The Duchess of Edinburgh slowly slinks up the spiral staircase, breathing in the sweet, early Spring air that could only be found at the highest points of the tallest tower. It smelled of apples and cherry blossom, fresh and warm and contenting. The flooring was so old and dewy from the water in the air that her heel did not click as she walked up the narrow stairs, one dainty, thin hand placed gently against the spiral to keep her footing. The other arm, wrapped against a small waist to keep her nerve as she continues to ponder childishly up into the room that held a treasure so precious to her.

He had left the door ajar, she noticed. The hour of the morning gave him a golden, angelic glow. He was so engrossed in his work that he didn't even notice her push the door open. Mary smiles at him gently, taking note of how contracted he looked to be, his pretty face drawn as he hunches over the table, rubbing a blade with a cloth slowly. His hair was undone, a jacket she had gifted him lay gently upon a nearby chair. A white undershirt puffed over his trim body.

The Duchess smiles at her precious golden pretty boy. He had grown to mean so much to her in the small amount of months they had known each other, getting so close in the process. He was handsome and strong and loyal and perfect, benefiting massively from his connection to the Duchess. Promoted to her personal guard after bladesmithry had proven not enough of a challenge had brought the biggest smile upon his face. But he had enjoyed it so much that Mary had gifted him an abandoned room in the tower, allowing him to create his blades in peace, away from the hustle of life within her estate whenever she didn't need him for something.

To look at him now compared to him then was such a surprise to Mary. Before, he had been a tawny little boy who was irritated with the world and held no pride to his station or position in life. But to see him now, larger and prouder, wearing clothes just as fine for a nobleman, richer and more contented with life and all its wonders it could show him with Mary at his side, it was such a looking at him now, equal amounts that wondrous young man and the proud apprentice he was becoming, doing one of the things he loved so much, it made him more precious to her than ever in that moment.

He hears her now, big blue eyes flicking up to Mary's own. He smiles, quickly pulling himself from his position against the table as she comes closer to him. Her lilac tulle skirts drag against the floor as the two come together in a peaceful embrace. She hold him to her, he's so precious to her that she can barely stand it. How could someone become so dear to her just like that?

"Mary," he whispers with a smile, pulling back from their embrace a little, to connect their eyes instead of their lips. "I didn't see you."

"You were rather concentrated." the Duchess agrees, trailing her fingers up his chest. It's not as though she hasn't seen it uncovered before, because she has, many times. But the feeling she has, the way her heart raced, and his own did in response, was astounding to her. A fool would say that people such as them could never have such a connection, because how could they? She was a Duchess, he was a servent. But who they were in that moment, who they always have been, meant more than their role in station. It had to. "Swordmithry means such a degree to you, doesn't it?" she asks softly, glancing over his shoulder to see the impressive amount of blades he had created in just a few months. She counts almost forty at first glance. All sorts are in this small room. Swords, daggers, arrows, penknives. It's remarkable the talent he had.

"It cannot hold a candle to you, my love." he says, leaning his forehead against hers. The coldness of the silver and diamonds she wears upon her hairline sends a shiver down his spine, yet he cannot say that it is a horrid feeling. It is not, it's equal amounts pleasurable as her cold lips connecting with his on winter morning walks in the orchards. He sees Mary smile happily, yet it falters afterwards. "What is it?" Francis asks her, cupping her cheek in his slightly calloused hand. Mary closes her eyes in contentment, leaning weight into his warm palm. It's large and imposing and perfect and everything she's ever wanted.

"I have to travel soon," she reveals. "to the school. I'll be gone for months, my dearest." she sighs in displeasure. He swallows thickly, nodding swiftly. Quickly, the Duchess covers his hand with her own, forcing her beautiful blonde boy to look into her eyes. "But I want you to come with me." Mary says. "To leave you behind for months, to be without you for so long, is unfathomable. Will you travel with me?"

"What will people say?" he hums. Gossip cannot really harm him, he's so low on the totum, pole, but Mary is different. She's a Duchess, a powerful woman in her own right. Plenty of people would love to see her downfall. What better way than this? To be caught in a relatiosnhip with a servent boy of all things? It could ruin her, the thought hurts him worse than the thought of being parted from her.

"It doesn't matter. I'm their mistress, their whispers are treason. I can easily squash rumours. And what if people know? It will harm my chances of marrying, which is just fine, because I cannot fathom marrying a man who isn't you." she says. Francis smiles at her, leaning forward to kiss his lover softly.

Mary places a hand on his hip gently. A touch to insignificant, yet so intimate.

"Are you happy, where you are?" she asks suddenly. "I know you wanted to just be a swordsmith. And now you're-" she trails off.

"These last seven months have been perfect, my love. You-you've given me and my family so much. I can never repay you, all I can give you is my love." he says softly, taking a step closer to her. Mary smiles softly, relaxing in his arms.

"You've given me so much more than what I've given you." she whispers. He doesn't know what she means, nor does he ask. He kisses her. And that's answer enough.

~/~

The Duchess of Edinburgh looked up from her evening tea, the steaming deep red liquid staring up at her. Vapours inclined from the teacup and the teapot, sweet and fruitful. They fly into the Duchess's nose, evaporating into the air just as quickly. Where do they go, she wonders, when they leave their physical form in this physical world? Do they go into another world? Or do they hover within the shadows until the clock ticks its final tick?

Mary looks up from her grey satin and red lace gown, peaking through her long lashes that frame her eyes. Long raven curls are soft against her neck and wrists, the gems are cold against her nimble fingers despite the heat of the teacup and the dark liquid inside of it. Her skin is warm, colourless yet glowing, illuminated by the warm orange waltz flickering and blanching within the fireplace. She is peaceful, all her worries temporarily shifted from her mind as she looks from her nightly tea and towards Ladies Greer and Aylee. They seem troubled, Aylee's cheeks as red as her pink and white floral dress.

"What is it, my friends?" she asks, opening her arm, indicating they come closer towards her. "What troubles you so?" Mary asks as they come forward. Both stop for a quick curtsy, before standing in front of their mistress, the Scottish Duchess.

"Uh-" Aylee stumbles. "Mary, we've welcomed a guest." she starts.

"Oh?" Mary frowns. "Do you know this guest?" she asks.

"Not quite." Greer interjects. "It's your Godfather, my friend. The Duke of Aberdeen." she says. Mary's eyebrows raise in delight. Angus McDade had been a marvelous father figure to her, a guiding light as she figured out the paths of her position in this life. A close friend of her long dead father James, he had sworn to him that he would protect his only child.

"Ah." Mary smiles. "Let him see me. It's been a long while." she states. Aylee nods, and the two curtsy again, before leaving.

Before long, the door opens again. Mary puts her tea down, standing to smile at the burly red headed duke with an old face and a kind smile. The Duchess of Edinburgh smiles widely, rushing over to gleefully embrace her dear Godfather. Angus laughs merrily, nearly picking up his Goddaughter as they embrace joyfully.

"My God, it's been so long." Mary smiles widely, "My lord Godfather, you've grown a beard." she observes, touching the red hair decorating his chin. "It suits you." she smiles widely. He grins at her mischievously. Two -nearly three- decades her senior, his smile and his eyes are old and fatherly and wise. She loves him, she respects him as a man, as a Duke, as a friend, as a father.

"And you, my beautiful Dia-nighean." Angus says, cupping the side of Mary's cheek. She shyly grins at him, never having outgrown the child who had been delivered to his doorstep after her mother and father died when she was young. Twenty one year old Duchess in her own right and wealthy headmistress or not. "What's this I hear of a new beau?" he asks.

Mary giggles nervously, well aware the scandal gossip can cause. Take Lola and Kenna for example. "Who told you that?" she asks, pulling back to look him in the eye.

"Your Lady Aylee. A sweet young thing, she can never keep a secret, you must know by now. Such an innocent little cherub, keep her like that." he advises. "My dear Dia-nighean, do not look so alarmed! Who do you take me for, a man who would bring you down with gossip over the fact you have found a happiness so deserved?" he asks, almost insulted by the way Mary's eyes grow.

"No, no, not at all. I just wasn't expecting you to find out about Francis and I that quickly. Dia-athair, I planned to tell you as soon as I travelled home from the summer term in the east." the ravenette promises. "And this visit, it's so unexpected! I've grown used to your word before you visit me, as you have with I. What is this spontaniousness, Dia-athair?" Mary teases him gleefully at seeing him after so many months. "I would have had rooms prepared and a feast planned. I know how you enjoy the pleasures of the dining table over the pleasures of a woman." she giggles, gasping as Angus hits the back of her hand harmlessly.

"I do not disagree, my Dia-nighean however, it's my duty to your father to scold you for such language. Truthful or otherwise." he grins widely. "So, when can I meet this blacksmith of yours? Must I wait until morning to warn him of the dangers of wronging you?"

Mary giggles. "Francis is taking his rest with his family within their quarters. Best not to disturb them for risk of startling the children." she says, before indicating him join her. "Come, take tea with me! You can tell me all about these months you have been parted from me, your travels and encounters!" she says eagerly.

Angus sits, yes, but he doesn't share what she wishes him to.

"Actually, my Dia-nighean, I have things to inform you of that do not involve my encounters over the northern European border. I should have told you the moment you were old enough to accept the truth."

"Oh?" she asks, pouring him a mug of tea. "Do tell, Dia-athair. I enjoy a tale as much as the next person." the young Duchess states, picking up her own hot cup of liquid.

Angus quickly sips the tea. He swallows with a satisfying tea. "Finally, a good cup. Only you can make a consumable brew, my dear." he says. Mary giggles at this, nodding him to continue. "My Mary, you are aware of King Robert the Bruce? Our founding father?" he asks.

"Of course." she says, confused. "I spent many months reading of the great Scottish King. He was an inspiring figure who holds wight in my heart and my spirit to this day, and will do until the day I die." she swears, the Gaelic twang in her words returning as she remembered her Scottish education and the history of such an enigmatic man who stood for all things good in the head and the heart of every Scot in the land for centuries come and past. The ravenette drinks from her cup, nodding for him to continue.

Angus smiles with pride at the girl he'd risen. "And are you firmilar with Fredrick McCloud?" he asks her. Mary's face twists in confusion once again. She cocks her head, reminding him of the nine year old child who didn't understand foreign tongues.

"No, Dia-athair." she says. "Who is this man? Why do you talk about him to me?"

"My Mary, Fredrick McCloud was the longtime alias of the King of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales." he says. "You are aware of the new King, yes? Of course you are, you're an intelligent woman. King Edward, Mary?"

"Yes, Godfather. What does this have to do with King Robert the Bruce?" she asks, honestly confused about the turn this conversation had suddenly took. "You ask these things, I do not understand their connection, their correlation. Please, explain. I so dislike being left ignorant." Mary finishes.

He smiles at her again.

"The King is seven times over, great grandchild of King Robert the Bruce, Mary." he says.

"Right?" she raises a brow. "It must be so, ever since the English throne was taken over by King James a century ago, Scottish blood runs in the veins of every King who sits upon the English throne." she says, licking her lips to rid them of the sweet tea.

"As are you, Mary." he says.

She blinks slowly. Again and again. She drinks her tea, draining the cup.

"What?" she asks. "I am aware of my connection to royal blood, Kings and Queens of the past. It's where my family got their standing, the Duchy. But you must be mistaken. I cannot be equally as related to King Robert as King Edward is, Godfather." The Duchess pauses, thinking of the words. "Because if I am, that means-" she trails, looking at Angus. His blue eyes bore into her golden orbs.

"That's right, my Godchild." he pauses. "You are not just Mary Elizabeth Stuart, Duchess of Edinburgh. You are Mary Victoria Elizabeth Matilda Stuart, Princess of Scotland and her isles, England, Wales and Ireland."