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Friday 24, Privy Chamber, Late Morning {open}- Xmas 1677

Davina Wellsley

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Lodged in an alcove window seat the better to catch the light from the watery Sun that had somehow broken through sat one of the Queen's Ladies in waiting. Her dark cranberry velvet gown decorated with silver metallic trim beaded with jet beads contrasted well with the dark paneling all about the room.


The room was crowed for almost all the Courtiers and made haste to attend this Christmas Court at Whitehall each eager to see and be seen. Bringing with them their retinues and servants so the population swelled and space was at a Premium. But the most important of reason's was that this Court would allow for them to bring in Family and scatter them hither and yon, to pick up Honors and Positions as they might.


Davina sipped slowly from her goblet of wine and watched as two fresh fifteens, new maids of honor, full of wine, threw bread at each other. She was barely acquainted with the newest arrivals into the Queen's Household, as well as the Duchesses of York's, that now mingled all together forging alliances. She too had once been that young. So long ago now. It would fall to her she thinks as one of the older unmarrieds to reign them into shape as well as Mrs. Jenks the 'Mother of the Maids' who oversaw them all and nicknamed "The Dragon."


Her eyes moved away circling about the room looking to spot a returning familiar face either friend or foe she cared not! With a sigh her thoughts turned inward as she looked past the glass windows and out over the frozen hard ground of the Garden below her.


She thinks of July, a crimson month, filled with pimpernels, roses, currants, strawberries in the garden, cherries in the orchards, robins with red breasts singing in the green trees ...


A voice interrupts

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Sophia wove through the crowd gathered in the Privy Chamber, managing to dodge a hunk of bread hurtling through the air. Her glance sought the person responsible, a girl not much younger than herself. She smiled at her and moved on. It seemed that she had walked into the middle of a food fight and she would have liked to join in. Not only would she make new friends, but a bit of mischief would dispel some of the nervousness that had her body strung tight with tension. It was always this way on the day of an important performance and keeping herself occupied was the best way to alleviate it.


However, participating in such shenanigans was out of the question. As the wife of the new Spanish Ambassador, she had a reputation to uphold. She must appear proper at all times because she was now a representative of Spain and she didn't want to disappoint either her husband or her royal lover by acting inappropriately. That didn't mean she wouldn't have a bit of fun every now and then. She would just make certain that she was not in a public place when she did.


Looking around for somebody she knew, she spied Mistress Wellsley haloed by muted sunlight in the window of an alcove. Sophia's mauve gown, fashioned of crushed velvet accented with creamy lace and pearls, rustled as she headed toward her friend. She looked quite nice in dark cranberry, and not for the first time, the young Baroness wished she had darker hair so she wouldn't be confined to wearing pastels for the rest of her life.


Approaching Davina, she smiled warmly. “Good morning, Mistress Wellsley. It is a pleasure to see you again. I hope you had a pleasant recess.”

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Her attention had been drawn away from the windows by the sudden burst of laughter and her blue-eyed gaze sought it out - two other Maids were sitting side by side with men standing two and three deep behind their chairs, courting them.


It was one of the sports of court, to seduce a maid of honor. A young woman had to be very beautiful or very clever to survive. Grace the beauty - languid and fair, and when she blushed, it was as if cream were suddenly mixed with new strawberries. The other was new and not known to her. She was dazzling - a pale oval of a face, crowned with crisp, dark, curling hair, eyes the color of beryls, dropped like jewels in the midst.


Trouble she thinks especially with some of the 'Gentlemen' that were in attendance.


She knew the voice and so her smile was as automatic as her reverence as she stood to offer her greeting.


"Lady Toledo. Indeed Madam well enough but not, I think, as well as yours. The wife of the new Spanish Ambassador here at Court outshines anything of mine!"


Her words were sincere for she liked Sophia yet they had had little time of late in the company of each other.


"Will you sit then?" She offered. "I fear there is no ready chair yet room enough for us both here."


Catching the eye of a passing groom who understood at once and soon another goblet appeared and a drink offered if she should wish it.

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“Oh, I would not say that,” Sophia replied with a little chuckle. “Being a lady-in-waiting to the Queen is an honor in itself. When I first came to court, I hoped to become one myself.” That had been a little over a year ago, but it seemed much longer to the young Baroness. And that dream had faded in the face of reality. One had to be English or married to an Englishman to serve the Queen and she was neither. She could have married an Englishman, but fate had intervened in the form of a handsome Spanish Prince, and she didn't regret the decisions she had made.


“But my life took a completely different direction. If anyone would have told me last year that I would be the wife of the Spanish Ambassador by this Christmas, I would have laughed in their face. In truth, my new status is just beginning to sink in. Since my return to London, I have been rehearsing every day and I haven't had much time to think about anything else.”


Sophia grinned when Davina offered her a seat and settled next to her in the alcove, smoothing down her skirts. “My lord husband seems happy, though. He has achieved one of his goals.” She leaned close to Davina and whispered: “He will be a much better Ambassador than the last one. That one was ...” She shuddered. “... Frightening."


A groom offered her a drink and she shook her head. “No thank you, but I will take a glass of water.” Once he had gone, she explained: “I never drink on the day of a performance. It is not good for my voice.”


She chuckled again. “You know, I still envy you for being so close to the Queen. And I think I always will.”

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"Yes but you asked about "Recess' Madam not about my Position."


She teased back taking in the younger woman before her in a quick encompassing glance. The colors suited yet she wondered why she seemed to favor light ones when with her pale hair and skin the jewel tones would complement her so well!


A brow arched slightly as she requested water over wine - perhaps twas safe enough to drink in Spain or even in Germany but here not so much. Even tho there were many water sellers in London you never knew how clean the water really was.


Many a tale of wash water being passed off as fresh as well as 'other things' was common talk so it was not worth the risk of illness so she herself never took it.


"Yes." She agreed quietly "Many things changed over the course of the year past - and some lost forever ... " A mental shake then she continued "Ah! Tonight is the 'Opera' and you shall shine as Bright as always. Tis fortunate that your Husband allows for it. Are you nervous?"


"Will I 'know' any of the other players?" She asked smiling. "I do hope so for I have wagered that I shall and so must not lose ..."


At the mention of her husband and the past Ambassador Davina gave a small nod in agreement. "Aye indeed there you have a point. I never liked being placed near him but could never find what it was that bothered me so. Curious. And I am so well a Judge."


The last simply stated as a Fact.


"Have you seen any else this day?"


She asked looking out into the room again looking for new arrivals yet continued to speak


"But once this performance is over then you will resume your Duties - mayhap even a place amongst the Queen's Ladies will be found for you - tis not an unusual thing at all and you have an advantage after all - you share a language."


Not an impossible task to be sure but there would be objections from the other higher ranked married women who sought to bring in their own Families. It was a never ending Game that was played no matter what the outcome might be.

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“Very true,” she admitted to the other lady's teasing. Sophia had always liked Davina, not because of her position in the Queen's household, but because she genuinely enjoyed her company. “Did you attend her during recess or did you go to your family estate?” She remembered Lord Langdon telling her that he would join the King if he asked for him, so perhaps the Queen had taken her ladies-in-waiting with her to Windsor.


Sophia assumed that the water that made it into the palace was safe to drink. It had never sickened her before. In truth, she wasn't the slightest bit thirsty, but she thought it rude to refuse any refreshment whatsoever. If the groom brought her a glass of water, it was unlikely she would take even a sip. The proverbial butterflies were already fluttering anxiously in her stomach; she didn't need liquid sloshing around in there too. Unless it drowned those annoying butterflies ...


From the way Davina spoke of things lost forever, the blonde singer wondered if she regretted some of her own decisions. Perhaps one day, they would be able to confide in each other and share each other's secrets. At the moment, they were not yet close enough for confidences, but perhaps their friendship would continue to flourish.


“You have more faith in me than I have in myself,” Sophia grinned. “I am very nervous, actually, and my anxiety will increase as the day wears on. It was the way I felt every time I sang last spring. But nervousness is important to the success of all my musical endeavors. It helps me to strive to do my best, while overconfidence would give me a false sense of security. I cannot afford to make mistakes when the King will be watching.” Nor would Master Cole ever let her live it down if she did.


Sophia shrugged when Davina asked if she would know any of the other performers. “I do not know. I had never met any of them before we started rehearsing, but I doubt I know as many people as you do. I do hope you recognize a few of them, though, so that you will win your wager.” She smiled slyly. “I can introduce you to a couple of them before the opera starts if you come a bit early. Then you can say you know them.”


So Davina shared her opinion of Ronquillo. “He is a snake. Remember when he and I sang together at my party? He taught me a Spanish song but did not translate the words. I sung it to Lord Melville and he told me that it was a love song and if I sang it, I would embarrass my lord husband. But with the help of Master Greyson, I was able to sing it so that it did not insult anyone."


She shook her head at Davina's question, her flaxen curls bouncing around her shoulders. “No, I spent most of the morning practicing my arias and this was my first stop upon arriving at the palace. What about you? And have you met any interesting new people yet?”


When she mentioned Sophia's duties, the young Baroness sighed. “I do not even know what I am supposed to do. However, I am planning to redecorate the Embassy.” Her eyes lit up as she smiled at her friend. “Maybe you would like to help me? You have excellent taste and I would appreciate your opinions."


Her smile broadened when Davina surmised that she may one day find a place among the Queen's ladies. “I hope that she and I can become friends, even if I will never be able to serve her as you do. We shared a pleasant walk in the Volary Garden last season and I gave her a book of poetry which she seemed to like. The poet is a favorite of hers and when I told her that I knew some of the poet's songs, she said she would like to hear me sing them. We even taught the parrots how to say a phrase in German."


She paused, her voice thoughtful. “I would like to send her a letter, but I am not certain if it would get to her.”

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She was surprise to hear of the others' state of nerves. In many ways Sophia seemed older than her sixteen years so that when it was remembered it seemed out of place somehow.


"I do not doubt your own skills in the least Lady Toledo for you have proven them but I will trust that the Company shall be of like mind - there are many parts then?" She asked.


"You are kind to play along with me in that regard and I may just take you up for I should like to 'win' a wager especially over some who I shall not name. The King shall be rightly pleased and if fault be found will not be spoken of. As for Master Cole he should thank his Stars for the patronage and of your joining. I shall not think highly of him if he preforms badly against you."


She leaned closer her voice pitched lower as talked turned to Ronquillio


"He may be gone but those that supported him remain still - and tis those that you must have a care over. I will caution you in this. You have been at Court long enough now so the idea of a spy or two planted within a Household will be no surprise."


"You are the wife of the new Spanish Ambassador and your Loyalty is to Him now. As such you will be watched. Suspect every servant until you know for sure, watch for a sly look or a sudden addition. Even amongst your own women Madam you must have a care. Think carefully. Have any been added in on your Travels?"


"Some may approach you asking for a favor or two; offer to have a sister, daughter be amongst your ladies. Did any ask this of you? Even now we are being watched. I, a Queen's Lady and You, the wife of the Spanish Ambassador what might we be talking about? Do you seek my friendship to gain information about the Queen which you could then pass back to Spain? Or mayhap I seek you out in order to spread a false tale?"


"None of which is True but none the less suspected. Every Ambassador serves their Master Lady Toldeo and so writes letters filled with 'observations'. Tis Politics. Tis Expected. Tis Life at any Court."


Davina's intent was not to frighten but to educate.


Sophia was young and so the idea that others' might wish her harm or seek to acquire knowledge to be passed on for a reward could be dangerous to those unaware.


She sat back and eased her features into a lighter frame effectively changing the topic but added that she had not meant to burden today of all days but best be made aware of how things were played out on the Stage of Court and how her own Life had now been changed by this Marriage to a man with a new Title and Position.


"And has your Husband received word of when he shall be Formally Received by the King? And you by the Queen?" She asked in a conversational tone."Tis a most wondrous event indeed! I have been privy to many Foreign Ambassadors' Reception - but tis most unfair to our sex for all the Pageantry is for the Men!"


"Arrival on a Royal barge at the Tower than a procession thru the streets to Whitehall. Three full days of being lodged and fed at the King's expense then at last the formal audience. For you twill be far less. Received and presented to the Queen in 'private', a gift presented and one received. I wonder if it shall be done now or later?


"I shall indeed offer my advice regarding your lodgings here at Whitehall - have you seen them yet? I have heard they are of a good size some six rooms split - three for your Lord and three for you - with a central room for receiving. I might have a way for you to view them afore the 'official' move in - would that please you?"


"Regarding that other place I will be of no help. I suppose not much will be changed for it is after all a representation of Spain here on English soil - but I hope you are allowed for the one time I saw it twas dark and not filled with brightness nor light."


She smiled charmingly across to her friend.


If any listened and she was sure some were nothing would be faulted in this meeting. Let others' ponder what was said in this close confine between the two women.

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Caroline moved slowly and carefully thru the crowd of courtiers. My goodness, such a turnout! Why exactly she was even here, the young lady did not quite know? She had been told that this was an event to attend, to not only witness it but also be seen. If nothing else it promised a glimpse of Her Majesty the Queen, an august personage she had only thus far seen in portraits.

She resisted a smile though at the thought sometimes people were best viewed in portraits compared to the reality of their looks. Another thought came to her then, perhaps she should arrange for a London artist to paint her? She could put it up in her London residence. She probably wouldn't even like it though, she considered glumly, she was a perfectionist in so many ways.


So far it had all been rather boring, though granted she was enjoying seeing some of the latest fashions being worn, she herself had spent some money on a new dress which the tailor had assured her was the rage in Italy. It seemed anything French was considered a bit risqué considering the political tensions in the land. Too bad, she loved French fashions.


At least there were some young men about too, though thus far she did not recognize any of them. A particularly handsome and flashy fellow was regaling a pair of the Queen's maids with some amusing story but Caroline went right past the trio. On the plus side, she was able to fill her hand with a goblet of fine wine and sipped that just to look busy and at least pretend she was having a good time. Gracious, she only hoped her upcoming party would be better than this occasion.

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“Thank you,” Sophia said sincerely. “I shall think of your kind words when I sing tonight. So far, I have only sung by myself and much of that was a capella. There is so much that can go wrong with an orchestra and a full cast. I know this because of the mistakes that were made during rehearsals. A few of those mistakes were mine. Sometimes they are easy to hide with a bit of creativity, which is what I hope will happen this evening.”


She smiled wryly. “If Master Cole berates me, then I probably deserve it. He is an excellent director and expects nothing less than perfection. I, too, am a perfectionist. However, I doubt he will speak against me publicly.” She was certain he would be more discreet than to scold the wife of an Ambassador in front of the entire court. He would wait until the two of them were alone. Yet she doubted it would come to that. The other performers were less experienced and not as highly trained. If anything went amiss, it would probably be because of one of them.


The young Baroness wondered who Davina had bet against, but she didn't press her for names. If she wanted her to know, she would volunteer the information. Sophia could not resist commenting on it, though. “I shall be happy to help you win your wager against your mysterious opponent. Just show up a bit early so I will have time to make introductions.”


She had never considered the possibility that anyone loyal to Ronquillo was still at court, but surely he would have made a few friends during his stay in England. Those men were likely as disreputable as he, and would be looking for ways to discredit Esteban and have him ousted. She was already aware that there could be spies watching them at any time, but she didn't think that any members of her household staff were among them. They all seemed loyal to the Toledos, but that didn't mean they could not be corrupted. The right amount of money could convince people to do things that ordinarily went against their better judgment.


“I do not think any of my servants are spies, but I shall watch them more closely. And no, none of them are new. They have all served us since we were married. However, we will have to hire more servants for the banquet we will be holding at the Embassy. You are, of course, invited. If you have not yet received your invitation, you should get it soon.”


She glanced around the room thoughtfully. “Nobody has asked me for favors either, but this is only the first day of the season. I will heed your warnings and be careful.” As one of the Queen's ladies, Davina was probably asked for favors as well. She knew much more about the ways of court and Sophia appreciated her friend's advice.


As to their being watched, the petite blonde chuckled as she returned her gaze to Davina. “Let them speculate, as long as they do not spread any rumors that will hurt either of us. My lord husband would not object to our friendship, and I do hope that Her Majesty feels the same way. I am, after all, not Spanish, but as German as she is. And we got along quite well during our walk in the gardens.” Or so it seemed to her.


Her eyes widened when Davina explained the reception procedure for new Ambassadors. It seemed strange to her to be lodged in the palace when they already had a house in London. Perhaps only those Ambassadors who were new to the country stayed there. Or maybe it was a tradition that all Ambassadors and their wives be treated so. It would certainly be an honor to be given so much attention. And she was to be received by the Queen! That would give them an opportunity to speak together again. It was fortunate that she had brought back a gift for her from Spain.


“I have heard nothing of such arrangements,” she admitted, “but it sounds very exciting. I shall ask my lord husband if he knows when he is to be received by the King. He can have all the glory. I will be perfectly content with a private audience with the Queen. And yes, I would love to see the rooms we will be allotted if you can arrange it.”


Her gaze swept the room again, and she noticed Lady Kendishall on the other side of the room. But before she could wave at the other woman, her eyes swung back to Davina when she claimed that she would be no help decorating the Embassy. “Oh, but you will be much help,” she assured her. “I wish to give the Embassy some English influences. We reside in your country. It is important that we blend in. I wish the décor to reflect that philosophy.”


Now Sophia did wave at Caroline, hoping that she would see her. “Do you know Lady Kendishall? She will be playing her cello in the orchestra tonight.”

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The Privy Chamber was a sizable room, and popular on this the eve of the Christmas season. Popular, particularly with the ladies. A cluster of the fairer sex who had been fussing about some small distance away, in tones of repressed excitement then suddenly disbursed - the many yards of fabric of their skirts parting like veritable curtains and revealing a seated gentleman.


A seated gentleman who was still a little in shock, swatch of papers held limp in one hand, and spectacles sitting askew. Nicolas Staggins, while a highly achieved gentleman in music, was not known for any manner of social skill. This sudden popularity caught him entirely off guard.


Seeing the further group of ladies talking just there [Davina, Sophia & Caroline], he tried regather his bearings, and gave a nod and smile in their direction. As he shifted one of the sheets of paper slipped from his fingers and wafted to the ladies feet.


Noble Ladies, Gentlemen!


The 4 Calling Birds Christmas Concert

A collection of Songs and Skits performed

by Courtiers for Their Majesties


Apply in Person to N. Staggins, Master of the Kings Music

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She was glad that Sophia took heed of what she had been trying to say and so under cover of smiles and nods she added


"Those that seek to discredit will wear happy smiles and offer Salutations all the while looking for anything that might be beneficial to whoever they serve. You are an easy Mark My Lady and men think to flatter and use honey'd words to ply upon your age and lack of Knowledge. You are not English by Birth and you have also wed a man who is Foreign."


"That your Lord 'allows' you the freedoms will also be remarked and written about. To suggest ways in which you might cause his embarrassment will be a Goal and so this Opera that you play a part - a harmless Court entertainment to entertain the King - will be viewed by some that the new Spanish Ambassador cannot control his young wife."


"Or that you have caught the eye of the English King or even perhaps that you have taken Master Cole as a Lover under your husband's nose. The thoughts are endless. It will be written as such and sent to other Courts and so talk will spread. All of your actions directly reflect upon your husband. As any wife's would."


"I should be happy to attend this event." She nodded and reached out to gently place her hand on the others' arm.


"Tis dangerous to think that no rumor will be spread that would affect either of us yet I am well enough known here at Court so that most would dismiss something you do not have that luxury. I am glad that your husband would approve of a friendship Madam but do not be mislead into believing that the Queen 'thinks' of you as her countrywoman now."


"You marriage makes you Spanish Lady Toledo. You will be thought of as that. The fact you are German-born no longer applies. Your Rank comes from your Husband. You are now a Spanish Baroness and the Ambassador from the Court of Spain's Wife."


"I will do all I can to ensure that Her Grace will see you in a favorable light but you must also understand that she will be watchful of what is said - meaning that the assumption will be made that your husband uses you as a means to gather information that will be passed back to him about Her, her attendants, who wore what or who talked to whom."


"So no one has spoken of protocol? That is very odd indeed. I am surprised that your husband did not speak of this to you for you play a part as well. Every Ambassador has some set of rooms assigned - most do not have wives as they were left behind in whatever Country - so a larger place had to be found for the Toledo's. Whitehall is vast indeed so that was no problem and the location is not bad - far enough from the King yet within easy call."


"Whenever the King is in residence then so too is the Court. You will have rooms at Hampton or Greenwich even Windsor some as good or not and none may make use of them when you are not there. Tis Luck indeed! Why even with Her Grace I have not that much space so I am indeed most envious!"


Her laugh was a charming sound and so those that watched signaled some joke or other humorous thing being shared.


"I will have a quiet word with some of my pages - and that is another matter Madam! The Royal Pages. Boys anywhere from eight to thirteen they serve the Royal Household as messengers and aides. I have several that I care for - coins here and there, a new jerkin or cloak, little things that cost me nothing but bind them to my side. I shall seek out one or two that I trust and send them to your service. Make use of them if you need letters or things of any nature to find another. They will be eyes and ears if you so wish it. But treat them well I beg you!"


She took another sip of wine her blue eyes roving about the room taking note of who had left or who had come.


She smiled as Sophia pleaded her help with the Embassy.


"You are enthusiastic Madam and seek to change what may not be allowed to change. Seek out the advice of your Lord for tis HE that represents the Spanish Monarch and so tis unlikely that approval will be given to re-make that place into an English place. But in your private chambers I should think twill be much easier so I would advise that direction first."


"Lady Kendishall? No I do not know that name. Is she recent to Court? Her husband is at Court as well and so what Position does he hold? Quick tell me what you know .... then point her out to me Madam ... and I shall have a better answer or seek her company here - look a chair is vacant!"


She quickly went to it and tugged with her free hand edging it closer so that none would steal it.

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She saw the wave out of the corner of her eye and then zeroed on Sophia. Ah, the pleasant German who married a Spaniard, well there was no accounting for taste. Her father never had anything good to say about the Spanish nor the Austrian Hapsburgs. Oh yes, and then there was Sophia's wretched monkey. Still, Caroline liked Sophia and now that had someone she was confident she could engage in a pleasant conversation with, she headed that way, stopping just short of the beautiful blonde and a brunette with her.


"Good day to you, Lady Toledo, I am delighted to see you once more though in truth I did not miss the monkey," Caroline smiled then nodded acknowledgment to Davina as she awaited Sophia's expected introduction of the other woman.

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Sophia didn't like to be reminded how young and inexperienced she was, but she knew that Davina was only trying to help her learn how to handle the perils of her new position. Her friends warnings also showed The young Baroness that she wasn't as worldly as she thought she was. One year at court did not a sophisticated courtier make. She would have to be wary of everyone except for the few people she trusted implicitly. Davina was one of them.


She was already aware that the opera might put her in an unfavorable light, but Esteban would be there to show his approval and she hoped that her talent would charm everyone who attended. If they enjoyed themselves, she believed that they would be less likely to gossip about her. Her costumes were tasteful and the lyrics were not bawdy. The libretto had been written while she was still unmarried and under the care of Lord Kingston. And as both Master Greyson and Master Cole were friendly with her former guardian, they had made certain that her role didn't break any rules of propriety.


“When my lord husband is seen at the opera tonight, everyone will know that he approves of my part in it. But you are right. That will not stop the rumormongers from gossiping about me.” The petite singer shrugged. “I am not much worried about baseless rumors. Those fly around court so rapidly that they are easily forgotten when something more scandalous comes along. I hope if I act properly at all times, people will not be so inclined to believe the lies that are spread about me.


“I know it will not be easy because I am foreign and still new to court, but I have always enjoyed a good challenge.” Sophia smiled warmly. “I wish to be like you, Mistress Wellsley, well-liked and respected by all.” She truly did admire Davina and was pleased that she was counted among her friends.


“I am so glad you will come to the banquet,” she declared. She placed a hand briefly upon Davina's and squeezed it gently. “I do hope it is more successful than the last one. At least this time, I will not sing. I have other entertainment planned.”


She was a bit disappointed by what Davina said about the Queen, but she knew that it was true. Yet would not Her Majesty understand what she was facing, having been in a similar situation when she had first married the King? Certainly she had also been mistrusted because she was foreign and there were probably some courtiers who still disapproved of her. Sophia was not going to give up on the Queen's friendship, though it may now take more effort to obtain. And they were both still Germans, no matter that their destinies had taken them away from their homeland. You could take the girl out of Germany but you couldn't take Germany out of the girl.


Nor did she plan to inform Esteban of everything she did or who she spent her time with. She would tell him what she thought would be useful to Don Juan and himself, but nothing more. Sophia was young and naïve, but keeping secrets was something she did quite well, including a few scandalous secrets of her own.


“Oh thank you!” she exclaimed when her friend promised to help her look good in the Queen's eyes. Perhaps in the near future, she would ask her to deliver a letter to her mistress, but she didn't think that now was the right time, not so soon after Esteban had been named the new Spanish Ambassador. It would look a bit suspicious if she sought out Her Majesty's company right away. And there was the formal reception to look forward to. "You are so good to me. If there is anything I can ever do for you, all you have to do is ask.


“No, I have heard nothing.” Sophia shook her head. Perhaps her lack of knowledge said more about the state of her marriage than she would have liked. She and Esteban rarely spoke to each other and he had not told her what to expect of her new position. As soon as she was done here, she would go to the Embassy to talk to him about it. Hopefully, he would be there. “But it all sounds very grand. I guess I did not think my life was going to change so much. And I promise I will treat any pages you send to me with kindness.” She grinned mischievously. “They will certainly know much more about what goes on in the palace than I do. They will be quite useful to me.”


The young Baroness didn't think giving the Spanish Embassy a few English touches would displease either Esteban or Don Juan, but she would ask her husband what he thought about the idea. “Oh, I will ask first, of course, and if I am given permission, I hope I can count on your advice.”


Lady Kendishall was now heading in their direction, so she had apparently saw Sophia wave at her. “She came to court last season. Her husband was a Baron, but he passed away.” She didn't mention that Caroline had told her that she had loathed her late husband and was glad that he was gone.


As the woman approached, Sophia smiled. “It is lovely to see you too, Lady Kendishall. I left Aurora at home today. I fear she would wreak too much havoc here in the Privy Chamber.” She turned to Davina. “I would like to introduce you to my friend, Mistress Wellsley.”


As the two ladies greeted each other, she noticed a man looking in their direction and she turned her head toward him just as one of the papers he held slid from his grasp and landed at their feet. The petite blonde picked it up, read it, and then smiled brightly at the gentleman. “Now this looks intriguing,” she said to Davina and Caroline, holding it out to them.

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Realizing that Sophia had yet to fully grasp what she had been told was made clear by the replies that was returned. But there was nothing left to say so it would have to be a topic now let go. Lady Toledo must now learn to Sink or Swim fully on her own.


She offered a smile and a gracious nod of her heard at the complement. She had been sincere in her statement that she would indeed try to keep her in good standing with the Queen. It was doubtful if Sophia could do anything in return - her age and in-experience at how Court truly was would prohibit her having any Real Power anyway - and she made a good guess that Lord Toledo was not the type of Man to hand over anything to his young wife beyond her desire to 'Perform".


"And so what did you imagine your married Life was to be? The wife of an Ambassador will limit you indeed. Loyalty, Allegiance, Friendships - all belong To Spain. Until you fully understand that your entire way of Living is controlled by that then I fear me you will be hurt and used for any Political Gain"


"i am glad to hear that you shall have a care for them." She replied about the Pages. "They are oft times ill-used you see by many so any kindness will be rewarded. But beware! Clever and sharp of tongue they are and will try any line for coin - those I will not send to you!"


Moments later the duo became a trio and as an introduction was to be made Davina had remained stranding her clear blue gaze assessing as she made a slight reverence with just the right amount of depth - one used for A Widowed Baroness.


"Lady Kendishall Welcome to Whitehall - you have come for Christmas Court then?" She asked politely judging the fabric and coin spent of the others' gown even as she smiled her greeting her hands resting lightly on the back of the chair.


has money enough then for clothes yet might benefit from a better dressmaker

she thinks then berates herself for such an un-Christian thought even if true.


"Please join us if you wish - the topic of Christmas was last spoke of and I am sure you have ideas - indeed, I rescued this chair for such a purpose!"


She favored Sophia with 'a look' as she made reference to 'Christmas Talk' in the hopes that the other would understand the hint.


She glanced at the Handbill then across to its writer adding


"Ah there is Master Staggins - looking a bit out of his depth - but harmless all the same. He is Master of the King's Music." She added and then swept him a delightful curtsey and a returned smile to his own greeting.


She caught the eye of a groom and a slight nod of her dark head would ensure that that Gentleman's cup was always filled for as long as he remained.


She turned her gaze back to the two women patiently waiting. Now if only a Gentlemen or two or three happened to wish to partake of their Company all the better!


And in Truth she had several faces she hope'd she see before having to take her own leave.

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Faltering, Nicolas then straightened slightly, his hand went to his cravat for some minor adjustment, before he stepped forward to the ladies. Here he bowed, "Good morning..." he arose with a smile, though his nervy eyes darted, "You have learnt about the little show for His Majesty?" Spoken as a question, for Davina's smile and nod may have been a silent request to speak to him about it? Or not. It was difficult to know with ladies.


More arrive


The Duchess of Monmouth arrived, escorted by a man with flowing auburn locks, his cool blue eyes looking abut the chamber as he took stock.


Anne Scott for her part seemed somewhat tense, if not a little put out by her companion who insisted upon retaining her hand upon his arm. She was not quite her cheery self today, and stood a little flushed of cheek. Oh how she missed her practical boots, these new court slippers pinched!


Spying Sophia, and then Caroline, her briefly lightened and she waived.

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Caroline silently agreed with Sophia's assessment that the monkey might indeed cause a bit of a fuss amongst this packed in crowd. But then the other lady got to the important bit, an introduction of the woman she was with.


Flashing a practiced smile, Caroline addressed Davina, "It is very nice to meet you, Mistress Wellsley."


"Why yes, I could hardly wait for the holiday season to arrive, in truth I was so bored in my rural estate. Glendon seems a world apart from London. But I am not just here for the holiday revelry, I have a very modest part in Master Cole's opera for, you see, I play the cello. It is very exciting and we truly believe the audience will thoroughly enjoy themselves."


Davina now invited her to join them which brought no hesitation whatsoever from the girl, "Thank you, I believe I will."


She was then informed the topic was Christmas...well, that only made sense.


"Ah yes, Christmas. My first Christmas in London and I am so looking forward to it. I have heard that there is a wide variety of celebrations and traditions and I'm looking forward to taking in as many as I can."


The chair being offered, she nodded, "Thank you."


Then she then looked to Davina and added, "Oh, and in fact, I am adding to the fun in my own small way. I am throwing a party at my residence here in London on the 29th. I would most pleased if you could fit it into your schedule and attend?"


Sophia had picked up a scrap of paper from the floor and showed it to them. As Caroline glanced at it, Davina pointed out the seeming author, the Master of the King's Music.


"Oh, it sounds interesting," was about all Caroline could say having never seen such an activity.

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So she was another that 'favored' performing which caused Davina to wonder if there was some sort of rebellion being hatched by Ladies to test wings and freedoms! She was also quick to place herself amongst them which did not make her the least unsociable so mayhap then she was well-suited for things of a different nature ....


Davina wished to retake her spot on the window seat and hopefully Sophia would get the hint and sit for as the lesser ranked of the three Davina could not sit until she had - and if this Lady Kendishall was so close with the Baroness she too should have waited but one supposed that coming from a rural estate manners were somewhat more lax than here at Court.


"Indeed Madam there are many activities and events planned or so I have been told?" Davina interjected whilst waiting."You're offer is most kind yet - perhaps after I have checked that The Queen does not have a need of me and no Duty is required - I will be able to confirm my attendance?" She stated quietly.


It was then that they were joined by the elderly Gentleman and Davina once again gave him a reverence then added her own greeting


"Why Master Staggins you are indeed most welcome'd and I do believe that there is someone here who might be of use to you in this regard ..." She gestured to the Handbill.


"Lady Kendishall is new come to Court and has already a place with Master Cole and his own Presentation and she plays some instrument that might benefit your own Work. Madam, here is the King's own Music Maker, and what Luck to make his Attentions so early in your arrival."


"And Lady Toledo needs no introduction for all are aware of her Talent!"


She was pleased to offer the Gentleman any kindness.


"For you know that I am without support for this unless tis scenery or costume that needs embellishments from my skill with a needle!" She added "And Her Grace would be most pleased to aid you as well but her condi - her Time - is already taken but I shall have a word anyways and so be of good cheer."


She had eased him slowly towards her own spot on the window seat for twas only proper that he should be made comfortable. "Will you take some libation?" She asked with a smile .


'please God let none have noticed for I nearly let it out about the Queen'

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Sophia had not thought too much about how her new position would change her life, although she supposed that in the back of her mind, she knew that she would have less freedom now that she was the wife of the Ambassador of Spain. She was grateful to Davina for pointing it out, and she liked her straightforwardness.


“Thank you for your advice,” she said, squeezing her friend's hand. “I promise I will be careful. I hope I can come to you if anything confuses me. I do not wish to ruin my lord husband's reputation. He has long wished to become Spain's Ambassador and I don't want him to lose it because of me.” Esteban was foreign as well, but he had been at court longer and knew more about English customs and the unwritten rules of propriety.


Caroline agreed to join them and Sophia caught Davina's look and nodded when she said they had been discussing Christmas. Sophia was still sitting in the window seat, for she had risen only briefly and then sat back down, aware that she was the highest ranking lady among them. “Yes, please sit down and join us. I replied to your invitation already. Your party is only a day before the banquet I'm having at the Embassy. You should receive your invitation soon, if you haven't already. It looks like it is going to be a busy season for all of us.”


She grinned at Caroline. “Your part in the opera is not small. It is important. If the orchestra makes mistakes, often the singers will too.”


Ahh, so the gentleman was the Master of the King's music. He must have seen them looking at him for he walked over to them and asked them if they had heard about his show. It appeared that the opera wouldn't be the only musical presentation this Christmas.


Davina introduced both Sophia and Caroline and the young Baroness blushed when she claimed that the entire court was aware of her talent. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Master Staggins.” She held up the invitation with a smile. “I would like to participate in your concert if you will have me.”


Her eyes swept the room again and she saw the Duchess of Monmouth gazing toward them. She waved and Sophia waved back. Perhaps she would join them as well and perhaps they could all convince Davina to join them in the next meeting of the Ladies Adventuring Society.

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Age, a matter of perspective perhaps. These ladies were rather young, and while Nicolas felt that he was in his prime, perhaps 27 years old seemed like an old man to these pretties? Davina coaxed him towards the window, as though he an invalid, needed to sit. "Er... I am fine standing." he said to her, "err, and so you dont wish to be part of a skit, or read a poem, or some such? It is ah... a show of variety." Though Davina seemed reticent of joining in such fun and games, many ladies of court preferred the passive role of spectator. Heaven knew there was a lot to watch at court!


However two more adventurous ladies were in the group. "Lady Toledo." he greeted, he'd briefly met her once at a ball. "Yes I have heard all about the Opera, it has been all the talk in musical circles for months now. " he paused, as a musician himself he understood the manner of nerves that beset one on the day of a big show. "And Lady Keddishal, the Cello if rumor reaches my ears correctly." Musician t musician, he was able to talk with competence, "The blend of anticipation and nerves, before a royal performance no less, is near as demanding as the performance itself." he made an effort of a joke.


"Ah, but we would be fortunate to have you perform for us Lady Sophia. After tonight show is over, we shall speak more of it." He made a mental book note to take flowers to the performance.

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It had been foolish of her to treat the Gentleman as if he were older than he actually was - indeed she had done it merely to be able to remaining standing - for she had caught the arrival of the Duchess and so thought it prudent ....


Heigh Ho


Sitting quietly she arranged her skirts then looked up to answer the question put to her, a small smile about her mouth.


"Ah but I fear that I should cause more Harm - but how could I refuse You and still keep Her Grace's good Thought - so I needs must then think as you say of 'some poem and hope that I can convince another to join!"


She knew that there was much expectations for as many at Court to participate but she never had been skillful at such things but she was now of an 'age' where it was to be expected that she would draw out the younger ones less sure or newly come. No change of being excused.


The talk then focused on the two other women which left her free to look about. Drawn to the spot where the Duchess of Monmouth stood she wonder how it was that she new the young Baroness. It was crowded and before long Sophia would excuse herself to make ready and so would Lady Kendishall.


Left again to her own devices!


This business with the Queen and the 'secret' child she now carried was putting a damper on those that served in that Household so it would fall to each of them to make their own entertainments.


She wondered if her brother would come for Christmas Court but no word of an arrival had come but she knew he would simply arrive as done so manny times before and she had PRAYED that her Lady Mother would stay far away as well.


She turned her attentions back to her small group hoping that they looked friendly enough for anyone to walk into.

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Into the room stepped the Earl of Langdon, adorned as always in uniform. He had been walking the halls of Whitehall during the morning noting new arrivals for Christmastide. There had been a face or two he had been seeking. It was good fortune that he found one inside this morning.


Davina. There she is.. He could not spare her a long look though tempted to do so. Instead he gave a friendly nod and moved into the room, to give similar nods to Lady Toledo and to Anne Scott. "Ladies, a happy Christmas Eve," he declared as he tried to determine the identity of the man with Anne Scott and struggled to remember being introduced to Caroline.


The key was, of course, Davina. IF she were to leave abruptly, he would make excuses quickly as well. If she were content to stay, he would need to signal her somehow and then leave, hoping that she might follow. For now, however, he planned to play it by ear.

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Mistress Wellsley sounded willing enough to attend the upcoming party but did point she would have to take into account her duties attending on Her Highness. Caroline nodded, understanding completely that such a thing would naturally take priority.


"Of course, I hope you can make it but I understand if you cannot."


Master Staggins approached and immediately following introductions, Davina was kind enough to also point out to the fellow about Caroline's own musical prowess.


"Yes, it is indeed exciting to meet a man of music such as yourself. Music has been my constant companion since childhood, instilled in me by my mother," she quickly explained.


Caroline listened again to Davina as she once more mentioned the Queen. Wait! What had she just said? Condition? Yes, she meant to say that word, but changed it. So was Her Majesty with child then? It certainly sounded like it though nothing official had been announced in court thus far. Fascinating. The other woman went on though as if nothing of the sort had even been hinted at. Caroline threw a glance at Davina but then contented herself with a smile as the conversation had veered toward the Master of Music once more.


Sophia went on too with no hint of having heard what Caroline had, but the Spanish ambassador's young wife happily informed her she was planning on attending Caroline's party.


"Splendid, I am happy to hear it," Caroline declared.


Master Staggins had something to say to both Sophia and her. He also knew that she played the cello! That impressed the girl for it meant her reputation was mayhaps building?


"Yes, you are correct! It is indeed the cello," she beamed.


As to his comment about nerves, she nodded agreement, "I never wish to be so jaded about my playing as to not be nervous and excited prior to playing. It helps the concentration."

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Dark blue velvet with turned back sleeves showing of a pale blue satin trimmed with silver pipping in swirling designs; this was the new jacket that the Conde Rinaldi, Ambassador of Savoy, had dressed. As always he cut a polished presence, and who said a man needed a woman's touch!


He'd assembled with a group of others, seeing and being seen, when he noticed Lord Langdon arrive. Dark eyes watched him for a time, unspoken thoughts, over the years much had transpired between Whithurst and Savoy, and there was no sign of it stopping. Even in her last commicae Marie Jeanne had spoken of him, with inquiry to a certain relic. Rinaldi's jaw shifted, and the disquiet evaporated from his face.


Excusing himself from his fellow, he approached. "Good Morning Lord Langdon." he gave a nod in greeting.

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The conversation flowed about her and she gave an inward sigh but then her gaze took hold of another arrival and she stared openly across to where he stood. He was hard to miss amongst the Peacocks for his red uniform was like a beacon.


Her eyes feasted on him, her Lover, and she could not help the small smile that played about her mouth and his small nod gladdened her heart. Yet he gave away more to Sophia and the Duchess, naturally, staying close to her.


He was soon joined by the Savoy Ambassador and she wondered how the two might be acquainted and what was being discussed?


Really she might as well be invisible and so her mood soured a little and she was forced to think on the subject she had chooses to ignore.


he has taken another to his bed .... he has taken another to his bed


The first scribbled paper had been slipped under her door and she did not know the writing and her maid when questioned had seen nothing nor had any of the pages. She had tossed it aside but then retrieved it smoothing out the crumpled paper rereading the sentence over and over. That had been two days ago.


Another had been found in the Lady Chapel when she had gone to change the candles that morning. It was different then the first


faire ladye be wise seek another who tells no lies


Again writ in a hand she did not know. Compared together it was hard to say if a woman or a man had set ink to paper yet twas clear enough that someone was warning her away from Charles.


But who? For what purpose? And just how had they been discovered?

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“Oh, you must join in!” Sophia exclaimed when Davina sounded hesitant about participating in Master Staggin's concert. “Maybe I can help you find the perfect poem.” She was thinking about a German poet that she knew the Queen favored. Hearing one of her ladies recite a poem by Hildegard van Bingen would certainly please her. The blonde singer would either have to find an English translation of her works or translate it herself. This was something to discuss with her friend at a later time when they could be alone.


When Master Staggins spoke about the nervousness before a performance, Caroline summed up her own feelings perfectly. “Anxiety is an important part of any performance," she added. "It keeps you from becoming overconfident. I find the mixture of nervousness, anticipation, and excitement quite exhilarating myself. It is the emptiness after the opera is over that I dread.”


She grinned when the Master of Music professed that he would like her to participate in the concert. “I will prepare a few arias then. And ja, we can speak of it after the opera.”


Their group expanded by two. The first gentleman to join them was Lord Langdon and she smiled at him and greeted him politely. “I hope you have a joyful Christmas Eve as well, my lord.”


The second was a finely-dressed man whom Sophia did not recognize. She had no idea he was the Ambassador of Savoy. Esteban had not introduced her to the other Ambassadors yet, with the exception of the Dutch Ambassador, who had attended her party last season.


He spoke to Lord Langdon, so she assumed that the handsome Earl would introduce him. Davina had fallen silent, and she glanced over at her friend, hoping that nothing had upset her. Sophia had completely missed the comment about the Queen's condition.

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OOC: Geep, sorry I was a ditz and inmy eager to have the Ambassador talk to Charles I overlooked he'd joined your group. Will smooth the hiccup now!




Davina's hesitation fave way at suggestion of a poem. Staggins gave a further smile to Sophia as she also encouraged, offering to help her find something suitable. The Queen's Lady gracefully agreed. "Excellent!" Nicolas looked pleased - it did his event well to have as many from the royal household as possible 'performing'.


As to the other performers, the Kings Musician showed an honest delight to see Caroline's love of music (It might have helped that she was easy on the eye!) "Then perhaps you can perform a solo?" still thinking of his own event, he suggested. Sophia was bright of eye, already deciding she'd perform an aria.


"I have even herd some claim the feeling before a performance to be addictive, that after it is all done, rather than relief, they are disappointed it is over." he added to their topic of performance nerves and it's benefits.


But then another gentleman arrived. Staggins knew of him of course, though they had not met formally... and upon Langdon's heels, the ambassador. "Good morning gentlemen.. I have just convinced the ladies to perform at..."


Staggins voice droned on, Rinaldi came to, realising in his interest in talking to Charles he'd overlooked that the man was joining a group of ladies (and the musician). His face turned belatedly to include the women in his smiled greeting.


"... would either of you wish to join with some manner of performance for Their Majesties?" Stagins competed his offer.

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Taking a deep breath and forced herself to unclench her tense muscles and let the cold simple soak through her. Having been to the chapel that morning had little effect in preventing her from cursing the weather. Her pale, blush pink overskirt was decorated with a winter white lace motif draping over her white silk skirts. The winter white bodice was accented by a solitary line of matching blush pink bows. Glancing through the crowd in the privy chambers, those she knew and liked she offered a small smile and those she didn’t she pretended she didn’t see them. Maybe they’d get the hint and disappear.


Catching sight of Davina, Diana weaved through people till she could catch her cousin’s eye and approached. Her gaze flickering over the rest of the group only briefly before settling back on Davina, “Ah, there you are… I’d hoped I’d run into you this morning.” If she’d noticed Rinaldi it wasn’t evident, flicking a glance at Lady Toledo… she’d heard that she’d been married to Toledo, how interesting… She silently ‘hmmmmmed’ but turned her attention to the man talking and smiled slyly, “I would think it was more to your benefit to tell them about the costumes and how simply stunning they’d look in them if you hoped to convince them.” Diana's eyes gave away that something was definitely amusing her.

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So it now seemed as if she was indeed committed to this 'entertainment' and she smiled and gave a small nod towards Sophia for the kind gesture all the while longing to look at Charles.


She had stood to give the Ambassador a small reverence but did nothing beyond that the conversation was carried well enough by the Music Master himself as he set about the task of recruiting even more to take the Stage.


She sat down twiddling a part of her skirt noticing that it was a bit travel worn and set her mind to how to change it listening with half an ear to react when needed.


has he come to see me? how can I escape! yet how can I rush into his arms if he has indeed taken a new lover? first fish then decide.


It was then that familiar voice and a scent she knew suddenly appeared and breathed LIFE into the small space. Her blue eyes sparkled as they took in her cousin clothed as usual in elegant attire as she rose giving her a nice reverence as befitted her Status as a Countess and Married Woman.


"Sweet Cuz!" She quietly greeted smiling as Diana turned her full attentions upon the Gentlemen of the Party not minding in the least for she was sure Diana would come to her side at some point.


Introductions would be made by one of the Gentlemen usually but Davina doubted that her cousin would wait on that and she was the Ranking woman after the Duchess after all in the space they had claimed as their own.

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Faces From the Past


Before many words could be excahnged with the ladies, Charles found himself encountering Ambassador Renaldi of Savoy. The two of them had an interested history dating back to Noni's arrival at court, then the arrival of the Duchess, the affair with the Duchess, and then the arrival of her son as well. Of course, there had been two trips to Savoy, the most recent one resulting in his sad marriage to Jeanne. Relations with the Duchess soured after Charles learned that Jeanne had not been as sick as supposed and that he had been used to acquire a palace for the Duchess. It was hard for the young man to feel used by someone he naively thought had his best interests at heart.


"Good Morning Ambassador Rinaldi," the Earl replied. There was no reason to appear anything but civil in company. That did not mean that he needed to go out of his way to be friendly. "A Happy Christmas Eve to you as well." Charles then noticed the arrival of Diana. Had it been a year since he had seen her last? As he recalled, there was some rushed wedding. He offered a smile and a nod in her direction, noting that she sat next to Davina.


Nicolas Staggins was yammering on about some ceremony for the royal couple. If there was anything about singing, Charles would not be volunteering. He could hold a tune as well as an eel. "I shall be busy guarding the King Master Staggins, but let me suggest Ambassador Rinaldi of Savoy here. I know him to be an entertaining fellow." It had the effect of introducing the Savoyard and putting the diplomat in a difficult spot at the same time. Rinaldi was not to blame for the antics of the Duchess, but it felt good to toss a bit of discomfort in his direction. Langdon could pretend that he was doing the man a favor.

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Sophia agreed with her about the benefits of being nervous before a performance but worried about an empty feeling once the opera would be over. Caroline waved that off, "No, indeed I can see it now. You will be basking in their applause they shall throw your way at the opera's conclusion."


At least she certainly hoped the audience would receive it well. Master Cole was staking his reputation on it.


Master Staggins was a convivial sort it appeared and, to her surprise, he even invited her to be a part of his own planned entertainment for His Majesty. And then he suggested a possible solo? Why that was certainly exciting!


"If you will have me, good sir, I will certainly be honored to do so. How kind of you to consider me," she beamed.


Other gentlemen had joined the group, she didn't know either of them though the one certainly had the look of a foreigner. And another lady too. Caroline did have to admit the woman's outfit was certainly very nice, she loved the colors. But again she did not know her and felt compelled to await introductions should someone choose to make them.

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