A/N: Welcome to my new story! As you can see I cannot leave the Earl aside.
So, this is going to be Alternate Universe with a few historical elements from Rochester's life. It will be a Wilmot/OC story so be prepared.
In this story the Earl is not sick; in fact, he is just getting used to the death of his wife who died from smallpox while he recovered from the illness himself. He returns to London after a long term exile.
A small note: Rochester was famous for his passion for the theatre and I am using his coaching tendencies in this story. You shall see how.
So, please enjoy and comment!
Dedicated to an angel named Michael. The only man who never hurt me as long as he lived and the coolest grandpa ever.
Disclaimer: I do not own The Libertine.
Silk & Lace
'Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.'
1681, Woodstock, Oxfordshire
The heavy door was pushed open with force and the servant in the corridor bowed low, keeping his eyes on the floor.
"My Lord. Welcome." His voice was strong as he spoke but the man in front of him neither appreciated the words nor craved them.
"Out of my way." He snapped as he let go of the door handle and made his way into the large house, his walking stick clanking loudly against the marble floors of Woodstock manor. He entered the large parlor and shrugged out of his cloak before he let his eyes peruse the cold room.
"There is no fire." He remarked as he turned to eye his servant with reproach, "Build one." He sneered and then clanked his cane loudly against the ground, "Alcock!" he barked imperiously as his eyes went to the empty liquor cabinet.
"My Lord?" the servant was breathless as he entered the parlor, his hands full of clothes.
"Prepare my chamber and then restock the cabinet and cellar." He said quietly as he let his eyes roam the dark red settee by the fireplace, "Hand me the King's letter." He outstretched an ink stained hand and as he did so his golden ring glimmered in the sunlight.
Alcock blinked and then thrust the pile of freshly ironed clothes in the other servant's arms. The man took them with a small stagger, his small frame at an odd angle from the weight.
Alcock brushed his hands against his cloak and then pulled out the letter. He handed it to his master and bowed.
"Now be gone."
"My Lord Rochester." Alcock smirked and the Earl waved his hand at him impatiently.
Alcock motioned for the other servant to follow him and when they were gone Lord Rochester threw away his walking stick and sat elegantly in the settee. He leaned back and stretched his legs out on the cushions, the lost feeling of arrogance back as he reacquainted himself with his forgotten home.
He unfolded the letter and craned his neck as he brushed his fingers over the King's seal. He smirked.
"Can't live without me, can you?" he murmured as he quickly read through the lines.
Once he was finished he grimaced and looked up, his eyes falling out of the window.
"Condolences. I do not need your condolences. I need your money." He groaned and looked back down at the letter. The last lines caught his interest.
Accompany me to the premiere of the season's greatest production in our renovated stage and I shall speak with you of matters regarding your personal gratification.
"Personal gratification. Our monarch can surely express himself." He drawled sarcastically as he scrunched up the letter and threw it carelessly on the settee beside him.
He brought his fingers to his jaw and gently tapped it, deep in thought while Alcock appeared with a wine bottle and a glass.
"My Lord." Alcock announced himself and the Earl grabbed the glass from the tray and took a generous sip. He eyed the wrinkled letter and then looked up at his servant.
"Prepare the horses for tonight. We're going to London." He said brusquely and Alcock frowned.
"So soon, my Lord?"
"The King's invited me to the playhouse." Rochester twirled the wine in his hand with small movements, "I cannot decline."
"But would it be prudent? Lady Rochester has been dead for only six months-…"
"Did I ask for your opinion?" The Earl cut him off as he eyed him with a sneer, "Lady Rochester is dead. It won't matter to her if I decide to go to the theatre or not, will it? Not anymore." His eyes flashed with a foreign emotion before he turned his gaze away.
"Do as I said." He murmured with a scowl, "And build a fucking fire!" he added with irk.
Alcock resisted the urge to roll his eyes and bowed instead, "As you wish, my Lord. I shall prepare the bath for you." He said quietly but the Earl was not interested in his words. He was already smoothing out the wrinkled letter with glimmering eyes and an upturned mouth.
He pressed the coins harshly into the man's hand and then pushed the curtains away. He stepped into the theatre and the people stopped whatever they were doing to turn and look at him. Some faces showed surprise, others amusement and some were filled with sadness. Pity. He hated that emotion and he had no need of it. He snarled and the grimace made the people resume their activities.
He stepped onto the lavish red carpet with his boots and the sea of people parted to let him pass. A couple of women, a blonde and a redhead, giggled as he passed by them and he smirked at them. The blonde one flushed and he winked at her just to increase the obnoxious blush on her skin. It worked and he fought the urge to roll his eyes as he started climbing the steps that led to the boxes.
A patron stopped him just before he entered his usual box.
"My Lord Rochester." He bowed and then straightened, "This way. The King's waiting for you in his box." He waved a hand towards the opposite direction and Wilmot cocked an eyebrow and followed the man, a small devious smirk on his face.
The King's box? Pity had its perks after all.
"Through here." The man opened the red and gold trimmed curtains for him and Rochester walked in. He came to stand behind the King's seat, slowly twirling his cane between his fingers.
Then the King raised his hand and beckoned him over with two fingers. Rochester's eyebrows almost disappeared under his wig but he took his hat off and approached, bowing as he did so.
"Your Majesty." He murmured smoothly and the King turned to look at him.
"Johnny, welcome. Take a seat." He waved his hand at the armchair next to him and Rochester hesitated briefly before he took a seat.
"You look well." The King remarked and the Earl fought the urge to roll his eyes, "I see that you recovered well." The King murmured, "I heard about Elizabeth. She was not so lucky, was she? My condolences."
Rochester ran his tongue over his teeth before he inclined his head, not trusting his mouth enough to speak.
"How do you find London?" the King asked before he turned his eyes on the stage.
Rochester eyed the stage as well before he replied, "Invigorating as always, your Majesty. But may I ask why you decided to bring me back?" he turned his eyes on his King, "Why now?'
The King leaned back in his chair and eyed the people in their seats, "You're a good speaker. Your words saved my throne and therefore I am willing to forget the public humiliation you caused me." He looked at him.
"But for what price?" Rochester narrowed his eyes.
"No price yet." The King replied almost pleasantly but Rochester was not fooled.
"Yet being the key word, your Majesty." He remarked and the King turned to him.
"Precisely. Enjoy the play. I imagine you've missed the playhouse." He smiled but it looked more like a grimace.
"Indeed, Sir." Rochester turned around to face the stage.
"Lizzie Barry is the protagonist again." The King noted and Rochester almost sneered.
"In The Taming of the Shrew." He murmured.
"Your Majesty must forgive me if I say that it suits her." Rochester remarked cruelly and the King turned to look at him.
"You're still upset over her rejection. Don't be pathetic, Johnny. She'd never come close to you while you were carrying the pox on you. You know it. The public is still shocked that she has returned to the theatre after such a short time." He said casually and Rochester bit the inside of his cheek hard enough to bleed. Pain grounded him.
"Short time? Was she ill?" his eyes glimmered with malicious intent and the King frowned.
"No…She gave birth to a child. Did you not know?" he asked and Rochester froze momentarily before he turned to look at the monarch.
"Beg pardon?" he frowned.
"Four months ago she gave birth to a daughter." The King waved his hand at the stage.
"You must be mistaken, your Majesty. Four months ago I received a letter from her. She claimed that she lost my child. That it was a stillborn." The Earl almost hissed and his fingers tightened around the handle of his walking stick.
The King regarded him dispassionately, "It is you the one who is mistaken, Johnny. You may look upon the child yourself. She carries it around in the theatre, leaving it in the care of the wenches while she's acting. It's ridiculous really. She'd be fired if it wasn't for her talent. Now hush, it is starting."
Rochester's eyes widened minutely at the news and his gaze fell upon the stage, harsh and cold and as sharp as a knife.
The curtain rose and as the play started Rochester leaned back in his chair, trying to seem relaxed but inside he was burning with fury.
The moment Elizabeth Barry stepped onto the stage his eyes narrowed and his hands tightened upon the arms of his seat. He ground his boots hard against the carpeted floor, forcing himself to be still but by the second act he could not sit still anymore.
With a quick excuse to the King he stood up and walked away from the box. His long feet carried him backstage but as he made to enter the dressing rooms a small figure stepped into his way.
"You cannot go in there, sir."
Rochester eyed the woman standing between him and the dressing rooms and then sneered.
"Step aside, madam." He cocked an eyebrow but the blue eyed woman held her ground.
"Your Lordship must forgive me but I cannot let you in. Mrs. Barry has forbidden it." She added in a quiet tone and he narrowed his eyes at her.
"Do you know who I am-…"
"I do, my Lord Rochester." She said quickly, "But I cannot. Not now." She murmured and then her eyes flickered towards the curtains, "But I think I know what you wish to see, sir." She locked eyes with him.
He leaned against his cane and regarded the blonde woman with interest.
"What's your name?" he asked her smoothly as he eyed her form with curious eyes. The pale blue color of her dress accentuated her pale skin and light hair and the corset defined her waist, complimenting her figure in the subtlest of ways.
"Chantal, my Lord." She replied with a small flush and he smirked.
"And how do you know what I wish to see, madam?" he cocked his head to the side.
Chantal swallowed hard, "I'd imagine you want to see your daughter." She whispered and he tensed.
"You're mistaken, madam. My only wish is to take her. Not see her." And with those words he turned abruptly and walked away, reminding himself that he should not cause a scandal on his first day in London. His reputation could afford no more black stains of shame.
He exited the theatre and entered his carriage. He reached up and took off his hat and wig before he threw them onto the seat next to him. His eyes flickered outside the carriage window. He slapped his hand hard against the roof and the driver tugged on the reins. The carriage took off but there was only one thing in his mind as they left the playhouse behind.
Elizabeth Barry had played him for a fool. He was not one and he did not plan to remain known as one for long.
The fire cackled loudly in the silence of his study and even when his vision started to become blurry he did not remove his eyes from the flames. He flexed his fingers slightly around the wine goblet and readjusted his feet upon the desk before he took a small sip. He let his head loll back against the armchair but when he heard footsteps and loud baby cries he tensed up. His back went rigid and he sat up. He turned his eyes on the closed study door and waited until a knock arrived.
"Come in." he called as he lowered his legs from the desk.
The door opened and Alcock with another servant walked in. In Alcock's arms there was a bundle of covers.
The Earl placed his glass on the desk and beckoned him over with his hand.
Alcock approached and bowed before he presented the baby to him. The Earl's eyes roamed the baby's form; from the child's face and rosy cheeks to the little feet that were protruding from the covers.
He snarled, "Who dressed this child in cold silk? And lacy socks? Fetch warm linens and a blanket immediately." He snapped to the servant standing behind Alcock. He bowed and walked away quickly.
"Mrs. Barry is sending her regards, my Lord." Alcock said and he winced when the baby gave a pathetic whimper before she started squirming roughly in his arms.
The Earl looked up at his servant, "Regards, you say?" he murmured, "So, she was expecting this?"
"Yes, my Lord. Your lawyer had already spoken with her." Alcock nodded his head and Rochester looked away, a sneer upon his features.
"Did she not say anything else?" he asked ever so quietly.
"Yes, my Lord. She said that the child's name is Elizabeth." Alcock cleared his throat, obviously uncomfortable.
The Earl's eyes fell upon him for a moment and then they settled on the child.
"Elizabeth." He murmured.
He reached out and touched the baby's cheek with his fingers, his eyes curious as he eyed her rosy cheeks and honey brown eyes. He brushed his fingertips over her whimpering mouth and when she latched onto his finger and started suckling he frowned deeply.
"The child is hungry. Fetch the wet-nurse from Adderbury immediately." He looked up at Alcock who bowed and nodded.
"Aye, me Lord. Anything else?" he asked expectantly but the Earl removed his hand from the baby's mouth and shook his head.
"Leave." He waved his hand at him and Alcock frowned but did not object.
He straightened and then slowly walked out of Rochester's study with the child in his arms.
The Earl settled his eyes upon the fire again, wine glass abandoned on his desk as the glimmering flames danced wildly in his dark eyes. Inside them was reflected everything that he would never say.
A week later, Duke's theatre, London
"What is happening back there?" The Earl drawled as he leaned against his walking stick and turned his gaze towards backstage.
The Earl of Dorset glanced towards the commotion as well and rolled his eyes.
"Lizzie Barry scolding her understudy again." He said as his eyes perused the dressing rooms.
Rochester cocked an eyebrow, "Why is that?" But then his eyes widened slightly when he noticed that the understudy was the woman he had met on his first day back in London. What was her name…?
"She's is not letting the poor lamb act. Not even when she's sick with the flu. Just look." Sackville motioned towards Barry who was dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief, "She's afraid they will steal her luminance." He scoffed.
"What is her name?' Rochester motioned towards the understudy and his friend eyed him with a smirk before he replied.
"Paige. Chantal Paige." He replied and Rochester narrowed his eyes as he gazed at the blonde woman. Ah, yes. Chantal. He remembered her.
She was shaking her head in compliance to Barry's scolding but her fingers were curled in tight fists upon her skirts. Her wavy hair was pulled back in a low bun but a few rebellious blonde curls were falling over her face, trying but failing to hide her blush.
"Has she ever acted on stage?" Rochester asked without taking his eyes off of his newest prey.
Sackville snorted, "No. But Betterton believes she has potential. Well, not that she'll ever have the chance to show it." He muttered, "Now, let's go find our seats." He said but Rochester was already walking towards Barry and Ms. Paige.
Sackville groaned and threw his hands up in surrender before he stood back and waited grudgingly.
Rochester approached the two women and Ms. Paige was the first to notice him. She quickly stepped back and bowed.
"My Lord." She murmured and Elizabeth turned to him as well. She didn't bow but gave a small incline of her head.
"How very undignified for two ladies to be quarrelling like drunkards in a crowded tavern." He drawled and Ms. Paige had the sensitivity to flush.
"You would know, my Lord." Elizabeth replied as she sniffed and dabbed at her nose and eyes again.
The Earl eyed her coolly before he replied, "Yes, but this is a playhouse, Mrs. Barry." He murmured before he turned his attention on Ms. Paige, "Do you know the lines, madam?" he asked as he eyed her critically.
"Of course, my Lord." She replied quickly.
"There is no need. I am capable of acting." Barry cut in as she eyed her former lover with disapproval, "Surely you know that. Excuse me but I must prepare for the first act." She said brusquely before she turned to give a warning look at her understudy.
Ms. Paige looked at her square in the eye but did not speak as Barry walked away.
The Earl's dark eyes burned holes in Elizabeth's back as she made her retreat but then his attention was grasped by Ms. Paige's voice.
"Forgive me, my Lord." She said quietly as she took a step closer.
He blinked and turned to look at her, "Ms. Paige?" he raised a single eyebrow down at her.
"How is the child?" she asked timidly and he tensed up, his entire form going rigid before he narrowed his eyes at her in sheer displeasure.
"And what interest is the child to you?" he asked her and she swallowed thickly.
"None, my Lord." She quickly amended, "I am simply worried." She murmured and he set his jaw.
"Well, Ms. Paige, it might have come to your notice that the child has my name now. You mustn't worry. What you must worry about is your career, which you will forgive the comment, is not going to go much further if you keep hiding backstage." He told her sharply and her eyes widened at the bite in his voice.
"I must apologize then-…" she started but she was cut off.
"Good evening, madam." He bid her coldly before he turned and walked away, his intricate coat billowing behind him.
Ms. Paige watched his retreat with wide eyes before she turned and fled, swiftly disappearing into the dressing rooms.
Lord Sackville smirked as Rochester approached him and chuckled, "Two times scolded in one night." He snorted.
"She's impudent." Rochester snarled.
"She asked how my Elizabeth is." The Earl ground out as they started walking towards the boxes.
Lord Sackville paused, "Well, not surprising since she was the one taking care of her during her stay here." He pointed out and Rochester paused.
"That's right. In her free time she played the wet-nurse for Barry. And she has a lot of leisure, I assure you. Now come along or we'll be late." He tugged on his friend's sleeve but the Earl of Rochester was no longer interested in the play. His mind was somewhere else entirely.
End of chapter 1
Author's note: Thank you for reading! So, you liked it? Hated it? Shall I post more?
Oh and only this chapter will be from the Earl's point of view. We shall meet Chantal in the next one.
Please review before you go! I am excited to know your thoughts!
P.S: The Earl of Rochester did have a child with Elizabeth Barry but he took it from her charge after a while. I did not make that up. ;o)
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Xxx Lina ;o)