pleasure in the name, he said, "Blair?"
Her eyes fell to where he looked, and found her hand still clutching his.
It was a celebration the likes of which she had not seen before. Lord Vanderbilt gathered men of influence, of statures so high she would not be surprised if the queen herself walked through the yawning gates of Vanderbilt castle. All around her there were jugglers, and bards, musicians who wore colors so thick and stark they would have blinded her Purist grandfather had he not already been killed by Queen Mary.
She was delighted by the throng of people who danced, wondered if this was the same merriment she would eventually find in court when she took her place at the foot of the queen.
There would be jousts in court, and there would be revels like none other. She spied Nathaniel moving about a mill of people. She waved at him. A rebec player with straw colored hair began a bawdy tune, and soon enough a fiddler, holding his instrument steady under his chin, joined in. Together they played their merry tune while skipping to the beat.
Daniel Humphrey threw a coin on the ground. "On the fiddler!" he yelled. Soon enough, to Blair fascination, a small pile of money formed on the ground as the people wagered on who would be left standing of the match.
Finally one of the musicians fell out of beat, to a loud cheer by the gamblers.
She whirled around and found Chuck Bass standing behind her. "My lord! Chuck. Is it this marvelous in the queen's court?"
"I have not the good fortune to visit recently, but from what I heard it is that and more," he told her.
"I knew it," Blair said.
Chuck pointed to the impressive dining table, where a stag roasted on spit and several spiced hare sat for consumption. "On the queen's banquet table you would find ten times the food, with peacock feathers and gilded cages for live birds to entertain you as you stuff yourself full of plenty." Blair smiled at the description. For someone who had not been to the queen's court recently, he remembered much. "Do you enjoy sugar plums?"
Blair grinned. "I cannot wait for the day."
Lord Vanderbilt called his guests to attention, and Blair turned to the old man who held up a silver goblet of sweet wine. Chuck's hand settled on the small of her back. She looked around her for her betrothed, because it seemed the very moment that Lord Vanderbilt would welcome her into the family.
"Friends, cousins, peers, I thank you all for coming to celebrate with me the glorious occasion—"
Blair spied Nathaniel making his way out of the crowd. He approached her somberly, and she curved her lips to comfort him. She raised a hand to him, the hand adorned by his mother's ring. Nathaniel took her hand in his, then brought it down instead of kissing it.
"My grandson, who will inherit it all—"
"Grandfather," Nathaniel interrupted. A hush fell over the room. Nathaniel amended, "Lord Vanderbilt, if I may." He turned to Blair, and Blair could tell at once from the look in his eye. Though he was a stranger, it was still easy to tell. "I cannot marry Lady Blair," he said to his grandfather, although through it he held Blair's gaze. "My heart belongs to someone else. I am deeply sorry to have made you come this far," he said.
Blair swallowed. She looked around them at the myriad faces that looked on in pity, in shock, in horror. In an act that she did not think of, her hand flew up and she slapped him. The trace of her hand was red on his cheek.
Tears of humiliation rose in her eyes. She pulled off the priceless ring and threw it on the ground. She turned around, and saw only Chuck Bass regarding her quietly. He shook his head. "I would have kept the diamond and then sold it to spite the Vanderbilts," was his only consolation to her.
She slowed when he saw the somber man with light, graying hair waiting at the corridor, still armed with a broadsword to his hip. He was clad in leather doublet and breeches, and his face was worn and shamed. Beside him was her Dorota, wringing her hands in front of her.
"My lady," he greeted.
Blair kept a small smile on her face. She was flush with humiliation, but it did not mean she was to crumble. When the old man moved to take her hand, she was flustered at the lapse in her manners. She held up her hand and he took it, then kissed her knuckles. "My lord?" she said, hazarding at a title.
"Bass," he offered. "Northumberland."
"Father," Chuck said quietly.
Blair quickly pulled her hand out of his grasp. "Your grace," she greeted coolly. She was in front of a traitor, at the very least the family of a traitor. A touch could well stain her reputation and affect her bid for a post with her majesty. This was Chuck Bass' father. She should have recognized the name, but for the life of her all the lessons in her life translated only to titles.
"Lest you forget," the duke said to her, "it was my brother who sought to install Lady Jane to the throne, not I."
"He was in France," the maid offered.
Blair turned slowly and eyed her maid. "You knew of this?" she demanded.
Dorota swallowed in fear. She nodded. "Please, Lady Blair, listen to the duke."
"Very well," she said haughtily. "My lord Northumberland, what brings here?"
"Lady Blair, it is with great sorrow that I ask you to leave with me and remain in my care. I am your guardian now."
Blair blinked at the words. "My father would return for me, right after he is done with the Netherlands. Surely you cannot take a ward whose father is merely away on a mission for the queen."
She thought she caught the answer in the duke's eyes, yet whatever conclusion she drew was quickly covered as Chuck Bass placed an arm around her shoulders and muttered to her in a calming voice that reminded her of a moonlit pool.
Their voices, their voices converged around her. Her father. Out there away in a strange land, with no one who knew him save for Roman and the duke to hold his hand. She swayed and she clutched at the arms that were closest to her. And she fell, deep down into the darkness that was this harsh reality that ripped into her.
She woke in a bed that was not hers, in chambers that were not in her home. Blair sat up in the bed and saw the dark silhouette that sat by her window, recognized it immediately.
"Chuck," she breathed.
He stayed in his seat, turned his head to her and the only thing she could see that shone out of the shadows were the brilliance of his eyes. "They will care for you here," he assured her. "The queen sold your wardship to my father for his service in the Netherlands." She flinched at the word, wondered if she would ever hear of the country once again without feeling the pang of death. "Your estates are in his hands, but he is a shrewd man and you will not lose your monies."
"You speak as if this is goodbye."
Chuck sighed. "I am leaving for Cambridge on the morrow, and I will be there for a long time, Blair." He paused. "I thought for certain you would be wed to Nathaniel by now." And then he assured her, "You are beautiful, and have a fine dowry. You will be out of this place within the blink of an eye." And then he stood, placed a kiss on her forehead. "You are a faerie queen," he reminded her. "This is but a little turmoil, a mortal strife."
She nodded, and her tears fell. "Next you hear, I will be at the right hand of the queen," she said. "There is nothing I want more. And I will take it."
"I have no doubt of it."
The hardest thing, apparently, is choosing a title.