Author's note: Hi there, everyone! Well, it finally happened. I went and wrote a story that includes sex! Well… for AO3; because FanFiction doesn't have a rating higher than M, I can't include the naughty bits there for fear they'll pull the collection down for violating the rules. Yes, I know that there are FF. net M-rated stories with lemons inside, but they greatly skew to yaoi pairings, rather than het/genderbender pairings. I won't complain about the yaoi lemons though, for obvious reasons… (stares at my FF. net favorites and AO3 bookmarks)

Long story short, as of this chapter, the AO3 rating for DGM Plot Bunny Round-Up will change from M to E! Which means I should probably think of including story-specific ratings...

This story was inspired by PokerPair Week 2k19 Day prompt: Royal's AU. The 18th century, to be specific! This prompt really lit my imagination; I have several pages of notes about place names, titles… I even drew up a royal family tree and downloaded a copy to my laptop! Explanations will be given in the ending notes.

Warning: PokerPair; Fem!Allen Walker; Past Howard LinkxAllen Walker; Mentioned Noise MariexMiranda Lotto; Mentioned LavixChomesuke/Sachiko; Minor Character Death; Talk of arranged/political marriages; Forbidden relationship;18th Century AU (mostly the first half); Smut and (in the AO3 version) sex; A author using Wikipedia, the Internet,and YouTube for research purposes; Lots of World building; Lots of un-named Ocs for plot purposes;Probable OOC-ness; Deliberate Values Dissonance (this is nearly 300 years ago, after all); and a load of 18th century slang!

Disclaimer: (Looks at D. Gray – Man, then this story, and finishes with a raised eyebrow towards the audience) Should I really point out the obvious…? Eh, probably; I don't want to get sued. I don't own anything connected to the D. Gray – Man series.

- xXx -

Her (Secret) Favourite

Her Majesty's Private Bedroom, St Thomas's Palace

The Prydish Isles

"Are you sure you don't require anything else, Your Majesty?" asked the First Lady of the Bedchamber as several servants diligently removed a large wooden bathtub, along with the other accouterments of a late night bath, from the royal bedroom.

Ellen, Queen of Eileanprydain and Toscaterza, serenely looked at the highest ranking lady of her household as she sat wrapped in linen sheets and in front of the lit fireplace. "Yes, I am quite sure. You and the rest of my ladies-in-waiting," she now gestured to the other noblewomen present in her room, "are free to spend the next half hour by yourselves while I wait to fully dry."

The First Lady of the Bedchamber raised an eyebrow in response. "Please forgive me, Your Majesty, but I can't help but find this offer, generous though it might be, all rather… unorthodox. Surely at least one of the Women of the Bedchamber should stay behind to keep you company."

The other noblewomen turned their heads toward their monarch, carefully watching to see whether she would take offense at their social superior's comment. Gossip was their mode of currency, and the right bit could help to elevate their male relatives in the game of politics. That, or just to entertain whoever they shared it with. To the inner disappointment of more than a few, however, the young queen graciously nodded and smiled to the older woman. "I understand that. However, I thought that with the royal tour of Toscaterza coming up next week, it would more prudent to allow you all to finish any last minute preparations rather than just idly wait on me without anything to do."

"As for company," she reasoned as she gestured to the sole remaining maid in the room, "I will have De Yopan here to render any necessary aid in your absence."

The lady's maid in question, a tall young woman with brown hair, paused in putting away the Queen's discarded clothes to demurely curtsy to the First Lady of the Bedchamber. The older woman, however, pursed her lips together in subtle dissatisfaction. Servants were useful, of course – that was their duty, after all – but a lady's maid wasn't at all the best company for a queen. Only a noblewoman could fill that role.

'Of course, it wasn't like Her Majesty was properly instructed on matters like this,' the First Lady wryly thought to herself. The Queen's mother, Julia of Nivose, had died just hours after giving birth to her. Normally this would matter little, as royal children were always raised by nannies and governesses who thus became the primary objects of said children's affections. But the late King Mana, suffering great melancholy over his wife's death, only allowed one wet nurse to attend to the then princess while he spent every spare moment he had with her. He even spurred his privy council's advice on marrying again to provide his daughter a proper female role model – and perhaps to provide the throne a real, male heir – to instead insure that her future rule of a new political union and a former grand duchy, the latter which had never been ruled by a woman and thus balked at the very notion, would be as smooth as possible.

All that time with her father, plus her later years being shepherded about the Continent by the Black Order Republic's General Cross Marian, helped to form rather peculiar habits for a royal; a few of which Her Majesty had just unfortunately demonstrated.

Still, she was only twenty. And bad habits, though tough, can still be broken...

"So I will just send for a Woman of the Bedchamber and the Dresser once I am ready for bed," the young queen said, cutting through the First Lady's thoughts. She then turned around to address the other ladies present. "Really, it is a good opportunity to make sure your wardrobes are just right for all the official ceremonies and balls to be held in Toscaterza. We must make a good impression on the local aristocracy there, after all."

The young unmarried ladies gasped and giggled, fantasizing about handsome noblemen to flirt with and sigh over during those encounters. The matrons present perked up with glinting eyes, mentally going over which Toscaterzian nobles would be appropriate to form new social ties with, either by political collaborations or marriage via younger relatives. And those married women and widows still possessing great beauty hid smirks behind their fans, thinking about just how much fun they could get away with on the trip.

The First Lady suppressed the urge to grit her teeth as she watched her peers lose focus. Really, these were the best noblewomen connected to the Gamoround party? 'Useless feather-heads, the lot of them.'

"And of course," the Queen continued, "there is also the matter of coordinating with the Lord Chamberlain of the Household. Not that I doubt the current plans for this trip are anything less than flawless, but he surely will appreciate your eye for detail when it comes to tying up loose ends. Especially considering the matter of my dresses…"

The First Lady, who also held the position of Mistress of the Robes, blinked. "Your dresses, Your Majesty?" she asked, a small note of dread starting to rise up.

"Well, my entire wardrobe really," the younger woman specified with a regal nod of the head. "Earlier today I was informed by the Lord Chamberlain that the volume of clothing I plan on bringing might hinder our travel. He did make two valuable points: there is only so much cargo space on ships, even royal ones; and Toscaterza's hilly terrain will make overland travel with too much baggage more cumbersome."

"Granted, it was already difficult deciding what to pack the first time," Queen Ellen mused as the First Lady adopted a stony expression while absorbing just how much the Lord Chamberlain messed up her plans. "Still, if I have to reduce the amount of clothing, then I will." Now the younger woman smiled as a new thought came to mind. "In fact, this could be a good moment to add more Toscaterzian-made outfits after our arrival. The war with the Noah ended months ago, and the peace treaty has left the royal household with more than sufficient funds for such an expense. Even better, my wearing clothing made by their countrymen could help show the Toscaterzians their land is equal to Eileanprydain. Do you not think so?"

"It would certainly help them feel more appreciated, Your Majesty," the First Lady reluctantly agreed.

Queen Ellen gave her elder a content smile back. "I am pleased you agree with me. We still have a week until the day of departure, so you have enough time to rearrange the matters of my wardrobe. But I do think the Lord Chamberlain will want to talk with you at the earliest convenience."

'Oh, I'll talk with him, all right…'

"Of course, Your Majesty," the First Lady agreed with as much dignity as she could muster. She then curtsied to the young queen and said, "Then, if you'll excuse me, Your Majesty. I simply must find the Lord Chamberlain right away."

After exchanging formal goodbyes with Queen Ellen, the First Lady stood straight up and glided out the door held opened by De Yopan. The other ladies-in-waiting also bade farewell to their monarch, though their exit produced much more noise compared to their superior's.

De Yopan spent the next ten seconds after the last noblewoman left with her ear pressed to the left door. Once she was sure that no one was coming back, the maid let out a sigh of relief.

"Ugh, I thought they would never leave!" she moaned while dramatically sliding down to the floor.

Ellen shook her head and laughed. "Try not to be too loud, Chomesuke. There's still a chance someone outside could overhear us."

Chomesuke snorted, but got off the floor and walked over to Ellen. "That's just what I need," she complained as she picked up a soft towel left on the table next to the queen. "Some busybody telling me off for not showing 'proper respect to your betters'. Ha! Like that gaggle of geese are shining examples. One half are conniving muffin-wallopers grasping for even more power, while the other half are pudding-headed fellows who couldn't find their way out of an open tent."

"That's not very charitable, Cho."

The young maid took the towel and started gently rubbing the queen's long auburn hair. "No, but it's the truth. Why do you have to put up with them, anyway?"

Ellen sent a questioning look. "Are you talking about those women in particular, or ladies-in-waiting in general?"

"Them in particular. Your previous ladies-in-waiting were alright, since they actually had some common sense; why did you have to switch them out for that lot?"

Ellen sighed and stared into the fireplace. "Politics, I'm afraid. My previous royal household members were all connected to the then majority party in Parliament, the Cavórai party. Now that the Gamorounds are in power, the top positions have to be given to them."

Chomesuke shook her head as she continued drying Ellen's hair. "I still don't understand why you Prydish need a two-party system to run the government. The Gams and Cavs seem to spend just as much time attacking each other as they do foreign enemies. Meanwhile you can't do much politically without them complaining of overstepped boundaries. You, the queen herself!"

"That's how a constitutional monarchy works, Cho," Ellen began to explain as her friend went to exchange the towel for a silver comb and hair ribbon. She couldn't blame Chomesuke for still being baffled by Prydain's politics and culture. The maid was originally from the Kingdom of Noah, a country whose king held absolute power over all. And the Estate she had been born into, the Akuma, had little political power as a whole against the other two Estates – despite their superior numbers.

Prydain, or Eileanprydain to be more precise, was an entirely different matter. The bill of rights written during the reign of Ellen's grandfather made sure that future monarchs couldn't abuse their royal power. What's more, Parliament's decision not to renew the Licensing Act made satirizing the powers that be laughably easy. Which paled in comparison to Toscaterza and the massive headache of trying to bring that region into the fold while still keeping everything else the same. And if you even mentioned the colonies...

Ellen's voice had a hard undertone as she pointed out the following fact. "A monarch here can't just do whatever they want and damn the consequences. The last Campbell king who tried doing so ended up on the scaffold. Without the use of his head."

Chomesuke couldn't help but gulp at that grisly image. She had seen plenty of suffering throughout her lifetime, but even she found the thought of beheading to be quite unsettling. She was therefore grateful once Ellen changed topics.

"But it's not like I'm completely helpless when it comes to politics. While I can't help make the laws, I can push certain MPs to vote for the ones I favor. I also am free to sit in on parliamentary discussions, so that I can know what exactly I'm supporting." Ellen's lavender gaze softened before she reached up and patted Chomesuke's arm. It was the most she could do, seeing as the latter had just finished with combing and was now plaiting the former's hair. "It's not perfect, by any means. Only a small selection of men can vote, those who can generally favor laws that suit only them, and the Toscaterzians-"

"Who are still moaning about the fact that their current ruler has tits instead of balls," Chomesuke dryly cut in.

Ellen cleared her throat and continued, "- their needs still aren't represented adequately by Parliament." She sighed, then looked down at her slipper-covered feet. "Honestly, it will take several decades to solve those problems, not to mention any new ones that are bound to crop up. However," Ellen raised her gaze to look into the fire with fierce determination, "I am the queen of Eileanprydain and Toscaterza. It is my duty to serve my people – no matter who they are – and protect the lands I rule over with everything I have."

Chomesuke was silent for a few seconds, then sighed out loud. "Well, if there's any ruler ready to tackle those problems it's you," she reasoned while tying the ribbon into a neat bow. "Was that something you learned while we were in the Black Order Republic? 'Cuz I don't see that kind of fire among the other nobles in this palace."

Ellen suppressed the urge to giggle as she finally turned around to send her friend a large grin. "In a manner of speaking, yes. Remember how we stayed at the Lee residence? You were never around to see it, but Komui Lee kept his office in an… unusual state."

"How unusual?"

"Well… there was one time… actually several times… that Lenalee and I… found him…" here Ellen unleashed her laughter, "sound asleep under a four-foot stack of papers!"

Chomesuke gasped in disbelief. "Wait, really? How come this is the first time I heard about this?"

Ellen sighed as her giggling fit died down. "I suppose because it happened so often, everyone working there just assumed that everyone else already knew about Komui's procrastination. And I never told you because I thought it rude to gossip about our host."

The maid nodded absently. "And he would stay asleep even after you removed the papers?" she asked.

"Like the dead," Ellen confirmed. "We would shake him, yell at the top of our lungs – no response. The only thing that could wake him was Lenalee saying 'I will marry the next man who walks in through the front door if you don't finish your paperwork!'" Then she let out another giggle. "And it worked every time, too. Granted, we would then have to stop Komui from trying to kill Reever or another poor soul later on, but all the documents were sorted out by then."

Chomesuke let out giggles of her own, trying not to drop the pre-warmed banyan she was now fetching for Ellen, "So, he was a good example of how not to act?"

"Exactly." That caused another round of laughter from Chomesuke as she helped Ellen put the black silk banyan on.

"And it was more than likely reinforced by how straight-laced your hus-" The maid gasped and slapped her hand over her mouth once she belatedly realized her error. With great reluctance, she removed her hand and looked over at Ellen.

The queen was still looking at the fireplace, but the stiffness of her shoulders, tight grip on the banyan and flash of pain in her eyes were clear to see.

"I'm s-sorry, Ellen," Chomesuke stammered as she curtsied low to her queen. Not out of fear, but out of remorse. "I wasn't think-"

Her apology was cut short by Ellen sinking down to her knees and wrapping the other in an embrace. "It's alright, Cho," she reassured her now silent friend. "You have nothing to apologize over. I just… I just miss him."

Chomesuke sighed and returned the hug. "Still, I shouldn't have mentioned him. You only stopped mourning a few months ago."

Ellen let out a rather helpless bit of laughter as she averted her eyes from her friend. "Yes, I've finished that. Any further would have been excessive, and contrary to what he would had wanted. Even so…" she trailed off, then released Chomesuke from her hug and stood up to walk over to her left bedside table. Miniatures of close friends and family, both living and dead, were clustered on top with little space for anything else. She picked up one situated up front in the center and sat down on her luxurious bed. In it, staring up at her with unseeing eyes, was the face of her late husband: Howard von Link, Prince-Elector of Krähe-Zentral and Consort of the Prydish Monarch.

"You know, it's rather strange," she murmured while tracing the outline of his face with her index finger. "Our marriage had been arranged by my regent and his family friend, so it was by no means a love match. Even if you had asked me if we loved each other right before his death, I don't think I would have said 'yes'. At least, not in a romantic sense."

"But despite all that, we were able to grow close during our one year of married life. He could be strict, yes; but he was also dutiful, thoughtful and always listened to what I had to say." Ellen then turned her head to give Chomesuke a dry grin and huffed, "That last attribute being especially hard to find in a husband these days."

Chomesuke, who also moved to the bed during Ellen's musing, snickered at that last remark.

"In the end, he became a dear friend and confidant," the young queen finished with a sad, soft smile as she pressed the miniature to her chest. "The most I would have asked of a royal marriage, really."

"Not to mention his secret sweet tooth further endeared him to you. Right?"

Ellen's smile grew more sheepish. "Maybe…"

The two women laughed, then sighed and laid down on the bed. "Yeah, Prince Howard was a decent guy in the end," Chomesuke nodded as she stared up at the rich canopy. The maid then frowned and waved a hand in the direction of Ellen's writing desk. "Nothing like those lobcocks your privy council are making you consider now."

Ellen softly groaned. Immediately after she finished the year-long mourning period for her husband, the privy council had approached her on the matter of her new consort. It was inevitable, really. Since her previous marriage had failed to produce an heir, it was time to re-marry so that she could birth her successor. As such the privy council presented Ellen with a tall stack of reports detailing several eligible princes, noblemen and any other men whose rank or lineage was suitable enough to become the husband of a queen. But this time, instead having a regent decide who she should marry, the queen was old enough to choose for herself.

And Ellen was forever grateful for that. The reports, now secured in her writing desk, complied what the privy council considered the most important details: the men's titles and lands, their family history, why marrying them would benefit Eileanprydain and Toscaterza, etc. Now, that information was important and did need to be considered. But the reports left out other things that she wanted to know, like how they treated their servants or what were their thoughts on female rulers. That led the queen to gather whatever she could learn about these men from noblewomen who had ties to them. What she had learned through this tactic left her… less than impressed. It seemed that every man the privy council approved of had some sort of character flaw that made the thought of them as her consort hard to accept. These weren't just minor flaws, either; these included defects like treating those below them on the social ladder like utter trash, or refusing to recognize the children they've fathered on prostitutes or their seduced conquests. Some of this information could have been over-blown rumors, but a lot of it often came from very reliable sources. Chomesuke had been even less charitable with her opinions once the queen shared her findings with the maid.

"Are you sure that they listed all the eligible men for you?" the maid asked as she sat up and moved off the bed. She walked over to Ellen's desk to look at the small clock perched above it. Ten minutes had passed since the noblewomen left. "Despite being a republic, the Black Order does have many noblemen of old families and rank. Maybe one of them…?"

Ellen shook her head at the query. "I've already asked the privy council about that. The alliance between Eileanprydain and the Black Order Republic is very strong, so there's really no need for a political marriage. And even if that wasn't the case, there aren't any single individuals of a rank suitable for becoming my Consort. Or so they say."

'Well I say that last one's stupid. Should rank really trump all in this situation?' Chomesuke thought with building disbelief as she lit two candles before grabbing one and walking over to the drawer. Ellen was the last member of the House of Campbell, after all. If she happened to die without an heir, then the throne of Eileanprydain and Toscaterza would go to the next person in line: King Adam VII of Noah. But because he had recently tried and failed to seize Ellen's crown on grounds of her youth and gender, in addition to his dismal treatment of the Akuma, the Prydish public would not stand him becoming their monarch.

If he did become king, civil war would be the obvious outcome; something that Ellen, her privy council, Parliament and all others in the political game desperately wanted to avoid.

Ellen's eyes were unfocused as she put her husband's miniature back on the bedside table. She was most likely having the same thoughts as Chomesuke. "That might be for the best, though. I already know all the noblemen in the Black Order from my years living there, and none of them would be a perfect fit for Consort."

Chomesuke looked up from riling through the drawer in confusion. "All of them? Are you sure?"

Ellen walked over to her desk and opened a small drawer, retrieving a deck of playing cards. "Yes, I'm sure."

"What about…" Chomesuke pulled out a linen shift as she tried to remember which of Ellen's male friends were married or single. "… Lord Noise Marie?"

Ellen looked at Chomesuke with a raised eyebrow. "Cho… he married Miranda last month."

"Oh, yeah… how are they doing, by the way?"

"Judging by her last letter, they're settling into married life quite happily," Ellen chuckled as she sat down at her desk, shuffling the cards.

"Well, that's good," Chomesuke mumbled as she laid out the shift on Ellen's bed. "Okay, what about Lord Arystar Krory? He's only a baron, but he's also descended from royalty if you go back far enough on his family tree."

Ellen just shook her head. "There are two reasons why it can't be him. First of all, he's still mourning Eliade-"

"Still!? She's been dead for nearly five years now!"

"And second of all," Ellen continued over Chomesuke's shocked outcry, "Krory is too trusting of others. He would be in danger of being manipulated by my more unsavory courtiers, not to mention foreign enemies, into getting them whatever they want."

Chomesuke couldn't deny that. She had met the nice but utterly naive nobleman herself. And while Ellen would certainly protect him when they were both in Prydain, he would be left vulnerable as regent during her trips to Toscaterza.

"Fair enough. Hmm… Lords Barry, Laboun and Reed all died during the war… so did Lord Suman Dark, but he was married, anyway… what about Lord Chaozii Han?"

Ellen hid a wince. "Chaozii is very loyal to his friends, but hates compromising with people he dislikes. In which case…"

"Lord Han would basically become a nightmare of a consort, politically?"

The queen nodded as Chomesuke finished her statement. "And personally, I'm afraid," she added while dealing out cards for a one-man game of Brusquembille. "He's still hasn't forgiven me for my actions after the battle of White Ark."

The maid pursed her lips and nodded. As Ellen's closest servant, Chomesuke personally witnessed the talks over the two main consequences of that battle: the captured city of White Ark, and Akuma prisoners of war. They were able to quickly come to a consensus about the city: have it absorbed into Toscaterza and the Black Order Republic given open military access for the remainder of the war. But then a heated argument broke out over what to do about their captives.

There was not so much disagreement over their eventual fate – sent back to their homeland once the war was over – as there was over their treatment until then. Prison life was harsh and grueling, even for petty thieves back home. And once the factor of how the Noah army treated enemy combatants or civilians unlucky enough to be at their mercy was considered, the Black Order army wasn't inclined to treat captured Akuma soldiers well. In fact, Chaozii had been part of a group that advocated denying them prisoner of war status and instead keep them imprisoned on decommissioned ships until victory was reached. When others had pointed out the squalid conditions that would await the Akuma onboard such ships, Chaozii had coldly replied, "They're our enemy; It's more than they deserve."

Ellen, however, had been appalled by that sentiment and protested those plans. After many meetings and exchange of letters, she had managed to get the Akuma guarded by her own people instead of those from the Black Order Republic, the former being the least likely to commit abuse. What's more, she went ahead and personally supplied the prisoners of war with amenities that they normally would had to have secured by themselves. Chaozii was among those furious by her show of generosity, and had not been appeased by her justification of "They are still human beings, Lord Han. Most were pressed into this conflict by order of their king, not because they enjoy killing. To consider ourselves enlightened while needlessly torturing them is most distasteful to my own sense of morality, let alone the public's."

'Which demonstrated that Ellen is a far better person than he is,' Chomesuke viciously concluded as she cleaned Ellen's comb. Then her hands stilled as the next man came to mind. "What about… Lavi, of the House of Bookman?"

Ellen blinked in confusion. "Why Lavi?"

"Well, his house has been around for centuries," Chomesuke reasoned, still not looking at the other, "so his lineage has got to impressive enough for your aristocrats. Besides, Lavi is genial but observant. You wouldn't have to worry about him being taken advantage of, or making rash decisions in your absence."

Ellen suddenly realized why Chomesuke sounded so reluctant, then turned around to hide a smile. "That's quite true, Cho," she agreed, taking note of how the maid seem to wilt ever so slightly. "But I doubt that the head of the Bookman, Lavi's grandfather, would accept such an offer."

The maid now stopped what she was doing to look at her queen. "Why?"

Ellen paused her game to give Chomesuke her full attention. "As you know, the House of Bookman is rather unusual compared to other noble houses. It rose to prominence not through combat or finance, but through their diplomacy skills and thirst for knowledge. That led to its members becoming migratory, never staying in one country once they had detailed its local history."

Chomesuke's eyes widened as understanding hit her. "And that means Lavi can't marry you, since that would not only tie him down to one country, but also his heir."

"You mean several countries," Ellen gently corrected her friend. "Eileanprydain is a political union of four different countries, and adding Toscaterza would make it five. But yes, the heart of the matter remains the same." She then walked over to Chomesuke and gave the other a significant look. "Ah, I forgot to mention another peculiarity about the House of Bookman."

Chomesuke looked away. "Oh? And just what is it?"

Ellen felt an inappropriately wide grin slip onto her face. "Unlike most noble houses, it doesn't mind its members marrying people of different social classes." She turned her head and pretended not to notice the comb nearly falling from Chomesuke's hands. "That has earned them derision from other nobles of course, who mostly view lower class women as suitable only for servants or mistresses, but the fact that they know practically everything about everyone else keeps it from progressing further. And it does mean they'll never have to worry about the lack of suitable marriage partners like I do."

The queen rubbed her chin as she looked up in contemplation. "Now that I remember, Lavi mentioned that the house of Bookman lived in the Kingdom of Noah before moving to the Black Order Republic. In fact," her eyes slid to take in the sight of Chomesuke's tomato-red face, "the head before Lavi's grandfather had married an Akuma himself. That makes for a very interesting precedent. Don't you agree, Cho?"

Chomesuke brandished the silver comb as a not very impressive knife, growling out, "If you weren't the Queen, I would be poking you with this soooo hard right now!"

Ellen chuckled but held out her hands in a gesture of placation. "I'm sorry, Cho. I just couldn't resist."

Chomesuke harrumphed in embarrassment, but then placed the comb back where it belonged and looked down at her hands. "How long…?" she asked, not wanting to finish her question out loud.

Ellen understood, anyway. "For about a year," she answered with a reassuring smile. "Lenalee and I happened to see you two… having a private moment on board Anita's ship and decided not to bring it up. I'm only saying all of this now because you brought him as an option." After a few seconds of silence from Chomesuke, she pressed on, "He really does like you, you know."

Now Chomesuke looked at the young queen with quiet, disbelieving hope gleaming in her brown eyes. "He does?"

"Yes," Ellen nodded. "I know he acts like a flirt with every attractive woman he sees, but what he shares with you… it's clear how much he adores you."

Chomesuke knew she probably looked quite ridiculous, standing in Ellen's room while trying to hide her rather goofy grin with just her hands. But she didn't care about that. When she started her relationship with Lavi, she told herself it wouldn't last. He was a nobleman; she was a lady's maid. A future where people like them could marry was fit only for fiction, not reality. Now, however…

"Still, I doubt his grandfather will approve of me."

"He will, once it's revealed that you're responsible for Lavi's calmer mood recently."

Chomesuke let out a snort and shook her head as she rhetorically asked, "Weren't we trying to find you someone to marry besides those your privy council recommend?"

Ellen sheepishly shrugged. "Honestly, I think we've pretty much exhausted that list."

"You probably have a point," Chomesuke sighed as she walked back to the clock. "The only other nobles I can think of are Lord Komui Lee, who won't step down as Grand Pensionary; Lord Bak Chang, who is head over heels in love with Lady Lenalee; Lord Timothy Hearst, who is much too young for you; and Lord Yu Kanda, who-"

"I wouldn't marry even if we were the last two people in the entire world," Ellen bluntly stated as she went back to her cards.

"I think he'll agree with you on that."

Ellen huffed and gave Chomesuke a wry smile. "Probably the only thing we'll ever agree on."

Chomesuke chuckled, then brought her candle closer to the clock-face so she could read the current time. "It's been about twenty-five minutes. Do you want me to start wrangling up the geese now?"

"If by that you mean my ladies-in-waiting, then yes," Ellen confirmed while sending Chomesuke a mildly chiding glance.

Chomesuke just shrugged as she walked towards the set of doors. "Which ones do you need, again?"

"The Dresser and one of the Women of the Bedchamber. The First Lady of the Bedchamber is most likely going over details with the Lord Chamberlain, if she isn't already asleep, so there's no need to fetch her."

"Alright. Which one of the Women of the Bedchamber do you want?"

Ellen serenely smiled. "Whichever one won't keep pressing me to meet their unmarried male relatives?"

"I'm a lady's maid, not a holy relic, Ellen. How about one who'll press the least?"

"That will do. And can you bring in a chamber maid as well, to put out the fire? I'm planning on going to bed shortly after."

Chomesuke nodded and open the right door. Then, for the benefit of any hidden busybody, turned and curtsied to her queen. "I will be right back, Your Majesty."

"See you soon," Ellen quietly replied just before Chomesuke crossed the threshold and closed the door behind her.

The young queen was now alone in the large room. She quickly finished her game of Brusquembille, but didn't move to start another one. All the card games she knew were made to be played with other people. So she stood up, put her cards away, and began wandering around her bedroom.

'One minute by myself and I'm already bored,' she idly thought as she stopped in front of the fireplace. The young woman silently watched the yellow-orange flames contently feed on the logs below. Then a memory flickered unbidden into her mind: her twelve year-old self, sat in front of another fireplace, playing with a small yellow spaniel that frolicked upon the carpet like a swallow flitting through the sky.

'Oh, Timcanpy,' Ellen silently lamented as a fresh wave of grief crashed over her. Timcanpy had been a gift from Cross Marian to distract the then eleven year-old queen from her grief over Mana's death. And it had worked; Ellen adored the little spaniel, taking him wherever she went and secretly feeding him whatever was on her plate. He had even accompanied her on all her travels abroad, endearing himself to all the women that laid eyes on the fluffy creature.

But one day, during a homecoming visit to Prydain, something horrible happened. Her traveling party was staying at a Duke's country estate when the man in question suggested that everyone present, meaning all the nobles and the queen herself, go on a fox hunt. Ellen, seventeen at the time, wasn't enamored with the idea. She was fine with hunting so long as she could eat whatever she caught at the end. But hunting animals like foxes or wolves always left a bad taste in her mouth. Why kill them if they were neither game nor bothering you? But it would be bad form if she turned down the invitation, so instead she agreed. Naturally, Tim went along with her.

At first everything went as expected. The hounds had been cast into a cluster of coverts and flushed out a fox hiding there. The fox dodged the sharp teeth of the hounds and managed to go to ground. But it was a temporary reprieve; the terrier man then released his charges to destroy the wild animal's sanctuary. The nobles simply stood back and waited on horseback, letting the dogs and hunt staff do their job. And Ellen positioned herself at the very back, trying to feel content with enjoying the fresh air and exercise but still dreading the fox's inevitable death.

Suddenly, just after the terriers were successful and the nobles rode up to take aim, Timcanpy darted away from Ellen's side and moved in front of the fox hole. The whippers-in and other hunt staff tried to move him away so that the nobles could shoot their quarry, but the spaniel just evaded their hands and snapped at anything that tried to approach him or the fox.

Finally a young foreign viscount, tired of the strange dog's holding up the hunt, took aim at the fox and fired.

But the bullet didn't hit the fox. To Ellen's overwhelming horror, it hit and killed Timcanpy.

Once the duke realized what had happened, he ordered the huntsman to get the dogs under control. The hunt, for all purposes, was over. A great relief for the fox, who prudently slipped away while all the humans were preoccupied with the dead dog that defended it.

Ellen broke away from her memories and moved to her oak vanity. She opened a small velvet-covered jewelry box and began searching through its contents for her quarry. Finally she pulled out a long red velvet ribbon with both its ends tied together. Hanging onto the ribbon were four rings.

These weren't your average rings, however; they were mourning rings, created in memory of the deceased the living wanted to hold onto. The first ring wasn't even Ellen's; it was her father's, a white enamel ring made in honor of the mother she never met. The second ring – black enamel with her father's birth and death dates – was her own, but made for a child's finger. The third ring was for Timcanpy, a tiny pearl set in the center – normally a choice reserved for children, but one Ellen thought was appropriate due to his innocent nature. The fourth and most recent ring was the most unique, for gold selectively covered a core comprised of a lock of blond hair. Howard's hair.

She ran her fingers over the third ring, then sat down at her vanity and put on the necklace. It took some time, seeing as the only light she could rely on came from the fireplace, but eventually all four rings were proudly displayed upon the décolletage still uncovered by the linen sheets.

"There. Not too shabby, if I say so myself," Ellen murmured in a pleased tone as she looked into the mirror. The First Lady might grow annoyed if she ever learned that her queen put on her jewelry by herself, but they were just mourning rings. Besides, she was in the privacy of her bedroom and planning to go to bed soon. So long as she slipped them off before anyone came in, who would ever know?

"Much more than that, in my opinion."

Ellen gasped and turned around in her seat, trying to locate the owner of that voice. A very familiar voice. One that shouldn't be in her room at all, let alone this time of night.

Yet despite that glaring fact, there stood a man at the foot of her bed. He was tall with a toned, back-lit physique that flattered his clothing, rather the other way around. His long, dark wavy hair was tied at the back of his neck. And affixed to his face was a smirk far too casual for this situation.

"What are you doing here, Lord Mikk?" the queen demanded as she pulled her banyan tight around her body.

The man raised an eyebrow at her very reasonable question. "'Lord Mikk'? I'm hurt, my dear girl, to hear you address me in that way," he said as he moved closer to her. "We're more than mere strangers, after all."

Ellen shot him an unimpressed look in return. She stood up to address him, silently wishing she was at least a few inches taller so that she wouldn't have to crane her neck back to look at him. "Lord Mikk, you are standing here in my private bedroom without having been invited beforehand. And your address towards me is much too informal. Considering those factors, my using only your surname is the least of your concerns."

"Oh, really?" He stopped right in front of her, golden eyes carrying an inappropriately amused light. "And just what are my 'concerns'?"

"Well, let me start with the most obvious: I summon the Yeoman Guards to remove you from my room, which will obviously lead to imprisonment in the Tower and a very thorough questioning."

"Well, I do hope that won't include torture. If His Majesty ever gets word of that, he will express his displeasure in an extremely public manner…"

Ellen didn't even blink at that subtle threat of a promise. "If it eases your mind, your high position among the Noah nobility as the Marquess of Joyd will protect you from that type of treatment. However," she amended while taking a step forward and planting her hands on her hips, "that will not change the fact that you will be imprisoned. In opulent quarters, certainly, but still imprisoned. And whoever will end up interrogating you will not rest until they receive answers."

Lord Mikk's smirk widened. His eyes glanced down at the slip of skin uncovered by her recent movement before returning to her face. "Then they'll develop insomnia, girl. My natural inclination is to do what I want, when I want. And I certainly won't want to cooperate with some stuffy old man in a cell."

But Ellen simply smirked back. "Then I would have no choice but to inform them of your greatest weakness."

His gaze widened in surprise for a split-second, then returned to normal. "Really?"

"Yes, really."

"And you just happen to know what it is?"

"In a matter of speaking, yes."

His eyes narrowed and he took a step forward as well, greatly reducing the gap in between their bodies. "So why don't you humor me and say it out loud?"

"Alright then," Ellen calmly replied. "Your greatest weakness, Lord Mikk, is your reluctance in mingling with high society."

Lord Mikk struggled and failed to keep the blatant confusion off his face. "What?"

"You dislike mixing with other nobility," she reiterated with a graceful shrug of her shoulders. "Ever since you arrived as the ambassador for King Adam VII, you have been quite selective in attending the balls and other social events you have received invitations to. Not that said selectivity should label you as a hermit, but it has been enough for my nobles to take note of."

Judging the re-appearance of his smirk, he had now fully recovered. "And how are you going to use this weakness, girl? Force me to attend every social gathering in Eileanprydain?"

"Oh no, that would most peculiar. But there are quite a few of my nobles who live for such things. I would just have to remind my privy council of your aversion during their search for your interrogator." Her smirk grew as his began to wane. "In fact, there is one earl I know of who would be the perfect candidate. He is well-connected via both his schoolmates and his adult children, which means that he attends a vast number of balls and other such gatherings held annually across both Eileanprydain and Toscaterza. And he is more than happy to share any procured gossip or whatnot with anyone in the same room as him. Well, anyone who is willing to listen."

Lord Mikk put up a calm facade, but she could see the growing trepidation in his eyes. It was time to drive her point home. "Parliament would certainly approve of the earl taking up the post of interrogator, since he is a member of the Gamoround party. And the privy council will approve due to his title and standing." Now Ellen began to tap her chin and stare up at the ceiling in a tableau of deep thought. "Of course, the man in question might consider my request to talk with you before questioning unorthodox for the circumstances; but I have a feeling he will find such an opportunity to share with a... captive audience too good to resist."

"You're bluffing," he challenged, yet took a step back from her.

She steadily stared back at him. "Try me, Lord Mikk."

They held eye contact for what felt to be an extremely long stretch of time. The fire, happily ignorant to the showdown, continued to warm one side of their bodies as they stood still.

Finally, Lord Mikk shook his head. "You're not playing fair here, girl," he complained in a half-wary, half-amused tone.

Ellen's answering smile was serene on the surface, slightly smug and cheeky underneath. "I am a queen, good sir. There are many times where I must be firm. This is one of them. However, that specific scenario can be avoided; you will simply have to leave right now."

But instead of taking that offer, as she expected, he chuckled and took a step forward. His earlier apprehension was now slowly draining from his face. "Are you sure about that, girl?"

Ellen's expression took on a bemused tint. "Quite, Lord Mikk. Now is not the time to reignite hostilities between our peoples. So despite your bold actions this night, I will overlook all of them if you walk out of the main doorway, leave the palace and return to your lodgings."

His answering smirk was wicked. "Whoever said I used the main doors?"

At first, she just looked at him with a raised eyebrow over that absurd question. Of course he used the main doors. How else could-

Wait.

Oh no.

'But that- Impossible- He shouldn't have-!'

Ellen's lavender eyes grew wide with shock and disbelief, then she bolted around the noble and ran to the corner of her room in-between the fireplace and main doors. In front of her was a tapestry hanging on the pine wainscoting. Normally it was long enough for its golden fringe to barely brush the floor, wide enough to overcome the width of the raised panel underneath, and young enough that the image woven, the Ellis columbine, was still beautifully presented to the viewer.

Unfortunately, Ellen couldn't exactly appreciate the tapestry right now. Not when a good portion of it seemed to just disappear into the wall. She slowly moved forward and to the side, her heart increasing in tempo as she observed how there now was a significant slice of darkness separating the wall and the wood board holding the tapestry up. Finally she reached out and gripped the board with one hand while sliding the other towards the darkness. It was a futile gesture, sure, but she had to do it to confirm that Lord Mikk had actually stumbled upon one of her family's secrets.

And he undeniably did, for her exploring hand veered into an abyss instead of more wall.

She whipped her head around to face Lord Mikk, now standing behind her. "How did you-"

"How did I find your set of secret passages?" he chuckled, then moved to replicate their previous position in front of the fire. "A browsing of the palace library before my meeting with your Prime Minister earlier today led me to a certain corner where one bookshelf didn't perfectly match the others… but was perfect at disguising the door behind it."

Ellen grit her teeth to keep the swear words she dearly wanted to use from flying out her mouth. "And you just happened to come across it?" she asked with audible doubt in her voice.

Lord Mikk wasn't bothered by her tone, though. In fact the audacious man took a hold of her left hand and brought it to his lips. The young queen failed to stop the thrill running down her spine once she felt the warmth of his lips upon the back of it. "I know it sounds quite far-fetched, but it truly was by chance. Though it certainly does explain how you keep getting 'lost' and causing your attendants to run about like headless chickens."

She rolled her eyes in response. "Really, Lord Mikk. An ambassador such as yourself shouldn't be comparing my people to poultry."

"No, but is apt. And I know you agree with me."

"Oh, really?" she questioned with a calm expression, the same one she used while playing cards with her courtiers, pressed into place. "How?"

Lord Mikk, still holding her hand, smirked and said, "Don't be coy, girl. I saw that smile you tried to hide."

Now she turned her face to the side and softly huffed. "Then I must gently correct you. That smile, as you call it, wasn't a show of approval for your turn of phrase. It was an involuntary reaction, brought on by my disbelief over your justification over your actions this night."

"You make it sound that I've done something bad."

She could help but roll her eyes. "Like discovering that someone else knows how to skulk about my palace without being detected is something to be happy over."

Ellen's eyes slid closed as she heard his responding chuckle, showing that he wasn't offended by her last retort. Not that she expected it to have. The Noah nobleman, unlike other members of his social rank, could handle tart comments delivered by women with grace. Granted, there were certain topics best left alone whenever she conversed with him. But again, his list was tiny compared to other noble's.

'It really is nice to talk with an aristocrat with thick skin for once,' she thought with a slight smile.

But that smile soon slipped off her face once she felt something warm grip her chin and realign her head to face forward. Surprised, her eyes fluttered open to see Lord Mikk looking straight at her.

"Well, I consider it to be a great boon," he all but purred. "Given that our last meeting ended far too soon."

Ellen's cheeks burned at his words and her heart skipped a beat as his words brought up distracting memories from just hours ago. "Lord Mikk," she breathed out while trying to remove his hand from her face, "this is not the place to bring that up."

He slowly began to maneuver her away from the secret passage. Soon Ellen's back and left hand met the wall as he pressed his body against hers. "Why ever not? We're all alone, the fireplace is giving the room a cozy atmosphere, and your current attire…" His hand slid from her jaw to cradle the back of her head, fingers tangled within her braid despite it still being damp. His head then dipped down to teasingly brush his lips against hers as he sensually said, "It just beckons me to help you out of it."

Ellen's breath hitched at hearing that blatant statement. It also didn't help that he followed it up by a firm yet slow thrust of his still-clothed hips, allowing her to feel the evidence of his desire.

The queen tried to turn her face from those piercing eyes studying the expressions triggered by his blasted thrusting. Alas, the grip he maintained at the back or her neck kept her head stationary, so the most she could do was flicker her gaze away from his.

Soon she felt Lord Mikk shift his hips away, giving her an opportunity to try to gather her scattered thoughts and launch a counter-offensive. Said-opportunity, however, was cut short by a knee wedging its way between her thighs and traveling all the way north.

"Mi-mikk!" she nearly moaned as his wicked knee repeated his hip's earlier actions. But now there were sparks flashing in her lower belly, caused by the bunched up linen rubbing against the most sensitive part of her body. "Y-you must c-cease this at o-once!"

Lord Mikk chuckled and pressed a kiss against her burning cheek. "Are you sure, girl? You seem to be enjoying yourself," he teased as his eyes flickered down her body.

He was right, in a way. Her own hips began to grind down shortly after his knee made contact, ignoring her shocked consternation in favor of chasing those lovely sparks. It was just like earlier, when they-

'No! I can't let myself be distracted!' Ellen scolded herself. She then placed her hands onto his shoulders and pushed against them. It failed to get them to completely separate, but she did manage to make his knee cease its provocative movements. A small part of her was quite disappointed by how that led the sparks to slowly die, but she harshly brushed it aside to focus on the matter at hand.

"I am expecting a group of noblewomen arriving soon to help me prepare for bed, Lord Mikk," she explained to the questioning nobleman, "and the last thing I need tonight is to explain to them why I am alone with a man who is certainly not my husband."

"And how is that a problem? You're a widow, not a maiden."

Ellen's lavender eyes transformed into jagged amethysts as she scowled. "Don't be obtuse," she snapped at him. "Yes, widows have greater freedom compared to their unmarried counterparts when it comes to making the beast with two backs. But I'm not an average well-off widow. I'm a queen ruling over several lands. I can't live out the rest of my life with nothing but lovers to warm my bed. I need to re-marry and beget a legal heir."

Lord Mikk raised an eyebrow and scoffed. "That requirement doesn't stop other rulers from enjoying themselves."

Now her eyes cast a bitter glance to the floor. "You mean the male rulers. They could have a veritable harem of mistresses alongside their wife, or father multiple illegitimate children and simply be judged by their peers as virile. But if a female ruler is so much as implied to be intimate with just one man, even if her husband is deceased at the time... or bear a child whose parentage is less than completely certain…"

She didn't need to finish that last statement. Both of them knew how others would react. How their responses would be much more vulgar, damaging and hurtful due to her sex rather than her purported actions.

For a few scant seconds nothing was said. The only sounds emitted came from the fireplace as wood crackled while consumed by the flames. Then Ellen heard Lord Mikk release a sigh before she felt him kiss her forehead. And it was such a warm kiss, too; conveying a sense of tenderness that seemed contrary to his normal behavior.

"Now, now, Ellen. There's no need to cry."

It took a moment of blinking for her to realize that he was talking about the clear liquid pearls forming in the corners of her eyes. His hand left her hair to brush away her tears, as warm as his kiss and as gentle as his soothing words. Once it accomplished its mission, his hand chose to rest against her cheek instead of returning to its former post.

She sighed and covered his hand with one of her own. "I'm sorry, Lord Mikk. I don't know what came over me just now," she confessed with a soft sigh of frustration. Her eyes shuttered close to curtail future tears – and to keep her feelings in check.

'Stop acting pathetic, Ellen. You are a Queen, not some blubbering fool. Feeling anger over the stark fact that men can weather sex scandals better than women is a waste of time.'

'Your people must always be placed over your pride. If not...'

But Ellen was distracted from her mental scolding by another kiss from Lord Mikk, this time on her lips. It didn't linger, for seduction wasn't its current aim. Still there was enough of his charm conveyed through it that a slight thrill ran down her spine and a small part of her wanted to sigh in rapture.

She blinked and looked up, a confused and questioning expression upon her face as she gazed into his. "Why did you kiss me?"

Lord Mikk let out a thoughtful hum. "For two reasons: first, because I wanted to," he cheekily stated with a smirk.

Slightly irritated but also amused, Ellen asked, "And what is your second one?"

Now his eyes softened. "Because defeat is the last emotion that belongs on your face." He lowered his head to let their foreheads touch, never letting their gazes break. "I've known you for years, girl. You're not one to let adversaries break you." His thumb began to rub soothing circles on her cheek. "Instead you do what you think is right, all for those who depend on you."

After a moment of stunned surprise, the young queen felt a smile twitch across her face. "I didn't realize you had such a keen sense of observation."

Lord Mikk smirked and gave her another kiss. This one was short but sweet, lasting long enough for her lower belly to quiver in anticipation of what might come. "It's a relatively new skill, to be fair. But I'm more than happy to exercise it on you, girl."

Ellen couldn't help but laugh. "So that's your final weapon for getting into my skirts?" she teased the man still touching her, playing along despite the situation. "To ply me with sweet nothings whispered into my ears?"

"Is that what you want?"

"I thought you knew me better than that, Lord Mikk."

His grin grew sinfully wide and caused her heart to flutter. "Oh, I do," he purred out, removing the hand on her face and placed it on her shoulder. Then he slowly glided the appendage down to her waist in a sensual caress, raising goose bumps in its wake. "You're a woman of action, not words. Otherwise you wouldn't have stepped foot on the battlefield all those months ago."

Ellen began to toy with the top edge of his waistcoat with her left hand, silently enjoying how the silk felt under her fingertips, as her right stayed put on his shoulder. "You're referring to my visiting my troops to lift morale, I assume?"

"Oh, you did more than that," Lord Mikk countered. His hand now rested on her hip, above the thigh trapped between his legs. The arm around her waist also withdrew so that his other hand could copy the position of its brother. "There are several accounts, from both our soldiers and spies, about you fighting side-by-side with your soldiers and allies without any regard for your own life."

"I couldn't have asked those men to die fighting for my right to rule without sharing the burden," she nonchalantly justified her actions to the nobleman. The words themselves were well-worn, having been used time after time when frantic allied officers tried to persuade her to leave the fighting to the men. But much to their dismay, she never strayed far from the war front. Especially not after Howard's death.

"Why bring this up now, Mikk?" Ellen questioned, her head tilted to one side as she looked at him.

"To distract you, of course."

Ellen's eyes widened in shock.

"Wha- mmph!"

Just as Lord Mikk revealed the conversation's purpose, he moved his hands to grip her thighs and quickly maneuvered their bodies so that her legs were now wrapped around his hips. At the same time he took advantage of her verbal outburst to seal his mouth to hers. In fact he went even further, inserting his tongue into her warm and wet mouth. She managed not to keen as that flexible muscle coaxed her own into a sinful yet intoxicating dance, but she did whimper once he started grinding against her hips.

"Th-that was a dirty trick," Ellen gasped after he moved his mouth away just enough for her to speak.

"Well, it was certainly effective," he answered back with a sensual chuckle. Then he started to press kisses along her jaw and long neck, pulling at the ribbon holding her mourning rings until it came undone in his hand. Now with more exposed skin available, Lord Mikk's kisses were joined by light sucks and lewd licks targeted narrowly at sensitive spots.

The young queen sighed in pleasure and tilted her head back as one kiss was planted right on her pulse point. Her sense of reason started to slip away, and the space between her legs started to feel very damp…

But then something happened. What could only be described as the chiming of bells softly float through the room.

"What the hell is that?" an utterly baffled Lord Mikk questioned, pausing in his attempt at further uncovering her legs.

Ellen nearly swore, then frantically looked around to find the source of the chimes. Just as she suspected, it was coming from the shell-shaped wall decoration above her head.

'Of all the bloody times for it to be ringing…'

She grabbed his face with both hands and made him face her straight on. "Lord Mikk," she said in a commanding tone, "put me down now!"

Seeing that Ellen was completely serious, Lord Mikk sighed and helped her unwrap her legs from his hips. Once her feet were firmly on the floor, she took a hold of his right arm and started dragging him towards the secret passage's door.

"Hey, what-?!" Mikk shouted as Ellen shoved him inside and closed the door, nearly trapping the tapestry in the process.

"Shh! Those bell chimes mean that someone's coming. Most likely the ladies-in-waiting I warned you about! If you make a sound while they're in my room, you'll be found out and then everything will go wrong!"

She took in a deep breath to try and calm her nerves. "Tyki… please keep quiet. At least until they all leave again. Please."

A few seconds past before he gave out a muffled sigh and said, "Alright, Ellen."

Ellen smiled with relief and whispered a sincere "Thank you." She walked away from the secret door, now undetectable due to the tapestry correctly covering it, and moved to a white painted fortepiano that once belonged to her long deceased uncle Nea. She pulled out the stool and began searching it hidden compartment for sheet music.

'They're probably still too far away to have heard anything,' she thought as she found the specific song she was looking for. She then opened the lid, sat down, lifted the fallboard that protected the keys and arranged the sheets against the music rack. 'Still, I can't be too careful. Besides, this piece has always had a calming effect…'

Finally she raised her hands and started to play. Musical notes soon filled the air, their gleeful meandering and hopping about reminding her of a stumbling but energetic fawn. She could picture the adorable creature in her mind: desperately trying to keep up with its mother, yet still getting distracted by the wonders of the forest it now called home.

She was half-way through the balletto when a short series of knocks came from the other side of the front doors. "Your majesty," Chomesuke announced, "your ladies-in-waiting are here to help you get dressed for bed."

Ellen turned around and placed her hands on her lap. "Let them in, De Yopan."

The doors opened and in came the ladies-in-waiting, Chomesuke and a young chamber maid. Each woman greeted their queen with curtsies – the aristocrats delivering additional verbal banalities – and commenced with their respective duties. The chamber maid put out the fire and tidied up the room, Chomesuke handed Ellen's shift over to the Woman of the Bedchamber, and the two noblewomen gossiped as they helped the queen change into her shift before she got into bed.

After dismissing her ladies-in-waiting and the chamber maid, Ellen looked at Chomesuke and said, "Could you leave me a candle before you retire, Cho? I want to do a bit of light reading before I go to sleep." She then slipped out a slim novel from the left bedside table's drawer to support her request.

"Alright," the maid whispered as she placed the candle next to the queen, "but don't stay up too late. You have the levée first thing in the morning. And there are only so many ways the First Lady of the Bedchamber can passively express her disapproval of your habits before she falls down dead from apoplexy."

Ellen bit her lip and tried not to laugh. "I'll keep that in mind. Good night, Chomesuke."

Expertly balancing the used linen sheets and a lit flame, Chomesuke smiled and said, "Good night, Ellen." Then she exited the royal bedroom to her own close by.

Ellen locked the doors with a special mechanism right above the table supporting her light source, then opened her book and started to read. But once she heard the hidden bells signal that her ladies-in-waiting were far enough from her room, she jumped out of bed and quickly but quietly ran over to the secret passage. She opened the door and found him leaning on the wall with his arms crossed, his previous look of boredom melting away once the light from her candle entered the dark space.

"Thanks again for not giving yourself away," she told him as he left the wall and stood in front of her.

"Well, the chatter from your ladies-in-waiting helped," he confessed before removing his tricorne hat to brush his bangs from his face. "Nothing can put one to sleep faster than the inane yapping of bottle-headed noblewomen. Why are they a part of your court, anyway?"

"Politics," she answered, vaguely recalling that Chomesuke asked a similar question. "But that is neither here nor there. What happened tonight was incredibly reckless. Not only because we nearly got caught. If we had continued on…"

'We would have crossed the line. The one I created after that kiss you gave me days after the end of Howard's mourning period.'

Ellen sighed and looked down at the ground. She can't let her weakness for Tyki's charms, what had started her initial correspondence with the Noah nobleman when she was sixteen, get the better of her this time. "You should go now, Tyki. Before…"

'Before I beg you to fully take me.'

She didn't see Tyki's immediate reaction to her words. But she was very much aware of what he did after that: he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into a crushing embrace. It was only sheer dumb luck that Ellen hadn't dropped the candle or set their clothes on fire.

"Tyki-" she tried to scold him for his sudden action, but he stopped her with one finger pressed against her lips. The man then grasped her chin and made her lock gazes with him. She felt her breath hitch as she took in the raw, almost vulnerable look on his face.

'Ah, how unfair of you,' Ellen helplessly thought. 'You know I can't resist it when you're being fully sincere with me.'

And despite common sense and experience telling her not to reignite the embers, she wrapped the arm not preoccupied with a candle around his neck and pulled him down for a kiss.

- x -

When Ellen woke up the next morning, tucked into bed and wearing her shift once again, she found that Tyki had left her a puzzling message.

Three of her mourning rings, which she had completely forgotten about, were left on the closest bedside table corner to where she laid. The ribbon connecting them was tied into a neat bow.

The fourth mourning ring, however, was left right next to the waxy remains of last night's candle. What's more, it had been hidden by one of her miniatures, the painting's old place among its peers conspicuous by the empty space.

Both ring and miniature were Howard's.

- xXx -

This one has been an interesting story to write, folks. I have been lifting a lot of details straight from the 18th century (specifically Britain), but I've also went and remixed other information to fit this AU (and because I like to make things harder for myself). Therefore, the cultural notes section will be split into two parts: world building notes, and cultural notes. Onward, ho!

Cultural Notes:

Favourite (favorite) – A person who enjoys the favor of a reigning monarch. The actual nature of their relationship to the monarch varied on an individual basis. Some were just good friends of the monarch; others were their ruler's lover.What was consistent, however, was that the other courtiers hated them. Especially if said favorite came from a lower social class. The favorite system was declining during the 18th century, as new ways of accumulating political power without completely relying on royal favor became available.

Ellen's bathing routine – Based on what I could find on the Internet about 18th bathing. Specifically, I used a news article that described how Caroline of Ansbach, Queen of Great Britain and King George II's wife, would take a bath.

First Lady of the Bedchamber – The highest position of the Ladies of the Bedchamber. Normally only required for ceremonial occasions, but I imagine that this First Lady is fussy enough to want to regularly be by Ellen's side due to the latter's age. If the monarch was female, then the First Lady would also be the Groom of the Stoles (formally the Groom of the Stools, who headed the bedchamber staff and kept the sovereign's stoles/official robes).

Women of the Bedchamber – Rank of noblewomen who served the Queen as ladies-in-waiting. They helped her bathe, get dressed, etc. Ranked below the Ladies of the Bedchamber and would defer to them, but didn't take orders from them back in the 18th century.

Dresser – The person who actually dressed the Queen. There's no Wikipedia page for this position, but it is mentioned in Lucy Worsley's documentary series If Walls Could Talk – The History of the Home.

Lady's maid – A personal attendant who waits on her mistress. Her position was higher compared to other servants in the servant's hall. She was in charge of helping her mistress with her appearance, and would also draw her mistress's bath and brought her breakfast in her room.

Privy council – Formal group of royal advisors. A small committee formed from this body gained greater authority in the 18th century, meeting without the monarch and telling the royal afterwards.

Mistress of the Robes – The noblewoman in charge of the Queen's stoles. This office would often be merged with that of the First Lady of the Bedchamber during the 18th century.

Lord Chamberlain of the Household – The most senior position of the Royal Household. Chosen by the monarch, supervises those who advise said monarch, organizes official ceremonies, etc.

Muffin-wallopers – Scandal-loving women.

Pudding-headed fellows – Total idiots.

Bill of Rights – Basically the English Bill of Rights. After James was overthrown by William and Mary in the Glorious Revolution (which really was a government-approved coup), Parliament presented the two with this document they had to accept to get the English throne.

Licensing Act – Based on the Licensing of the Press Act of 1662, which was basically press censorship. According to Wikipedia, the House of Commons (the lower house of Parliament) decided not to renew it which eventually led to the Copyright Act of 1710. However, in Lucy Worsley's The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain, one man claims that Parliament just forgot to schedule the matter in. Which one do you believe?

The Campbell king who lost his head – Basically Charles I. Considered by many to be the worst English king since the Middle Ages (though I personally think George IV could give him a run for his money), he ended up abusing his powers, caused the English Civil Wars, tried by Parliament for treason, and finally beheaded. But he did have great taste in art (just like George IV, actually...). The Campbell king Ellen mentions had a pretty similar track record to Charles I, though I haven't decided if he was pig-headed enough to start a civil war over not getting his way.

MPs – Members of Parliament.

Banyan – A loose, T-shaped or kimono-like garment worn by European men and women in the late 17th and 18th century. Women would wear it as a dressing gown or a nightgown over undergarments, depending on the time of day. Made from cotton, linen or silk. Now used in India to refer to a vest.

Lobcocks – Literally means "Large, relaxed penises". Dull, inanimate fellows.

Brusquembille – An 18th century French card game. It's a trick-and-draw game (like Spades) and needs 2-5 players and 32 cards to play. The number of players dictate how the game will be played so that the cards can be divided among them. I chose this game mainly due to the fact that poker didn't exist back then. Plus Brusquembille allows side payments, in which all players put an agreed amount of chips into a pot before each deal to be given to that deal's winner. If you're wondering how to play it, Wikipedia has an article which lists the basic rules of the game.

18th century prison life – It truly did suck back then. Jailers squeezed prisoners for every little penny they could via fees, the sanitary conditions in cells were abysmal, and the jails themselves were practically universities for crime. Also, there was no separating prisoners; instead everyone was kept in one common room, regardless of what crime they committed. Even men and women… Yeah, like that last one isn't gonna cause problems… For more details, check out Extra Credit's Extra History series about how London got a police forcePolicing London – on YouTube.

POWs on prison ships – Honestly, I cheated a little with this one, since it comes from how American POWs were treated during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). But I didn't find anything else about early 18th century POWs than what I included in this plot bunny; plus this was just too sensational (in a negative way) to pass up on.

Grand Pensionary – The second highest political position in the Dutch Republic. Officially just a civil servant, they ran the country in absence of a stadtholder (the national leader).

The fox hunt – Oh, this part hurt to write. In the 18th century, fox hunts were (obviously)not only legal in Great Britain, they were a favorite pastime for nobles and gentry. The details varied depending on the country or region, but the main goal was the same… I don't want to write any more about this here. There's a page on Wikipedia, if you want to look at it. I recommend keeping another tab of something heart-warming on your browser while you do this.

Mourning rings – A type of mourning jewelry. While most people are more familiar with Victorian mourning jewelry, the Georgians wore them as well. All styles described were used in the 18th century.

Yeoman Guards – Based on the Yeomen of the Guard who protect Queen Elizabeth II. These guys have been protecting the English monarch since their founding in 1485 by King Henry VII. Different from the Beef-eaters who guard the Tower of London.

Wainscoting (paneling) – A style of paneling applied to inner walls of a room. The name comes from the historical fact that riven (split) oak boards were originally used. I n the 18th century, however, two changes occurred. First, people switched from oak to softwoods like pine and spruce. And second, the style changed from floor-to-ceiling coverage to just being applied to the lower half of the wall. For more details, check out the Wikipage for panelling.

Fortepiano – Early piano. Normally used to describe those made towards the end of the 18th century, but can be used for those made as early as 1700.

What Ellen is playing – The first composition written specifically for the piano: Sonata Op. 1 no. 1, by Italian Baroque composer Lodovico Giustini. You can find it on YouTube.

Balletto – Genre of light vocal compositions from the late 16th – early 17th century.

Levée – The morning reception of a monarch, which did involve the court nobles either watching or helping the royal get dressed. While it had been around in a small way since the days of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemange, it was raised to decadent new heights by Louis XIV. It was brought to England by King Charles II, where it continued until 1939.

Bottle-headed – Void of wit.

World Building Notes:

St. Thomas' Palace – A combo of St. James Palace and Hampton Court, two palaces used by both the Stuarts and the Hanoverian royals in the 18th century.

The Prydish Isles – Basically this AU's version of the British Isles. The name comes from the Welsh word for 'Britain' (Prydain).

Eileanprydain – This AU's version of Great Britain. Great Britain came into existence after the Act of Union of 1707, combining the Kingdom of Scotland with England and Wales. But unlike in the 18th century, this one includes AU!Ireland in the entity. The name comes from combining the Scots Gaelic phrase for 'The British Isles' (Eileanan Bhreatainn) and Prydain.

Toscaterza – AU version of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. The 18th century was a volatile period for Tuscany. The House of Medici, who had first ruled Florence and then eventually the region, lost the grand duchy once Gian Gastone died in 1737. That meant the title was given to Francis Stephen, Holy Roman Emperor (and Maria Theresa's husband). It would be ruled by Hasburg-Lorrainers for the rest of the century and most of the 19th, barring when it was annexed by Napoleon. The Tuscans loathed how the new ruling house interfered with their government. That being said, rulers like Leopold II did introduce reforms that gave the grand duchy badly needed stability.The name comes from combining Tuscany's name in Italian (Toscana) with the word for third (terzo).

Ellen's title – It's based off of Queen Anne's title after the Act of Union: Queen of Great Britain and Ireland.

Chomesuke's last name – Based on the historical fact that a group of Japanese samurai once visited Spain in the 17th century and decided to stay permanently. Their subsequent surname was Japón, after their country of origin. Hers follows the same logic, with me using "Yo" because it's the romanji reading for another Japanese kanji that means "sun".

Ellen's mom – Before Hoshino created D. Gray Man, she made a one-shot named Zone. In it is a character named Julia, the sister of the hero Robin. Since Allen is based off of Robin, I thought it would be okay to use Julia as Ellen's mom. Nivose also comes from Zone. As for which country Nivose is supposed to represent… well, I hadn't thought of that when I was first writing. But after further research, I think Hanau-Lichtenberg (a German county that was dissolved in 1736) would be the best fit since it used to have land in Alsace.

Black Order Republic – Based off of the Dutch Republic. For most of the 18th century, the Dutch Republic was experiencing its Second Stadtholderless Period and eroding political and economic power among other European countries.

Gamoround Party – AU's version of the Whigs. The Whigs were the dominant parliamentary party for most of the 18th century and beyond, eventually transitioning into the Liberal Party. The name comes from combining the term 'whiggamor' (literally means cattle driver and is where 'Whigs' comes from) and the Roundheads (the Whigs' predecessor).

Cavórai Party – AU's version of the Tories. The Tories were the minority party for most of the 18th century, having been purged from major positions of several organizations after the failed Jacobite rising of 1715, and eventually transitioned into the Conservative Party. The name comes from combining Cavaliers (the Tories' predecessor) and the modern Irish word 'tórai' (comes from the Middle Irish word 'tóraidhe', which can mean 'outlaw').

The Kingdom of Noah – Mostly based off of pre-revolutionary France (the Ancien Régime) and the Kingdom of Spain after its succession crisis(Bourbon Spain). It's structured as an absolute monarchy, of course, with Three Estates (Noah, Skulls and Akuma). The main difference is that France's First Estate was the clergy. Here it's the Noah who claim that position. And since the Millennium Earl made the Akuma in canon, I imagine would be taking a lot of cues to how Spain absorbed Enlightenment ideas following the War of the Spanish Succession.

The War with the Noah – Mostly based on the War of the Austrian Succession, which started after France, Prussia and other countries challenged Maria Theresa's right to rule Austria, Hungary and Bohemia due to the fact that she was a woman. It ended with Maria Theresa keeping her crown, but having to give up Silesia to Prussia. The other countries got varying amounts of concessions via the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.

Akuma – They're the vast majority of people in the Kingdom of Noah. Basically the Third Estate of the Ancien Régime.

Link's name – This is going to be mostly explaining the 'von' part. There are two ways to use it. Either a) to indicate that that person is a member of nobility or b) to indicate that they're from a certain region. However, a person can be descended from nobility without using the 'von'. Not to mention that 'von' is now considered to just be part of those surnames that still use it. In this story it indicates that he's a member of the nobility.

Link's titles – The first one is based on the title belonging to the Electorate of Hanover. The second one is based on the title given to Queen Anne's husband.

Krähe-Zentral – Link's electorate. It's not really based on any specific 18th century electorate, but it's pretty much like one of the many states that made up the Holy Roman Empire. It's name comes from the German words for "crow" and "central".

House of Campbell – Mostly based on the House of Stuart, especially with the slips of backstory. The last Stuart ruler in the 18th century was Queen Anne, who died in 1714. But they also have a few things in common with the House of Hanover, who took over and reigned until the death of Queen Victoria and the subsequent coronation of King Edward VII in 1901.

Battle of White Ark – Basically canon's capturing of the Noah's White Ark.

House of Bookman – Lavi's family and one of the more eccentric noble families in this AU. They basically move around, like how Jews and the Romani were forced to during the 18th century. Unlike those marginalized ethnic groups (and the Romani are still greatly marginalized today), however, they are left alone by other countries due to the amount of potential blackmail the family has access to. Which is a lot...

Tyki's title – He's the 3rd marquess of Joyd. Sheril is still his brother, but they inherited different titles and estates due to their parents' marriage contract/wills. That's based on how French nobility were addressed by which estate they inherited.

Ellis columbine – AU version of the Tudor rose. The House of Ellis is this AU's version the House of Tudor. 'Ellis' is a Welsh surname, referencing the fact that the House of Tudor derives from the Welsh noble family. And columbines are native to England.

- x -

Sorry about the long length of this plot bunny. A lot of it is due to the cultural/world-building notes, but most of it is because I was being my usual over-explaining self.

I do hope my AO3 readers enjoyed the lemon. Sorry again to everyone on FF. Net. If you do want to read the full version, just head on over to AO3. Provided you're 18 and up, of course!

Alright, before I shamelessly beg for your reviews, let me just say "Thank you" to everyone reading. Whether you follow/favorite/review any of my work or not, I really do appreciate it. Especially during these times. I checked the visitors statistics for this collection, going back to when I published the first chapter last August. and here are the countries of my visitors: America, France, Iceland, Mexico, Czechia, Malaysia, Italy, Canada, Spain, China, Vietnam, Switzerland, Sweden, Britain, Australia, Israel, the Netherlands, Singapore, Norway, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Denmark, Peru, Greece, the Philippines, Germany, Brazil, Hungary, Chile, Grenada, Russia, Tunisia, Argentina, Colombia and Portugal. Stay safe, everyone!

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