Can we get more of HRH please? I love where Kate is going with it!

Part I: The Crown Equerry | Part II: An Accidental Queen Part III: Just Claire | Part IV: Foal | Part V: A Deal



Her Royal Highness (H.R.H.)
Part VI: Vibrations

Getting to Scotland for the Queen’s summer holiday was a production in every sense of the word.  

Behind the scenes, an impressive machinery ground away at details, both minute and significant, for the descent of the Queen and her staff upon Holyrood palace.

Preparation involved nearly all facets of her daily life and operations on two fronts –– London and Edinburgh.  

It involved setting boundaries and expectations for advisors left in London to act in the Queen’s stead. 

Meetings and more meetings were schedule to identify the workforce to be mobilized for a few precious weeks’ worth of work. 

All manner of questions arose about chattel –– the jewelry the queen would wear while hosting dinners in Edinburgh, the clothes that needed to be carefully wrapped in tissue and arranged for transport, the day-to-day incidentals required to keep the entire show running. 

And then there was the matter of scheduling, a feat that required a rail station-like precision in coordinating the movement of things, staff, and the Queen herself.

Each morning of the two weeks leading up to her summer flight from one city to the next was peppered with logistical questions.  It was a dizzying, non-delegable series of asks –– who, what, when, where –– that clouded mornings, afternoons, and early evenings.

Claire spent what felt like hours every day ticking boxes –– “yes” to roses but “no” to gardenias, beef Wellington for this state dinner or haddock for that one, the marigold silk dress for the theatre and the blood red one (yes, that one… with that neckline) for a gathering hosted in her honor by the French consulate, “okay” to moving an appointment by a few hours to make another fit, and “fine” to the question of whether Frank could travel up with her and stay for two of the six weeks –– one at the front end and one at the back end.

Two Fridays before her departure, she haltingly raised the Scotland trip with Colonel Fraser during the preparation for one of their nightly rides.  It had only been a short time, but they had learned one another’s process by rote. They worked in tandem to ready Brimstone and Donas for the nightly rides that had started to get longer and longer.

“You will be coming to Holyrood this summer, yes?” She ran a hand down Brimstone’s mane just so she had something to busy her jittery fingers. Fraser finished securing his own ride’s saddle and stepped to the side. Out from behind the barrier of Donas’ thick, corded neck, he could catch her eye.

“Aye.  This is the first year I’ve been asked to go.”

Something in his tone implied an inquiry.

He left it dangling and unasked: Did you arrange it to be so?

It was yet another question in her days’ worth of questions.

(In reality, the response if he would just ask was simple. She was asked if the Crown Equerry should come to Scotland. She checked “yes” on a piece of paper. It was not hard decision, even if the short-lived battle that raged inside her as she picked up her pen was an infinitely complicated thing.)

Was it her doing that he was coming to Scotland?

It was not a question that she wanted to answer.

Well-trained in evasion, she side-stepped his unasked question, vaguely responding, “It is the first year you have been in charge.”

“That it is, ma’am.”  

Neither made an effort to hide their facial expressions over his use of her least favorite honorific. Her grimace slashed across her face and wrinkled her forehead, contorting her features.

(‘Lovely,’ he thought.)

His smirk quirked at one corner of his mouth and the corners of his eyes creased.

(‘Bloody bastard,’ she mused, fighting the urge to meet his smirk with one of her own.)

“I’ll be looking forward to seeing home for a while,” he added. There was a touch of whimsy to his voice when he said ‘home,’ just a momentary flicker in his eyes that accompanied the broadening of his accent. “Even if it’s just the city and no’ home.”

She wanted to ask where he grew up, to have him tell her about home and what it meant to him. Instead, she instead exerted an undue amount of concentration on getting herself up and situated in her saddle.  

Usually their rides were comfortable.  Almost as a rule, the evenings were warm and their respective steads maintained an even cadence that melted deliciously with the sounds of summer. 

Tonight, though, she felt sticky beneath her clothes –– under her arms, between her breasts, along the small of her back, and even the creases at the insides of her elbows. She felt herself pulling ahead a little, the heels of her feet urging a bit more speed in the stirrups.  Their ride was quiet but for Fraser’s humming of an unpleasant, jolting sort of non-tune without rhythm. It did not bear even the slightest resemblance to any song she knew.  

Something about that nameless, toneless tune made her throat go dry.  She wanted him to stop simply so she could quit wondering what song it was that he was trying to reproduce.

Letting out a long stream of breath, emptying her belly of it completely, she turned over her shoulder, a sticky swath of hair falling in her eyes. She called out to him, a little louder than necessary, “Follow me?” 

Fraser nodded, picking up his own pace and following her into the gardens. He felt his heart rate pick up, his hands go clammy. “The horses will no’ take much care of yer gardens.”

“Just a bit further, Colonel Fraser,” she responded as he closed the gap between them. “I used to do this when I was a girl, here visiting Lamb in the summers. I mean, without the horses, but come back here. It is quite lovely.”

She caught herself in her familiarity (Lamb), allowed her breath to hitch (round in her throat), but she did not backtrack in order to correct herself. She was well beyond the point of informality with him with her bargain with him (that he would call her by her name if she could figure out his tick – the thing that told legions of what he was thinking and feeling). 

Fraser dismounted first when they reached the small fountain. It going green at the edges, slick with algae.  The great lion’s face carved among a riot of filigree was a little off, like it was originally carved of wax and melted in a hot summer’s sun. A veritable jungle of ivy clung to the base of the fountain, tangled as if each small offshoot of the vine had been fighting through the day for sunlight. 

“We are fairly far from where the tourists go and the grounds staff mostly leave this nook of the grounds alone.”

Throwing a leg over Brimstone, she slid off of the saddle and stumbled slightly, muttering an apology as she smacked into his chest face first. He reached for her, his instincts finely tuned to situate her back on her feet. She looked up at him, chin jutting out a little defiantly as she pulled back from the hold he had on her arms.

“Are ye okay, ma’am?”

She was breathing hard, flushed. Her feet were cemented in place. “I am perfectly fine.”

He wanted to taste her mouth –– the good and the bad that dwelled there under her words.  He wanted to draw her close to feel the warmth vibrate from her body –– the need for connection that he suspected that she sheltered there, close beneath the surface and yet hidden.  

“It is beautiful, is it not? Kind of wild and unkempt?” she asked, forgetting her place and letting the front of her body get pulled in by him. The fronts of their bodies were magnets that never met. Only the buttons of their shirts became acquainted.

He could spot the need in her, having had it dwell under his breastbone for years. That need had existed as a general proposition (planted by his father’s explanation: someday ye’ll find a lass and ye’ll ken she’s the one” and his mother’s stories: “yer da, he keeps us safe and I’d risk everything for him”). But now, it was a directed yearning, a desire for something more. And if he had to guess, he would imagine it started as lust that night he saw her gently curving leaning over that gate (before he knew who she was) and developed in earnest as she allowed him to peel back some of the layers of her (that look on her face while she watched the foaling, the one on her face at the very moment she rounded the bend to this fountain). 

“Lamb…” 

She caught herself again. White teeth worried her lower lip as she looked at him.

“I ken ye’re speaking of the King, God rest hi––”

Stop with that. He hated people standing on ceremony. But yes. The King. My uncle. He became my father. But he was always Lamb. He would always bring me out here. I’m not sure how it has escaped notice, but it has.”

He wanted to learn the curve of her fingers behind his ear. He could picture himself using his fingers to draw her up by the chin, despite her short stature, and bring himself down just enough. Only then, when they were aligned, would he could draw the very breath from her lungs and words from her mouth. And then, he would release her until her breath was humid and panting just below his Adam’s apple.

She blinked hard, the spell dissolving. She arched her foot, testing her ankle after the slight stumble. As if the moment was on a wheel, she rolled it back before her confession.

I’m fine,” she repeated unnecessarily. “I landed on my feet. No harm, no foul.”

The universe was infinite, which meant that there were innumerable worlds where the alignment of things allowed this feeling in her to bloom. 

Where her sister lived or her mother lived or both lived.  

Where her Uncle Lamb had even one child.  

Where the weight of a crown did not weigh on her even when it was locked away, wrapped in velvet in some room she never saw.  

Where she had never stepped into a gilded carriage to be carried and condemned. 

Where Fraser was the war hero she had been promised to, a world in which he was Frank.

“Are ye?” he asked. “Fine?”

His accent on the word made it sound insidious rather than some middling banal response to stand in for a real answer. 

It cut to the heart of the real answer (chaotic, confused, alone).

But the universe was infinite, which meant there were innumerable worlds where Claire just told him the truth. There were worlds where she drew his questioning mouth to her answering one. 

Where lived as she wanted to. 

Where this ghost she had become (a person with her hair who she did not recognize when she looked in the mirror) was not even a consideration.

Then there was this universe in this moment, where she said what she meant and did none of the above. 

“No. I am not.”

The spell of her certainty and honesty broke as she turned her head, slipping from his grasp. She moved to the edge of the fountain. Unlit, it babbled quietly.  

She unbuttoned the top few buttons on her blouse and made sure her bra wasn’t showing before pulling the shirt tails out of her pants. She tied the front of it up just above her navel. He just watched. The cool breeze dried the sweat dwelling on her abdomen and lower back almost immediately. Eyes focused on the water disrupting the surface of the small pool, she bent to pull off her boots.

She prayed that he would have the good sense to mount his horse and walk away.

Leave,’ she implored inside, willing herself not to tear up as she shed her layers.

If he refused to just go, she prayed that when she turned around things would be normal between them again.

“I read once that everything has a sound,” Fraser said from some ways behind her. “Vibrations or some such thing.”

“Oh really?” she asked, throwing one foot over the edge of the fountain and shivering. She sat on the edge of the fountain, closing her eyes as the fine mist cooled her face. 

She could not have cared less about sound and vibration right now.

“Aye. Perhaps except for space, they think. Physicists. There is always some sound, even if we canna hear it.”

He was next to her then, having not taken her up on her silent plea for him to leave. 

She could feel his warmth and the ripple in the pool of water as he slipped his own bare feet in. 

She could feel the vibration of his voice in her chest. 

She wondered if he could hear the sound of her heart beating in her chest, the wheels of her mind cranking away, or the sound of each of her pores opening to soak in more of him.

“Do you think every person has a unique sound, Colonel Fraser?”

“I dinna think so.” She heard him swallow and she moved her hand to rest on his thigh, eyes still fixed ahead. “I ken that every person has a unique sound, ma’am.”

“Do you think… we have a sound?

“You and me?” he stated unnecessarily. 

They both knew what she meant, but she nodded anyway after a moment. 

“Aye. I ken we do.”

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