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Little Girl Lost (1668)

Sophia de la Cerda

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Hartley was undoubtedly a Villiers, but he was not the boasting sort. At least not publicly. At least not yet. Therefore, he said nothing about his involvement. He knew he would be rewarded regardless of what he said, and if he said something, it would probably be couched in some jest to his indulgent uncle. Neither his father nor grandfather were quite as likely to be profligately generous.


Instead, he bit back a chuckle when Lady Albrecht said that she would be marrying this poor Maldon! He hoped she did not prove as straying a wife as she was a daughter!


"Yes, do stay," Hartley said, obviously having learned something from Buckingham's frequent playing of the host, although his uncle 'played' a lot of things.


Besides, the duke was lazy, and Francis knew it was his job to do the obligatory assurances and welcoming.


It was just the same when Maldon asked for a message to be sent. It was the younger blond who gave one of the servants a look. The duke did not even trouble himself with that mere gesture when someone else was around to do it for him. For as informal as the entire thing was, the was a formal regularity to it all. Buckingham had that strange capability.


"To the gardens then?" he asked, before they all did, indeed, head that way.


This time of year there were always chairs and chaises outside. It was one of Francis' favourite places to read. The servants had already seemed to arrange it in that brief time of talking.

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“Excellent,” Bastian replied when the young Lord Maldon agreed to stay. He didn't miss the way Sophia and the boy held hands, as if they were both afraid to let go of each other. The German Graf was a calculating man. He had brought his daughter to England with him hoping that she would make a lasting impression on Buckingham so that he might consider her a match for Hartley when she was old enough to wed.


However, he knew that there would be many English fathers pushing their daughters at the future Duke, and it was likely he would be married before Sophia reached puberty. It was good to have other options, and if Lord Maldon was from a distinguished family, he might be the perfect candidate for his daughter's hand. He would ask Buckingham what he knew about them, and if his assessment was favorable, he would encourage Sophia to correspond with him, and perhaps invite him to Germany for a visit.


He didn't know why, but he believed that his daughter's destiny lay in England.


Sophia held tight to John's hand as they followed Lord Hartley to the gardens. She had spent a lot of time there since her arrival, mostly picking flowers and weaving them into crowns and necklaces. If she wasn't allowed to pick the colorful blooms, she had not yet been told. Even now, she plucked a ruby red rose from a bush they passed, holding it carefully because of the thorns. She wasn't about to release John's hand to pull them off. He gave as much comfort to her as she did to him.


“You sit by me, ja?” she asked him. The ribbon that had bound them together was still wrapped around her wrist and the ends swung to and fro with every step she took.

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John had much to offer a girl’s father. In fact he expected that highborn women would be paraded in front of him if he made it to be older. His fears were whether he had anything to offer a girl. He expected some poor lady would be ordered by her father to marry him for dynastic reasons. He feared she would cry and curse their marriage. And that would destroy what confidence he had.


Sophia was young and he expected she’d grow up and pursue handsome rakish princes or dashing young cavalry officers. If she thought of him at all it would be a small embarrassment. But she didn’t seem to dislike him. Perhaps her father would tell her they were to be wed and she would be content with that. Not happy, but not displeased. That was the best he could hope for. The idea he could actually make a woman happy was still beyond him.


Still, he held her hand with a smile. When Sophia took the rose, John gently took it from her hand and held out the stem so she could pluck out the thorns. It shook slightly but it was steady enough. After she was done, he handed it back to her.


John nodded to sitting with her and picked out a chaise to lounge upon. He let go of her hand and climbed up, his back against the rest and his legs falling short of the edge. He adjusted his bad leg with his hand briefly. He patted a spot on it for Sophia.


If they were older they might have been pressed together. Since they were young and small there was plenty of space. Once she was up with him, his hand crept a bit towards hers, but he was not bold enough to take it. He smiled at her a bit shyly. This seemed intimate to him, and he realized he’d be incredibly familiar with her, albeit in a moment of crisis.


He distracted himself with formality, “All thruh-three of you have m-m-me at… a duh-disadvantage,” John said, gingerly, as if aware he might be saying something indelicate. Still, while he’d been introduced he still had no idea who the other three men were. He had guessed that one was Buckingham but it was still better to be told that.

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Hartley sat down next to the Duke, who draped himself on a chair with all the entitlement of his station. The younger blond, though, was on more poised behaviour.


As to Maldon's question, he replied, "I am Lord Hartley, nephew of his grace, the Duke of Buckingham." He nodded to the reclining blond duke. "And Lady Albrecht's father's is the Graf von Katzenburg."


He accepted a drink and some small bites to eat from a passing servant. His search had made him rather famished and none of them were so very grand to make him shy of partaking.


Further in the garden some laughter could be heard. His younger brothers or sisters were probably playing. His father had obviously not returned yet from the search for Sophia. It would take the servants some time to find them all.


"Why do you not tell of how you came to find each other," Francis asked the two younger ones. He felt rather odd.

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Sophia did not share John's doubts. She was absolutely positive that they would be married when they grew up and that they would have dogs and cats for attendants. Her father had seemed happy when she informed him that they were going to be wed, or so it had seemed to her. She didn't understand that he found her childish claim amusing. Maybe when she was older, she would change her mind, but there was a good chance that if they corresponded often and saw each other from time to time, that her feelings for him would remain strong. Only time would tell.


She watched as he sat down on one of the chaises and she bounced up beside him. His hand crept toward hers and he smiled at her shyly. Not at all shy herself, the little girl grinned at him and placed her hand on top of his. Sophia was too young to consider the act intimate. She had no knowledge of such things at only seven years old.


Lord Hartley! That was the tall blonde's name. He had not spent very much time with her, but she had played with his siblings who were close to her age. It was fun to have other children to play with, even if they did have a bit of trouble communicating with each other.


After all the sweets she had eaten, Sophia wasn't hungry, but she did accept a glass of fruit juice. When Francis asked them to tell of their adventures together, the smile faded from her face. “I be with mine Papa,” she began. “I stop to look in sweet shop and when I look for him, he be gone! So I search for him, but no one help me. Then I see doggie run up to me. The doggie be Lord Maldon's and she lead him to me.”


Her eyes sought John's hoping that he would pick up the tale. He would be able to explain it much better than she could. Speaking English was a great struggle for the young girl.

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John’s smiled widened just a bit as she eagerly took his hand. He didn’t really have an understanding of romantic love either, certainly not of anything like lust, but it was still pleasing that she obviously really liked him. It made him feel like she was close to him. Like he’d want her to be around smiling and giggling and cheering him as he stuttered through his rhetoric lessons. He did like that she touched him too, but only because he felt insecure about his shaking.


John squeezed her hand when her voice fell. He smiled when she looked over and continued after her. “I w-w-was walking around London… a bit. L-l-looking at the walls and monuments and… things.” John’s normal dislike of going out in public had been stymied by his love of history, even at this age, and the fact he had a bodyguard in tow. “When Illia.” He realized he didn’t know where she was and looked around a bit in panic, finding her under his seat.


“Illia r-r-ran off.” He continued, “She’s t-t-trained to c-c-care for children. So she heard my Luh-lady c-c-cry, I think.” Her face had been a bit puffy when they’d first met. “And b-b-brought me over to t-t-tend to her.” As she’d been trained to do. For John it should’ve been his nurse, but for Sophia she’d chosen John.


“And once my Luh-lady t-t-told me she was lost and… alone… w-w-well, I couldn’t leave her.” John felt a sudden need to justify taking an unmarried lady with him unchaperoned. He didn’t understand that the particular fears of the two of them being alone wouldn’t apply until they were both older. Indeed, he knew nothing about that act at all. He just knew he’d broken a rule.


John decided to finish the story, "And I b-b-brought her to the sweet shop hoping Lord K-k-katzenburg would be there. But all we f-f-found was a very rude f-f-fellow who said he knew you," John nodded to Katzenburg, "who t-t-tried to grab her and c-c-carry her off." John's tone was still shocked at that, but he wasn't skeptical that Sophia's attempted kidnapper had known her father. He just thought the man deserved to be whipped for insolence.


"B-b-but I didn't let her go with him because he was so rude. And b-b-because he refused to let me c-c-come along." John's tone was that of a boy tattling on a peer, or who'd gotten the better of someone in a childish way. He felt there was something... off about the entire incident, but kidnapping girls to put them into brothels was beyond John's ability to understand. He lacked far too much context.


"And then we l-l-looked around a bit more and s-s-saw Lord Hartley, who was... calling her. And he b-b-brought us here." That Hartley was better bred, and had not done anything like try and grab Sophia, went unsaid. He'd underestimated Hartley's rank but he'd never though him less than a respectable person.


John looked over at Sophia to see if she had anything to add.

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Hartley listened to the story with mild interest. He had a pleasant way about him, but he was still a youth of an age to be egocentric, even in what he gave his attention. It probably appeared the innocuous court mask which wore amusingly on the face of one so femininely pretty as Francis.


Most of what he got from it is that they were fairly lucky Lady Sophia had not ended up with ruffians, and those ruffians were damned lucky that little Maldon and his bodyguard had thwarted them, because even Hartley had some inkling of what Buckingham could do given provocation.


The Duke was known for many things that seemed nothing but merry. His pranks, his mimicry, his diatribes, his plays, his poetry made him a colorful character, but there was a raw brutality in him where some things were concerned.


That was where his mind wandered, and he did not like imagining either what might have happened to Sophia or what might have happened to anyone who touched her. Even now his eyes strayed sideways. He remained more onlooker than participant.

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Sophia didn't let go of Lord Maldon's hand as he continued the story, shivering when he mentioned the man who had tried to pull her out of the sweet shop. Looking over at her father, she saw him shake his head. His face seemed drained of all color and she had no idea why. She knew nothing of what happened to pretty little girls who were found wandering around on her own or that she had come so close to losing her life in a most horrendous way.


“He take such good care of me,” Sophia gushed, smiling first at John and then at the people around them. “He promise he not leave me until we find my father. And he protect me from scary man who try to drag me away.” Her smile turned into a grin. “He be very, very brave.” Her father was looking at the young lord with an expression of gratitude and approval.


“The sweets be good too. After we not eat more, we decide to look for Papa. I be afraid that we get separated and so he take my hair ribbon and tie it around our wrists so we stay together.” The little blonde held up her hand, displaying the pink ribbon encircling it. “See? We walk around and look in shop windows and then I hear Lord Hartley call my name. Still, Lord Maldon not let me go until he sure that I knew Lord Hartley and that he take me to mine Papa. I ask him to come with me and we ride together in carriage.”


She lifted her eyes to her father's. “He go with us to visit palace, ja?”


The blonde Graf smiled indulgently. “Of course.” He glanced over at the young lord. “We plan to go tomorrow and you are welcome to join us. I will be happy to arrange it with your parents.”

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John squeezed Sophia’s hand slightly when she shivered, almost instinctively. Then she turned to praising him and John became meek. When she spoke of how he’d tied their hands together he actually blushed and looked away, though he didn’t let go of her hand. He was very happy to hear it, so happy there were butterflies in his stomach, but that didn’t stop him from being embarrassed.


Fortunately, he wasn’t called on to speak. Sophia asked if he could come to the palace and her father invited him along. The plural parents hurt a little, and reminded him he wasn’t sure who was ultimately responsible for him. But he pushed that down and pondered what to say.


The palace was still a mild place of dread for John. John would, like all patent nobles, go through a ceremony involving the King and many other great nobles. All attention would be focused on him for a time and he dreaded that. He was especially afraid that the King, when he went to place the cap and coronet on John’s head, would have trouble doing so because his head twitched and he would be laughed at forever after.


Or that he would drop his patent.


And he still wasn’t sure how the King was going to fasten the belt around his waist without kneeling (which the King could not).


John felt a sudden nervousness welling up inside him and he began to squeeze Sophia’s hand tightly. He became just slightly panicked. But he forced himself back to the moment, and after a longer pause than was probably normal, replied softly, “Yes, thank you.”


“Why… are you g-g-going?” John asked, curiosity creeping into a still overly-soft voice.

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The palace was not nearly as exciting to Hartley as it was to Sophia. He enjoyed sneaking off to London far more, and even better when his uncle stole him along with him. The palace was somewhere he had explored extensively in the last eight years. London was far bigger, even if Whitehall was a complicated maze, it was confined.


London did smell, though. He sniffed.


Yes. He could still smell it.


What are they talking about now?


The topic did not seem to have moved very far. That was all well and good for Hartley's waning attention. He took another drink and wondered when his own father would return.


Buckingham gave Sophia's father a look with his eyes, clearly somewhat amused to an adult onlooker.

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Sophia thought that John would be pleased that her father invited him to visit the palace with them and she didn't understand why he squeezed her hand so tightly. She remembered that he had told her in the sweet shop that he thought he would make matters worse if he accompanied her, but she had believed he didn't think her father would allow him to go. He also seemed a bit distressed, yet he finally agreed.


Bastian returned Buckingham's look before focusing once more on young Maldon. “I have told my daughter many stories about the palace and she wishes to see it. There is no other reason for our visit. We plan to spend a pleasant afternoon there.” Maybe the boy was worried that they had an audience with the King.


The Graf had already met him on a previous visit and he had no intention of letting the Merry Monarch meet Sophia. He was a bit too merry where the ladies were concerned and his daughter was a beautiful little girl who showed promise of growing into a gorgeous young woman. Bastian didn't want to take the chance that he might remember her in a decade or so and ask to see her again. Her destiny, if it did indeed lie in England, was not to be a mistress of the King.


“Want I to see gardens!” Sophia exclaimed. “And ballroom and art gallery and … and ...” She glanced over at Lord Hartley. “What else must I see, my lord? Go you there many times, ja?”

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John nodded slowly to Bastian’s answer. It didn’t seem to provide relief. John was afraid of being in public. The King wasn’t even particularly scary, all his peers were. The only way the palace might be made comfortable (and he knew this would never be) was if it were emptied of everyone but the servants for their visit.


John remained quiet as Sophia began listing the entire palace’s buildings in order only stopping to get advice from Hartley. Now it was John’s turn to wait quietly. He did become more comfortable, though, and his grip on Sophia’s hand loosened from a panicked tightness back to a firmness born only of not wanting to let go.


Ilia, as if sensing the lull, jumped up and planted her hand on John’s lap. He rewarded her by scratching her head and she made the soft sounds of a spoiled dog.

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Lord Hartley wanted to say something along the lines of 'The secret passages,' but he kept that to himself, a small smile speaking of something rolling around his mind that he could not or would not say. Truly he enjoyed simply being around and seeing what he could overhear or observe.


"The gardens are truly a marvel," he agreed amiably. "There are several impressive statues and a labyrinth, but let us hope Lady Sophia does not get lost again inside there," he added, smiling.


There were also a few nice trees to climb, but he also kept that to himself. What he did at night when left to his devices was rather his business. He had learned a few unsavory habits from his uncle, much to his father's lamenting.


(Shall we start to wrap this up? If you two want to continue on to the palace later, go ahead )

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“I not lost get if Lord Maldon be with me,” Sophia said confidentially, smiling warmly at her friend. “He always take care of me.”


She could not think of anything else to say, so she sipped her fruit juice, still holding fast to John's hand. As soon as somebody came to fetch him, she knew it would be time to say good-bye and she dreaded having to part from him. Even though he had agreed to accompany her to the palace, she was afraid his mother would not allow him to go and that she would never see him again.

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John blushed just slightly at Sophia's continued praise. "Uhh, yes." He smiled at her, "Yes, I wuh-wuh-will." She was right. He would take care of her as best he could.


There was quiet after that. John was comfortable in quiet so long as he didn't feel everyone was staring at him. He thought Sophia was focused on him but he didn't mind her attention. The adults seemed to have moved on.


John slid just slightly closer to Sophia so they were leaning against each other and laced their fingers. Ilia stretched herself over so she was across their two laps. He smiled. This was... something. Nice. Comfortable. He hoped he could stay like this for a while.


OOC: I think that's a wrap. Maybe next Crystal Ball or sometime we can do 'Little Girl Found' with them at the palace or John sleeping over. Thank you both!

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