It's Ash Wednesday!

Final story index:

#1: Toogood as a child at Tassell Hall.
#2: Rafe offscreen during True Pretenses.
#3: Jamie and Rafe and sheep-shearing.
#4: Imogen Makepeace buys a new dress.
#5: Little Rafe and Ash celebrate Passover.
#6: Ash tries to explain the scheduling of Ash Wednesday.
#7: Ash goes missing on Ash Wednesday.
#8: Little Ash and Rafe, SPOILERZZZZZZ.


This is one of Ash’s favorite days of the year (Ash: “Rafe, it’s my day again!” Rafe: [groans] “That isn’t any funnier this year than it was last year, Ash.” Ash: [laughs and laughs]) and I wanted to do something to celebrate.

So give me a prompt, related to either of the Lively St. Lemeston books (Sweet Disorder and True Pretenses), and I will write you at least 100 words of fiction in response.

Open until midnight 2/18 (in your own time zone).

ETA: I’ve been asked what kind of prompts I’m looking for. I think what I was imagining was like, “I want to see tiny Rafe steal something,” etc., but if there’s another way you like to give prompts, I am open to whatever!

ETA2: I’m not sure I’ll get to any more of these today (Wednesday). They’re coming out a bit longer than I was expecting and I need to do some research for a few of them! This is so much fun, guys, thanks for loving these characters. All your prompts are awesome. Keep ’em coming, and I will work on them over the next few days. <3

20 thoughts on “It's Ash Wednesday!”

    1. Here you go! Toogood as a child at Tassell Hall.
      Johnny ran in from the laundry, holding Lord Tassell’s handkerchief carefully by the corners so as not to wrinkle it.
      Gil Plumtree, Lord Tassell’s valet, examined the square of linen solemnly. “Splendid!” he pronounced at last, grinning down at Johnny from his great height. “White as snow, you see? Not a drop of blackberry juice or blood left on it.” Lord and Lady Tassell had decided to go blackberry picking and returned with a basket of berries, purple tongues, and a number of long scratches.
      Johnny squared his small shoulders proudly. “I did it just like you showed me. It wasn’t so hard.”
      Mr. Plumtree ruffled his hair. “That’s because you’re a smart kid.”
      “Johnny, have you been bothering Mr. Plumtree again?” Mrs. Toogood called across the kitchen from where she was slipping butter under the skins of whole chickens for tonight’s dinner.
      “I wasn’t bothering him,” Johnny said indignantly. “I was helping him.”
      “Indeed he was,” Mr. Plumtree said.
      Johnny shot his mother an I told you so glance. “Do you think I could be a valet one day like you?”
      There was a pause. Mr. Plumtree met Mrs. Toogood’s eyes across the kitchen. “Of course you could, my dear boy. But don’t you want to be a butler like your father?”
      Johnny snorted. “Butlers don’t have any fun.”
      Mr. Plumtree let out a bark of laughter, quickly smothered.
      “Don’t encourage him, Gil,” Mrs. Toogood said, sounding tired. “Johnny, your father has plenty of fun. Now help me with the spit.”
      “Yes, ma’am,” Johnny said. There was no use arguing with adults.

    1. At Avery House near Nuthurst, the Lively St. Lemeston newspaper went from the master of the house to his wife to their daughter to the daughter’s maid, who immediately brought it to the housekeeper, who read it before giving it back to the maid, who then passed it to the cook, who gave it to the first footman, who—well. There was no point cataloging them all because Rafe had no intention of waiting that long.
      “Miss Burgage? May I ask you for a very great favor?”
      Miss Avery’s maid, a pretty dark-eyed girl who Rafe knew had come to England from India when she was ten years old, laughed. “You sound very sure of getting it, Fourth Footman Caine.” She looked up—a great way up—at him through her lashes.
      Rafe smiled ruefully, wishing for the thousandth time he’d given his real name. But…he hadn’t dared. Next time. He’d be ready next time. “Did I? I’m sorry.”
      “Well? What is your very great favor, Mr. Caine?”
      He looked down at his feet. “Promise me you won’t repeat what I’m about to tell you.”
      Her eyes widened, intrigued. “I promise.”
      “I’m a Jew,” he told her. He didn’t care if she repeated it, but people liked to feel they knew a secret.
      Her lips parted. But (as he’d hoped after observing that she passed over the bacon with a disdainful twist of her lips at dinner) she didn’t look horrified, only pleasantly scandalized. “Are you now?”
      He nodded. “My true name is Cohen, and I—I didn’t speak English when I was a boy. I don’t read English very well. I want to read the newspaper, but I don’t—would you read it to me?”
      She looked dubious. “The whole newspaper?”
      He shook his head. “The local news will do. I have a brother in Lively St. Lemeston, and I want to be sure no disaster has befallen him.”
      Her face softened. “Of course,” she promised.
      Rafe drew in a deep breath. There was no reason to think Ash had stayed in Lively St. Lemeston. Even if—kayn aynhoreh, he thought, warding off the Evil Eye even from the unspoken thought—even if the newspaper were to say An unidentified body was found in the Arne, there would be no reason to think it was Ash.
      Ash wouldn’t.
      Rafe had almost turned back a hundred times. Almost gone back to tell Ash, If you need help, send a letter to—but he hadn’t known where he was going, and if he’d gone back, he would have forgiven Ash. He refused to do that. Not yet.
      He smiled warmly at Miss Burgage. “Thank you. What can I do to pay you back?”

  1. I’d like to hear more about Jamie (maybe about when he flirted with Rafe ^^) (or any other time, I just like this character very much) 🙂

    1. Here you go! Hope you like it.
      Winter was James’ favorite time of year: a peaceful time of hothouse flowers, indoor orange trees, crackling fires and quiet hours curled up in a rug reading. Summer was loud and hot and everybody expected one to sunburn oneself picnicking and roystering about. The sun rose too early and woke one no matter how tightly one had closed the bedcurtains.
      Worst of all, a gentleman’s clothes were not designed for summer. James sweated his way through July and August, his cravat wilting and strangling him, and his coat a foul-smelling prison. He preferred not even to think of the inside of his boots.
      He grinned. Not today. Today they were washing the sheep for shearing, and James was in his shirtsleeves and stocking feet, waist-deep in the stream wrestling with a freshly lathered ewe. The sheep that had already been washed were drying on the warm slope of the pasture, the brilliant white of a camellia flower and as fluffy as down.
      “Ha! I got you, you bastard!”
      A great splash drenched James completely. He hung on to his sheep with one arm and sluiced soapy water off his face with the other. He blinked open his eyes to the sight of Ralph Cahill, wet shirt clinging adoringly to his broad shoulders and muscular arms. His blond hair, coming out of its queue, was wet enough that it only showed gold in streaks. Cahill shook it out of his eyes, glowing with exuberance, and bent himself to the task of scrubbing his recalcitrant lamb. “You were so damn tiny when I was here in March,” he said to her. “Now look at you. Trouble on four hooves.” He caught James’ eye and laughed. “Thanks again for inviting me.”
      James grinned at him even though he was afraid to, afraid that he was doing it wrong somehow, that his lust was written across his face. And beneath that, in some small kernel of himself, hoping that it was and that Cahill might be glad of it. “I know this is your kind of work.”
      “So it is,” Cahill said, bringing his arm down and sending a wave of water to soak his brother, who was taking a turn lathering sheep on the bank. “Not like you, eh, Ash?”
      James’ brother-in-law groaned, but he looked to be enjoying himself nevertheless. “If I think about how sore my back will be tomorrow, I’ll weep.”
      Cahill rolled his eyes in James’ direction. “Shirker.”
      James shook his head deploringly and had to remind himself to breathe, because he and Ralph Cahill were in on a joke together.
      Maybe there was something to be said for summer after all.

  2. I’m really, really bad with prompts, but I was very intrigued by Imogen 🙂 Maybe what she does off work or what would be like for her to shop for dresses, or really any tiny glimpse into her thoughts.

    1. Serena–just wanted to let you know I’m still thinking about this (or letting it percolate–hahaha just a little coffeehouse joke there)! I’m hoping that Imogen will be the heroine of Lively St. Lemeston #5, but I don’t know a ton about her yet. I’m excited to try writing her POV for the first time but it might take me a few more days to come up with just the right thing. Thanks for your patience!

      1. Awww thank you so much for letting me know! I’m super looking forward to this and Imogen being the heroine of her own book too! <3

    2. Here you go–what it’s like for Imogen to shop for dresses. I hope you like it!
      Imogen had worked hard to feel pretty. And most days she did. She was pretty, with tip-tilted dark eyes, smooth skin, and hair that curled without the aid of papers or curling irons.
      She hated that shopping for a dress leached the confidence right out of her. She hated that she wasn’t strong enough to smother her doubts. But somehow the dressmaker’s mirror made her face all wrong and her hips too wide. She looked at her beautiful hair and all she could think was woolly.
      Other girls, Imogen thought, white girls, were happy when their fathers said, “It’s time for a new Sunday dress, Ginny.” As simply, innocently happy as a daisy tilting its face to the sun. Her father had meant to make her happy, smiling at her the way he did when he’d ordered in a delicious new bean or bought her a peach at the market. She’d smiled back, not wanting to hurt his feelings, and felt her stomach curdle.
      “Not everybody can carry off sage green,” the dressmaker said, draping muslin across her shoulder. “Such exotic coloring.” She reached out and actually smoothed her fingers over the back of Imogen’s hand, as if Imogen were a fine bolt of silk.
      Imogen clenched her jaw and drew her hand away gently. Did she like the fabric? She thought so, but maybe she was wrong. I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, she thought defiantly, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. “I’ll take it.”

      1. Okay so this reply is super late because I was away for a long while, but I wanted you to know I love love love this glimpsee of Imogen. Thank you so much for writing this! I am now even more excited that she will be the heroine of her own book :)))

        1. Yay!!! I’m so glad you like it. I’m excited to write her book, although it’s probably a year or so off still…all I know about it so far is that she’s in London for the last Frost Fair ever on the frozen Thames. (And that her hero looks like Aldis Hodge. 🙂
          Welcome back! I hope everything is okay. <3

  3. Laurie Lemmon on Facebook requested “Ash on the variability of the date when Ash Wednesday is observed.”


    “How do they know when Ash Wednesday is this year?” Rafe asked. “Is it always the same day in the Christian calendar?”

    Ash laughed. “No, Rafele, the regular calendar is the Christian calendar. Ash Wednesday—besides being a day to celebrate me, of course—” He paused.

    “No it isn’t!” Rafe never got tired of contradicting him.

    Ash smiled. “Mm-hmm.”


    “Well, to non-believers like yourself Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. It’s forty days before Easter.”

    “And how do they know when Easter is?”

    Ash opened his mouth to answer…and then shut it again, startled. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “I just know it moves around, so they call it a movable feast. Like you!” He picked his brother up and tried to tuck him under one arm, letting him squirm free. “I can carry you around with me and when I get very hungry, I’ll eat you. Mmmm!” He opened his mouth wide and aimed for his little brother’s arm.

    Rafe giggled and pushed him away, a small finger nearly poking Ash in the eye.

    Ash felt a sudden pang of fear. He pulled his brother close. “I told you never to go near a Church on Easter, didn’t I?”

    Rafe sighed dramatically. “Only a thousand hundred times.”

    “Good. Don’t forget.”

  4. Beth Matthews (on tumblr) requested little Rafe and Ash celebrating a Jewish holiday.
    “Are you ready?” Ash asked Rafe. Six-year-old Rafe nodded solemnly. Ash hid a grin. “Let me hear you talk like Faige. Remember, say something in Yiddish in your head first if it helps.” Rafe’s attempt at a foreign accent sounded more like a speech impediment than anything, but that was why Ash had chosen a Sephardic area of Kennington. So long as Ash remembered his own accent, no one would think anything of Rafe’s, and the street rat in their voices would be safely hidden.
    Ash eyed the setting sun. Then he went right up to the front door, feeling very daring, and knocked loudly. He took Rafe’s hand in his and clutched it—for courage, and because it would be affecting.
    It was a minute or two before a maid came to the door. She took in Ash and Rafe’s ragged clothes, and prepared to slam the door in their face.
    Ash stumbled against the door jamb, so that she’d have to smash his hand and foot to shut it. “Please,” he said weakly. “I have been keeping the fast of the firstborn all day.” He smiled ruefully at her. “And maybe for a few days before that. I—” He ducked his head, shamefaced. “I was not brought up to beg, fraulein, but I remembered, all who are hungry, let them come in and eat. My father, alav ha-shalom, always said Mr. Meldola was a great man.”
    She eyed him dubiously.
    Ash leaned in. “Please,” he said intently. “It’s Pesach. I want my little brother to have somewhere to keep the feast.”
    She looked down at Rafe. Her face softened. How could it not? “Good Pesach,” she said, smiling. “What’s your name?”
    Rafe drew back shyly against Ash’s leg. They’d practiced that. People thought it was adorable. “Raphael Cohen, ma’am, and my brother is Asher. Good Pesach.”
    Ash smoothed a hand over his brother’s golden head. The accent wasn’t half bad, really. The kid needed practice, but Faige would let him imitate her until he’d learned to do it.
    The maid sighed. “Wait here,” she said. “I’ll see what I can do.”
    “How am I doing?” Rafe asked in Yiddish when the door had shut.
    Ash stayed leaning against the railing. He hadn’t exactly been lying about being hungry; if he sat on the steps, he’d be dizzy when he stood up. “Shh, Rafele,” he said. “It’s best to keep pretending for now. But you’re making me proud.”
    Rafe beamed. “This is fun.”
    Ash cuffed him lightly on the head. “Look pitiful!” He’d piously touch the mezuzah on his way in, he decided. “And see if you can slip a roasted egg or two in your pocket at dinner.”

  5. Elke requested “This one Ash Wednesday, Rafe was already in his teens, and Ash has gone missing. All day. Though he returned shortly before midnight to make it back on ‘his’ day…”
    I could only come up with three reasons why Ash might disappear without finding a way to send word to Rafe. One was being arrested. One was being caught by someone from their old gang. The third was this.
    18 February 1801
    Rafe didn’t know what to do. Ash had gone out to procure breakfast around nine o’clock, bemoaning its predicted lack of eggs, butter, or sugar (a fact for which Rafe was secretly grateful, having eaten far too many pancakes the previous evening), and had not returned.
    Right now, Rafe would even welcome a tired joke about Ash Wednesday or the oft-repeated magnanimous offer to celebrate Rafe Monday the following week.
    He had walked all over town and seen no sign of his brother. Tomorrow…tomorrow he would have to check the gaol. He decided that if Ash wasn’t there, he wouldn’t mention to Ash that he’d done it. Ash had been very firm practically since Rafe was born that if Rafe saw the constables take up Ash, he should run away. Now that they’d left London, there was a whole list of things he should do after that, involving a letter left at the Post Office, a name change, leaving town, &c., &c. Rafe always solemnly agreed, and never had any intention of doing it.
    If Ash wasn’t there, he’d have to start asking strangers if they’d seen him. Even if it broke their most important rule: Never draw attention to yourself.
    Rafe stopped under the Saracen’s Head sign: a dark-skinned face in turban and pointed helmet. The head on the sign might have shoulders to which he still looked very much attached, but Rafe shuddered anyway. The Crusades seemed far off and picturesque to Christians, but the Jews remembered. If it hadn’t been the only inn in the village, they would never have stayed at it.
    Anything could have happened to Ash.
    He checked the stables where they’d slept—nothing—and went inside, hoping desperately that Ash would be waiting in the taproom.
    He wasn’t, but a boy a little older than Rafe, wearing worn livery, stood when he came in. “Are you Rafe Carne?”
    Rafe didn’t hesitate. “I am,” he said, hoping that meant Ash had kept up the Cornish accent.
    “Your brother’s been in an accident. He’s alive but ill. Come with me.”
    Rafe followed him to a respectable-looking house on a respectable-looking street, where he was let in through the front door. In the parlor, Ash was laid out on the sofa, which had had a few sheets thrown over it to protect it from—blood? Maybe just fleas, Rafe thought hopefully.
    “A—” he began, and then stopped, in case Ash had given a different name.
    Ash’s eyes fluttered open at the sound of his voice. “Rafe?”
    His voice was hoarse and too high, and when he tried to sit up a little gentleman in black pushed him firmly back against his pillow, saying, “You will jar the brain.”
    Jar the brain? Rafe’s heart pounded. “What happened to him?”
    The gentleman looked highly irritated. “My neighbor’s son lost control of his new horses. Your brother flung himself out of the way and contrived to hit his head on some stairs. As I am a doctor…” He sighed.
    “My brain’s all right,” Ash said, but when he tried to smile he grimaced as if the movement hurt his head.
    Panic coiled in Rafe’s throat. He rushed forward and put his own hand on Ash’s shoulder, holding him down. From this close, he could see the bloody marks of leeches at Ash’s temples. “Don’t move,” he said. “Please.”
    “I apologize for the late hour,” the doctor said. “I sent for you as soon as I learned of your existence, but unfortunately your brother spoke only German all day.” His expression was quizzical.
    Rafe swallowed. “Our mother was German.”
    “Ah.” The doctor nodded sagely. “Well, he seems to be doing better. Are you hungry?”
    Ash tried to shake his head, and winced.
    “I was talking to your brother,” the doctor said severely. “You will eat nothing until I judge you are able.”
    “Yes,” Rafe said instantly. Maybe that was their most important rule, instead: always take food when it is offered you. “I missed dinner in searching.”
    Ash’s lips twitched approvingly.
    “I will have some sandwiches brought up. Now I should like to get some sleep. You must rouse me at once if there is any change in your brother’s condition: if his breathing is labored, or if he becomes confused or forgetful. Do you know how to take a pulse?”
    Rafe shook his head, so the doctor showed him how. “You see, his pulse is strong. I hope and believe he may be better presently. But it may be a few days before he may safely rise.”
    His pulse didn’t feel strong to Rafe. It felt like little enough, just a tiny pressure against his fingertips. He pressed deeper into Ash’s wrist—and the beating stopped altogether. Panicked, he let go and tried again. Still there. Rafe gulped in a breath. “Can he sleep?”
    “Doubtful,” Ash muttered.
    “Yes, if you watch him.”
    Rafe nodded. “Thank you, sir. I won’t forget this. And I’ll—I’ll work in the kitchen, if you let me.”
    The doctor smiled tiredly. “It’s my profession. The expenses are being paid by my neighbor. Out of his son’s allowance, I believe.”
    “I’m sorry I worried you,” Ash said softly when they were alone.
    Anger stopped Rafe’s voice for a moment. What was there to say to that? “Don’t apologize for being injured,” he said finally, smiling at his brother. “It’s not as if you did it a-purpose.”
    The sandwiches were brought in, and hot tea and a large slice of apple pie, and Rafe had a terrible, terrible thought. When the maid was gone, he leaned in and said very, very quietly, “You aren’t pretending, are you?”
    Ash’s eyes opened wide, and then his mouth too, as if he was shocked by how much the movement hurt. He drew in a shuddering breath. “I would never,” he said, gingerly raising a hand to lay it on Rafe’s arm. “Never. Not without telling you first. You know that.”
    Rafe relaxed. “I do. I’m sorry.” He sat on the floor and leaned his head on the sofa, realizing with pleasure that he was tall enough now to have to bend over rather far to do it.
    Ash sighed and smoothed a hand over his head. “I can’t believe I ruined my own holiday.”
    “There’s always next year.”
    He could hear Ash’s smile in his voice. “Next year in Jerusalem,” he said in Yiddish. He wouldn’t have said it if he was well, but Rafe felt safe and comforted by it anyway.

  6. Thank you, Rose!
    This is fantastic, and beautifully written, as alwasy. I love every back story of Ash and Rafe, and this one in particular. I enjoy learning about their rituals, their precautions, their common understanding of things. And with how much love they care for each other! These were my favorite moments in the novel as well…
    On a side note, a few years ago, the day after my birthday (aka *my* special day), on my way to work, I tripped and fell down the subway stairs. Rushed to the hospital, I ended up with nine staples in the back of my head. Of course, this wasn’t a possibility back then in 1801, so I am especially glad that Ash’s head seemed to be stable enough (our heads surprisingly are).
    It’s a keeper, vielen Dank, Rose 🙂

    1. Thank you! I’m so glad you liked it.
      Fortunately we know Ash survived, because I was definitely getting worried for him as I wrote this. Eighteenth century concussion medicine is SO SCARY. It’s all emetics, bloodletting and wine all the time as far as I can tell.
      I’m sorry that happened to you! Sounds like the birthday week from hell. Oy, on subway stairs too! Those are like incredibly high flights of hard concrete. Thank god you’re okay!

  7. Um. Everything about this ficlet is MAJOR SPOILERS for the book. MAJOR MAJOR SPOILERS. You have been warned.
    Mary Dieterich said, “I’d like to see when Ash first saw Rafe and decided he needed a brother.”
    Note: this required me to reveal Ash’s real first name. I don’t know why that feels to me like something someone might not want to know, but it does. So. You have to scroll down for the ficlet. Enjoy!
    (Another note: based on paintings and prints I think a lot of eighteenth-century English oranges were much smaller than modern ones. So adjust your visualization accordingly.)
    “Uch!” Izzy said. “What did you bring the goyishe brat here for? He’s louder than a church bell. Take him out and drop him somewhere.”
    Herschel didn’t move.
    Izzy raised his eyebrows. “You’re a little young to be going deaf.”
    “Sorry, Mr. Jacobs.” Herschel reached gingerly for the screaming baby, which kept screaming, right in his ear. Izzy laughed at the look on his face.
    He took the baby outside. He’d have to go a ways away, make sure they were well away from where anyone from the workhouse would recognize the kid. “Shhh,” he said, rocking the baby and hoping it didn’t throw up on him. No one looked twice at them.
    The baby did go quiet after a minute or two. Herschel’s arms hurt, but he liked holding babies. They were different than holding anything else.
    “Look at you! Such a good brother,” an orange seller said to him as they went past.
    Herschel smiled at her.
    “And what an adorable baby! Does he like oranges?”
    “Yes, ma’am,” Herschel said promptly. He knew an offer of free food when he heard one. “They’re his favorite.”
    She reached in her pocket and pulled out a orange with a moldy spot the size of a guinea. “The other half is fine.”
    “Thank you, ma’am. You’re an angel.”
    She laughed and handed over the orange. It wouldn’t fit in his pocket, so he stopped to eat it, setting the baby down beside him on the sidewalk. Beneath the skin, five whole sections of the orange were perfect and untouched. “That’s two for you, and three for me, because I’m bigger,” he told the kid. He looked at the orange section. Could the baby even eat it? He put one in his own mouth. Mmmm. Delicious. But the white outer skin was so chewy. He looked doubtfully at the baby. Did it even have teeth? He was supposed to be its brother so he couldn’t check. He peeled the skin off and held out the soft juicy middle. The baby opened its mouth and he put the orange in.
    Herschel had heard a lot of talk and jokes about hangings. He knew that condemned men got a last fine meal before the end.
    He looked at the baby. It looked back at him, confidently expecting another piece of orange.
    He gave it one, then another, then the last one left. His own stomach hurt anyway, tight and fluttery and excited like right before a burglary.
    Herschel started to smile.

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