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located in Steampowered London - 1885, a part of Death Comes to London, one of the many universes on RPG.

Steampowered London - 1885

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Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster Character Portrait: Khalil Jaziri
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Outside London - The Former Parish of St. Lukas
July 4, 1885 - 19:30 p.m. - Overcast
Veronika Kent


Vera suppressed a sigh, selecting a small snifter of brandy from the tray as the servant passed. To the man himself, she gave a gracious smile and nod, but she let him get on with his business. Turning around and bringing the glass to her lips, she surveyed the ballroom with a weary, practiced eye. Though a string quartet set up in one corner placed soft music, no one was dancing yet, which was unsurprising. Most of that wouldn't happen until later, when the sun had set and the chandelier had been lit.

Like most of the rooms here, the walls were wood-paneled stone, the wood a relatively recent addition to make the building into a home more than the church it had once been. Almost the entire interior of the building had been gutted and refitted by the late Lord de Jaager, preserving the lovely exterior and rectory gardens, but making the rest into a manor on par with nearly anything in London proper.

Vera hadn't known him as well as she'd have liked to; though he and her friend Anne had been married for several years before his death, it had still been a new development by most standards. Also new was Anne's status as a widow, but that was only a year gone. Vera could sympathize, of course, and perhaps that was why they'd grown closer in the dozen months since. She would hesitate to say she'd mourned Alistair as much as Anne had mourned Thomas, but... there was commonality nonetheless.

The brandy was smooth and sweet on the way down; Vera did sigh then, just a little, and reached over to pat Teddy on the shoulder. "You don't have to keep me company," she said, nodding to a small cluster of younger folk. A private garden party like this wouldn't boast more than thirty or so guests, but at least three or four were around his age.

A look of relief passed over his face, almost enough to make her laugh outright. "Thanks, mum." No doubt he did not want to hobnob with the people her age, and she couldn't blame him.

She didn't really want to, either.

It wasn't more than five minutes when familiar faces entered Vera's view. Amelia stood next to her father, face smoothed into practiced neutrality with just the faintest hint of a smile. Lord Lancaster, however, did not seem to hide the way his lips were slightly tilted downwards, as if he'd rather be elsewhere. Perhaps he did? He was the first to turn in Vera's direction, though, a look of mild surprise crossing his features before he said something to Amelia. She glanced in the same direction, and smiled at Vera as they crossed the floor towards her.

“Lady Kent," Lord Lancaster spoke, first, bowing slightly in a strangely stiff manner. Amelia seemed amused by it, though she didn't say anything to him.

“Good evening, Lady Kent," Amelia greeted as well, smiling in Vera's direction.

Vera immediately felt herself smile, the pall of the evening lifting considerably at the sight of two people she actually enjoyed talking to. She resisted the urge to outright grin at Lord Lancaster's strange stiffness, though she could admit to herself that she found it endearing, in an odd sort of way. Taking up a handful of her midnight-blue skirt, she curtsied in return, letting the silk fall back against its petticoat. While tonight's event was formal enough for a gown, it was certainly no ball, and hers was a simple, unfussy thing, designed to give her figure a delicate, tasteful emphasis only.

"Lord Lancaster. Amelia. I hadn't expected to see you here. Are you also friends of Lady Anne?" Lord de Jaager's title was mostly a courtesy, bestowed to him after his retirement from the vicarage, but it was still the polite thing to honor it, and the one it gave his wife.

Amelia nodded her head, but it was Lord Lancaster who spoke. “We were acquaintances," he stated, his eyes turning towards the open area. Amelia took the moment to roll her eyes, it seemed, at her father's strange behavior and sighed softly.

“I believe what he's trying to say is that we used to see Lord and Lady de Jaager at church. He would, occasionally, converse with them if he had the time," she filled in for Lord Lancaster, who glanced down at Amelia as if to give silent thanks. His attention, however, returned to Vera, and he smiled a bit strangely. Strained, almost, but he seemed to smooth it out.

Ah, that would make sense. No doubt the former priest had remained a religious man; Anne had always been of a bent like that herself. She returned Lord Lancaster's smile, but her own had faded until it was a bit smaller. Perhaps it was thinking of the late Lord de Jaager that was the cause? His hadn't been a natural death, after all—even for soldiers like themselves, civilian murders could feel... different. It wasn't the kind of thing they were supposed to expect in this context.

Seeking to move the conversation away from uncomfortable topics and perhaps cheer him a little, Vera tilted her head, assuming a slightly more playful expression. "Perhaps you would like a spot on my dance card, Lord Lancaster? I suspect it would be a most illuminating preview of our upcoming match." By most standards, it was forward of her to ask him, given their respective genders, but then Vera hadn't gotten anywhere in life being a wilting flower in the corner.

Something in her statement caused Lord Lancaster to blink in mild surprise. He did not immediately reply to her, though, and tilted his head in a manner Amelia did when she was trying to figure something out. Perhaps it was the lighting, or some other cause, but there was a faint hint of pink dusting Lord Lancaster's face. Amelia seemed amused by something since her shoulders were shaking slightly, and she was grinning, however; Lord Lancaster merely cleared his throat.

“It would be my honor," he finally spoke, clearing his throat once more before grabbing a glass of white wine from a passing servant's tray. He took a drink from it, and though it was a slow sip, it seemed restrained. Almost as if he were going to drink it all at once.

A little puzzled, Vera took another sip of brandy herself. Pacing was necessary, as there was to be a tasting later tonight, of the various whiskeys and brandies the distillery on the property produced. Vera was quite looking forward to it.

“Ah, Vera, there you are!"

Instinctively, she turned her head towards the new voice, only to see a rather weary-looking Anne approaching. Vera could not help but notice that the hem of her pale green dress was more worn than it had seemed from a distance, and her friend's red-auburn curls were not sitting quite as neatly in her chignon as they might have been on most days like this one. It was hard to tell unless up close, but it was evident to Vera's keen eyes that she'd applied a thicker layer of powder under her own pale grey ones, perhaps to hide evidence of fatigue.

"Anne," Vera replied, injecting a bit of lightness into her tone mostly for the sake of not letting on that she noticed anything was amiss. "Delightful to see you; your home looks lovely." She stepped slightly aside, allowing Anne to integrate with the conversation—as expected, her friend looked most grateful for this.

“I'm so sorry to intrude," she said, her volume much softer. “And upon you, Lord Lancaster, Lady Amelia. It's just that I haven't had a moment's peace all day and I have to say you looked exactly like sanctuary to me in this moment." Her hands were clasped in front of her; she seemed to be toying with some sort of small object, though Vera could not tell what it was.

“Lady de Jaager, it's a pleasure," Amelia responded, giving the other woman a smile, and stepping a little closer to her father. Lord Lancaster inclined his head as a greeting, it seemed, and gave Anne a small bow. It wasn't as stiff as the one he'd given Vera, though.

“Lady de Jaager," he spoke. Whether he'd noticed the same things Vera had, he made no obvious inclination that he knew. “As always it is a pleasure to see you in good health," he stated, taking a slower drink of his wine now that Anne was with them.

Anne managed a little smile, inclining her head in return. “And you as well, Lord Lancaster. I fear I almost didn't recognize Lady Amelia; it seems you've grown while my mind was elsewhere."

Vera supposed that young women of Amelia's age had a way of doing that—she was still in some sense becoming the person she would eventually be. Not that most people would really understand that, of course. No small segment of the population seemed to believe that once a lady had breasts, she was as she would always be until she aged back into undesirability. Never mind what was in her head.

Anne continued to fidget with the item in her hands. Vera tilted her head slightly and let her eyes fall to it. "If you don't mind saying, dear, what exactly are we sanctuary from?"

Her friend sighed softly, the weariness she was trying to hide coming through in the sound of it. “It's a little bit of many things," she confessed. “I hope it is not uncouth of me to complain, but I daresay my past and my future are colliding, and everyone seems to want something from me of late. I fear I haven't near as much to give as they might expect."

Amelia cast Vera a glance before turning her attention to her father, and placed a hand on his forearm. “Would you be kind enough to retrieve a drink for me?" she asked, causing Lord Lancaster to arch a brow in her direction. She simply smiled at him as he sighed softly, and nodded his head. She turned her attention to Anne after he'd left their side.

“Not at all, Lady de Jaager. If you'd like to explain further, I'd be willing to listen," Amelia spoke, giving Anne a sincere smile. She seemed genuinely interested in Anne's current situation. “After all, I hear it is best to let it all out, so to speak, rather than keep it contained for too long."

Vera recognized that particular conversational move. Genuinely concerned or not, Amelia also sensed gossip in the making. Hiding a smile in her snifter, she took a sip, turning her eyes to her friend.

Anne smiled slightly, exhaling another sigh. This one at least managed to relax her shoulders a little bit. Though she no doubt also saw through the bid for information, she seemed also to accept that their concern was genuine. No doubt she very much wanted to talk, as well.

“It's... well, it's a lot," she said, grimacing faintly. “It's hard to tell now, but the distillery is not doing very well. I'm afraid I just don't know how to run a business of this kind, and I honestly think some of my suppliers are fleecing me, but I can't prove it." She dropped her eyes and shook her head. “So as you may know, I've decided to sell, but I can't seem to find anyone willing to pay what it's really worth. And what's worse is that Edward's being so persistent about what he will offer."

"Edward? Edward Hollis?" Vera's eyebrows went up. She didn't know him for having much business interest in land of all things, but she supposed he was a capitalist, and might well be interested in expanding his holdings. Still, it seemed awfully stingy for a man who had always been well-to-do

Anne nodded, still fidgeting with whatever golden thing she was holding. “Yes. And Mary's such a dear friend—it makes it very difficult to be firm with her brother of all people."

Amelia remained quiet through Anne's statement, her brows slightly furrowed as she tilted her head as if to study Anne. “It's only fair, though," she finally spoke, sighing softly through her nose. “If you know the value and worth of your property, you shouldn't sell it for anything less than that. Even if Lord Hollis is a friend, he should know how much this place means to you," she spoke, a small frown pulling at her lips.

“Should he not pay what you believe is a fair price?" she continued, her eyes narrowing as if she were trying to figure something out.

“I believe he's trying to bargain," Anne replied quietly. “It's not wrong exactly, but he has become quite... persistent. And I fear Sister Mary has become more distant from me as a result. I love her so dearly—I don't know what I'd do without her, really, but..." She shook her head again, and lifted her eyes.

“And then of course Edith has come to visit so unexpectedly," she added. Then, much more quietly: “and Bradford. And the children, of course."

Amelia hummed a soft note, but did not immediately say anything. She seemed to be processing everything Anne was saying, however; the frown that adorned her face was smoothed out into a more neutral expression.

“It seems you have been a gracious host, though, considering that you have a lot to deal with. If I may," Amelia began, pausing briefly to glance in Vera's direction, “perhaps you should set a minimum of what you'd be willing to accept for the property. Perhaps then, Lord Hollis will be more inclined to pay you what your land is worth. As for Sister Mary, perhaps if you explained things with her, she wouldn't be so distant with you."

“I'm certain your sister and brother-in-law would understand if you did not, immediately, cater to them while you first get things in order," she added, keeping her gaze with Anne's.

“Ah, actually..." Anne hesitated, then grimaced a bit. “Well, never mind. They've been pretty patient, it's just having them here in the house is a sort of pressure of its own, even if they don't mean it to be."

"I'm sorry to hear that, dear. Family's rarely a simple thing," Vera said, her tone conciliatory.

“Thank you," Anne replied with a soft smile. “I do appreciate the thought. And I suppose it hasn't been all bad. It's just... at this time of year I suppose everything seems worse."

Amelia inclined her head slightly. “I suppose it would. It was around this time last year that Lord de Jaager passed, was it not?" she spoke, though her voice was soft and not at all matter-of-fact as it usually was. It was more sympathetic, perhaps more-so than she'd intended. It was around this time that Lord Lancaster returned, a glass of something in his hands. It was, perhaps, punch of some sort. A personal preference, perhaps, even if Amelia was of drinking age.

“Well, if there is ever anything Lord Lancaster and I can do to be of help, Lady de Jaager, please do let us know," she stated, taking the drink from her father. Lord Lancaster inclined his head as if he were agreeing with Amelia.

“If there is anything I can do to be of help, I will do so," he spoke, reaffirming Amelia's words.

She seemed a little cheered by the reassurances, and her smile warmed a bit, into something a bit less weary. “Thank you all. Your kindness is a gift. I'd love to stay a while longer, but I fear I'm neglecting my other guests. Please enjoy what little comfort my home can offer, and let myself or Mr. O'Sullivan know if you need anything," she said. With a polite nod, she stepped away.

Vera, intensely curious, caught a look at the item in her hand at last. Was that a... knife? No, too thin, blunt. A letter opener, with a golden handle. What an unusual object to be carrying around.

Shaking her head faintly, she turned back to the Lancasters and smiled. She was parting her lips to speak when she noticed a rather conspicuous looking gentleman entering the ballroom. Conspicuous more perhaps for his obvious difference to the other attendees than anything, though she found it interesting if anything. The deep skin tone of North Africa, dark hair, and the kind of grin that meant a great deal of trouble.

"I wasn't expecting the Prince to be in attendance at this garden party," she mused, lifting her brows and taking another slow sip.

Amelia pursed her lips in confusion, and Lord Lancaster turned in the direction Vera had been looking. “It seems that Lady de Jaager has invited nobility even from elsewhere," he spoke, taking another drink from his glass. Amelia's brows furrowed as she followed her father's gaze, however; it seemed that all color drained from her face when the Prince locked eyes with her. That same grin seemed to widen as he made his way towards them. He was accompanied by another man who seemed to resemble him, though. Perhaps he was a relative of sorts?

“If you'll excuse me, I'm going to see about another refreshment," Lord Lancaster spoke, excusing himself from Vera and Amelia. Amelia, however, seemed relieved that he'd left. Some of the tension left her shoulders, but seemed to return when the Prince arrived. He smiled a cheshire smile towards Amelia, who merely narrowed her eyes at him.

“Whitaker!" he greeted, the furrow on Amelia's brows deepening. “I didn't expect to see you here."

Vera's eyebrows ascended higher if anything; the use of that name for Amelia was something she'd believed Ephy had begun as a method of concealing Amelia Lancaster's involvement in his work. She glanced between the two, sensing that her pupil was not exactly sure how to handle the situation. Vera could buy her some time, at least.

"Amelia, you did not inform me you were acquainted with His Highness," she said, injecting the faintest note of chiding into her tone, as though she were scolding a friend for keeping some sort of secret. "Would you mind terribly granting us introductions?" It was the polite thing for her to do as the mutual, but would also take the focus away from her for a while.

Amelia looked like she was glaring at the Prince, but her expression smoothed out enough that it was formal and polite. “Miss Vera, this is Khalil Jaziri, an acquaintance of Mr. Ramsey and Miss Blythe. Jaziri, this is Lady Kent, Mr. Ramsey's land lady," she stated, turning her attention towards Prince Jaziri. He seemed pleased with the introduction, and turned his attention to Vera.

“A pleasure to meet you, Lady Kent," he stated, giving her a formal bow. Amelia, however, narrowed her eyes in Prince Jaziri's direction.

"Likewise, Your Highness," Vera replied, a glint of amusement in her eyes.

“I will explain things later, Jaziri, but you will refer to me as Lady Amelia. It's Amelia Lancaster, here, not Whitaker," she stated, causing Prince Jaziri to blink his eyes in confusion.

Vera's smile grew catlike. It was interesting indeed to find that their mutual acquaintance was Ephy. She wondered for a moment if he knew Mr. Jaziri's true identity, but then she supposed he must. It was just like him to not care in the slightest bit about such things, and treat people as their demeanors, rather than their titles, warranted.

"Do look lively, dear, I believe your father is headed back this way," she informed her young friend, polishing off the brandy in her glass and returning it to the tray of a passing servant.

Perhaps this night would be of interest to her after all.