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The Exile at Dunkeld

I traveled exhaustively to Dunkeld, all the while Lord Raymond’s words ringing in my ears. Mad… It couldn’t be true. Adrian’s mind was a temple of virtues, strength not the least. How could he have shaped me from the roaming beast I was once, if not with intractable strength? His logic was impenetrable, his philosophies sublime.

Destitute, heartbroken… perhaps, but mad, never. The lady Evadne had left his heart a wasteland with her evasion and preference for one so ill-formed as Lord Raymond. Yet I reminded myself this wreck was now the mate of my beloved Perdita. A brother of mine, in fact. If I were true to myself I would admit that Lord Raymond completed Perdita, whom I had long despaired of finding perfect happiness in another.

Adrian had once tamed my wildness; but no one had tamed Perdita, nor had she found solace in the company of another till she met Lord Raymond. Perhaps his half-wildness would content her.

My once-fervor for the Lady Idris now fell away as I felt myself closer and closer to the object of my pursuit. I occupied myself on the desolate roads imagining where and how I would find him, planned a recourse of ministry should he require aid, and dreamed of the thousand things I should relate to him of London, since he had deserted her.

On reaching Dunkeld, I inquired at an inn for Adrian’s whereabouts. The tavern guests were intrigued by my pursuit. They knew well enough of Adrian, of course, the first child of the ex-queen who was driven from London by Lord Raymond, who was languishing from a broken heart—all heresay, and, I was determined to prove, all false.

Adrian had let an old manor from a once-prolific family, of which one aged member remained. The house and grounds were said to be utter squalor, but for me and for Adrian, I was sure, Nature’s squalor was but Nature’s Paradise. If it were madness to live in contemplative solitude in a palace where She reigned, I would surrender myself willingly to the appellation.

As the residents obliged me with directions to the home, I knew a thrill—I would reach Adrian before nightfall. I set on immediately, my flagging spirits quenched and renewed utterly with this knowledge.

The manor house was surrounded by a high spiked fence nearly dismantled by thick, woody vines. The gate was ajar. I rode through without need to adjust it, and observed by its appearance that it had been neither opened nor closed in a number of years.

The property was encompassed in a heavy thicket. The trees grew so close that I was encased in immediate gloom. The coolness and a lingering mist on the ground gave me an eerie feeling which only increased as twilight advanced. I followed the ill-used road round bend and curve, yet saw no sign of the dilapidated manor house.

A smell assaulted me which at first I could not name. I was daunted but continued my quest till at length, from the top of a hill, I viewed a black wreck on the horizon. My blood congealed as I recognized the manor where Adrian was purported to live. I half-collapsed from my horse and left it to graze as I stumbled forth, down the hill where the odor was stronger. I fancied the air was clouded with ashes. My senses reeled as I fell to my knees in the grass and viewed the charred remains.

“Adrian,” I whispered, breathed, as a prayer.

I was insensible. I marked not the passage of time as I lay in the grass and cursed myself for abandoning Adrian to others who could not love him as well as myself; he had sent me away, ‘twas true, but I had given myself to my station and the lifestyle it entailed without more than passing gratitude to my benefactor. I would never be able to show him what I had made of myself, or tell him that I had abandoned my position as ambassador to drink more from the well of knowledge only he could provide. I had not found another master; those in the City were too corruptive. Adrian alone was the guide of my life.

Darkness fell. I slept, yet was fitful and my mind disquiet. I fancied shades visited me. I heard whispers in the trees. The smell of charred furniture filled my nostrils, choking me, yet I could not drag myself from the site the Earl was supposed to inhabit.

I murmured his name dreamily as the smell of flowers came over me. The gradual sunlight behind my eyelids was as the golden corona of his curls. If his ghost remained in these parts, so too would I linger.

“Lionel, be still,” I heard his melodious chanson. “You’re not well.”

Could it be? I knew I dreamed as I beheld him before me in a flower-strewn field, as Lord Raymond had described to me. Mad, wild, abandoned to society and every bit the savage he had found me at the inception of our companionship.

“You live,” I said.

“Of course I live. You are in a fever. Let me bring you to my shelter. You should not sit near the ashes. I will explain all that has passed to you when you are restored.”

“I have no fever. I was lost to myself when I feared you dead. I saw the manor burned and thought you with it.” I passed a hand over his face to reassure myself he was no figment.

He caught my fingers in his and held them to his cheek. “Lionel,” he said briefly, “you must put aside these passing fancies.” But I saw that his cheek glowed with sudden fire; his eyes avoided mine, and when I sought them, I found in their gray depths a smouldering bed of mysterious sensibility. I no more understood the dual joy and despair in his expression than the impartial dexterity with which he handled me while transporting me to his crude shelter.

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