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Keeping an Appointment at Kemp's 10 am 27th- Xmas 1677

Louis Killington

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Patronized by the cream of society, by actors and playwrights, Kemp's is one of the most modish meeting places in London.


The main room of the house is hazy with tobacco smoke and rich with the scent of coffee and chocolate. Small windows allow little daylight to enter - most illumination is provided by candle sconces fixed to the walls. Comfortable chairs of well padded leather accompany a dozen or so small tables. Several booths along the walls provide comfort and a greater degree of privacy.


At the rear of the room stands, an elaborately carved table of some antiquity. Rumour has it that this table once belonged to King Hal and came from his palace of Nonsuch. Be that as it may, it is now the coffee house's serving counter, presided over by the buxom blonde Mistress Kemp. The comely widow is assisted in running the house by her pretty teenaged daughters Rose and Valerie.


A door beside the counter leads to the kitchen.


At Kemp's you can partake of coffee, tea, chocolate or milk punch. Light refreshments such as cakes and Welsh rabbit are also available. Several copies of the latest London Gazette are always available at Kemp's.


Both Buckingham and Danby had summoned or, perhaps more correctly, requested Basildon's presence this day. George had precedence over Basildon's old patron so the young earl strode into the coffee house at the very early hour of 10 am. He barely had the time to have his chambermaid awake him properly and his manservant to dress him properly. Nevertheless, by the time he had arrived he had dispensed with the look of drowsiness.


Anxious to have some coffee, Louis looked about for a sign of the Duke. If he knew the man, he would be at the ornate table. If, instead, he had a private room, then that would mean some intrigue was afoot.

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  • 3 weeks later...

The Duke of Buckingham was not an early riser unless there was good reason. He generally surfaced from nowhere before noon unless there was intrigue afoot or a need to catch the King about his morning diversions; admittedly, he was more likely to stay awake for a sunrise walk than to rise for one.


As it was, he had gotten a typical 5 hours of sleep before waking and had grumped his way through getting dressed. Francis had made a brief appearance to marvel that he was awake at 7am.


At the appointed time, the duke was waiting for Basildon in an unmarked coach a few doors down from Kemps. He had not wished to advertise that he and Basildon were meeting, so he had used a few of his wiles to ensure some privacy.


The coachman whistled to Basildon as he approached the door to Kemps. "Sir!" Of course the man knew who Basildon was, but he did not want to yell out that the other man was a lord.


Basildon would find the duke in the carriage dressed warmly and looking a bit baggy-eyed himself.

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Rather seeking a cup of coffee from within, Basildon was hailed by Buckingham's man. The Earl followed to Buckingham's coach awaited an invitation to enter.


"Top of the morning Your Grace," he greeted, not especially cheerfully. When one was feeling drowsy it was rare when an exuberant sunny disposition was welcome. "Nothing like getting an early start on the week."


Entering if waved in, Basildon sought to find a comfortable seat and allow Buckingham to explain the summons. He hoped it was not merely a social visit. Life was always more interesting when schemes were afoot.

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"Is it the top of it? Feels like the damnable bottom to me. Wait until you are of an age for snow to cause the most disagreeable aches," the duke groused, though somehow still seeming in a fine spirit. The truth was, if he actually left his house at that hour, he would have to be in a good spirit to do so or compelled (and even then it was questionable as the King could attest).


"We are headed just down the way to the Minories. There will be breakfast and coffee," the duke announced, although he passed a curiously hot flask to Basildon. If he took it, he would find the coffee and cognac that Buckingham had at breakfast with the King.


"Morning affairs have become my clandestine affairs." It was a bizarrely intelligent strategy and oddly fitting for Buckingham."If I sneak something up a window under the cover of night, I must be plotting murder, so I am doomed from the start if I conduct business then."

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"Then it is all up from here," Basildon replied with a smirk. Taking the flask gratefully, Louis opened it and sampled the contents. "An elixir for mornings," he announced agreeably.


"An astute strategy," the Earl observed aloud. "Surely nothing nefarious or dangerous could withstand the morning sun." While respecting the strategy, Louis supposed that noblemen moving about in early hours were more suspect than those moving about later. He gave no voice to those thoughts.


"Now that I have had your morning concoction, I am all ears about clandestine affairs. You have my undivided attention Your Grace." He sat back against the cushions, his eyes focused as if watching the opening act of a play that promised much. With the Duke of Buckingham involved, Louis was convinced that it would be an excellent learning opportunity.

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If Basildon had traveled in all his noble fashion that was his own fault. Buckingham had used an unmarked carriage and had not left from his house. Nor was the house they were going to technically his, so to him it was all quite stealthy and he expected Basildon was marveling in it, quite unaware that there might be other things entirely.


"The success of much of our aims are tied to playing intelligently and each piece playing their part. Danby's elusiveness is troubling the King in the background of what should be a joyous season. One would expect to hear he had landed in France, fleeing the threat of his own plans fallen in on him." It was something Buckingham might have done, but Danby was not Buckingham. Danby was not the King's foster-sibling. If Buckingham was Danby, the smart move was to go far further than he had.


"You danced with his daughter on Saturday. Playing the saint?" he asked, raising a blond brow and taking a swig from the flask. "Perhaps a necessary gamble, for I do not think the King has abandoned all thought that you have somehow dealt Danby this hand, though I am sure you know His Majesty's memory is not as long as most princes."

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In the midst of winter it was hard to go outside in grand fashion when one had to bundle up beneath a warm overcoat. Nevertheless, the sword at his side was likely a giveaway.


"Danby's elusiveness?" Basildon replied with surprise. "Surely the King knows where he is." If he did not, then Louis had yet another card to play in this high stakes card game. In that moment Louis decided not to yet volunteer the Danby summons without further consideration.


"I'm glad to hear that you noticed my attention to his eldest daughter," the young earl stated confidently. "Not only being the saint and a gentlemen where others might take offense, but the dear girl has become quite attached to me in such a brief encounter. Who is to know what pearl might be gained from her lips, or what message she might be able to deliver?" Louis intended to use her lips, repeatedly, but Buckingham might have missed the hidden message in his words. It was early in the morning after all. Bridget was a brilliant ploy in the young schemer's mind. He could gain credit in the King's eyes if played it gallantly or he could punish the father for his abandonment, or something in between. One way or another, Louis intended to bind Bridget to him. She was more valuable than a mere pawn in this game. Perhaps he could win her brother as well.


"Speaking of each piece playing its part, I would be most interested to hear the role you envision for myself and my cousin." There was no use beating around the bush. It was bloody cold in the coach and they would be at less liberty to speak freely at the pub.

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"If the King did, there is the trouble that confrontations are troubling. He would rather Danby run off I am sure," the duke said. Some things about his royal master were very predictable to Buckingham. The duke had thought of other destinations for their little carriage-ride, but even he had his morning limits.


The carriage pulled up outside a place in the square where hangings were performed. A woman opened the door. She was quite pretty.


"Here we are. Let us continue our chat inside in a more civilized way."


Shaftesbury was the one that met in smelly coffee houses and public houses. Buckingham oft preferred private houses when he set the meeting, though he had crept and met in some sleazy alleys plenty of times. The interregnum had honed a very strange skill set for a duke into Buckingham.


The smell of food wafted out into the street. The beverage on service was the same as what was in the duke's flask.


"Now, to the game at hand," Buckingham said, sitting at a small (for him) table after shedding his traveling clothes. "If your hand is played correctly, you can gain what you desire, but there are caveats." The duke took a sip of the cognac and coffee.


"First, Sir John Ernle, as I am sure you surmised at our royal master's opera performance and breakfast, is who I have wished to be the one to replace Danby when the time came. You had, after all, deferred my friendship the first time it was offered. Had you not..." The duke shrugged. It was not particularly important other than to grind the fact in. "If I replace that endorsement with you, it shall do the complete opposite, for then the King shall definitely think you and I have orchestrated everything to this end and (others will tell him) to His Majesty's detriment."


Proof was of little importance. Enough circumstantial evidence presented in the right way was oft enough to hang a man at court.


"I think it best if we play a different scenario with the same end you wish, but in a way that does not make it so obvious what moves are being made. Therein, of course, lies the aid of your dear cousin in addition to what we'll speak of later with Ernle. We will move all our pieces into place before any can even see checkmate on the horizon. If one has the King's ear in and out of bed, it makes it far easier to stave off other intrigue. Together we could do so and ensure he isn't preyed upon and cajoled into bad policy."


It was, of course, only the prelude, the introduction of the basic layout of the chessboard.

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It was well known that the King was averse to confrontations. Situations were known to fester, rather than be resolved, if a confrontation was required. This was one. It was not as if anyone enjoyed doing something unpleasant like letting go a well-intentioned servant; but, that was the obligation of power.


Typically, Basildon would have responded with his own ideas at this point, complete with predictions about Danby's next actions and the three ways he could undo Ernle; however, in the presence of one such as Buckingham, Louis had decided that it was best to listen and learn what he could from a seasoned master of intrigue.


The door opened to the coach and Louis was pleased to be going somewhere warmer. "More civilized, in there?" Basildon jested. He knew what the Duke meant but one needed to maintain good humor at the ready. The coffee and cognac was a perfectly acceptable morning beverage and Louis found that he enjoyed it more than he might otherwise have thought.


There was not much to say as George laid out his vision of the game board, so he merely nodded his understanding. The fear about switching his endorsement from Ernle made sense, even if it was not a particularly welcome thought. More interesting was the fact that the Duke feared the King would not believe him. The Earl would have thought that the Duke had more control over his boyhood friend than that. Good to know.


"The board is clear in my mind. The question is what is checkmate? What does victory mean for you? To plot the opening moves, one must know the end game. This has to be more than about Danby's downfall alone. An office for me is but a means to an end. I am thinking a more profound shift in the political landscape is desired, but I would hear it from your own lips," he encouraged before resuming the sips of his beverage.

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One could never know if there was such a thing as candid with Buckingham. The man could act very well and had surely played plenty of people including one of Cromwell's daughters while masquerading as a Rabbi, so if he could pull that off surely anything else was old hat.


"We must be plain with one another. Those who are short-sighted at court slit throats for immediate gain, not realizing what specters might come back to haunt them. My friends, my allies, I do not cast aside so simply. Ernle is one such friend, and as he is attached to your own family, you can hardly object. The risk of damage to you and I is too great to risk the immediate costs for such a silly venture. He has Cumberland's support, his son is one of our best naval captains; he took a very valuable Spanish prize over the summer, so you can imagine His Majesty's pleasure over that. All the other Lords Commissioner of the Admiralty would support one of their own. That, Basildon, is all too great to fight in a fortnight's time with war potentially looming." Buckingham shook his head. He had waited too long for this, too long to be finally rid of that knife in his back, Danby, to do this without firm strategy.


"He is a war-time Lord Treasurer, you are not. Even I could not sell that in the amount of time available, for everyone will soon begin pressuring His Majesty to choose, whispering far more names than Sir John. What I propose instead will trip the King's desire to please people and will circumvent him needing to entertain conflicting desires from half the influential courtiers at court. Quite a large number given everyone turns out for the holiday. I can easily persuade the King to name Sir John the acting Lord Treasurer, with you as his deputy. With your family ties that is business as usual. Ernle is a practical man; the King will have to give him a title to bestow the position, and that will quiet and please his ambitious and popular son. In a few months time, and when there is no war, as there likely shan't be, the King will forget his misgivings of you doing this to get rid of Danby and with the King's desire, Ernle will sell you the position. He will still have his Chancellor of the Exchequer and position with the Admiralty which is pleasing enough to a man of his birth. By that time, we shall have your cousin in bed with the King which is as much a guarantee of simplicity as is available. It is a peacemaker's plan that rewards his good servants and pleases his family, and we both know our royal master will like that."


Although York and Rupert might be the obvious candidates for that, Buckingham counted himself there as well.


What was in it for himself, Buckingham would reveal only after the benefits to Basildon. The fact that Buckingham's alliance would then control the Treasury, the Exchequer, the Household Treasury, the Household Coffers, and a good portion of the Admiralty was an immense victory; Basildon could not be depressed about such arrangements. He waited to see if the young earl would piece together the scope of what he was being invited into, for this plan had been some time in the making.


"I think a shift is quite imminent."

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John Ernle was a problem. The man was nearly 60, was an MP, knighted, appointed to the Plantations Committee, had been named Chancellor of the Exchequer and to the Privy Council the year before. Worse, he had recently married the late Baron of Trowbridge's wife. The current Baron of Trowbridge, her son, was Basildon's brother-in-law, the Duke of Somerset. To draw even more parallels, Louis had staked his reputation as a friend of the Navy while Ernle was the Comptroller of the Navy and had just joined the Admiralty. They should have been natural allies; but, the old man was in his way. It was never a good thing to be in the path of Basildon's ambitions, as he delighted in scheming in removing impediments.


There had been feeble ideas for Nicci to tarnish the reputation of the ever popular admiral, Ernle's son. That had been easily abandoned. The more interesting idea had arisen when Danby had made his presence known the previous evening. By playing Danby off against Buckingham, Louis could convince the Lord Treasurer that Ernle was in bed with Buckingham and had been the one to bring him down. It would be easy to believe. With his political dying breath, Danby would slander Ernle to the King, causing the monarch to avoid bitterness by finding a different Lord Treasurer to replace Danby. That person, of course, would be Earl of Basildon! It had a 80% chance of success, Louis imagined, especially when Danby recommended Basildon as his successor and Buckingham agreed. Yet, there was a 20% chance, in the Earl's mind, that the King would pass over both Ernle and Basildon and name another. It was unclear to the young schemer who that might be, and it would be a most unhappy occurrence. Ernle would learn that Basildon had poisoned him to Danby if great care was not exercised, and bad blood would be caused throughout the families, including the anger of the Duke of Buckingham. It would be something of a disaster, yet it was only the minority outcome.


"There is no doubt Ernle is a good man." He needed to say something and it was clear that Buckingham and Cumberland liked the man, if not the King. Disparaging the man would only render Basildon less relevant to the Duke. "Yet he holds so many offices and is so new to the Treasury that questions are likely to be asked, opportunity and qualifications raised." He knew that would not be enough to cause George to do anything but come to the defense of the man. Still, it was a legitimate issue.


"A grand plan and well strategized Your Grace," he complimented sincerely. "Perhaps you have had better experience with future promises." The King had been the worst offender of all, if history was a judge. It would be charitable to say that he was quick to promise and slow to deliver. "And I wonder, whether a man, years removed from a pledge might question the need to sell his most valuable office when he might sell a subsidiary office instead, expecting that to be a fair substitute." It was human nature after all. Louis trusted no one to act in anything but their own self interest.


Basildon could not reject the plan. He would be painted in the light of a young and vain aristicrat unwilling to wait his turn. It would be the truth, which made it all the more important to avoid the image. Instead, he needed to express doubt or concerns to afford the Duke an opportunity to provide assurances.


"Does it make sense that he should be both the Lord Treasurer and the Chancellor of the Exchequer? He would be supervising himself I should think," Louis pointed out, seeing if that caused Buckingham any concern. "I suppose I could purchase the Exchequer in the interim, but I do not know of any earl that has served in that position." It seemed more suited to a commoner who would work there every day. "There could be always a first," he added, looking to judge the Duke's reaction.


"I wonder," he began as he was concocting alternative plans as he went, "if it makes sense to have both allies in the same department. Our happy band might be better if I was, say temporarily, distracted into the area of Trade. It is something of a passion of mine of late." By that he meant his West Indies Company. "Might we be able to capture Shaftesbury's old office for myself? Ernle could sell me his place on the Plantations Committee as well. We could still arrange the Lord Treasurer coming to me later, after the war, and then I would sell my Household position to whomever and perhaps surrender some of my Trade positions. It would give me comfort that, should Ernle reconsider a pledge to sell me the Treasurership that I would be distracted with pursuits other than plotting something unfortunate," he offered with a manufactured sweet smile.


In truth he had considered the position as Lord of Trade. It would help his commercial ventures and give him weight in dealing with foreign countries. It would also give him a platform to advocate for peace. Trade was the future for England if it wanted prosperity. It had worked for the Dutch.

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"I was thinking more months than years, in truth," Buckingham replied. "Nobody actually wants a war besides the warmongering populace and religious zealots." He paused with his drink partway to his mouth, "That doesn't mean opportunists won't benefits from it, and that even includes royalty."


If they could use it to push their interests through surreptitious means, they would. So would every lord about who could benefit from it.


Basildon tipped some of his cards when he mentioned his desire for other offices if Lord Treasurer was not immediately expedient. For a man who had been one step from the Tower, Basildon was quite sure of himself.


"There are a pocket of gentlemen of Sir John's age and birth who yet understand their place in the scheme of things, and he has more to gain by facilitating the rise of an influential and greater member of extended family than in thwarting it. Do you think Somerset will be a good advocate for Captain Ernle, his son, when the time comes? And do you wish as short a tenure as Danby when the time comes?"


Whether the duke thought Basildon's suggestion could be managed, he did not yet say.

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"Months? Ever the optimist Your Grace?" Basildon queried. "Each of the three previous Dutch wars lasted precisely three years each," he noted aloud. He had a point to make, but decided to demonstrate some deference to potential realities. "Though I suppose that, as the French and Dutch have been at it for almost six years that our entry might bring things to a conclusion in less than that."


Buckingham laid out a scenario where it would be in Ernle's interest to hand off the Treasury title. It was persuasive, but Basildon was a paranoid person by nature. "It could work," he admitted. "Somerset is not related by blood with Ernle or his son, but might be convinced to be of assistance." He had to appear to be considering the offer very seriously.


"Just as every actor is at risk for varying from the script, or every soldier veering from the battle plan once presented with their first challenge, I wonder as to contingency planning. It was why I mentioned Trade. Yes, the odds might favor things going according to plan and a tenure for myself that is longer than Danby; but, what if they did not?" Louis pondered aloud. "Despite Ernle's cooperation, the King could prove an unintended obstacle." Left unsaid was the fact that Buckingham, Basildon or Ernle could fall from favor and the King develop a new favorite. Royal consent was a prerequisite.


"What would be our fall back plan?" he asked with a calm demeanor before draining more of his breakfast beverage. The Duke was no simpleton. Likely there was a much more complicated plan in the works, with many variables.

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"We are meant to threaten war. It is never meant to happen. If you did not know that, then the situation with Danby had you further removed from the circles of intimacy than you likely thought," Buckingham replied. "If the French do not receive better assurances that we will not engage, my sources say they are going to force negotiations instead. In the meantime, I believe the objective is to get parliament to vote funding for it nevertheless." There were plenty of potential uses for money. It was not wise to owe sailors; nor was it wise not to have the best ships. They were an island, after all.


Smiling as Louis said he could likely persuade Somerset to help, Buckingham shook his head.


"It is early for you, man, I meant Somerset is a boy. Ernle's son is older than him. He will need friends of a higher calibre who are not twelve," the duke said, chuckling, a gesturing toward Louis himself. He knew Somerset was elder than twelve, but the point was the same. If Basildon played his cards right, he could extend his network through connections that were already apt to be loyal through blood, and gain them stature through nobility along the way.


The difference between an ally with a title and one without was a stark difference. One was an ally in lords with a potential collateral ally in the Lower House in an heir or other sons to the title. That was worth a short time wait, for it was, in all impact, maximizing the situation.


"The King, yes, but that is where your little cousin plays into the plan, and mine. What it is that you might not know is that His Majesty had already expressed interest in Francis pursuing your cousin for him one afternoon." The duke paused to reflect for a moment. "What is one night? Rather worthless. Your cousin is too delightful for so simple an audition for a part in the chorus, do you not think?" It was rhetorical. Obviously they had all thought so or they would not be here. This was, in effect, half in the works already. "There is no one who knows of the King's preferences in bed than I, what gets him off best, what are his greatest peeves, and we shall make sure that she knows so that she might make the very best of the opportunity. You know of the letters she has been sharing through my cousin?"


While it might not seem to answer Basildon's question, it did. Having a mistress to whisper in the King's ear had led to much success for many ministers and none more than Buckingham. Both Barbara and Nell had pled him out of the Tower before. The layout of the chess board was strong.

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Pleased to hear that war was only to be threatened, rather than executed, Basildon fought a smile. It was in accord with his own strategy that he voiced in Lords. He had been a lone voice in a sea of militancy. It merely confirmed his own opinion of his cleverness. There was little room for self-doubt in the mind of the Earl. "I hope it is so," he replied, knowing that the King could be swayed from one position to another. "War funding without a war is the best of both worlds," he grinned. He too could think of the many uses for such funds.


It was made more apparent what Buckingham meant when he mentioned an ally for Ernle and his son. Basildon's vanity was stroked by the thought that he was more valued than a young duke. "But, he has your support," he stated lightly as he lifted his drink to his lips again. The smirk was a reminder that, despite the Earl's vanity, he was no equal to Buckingham, no matter how the Duke sought to flatter him; not yet anyway.


Louis did not know about the letters Nicolette was forwarding the King; nor was he aware that the King had inquired of her to Kingston. These were all good developments. He supposed that he should have taken a greater interest in his cousin's tactics, but she seemed to have an innate understanding of how to charm someone. He merely nodded as the Duke spoke of Nicci's role.


"So, let me summarize if I may," Louis declared softly as he finished his drink. "I remain quiet while the acclaim for Ernle grows. He is appointed Acting Lord Treasurer and I am appointed his deputy. During the faux war, he will be Treasurer and raise war levies. Once the war is settled, he will step away from the office and sell it to me. Meanwhile, my cousin helps ensure that this plan does not unravel." He paused to see if it had been an accurate summary.


"I am thinking that I might not be contributing as much as I might otherwise, by merely observing and supporting Ernle," Louis mused aloud. It seemed to the young noble that Ernle was being exalted above himself. "If he were to sell me his seat on the Plantations Committee at the outset, it might allow me to better serve the Crown, and to assist our man in focusing on the more important duties. I doubt the man has even seen Jamaica, like I have. How many lords and ladies have visited any colony? Surely you and the King could see the wisdom in this employment," he offered. "Perhaps other of our friends could be placed upon the committee as well. The future of England depends much on the development of the markets in its colonies. We must look 50 years hence in our planning."

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"Last I checked I was not immortal," Buckingham replied, with a look as if such a thing was amusingly unfortunate.


"Most astute as always," the duke replied to Louis' summary of events. "At least, at the beginning." Buckingham was not foolish enough to lay out everything he was thinking. He had done more than a grand favour in putting himself in the situation between the King and the earl; an action which could have made his own plans more difficult before Louis had even been involved in them. It was a calculated risk. Men like Basildon could be worth saving, but he would not have another Danby.


Nodding while Basildon spoke to feeling he could do more, the duke smiled enigmatically. He had plenty of plans for what Basildon could, would, and should be doing.


"You must regain the King's favour and lose this suspicion. I above all people know he does not like to be discountenanced and nor does he particular enjoy discord. He will passively block you and pretend otherwise, especially while matters with Danby are not laid to rest. This proper public persona you have adopted, keep it, but I would urge you to remember that it is my master's friends that share in his amusements that he repeatedly finds indispensable."


As to the Plantations Committee, Buckingham did not seem very fazed by the idea.


"If you wish such a position, I am sure it could be realized." He steepled his hands and then drummed his long fingers together. He made a good show of thinking. If he was or not was harder to ascertain; one always had to wonder with Buckingham how much he could either see or orchestrate. "Other of our friends?"

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"Ah, but your legend will be immortalized," Louis flattered in a light manner. Basildon certainly planned to become immortalized in history books as a result of his planned accomplishments.


The relative value of the favor Buckingham did for Basildon could be debated. Each man might inflate their own value in the eyes of the King; but, it was clear to the Earl that the Duke had done him a significant favor.


"it seemed as though Louis understood the sequence of events; but, as an intriguer, the young lord was certain that there would be more complexities ahead. Only simple minds concocted simple plans, unless that was all that was required.


Regaining the King's favor was certainly understandable. In Basildon's mind, the King's suspicion could be lifted easily enough. Buckingham did not oppose appointment to the Plantations Committee. Had he done so, the Earl would have been suspicious.


"Other of our friends? I am certain you have many," Louis replied easily enough but suspected Villiers was looking for something more. "I assume you are seeking those who might be helpful to our cause." He paused to watch the Duke's eyes for acknowledgement. "I have become close with the Lord Chancellor." It was a good name to drop, as the Chancellor had great power over the interpretation of the law. Having an ally that sat atop the King's courts and chaired the House of Lords was very valuable.

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Buckingham smiled at the thought of being immortalized; that had ever been an aim of his, as any son to a famous father. Legacy had always been a more sour matter. Now something liberated from that thought and also delivered of Danby, the nearly fifty year old duke had tapped into his frenetic energy with renewed fervor toward this mission. The first taste of blood in a scenario, political or otherwise, was a powerful and driving lure.


"Yes, indeed," Buckingham replied. "We both have much family." He raised his glass again lazily to his lips, whether considering Basildon's words or wishing the young man to consider his. "Such can be advantageous. Friends as well." Another pause. "How much does the Lord Chancellor like to think for himself, I wonder?"


Could Basildon lead him? Perhaps more importantly, could the lad anticipate him?


"And your cousin, our mademoiselle, will she understand the need to only represent our interests? I do not wish this endeavor to be to the benefit of others uninvolved, or muddying the waters by loyalties of the heart or flesh. Things which might come into conflict. A woman, even a wily one, can be used, and I would keep her from that. The French already have a thought of it. I have the manage of that, but I trust you to put any interlopers in their place on the outskirts. As the girl's relation, it shall be expected of you and will do you credit." Not that he would not be watching, or rather his many sets of eyes would be watching.

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The Villiers connections were grander than the ones Basildon could muster; but then, he had been a nobody at court but three years prior. Buckingham had the advantage of an elder generation preparing the way. Louis had the benefit of an advantageous marriage.


"As you might expect, the Lord Chancellor is a scholar and has an independent mind. To his credit, he is not a man swayed by vice. Yet, he has a fondness for my wife, as does everyone, and we find ourselves seeing eye to eye frequently." He left off the part about his protective nature. Finch held a grand secret about his wife, that might place her life in danger. He had also assisted Basildon in scaring off the fathers and brothers of the girls he had impregnated in his earlier days. He had proven to be both useful and reliable.


As for Nicolette, she had grown from a pensive creature to a mercurial one, and now a more confident one. Still, she was a woman. The fairer sex was easily manipulated but they always held a spark of randomness driven by passion or emotion. One could not always divine their actions as a result. "I am in a position to keep watch on her and I have something of a reputation that I hope with deter interlopers. Others will attempt to use her certainly. His Majesty might even have a purpose for her besides intimate companionship. We shall watch for the signs together. In the end, as long as the King holds her near, I have little concern." The King's attention would deter the merry, Louis would deter the distractions, but if the King kept her at a distance or showed less attention than she craved, who knew what she might do? "Let us both hope the King's interest remains stoked."


The subject of the Lord Chancellor had yet to be addressed explicitly, but his shade weighed heavily on the conversation nevertheless. Louis knew that he would be meeting with Danby soon enough; but, he had resisted a revelation in that regard. The subject had not arisen yet and Basildon was in no mood to volunteer it. There would be no lies uttered to Buckingham, but Louis was not above withholding information until disclosure was necessary.


"What of the gentlemen surrounding the King thee days?" the Earl thought to ask. "Your cousin is part of our circle certainly. What of Ashburnham and Herbert? Will they be relevant or helpful? I am thinking York will present no problem in our plans." York was favorably inclined to Basildon for his royalist sentiments and his dislike of Monmouth. Also, Basildon, had an excellent connection with York's current mistress -- Heather, a lady that had been Buckingham's mistress previously herself.

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The duke chuckled.


"No true mistress of any king ever holds the sole job of being on her back," Buckingham replied. "For your own ties to the French, you should know how much King Louis relies on women." Whether it was a statement of Nicolette's potential beyond mere fucking in England for Charles or an altogether different statement was difficult to tell. The duke had little idea if Basildon knew about his little cousin's other connections.


"If it gets that far, it will become her job, and ours by extension, a fact the King will well know, to make His Majesty's life easier. He cares little for the actual politics but what will let him lead his life in peaceful diversion while he does no harm to the country. A false dream if ever I have heard one, but as close to that illusion as can be achieved, the better. The King will never trust you, Basildon, but you must work to the point that he likes you enough to show you a million flowery promises of trust. The reason I have such resilience with the King is because he knows nobody benefits less from his misfortune than I and nobody would know his or the country's secrets better than I, and there is no one else in the kingdom who can say the same, not even York." By definition of being heir presumptive, York would benefit from the King's demise, and while the King did not believe his brother capable of it, the small question mark would yet remain.


"So....can you do a thing to make the King's life easier? There is little doubt you know where Danby is, and I shall warn you that there is little doubt he has kept tabs on you during this trying time. He needs to be gone one way or another for this to work, without the King thinking that it has been your plan all along."


Like with Clarendon, Buckingham would have rather had the man's head in Parliament, but he knew that such never pleased the King. Surely the Dutch would take a man who so hated the French and the Catholics. Buckingham was fairly sure that Danby had been playing to William as much as to Monmouth. Danby and Monmouth could rot together and Buckingham would be quite pleased.


"As to my cousin, you mean Kingston, I presume? If so, he is." Buckingham was beginning to notice that Francis had earned that distinction; of being the one cousin labeled as the cousin without other added identifiers in a sea of cousins. Buckingham knew by such things that others had noted his preference for Francis, quite a meaningful thing when one had a plentitude of unentailed properties to bequeath. To his annoyance, his own Will had been the subject of very public court discussion for well over a decade, ever since his sister's last child had died. It would increase Kingston's social capital if people were naturally coming to a conclusion that he was the favoured recipient of the Duke's favour, which he was, but Buckingham had sense enough to employ subtlety with the situation.


"We all know Master Ashburnham did not learn politics just from His Majesty," Buckingham replied, with a snort. The young Ashburnham had learned many things in the King's service, but the King had little desire for sustained political anything; one was more likely to learn to repair a clock than to repair a kingdom from the King.


"Pembroke & Herbert owe a great secret to the King." That Buckingham was aware of it only meant that the great secret was also owed to him. "Much of my family and those married into it have great bonds to me for their successes. They know it is unwise not to be a part of a tide which rises through me. I do not easily forgive from the top. You must cultivate that same sense of mutual advantage and loyalty in yours."


The sheer number of servants of all degrees whose patronage pedigree came back to either the duke or his father could be astounding, right down both Mays. They were not all in league with him, but could be counted upon to tip him of dangers, for all knew he and the King might have separations and disagreements, but Charles was not a man who wished death on many people, let alone one who had been raised with him like a brother. There was good reason he never paid a visit to the Tower for very long.

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"Indeed," Basildon acknowledged. A woman who relied upon sex alone to keep a man's interest was doomed to disappointment in a matter of weeks or months. The best might last a few years. Nicolette was charming and entertaining. He assumed the sex would be good, given her passionate nature, but he trusted her more than most to make the King smile. If she could do that, he would reward her with some form of loyalty. As for King Louis' use of female agents, Basildon nodded. Any smart spymaster knew that women were the best at collecting information. He did not doubt that Williamson or Spencer employed female agents abroad.


He understood Buckingham's point about the King's lack of trust. Louis was of a different generation, a scoundrel, son of a Parliamentarian, and a man seemingly more interested in ambition and money than nationalism. Louis would not deny many of these charges; but then, he was a man of his times. The court was full of ambitious gentlemen with pretty words. "You are indeed unique in that regard," he both admitted and flattered.


"I regret to say that I do not know where Danby has been hiding, or where he is at the moment. I suspect your own agents watching me will confirm it," he jested. Fortunately, his words were the truth. "Danby's agents will have little to report on me I fear. My life has become quite unremarkable of late," he offered with false modesty. "Likewise, I have no doubt that the King knows where the Lord Treasurer is. If the Northern Secretary does not know, he should be sacked. If the King knows, then it can be assumed that he chooses to take no overt action against his Chief Minister. You are suggesting that he is hoping that another will do so; but, I would agree that it would be a mistake for me to be connected directly with anything in this regard. It will cause His Majesty to suspect I was the playwright for the dark comedy that has unfolded."


The Earl had no desire to be the assassin in this drama. He remembered the happiness of King Henry II to the news that Thomas Beckett had been murdered. It was a lesson to learn -- observe another doing the dirty work and offer solace to the King afterward.


"Danby cannot hide forever. He will seek out allies before the coming Parliament next year. The question is how best to ruin him in the interim." Only the King or Danby could force a change in the months leading up to Parliament. If the King declined to act, then little could be done other than continue to undermine the man's allies.


Louis confirmed that he meant Kingston. The man had been drawn into the Nicolette intrigue. It was interesting to know that the Herberts had some secret with the King. The Earl's curiosity threatened to get the better of him, but he kept silent. The idea of instilling loyalty from the top was good advice. Louis had yet to build an organization of gentlemen below him, but that would come with time.


"I can only aspire to fraction of such connections in my lifetime." It was a marvel that Buckingham had so many connections; yet, his had been assisted by his father and the King. Basildon was on his own, a self-made man. Yet, it was not quantity that mattered. It was quality.

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Buckingham started with a slight bouncing of his chest, but it grew into an outright chuckle.


Unfortunately, it did not sound wholly like an amused chuckle. There was something about the way crinkles appeared around his eyes but merriment did not reach their blue depths. In fact, if the air could have gone frigid and stale at once, that was precisely what happened.


"You are a boy, Basildon, and you think you are still playing games with children." He chuckled again. "You are lucky I chose to do what I have done rather than step on you with all the glee of a lesser, more short-sighted man. For I could have stepped on you without a care after you refused my friendship so many months ago before the danger to you. If I was a man like Danby, I would have. No, your game, whether it was to play it safe or stay above the dirt, was as egotistical and foolish as you are being right now."


The duke's mouth had a bad taste in it. His dagger made quick work of a hacking a piece of bread off a loaf between them as he continued in a matter-of-fact tone, "Now. You insult my intelligence, my reach, and my capabilities, which a friend would never doubt. Do you think to survive with the tricks of your own mind indefinitely? Do you think to play me, to play my royal master? There may be self-made men in mercantilism..." He paused for that to have the effect he wished. "There are no self-made men at court, not a one. Some may act it, but they have allies. I do not want allies. Only friends are welcome at my table, and you are not treating me as a friend right now. I will not be generous again. Do you think an infirm boy-duke and a rather common Lord Chancellor and his band of misfit children make power here? Will ever give you power? Do you think you have secrets which are secret?" He scoffed.


"This half-truth by choice of wordage that you think makes you blameless, makes me question you. This is not a business deal, and it is not about wordage, it is about intent, and you hid things from me by not being forthright, keeping information from me. Beyond that you did not think to immediately have Danby's messenger followed so that you would always know where he is if what you say is some guise of the truth on technicality."


Buckingham shook his head, "He knows you chose to meet with someone else over him on his first risked contact. You will not hear from him again." He stared to see what Basildon might make of that news. "I was not asking nor was I suggesting what the King wants. It was and is an audition. Grasp your future or play little games like a child still, see where that leaves you. And while we are at it, let me tell you something about His Majesty. Do you know what this is?"


He nearly slammed a small book on the table between them. It was not within the earl's reach.


"There were two copies of this that went to two people in the entirety of the kingdom before any others left the printer. One went to His Majesty via Bishop Burnett giving it to the Ashburnhams. One went to me through other relations. Can you guess who sent it?" Though his voice was deadly calm, the duke's anger at these silly little games was palpable.


"There were notes in each. Final words if you will. The King has tried as he can to live those and prime among them was to never give a minister's life to the mob. Do you think that lessens the need of His Majesty to break with a minister? He is in mental turmoil over Danby using his son that he loves in a way that could one day end with his foolish, bastard head. He had no choice but to send Monmouth away. There is no forgiveness of that from my master, the King, and there never will be. You have refused to alleviate that in whatever way: blood, fleeing to exile, so long as he is gone. Do you forget Danby tried to exchange his head for yours by lying to the King? Do you think there any chance that I will let you near the King in this way that has been distant from you when you lie to me while pretending you want to be my friend, hmm? The Northern Secretary is a servant, nothing more. Do you think in his most dire moments, a monarch turns to the Northern Secretary? God's Blood, man. There are a plethora of things the Northern Secretary won't ever know about. Or perhaps you just ever want to be a servant...that is after all...a much safer position."


There was no way to make it plainer. Whilst Danby was around, Basildon was going nowhere, and if he wished to go somewhere, he was expected to take care of alleviating the King's stress. It was not particularly a negotiation.

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In situations such as these it was best to say nothing until after the tirade passed. Then, one would be wise to pause as if in deep contemplation before answering. It was an effective tool for a young man with limitless ego, and it hopefully showed signs of deference for those engaged in the rant. This was the tact employed by Basildon. He kept a calm demeanor and did not seek to dispute anything, even though the young man had to fight a rising tide of anger for being called a boy and spoken of so dismissively. Watch it old man, your days are passing and mine have only begun.


It would do no good for the Earl to become angry, for one had to be unflappable if one wanted to triumph in the end. As such, he wore the best courtly mask he could muster.


Buckingham was right about some things. One did not succeed at court without help, unlike in the world of business. Louis had ridden the coattails of Danby and Finch for the most part, though neither had been leaned upon heavily, for he preferred not to build a mountain of debt. He had done Danby some services in the past; but, the Lord Treasurer would have thought the ledger tilted in his own favor, at least before he had thrown Basildon to the wolves.


As for Buckingham, he had done the Earl a significant favor and was aiding Nicolette in her pursuit of the King. He could not afford to put that in jeopardy until she was secure in her position. Likewise, the Earl was still in the shadow of jeopardy from the damage caused by Danby. Simply put, like it or not, he needed Buckingham. As such, he needed to be deferential to the man. After all, he was a Duke and a personal friend of the King. Even if his best years were behind him, the man held great power and held the King's ear.


With a calm voice, not intended to be either cowering or confrontational, Basildon began his reply. "Your Grace, I apologize if I have offended you in any way. It was not my intention. I am grateful for your consideration and hope to remain friends ." That was a difficult apology to make for a vain lord.


"As for Danby's messenger, there is little to say," he added, trying not to sound too defensive. He was amazed at the talent of Buckingham's spies. It made him want to employ ones as well. His manservant was excellent; but, most men and women employed to listen and follow were limited in their abilities to do more than report what they could see or hear. Buckingham's spies seemed to be privy to the message itself, and to know the employer of the message. "I must compliment the quality of your informants." In fact, Buckingham had made his first mistake in revealing the depth of the infiltration of the Basildon household. Louis would need to make some changes in the days ahead, or turn Buckingham's spies into double agents.


"I did not have the messenger followed as I did not care to know where the man was. You can criticize me for it, but it is consistent with my behavior from last season. I have made no effort to contact him and he has made no effort to contact me until now. I chose to meet with you, rather than he. You warn that he shall never meet with me now and, five minutes ago I would have told you that I was content with that. I have no business to discuss with the man. Had I thought the King's agents so ineffective in locating the man, I might have thought otherwise." It was true. He had assumed that, had the King truly wanted to know the man's whereabouts, he could have learned it easily enough. "Perhaps you had the man followed by your own agents and now know where he is." If not, then Buckingham would be a hypocrite for criticizing Basildon's failure to do.


The Duke's tirade included a black book. Its contents intrigued him but he dared not reach for it. Rather, he pretended to know its purpose and who might have sent it. Possibilities swirled in his mind as to the identities of Buckingham's sources, and the contents of the book. What followed was a rather incoherent string of thoughts and threats. The threats leveled against him only served to plant seeds in the young man's heart to show Buckingham the error of his ways. One day, many years hence, would he be able to treat the Duke as a child as recompense? Only time would tell. In the meantime, the Duke would have the upper hand and Basildon would need to bite his tongue. When the Duke spoke so dismissive of the Northern Secretary it made Louis wonder who was the King's new spymaster. Based on this conversation, it is someone incompetent.


"My Lord Buckingham," he spoke very quietly, "I shall spare you the oratory in my defense, since I suspect you prefer action. Tell me what it is that you wish me to do. If you wish me to locate the Lord Treasurer, I shall endeavor to do so. Unlike you, I believe he will reach out to me again. I doubt he merely wished to exchange holiday greetings in person. I have little idea what he wants ... but the fact of the matter is that he wants something, and he must want it badly if he dared to approach me after what he did to me." Buckingham might disagree, but he was likely giving Danby too much credit. "If your men know where he is and you want me to visit him, I will visit him. If not, and you are correct that he shall disappear, I might have another hook to find him." By that he meant Danby's daughter Bridget. His words might sound the servant, because he needed to calm the Duke; but, as Buckingham suggested, he had no intention of aspiring to be a servant. He was a man born to lead.

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Buckingham's head did not move at he watched the earl carefully for his reactions. He had shown his anger, as he wished to; this was not a relationship to be entered into lightly and was not simply a passing assistance. There were things he expected for what he could give and Basildon would have to understand that if he wished for such to continue.


"If you wish to achieve what I am sure you wish to achieve, Basildon, there are more things you must learn that cannot be taught by men like Danby or Finch. This is my point. Either you can resist learning them like a child, intent to figure it out on your own, or you can invest your effort in learning them now rather than being disposed by them later from those that have learned them. I have no room for liabilities. Your intellect, your potential, is very great. Do not let it be dwarfed by your ego."


As to Danby's whereabouts, Buckingham shook his head and chuckled. "It is always worthwhile to have your enemies watched closely. It is how I know that Danby has been having you watched, and also how I know all of his movements since fleeing. It is how I know Danby was involved with Monmouth. I warned the King, but he thought it yet another typical disparagement against Danby, and he is oft blind when it comes to his son's idiocy." That he had been proved right was simply the cream in the situation.


Buckingham was, in fact, not threatening Basildon in the least, merely stating what anybody knew of true alliances at court; betrayals were not taken well by the highest of men. Starting out foolishly was not in Basildon's interests. Those who stabbed their friends found their pool of friends and potential friends fast dwindling to the point where power became unsustainable; Danby was only the most recent proof. Himself and his father combined had been the favorite of three Kings, a feat not compared by anyone else.


"The question is whether or not you wish me to show you things which will make you more powerful. If you do, learn from me. Reciprocal loyalty is how one survives at court long-term. Decide what you wish. I do not wish you to just be another of the King's servants, another office-holder, another minister. I can find those among my friends easily enough, but I have bet that you have more in you; it is not an offer I have made to others. Nobody else, not even your considerable personal acumen, can offer you the chance to be more than a servant to the King. You can be more than perhaps you know, but can you center yourself enough to position yourself for it? This little business says no, you have lived too long amidst the likes of Danby, were born into a different tradition, but I offer you still a chance to say yes, to prove so. My anger is that we should be talking of other things, greater things, not whether we can trust each other."


He sat back and said simply, in response to Basildon's offer to tell him what he was wished to do, "Why waste your time on a hook when I can tell you where he is? I will not watch you play in the darkness when I can put light on things, those are not the actions of a friend. If you wish to be magnanimous and get him to leave for the hands of the Dutch, and plant spies to watch him there, do so. If you wish revenge for his grand attempt to have your head lopped off, I shan't complain, and neither shall the King; my royal master, for reasons I have said, does not oft wish to be part and party to such things, but it does not mean he wishes for a removal any less, by whatever means. It must happen. Do it in a way advantageous to us, for we cannot wait for another to do it and gain their own foothold thereby. That is stupidity." The duke finished the drink in his glass. "The sooner assuaging His Majesty's problem is taken care of, the sooner we can make other moves like those we've spoken of already."

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Your intellect, your potential, is very great. Do not let it be dwarfed by your ego


Most everything was dwarfed by his ego. Buckingham was no stranger to ego. Between them they had enough ego to fuel the sun ... for a time. The Duke was offering to teach him things that would make him a master. This was music to Basildon's ears. His ego had already permitted that he wished to learn from the Duke. Had he not told him before? Though confident in his instincts, there were many things that he might learn. Finch did not know the things he needed to know. Danby could have taught him; but now things were different.


"I realize I have much to learn," he replied with as much modesty as he could muster. "Of all the courtiers your knowledge, perspective and sway are unique. As I have often said, you can trust someone to act in their own interest. In this case, I am well aware that my interests are best served by joining with you. Any reluctance you may have sensed is not a reluctance to follow the correct path. Rather, it is a reluctance for direct confrontation unless necessary. I prefer to outmanuever. As a younger man, I showed a proclivity for direct confrontation. I survived it and might have even benefited from it, but that is not the road for a wiser man to take." By that he meant the many duels he had fought when he was little more than a court wastrel. It also meant that he preferred not to kill Danby in a duel, though he imagined it might still be possible. In fact, the seed of an idea began to germinate.


As the Duke revealed that he knew Danby's location, Louis chuckled. "Well then, it seems as though I am going to pay a surprise call on the Lord Treasurer, to give him my holiday greetings in person." It was a play on his earlier statement about Danby's motives. "Do tell me where he resides."


"Now then, are you the type that prefers to participate in a plan or be surprised by it?" he offered in a lighthearted way. "You have informed me what you and His Majesty might like for a New Year's present. I am thinking that you would find it a more suitable present if you knew nothing of it." There was an advantage to deniability. "I shall see what I can do to encourage the earl in question to enjoy some time away from London and England. No doubt he is missing Monmouth. Perhaps he would like to go cheer the man." He held up his hand to stay any objection about Danby having any influence over Monmouth, thinking Buckingham might object. "It was just an example."


In fact, Louis had an idea and toyed with the thought of sharing it with Buckingham. It involved a ship to Amsterdam that might, accidentally, be forced to put ashore at Dunkirk ... into the waiting hands of the French, and without proper papers. That particular thought caused a smile to tug at the corners of his mouth. It would be difficult to arrange, but not impossible. There were many derivations on the same ploy.

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The duke chuckled, "He was preparing to move the last update I have heard, and once he is settled in a new location I will hear that one. I am usually not up and out of the house at this hour, so when I return I expect my man shall be waiting or will have sent word." Which was to say it was not his preferred time to deal with business-like messages, unlike the king who liked most all the seriousness to be done in the morning and completed by afternoon.


"Even if I did not know it, Basildon, none would expect that I didn't," Buckingham replied, with a snort of a chuckle.


"I am sure the revolting darling needs some company, and he does love anyone who whispers treason into his ears." Buckingham was not one, though Shaftesbury sometimes was, if only to get rid of York and have a biddable candidate; the princely Duke of Buckingham would never bow to that idiotic bastard boy as king. At least James was truly a prince, though an equally idiotic and selfish one.


"Besides if I know of the plan, I can keep another set of eyes on the possible thwarting of it."

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So it seemed as though Buckingham had a preference for participation. That was fine with Basildon. If it failed, he could not be criticized for the plan.


"Very well. As I see it, there is one component to the plan. He must leave the country and either be watched or removed from the game board." That was but the basic framework.


"First, Danby needs a motivation to leave. First, I could come with the disclosure that the King knows his location and has finally sworn out a warrant to place Danby in the Tower. I shall claim that my presence at his hideaway is proof of it and that he has less than a day to stay a head of things. I will reveal that the house is being watched closely by agents of the King as well as spies for his enemies. There is nowhere to go but abroad and even the King would be satisfied if he slipped away in such a fashion, reminding him that the King is made to look the fool if his own disgraced minister is anywhere in London."


"The natural place for his destination is Holland. I will report that my wife tells me that he should be well received by William and that Monmouth is acting in a rudderless way there, in need of deft guidance from one he perceives his friend." He paused to see if Buckingham was agreeable so far. "Once in Holland, my wife could have him watched. She is there now."


"That might be enough, and he shall be on his way shortly; but, I am not certain that I would feel satisfied with only that, given his perfidy against me. What if one of three complicating scenarios were added?" he asked rhetorically.


"First, the French party is notified as to Danby's travel plans. Perhaps they might like to arrange a pirate to intercept him. More likely, secondly, I could hire a ship captain to advertise that his ship sails that night for the United Provinces. Danby, if he chooses to leave via the docklands, might hire passage on that boat. Once at sea, a problem could develop with the ship's equipment and the ship would be rerouted to Dunkirk or Calais, where the French might find him in violation of their border policies, taking him into quiet custody. He might well be disguised, making this even easier."


"If his presence on a ship of our choosing is required, a more audacious act could be to have a third party hire actors to arrive at the meeting, claiming to be the sheriff's men there to arrest me and anyone in my company. I will feign resistance. If Danby reveals his identity, it would be easy to dismiss. We are marched to a ship ready to leave, ostensibly because the captain complained that I had not paid him for some arrearage. We are brought aboard, I agree to pay all fees, he holds my servant, Danby, as hostage until he is paid to which I agree. The captain raises sail and heads off for France. He will need to be well-compensated for Danby will offer more. We must convince the captain that the man is an imposter. Perhaps the French can arrange this," he concluded with a laugh.


"Sadly, kidnapping a royal minister and assisting the French in acquiring him prior to war might be seen in an ... unfavorable light to me, so I think I should stick to the original plan of chasing him to Holland. Still, I hope the alternatives offer some amusement." He was chuckling at the image in his mind, but he did not want to walk into his own charge of treason. Then Buckingham would be rid of both Danby and Basildon on one swoop. Louis was paranoid enough to believe it. Yet, there was a reason for revealing the plan to Buckingham. The Duke might attempt other things to happen to Danby en route for which Louis could have deniability.

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The beauty of plausible deniability was that when one worked in concert, one could do things and still retain plausible deniability of accompanying things working to the same end. At that thought, Buckingham smiled.


Basildon was chosen because he was smart enough and tricky enough to know what Buckingham would be capable of doing. He needn't ask. He needn't know. He already knew and that gave them both a degree of plausible deniability. In fact, the duke was fairly sure the young man's imagination would do more work to that end to where the truth of where Buckingham's influence might end would blur like when a drop of wine hit your ink on the page.


"And, I wonder, Basildon...where does it factor in whether he trusts your truthfulness? You cannot underestimate the human component of your plans. Surely you do not think he will simply believe you the better man, saving his head from a spike when he attempted to place yours upon it in his stead?"


As to the rest of it, Buckingham chuckled. "There is a certain bizarre justice in the notion that the French intercept him. It is treason to make certain that a traitor falls into unfriendly hands I wonder?" He made a hmm noise. "Who would bay for the blood of such a person if they were discovered? It is true, though, that the mob coaxed by Shaftesbury think that Danby was the orchestrator of that Dover business, so though he is no friend to the French it has been expedient for the people to think so; it cannot, after all, be the King." The great secret that even Shaftesbury was hiding from the Lower House was that the King's signature was at the bottom of the letters that had been sent to the earl. "It is, then, that either way the people may think that he has been delivered into benevolent hands."


The duke sat back and said, "Perhaps the greatest matter is that you assume the French would need to be tipped off at all? I assure you there are little circumstances where I could imagine the French needing anyone's aid in spying; King Louis has enough money to know everyone's business at our court, at any court. Yours, Danby's, mine, makes no difference. If a man is worth a damn, it is safe to think the French have their hands in his affairs. As absolute as anything, the French king buys off other sovereign rulers as if they were lesser things. A very great friend and a very great enemy, and you know what they say of friends and enemies."


He had a strong feeling that merely setting Danby to the coast might produce the desired results, but there was yet a way one of their circle could benefit from the scenario, neither he nor Basildon, though. He would have to think on how to approach it or if to do so. Insurance of an outcome was sometimes not worth the risks, and it was no secret that the duke did not sit at gambling tables, so why would he in his intrigues set stock on gambles instead of sureties.

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"How to ensure truthfulness indeed," Basildon repeated, confident in the answer. "I have several cards to play."


"First, he must know that I am not having him watched, so how else did I come by the information to his location other than an enemy or the King; and, at the moment, he should not view the two separately. Second I will tell him that I owed him for his assistance in the past, but the slate is now clean with his game to blame me. Nevertheless, I will advise him that I think he is still useful to me and I to him. I owe him nothing now, but if he wants something from me it shall cost him. Such a mercenary view should help lower his resistance to my story because it fits with his view of opportunists at court." He paused a moment before continuing. "Next I will tell him that I am being solicited by his enemies. His spies will already have told him that. He would be a fool to not notice the camaraderie between us, and with my cousin. He can decide to let me shift into an enemy orbit."


"So, he can take my advice and lay low with Monmouth. I can report to him what is happening at court along with his other spies. My wife can be of assistance. Yet, to be believable, I will have to demand something in return. I might ask him to sell me his office as Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire. I am not sure he still has it, but it would be best if the militia of York might be in our friendly hands, let alone a lord that is actually in England and not a fugative," he laughed. "I cannot say I am much of a northman, but it sounds like a lovely office that I might sell later." Langdon had London, so why could he not have York? "I need to ask him to sell me something and we have already discussed that the Treasurer of England office has another path."


"I will tell him I will look out for his daughter and protect her from those that seek to shun her because of his fugitive status. She can be another set of eyes and ears for him. It is important that his family continue to appear important at court rather than hide away with him only to be forgotten. He could, instead, call the girl to be with him in Holland and I might suggest that Lisa might put in the word for her to join Mary's ladies. I am sure I can improvise," he chuckled.


"The key is to disclaim loyalty and portray myself now as nothing but an opportunist. I help him in some minor ways and he helps me in some minor ways and we see how it goes ... no promises. I think that is believable," the Earl proclaimed.


As to the other matters, Basildon merely smiled. "In theory the King, you, and the French need no help. You all pride yourselves on being so well informed. Yet, a friendly tip, even when unnecessary, I find to be a welcome thing. A kindness bestowed is a kindness remembered. I shall leave it to others better informed to do with the information as they like. I will seek to have the man leave. What happens along the way or after that is out of my control," he declared with feigned modesty.

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Buckingham snorted, "Basildon, he cannot sell you his offices if he's been divest of them. A traitor does not get to make a profit off selling court offices. It is one of the few benefits of declaring a man a traitor to the crown, is that the crown seizes all his assets in the country and takes back his positions, leaving them open to sell or to give someone else. Those are all the King's benefits, and he needs the coin."


The Duke already knew the King wished parliament to find Danby guilty so as long as he was out of the country and would not pay with his head, such things only emboldened the rabble which could never suit a king, and Parliament needed a scapegoat for the Catholic and Dover business. They could allow Shaftesbury to blame Danby for the Dover Treaty, as it was his letter, and they could be done with that business all in one swoop. Fleeing the country was as much a confession as they needed.


That parliament would then be more apt to give the King something in return went without saying. Charles was no fool. The entire thing reeked of being shrewd, and Buckingham one of few who could appreciate that without Charles needing to try to hide it.


"Do you even have an estate in the West Ridings?" Buckingham quirked a brow. He had held that office previously before Danby had gotten it but now held the Custos Rotulorum of the same, which was the highest civic position of the county. "You do know how Danby got that position, do you not?" He had been forced to sell it. That it prickled him that Basildon was covetous of it was likely obvious. "Danby was from there, and such a position generally goes to someone of rank from the county, so as not to upset the squires and the like that form said militias." The West Ridings had been his father-in-laws before that, and he held a good deal of loyalty in the area as it was already.


"Besides, did you forget that grasping at what falls from Danby's pockets will be suspicious to His Majesty after everything that has happened?" He was not opposed to one of their allies having such a position, if not himself, but Basildon kept thinking of a very short game for himself.


The rest of the plans received no complaint. Basildon could blackmail or extort Danby as much as he wished, so long as he remembered what side he was on. Buckingham's enemies never returned once smashed, no matter the time taken to smash them, and for good reason. Being separated from the King's ear by water in such a matter would result in the same fate as Clarendon.

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