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Sophia de la Cerda
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~Katzenberg Castle, Germany~

 

“Are you done yet?”

 

Eight-year-old Sophia glanced at her reflection in the mirror as her maidservant gently untangled her long waist-length curls.

 

“Very soon, my lady,” the woman answered.

 

The young girl rolled her eyes. She had awakened late this morning and she was afraid she would miss breakfast. Of course, the cooks would save a portion for her and maybe slip her a few sweets, but she wanted to eat with her father. He had returned late last night after a long trip to England, and she hadn't seen him yet. Sophia was always excited when he came home, not because he brought her lots of expensive gifts, but because she loved every minute she got to spend with him.

 

Finally the maidservant set the brush down on the vanity. “All you need now is a ribbon to keep your hair out of you face, my lady.”

 

“I want the pretty green one, the one with the little pink flowers.”

 

“You're wearing purple today. Green doesn't go with purple.”

 

Sophia raised her chin stubbornly. “I want the green one.”

 

“Very well.”

 

A few moments later, Sophia descended the staircase and entered the dining room, stopping in the doorway when she beheld not her beloved father, but a tall young man she had never seen before. He had long blonde curls just like she did. “Who are you?” she asked rather rudely. “And where is my Papa?”

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(AU as AU can be LOL)

 

Traveling abroad was an expected task of a boy of his age and station. He had lived many years as a boy, here and there, across the continent in exile, but he had not spent much time in any of the German states. Nor was German his particular forte as a language. He had heard his father speak some often enough with the Duke of Cumberland, but he had never had much an occasion to practice it conversationally.

 

There were not many Germans in England, and the ones that were typically spoke either English or French better than any Englishman spoke German. That, and Francis had a strong drive not to look foolish, so he would pick French to converse in before the passing of a heartbeat in any case.

 

He had been shown to a handsome set of rooms to change, and when a servant arrived, he had been fairly sure what he had tried to convey was to hurry and that others were down already. In fact, he apparently had not needed to hurry for he was the first in the dining room, a bizarre situation when he had yet to meet any of the house's inhabitant and would have been better suited to wait and have his father or grandfather with him.

 

Instead of one of them arriving first, his hopes were broken by the arrival of a little girl. Who he kind of understood. In a really poorly accented German he attempted, "I, Lord Hartley, a guest from English."

 

He might have seemed tall to her, being so little, but he was not very tall for his age. At least not in comparison to their supreme heights of his father, uncle, Prince Rupert, or even the King.

 

Little Frank was known as Little Frank for a reason. His mother assured him that his father and uncle were no larger than him at his age. He was not sure he believed her.

 

As to her father, he licked his lips and said, "I not know. I not know where my father is, even." He chuckled awkwardly. "And you are Lady Albrecht?" he queried, knowing if she was calling the graf her father.

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To Sophia, who was very petite and about the height of an average five-year-old, Francis did, indeed, seem quite tall. Even other eight-year-olds appeared tall to the little blonde. She wasn't sure what to think of this stranger in her dining room who talked rather funny. It wasn't all that unusual for her father to bring back guests when he returned from his travels, and most of them didn't speak German at all. At least Lord Hartley was trying. She wondered if he spoke Italian. Many of her father's guests were Italian and he always asked her to sing for them.

 

Would he ask her to sing for Lord Hartley?

 

He didn't know where her father was. And apparently his own father was visiting as well, and he didn't know where he was either. “Ja, be I Lady Albrecht,” she confirmed in English that was every bit as poor as his German. Sophia stood up straight and lifted her chin. The little girl liked being called Lady Albrecht. It made her feel important and grown up. “Be I of house lady.” She meant to say she was the lady of the house, but it came out all wrong.

 

“Be you mine Papa a friend?”

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"Our families are," Hartley said, for he was not particularly a friend of her father, but his father and grandfather were, so that was all that mattered. He knew her father very little indeed.

 

"I see you have guessed we are here from England. We accompanied the Duke of Cumberland." Cumberland, of course, being also a Palatinate prince and brother of the Elector. His father had run off, with his brother, and fought with Cumberland and his grandfather as a boy, and they were quite close still. The Prince, however, did not get along as well with his uncle. Then again most more quiet persons did not get along with his uncle, who took that as opportunity to verbally ridicule them or accost them with his wit. In the case of Rupert, they simply argued like rats in a sack a lot of the time.

 

Hartley fought for some sort of conversation. "Do you know what is to be served tonight, my dear lady of the house?" He did have the Villiers charm, something he inherited in spades.

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“Oh.” Her voice sounded a bit dubious. She didn't trust him quite yet. Sophia wondered if she would recognize his father. Maybe Lord Hartley had stayed in England while his father traveled, just like she stayed in Germany. She had begged her Papa many times to take her with him, especially when he went to Venice, but he never did, though he promised her she could accompany him when she was older. He knew how much she wanted to see a real Italian opera.

 

The little blonde had heard the Duke of Cumberland's name before, so she knew her father was acquainted with him. Perhaps he had even visited the castle once or twice. She couldn't put a face to the name, but that wasn't unusual. She was so tiny that unless she looked way up, she could only see the fabric of a gentleman's coat.

 

“I not guess you from England,” she replied imperiously. “I know. I be very smart.”

 

She had no idea what would be served for dinner that night. The cook usually chose the menus, which was a good thing. If left up to Sophia, they would eat nothing but sweets. Unfortunately, gentlemanly charm didn't work on eight-year-old girls, and she thought that Francis was trying to prove that she wasn't as smart as she claimed she was. “Food,” she said simply. That would show him.

 

At the moment, she was more concerned about breakfast. Her stomach rumbled loudly. "Come. We sit and wait for fathers, ja?" She looked pointedly at his arm, expecting him to offer it to her. Sophia was not completely without manners and was determined to be a good hostess. "And then tell you me of England. Never be I there."

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Does the lady of the house not approve the menus?" Francis asked her, with a cheeky smile.

 

As to her imperious movement for him to help her sit, the blond boy was not about to be bossed by a child when propriety dictated otherwise.

 

Francis blinked at her in a strange sort of fashion, "It is very rude to sit before my lord father arrives and yours." It really was a bit rude to arrive before him too, but that had been an accident. "I must wait, my lady."

 

It might also be her house, but it was not his, and he was not going to presume to sit and make a bad impression, lady of the house or not. His grandfather was there, and his grandfather gave the worst birchings.

 

Thankfully, they were saved by the arrival of their host and his father and grandfather.

 

"There you are, Hart. Thomas said you thought you were called down and hurried out," the tall, dark-haired Villiers said. "And this must be your daughter, the beautiful Lady Albrecht."

 

Sophia would likely recognize Francis' grandfather, but probably not his father.

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Her eyes narrowed. He was making fun of her! And how dare he call her rude by suggesting they sit down at the dining table! Her governess had taught her that the lady of the house was supposed to make guests feel welcome when the lord wasn't present. That was all she was trying to do. If she was grown, she believed, he would be more respectful. But she was a child and he wasn't about to let her forget it.

 

Sophia hated him and wished he would go away. An impulsive little girl who would one day become an equally impulsive young lady, she bent one knee beneath her voluminous skirts, fully intending to kick him in the shin. But before she could act, her father arrived and she was so elated to see him that she forgot all about Lord Hartley. He had been gone for what seemed like forever!

 

“Papa!” she exclaimed, launching herself into his arms. “Ich habe dich vermisst!”* He caught her and swung her around, kissing her on the cheek and then setting her gently back on the floor. Perhaps it was an indulgent show of affection in front of guests, but Sophia was Bastian's pride and joy, the last and most precious gift his beloved wife had given him before she died.

 

“I missed you too, little one,” he replied in English for the benefit of his guests and as a subtle reminder that she should speak English as well. Sophia recognized one of the gentlemen with him. He had visited before, but the other one was unfamiliar to her. Was this the awful Lord Hartley's father? He should really teach his son some manners.

 

Sophia beamed when he called her beautiful. Her father made the introductions and the little blonde held up her tiny hand to be kissed. “Pleasure is to meet you, my lord” she said. "And danke for ... for ..." She looked up at her father, hoping that he would supply the word that she was looking for.

 

"Compliment," he informed her.

 

"Danke for com-pli-ment," she repeated.

 

 

*I missed you!

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Francis was far more worried about insulting the Lord of the house than the Little Lady of the house; that fear was basically commensurate with the severity of birching he expected to receive in the face of one of those over the other.

 

He stood by tall and graceful, like a delicate, courtly statue, as the girl jumped into her father's arms. He remembered those days rather fondly. Exile had made such informal shows of affection commonplace and expected to him, but the return to England had taught him further the importance of the public persona in the public space, as his father would say.

 

The elder Francis Villiers was a gentler, more romantic-notioned version of his brother, a gallant peacemaker that ladies swooned over for his pretty delicacy, even with a large scar across his cheek and neck. He had been known for his sweetness as a child, and he was a most present father of a right horde of children, so he knew how to deal with them.

 

He knelt down to her level and then kissed her tiny hand as if she was a grand lady, although none got that treatment to the same degree as his wife.

 

"You are most welcome," he said, before standing back up.

 

Francis finally bowed when his father turned the other earl's attention to him by looking his way.

 

"And this is my eldest, Hartley."

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When the tall gentleman knelt down to kiss her hand, Sophia noticed the long scar across his cheek. “How get you scar?” she asked. Her words were blunt but her smile was sweet. “You fight in war?”

 

“My dear Lady Albrecht, that is not a question you ask to somebody whom you have just met,” her father gently chided her. “You owe him an apology.”

 

The little blonde sighed. “I am sorry,” she said contritely. She rather hoped that he would tell her, now that she had asked.

 

When Francis was introduced, Bastian turned toward him with a genuine smile. A tall middle-aged man with dark blonde hair that was going gray at the temples, the Graf looked too old to be the father of such a young child. “Welcome, Lord Hartley. I have heard many good things about you.”

 

In truth, he planned to size up the young lord while he was here, and determine if he might be a suitable match for his precious daughter. Joining their families would be beneficial in many ways, he believed. Of course, he didn't expect that Francis and Sophia would hit it off immediately. When he had been Lord Hartley's age, he had thought little girls were nuisances.

 

In a few years, though, he might think differently. Sophia was already a little beauty. One day, she would be breathtakingly gorgeous … if he could stop the cook from slipping her sweets. No gentleman wanted a chubby wife.

 

“And I see you are already acquainted with my daughter. I hope she has made you feel welcome.”

 

Sophia smiled sweetly at Lord Hartley. She still wanted to kick him in the shins.

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The otherwise pretty and delicate earl smiled at Sophia even as she was scolded.

 

"Indeed, in the war, little lady." He let out an amused, little huff at her intelligence for guessing this, but it was even still a painful remembrance for him. He had been left for dead and with good reason to be expected to die, but he had not. Just the memory of the pain was enough for a deep breath.

 

Hartley, on the other hand, was perfectly comfortable in engaging in small talk with Sophia's father. Like his own father as a boy, Hartley was known for his amiable temperament and the Villiers silver tongue.

 

"It is my honour to meet such a great friend to our family finally, my lord. I hope you find the word has done justice to the reality, for I should not wish to disappoint your expectations."

 

Looking to Sophia, he smiled warmly, despite the fact that little girls did not interest him all that much, and said, "Certainly, as I am afraid I was a bit premature in coming down. I misunderstood the servant. She was very accommodating." As much as any child truly could be. He had sisters, he knew what little girls were like.

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“I not like war,” Sophia declared, her little hands on her hips. “It hurt people. And it kill them too.” She was just beginning to understand the concept of death. When her mother had died, she had been told that she went to heaven to be with God, and while she still believed that, she now knew that her mother had been dead when she saw her floating in the water. Her body was still there but her soul was gone. Sometimes she was afraid that her father would die too and leave her all alone. What if he went away and never came back to her?

 

But he was here now, and she hoped he didn't go away again for a very long time.

 

“Indeed it does,” Bastian said to Lord Hartley. What a well-spoken young man, he thought. He's going to make something of himself one day. “It is a pleasure to meet you at last.”

 

He smiled fondly at his daughter. “She's a fine little hostess already. I don't know what I would do without her.” As he spent a lot of time in England, he spoke the language well, with only a faint German accent.

 

“Papa, hast du mir ein Geschenk mitgebracht?” Sophia looked pointedly at the pockets in his frock coat, for that was where he usually hid them.

 

“English, my dear Lady Albrecht.”

 

“Bring you me a gift, Papa?”

 

He reached into one of his pockets and brought out a small pearl necklace with an amethyst pendant in the shape of a butterfly hanging from the center. “The first of many,” he told her.

 

“Oh! Is … is … what be wunderschön in English?”

 

Bastian laughed. “Beautiful. Turn around and let me fasten it around your neck.”

 

Sophia complied. “Is beau-ti-ful.”

 

He bent to one knee and placed the necklace around his little girl's neck and then rose, smiling at his guests. “Come, let us sit down before our breakfast gets cold.”

 

Once they were seated, he turned his attention to Lord Hartley again. “Have you had a chance to see much of our country yet?”

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"Yes, it does," the elder Francis replied. War had taken much of his family, blood or not. It had taken both his real father and the only father figure he had ever known. "Unfortunately, it is sometimes necessary to defend right." He smiled at her. War was not an appropriate topic for such a young child, and he needed to put a bow on it and lay it to rest in a gentle sort of way, appropriate for a little girl.

 

The dark-haired Francis gave his son a look of approval. Hart had his moments, and if his brother had his way, Hart might have more moments, but he mostly disciplined his son himself, with the aid of his father-in-law and a few others. The boy knew how to behave, it was essential to a proper courtier's education.

 

Hartley, for his part, looked on with a slightly raised eyebrow as the graf put a pretty little necklace on his daughter.

 

Father has not given me a gift in ages. Such was the silent lament of a teenager. If he had ever voiced it aloud, his father would surely have reminded him that his uncle gave him more than enough extravagance.

 

They sat down and Hartley said, "Not yet, unfortunately, we have only just arrived and this is my first time here, but I hope to have the time to ride and see much whilst I am here."

 

Rupert will definitely want to ride," the elder Francis thought, with a smile, so it was a safe bet for Harley. Politics had a limited span for the Duke of Cumberland, who much preferred active and outdoor pursuits. Not to mention the younger German did not get along with his brother very well.

 

"You are here to see far more than the countryside and to do more than ride," he said to the boy. He had learned early in son's life why Newcastle had run their household as children as he had done. An ounce of preventative check made one's life with a child far easier. The more he reminded his son of his duty, the less he forgot it.

 

"Yes, my lord, and I shan't forget," the boy replied.

 

Thankfully, he spared any cheeky look or commentary about how he had said 'hope' which surely did not convey any surety of the affair.

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Sophia didn't understand why war was necessary. And that wouldn't change when she grew up. By the time she was sixteen, she would think of war as a waste of good men and something that could be avoided if gentlemen were willing to negotiate peacefully. Unfortunately, gentlemen believed that a show of might solved everything, but all it really did was lead to more wars. It was a circle of violence that never ended.

 

At the moment, however, she thought none of this. “If everyone had kittens,” she declared, “there be no need for war. Everyone be happy with kittens.”

 

Kittens were plentiful on the Katzenberg estate, but they were not allowed into the dining room. Every now and then, Sophia tried to sneak one in when her father was away, and even her governess' reprimands didn't deter her.

 

Bastian chuckled inwardly when Hartley's father reminded him that he had not come to Germany only for fun . The Graf knew that this was only one stop on their visit to the Palatinate, and far from the most important. Again, he pondered how advantageous a marriage alliance with his English friends would be. Perhaps it would actually come to pass in a few years, if he played his cards right.

 

Sophia, who was seated next to Francis, bounced up and down when he mentioned riding. “I ride, too. We go ride together, ja?” She completely forgot that she was angry at the blonde boy now that an opportunity arose that she wished to take advantage of. He would probably let her gallop through the estate's forest and not make her walk her horse in a ladylike manner the way her riding instructor always did. “Maybe we hunt too? I be learning how."

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  • 3 weeks later...

The young Francis, now caught, searched for what he should say to this series of comments and most especially the little girl wanting to ride or hunt with him.

 

Then he would have to go slower so she could keep up!

 

However, he could hardly say that.

 

He looked between his father and the graf, and then said, "If it is allowed." It was an agreement, but something of a false one. They could hardly go alone anyway. He had no idea where he was, and she was far too small to be responsible for them both.

 

Than again, they might all go, but then he would at least have manly company too.

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Servants arrived with platters of food, which they set in the middle of the table so that everyone could help themselves. There were several varieties of meat and sausages to choose from, as well as cheese, bread, and various fruits, including Sophia's favorite … strawberries.

 

Bastian noted Francis' hesitation when his daughter asked him if they could go riding together. When he was that age, he wouldn't have wanted to be coerced into spending time with a little girl, no matter how adorable she might be. He smiled benevolently at Sophia. “Ladies aren't supposed to ask gentleman to take them places, my darling. Lord Hartley might have other plans.”

 

He looked to Francis' father. “If you have time, we could all go riding and I could show you the rest of my lands.” He wouldn't mind hunting, but not with Sophia. He didn't think he would be able closely watch his adventurous young daughter and entertain his guests at the same time.

 

Sophia pouted and reached for a strawberry, glaring at Lord Hartley before popping it a bit defiantly in her mouth. He should have jumped at the chance to go riding with her instead of leaving it up to the grown-ups. He could have asked her after she asked him, and then it would have been all proper.

 

Once again, she felt like kicking him in the shins.

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Hartley had little idea how to respond to the situation and also little desire to ride with a small girl, so he completely missed her strawberry mauling.

 

He might not have cared. His blue eyes made sidelong glances at his father and grandfather. In some ways he might have much rather stayed at home...with just his uncle to supervise. His father and grandfather watched him far more closely.

 

So long as he was diligent with his lessons and was an ear for gossip, Buckingham did not give one fig what he did the rest of the time. Being just with his father and grandfather was a far more strenuous exercise in propriety. They were representing much in a foreign court.

 

For his part, the elder Francis agreed, "I think there shall be more than enough time for some rides. Hartley has younger sisters, so he is much used to the company."

 

Noooo Hartley's brain screamed. The last thing he wanted was to get stuck with a surrogate little sister while he was away from his own little sisters!

 

He thought he'd be talking about military things with Cumberland the entire time, not riding with little girls.

 

"That would be very nice," Hartley lied. Trying to change the subject, he said, "Is the hunting here very sporting, my lord? Perhaps the Prince would find enjoyment of it. You know how he feels of the hunt and good hunting dogs."

 

Even at his young age, he had enough time around his uncle to learn to be somewhat conniving in a courtly way. He knew how to appear to innocuously arrange things that would end up being to his selfish advantage. He wished a situation conducive to good stories from Cumberland, and all the elder men, and hunting was always a good vessel for such.

 

His grandfather cleared his throat, and Hartley then knew perhaps he had been a bit too obvious and frank. He had something of a Villiers ego but he was not the artist that Buckingham was, not at his short years, even if he thought himself very smart. He blushed some and quickly busied himself with a bite.

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Sophia was pleased that Francis' father agreed to let him go riding with her and she shot the blond boy a triumphant grin. To her, his permission meant that they could ride alone and not just in one large group. With the older gentlemen present, she might have to be ladylike and even ride sidesaddle, which she hated. But with Lord Hartley, she believed she would have more freedom.

 

Her ears perked up when she discovered he had sisters. She wondered if he had one around her age. It would be fun to have a friend from England. Before she could ask him, though, he posed a question to her father about hunting.

 

“The hunting here is the best in the Palatinate,” Bastian stated in his usual straightforward fashion. “Or at least that was what His Highness told me the last time he hunted with me. Maybe he will decide to go with us.” He then launched into a story about the last time the he, the Prince, and a party of nobles had hunted in the forest attached to his lands, and how they had brought home a twelve-pointed hart and several boars. “We had a grand feast that evening,” he concluded.

 

Sophia had never heard that particular story before and she thought it rather dull. The tale about being attacked by wolves had been much more exciting. As she directed a servant to fill her plate, she wondered why he didn't tell that one instead. It was going to be a boring breakfast if all they talked about was hunting, but she had been taught not to interrupt grown-ups when they were speaking. Hopefully, the conversation would turn to something more interesting, something that she could take part in.

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Francis looked distinctly pleased. The little girl might not hold the most appeal to him, but her father was quite interesting. So long as he spoke of hunting and other such things, the blond lordling would be quite interested.

 

As of yet, though, he was not the most outgoing, still trying to find that transition from boyhood to manhood, and caught in the most awkward of limbos. He left most of the talking to the older people which was always a safe place for a yoeunger person. Plus, he was quite content to eat, having quite a large appetite.

 

It would remain to be seen how the riding would go, but a breakfast spend in manly stories was quite the good start to the visit.

 

(Fin? Seems a good place to wrap a cute thread!)

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All through breakfast, they talked about hunting and shooting and other things that Sophia couldn't understand. She turned her attention to her food, which was as delicious as always. They had a wonderful cook and she sometimes let Sophia sneak into the kitchen and to sample the dishes that were being prepared. Life was quite informal at Katzenberg Castle.

 

She blamed Francis for initiating the boring conversation, even though one good thing came from it. Her father was too engrossed in entertaining his guests to notice that she took a few more sweets than he normally allowed.

 

Still, she would get her revenge on the tall blonde. One day, when he least expected it, she was going to kick him so hard in the shins that he would limp for an entire year!

 

~finis~

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