“What do you want?” Thomas asked. He slumped against the wall of his cell, his head roughly shaved and few teeth left in his head.
Isaac sat on the chair just outside the bars, hitching up his trousers as he sat. He looked at his brother with such pity that Thomas hissed at him.
It was a sparse cell, with a wooden bunk along the wall. It was laid with a mattress so thin it might as well not be there. On the far wall was a single tiny window, too high to see out of and covered in thick iron bars. The cell was in a long row of cells, some with only one occupant, such as Thomas’, and some crammed tightly with criminals.
It was a somber place, not as loud as Isaac had imagined, nor as frenzied. But the stench of stale urine and unwashed bodies was overwhelming, and Isaac tried not breath for fear of retching.
“How are you?” Isaac asked, although even he felt as though it was a redundant question. He could see Thomas was far from thriving in this place, although he did not look as though he suffered too much.
“How do you think?” Thomas asked. “I am locked up here like an animal.”
“I am sorry you are suffering,” Isaac said. “That was never my intention. But I could not allow you to continue hurting me or the Duchess.”
“Duchess,” Thomas spat, “so you are happily married now?”
“We are,” Isaac said. “We have been married for over a year now.”
“I’m happy for you,” Thomas said, although Isaac could not be sure whether he spoke the truth or not. “You know, they call me the Duke in here, thanks to my good upbringing and the way I speak.”
“I—” Isaac didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or not, but from Thomas’ grin he seemed to like it.
“When you first put me in prison, I thought I’d be mocked for my accent—brutalized, even. But no. It commands a surprising amount of respect.”
Isaac looked down at his lap and smiled. All his brother ever really wanted was power and respect, and now it seemed he had it, even if it wasn’t in the same ilk as he had originally intended.
“Look, Thomas,” Isaac said. “There’s something I want to tell you.”
“What? Nothing can be worse than this place you have put me in.”
“It is nothing worse. I have come to tell you that I forgive you for all that you did.”
“All that I did?” Thomas looked at him, aghast, and Isaac wondered if he had begun to believe his own lies, his own stories.
“Thomas, I know it was you who killed Father. And I know you had planned to kill me to become Duke. And you dared to hurt my Diana.”
“I am the Duke now.”
“Please, don’t talk. Just listen. For once in your life, try not to manipulate this situation to your advantage. I am here to tell you that I forgive you for everything you did. Being with the Duchess has taught me that love and forgiveness win over everything. Over revenge and hatred. Even over regret. And so, I forgive you.”
“Well, I don’t want your forgiveness,” Thomas said, then he turned away from Isaac and refused to speak again.
Isaac stood, sighing deeply. He had tried to talk to Thomas once, just before he and Diana had married, and he would try again in another year’s time. He would never give up on his brother, but he knew the prison was the best place for him—for the moment. He would keep trying until Thomas responded well enough.
He stepped out of the stuffy prison, the air suddenly fresh and cool on his cheeks. Ahead of him, the leaves on the trees were turning a brown and burnt orange, and the clouds in the sky were low.
“How was he?” Diana asked.
She had waited at the carriage, not being able to face the inside of a prison, not even for her husband’s brother. But she stood outside, breathing in the fresh air and stretching her under-used legs. A cloak rested over her shoulders, her baby bump showing through the gap, and she let her hand smooth over it protectively.
“He was…as well as can be expected.”
“Not so good, then?” Diana said, wincing at the thought.
“He looks all right—but for his toothless gums and his shaved head. Other than that, it seems they are treating him reasonably well. He has no bruises or cuts, and he seems something of a celebrity among the other prisoners.”
“Well that’s something,” Diana said. “I know he’s your Brother, My Love, but try to remember what he did. This really is the best place for him.”
“I know,” Isaac said, and he did know. Thomas belonged in there. “It is still difficult to see my Brother like that.”
She looked at him sadly and let her hand brush against his arm, a vague comfort in a terrible situation.
“Shall we go?” she asked.
“Yes, let’s. A cup of tea is just what I need right now.”
He helped her into the carriage, step by awkward step, and then climbed in after her. The babe was due any day, and Diana lumbered as she walked. They had decided to treat themselves to afternoon tea after their visit to the prison, so as to lighten their mood after such an unpleasant event.
In the year since their wedding, they had lived a life full of color and energy. They had attended as many soirees as they could fit in, and along with Celine and Lord Percival, they had become a force to be reckoned with in society. As a foursome, they had become a popular choice for any ball and they found themselves entertaining other people even when it was not one of them hosting.
They had spent the year dancing and laughing, and Diana and Isaac had fallen into bed together often, full of love and desire and dreams of each other. There were times when they couldn’t keep their hands from one another, ripping at clothes to get at the sweet nectar beneath.
Other times, they were happily in love and wanting nothing more than to sit together in silence, she with a book on her lap and he nursing a glass of brandy. She read to him sometimes, as he sat there and drank, although the tales of love and romance were nothing compared to their own story and so, Isaac mocked them until Diana dropped the book from laughing too much.
It had been a good year, but ever since Diana had fallen pregnant, they had lived with a continual excited ripple through them. It would be the first of many, they promised. They talked late into the night of a brood of ten or more children—a good mix of both boys and girls—who would run rings around their father and idolize their mother.
For their first, they hoped for a boy, both of them, and they had already decided they would name him Henry in honor of the man who had suffered all too much for something he had not done. Isaac promised to remember Henry every day for the rest of his life.
“Here we are, My Darling,” Isaac said as the coach trundled to a stop outside the tearoom.
“Oh good,” she said. “I have been looking forward to this all morning.”
The entrance to the tearoom stretched out onto the street, covered by a deep-red fabric awning. At the door, a servant waited, his tailcoat perfectly pressed, his white gloves pristine, and he looked ahead, unseeing and silent.
When they approached, he opened the door without a word, ushering the Duke and Duchess through the door.
“Oh, it’s beautiful in here,” Diana said. “I know it, and yet it always takes me by surprise, every time we come.”
“A beautiful place for a beautiful lady,” Isaac said. Diana rolled her eyes at him.
“I would mock you for your devotion if I were not quite so flattered,” she said.
“You do mock me,” he said incredulous. “All the time.”
“Well, yes,” she said, head tilted. “I rather suppose I do. But you like it, don’t you Darling?”
“I like every word that comes out of your beautiful mouth.”
They were shown to a table for two, laid with the whitest tablecloth Diana had ever seen. Immediately, they were brought a silver teapot on a silver tray, a little sugar pot and a jug of milk.
“Your Grace,” the waiter said, looking down at Diana. “How would you like your tea?” he asked.
“A little drop of milk,” she said. “But no sugar. Ever since being with child, I cannot bear anything too sweet.”
“As you wish,” the waiter said. He picked up the teapot, his finger held to the lid to keep it in place as the tea splashed into the cup, and then he stirred a little milk into it until it turned the color of chocolate cream.
“And for Your Grace?” he asked, turning to face Isaac.
“The same,” Isaac said, but he didn’t take his eyes from his wife. Although they had been married for many months, he still could not quite believe her beauty, her kindness. At night, he had sometimes to pinch himself, remind himself that his life was true.
I am so, incredibly, lucky.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“All right,” she said. “Although he is keeping me up at night.”
“I know,” he said. “I feel you moving around at night. It’s almost tempting—”
He chuckled and she tutted at him.
“It’s far too hot and far too uncomfortable for any of that nonsense, thank you very much.”
“But you are far too beautiful to ignore,” he said, a twinkle in his eye.
“No,” she said, shaking her head firmly. “No, no, no. You’ll have to wait until the baby is born before we get into all that again.”
“All right,” he said, smiling at her. “I shall wait until the ends of the earth for you, My Darling.”
“I know,” she said, picking up her cup and blowing across the surface of the tea. It is one of the reasons I love you so.”
“I was thinking,” he said. “What with the baby being so close to arrival, perhaps you would like your Sister to come stay with us awhile. Having recently been through the same thing herself, perhaps she can help you through some of the more difficult times.”
“Would you really not mind?” she asked, putting her cup back down on the saucer. “The midwife is truly lovely, but I cannot deny it would be some comfort to have Celine there.”
“Of course I would not mind. Your Sister is a delight. Perhaps Wensworth would like to join her for a few days. We could go hunting while you ladies discuss all manner of womanly things.”
“Womanly things?” Diana snorted with laughter and then quickly covered her mouth, not wanting to be seen as uncouth in such a public place.
“Yes,” he said, looking at her bemused. “You know…babies and the like. They can bring little Jack. You can practice swaddling.”
“Is that really what you think us ladies do all day while you men go off, killing things?”
“Is it not?” he asked.
She looked at him open mouthed, ready to say something but she clearly thought better of it, for she snapped her mouth shut and blinked at him.
“Yes, actually,” she said, a surprised expression on her face. “I suppose it is.”
He laughed and she giggled, and they looked again into each other’s eyes. He saw again what he saw the very first time he met her. He saw her strength, her passion. He saw promise and love and a quiet contentment, and he knew without doubt that he had made her as happy and complete as she had made him.
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