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Joke Gone Bad


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(During the period of mourning)


The King's private study was the sort of place to hold such a private conversation. It was late at night and the King had retired with Buckingham and Baptist May. It was then that the new Earl of Dorset was admitted. The Earl was insistent upon a meeting.


The former Earl of Middlesex was in a very poor mood. The tension in the room was apparent.


"Lord Middlesex, again you have our condolences. I loved your father." Kings knew how to dissemble. "Thank you Majesty," Charles Sackville replied, trying to gain control of his temper.


"May has your paperwork. Your father's title and properties have passed to you. It will be announced at the Ball," the King declared. Baptist May inched forward with a sealed parchment. Buckingham was silent, watching Sackville like a hawk. George sensed the need to stay above the fray.


"Thank you Majesty. May I have your leave to speak freely?"


Since the King was as alone as he ever might be, the tall man waved his hand dismissively, signaling the royal permission.


"There seems to be a jest that I wish to clarify. Father Spratt claims that, in a sporting moment, he married me to ... that ... ."


"Careful man," Buckingham cautioned. Now he knew what this was about.


"Your brother's whore," and your own. "He claims it is valid but I believe it is all a jest. I suspect both the purported bride and groom were unconscious at the time. How could such a thing be valid?"


"You were awake Middlesex ... er Dorset. I was there." The King managed a serious look.


"Rochester put you up to this, that pox-riddled jackass. Sire, you know I detest the woman. Bedbugs have slept with fewer men than she."


The King fought a smile. "An experienced man comes to value an experienced wife. After all, she has lots of money, she is witty, and you two can think of no other. There is a thin line between love and hate Charles." Baptist May giggled once. George kept his serious expression, wanting to defend Heather's honor, though the King did a fine enough job. "You did say you would do it when you were dared. So, you joined with her willingly," the King continued. "What could we do?"


"You could have protected me Highness. A drunk man cannot be trusted to make such decisions."


"Drunk? You mean that punch that you and Rochester created? Half of the ladies at court were compromised in one way or another because of that prank. It is only fitting that you be punished by it. Do not act innocent milord. I know very well who was behind it. Rochester, at least, knows better and hides from me. he shall be punished. As for you, you have been punished enough I should think." The King began to chuckle. Buckingham smiled as well, given the justice of the situation.


"This is not a laughing matter sire. Fine me. Throw me into the Tower; but, do not bind me to that woman. You are the head of the Church of England. With but a stroke of your quill, you could annul the whole arrangement. The marriage was not consummated." Though I suspect I am one of the few lords that can claim that.


"We prefer not to get involved in such temporal affairs. You have our leave to consult with the Archbishop of Canterbury. I believe an annulment has been granted the Countess in the past."


Sackville saw where this was heading. He would get no royal relief. "What a bloody set of affairs sir," he exclaimed as he looked around the room. There was silence. The Earl of Middlesex had been caught when he was well-known for avoiding the repercussions of his actions. "Then I shall leave for Canterbury at once."


"I should hope that you would stay for our birthday sir. We should be displeased to not see you at our ball." He was going to make Dorset squirm for a time. A lesson needed to be taught.


There was a long pause before the blond earl nodded. "Of course." He was not the witty courtier in the moment. He hated himself for losing his composure for it had been a cruel trick played on him. "If I might be dismissed."


"You have our leave," the King uttered. The Earl bowed and took his exit. There was a long minute after the doors closed behind him that the room was silent. "Lady Heather Sackville, Countess Dorset," the King proclaimed to the other two witnesses. He then broke into a laugh where he was joined by his companions. "Serves him right," George observed.


Baptist May, once the laughter subsided, asked "the Countess will want to see you also. Your royal brother too?" The King gave a knowing look to his Privy Purse. "I fear I shall be indisposed for both." He laughed again. He was sure that Heather's facial expression would be priceless too; but, Sackville's expression was enough.

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