Their Midnight Revels
By Auburn Red
Disclaimer: I do not own most of these characters. The folks from Downton Abbey belong to Garethe Neame, Julian Fellowes, and Rebecca Eaton. Further very important disclaimers will follow.
Author's Note: I worked on this before I saw the Christmas Special, so I didn't know the official status of Bates' trial but he does play a large part in the story that I don't really want anyone else to fill, so in my story at least he's still a part of the Downton goings-on (If you want to feel better just pretend he was acquitted instead of found guilty)
I should mention that since a large portion of this story is told from the points of view of Lady Edith Crawley and Thomas Barrow, two characters, especially Thomas, who put the "less" in "tactless,"the thoughts and opinions of the other characters reflect their thoughts and opinions, not mine. (Actually I like everyone in Downton Abbey, except the Duke of Crowborough and Vera Bates-what jerks-but everyone else is really cool!)
Chapter One: Gather Here in Silent Meeting
When I sound the fairy call
Gather here in silent meeting
Chin to knee on the orchard wall
Cooled with dew and cherries eating"
~ Robert Graves "Cherry Time"
The lightning sent a spark that practically lit up the whole evening sky and the thunder resounded in a crash as the knock filled the hallway. Thomas adjusted his livery to answer the door. He opened to see two strangers, a woman with ebony black hair and a man with fly-away russet locks. The man stood closer to the door completely wet from the rain. They looked so much like two puppies stuck out in the rain that Thomas had an urge to laugh. The man spoke first in a melodic soft voice, "Excuse me," he said looking directly into the footman's eyes. "Milady and I were stuck in the rain during a long ride and we request entrance onto his Lordship's grounds."
Thomas felt confused. Part of him wanted to say how unlikely it was, to make some sarcastic comment to the visitors, but it wasn't just his station. It was the way the man looked at him with his cerulean blue eyes and his voice. He couldn't take his eyes off of him. "I'll announce you at once," he said. "Please enter." The two figures paused looking down at the threshold as if it were some insurmountable barrier.
The woman, Thomas barely looked at her until she spoke. "It would be very unlikely for us to enter only to be turned out again, please ask his lordship that the Lady of Greenwood wishes for admittance first." There was an authoritarian demeanour to her voice that Thomas instantly was aware. He returned to the sitting room to ask the family. The man and woman waited patiently outside as the door closed to them but not before they met the eyes of Sarah O'Brien standing in the hallway giving the visitors a curious and suspicious look.
The rain had pelted down on the roof as the lightning and thunder kicked up quite a ruckus outside. Robert, The Earl of Grantham and Cousin Matthew were arguing as usual. Dowager Countess Violet was sitting back in her chair, her cane by her side viewing all and sundry as though she were the queen amongst all her worker bees. Lady Mary was checking through various patterns to determine the style for her wedding gown. Countess Cora was reading a letter no doubt from Sybil, probably trying to find a way to speak gently to her husband about it. Edith as usual was quiet, so quiet that no one ever noticed her, reading on the setee. She had a cover put over the book so no one could glance at the title not that anyone would have cared if she read it aloud (but then again considering the topic they might have). Dinner was soon to be ready.
The door opened and Thomas appeared somewhat flustered and confused. "I beg your pardon my lordship, but a Lady of Greenwood wishes to speak with you."
Robert looked up from his conversation with Matthew and turned to his wife and daughters. What Edith remembered was how quiet everyone suddenly became as they exchanged confused glances as though they had instantly been rendered silent. "I wasn't expecting anyone else tonight, Thomas." He looked to the rest of the family. They nodded looking just as confused as he did and as Edith felt.
"A Lady of Greenwood, are you sure, Thomas?" Cora asked even more bewildered.
"Preposterous, I don't know any of the families with that name and title," The Dowager Countess Violet declared.
"Still that is the names that she gives your Ladyships, "Thomas said trying to keep his voice free of confusion but not succeeding. "They were very insistent to speak with you."
"Well send them in Thomas," Robert said. The footman nodded and moved inside. "I suppose we shall get to the end of this mystery shortly."
The couple entered and instantly Edith had two thoughts. First, it should have been the man that she would have found attractive, no doubt he was handsome. No what amazed Edith was that it was the woman that she couldn't take her eyes off of. Her alabaster skin, hair that that smoldered with ebony but gave off faint glints of red, though small she had an imposing presence, almost chiseled in marble. The second thought was that she noticed that the woman was watching her, staring at her with such hypnotic green eyes that could look at and directly through her as though every thought, every feeling were laid out naked and wide open.
The woman was the first to speak. Her voice had a tonal quality as though she were used to being in command "You are Robert Crawly, Earl of Grantham are you not?," Robert nodded. as she continued. "We are strangers here and my servant and I would like to request only a bed and possibly a meal for the night. You see our motorcar had become stuck in the mud-"
"-Such unreliable vehicles," Violet snorted. Edith gave her a barely concealed look of annoyance wordlessly reminding her grandmother that she was the only one in the family who enjoyed driving.
"-Indeed your Ladyship," the woman said in a tone that clearly indicated that he was merely humoring the interruption. "And unfortunatley the road that we were on was washed away. As you can imagine it was a trying journey frought with peril." Clearly she had a talent for dramatization.
The Earl of Grantham looked from the odd woman to the odd man. Their clothes and hair were wet from the rain and there were tell tale signs of mud on the hems of their clothing. She was in a long green gown with an inky black cape draped over her shoulders, he in a white silk shirt over blue trousers and a blue tunic draped to his kneess. They weren't any sort of modern fashion as though they were dressed for some sort of masquerade ball. Well Edith reasoned it was approaching Halloween after all, maybe that's where they were headed.
The Earl was the first to speak trying to regain some semblance of control over the situation. "Well we can certainly assist you in anyway that we can. I can send our chauffeur to accompany you to the train station or anywhere you prefer-"
The lady glowered in a way at Robert that Edith had never seen from anyone even her grandmother as though he were nothing more than an ant that she could crush with her boot. Her voice was quiet almost like a purring cat, but there was an unistakeable force to it as though she were not used to taking no for an answer."If I wanted your chauffeur to accompany us, then I would have asked for it. What I clearly said but you must not have understood was that we wished for a bed for the night. Now, the custom in this country used to be that if a traveler wished to spend the night in the lord's lands, then it was his obligation to grant such a request. Please tell me that times haven't changed that much, your Lordship." Again Edith caught that tone in her voice as though the woman had sneered at the title considering it more ironic than one of respect.
The man grasped his employer by the elbow. "Flies with honey milady." But he grinned at the display clearly enjoying it.
"Well certainly not after such an outburst as that," Mary spoke up approaching her father. "Papa, such obligations does not give visitors the right to be rude and impertenant. They should be turned away!"
Edith glowered. That certainly did it. She approached the travelers. "And what would be the height of rudeness, Mary, sending two people out on a night such as this when clearly they have no means of travel of their own? If they wish to I would let them."
"I suppose then we should give them your room," Mary glowered.
"Oh but I believe that yours is more comfortable," Edith snipped back.
"Mary, Edith," Robert said lecturing his two daughters as though they were children once again. "It is also equally rude and impertenant to argue in front of two complete strangers." He turned to the couple. " Lady of Greenwood it would be our pleasure to welcome you for as long as you need and if you wish to eat with us, you may dinner will be at seven."
The two grinned. "Thank you your Lordship and please if I am to be a guest in your home, then you must address me by my given name, Lady Miranda," this time the Lady spoke with less irony. "We would appreciate it, and if you please if it's not too much trouble, I would prefer one of your maids to draw me a bath." She turned to her servant. "Ari, could you fetch our bags. I'm sure that the footman, Thomas, was that his name, may assist you if your Lordship prefers it."
"Of course," Lord Robert replied. He rang the bell for Thomas and Carson to appear. "Carson, please tell Emily to draw her Ladyship's bath and tell Mrs. Patmore to prepare two more guests for dinner tonight."
Carson nodded until Lord Robert mentioned Mrs. Patmore and he bristled as though it were the last thing that he wanted to do. Thomas appeared, actually, didn't appear so much as stepped forward as though he had been nearby the whole time and anticipated the request. "This way milady," he said to the woman. He nodded waving the lady and servant to follow him. The footman and servant glanced at each other for a long time but followed Thomas out the door.
"Wait," Lady Miranda said. She then returned to the drawing room and approached Edith. Edith once again could feel those eyes staring into her and boring into her soul. "Thank you for your kindness, milady." She touched the younger woman's hand and Edith felt a rush of energy fill her. She thought she heard a voice say, "I will see you later this evening after supper." Edith looked around confused. The woman's lips hadn't moved. Did maybe Edith hoped that she would say it? She shuddered, feeling somewhat ill as the visitors followed Thomas. Edith clutched the book to her chest. "I think that I shall prepare for dinner." She flushed and bade Carson to summon one of the housemaids.
Lady Mary who had been silent since her outburst followed her. "I shall do the same."
But both Lady Mary and Edith hung by the doorside long enough to hear Lady Miranda speak to the Earl. "What is your daughter's name, milord?" she asked.
"Oh Lady Mary," he said distracted.
"No, I mean the other one, the pretty one?" Miranda encouraged.
There was a long silence between the parents when Cora's voice spoke. "You can't possibly mean Sybil do you know her?"
Edith winced. She should have been used by now to her parents disregarding her, but it didn't make her feel less uncomfortable. "No, the other one the one that spoke for me."
"Oh Edith," Robert answered. "Yes, she is a fine girl."
"Indeed she is," Miranda agreed.
Mary and Edith had stopped listening to the exchanged and wandered upstairs to prepare for dinner. "What a display, one would think that she was mad, certainly that she overstepped her bounds!"
"Why because she said that I was pretty?" Edith asked.
Mary stopped looking closely at her sister. "Why should it be of any consequence to you whether another woman thought that you were pretty?"
Edith clutched the book to her chest as though it were some kind of talisman. "Why indeed?" she asked, flushed with shame about those feelings that she had for the woman, but also drawn. She glanced down at the book. Perhaps, she had been reading too much of it.
Thomas followed the man with the bags. Lady Miranda did not pack many things, just two bags but it was the small coin purse that interested him the most. As he followed the servant, Ari, he tried to make small talk. "So what exactly do you do for her Ladyship," he asked.
"Many things," Ari replied. "Right now, I am her bodyguard and protector."
"Protection from what," Thomas muttered under his breath.
"I suppose you'ld like to know," Ari answered glancing directly at him. "I'm not with her if that's what you're implying. Our tastes run in opposite directions." The way that the man looked at him with such cool hidden passion in those eyes made Thomas want to take him there and now going up the stairs. Instead he tried to find a way to distract himself. He glanced at the coinpurse. There was a hole and a piece had fallen out. Thomas looked closer to see that it was pure gold. He glanced to make sure that the other man wasn't watching then he picked it up and almost placed it in his pocket. What he saw in his hand was astonishing: it wasn't gold, it was a rock! The footman shook his head confused. Once again another gold coin fell and once again Thomas reached for it, only this time it was a leaf. He rubbed his eyes. Were they playing tricks on him? Was he going blind or mad? Once again, a gold piece fell. Thomas thought about leaving it, but this time he picked it up. "Excuse me umm Ari," he said. "Your bag has a hole in it there."
Ari turned around as Thomas handed him the coin. He was gobsmacked as it remained gold. What the devil? he asked. Ari laughed a small laugh almost sounding like bells. "Oh so it did," he said. "Thank you also for returning her Ladyship's coins. She would be very upset if they were not returned seeing as how they are family heirlooms. It takes an honest man to ignore greed when it stands in front of him."
"It might be wise not to bring them then," Thomas suggested. "Who knows what blackguards there are around?"
"It's what I keep telling her," Ari said amused. "But, it's what she prefers and she does whatever she chooses always had since she was a girl."
Thomas was confused and blinked. "Beg your pardon but you have known her since she was a girl, I'm sorry but you appear younger?"
Ari's eyes widened as if he had been caught lying. "Well we were both children then, obviously."
The two servants dropped off the bags into the spare room for Miranda and Ari followed Thomas to the attic and the men's quarters. Ari remained by the door when he saw the second footman Jonathan appear. He glanced at the strange newcomer. Ari glared at him annoyed at the interruption. He hissed in his direction like a snake warning it's prey. Jonathan's eyes widened in fear and he ran back down.
Thomas placed Ari's bags in the room and approached him once again in the small hallway. Ari stopped Thomas. "You have been hurt," he said. "Something troubles you both inside and out." Thomas did not understand. "Your hand," Ari said.
Thomas glanced down at his gloved hand. "How did you-"
"-We have been in a War, there are many who suffer the physical scars and many more who suffer the emotional scars," he said. "I think you have had both even before the war."
He stuck out his hand and Thomas hesitated. "It's to thank you once again for returning her Ladyship's coin." Thomas took his hand and was first struck out how strong Ari's grip was. He appeared delicate, almost woman-like in appearance, but he had such a strong grip on him that Thomas winced in pain. Ari then took his other hand and held Thoma's wounded hand between them. He grasped him so tightly that the footman groveled in pain. He felt like he was crushing him. Suddenly, Ari let go and Thomas felt normal again. "That was for the physical pain," Ari said. "As for the emotional pain that will take a longer time to heal."
Thomas drew back in fear and surprise. "I have to be ready to serve dinner now," he gasped. He ran from the attic stairs confused. He gripped onto the stair's railing to catch his breath. He glanced at his gloved hand. It felt different somehow, there was a tingling, a numbness. He couldn't resist, Thomas removed his glove and got a bigger shock than earlier with the coin: His hand had completely healed! Thomas gently rubbed the formerly injured hand up and down. It felt soft and smooth almost like an infant's.
The Crawley's and their guest ate dinner. Most such as Violet and Mary kept their eyes on their new visitor. Miranda's hair was styled in a manner similar to the Crawley sisters and she was dressed in a short-sleeved gown. Matthew cleared his throat. "So where is your family from, Miranda?"
Miranda grinned as Jonathan, poured her drink. "Oh my family's lands are from the north originally, however they have been the subject of many disputes over the years so our lands are practically non-existant."
"And yet you retain the title," VIolet said warily.
"More out of courtesy than anything else in fact I have been raised abroad mostly in Spain and Italy and-elsewhere." Miranda looked sad. "In fact one could say I am quite alone in this world, save for Ari. I have no brothers and sisters, my mother died when I was a child, and my father lived for some time until the-Spanish Flu took him from me."
"It's a terrible thing," Robert said sadly. All of the people at the table nodded knowing that they nearly lost Lady Cora to the dreaded disease.
"Indeed," Miranda said.
"So what brings you here to England?" Mary asked suspiciously.
"Well you see while my immediate family is gone I have many cousins and distant relatives," Miranda replied. "However, this cursed War sent them scattered off in many places. There are so few of us now. It was my father's dying wish that I reunite with them, so I have no husband and many resources at my disposal, so I am determined to make that dream come true."
"What a lovely story," Cora said sympathetically.
"Indeed," Violet replied. "It has everything save the barking dogs snapping at her feet!"
"Oh really," Cora rolled her eyes.
"And of course I have enjoyed seeing many of the sights along the way," Miranda said. "I've been as far East as China, and toured much of the African continent, I've also been to America-" She nodded in Cora's direction who raised her glass in support for her former home country. "-It's a wonderful country, it will go very far soon."
"And is there anyone that you are involved with?" Edith asked curiously.
"No, I would feel that a husband would tie me down to one place, I suppose I inherited my family's wanderlust too much," Miranda replied. "Or maybe I'm just searching for something."
"An unmarried girl is an object of pity anywhere," Violet scorned.
"I don't believe that is so, Your Ladyship," Miranda said.
As she spoke, Edith felt something stir within her, perhaps it was envy for this woman's life of travel and freedom, or maybe it was a desire to run off, but she felt a strange impulse like if the woman had asked her, she could come with her. She felt a hand reach down and touch her thigh. She glanced downwards to see that it was Miranda.
Suddenly, the blond woman felt cold unnatural, like she could see herself through another's eyes. She pushed the other woman's hand off her thigh and sprang up. "May I be excused?" she asked. "I'm not feeling very well!" Her father nodded as Edith sprang up and practically ran from the room.
Miranda stayed to finish her meal, then she yawned. "If you must excuse me, I would like to turn in. This has been a long trying day for me."
"Of course," Robert said and rang the bell for Emily to approach. "Emily, would you prepare our guest for her bed."
"Yes milord," Emily curtsied.
"What do you think?" Robert asked.
"If I were you, I would hide the silver," Violet declared.
In the servant's hall, the Downton staff began gossiping about the new visitors. "There's something odd about them no doubt about it," Miss O'Brien said. "I can tell the second they walked in the door. I'm not so sure that they aren't downright mad."
"Why they seem harmless to me," Anna declared half because she didn't think there was something odd about the visitors and half because she didn't want to agree with O'Brien. "Ain't nothing wrong with them right Emilyl?"
The dark-haired housemaid shrugged. "I will say that for someone who was traveling as much as they said, her Ladyship only had two bags with her. Now surely she would have had more?" She looked to her brother, Jonathan, for confirmation.
Jonathan shrugged. "I also saw the servant, Ari, I think his name lecturing her Ladyship in the parlor something about 'flies with honey," and she didn't correct him on it."
"Preposterous," Mrs. Hughes said. "Whoever heard of a servant lecturing their mistress?"
"That hardly is a cause for madness," Carson said. "I often had to lecture the ladies quite often when they were children."
"It ain't just that," Jonathan said. "It's in other things, there is something I don't know odd about them. The way they stare, they made my blood run cold, like they could see through me." He shuddered recalling Ari's hiss earlier.
"You think that they're sent by the Devil himself," Daisy suggested. At this the older servants laughed, some all too nervous.
"I said mad, Daisy, not diabolic," O'Brien said, but she said that with a tone of uncertainty.
"I believe the correct term is eccentric," Mrs. Hughes said. "For her Ladyship anyway."
"Why is it if you're poor you're thought of as mad, but only the rich are thought of as eccentric," Anna mused,
"Because the rich can afford to be eccentric," Bates quipped.
Thomas entered just as everyone else was speaking. "Thomas, you've seen them as much as Emily what do you think of the visitors?" Miss O'Brien asked.
Thomas kept his thoughts to himself. To keep up appearances, he kept his hand gloved. He wanted to deny what he saw, but the proof was still in the healed hand. He smirked. "Bats completely inserted in belfry," he replied. "They're next stop should be Bedlam!"
"I've been there thanks," a merry voice called. The other servants turned to see Ari enter the kitchen. He was dressed in a livery uniform similar to the other footman. His hair had been brushed but a few stubborn spikes remained close to his eyes. "It really isn't worth shouting about."
"You should all be ashamed talking about a guest in that fashion," Carson reprimanded the staff.
"It's alright, Mr. Carson," Ari said. "I've heard worse, been called much worse and called others a hell of a lot worse. And in some ways you are all right, I am mad, but so is my mistress. One would have to be mad to live in this world. You could even say we are the Lord and Lady of Misrule. Now, if you don't mind, I would like to have a bite to eat. I hear that the food here is wonderful."
"Oh indeed," Mrs. Patmore said with a grin, her face completely flushed from the compliment. She served him a plate. "Here you are sir."
"My good lady," Ari said with a lavish bow. He then sat next to Thomas watching several eyes pry into him as he took his first bite. He continued to eat ignoring the curious and suspicious glances from the staff. He kept his eyes on his food, but also the withering almost death-like expression from O'Brien and the puzzled, allured from Thomas who was making a poor show of trying to hide it and glancing down at his plate.
"Would you care for some potatoes, Mr. Ari?" Daisy asked politely. As she held the large iron cooking pot.
Ari glanced towards the small girl. "Oh thank you, and please you may call me by my first name, Ariel," he said.
Some of the staff exchanged confused glances. "Miranda and Ariel, what a strange coincidence," Mrs. Hughes mused.
Ariel laughed as if he were quite used to the comparison. "Alas, both her ladyship and I have had to live with the slings and arrows bestowed by our Shakespeare-obsessed mothers. Her mother was the lady of the house and mine was her Late ladyship's maid. We were born close to the same time, so they thought that it would be humorous to name us for the characters in the Tempest. "
"That must have been-unusual to grow up with those names," Anna said trying to be polite.
"I've heard worse names," Ariel replied. "Besides it solidified our kinship, Lady Miranda often thinks of me as a brother and I for her as a sister." He was so caught up in the story that he didn't notice Daisy hand him the large iron pot until he took it from her. He then dropped it like it was scalding hot as it fell on the table leaving a mess. "Oww," he said in pain holding onto his hand.
The servants leapt up confused to clean the mess. "I'm sorry," Daisy said.
Ariel approached the small woman. "It's not your fault, my dear," he said kindly. "The pot was a bit hot for my tastes. I foolishly grabbed it from the sides." He helped them to sweep and gather the mess as Thomas and Jonathan picked up the pot. He then rose. "If you will excuse me, I should put something on this before it gets too rough." He darted away before anyone could object.
"I could have burned him," Daisy moaned.
"It was an accident, Daisy," Mrs. Hughes assured her.
"One possibly of his own making," Miss O'Brien said stiffly.
"It would have to be," Mrs. Patmore said. The others looked at her confused. "Daisy do you remember? We left that pot to sit."
"Yeah, that's right," the kitchen assistant agreed.
"That pot may have been hot when we started but it certainly had time to cool off by now," the cook said.
"Interesting," Carson suggested.
"Probably trying to get attention," Thomas scoffed absently touching his gloved hand once again in verbal denial of what he just experienced. "Or trying to get off work detail. Perhaps wanting an excuse to be alone with the lady who is 'as a sister' to him."
"You may be on to something Thomas," O'Brien said, but she glanced at her compatriot with a wizened look that seemed to say or you may not.